Asparagus Quiche

Spargelzeit!

Pi Day is gone, but Pie Days are here. One of the best meals I have ever eaten was at the French House at the University of Alabama, where we students of French were offered four different kinds of quiche–not surprisingly, I ate some of each one. My favorite was Asparagus Quiche. Here’s one with an all butter Creole Pie Crust.

Ingredients

1 Creole Pie Crust

8 ounces Swiss Cheese, cubed

6 large Asparagus Stalks

4 organic Eggs

Heavy Cream (Enough to fill the crust)

Salt and Pepper

Nutmeg

Crank your oven up to 400 degrees F, as this pie crust goes in uncooked. Break the asparagus at the point where it becomes tough (just try this once, and you’ll get the hang of it). Peel the lower half and cut into half inch pieces. Add the chopped pieces with the cheese into the uncooked pie shell. Mix the cream and egg mixture together, and season. Pour that over the filling in the pie shell, season with nutmeg, and arrange the asparagus spears into whatever Leonardo-esque shape you prefer.

Strange but Edible

Ok. so there’s some chopped up cooked bacon in there as well. What’s a meal without bacon? Bake at 400 degrees F for at least forty five minutes, until the quiche filling browns. Let the cooked pie rest, and then it’s time to chow down on some springtime.

Jar Knife

A Jar Knife is not used to Stab a Jar

The Jar knife is the answer for everyone who has tried to scrap the last bit of goodness out of a jar of anything. By design, it reaches into the corner of any rounded jar, so that nothing is wasted. This one was made from green Maple wood from my property, which makes it easier to turn on a lathe, and carve, and then the jar knife was air dried. The finish is nothing, which is free, and available everywhere.

Treen

A Treen Convention

Treen is essentially a word passed down from Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and proto-Germanic, which just means “wooden.” The modern interpretation of the word is “wooden utensil” meant for household use. Before cheap metal and cheap plastic, that meant just about everything in the house, or hut, or shanty, or hollow tree (that last being a reference to one of the founders of Marlinton, West Virginia, who got so mad at his business partner, that he went to live in a hollow tree, instead of dealing with the guy. I doubt he had a Cuisinart in there).

One of my too many hobbies is making treen, using only hand tools and traditional methods. The picture on the top left is a spoon I made that was part of a traveling museum exhibition, chronicled in the book A Gathering of Spoons, compiled and written by the Emeritus University of Connecticut Libraries Director Norman D. Stevens. The rest are all of local woods, including Maple, Dogwood, Black Walnut, and Sparkleberry. I’ll show those individually later, and tell what they all are made for. Cheap metal and cheap plastic are banned from this house, as my wife cringes every time she sees some TV chef scratch up a really nice pan with a crappy imported utensil.

Leek and Potato Soup (Potage Parmentier)

A certain Monsieur Parmentier helped popularize the potato in France, and there was no trick that he wouldn’t use to do so. He had potato themed dinners with famous guests, like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. His best trick was to convince people that his potatoes were so valuable that they needed to be guarded by French troops. Then all the troops would leave at night, and he let peasants steal the potatoes. This famous soup is named in honor of the particularly clever Frenchman, and this is my version.

Ingredients

Butter

2 medium Leeks, trimmed

1 Shallot or Onion

1 clove Garlic

2 medium Potatoes, diced

2 cups Chicken Stock

Salt and Pepper

Cream (optional)

Using the green parts of the leek keeps your soup from looking like toothpaste

Split, carefully wash, and chop the leeks, including the green parts. Saute the chopped leek, onion, and garlic in butter until soft. Add the potatoes and chicken stock and simmer for forty five minutes to an hour, tasting occasionally for seasoning. Add water if needed. Cream is traditional but optional.

Soup simmering

Now for some nomenclature. Potage is just the French word for soup: this soup served unprocessed and usually without cream is called Potage Parisien. Run through a food mill, blended, or just hit with a potato masher, it becomes Potage Parmentier (I personally am a potato masher guy). Processed with cream, and served chilled, it gets the fancy sounding name of Vichyssoise. French names allow restaurants to charge ten bucks for what is essentially a bowl of Potato Soup.

Brick Oven: Old School

My alter ego goes by the name of “Rustico,” after a particularly bawdy character from the Italian Renaissance classic by Boccaccio, The Decameron. I’ll let you Goggle that, if you want to find out what all the naughty hermit got up to. It’s not that easy to be naughty if you’re a hermit.

Which strangely enough, brings me to the subject of my rustic outdoor kitchen, which is something of a permanent work in progress. The centerpiece, however, is fully functional. That would be the brick oven in the picture above, which was built entirely by yours truly.

The basic plan for this oven came from the excellent book, The Bread Builders, by Wing and Scott. They did not include plans for a facade or enclosure, so those ideas were mine. The arches were a nice addition.

A brick oven can reach temps of up to and past 1000 degrees F, so don’t stick your hand in there to see how hot it is, as I did–once. Fortunately, hair does grow back.

So if you want authentic pizza that cooks in ninety seconds, get out your trowel and go to work. I taught myself masonry skills building this joker. Who needs stainless steel and gas for an outdoor kitchen? Give me a load of firewood instead.

Outdoor Kitchen

“You? Impossible! A Mason?”

My mother’s favorite thing to say was, “You kids need to go and play outside.” As I was the last of seven, she had plenty of chances to say it.

Now, one of my favorite things to do is cook outside. Let’s look at the many different ways to do that.

Blueberry Honey Pancakes

Wild Blueberries in Bloom

The wild blueberries are blooming here now, as well as the peach trees. Give it up, winter. Spring is ready to take over.

Siehe, der Lenz lacht in den Saal!

Richard Wagner, Die Walküre

Maybe spring isn’t exactly laughing in the hall, as Herr Wagner put it, but it is time to get ready for it.

Peach Blossoms

That means the cultivated blueberries are not far behind in blooming, but I STILL HAVE A FREEZER FULL OF BLUEBERRIES FROM LAST YEAR. In an amazing moment of insanity, I planted six nice cultivars of “Rabbiteye” blueberries, which means I have enough blueberries every year to feed a family of fifty. I’m tired of blueberry wine and blueberry jam. Let’s make some pancakes, about fourteen or sixteen.

Ingredients

1/2 cup All Purpose Flour

1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

2 pinches salt

1 tablespoon Honey

1 Egg

Milk

60+ Blueberries

Butter for Cooking

Mix the dry ingredients first, then add the wet. How much milk? Enough to get the desired consistency. Less milk means more cake to the pancake, more means more crepe like pancakes. Do I really count the blueberries? No.

Frozen Blueberries

Blueberries are the easiest fruit to freeze, and about half of one of these handy little containers is about right. Add those last, and, and mix in with a tablespoon. That tablespoon is also used to measure out the pancakes.

Heat up a griddle to hot, and then add the butter. As soon as the butter melts to the foaming stage, turn the burner down to as low as it will go. Cast iron is the easiest thing to cook pancakes on, but for speed I use a carbon steel crepe pan–and yes, it is French, so give me a break.

A heaping tablespoon of the Berry/Batter mixture makes a nice small pancake. Serve with syrup if that’s what you like. Maple is traditional, but sorghum and cane (Alaga brand) is also popular around here. Tulip poplar and hickory are also available, so I may try those as well, as we have plenty of both trees on our property.