Whether you like it steamed, sauteed, boiled, roasted, or grilled, my favorite vegetable, asparagus, is about to be in season. It’s almost Spargelzeit, or Asparagus time, as it’s called in Germany, so break out the steamer or grill. Skip the lemon butter and try something different this time–a sour cream mustard sauce. This is as easy to make as any salad dressing.
1/2 cup Sour Cream
1 teaspoon Honey
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
Mix these together, and chow down. Vary the proportions according to your whims. Sometimes I want more honey, sometimes vinegar, and almost always, more mustard. Someone has to support the mustard farmers of Burgundy, though I hear more mustard comes from Canada these days, instead of France. This also makes a great dipping sauce for almost any raw vegetable, or crudité, since we have gotten all French all of a sudden.
If you have been deluded into thinking that winemaking is some kind of alchemical process, take a little more than ten bucks and make 3.5 liters of Apple Wine. Yes, 3.5 liters of fantastic wine for around ten bucks, and that’s organic wine as well.
One Gallon Glass Jug of Organic Apple Juice
2/3 cup Organic Sugar (more sugar means more alcohol)
One packet Wine Yeast
That’s it. You’ll also need some equipment:
The airlock is a fermentation device that lets gases/pressure escape during the fermentation process, but doesn’t let air/contamination back in. That particular carboy bung fits a standard gallon jug, and the hole is for the airlock.
The process is as follows. Remove about one cup of apple juice, and have a drink. Replace with the sugar and yeast, and shake to help dissolve (one packet of yeast will ferment up to five gallons of wine). There are other methods of dissolving the sugar, but this is the simplest. Insert the carboy bung into the jug, fill the airlock to the line with water, insert it, and place your wine-to-be in a 60 something degree room. It will smell like sulphur when it starts to ferment, and the airlock will bubble like a percolator. Don’t panic. Let it ferment for a month or so to let the yeast settle to the bottom of the jug, and then you can bottle the wine, or just leave it for a few more weeks, and then bottle it. Don’t drink the dead yeast at the bottom, by the way.
For the best wine, let it age for a few months, though it makes a great marinade or ingredient as soon as it has fermented. Germans make all sorts of strange concoctions with Apfelwein, especially for summertime drinks. Summertime, you say? Lots of folks need to be reminded of that right now.
Galletes, or simple French country pies, have become something of a phenomenon in the South. In fact, there are no fewer than fifteen different galette recipes on the website of Southern Living magazine alone. This pie plateless recipe is more southern than most.
Roll out the pie dough into either a circle or a rectangle–both are fine. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet via the rolling pin method. (I really like the Lodge Rectangular Griddle that is in the picture above.) Place the peeled and sliced apples into the center of the crust, leaving at least an inch of overlapping crust available around the edges. Add the sugar and honey, break the butter into small pieces over the filling, and top with pecan halves. Finally, dust the filling with cinnamon. Fold the edges of the crust over the filling, making sure there are no gaps in the crust. Otherwise, all the good juicy stuff in the filling will run out onto the baking sheet. Bake for an hour at 400 degrees F.
While the pie is baking and the smell is driving you crazy, calm your senses by making a glaze from fruit preserves. I was going to make one from my homemade fig preserves and bourbon, but I was low on figs and someone had drunk most of my bourbon. Simmer the preserves/alcohol mixture for at least five minutes–add more booze or water if it becomes too thick. When the galette is cooked but still hot, brush on the glaze with a pastry brush. Try a slice with some vanilla ice cream, and you may never make another regular apple pie again.
A homemade pie crust is so superior to bought ones that I am almost ashamed to even make the comparison. With a couple of small exceptions and adaptations, this is the same crust that has been made in the South for decades, if not centuries. This recipe makes one crust.
Basic Pie Crust
One cup All Purpose Flour
One stick Organic Butter (4 oz.)
1/4 cup Ice Water
Optional: Salt, Sugar
The all butter pie crust is a tradition that makes perfect sense. The Picayune Creole Cookbook even trash talks about other fats in a pie crust.
Some persons use lard for pie crust. This is to be deprecated. The crust will never have the same flavor or be as flaky as when made with butter. Others, again, mix the butter and the lard. This, too, is to be condemned, if you wish for the best results.
There you have it. Unless you want to have your pie crust condemned to Creole pastry hell, use all butter.
Now, back to the crust. Step one is to separate the butter into small, pea to rice size chunks. I use a bench scraper/pastry scraper for this step.
Make a well in the center of the dough and add the ice water in small amounts. Work the dough with one hand (preferably fingertips only) until it sticks together without crumbling. Use the heel of your hand (now we go to the “fraisage” step) to make certain that the butter is well incorporated into the flour. You can accomplish this by folding the dough over a few times.
Scrap the work surface clean and roll the dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour or so. Then you can take out your frustrations on the dough.
Spread an ample amount of flour on the work surface and give the dough a couple of good whacks. Oh, go ahead and make it as many as you like. My homemade super bad rolling pin is made of dogwood, and it’s brutalitarian. Roll out the dough as thin as you like. A thick pie crust is no good.
Roll up the crust onto the rolling pin and transfer to your pie plate. Trim around the edges, and you’re done. It’s pie time.
A crust with added sugar is technically know as a pâte brisée sucrée, which strangely enough translates to pie crust with sugar. The Picayune Creole Cookbook recommends taking leftover dough scraps, cooking them as small squares, and serving with jams or preserves. A good pie crust is a terrible thing to waste.
Time for a chemistry experiment for big kids! This one involves heat, a liquid, and some acid. The result is money in your pocket and some great food in your belly.
1-2 Quarts organic Whole Milk
Acid (2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice or Vinegar, 1/2 Teaspoon Citric Acid)
Optional: Salt, Cream, Herbs
Tools needed are a large non-reactive pan ( I use a stainless steel lined copper one), a colander, and some cheesecloth. Pour the milk into the pan, and add the acid. Stir thoroughly once, and bring the milk up to 170-190 degrees. Ultra pasteurized milk works fine with citric acid, though I have not tried it with any other of the acids. The heat/acid combo causes the milk solids (curds) to separate from most of the liquid-instead of using a thermometer, you can just watch the transformation take place, as it reaches the maximum effect when the milk begins to boil right around the edges of the pan. At this point, turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let sit for at least five minutes.
Place the cheesecloth in the colander in the sink, or in a bowl, if you want to save the liquid portion, which is known as the whey. No whey? Yes whey. Pour the cheese mixture into the cheesecloth (a single layer of cheesecloth is sufficient). Let drain for a minute or two, tie up the cheesecloth and hang the ricotta to drain–I just hang it off the faucet on my kitchen sink. I leave it for an hour or more, and take it down to cook with it or store it. It should look like the above picture.
The manifold uses for ricotta are well documented, and it can be used for any meal–try some in scrambled eggs sometime. As a teaser, I’ll give notice that I will eventually post my favorite ricotta recipe, Penne alla Pastora, in the future. It’s so complicated that it has a total of five ingredients.
Creole French Bread, also known as New Orleans French Bread, is not really French bread at all. French bread, in the form of the classic baguette, is a simple bread made with salt, yeast, flour and water. Creole French Bread is closer to an Italian bread, in that it is enriched or fortified with some form of fat, and usually a small amount of sugar. (Red Star yeast has an excellent concise run down of what fat adds to a loaf.)
If you do a quick check on the internet, you will find various recipes for this bread using a number of different fats. Commercial varieties often use vegetable shortening, though one of the most famous ones uses soy oil. Why such cheap ingredients? Because those folks are out to make a buck, and pennies matter. As a home baker not concerned with economies of scale, I use as high a quality of ingredient as possible. The following recipe, which I have made weekly for years, uses olive oil. This will make two baguettes, two po-boy buns, or a small loaf.
2 teaspoons instant Yeast (I end up buying two pound bags of Red Star regularly)
I make the dough in our thirty something year old Kitchenaid stand mixer-they weren’t kidding when they printed “Heavy Duty” on the side of the machine. Use the dough hook attachment, and mix until a ball of dough is formed.
The next step is the yeast mixture. I combine the three ingredients in a one cup measurer that I also use for the flour. Stir, and I let it sit until the mixture rises to the top of the measuring cup. That also gives the dough a little time to hydrate. Mix those together with the dough mixture, though a little additional flour is usually necessary to keep the dough from being overly sticky. Now it’s time for the rise.
Any oiled container will do to hold the dough for the first rise, but old school Southerners insist on wooden dough bowls. This one was made by Loyd George of Decatur, Alabama, out of Tulip Poplar. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel, and let rise. How long will depend on the temp of your kitchen. The general rule is to let it double in size, usually around an hour.
For baguettes/po-boy buns, a loaf must be formed by hand. Divide the dough in half, and form into an oval. Fold over once longways, and roll out the loafs from the middle outward. (King Arthur has a great tutorial showing how to do this.) For baguettes, it’s easier to put the loaves in a baguette pan; po-boy buns go onto a baking sheet, and are slightly flattened out. Loafs can go onto a baking sheet or a loaf pan. All must be covered with a towel, and allowed to rise again.
Here’s where the bread paths diverge. I cook po-boy buns at 375 degrees, loaves at 400, and baguettes at 450. Baguettes need to be slashed to keep from splitting open while baking, while slashing is optional for the loaves, and never done with po-boybuns. Cooking times are thirty minutes or more for buns and loaves, and twenty minutes or so for the baguettes.
The resulting bread should be crispy crunchy on the outside, and incredibly soft on the inside. The superiority of this bread to any commercial one will become apparent at the first bite. It only stays fresh for about a day, but can be frozen and warmed up with little noticeable change in quality. For one use of this bread, see my post on Creole Onion Soup. You’ll end up neglecting the soup for the bread.
Cold weather in the South is particularly nasty, because it isn’t that common. Today will be around freezing, which is just the excuse needed to make our favorite winter meal–Creole Onion Soup. Every cook has their own version, but my wife Melanie Jane has condescended to share her’s, which is pictured above. She also provided the photos.
Creole Onion Soup
Three or Four Onions, sliced thinly
Three Tablespoons Butter
Three Tablespoons Flour
Four Cups Poultry Stock (Chicken, Duck, or Turkey)
Thyme, Oregano, and Basil
Tabasco Sauce to Taste
Creole French Bread
Grated Cheese–Swiss, Cheddar, or Parmesan, or some combination thereof
Porcelain lined cast iron makes the best soup pot, and the best are still made in France. This one is six quarts. At any rate, slowly cook the sliced onions in the butter. This should be the result:
Remove the cooked onions and add the flour. It’s roux time! This time stir until there is a “blonde” roux. It should look like this:
More butter can be added to achieve the desired consistency. Now it’s time to make soup. Add the stock, cooked onions, soy and worcestershire sauces, and herbs. Simmer for thirty minutes and add the Tabasco, which makes this really Creole, along with the next addition.
Now it’s time to serve. Use a good heat-resistant soup bowl (that’s a handmade Jerry Brown bowl in the picture at the beginning). Top with slices of Creole French Bread, for which I will have to supply a recipe in the future, but it’s really just French Bread with olive oil (or some other fat) added to the dough. Top that with the grated cheese of your choice, and throw under a broiler. When the cheese begins to toast, it’s time to burn your tongue on some smoking hot soup.
Melanie Jane’s hair is about the color of that roux, and she responded to a blonde joke from some fool once by saying, “I guess you graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the best History department in the country, like I did.” Her best put down was of an obnoxious college Dean at a party, who asked her how he looked in his Trucker’s cap. Her response was, “You look like pig farmer.” Good times and hot soup!