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Choucroute garnie. With kielbasa, smoked pork butt, and ham.

There are a huge number of reasons why I love living in the South, and wouldn’t really consider living anywhere else. And one of those reasons is that when folks have an illness or a death in the family, Southern cooks take to the kitchen.

My pastor is just out of the hospital after nine days’ worth of surgery, recovery and IV antibiotics resulting from a very angry brown recluse spider that munched on his arm a couple of weeks ago. Generalized systemic staph infection resulted. This is, you understand, not a Good Thing.

He’s home and doing well, but he’s quite tired, and his wife has gone back to work, leaving him in the care of his teenaged children. So I told her at church Sunday that I’d bring dinner over one night this week.

Now, I know Charlie, who has some German heritage, likes German food. I do too, and I don’t get a lot of opportunity to cook it. So I decided to cook him some choucroute garnie.

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Home from the war

November 7, 2009

Really. See?

 

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Union cavalry surrenders to Confederates in the skirmish at Prairie d'Ane.

Because, you see, I am a Civil War nut, and when there’s a reenactment an hour and a half from me and it’s a gorgeous fall day and I have dinner cooking the crockpot, I’m gonna go watch black powder smoke curl skyward.

Thusly:

 

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The Confederate infantry, about half a company of it, steps out in advance toward the enemy...

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A day late, but still tasty

February 23, 2009

Yes, yesterday was Sunday. Yes, I cooked. Yes, it was good. But I had a Gentleman Caller over for dinner, and quite frankly, I had Other Things On My Mind besides writing about it. I don’t even have a picture of the entree, because this guy doesn’t know me all that well yet, and I didn’t want him thinking I was some kind of weirdo because I was taking pictures of dinner. He may well think I’m a wierdo for a host of other reasons.

He may well be right.

Anyway.  The morning did NOT start out well, due in large part to my having drank half the Scotch in the Western world on Friday. Which in turn led to me being hung over a large part of Saturday. Which in turn led me to cook only halfheartedly, and clean up even lessheartedly than that. Which meant that the pork fat from the casserole dish in which the mole pork had roasted — and there was a gracious plenty of it — had not been chased down the drain with enough hot water to keep it from forming a grease clog the approximate consistency of concrete in the U-trap under the sink. Which meant that after I’d made coffee…and made more coffee…and rinsed some dishes and put them in the dishwasher…and started chopping up carrots for the carrot cake and rinsed some more things off….after all those things, I noticed an Odd Thing. I noticed there was water pouring out from beneath my kitchen cabinet door. I noticed that there was water draining very, very slowly from my sink. I noticed my feet were wet.

So, carrots semi-chopped, I went dashing off, in my pink striped flannel pajama pants and a pink Razorback sweatshirt and a pink Tennessee ballcap — hell, I matched, dammit — to get Liquid Plumbr. And then proceeded, because my ADD was kicking in big time, to try to concentrate on NOT putting Liquid Plumbr in the cake and carrots in the drain. Periodically I would stop cake preparations to put yet another kettle of boiling water in the drain after the Liquid Plumbr had had its requisite time to work. Betwixt the acid and the hot water, it eventually ate through/melted through the grease clog. And I have a really, really clean kitchen floor, although every towel in the house was dirty. And I was an hour and a half behind where I planned on being on dinner prep, which meant that the two work projects I meant to complete didn’t get done, which meant I had to get up at oh-early-thirty this morning and finish the damn things before I took off for Little Rock Yet Again.

But the cake was, by-God, GOOD!

This cake:

For some reason, I shot it vertical, and I can't figure for the life of me how you rotate it. Tilt your head to the left and peer at it that way.

For some reason, I shot it vertical, and I can't figure for the life of me how you rotate it. Tilt your head to the left and peer at it that way.

Yeah. It’s a pretty thing, ain’t it? Friends and neighbors, let me tell you, this was one more GOOD carrot cake.

I will digress long enough to say I am not a baker. I have made bread on occasion, and I have made cookies, and I have made pies and cakes, but in general, I don’t get all worked up over desserts. But when I saw this recipe on the Simply Recipes blog, I decided I absolutely had to try it. So I did.

Here’s the recipe, straight from her blog, which, by the way, she credits to Silver Palate cookbook. (This recipe, I mean, not the blog.) It’s almost enough to make me go find that cookbook.

Carrot Cake Recipe

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil or grapeseed oil
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, chopped (more whole or chopped for topping)
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 2 cups of finely grated carrots
  • 1 cup of drained crushed pineapple

Frosting:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
  • 2 1/2 cups of confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice

Method

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9 inch cake pans. Cut out rounds of wax paper and place at bottoms of cake pans. Butter the top of the wax paper rounds.

2 Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in chopped walnuts, coconut, carrots and pineapple.

3 Pour batter into pans. Set on the middle rack of oven and bake for 45-50 minutes (shift positions of cakes front-to-back if necessary about halfway through), until edges have pulled away from sides and a toothpick or sharp knife tip inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a cake rack.

4 To prepare frosting, cream together the cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Slowly sift in the confectioners sugar and beat until mixture is free of lumps. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.

5 Once cakes have cooled, frost. Sprinkle top with chopped walnuts or arrange walnut halves in a crown around the top.

Serves 12-16.

And here’s what I did differently from the recipe:

  1. I used 1/3 tbsp of baking soda instead of baking powder, because I couldn’t find my freakin’ baking powder. I know I have some. How often do you run out of baking powder?
  2. Instead of 1 1/2 cups of oil, I used 3/4 cup of oil and 1 cup of applesauce.
  3. I used pecans instead of walnuts, because I had them on hand.
  4. I forgot how much pineapple the recipe said, because I was dashing back and forth to the computer, so I used a can, drained; it came out to about 1 1/3 cups.
  5. I used 12 oz of cream cheese and 3 cups of sugar, because several people commenting on the SR blog said the amount of icing was skimpy. And because
  6. I baked the thing in three layers instead of two, and I can’t imagine how you bake it in two unless you have some mammoth, gargantuan cake pans.

This was, at the risk of repeating myself, GOOD. Moist. Fruity. Nothing that overpowered the other stuff. The CC frosting was pretty sweet, but I don’t know much way around that with what is, essentially, a buttercream frosting. The cake is sweet enough to be very good, but not sweet enough to be cloying. Actually, I think it would be good to bake it in a bundt pan, make less CC frosting, thin it down enough with lemon juice to make a thick glaze, and pour it on the cake.

I will note that I forgot to scatter the pecans on top until about an hour after I frosted the cake, because I got caught up in washing dirty towels and cleaning house. By that time, the frosting had dried out enough the little buggers didn’t adhere very well; I had to kinda push them into the frosting. Would have worked much better had I done it as soon as I frosted the cake.

The choucroute garnie was pretty good, too. Not something I’ll make all that often, but worth it from time to time on a real cold day. I bastardized several recipes and took bits and pieces from each, and here’s what I came up with:

  • 2 cans sauerkraut, rinsed lightly, drained, as much liquid as possible pressed out
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced and separated
  • 4-6 strips bacon
  • 1/2 lb pork tenderloin or Boston butt
  • 1 lb bratwurst
  • 1/2 lb smoked ham
  • 4 medium tart apples, peeled and sliced
  • a dozen juniper berries
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 tsp caraway seed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups Riesling
  • Water

Cut bacon in 1/2 inch segments and brown to render fat in a Dutch oven. Remove bacon, add onion to Dutch oven and saute over medium heat until soft and starting to caramelize. Add sauerkraut, and saute briefly to deglaze pan and impart a nice little  brown/tan color to sauerkraut. Add Riesling and a bouquet garni (I use a tea ball) of all seasonings. Add water to make liquid visible at top of layer of kraut. Reduce heat to medium low and braise for an hour. Meanwhile, slice Boston butt or tenderloin, and in a separate skillet, fry until golden; remove. After an hour of braising, cover kraut with a layer of sliced apples. On top of apples, arrange all the meats (including the bacon you had fried up, if you haven’t munched it all, a la’ Michelle on TNS. Add more water to ensure kraut does not cook dry. Cover again and allow to braise for another two hours. Serve with buttered pumpernickel or rye bread.

I also served roasted potato wedges roasted with olive oil and rosemary.

Gentleman Caller thought it was all pretty damn good.

And tell y’mama ‘n ’em he left at a respectable hour. Which is better than he did Friday when we were drinking all the Scotch in the world.