Bavarian Pretzels and Beer Cheese Sauce

For us, one of the simplest and most satisfying snacks for the cold months remains the freshly baked soft pretzel with a beer sauce. Of course these have been appearing on every gastropub and craft beer bar menu for the last few years now, but we’ve never taken the plunge to make our own. In Milwaukee, the best options while out on the town are always house-baked when available or the “Bavarian Beast” from Milwaukee Pretzel Company, who gives us a good working definition on their website of what we enjoy most in a soft pretzel:

 Unlike their American counterpart, Bavarian pretzels pack a denser, chewier inside and a darker, crispier outside. And there’s a certain “tang” to the Bavarian-style pretzel that sets it apart from other soft pretzels. But best of all, it doesn’t need to be dipped in cheese or drenched in butter to taste delicious! We even suggest eating them at room temperature – just like the Germans do. (Of course, the true German way would be with a dash of mustard and a nice, cold Weiss beer!)

A still-chilly spring week-end with the sun shining, seemed like a fine time to try our hand at creating these tasty morsels ourselves.

Pretzel

Soft Pretzels with Maibock Cheese Sauce

1 cup warm water
1 package yeast (2¼ tsp)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbs melted butter
1 Tbs sugar
½ tsp salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine ½ cup of the warm water and yeast, allow to dissolve for five minutes. Add flour, butter, sugar, salt. Mix while gradually adding remaining water to create a moist, but not sticky dough. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth. Place in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap to allow to rise to double in volume (1 to 2 hours).

Remove from bowl and place on silicone mat or lightly oiled sheet pan. Divide into 12 pieces and roll out each into a 18 inch long rope, then form a pretzel and place on another lightly oiled sheet pan. The dough has the melted butter so it should be easy to manipulate without any additional flour. There is a technique to twisting the rope into a pretzel, but you can simply form it into a pretzel, which is what we did. Cover pretzel and allow to rise again for another 30 minutes. Heat oven to 400º F. In a big pot, bring 8 cups of water and 2 heaping tablespoons to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Slide a pretzel into the pot and allow to simmer for 30 seconds each side, then place back on oiled sheet pan. Repeat for all pretzels. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. These are delicious on there own, but we served them with a beer cheese sauce which we adapted from Joy of Cooking, which makes the notable addition of blue cheese to kick up that cheese flavor and cream cheese to enhance the smoothness.

Maibock Beer Cheese Sauce

1 cup Maibock Beer (see note)
1 Tbs corn starch
1 Tbs cold water
2 cups grated aged cheddar
1 ounce cream cheese
1 ounce blue cheese
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard

Note: We made this version with Lakefront Brewery’s Maibock as an homage to spring. You can read a bit more about Maibock as a style here. We’ve made this with a nice malty amber or a simple pilsner. As the basic ingredients are the cheddar and the beer, give some thought to how the flavors might marry.

Bring the beer to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Mix the cornstarch with the water and slowly stir into the beer. the mixture will thicken in a minute or two. Then stir in the remaining ingredients until melted and smooth. Serve with pretzels.

Advertisements

Red Cabbage Slaw with Hot Bacon Dressing

A couple years back we wrote about our love for red cabbage served rotkohl-style which, as part of our Bavarian heritage, finds its way to some of our Thanksgiving tables. Traditional rotkohl brings a welcome sweet and sour contrast to rich, fatty meats, but this time around we wanted to make something a bit different. Our approach was to soak the red cabbage overnight in malt vinegar, then drain and top with a variation of a hot bacon dressing. Many of the same elements as rotkohl are coming into play, but soaking the cabbage rather than cooking, leads to a crisper end result and a bit of contrast between cabbage and dressing.

Red Cabbage Slaw with Hot Bacon Dressing
1 small head red cabbage, quartered, cored and sliced thin
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and grated
1 cup vinegar (see note)

4 slices smoked thick sliced bacon (Nueske’s is a great choice)
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
8 whole peppercorns
8 whole juniper berries
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbs. brown sugar

Note: We have been using house fermented malt vinegar in many of our recipes for the last few years. A quality apple cider vinegar, such as Bragg’s Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, will do just fine and is more widely available, but adding a dash of your favorite Oktoberfest beer wouldn’t hurt.

Combine the cabbage and grated apple in a small, non-reactive container and cover with vinegar. Allow to steep for at least one hour or as long as overnight, tossing occasionally to ensure even soaking.

After soaking period, strain the cabbage and save the soaking liquid in a glass bowl. Dice the bacon and place it into a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the spices and stir frequently until the bacon is crisp. [That may look more like 20 juniper berries, but you gotta use your own discretion on this one.]

red-cabbage

Strain bacon and spices and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan. Add 1 cup of the soaking liquid to the pan slowly, while stirring. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Reduce by half, then add sugar and stir until dissolved. While mixture reduces, remove spices from bacon and discard. Add the crisped bacon to the drained cabbage and top with the warm bacon fat dressing. Serve immediately.

red-cabbage1

This is an ideal accompaniment for a rich fatty dish, such as a sauerbraten, but can also work nicely with the dark meat of a smoked turkey.

Potage Colcannon – Potato Leek Kale Soup

The bounty of the farmers’ market created the inspiration of a Pottage Parmentier meets Colcannon – a potato leek soup with the addition of garlic sautéed cabbage. Potato leek soup served cold and topped with cream and chives is most often known as vichyssoise, but the classic warm soup owes it’s name to Antoine-Augustin Parmetier, who reportedly popularized the potato in Europe after it was brought back to the Old World from the New by the Spanish. I love potato. Parmentier may become my patron saint.

The French were slow to adopt the potato, seen at the time of introduction as peasant food, or even worse, animal fodder. The Irish took to the tuber a bit more readily and one of the classic dishes of the Emerald Isle is colcannon, which is basically mashed potatoes with onions, cream, and cabbage added. We were inspired by some beautiful kale (which basically is just a cabbage variety), leeks, and a selection of fingerling and traditional potatoes.

potato

Potato Leek and Kale Soup

2 cups fingerling potatoes, large dice
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
4 Tbs vegetable oil
4 tsp sea salt

4 leeks, minced (see directions)
2 quarts vegetable broth
8 medium potatoes, peeled and thin sliced
1 pint heavy cream (or almond milk)

6 leaves kale, or enough to yield 2 cups chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss fingerlings potatoes with thyme, 1 Tbs oil, and 2 tsp salt and spread on a sheet pan. Roast for about one hour, or until browned and crisp in the exterior and still soft internally. While potatoes roast, proceed to make soup.

Wash the leeks and thinly slice the lower eight inches, which is mostly white. The remaining greens can be saved for other uses. The slices should then be further chopped fine or processed in a food processor until finely chopped. Place 2 Tbs oil in a large soup pot over medium heat on the stovetop, add the leeks and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Stir until softened but not browned, about 20 minutes.

Add broth and sliced potatoes. Cook until potatoes are softened, about another 20 minutes once broth comes to a boil. Add cream and just heat through. Do not overcook the cream or it will separate and   Puree until smooth and set aside.

While soup comes to a boil, slice kale into 1/2 inch pieces and rinse then drain well (a salad spinner works well). In a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 Tbs oil and minced garlic. Cook until beginning to brown and very fragrant. Add kale, sprinkle with remaining 2 tsp salt and toss well. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes. Cook times will vary depending on the variety of kale, but the result should be softened and yet retaining some structure. The result should be along these lines:

potato3

Gather the roasted potatoes into a pile and top with cheese, then melt cheese until just browned under the broiler. We used a dill and garlic cheddar cheese curd. There are many great uses for Cheese Curds, but it turns out this wasn’t one of them. We should have gone with some grated white cheddar or similar strong, melting cheese, because the curds retain some of their spongy texture even when melted, which was not ideal in this application. But it looked pretty awesome:

potato2

We served our soup with a healthy pile of kale in the center and then topped with our crispy roasted potatoes and cheese. The smooth, rich flavors of the potato created a wonderful vehicle for the garlicky kale. Our fingerling potatoes were a stand-in for croutons. We’ve done grilled cheese croutons before in our tomato soup, which would have worked here as well.

potato4

Playing with our ethnic traditions, local farm-grown products, and giving it a new twist is right in line with our definition of Great Lakes Cuisine. It was also a lovely, warming autumn meal. Thank you St. Parmentier.

More Hoppel Poppel Variations

Frequent readers here know that we have an unhealthy obsession with this creation known as Hoppel Poppel (read more on our earlier post here). Quick synopsis of the required ingredients:

Basic Hoppel Poppel – Diced, par-boiled potatoes cooked until browned and crisping, sauteed with diced onion, and diced “salami” (see comment below), topped with egg, scrambled and then optionally topped with melted cheese.

Variations – Any root vegetables diced. Any member of the allium family. Any leftover meat, diced. Any egg, any style. Cheeses, many beautiful cheeses.

In some ways, the variations may be closer to the original than the Basic given above. The Basic is based on the dish as it appeared on a number of diner menus in the Great Lakes region over the last 50 years. Particularly in Milwaukee, the recipe always included “salami”, which is understandable in the home of Klements and Usingers. But what is called “salami” on these menus is really much closer in style and moisture content to beef summer sausage, rather than the much harder Italian-style true salami. The alleged origins of hoppel poppel was as a simple a way for the Germans settling in the Great Lakes region to use leftovers. The boiled potatoes from the previous evenings dinner were diced and fried in butter with onion and a bit of leftover meat.Mix in a few eggs and you have yourself a hearty and economical breakfast.

It is in this tradition that we have the most fun. Leftovers create some of the most memorable dishes. Bits left from a labor-intensive dinner preparation re-appear in the morning as effortless additions. One of my favorite all-time dishes was made by my good friend Tom after an epic roasting session with a whole leg of lamb went into the wee hours of the morning. The whole leg of lamb dinner was a labor. The lamb hash the next morning was all bonus; beautiful, effortless. We present two variations on Hoppel Poppel here – one  in the spirit of leftovers and and another which is a bit more fanciful.

Sweet Potato Hoppel Poppel with Duck Egg

hoppel-poppel-duck-egg

We began with leftover potatoes and sweet potatoes which had been cooked over the campfire the previous evening, fried in butter with onions, and topped with a slow-fried duck egg and goat’s milk jack cheese from Caprine Supreme.

“Royal” Hoppel Poppel

The purple potatoes we used in this preparation were a local farmers market find and inspired a pairing with a Lavender Jack, also from Caprine Supreme.

hoppel-poppel-royal

 

So go forth and experiment. Please feel free to share your creations with us here or on Twitter at @greatlakesfood.

The Treachery of Origins – or – Ceci N’est Pas Une Salade Niçoise

Origins of a dish are an ephemeral thing, full of nuance and speculation.And as debates rage about the invention of many dishes in the modern pantheon, those dishes morph and change to accommodate modern tastes or based on ingredient availability so the current incarnation may bear little resemblance to the original dish. The Salade Niçoise is just one example of many.

A farmer market bounty of beautiful greens, fresh green beans and new potatoes connected quite naturally to my recollection of a Salade Niçoise. The “Americanized” version typically includes green beans and new potatoes along with the required tuna, anchovies and Niçoise olives. Versions of this recipe can be found many places (such as Saveur, Epicurious or even Julia Child). Amazingly, two of those three listed, including the Julia Child’s version, does not even include Niçoise olives.

Consensus seems to building on what should be in a Salade Niçoise based on the opinion of Jacques Médecin in his book Cuisine Niçoise (a great discussion on that can be found here) which explicitly forbids new potatoes and green beans and features tomatoes much more prominently. This approach is apparently more faithful to origin in Nice, France. The current American version is akin to calling a dish Florentine because spinach and white sauce were added, with no real connection to Florence, Italy.

The inspiration of our salad as French mattered only in so far as it further tied the dish to Great Lakes Cuisine due to the historic settlement of the Great Lakes region by the early French voyageurs and fur traders coming down what is now known as the St. Lawrence seaway. Yet the belief that the inspiration was the classic French salad led to a much deeper investigation of the French history in the Great Lakes region. Much of the settlement of the area was not by French nationals or French military simply claiming lands in the New World. The process took generations and was much more gradual. In fact, many of the enduring settlements in the region were populated to a large degree by a multi-racial, multi-cultural mix of French and the indigenous peoples, which can be more accurately captured by a term not often associated with the Great Lakes region – Creole (read more about the use of that term here).

1753 Devaugondy
Image from the Library of Congress

The research into French settlement in the region further led to details on the farming communities which were established to support these settlements. In one, there is a very specific mention of raising beans and potatoes to support the community. And so we are brought full circle to our Early Summer Salad presented here.

In our preparation, the green beans and potatoes were cooked over an open fire, which even furthers our connection to our early French settlers. A soft boiled egg tops our salad, rather than the more Mediterranean options of anchovies and tuna, though whitefish would have a good option in this preparation, which were reported to be plentiful around the French settlement in La Baie (which became Green Bay, Wisconsin).  And no, there are no olives here.

An argument could be made for calling this a Creole Salad in line with the larger discussion on mixed race settlements alluded to earlier, but Creole Cuisine is already largely defined in the American mind and would only cause confusion. So we elected to simply call this our Early Summer Salad in honor of the harvest time for the ingredients. This is not a Salade Niçoise. This is, however, Great Lakes Cuisine. Local ingredients with lengthy ties to the area, ethnic traditions provided inspiration (though in a very circuitous fashion), and re-imagined for modern tastes. Imagine this coming fresh from your own farm, prepared over an open fire. Even better if you don’t have to imagine it.

Early Summer Salad

4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
8 oz. green beans
1 Tbs. butter, melted
8 small new potatoes, quartered
4 large eggs
16 oz. mixed greens
dried herbs (herbs de provence)
garlic powder
salt

Apple cider vinaigrette (see note below)

Prepare grill to medium heat. This can also be prepared stove-top. Place cast iron pan large enough to hold potatoes in one layer on to grill. Toss potatoes with butter, pinch of salt, pinch of garlic powder, and pinch of herbs de provence. Add to cast iron pan. Place diced bacon into a cast iron pan large enough to hold the green beans and place on grill to cook until just crisp. Remove bacon and leave 1 Tbs. of fat in pan. Add green beans and toss with bacon fat to coat. Allow green beans to roast for approximately 20 minutes or until just cooked through. Allow potatoes to roast for approximately 60 minutes until soft and golden crisp. Poach eggs in gently boiling water, about 4 minutes.

Note: We make a house vinaigrette with a house-made malt vinegar made with a wheat saison, but apple cider vinaigrette will work well here. We also roasted shallots to add to the dressing as well. Store bought will work fine, or consider making one with 3 Tbs. vinegar, 1/2 cup oil, and Penzey’s Country Vinaigrette seasoning mix and then add a shallot, diced and caramelized.

To assemble salad, toss greens with just enough vinaigrette to lightly moisten. Pile greens on plate, add a small pile of green beans and a few potatoes per plate. Top with poached egg, a spoonful of vinaigrette and sprinkle with crisped bacon.

Early Summer Salad