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On Cooking Southern: Old World Sights, Sounds and Flavors Feed Our Senses

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SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Gallivanting: Running around all over the countryside, sometimes to other countries, being busier’n an ant at a picnic.


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The Old Bride is still experimenting with recipes collected during last month’s trip to Austria. Key words for this process: Hearty… Sweet. Examples: Wiener Schnitzel and Apple Strudel.

Sometimes we Deep Southerners forget that a large percentage of America’s Caucasian settlers came to the United States from Germanic- and Slavic-influenced regions of Europe, including Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

The foods from those regions imprinted on us as strongly as the foods from France, England, Spain and Africa. Likewise, American-originated foods such as potatoes and squash (especially pumpkin) are as much a part of eastern Europe’s modern cuisines as they are ours.

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In fact, I found it difficult to draw that line of demarcation between Old World and New when sampling European dumplings, potatoes, one-pot stews, apple pies and torts. Honestly, what is Wiener Schnitzel but an Old World version of Country Fried Steak or Chicken or Pork? And what is Apple Strudel but a big ol’ apple pie without the pie plate?

All over Vienna the people were as friendly and helpful as Southerners. Only the language and landscape reminded me that Hubby and I weren’t in Kansas anymore. That pesky German language, source of some of the world’s greatest literature, seemed almost as foreign to moi in 2015 as the day I took my first German lesson in 1969. (Poor Professor Stiener, unsuccessful in his years-long attempt to train this Southern Belle in the art of the umlaut and fish-lipped o’s.)

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My over-simplified impression of the city: Vienna resembles a larger version of Disney’s Fantasyland. There’s a palace on almost every corner. Magnificent churches anchor every neighborhood. And there’s music everywhere.

As art is to France, music is to Austria. The Vienna Opera House and concert halls — both big and intimate-tiny — offer performances almost daily. Think Hayden. Bleyel. Strauss. Bruckner. Beethoven — born in the old Holy Roman Empire, he lived out his life in Vienna… or think Mozart. Definitely Mozart.

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Ah, Mozart. His musical compositions have been proven to alter brain chemistry in a good way.

For us sound-and-color synesthetes, Vienna is like a landscape kaleidoscope with background movie music. Against this multi-sensory backdrop, I finally understood Hundertwasser’s anti-regimented art and architecture (like Gaudi on drugs). And like Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”


SWEET AND FILLING. THERE’S MORE TO VIENNESE CUISINE THAN PASTRIES

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VIENNESE POTATO SOUP
We consumed delicious soups at the Cafe Mozart across from the Vienna Opera House. Versions of the cafe’s potato soup are on menus all across the city, sometimes containing chicken. It is similar to our New England chowders containing potatoes. For a vegetarian version, substitute 2 (32-oz) cartons of vegetable stock for the chicken stock and broth.

4 large Russet potatoes

1 stick unsalted butter

1 tsp kosher salt

3/4 c minced carrots or parsnips

2 T minced celery

1 medium white onion, minced (about 1 c)

1 (32 oz) carton chicken stock

1 (32-oz) carton chicken broth

1 c heavy cream, OPTIONAL

1 c fine-cubed chicken, OPTIONAL

Black pepper to taste

Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt for garnish

Boil the potatoes in their jackets until tender. Drain and peel. Mash one potato while still hot. Refrigerate all potatoes at least 2 hours; cut whole potatoes into small cubes.

Sauté the onion, carrot and celery in butter in a stockpot until tender. Add vegetable stock or chicken stock and broth. Bring to a boil and add the cubed potatoes. Simmer about 30 minutes. Use some of the hot broth to warm up mashed potato. Slowly stir in the mashed potato to thicken the soup.

Simmer 10 minutes and whisk in the cream. Bring back to a simmer and serve, topped with dollop of sour cream or Green yogurt (my preference). If adding chicken, stir it in before the cream and reheat to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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APPLE STRUDEL
Viennese printed recipes for this dish call for “strudel dough” which is sold in Austrian and German stores like our pie dough. Feel free to substitute store-bought phyllo dough or pie dough for the time-consuming strudel dough. The results will still be delicious.

* Make vanilla sugar in advance by combining a whole vanilla bean and a cup of white granulated sugar together in a covered jar. Shake at regular intervals for about 2 days. The sugar will absorb the vanilla fragrance and flavor.

Strudel Dough:

2-1/2 c all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

3 T plus 1/2 tsp vegetable oil such as canola

10 T water

8 T unsalted butter

Stir flour, salt, 3 tablespoons oil and 10 T water in a large bowl until combined and shaggy. If mixture remains too dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time. The resulting dough should be soft and sticky but no longer shaggy.

Lightly flour a hard surface. Place the dough on the floured surface and knead it until smooth and elastic, 5-10 minutes. Form it into a ball and lightly coat the ball with 1/2 teaspoon of oil. Cover it loosely in a bowl and let it rest for one hour. Prepare the strudel filling while dough is resting and preheat oven to 425˚F.

After an hour, cover surface with parchment paper topped with a large clean cloth (an old pillowcase is perfect). Dust a cutting board with flour and flip out the dough. Roll the dough into a 12-by-10-inch rectangle. Flip the dough off the cutting board onto the center of the prepped cloth. Roll it out into a rectangle.

Stretch the dough outward from the center, carefully spreading your fingers, palm down, underneath the dough. Pull out from the edges as you stretch the dough. If it tears, patch the tear and continue stretching until the dough is evenly stretched and rectangle is approximately 18-by-30 inches. It will be paper-thin. Austrians say the dough is finally thin enough if you can read printed text through it. Trim away thick and uneven edges.

Brush melted butter over the dough surface. Retain unused melted butter.

Strudel Filling:

3-1/4 lb (about 8) apples, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices

3/4 c white granulated sugar

1-1/3 c fresh breadcrumbs

7-1/2 T unsalted butter

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 T vanilla sugar*

1/2 c raisins

2 T light rum

Heat butter in a skillet. Add breadcrumbs. Sauté, tossing, to completely coat the crumbs. Remove skillet from heat to cool when the crumbs turn toasty brown.

Combine raisins with rum and soak for 15-20 minutes to plump. Combine sliced apples with sugar, vanilla sugar, and cinnamon. Add the rum-soaked raisins and excess rum. Toss to combine.

Assembly and Completion:

Spread buttered breadcrumbs evenly across surface of buttered dough rectangle, leaving a good three inches around all edges. Spread the apple filling down the center of the buttered crumbs.

The dough may be rolled two ways: (1) by folding over the edges lengthwise and crimping the edge closed, turning the crimped seam face-down; or (2) by rolling the short edge tightly over and over until the entire packet forms a giant pinwheel of alternating filling and dough. Crimp the loose edges if rolling into a pinwheel.

Position rolled strudel on a parchment-lined baking pan and drizzle with remaining melted butter. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for approximately 10 minutes at 425˚F and reduce heat to 350˚F; bake another 30-35 minutes.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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