Food Friday: Sangria!

This is a column from the Spy Way Back Machine. I am out of town for a week. Happy Friday!

I used to listen to a sporadically produced podcast called “Crimes Against Food”. It was a hilarious and irreverent take of making, growing, buying and eating food with two whack jobs named Gloria Lindh and Mia Steele. They podcast from Leeds, in Western Yorkshire, England, and are the polar opposite of some of the toffee-nosed podcasts I usually listen to on the BBC. They are young, and sometimes hung over. Their unscripted chats are peppered with words that we would not use in front of our mothers, but these occasional gaffs make for their cheeky charm. (I am certain I have heard one of them smoking once). I always imagine them sitting in the front room of a small urban flat, with window boxes of herbs, discussing the greater food issues of the day. Periodically there is a siren in the background. They advocate buying local, eating healthily and foraging for fallen crabapples, yet they have also gone on at great length about the mystical properties of bar snacks. Clearly, they are my kind of women.

Beside the subject of eating disorders they also discussed a universal topic: the weather. They nattered on about how miserable a summer it has been in England this year; nothing but cold and rain since June began. But looking on the brighter side they opined that winter should be there soon, so then they will have had 18 months of winter. Poor Gloria. Poor Mia. I would send them some of our heat if I could. Instead, I will channel them, and what they might like to drink if they came stateside this week: Crimes Against Food

Sangria is generous and forgiving and easy peasy. You don’t have red wine? Use that stash of cheap white wine, which is our personal fave. No lemons? Those peaches are going to work very nicely. You can use what is on hand, and what is in season. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries. Just be sure you have plenty of wine and an abundance of ice. Everything is more delicious in Sangria.

Basic Sangria (from Spain)

3 1/4 cups ( 26 ounces) dry red wine
1 tablespoon sugar
Juice of 1 large orange
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 large orange, sliced thin crosswise
1 large lemon, sliced thin crosswise
2 medium peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
1 cup (8 ounces) club soda

Combine all the ingredients except for the club soda in a large punch bowl or serving pitcher, mixing well. Refrigerate overnight. Immediately before serving, mix in the club soda for added fizz. Ladle into cups with ice cubes.
http://www.spain-recipes.com/basic-sangria-recipe.html

Emeril Lagasse’s Sangria

1 (750-ml) bottle red wine
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup orange flavored liqueur (recommended: Triple Sec or Grand Marnier)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 orange, thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
1 unwaxed apple, cored, and cut into thin wedges
1 (750-ml) bottle sparkling water, chilled
Combine everything but the sparkling water in a large plastic container or glass pitchers. Cover and chill completely, 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve, add the sparkling water.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/sangria-recipe4/index.html

In this baking heat I cannot think properly about cooking. Tonight we are going to have Panzanella Salad. Doesn’t that sound appropriately exotic and labor intensive? “Ha!” I say. A trip to the Farmers’ Market for cukes, tomatoes, sweet onion, bread and mozzarella. I usually toast the bread or fry it up into croutons, but I am avoiding the stove this week. So I will just cut the bread into chunks and let them get a little stale in the nice, hot summer air. Peel and chunk the cucumbers, quarter up the tomatoes, cut the onion up into generous wedges, and deal with the mozzarella (or Feta, if you prefer) any way you like. Add a little oil and vinegar, toss in the newly stale bread cubes and pour out the Sangria. Find a shady spot in your back yard and wait for the evening breezes to roll in off the water.

“Summer bachelors, like summer breezes, are never as cool as they pretend to be.”
– Nora Ephron

Food Friday: Grilling for Dad

It has been so warm this spring that I can barely think about eating, let alone cooking. I am daydreaming about nice cool, summertime foods that do not require a lick of cooking: watermelon, strawberries, icy bowls of bobbing crimson radishes, Good Humor Bars, freshly shelled peas. I am not musing about meat loaf, spaghetti, beef stew or roasted chicken.

What I do need to do is organize is a Father’s Day Sunday Dinner, one which does not involve any of my time spent in the kitchen. I will have to see if Mr. Friday is amenable to tossing some kebobs on the grill. There is nothing quite so delightful as the charred, crispy edges of  chunks of pepper and onions combined with chicken or steak.

We will gather on the back porch, where we have a few Adirondack chairs (which are never as comfortable as they are picturesque). I love the al fresco nights, when we can elude the mosquitoes and enjoy candles and strings of white lights. We can watch the last of the sun’s rays gilding the tops of the pecan trees and listen to the cardinals squabbling in the hedge. It will be time to slow down and the enjoy the lengthening purple shadows. There is no television news in the background. It is a pleasantly warm, humid summer evening.

Kebob skewers dress up anything and everything. Mr. Friday loves to cook on the weekend, thank heavens, and he says he enjoys it on Father’s Day, too. I suspect that is because he can control the menu selection. Everything he touches becomes a carefully designed and choreographed production number. On the weekends The Girl from Ipanema typically streams tunefully as Mr. Friday rummages through the fridge, taking out jars and bottles and containers of wine, mustard, horseradish, capers, lemon juice and olive oil. From the spice cabinet he selects honey, allspice and cilantro. He snatches up a hefty wedge of garlic, too. He pours everything into a glass bowl, testing the wine first, of course, and adding the chunks of chicken. (He has another elixir for steak that involves lots and lots of garlic.) That’s it – no recipe. Just instinct. (Disclaimer: once I had to stop him from using olive oil for cooking pancakes, so sometimes these impromptu food experiments do go awry.) This freedom from recipe structure leaves us time to wander into the back yard and toss the ball for the dog, testing more of the Chardonnay. Excellent planning.

Drifting back into the kitchen, Mr. Friday threads the chicken chunks onto metal skewers. (We used to try to use wooden skewers, but never remembered to soak them, so a lot went up in black puffy smoke.) He also skewered mushrooms, red peppers, green peppers, yellow pepper and red onions, separately. (Although we like slightly charred vegetables, it makes sense to cook the vegetables and the meat separately otherwise the vegetables can incinerate while the meat cooks.) And then he tosses the meat, and then the vegetables, onto the hot grill. Another moment of cooking deflection triumph.

Mark Bittman (who is about to start writing for New York Magazine! http://nymag.com/press/2017/06/mark-bittman-joins-grub-street-and-new-york-as-columnist.html) had a great graphic in the New York Times a couple of years ago – all the myriad possibilities for kebabs: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/07/08/magazine/kebab-generator.html?_r=0 You don’t have to be boring and suburban sedate like us.

Our house might be different. Happy families and all, the father you fête on Father’s Day might like a little fuss. Think of the tofu, mango, okra, eggplant skewers you can present to your dad on Sunday night. Yumsters!

“Ah, summer – what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”
– Russell Baker

Food Friday: Summer Slaws

After the cool and rainy days earlier this week, you will be happy to know that summer is indeed upon us. It is supposed to be pretty warm this weekend, so we should start relying on the fridge to provide some of our meals. It is my favorite time of the year when I get to walk away from the stove. It’s strictly counter time for me – I will endlessly and cheerfully slice and dice fruits and veg. Except for Sunday biscuits and bacon, I am range-free. It is time to let Mr. Friday take over the cooking tasks – out on the grill and out on the back porch. But more about grilling when we tackle Father’s Day grilling in next week’s column. Today we explore the summer slaw.

My mother was not an enthusiastic or adventurous cook. Everything she cooked was simple, by-the-book, and bland. Things livened up a bit when she started to watch Julia Child on PBS. We were reluctant test subjects for her Boeuf Bourguignon, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA2ys8C-lNk, French Onion Soup https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw0Ij1Fxgq4, and Mousse au Chocolat. http://juliachildsrecipes.com/desert/julia-child-chocolate-mouse-recipe/. Instead of being grateful, we were childish wretches and secretly yearned for the old days, of beef stew, Campbell’s tomato soup and My-T-Fine chocolate pudding.

Not used to having fancy French meals, instead we cut out teeth on boring, dull and reliable middle-of-the-road, middle-American, mid-century meals. Everything we ate was unadventurous, devoid of spices, nothing ethnic except pizza, which was always bought at one Italian restaurant in town, until my brother was in high school, and started experimenting with homemade pizza. The Age of Aquarius introduced us to oregano and red pepper flakes, with a soupçon of olive oil.

In the summer, since the kitchen would get blazing hot with the gas stove chugging away, we ate cool, simple meals prepared in the kitchen, or scorched chicken and hamburgers reduced to hockey pucks as incinerated by my father out on the hibachi grill. Lots of tuna salad. Macaroni salads. Bowls of iced radishes. Corn on the cob. Child-churned vanilla ice cream. Cole slaw. The coleslaw that was prepared as the antidote to chargrilled meats was the same slaw we would have with pork roasts in the winter. The acidic cabbage was the perfect accompaniment to the heavy meats.

My mother’s coleslaw was made of four ingredients: shredded cabbage, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Heinz apple cider vinegar, and McCormick’s celery seed. And note the required branding – no Miracle Whip or Duke’s Mayonnaise in her kitchen! She did not taint her mixture with frou-frou shredded carrots, mustard, sour cream or cumin. I have my doubts that our little corner market carried such exotic ingredients, but I do wonder why Mom never tried Julia Child’s Coleslaw: http://www.cdkitchen.com/recipes/recs/280/JuliaChildsColeslaw62651.shtml

The other much dog-eared cookbook in my mother’s kitchen arsenal was Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, originally self-published in 1931. Obviously, my mother never ventured into the coleslaw section of the book, which calls for homemade mayonnaise.

Slaw can be any manner of sliced or shredded vegetables. Coleslaw adds the mayonnaise. https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/176167/whats-the-difference-between-coleslaw-and-slaw/

And imagine what my mother would say about our friends at Food52 and their take on summer slaw: No-Mayo Coleslaw: No-Mayo Coleslaw: No-Mayo Coleslaw: https://food52.com/blog/19756-the-no-mayo-coleslaw-recipe-coming-soon-to-all-your-picnics-and-barbecues Heresay!

Even the folks at Bon Appétit have a gussied up coleslaw recipe. Two kinds of cabbage? This is an affront to my mother’s no-nonsense New England approach to life in general, and in the kitchen more specifically: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/classic-coleslaw

The Splendid Table team could make slaw from the contents of a sock drawer, so it is no wonder that they have four slaw recipes that are exotic and definitely not made with Hellmann’s: https://www.splendidtable.org/recipes/our-four-favorite-slaws

Alice Waters has a recipe that will be very tasty when you pull that three-pound cabbage out of your garden this weekend. Or perhaps you should stop by one of the many fine local farm stands and bring one home. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/5976-alice-waterss-coleslaw

Enjoy the beginning of summer, and walking away from your stove. And maybe you should just try to remember how your mother made coleslaw. It will be delicious next to the hockey puck of a burger that comes off the back yard grill this weekend.

“My greatest strength is common sense. I’m really a standard brand – like Campbell’s tomato soup or Baker’s chocolate.”
– Katharine Hepburn

Food Friday: Blooming Summer

We are gearing up for a wonderful, blooming summer. We managed to install five window boxes (without getting divorced) a few of weekends ago. Naturally the task involved several trips to the hardware store for new drill bits and ultimately a new, more powerful drill. And sealant and Liquid Nails. And then there were the trips to the garden center. Finally we loaded the boxes up with some organic soil, pink geraniums, vincas, sweet potato vines, English ivy, and some lavender just because Mr. Friday liked the way it looked. At the end of the weekend I walked around the house adding the final touch – the nasturtium seeds. Cross your fingers that they all enjoy the long, hot summer with a southern exposure!

And three weeks later, the little round, green, bobbling nasturtium leaves have risen above the other plants, and soon I hope to be able to start harvesting multi-colored blossoms to toss into salads and cocktails. (I still don’t know if the children have ever recovered from that long-ago Easter trauma when I decorated a cake with fresh nasturtium blossoms, and a couple of spiders ran 8-legged races across the beautiful, shiny pink frosting…)

Remember to use only the petals of the flowers, and never the stamens and pistils. Regard berries with deep suspicion. As always, you should use some caution when choosing flowers and blossoms to eat. Don’t go foraging along the roadside – who knows what noxious pesticide has been sprayed? Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries, or garden centers. Sometimes these flowers have been treated with pesticides not labeled for food crops. You might find some at the whole paycheck store, or you can tenderly and organically raise your own.

For example:

chrysanthemum
cornflower
dandelion
day lily
dianthus
daisy
geranium
hollyhock
honeysuckle
impatiens
jasmine
lavender
lilac
marigold
nasturtium
pansy
passionflower
clover
rose
snapdragon
sunflower
violet

This article in the New York Times got me to thinking about what edible blossoms we have – or can start to grow – in our garden. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/dining/flounder-recipe-compound-butter-herb-blossoms.html?ref=dining

Nasturtiums, check. We will have Techicolor salads in a couple of weeks. And we can add lavender to our repertoire: I think a hint of lavender in a tall cool flute of Prosecco will be tasty this weekend.

We’ve put some yellow marigolds in the porch containers with the tomato and basil plants; more for color than for food. I’ll have to remember to snip some of the blossoms for the salad we are going to serve this weekend for some company. At least the marigolds are already in bloom, while we are still waiting for the nasturtiums to bud.

http://www.southernliving.com/food/entertaining/edible-flowers

While we are not growing them this year in our tiny container garden, next year when we finally build those raised garden beds, we will endear ourselves to our new neighbors by growing a whole lot of zucchini. And we can use some of the zucchini blossoms in clever and tasty ways. Imagine the neighborhood cocktail parties when we pass around the crunchy fried blossoms! http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/fried-zucchini-blossoms The second course can be stuffed zucchini blossoms: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/stuffed-zucchini-blossoms The third course will be zucchini Parmesan. Zucchini dessert? Banana blueberry zucchini bread!

The pansies seem to be fading away as the temperatures continue to climb, so we had best act fast to use them as garnishes in our cocktails.

Real Fruit Lemon Drop
1 1/2 oz. Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1/2 oz. Meyer lemon juice
Splash of sparkling wine
1 thin lemon slice
Sugar (for rim)
Pansy

Sugar the rim of a chilled martini glass by rubbing a lemon wedge around the edge and then dipping the rim into sugar. Place the first three ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake and then pour into the glass. Slowly pour the sparkling wine on top so it floats. Garnish with a lemon slice topped with a pansy.

If you would like to do your own back garden research, here is an amusing column, “Drink Your Flowers.” http://drunkenbotanist.com/recipes/drink-your-flowers/
Here is a handy, dandy guide to edible flowers: https://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm

I am also waiting for the birds to stop being thugs. I have planted some gigantic sunflowers on either side of the back porch steps, but I never realized what opportunists our bird visitors are. They have been digging up all of the sunflower seeds. Even though I put out a fresh handful of bird seed on their tray feeder every day. Greedy gits! At this rate we may not have sunflower blossoms in any of our meals this summer.

Sit back and enjoy the colorful bounty of your own summer garden.

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe

Food Friday: Memorial Day Crab Dip

It’s Memorial Day Weekend! Hurrah! We can all use a three-day weekend to prepare for summer. It’s time to pull out the white shoes, get the boat in the water and head to the beach. Some of us are even going to entertain. I’ve strung the lights on the back porch, and have already seen some fireflies return the compliment. Summer is almost upon us!

We have re-painted the Adirondack chairs, and are dusting off the cushions, cleaning screens, and dreaming of Maryland blue crabs. Even the strait-laced Wall Street Journal is getting into the act. Last week they published this fab recipe, knowing we wanted a crab get-together, but didn’t have a long, leisurely afternoon to devote to a crab fest – there is a lot going on, after all. The Tea Party in Chestertown is going to take up the whole weekend!

With thanks to Baltimore chef Spike Gjerde, who appreciates the gems of the Chesapeake Bay, too.

Maryland Deviled Crab Dip

Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4-6
¾ cup finely diced celery
¾ cup finely diced green pepper
3 scallions, thinly sliced
½ cup finely chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
2½ pounds crab meat
½ cup fine bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dry mustard
5 good dashes hot sauce
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup butter at room temperature
Kosher salt
6 cups salad greens
Juice of ½ lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
Baguette, sliced into ½-inch rounds and toasted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss together celery, green peppers, scallions and parsley. Add crab meat, half the bread crumbs, dry mustard, hot sauce, heavy cream and all but 2 tablespoons butter. Season with salt to taste.
2. Transfer mixture to a lightly buttered baking dish and top with remaining bread crumbs. Melt remaining butter and brush over top. Bake until crumbs are golden, 10-15 minutes.
3. Lightly dress salad greens with lemon juice, olive oil and salt to taste. Serve deviled crab warm with toast and salad on the side.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/maryland-deviled-crab-dip-30-minute-recipe-1494949090

And since this is a Memorial Day party, be sure to have lots of other classics on hand: lemonade, brownies, and a grill fired up for the hot dogs and burgers – that will leave more of the crab dip for you! And don’t forget to have some nice cold beer.

Thank you, Martha.

Fresh lemonade seems to be just the thing for picnics or barbecues, and making it couldn’t be simpler. This perennial favorite requires just 3 ingredients: lemon juice, sugar, and water. This means it won’t take much time away from a leisurely summer afternoon to mix a batch. To make 2 quarts, pour 3 cups of fresh lemon juice (from about 20 lemons) through a fine sieve into a pitcher. Add 2 cups of superfine sugar, and stir until it has dissolved. Stir in 4 cups of water and some ice, and then garnish with lemon slices.

http://www.marthastewart.com/267239/classic-lemonade

We are decorating by sticking little American flags in the window boxes this year, willing our red geraniums, blue lobelia and white vincas to do us proud. (I hope they are taller, and not burnt out, by the Fourth of July.) Remember to take a few moment to honor the people who died so we could enjoy this peaceful back yard get-together.

Dulce et decorum est

“The bugle echoes shrill and sweet,
But not of war it sings to-day.
The road is rhythmic with the feet
Of men-at-arms who come to pray.

The roses blossom white and red
On tombs where weary soldiers lie;
Flags wave above the honored dead
And martial music cleaves the sky.

Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel,
They kept the faith and fought the fight.
Through flying lead and crimson steel
They plunged for Freedom and the Right.

May we, their grateful children, learn
Their strength, who lie beneath this sod,
Who went through fire and death to earn
At last the accolade of God.

In shining rank on rank arrayed
They march, the legions of the Lord;
He is their Captain unafraid,
The Prince of Peace . . .
Who brought a sword.”

-Joyce Kilmer

Food Friday: Basil Bonanza

There are so many fruits and vegetables in season right now that we are having a trouble keeping up with them. There is a veritable glut of strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, carrots, spinach and more. And lurking on our back porch is the biggest basil plant we have ever grown.

We haven’t done anything special to it except transplanting it from its grocery store plastic pot, and plunking it into the large pot it shares with a burgeoning heirloom tomato plant. I do mutter incantations over them when I water every morning, but that is it. No extra feedings of bionic growth elixir. No Miracle-Gro. The basil has decided to grow, and we are rushing to keep jogging along at its side.

We are always big fans of Caprese salad – it is so delicious and such an easy supper to whip up when it has been a frantic day in the Spy test kitchens. We tend to have a line up of tomatoes on the kitchen window sill all summer long (and it has been so hot so early that I am thinking of breaking out my bathing suit before Memorial Day!)and with the basil growing like kudzu on the back porch, there is no excuse not to invest in tomato futures. I plan to indulge in a fresh ball of mozzarella every couple of days to help keep our basil plant well-trimmed and busy.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/insalata-caprese-13232

Mr. Friday couldn’t find the dried up, gray parsley flakes he tends to favor for his Sunday morning eggs last week. He tossed in a couple of roughly torn basil leaves instead, and had a religious experience. Maybe this means we can go through the spices and toss out the decades old sage, rosemary and thyme, too!

We like a nice light pesto sauce for fresh pasta when the temperatures rise. Years ago we stopped adding the pine nuts, and instead make a nice thick paste of basil, olive oil, garlic gloves, salt, pepper and fresh Parmesan cheese, that we swirl around the mini-food processor for a moment or two. If it seems too thick, we thin it with a little pasta water. We gave up the pine nuts because they were hard to find, are chock-full of cholesterol, and are expensive. Some people substitute walnuts, but I don’t like walnuts, so I have opted for simplicity.

Basic Pesto á la Spy
2 cups fresh basil leaves (no stems)
2 large cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Combine basil leaves, oil and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced, and then smooth. Add the cheese and process very briefly, just long enough to combine. Store in refrigerator or freezer, because you will need a container of sunshine in your fridge for a rainy day.

Mr. Friday has a new wok, and has been assiduously tempering and seasoning it. I play sous chef, and shop, and chop, and slice, and dice. One of his new recipes for a Chinese stir fry calls for the addition of fresh basil, tossed in the wok at the very last minute of cooking. Wow. So many ingredients (and two trips to the Oriental market!) but so deelish! https://food52.com/recipes/32284-taiwanese-popcorn-chicken

On our weekly Friday night pizza nights we have broken all the rules in our shambling learning process. We had the heat too low, or the cooking time was too long, or we put the cheese on first, or we burnt everything to a crisp. (When preparing something every week for years and years, it is amazing how many disasters we have had – and yet the pizza is always delicious!) It was companionable way to spend time with our children, practicing measuring, rolling out dough, learning kitchen skills and messing about in clouds of flour. I cannot recommend it too highly. We used to add fresh basil as a topping, but didn’t realize that like the Chinese recipe, the basil is so much more flavorful, and is still pungent and GREEN, if added at the very end of the cooking process. Instead of the basil turning into a crispy, flavorless cinder after baking at 550° F for 8 minutes, now it emerges from the oven, slightly limp, but oozing flavor and basil-ness. And it looks pretty; always a plus.

Go rescue a basil plant, and give it a nice home on your back porch. It will feed you all summer.

Here is a weekend challenge for you: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/tomato-basil-pizza-two-ways-an-experiment/

“Everyone is guilty at one time or another of throwing out questions that beg to be ignored, but mothers seem to have a market on the supply.
“Do you want a spanking or do you want to go to bed?”
“Don’t you want to save some of the pizza for your brother?”
“Wasn’t there any change?””
-Erma Bombeck

Food Friday: Roll Out the Rhubarb!

Isn’t spring great? That’s if you can be flexible about the weather, and endure a couple of unexpectedly soggy days which can ruin your weekend plans? As you wander through the farmers’ market, or even the more prosaic grocery store produce department, you can see piles of lovely, gleaming, jewel-like fruits and vegetables, and you can feel the excitement of the recent discoveries of all the prescient food editors. Suddenly, you can see why Bon Appétit has a page about the beauty of rhubarb. Just look at it! Look at those pinks! Admire that green! Rhubarb could be a charming vintage Lilly Pulitzer print, without all the cumbersome Palm Beach pretenses. Rhubarb, that coy herbaceous perennial, is here, but it isn’t going to last forever, so get out your thinking caps.

As you might suspect, there are many ways in which to indulge your rhubarb yen. When the Spy was a shiny new publication, our esteemed colleague, Nancy Taylor Robson, shared a family recipe for her Orange-and-ginger-infused Crisp, which is still on the Food52 website, because it is brilliant, and very tasty, too. https://food52.com/recipes/4326-orange-and-ginger-infused-crisp-by-nancy-taylor-robson Nancy buried her lede, because this orange-and-ginger-infused-crisp also contains four cups of rhubarb. It is, as we like to say, yumsters. And four cups of rhubarb will help thin the rhubarb plant in your back yard.

Nancy emailed me the other day to say she had recently baked a couple of strawberry rhubarb pies. Note that she did not include an invitation to eat said pies. One can imagine that a pie baked by Nancy is quite divine. I am going to try my hand at this recipe by Deb Perelman and her Smitten Kitchen: https://smittenkitchen.com/2010/06/strawberry-rhubarb-pie-improved/ Her pie has been featured on NPR, and will be fact-checked and verified delicious.

I have a new website that I am exploring, and I hope you like it, too. I like a little levity, because all is too grim these days. Endless Simmer has a cheerful attitude. And some mighty fine recipe ideas. And I think Strawberry Scones (with chunks o’rhubarb) are a fabulous idea. Rhubarb doesn’t have to be just for dessert. It can be for breakfast, too. An tea! It is an all-purpose rhizome. http://www.endlesssimmer.com/2012/05/25/this-week-at-the-farmers-market-rhubarb-its-whats-for-breakfast/

But where would we be without some helpful hints from our clever friends at Food52? Not only do they have access to the extravagant resources available to New Yorkers, they are cutting-edge home cooks. I think their strawberry-rhubarb ice cream is so much better than last week’s asparagus ice cream. https://food52.com/recipes/4323-strawberry-rhubarb-ice-cream (I found dried angelica root here: https://www.americanspice.com/angelica-root/, but I am just skipping that ingredient. )

But I am saving the best for last – a Rhubarb Collins. This is the way to enjoy spring, a nice tall Collins glass in hand as you sit on the back porch, watching the cardinals dart from the bird feeder, while that bunny sits calmly in the back yard, nibbling the grass that you have no intention to mow today. Pour some more Champagne, please!

Rhubarb Collins

1 stalk rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2 -inch pieces (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces gin
1 ounce lemon juice
2 to 4 ounces Champagne

Make a simple syrup with the rhubarb and sugar: combine the rhubarb and sugar with 3/4 cup water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer until slightly thickened and bright pink in color, about 20 minutes. Let the syrup cool then pour through a colander set over a bowl. Press down gently and toss the solids. (The rhubarb simple syrup can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.)
Combine one ounce of the rhubarb simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with the gin and lemon juice. Fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously until completely mixed. Strain into a chilled highball glass and top with Champagne or Prosecco. Add a straw, and a strawberry for decoration. Drink. Repeat. Enjoy. Spring is fleeting!

“Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.”
-Groucho Marx

Food Friday: An Abundance of Asparagus

What a great time of year! You will be groaning under the weight of the asparagus harvest you will be hauling home from the farmers’ market in your re-usable bags this weekend. It’s asparagus time, and it’s time for a little asparagus boot camp to get you ready to enjoy all that copious sweet green goodness.

Asparagus might not be quite as versatile as the potato, but you can bake it, grill it, stir fry it, roast it, steam it, or toss it into a salad. How about some tasty tips in your eggs on Sunday morning? Don’t feel like a big dinner production? Get out a baking sheet and fire up the broiler. In a few minutes, with a judicious drizzling of olive oil, a smattering of salt, and a quick squeeze of lemon, you have an elegant dish that you can eat with your fingers out on the back porch as you count the first fireflies of the season. Seize the moment, and all the asparagus plenty that you can carry.

Roasted Asparagus
https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013972-roasted-asparagus

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-asparagus-recipe

Grilled Asparagus
This is almost as much fun to prepare as our Big Love Pizza. It is time to get the grill out of the garage and back up on the back porch. Grilled asparagus is deelish and there are no cookie sheets to wash! Be careful that you don’t burn your fingers as you gobble up these rich, sweet asparagus spears.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/grilled-asparagus-242259

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/05/simple-grilled-asparagus-recipe.html

Baked Asparagus
This isn’t quite as spring-y, but it is deeply satisfying. Who doesn’t love molten cheese?
http://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a52405/cheesy-baked-asparagus-recipe/

Pasta with Asparagus-Lemon Sauce
Because we all have a vegan friend or two, and they will love this at your next dinner party: http://minimalistbaker.com/creamy-vegan-lemon-asparagus-pasta/

And if you are not a vegan, but are ready to swim in lemon-y cream: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/pasta-with-asparagus-lemon-sauce-103382

This recipe has a slightly simpler approach – cooking the asparagus along with the pasta. https://smittenkitchen.com/2009/05/asparagus-goat-cheese-and-lemon-pasta/

Asparagus Toasts
Sometimes written recipes can just look so intimidating because every step is bulleted, numbered or set in bold-faced type. Heavens to Betsy! We make a lot of bruschetta because inevitably we have French bread that is stale-ish and should be tossed to the ducks if we don’t use it up soon. We slice it into rounds, and grill it under the broiler. Then we rub garlic cloves on the (cooled) crunchy toasty rounds. Then we drizzle the bread with a little olive oil, and pile on the chopped tomatoes, cilantro, basil, green onions and crumbled feta cheese before putting it back under the broiler to melt the cheese. Easy peasy, right? Now, go back to the step right after we rub the bread with garlic. Instead of piling on the vegetables, we schmear the bread with sweet fresh ricotta cheese, and plunk down some tender green asparagus spears, which we have trimmed to fit the bread. Back under the broiler. Then into our greedy mouths.

Now here is a many-stepped recipe: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/asparagus-and-ricotta-toasts

Asparagus and Bacon
Of course, Martha would combine two of the best ingredients known to humans: http://www.marthastewart.com/897471/sauteed-asparagus-bacon

But I have saved the best for last: Asparagus Ice Cream. Yumsters.
http://www.endlesssimmer.com/2012/05/29/endless-ice-cream-asparagus/

https://cooking.nytimes.com/guides/22-how-to-cook-asparagus

“… asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the soil of their garden-bed: a rainbow-loveliness that was not of this world.”
-Marcel Proust

Food Friday: Growing Season

We are still fussing with the plans for our new raised garden bed, so I am concerned that we will not be getting the tomatoes in the ground this weekend. Last night I ran out to the grocery store for a bottle of cheap white wine (it’s been a week) and I saw some sad, limp and leggy tomato plants for sale on a table set up just outside the entrance. “2 for $5” read one sign. “$10/plant” read another. Yikes!

I’m too late to start seeds for this season, but I have started looking around for a good balance of plants, hybrid and heirloom, so I can hope to have at least a modestly successful harvest. The plants at the grocery store were not labeled, so one can only imagine what sort of homes they came from. I am not sure I need to be completely artisanal, choosing only heirloom, Brooklyn-worthy plants. I tend to lunge at the bright shiny objects, or the ones with vaguely poetical names: Brandywine (I think Andrew Wyeth would approve), Early Girl, Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple or Green Zebra.

For the Mid-Atlantic states, Mother Earth News suggests Amish Paste and Brandywine tomatoes. http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/growing-tomatoes/amish-paste-brandywine-tomatoes-zmaz10fmzraw

I like to have slicer tomatoes lolling in the sun on the windowsill. I can always make a happy lunch of a tomato sandwich, Pepperidge Farm white bread and a thick schmear of mayonnaise. With some potato chips, please. There is nothing better than a nice sun-warmed tomato. But then Mr. Friday is fond of some cherry tomatoes, which he likes to sear under the broiler, and serve with burrata, basil and good olive oil as dressing. He might prefer growing some Sungold or Sweet Million cherry tomatoes.

Mother Earth News also suggests putting plants in every couple of weeks. This staggering spreads out the growing season. I am stealing that idea as pure genius, and to cover for the fact that I am so late starting seeds. And then I can keep up with the weeding.

There are plenty of places on the Eastern Shore you can visit to get your tomato fix: http://marylandsbest.net/?dir-search=yes&orderby=post_title&order=asc&s=%22heirloom-tomatoes%22 CSAs and farms and farmer’s market abound.

And what will you prepare with your summer-long tomato bounty? Besides deelish tomato sandwiches?

This is the most popular salad recipe on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/864620828431353119/

NatashasKitchen.com

Cucumber Tomato Avocado Salad

Ingredients

2 avocados
1/4 cup cilantro
1 English cucumber
1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons of juice)
1/2 red onion, medium
1 pound Roma tomatoes (or run through the garden, and see what beauties you have)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt (we prefer Maldon, just like the Queen!)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Our clever friends at Food52 always have something delightful to say about tomatoes. I was particularly charmed when a period of time was described as a “load of laundry” – my kind of time frame. This is a slightly more involved tomato dish, but it will be fabulous in a few weeks, when your first green tomatoes are harvested: https://food52.com/blog/17762-the-chickpea-tomato-salad-that-presented-a-moral-dilemma

The USDA has a price per pound and a price per cup listing for most fruits and vegetables. They are not so specific about the myriad tomato varieties – just grape and cherry, Roma, and beefsteak make their catchall list. In 2015 grape and cherry tomatoes were more expensive than beefsteak – but only just: $3.29 per pound versus $3.16. Romas were the bargain at $1.24 per pound. In the dead of winter I buy Romas at the grocery store, because they have more flavor than the soulless slicing tomato option. I bet our tomato crop this year is going to set us back a few more dollars that we would have spent at the grocery store – but I will save a lot of seeds, and stick a PostIt on my 2018 calendar, and I will get cracking earlier next year.
https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/fruit-and-vegetable-prices/

Update: today at the garden center, while also eyeing the foxgloves, I bought four starter tomato plants: two Black Cherry, hybrid cherry tomatoes for Mr. Friday, and two German Queen heirloom tomato plants for me. Let the garden games begin!

“I feel old and vulnerable. I now realise that I knew nothing and know nothing, but back when my career was beginning, I thought I was a man when, in fact, I was a dewy-eyed boy who’d not seen an avocado or eaten a tomato.”
– James Nesbitt

Food Friday: A Soupçon of Danger

As a enthusiastic home cook, I invest in gadgets that claim to make food prep easier. Perhaps I am just fantastically lazy. I have a drawer full of good intentions. I just love those bright, shiny, time-saving and ultimately, dangerous widgets. I can rummage through that drawer and remember all the blood that was drawn, the toes that were smashed, the knuckles that were scraped, and the fingerprints that were artfully grated. But my prepared dishes were beautiful. I obviously listened to my high school art teacher. When Mr. Preu was instructing us in the proper way to use the paper cutter, he warned us to never get blood on the artwork.

One of my favorite details in the original Jurassic Park film was the car mirror that had a helpful warning label: “Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.” Do the characters in the movie pause to consider this valuable information? Of course not, because then the movie would have ended abruptly and without any teeth-gnashing fun. The show had to go on.

My first brush with kitchen equipment peril came when I was standing in a store, reading the side of a kitchen mandoline box. I had wanted one for a long time, and here I had found quite a fancy one, and it was on sale! A mysterious woman passing by reached out and tapped the box with a long, bony finger. “They are so dangerous! I had to go to the emergency room the first time I used mine!” Heavens! Were perfect waffle fries worth the pain? Certainly. Could I endure exsanguination for wafer thin cukes in a translucent Scandinavian salad decorated with frothy bits of lacy dill? Yes, I could. And so far, except for minor, shallow, and quickly staunched wounds made while fitting the cunningly complicated blades into the apparatus, I have not been seriously scarred. I do use the clumsy “safety food holder” provided by the manufacturer (no doubt at the urging of their liability lawyers) to keep my fingertips protected from the guillotine-sharp blade when slicing. And doubtless one of these days I will learn the double-weave-waffle-technique. It takes a lot of potatoes to master all of the cutting techniques.

I recently bought a microplaner, because I kept seeing it mentioned in recipes and because, unlike the mandoline, it can go in the dishwasher. Last week I used it to grate cheese, garlic and lemon zest. And my right thumb. All for one pasta recipe. But, still. It is dishwasher safe. And the hydrogen peroxide got rid of the blood stains on the tea towel.

Grilling season is almost upon us. It’s time for me to start making shish kabobs and pricking my fingers like a latter day Sleeping Beauty. The skewers are not so dangerous when I am actually skewering the meal and veggies; they are sneaky, and poke me when I am rooting around in the drawer looking for something completely different – like the basting brush or the cork screw.

In the dishwasher there lurk other pointy objects – like the steak knives that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named continues to put in the basket with the sharp tips pointing upwards. Ouch.

Be careful in the kitchen. Don’t perform home vivisections with any of the groovy mod cons. Even slicing a bagel can be dangerous. And since dining out nightly or 24/7 room service are not practical alternatives, listen to my old art teacher: don’t get blood on your creations.

Pasta with Lemon, Garlic and Parmesan Cheese,
with a Soupçon of Microplane Danger

Serves 4 to 6
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Maldon salt
1 large clove garlic, grated with dangerous microplane
1 lemon, zested with lethal microplane, and juiced (watch out for seeds!)
1 pound pasta (I prefer Penne)
2 to 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated with menacing microplane
Freshly ground black pepper for a flourish
Decorative parsley

Combine in a large bowl oil: salt, garlic, lemon juice and zest. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box, retaining some water. Quickly throw the pasta into the bowl. Toss everything together well, and then add the parsley, cheese, and pepper before tossing again. Yumsters. Add salad, garlic bread and cheap wine. Bliss.

“…Goldfinger could not have known that high tension was Bond’s natural way of life and that pressure and danger relaxed him.”
― Ian Fleming