Food Friday: Winter Root Vegetables

It has been a very odd winter. When I first planned this column I had imagined that we would still be digging cars out from snow drifts and warming our hands on big frothing mugs of tasty hot chocolate. Instead, we have taken off the wool sweaters, stashed the turtle necks, and opened up the windows to some delightful spring-like weather. And now I have to spend the weekend washing windows, because the short bit of winter we did have has covered them with a lot of schmutz and dust.

Part of my vision for this week was going to be a lively little rummage through our vegetable bins, pulling out all the winter-y root vegetables I could find for some quick and easy roasted vegetable dishes, or some lively stir fries. Instead, I think we need to pursue the more topical discussion: Gins and Tonic vs. Vodkas and Tonic. Who needs a hot toddy during this last week of February? Bring out the tall glasses, the limes, and lots of ice from the freezer, and let’s meet on the back porch for sunset cocktails!

Still, there is the pesky matter of dinner. We can’t let those cocktails go to our heads. We can still have crunchy salads, roasted veggies and a stir fry feast.

I love the way Bon Appétit has complete confidence in our mandoline slicing skills. And I just love these croutons – much healthier than my usual recipe which calls for frying the bread in bacon fat. This is just a beautiful salad, especially with the addition of jewel-like pomegranate seeds.

Crunchy Winter-Vegetable Salad

INGREDIENTS
Croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
½ garlic clove, finely grated
4 cups ½–¾-inch pieces country-style bread
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
Dressing and Assembly
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ garlic clove, grated
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for serving
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 head of Treviso or Chioggia radicchio, leaves coarsely torn
1 large head fennel, very thinly sliced
2 medium golden or red beets, very thinly sliced
8 small white turnips, trimmed, very thinly sliced
8 cups torn lettuce leaves (such as red oak or Little Gem)
½ cup pomegranate seeds

RECIPE PREPARATION
Croutons
•Preheat oven to 350°. Mix oil, butter, thyme, and garlic in a small bowl. Scatter bread on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle oil mixture over. Toss, squeezing oil mixture into bread; season with salt and pepper.
•Bake, tossing occasionally, until croutons are golden brown and crisp, 20–22 minutes. Let cool.
•Do Ahead: Croutons can be made up to 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
Dressing and Assembly
•Shake oil, vinegar, mustard, and garlic in a jar to combine. Add 2 tsp. tarragon; season dressing with salt and pepper.
•Toss radicchio, fennel, beets, turnips, and lettuce in a large bowl to combine. Drizzle dressing over and toss to coat; season with salt and pepper.
•Toss in croutons and pomegranate seeds and serve topped with more tarragon.

https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/crunchy-winter-vegetable-salad

For a heartier appetite – especially for those who have been compelled to do spring cleaning a month ahead of time – this is a substantial, hearty meal of roasted chunks o’root vegetables: https://news.christianacare.org/2017/11/roasted-root-vegetables/

And if you want to add some sizzle to your meal, our household god, Mark Bittman, has a tempting recipe for stir fry root vegetables: http://markbittman.com/root-vegetable-stir-fry/ Be careful with the box grater, though. I have a few raw knuckles from being too enthused about this dish.

It looks like the next week is going to continue to be warm during the day, and cooler at night. I hope I am not being premature in starting some of our seeds. In addition to washing windows this weekend we are finally going to built a raised garden bed. I started some seeds yesterday in peat containers: coleus, nasturtium, basil, lettuce and some pole beans. In a few months I will be looking for a lot of basil recipes – I found four seed packets for basil in my little stash…

Don’t forget to wear your sunscreen!

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
–Albert Einstein

Food Friday: Presidential Foods

President’s Day is giving some of us a nice three-day weekend. Another day to linger over the papers, to make breakfast and enjoy ruminating about having a little unusual leisure time. And if you have young ‘uns at home, you can have an educational moment and make some of George Washington’s favorite Hoe Cakes for breakfast. Isn’t it nice to know that he didn’t subsist on that mythical cherry pie?

Hoe Cakes were cooked like pancakes on the back of a garden hoe, or on a griddle. Use whatever you have at hand.

Ingredients
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups white cornmeal, divided
3 to 4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Melted butter for drizzling and serving
Honey or maple syrup for serving

Directions
Mix the yeast and 1 1/4 cups of the cornmeal in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the lukewarm water, stirring to combine thoroughly. Mix in 1/2 cup more of the water, if needed, to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200°F.

When ready to finish the hoecakes, begin by adding 1/2 to 1 cup of the remaining water to the batter. Stir in the salt and the egg, blending thoroughly.

Gradually add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of cornmeal, alternating with enough additional lukewarm water to make a mixture that is the consistency of waffle batter. Cover with a towel, and set aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat a griddle on medium-high heat, and lightly grease it with lard or vegetable shortening. Preparing 1 hoecake at a time, drop a scant 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle and cook on one side for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. With a spatula, turn the hoecake over and continue cooking another 4 to 5 minutes, until browned.

Place the hoecake on a platter, and set it in the oven to keep warm while making the rest of the batch. Drizzle each batch with melted butter.

Serve the hoecakes warm, drizzled with melted butter and honey or maple syrup.

http://www.mountvernon.org/inn/recipes/article/hoecakes/

As long as you are entertaining President Washington for breakfast, you should invite President Lincoln to come along, too, since one of his favorite foods was bacon. I can’t imagine a tastier companion to hoe cakes than a few sizzling rashers of bacon. http://mentalfloss.com/article/61607/5-abraham-lincolns-favorite-foods

We’ll ask President Jefferson to bring a covered dish of mac and cheese to the cookout we are going to have later this afternoon. He made macaroni and cheese a popular dish, but he also championed Champagne. http://mentalfloss.com/article/62565/5-foods-thomas-jefferson-introduced-or-made-popular-america Also coming with his own Crock Pot is President Obama, who is bringing his world famous chili. http://www.pbs.org/parents/kitchenexplorers/2013/02/21/president-obamas-chili-recipe/

President Franklin Roosevelt, who once served hot dogs to the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they toured the United States, has offered to be grill master. https://food52.com/recipes/12425-yum-dogs

President Theodore Roosevelt is ready to shuck a couple of bushels of oysters. President Van Buren is getting ready to help; he’s making a pile of ice chips. https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-shuck-oysters-2217269

President Lyndon Johnson is going to flip the steaks, since he had the first White House cookout and knows the ropes. They are a presidential favorite; also eager for a steak are Presidents Grant, Truman, Eisenhower and Reagan:https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/broiled-steaks-with-parmesan-sage-potatoes

Dessert is going to be easy. Ice cream for everyone. Thank you, President Washington who spent an extraordinary $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790 (http://www.idfa.org/news-views/media-kits/ice-cream/the-history-of-ice-cream/). President Jefferson built an ice house on the White House grounds to be sure he had easy access to ice cream all year long. We should also thank Dolley Madison, who was married to the fourth president. She had festive White House parties that featured elaborate ice creams. I don’t think TR is going to donate any oysters to her favorite Oyster Ice Cream, but he’ll be happy for a dish of vanilla. http://www.pbs.org/food/features/ice-cream-founding-fathers/

http://www.businessinsider.com/all-44-presidents-favorite-meals-2012-7

Many of the livelier American presidents have enjoyed their cocktails. Jefferson, Madison, Tyler, and Grant were all very fond of Champagne. Which seems like a suitable way to toast President’s Day. https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog/2017/02/20/drinking-with-the-presidents/

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
– Harry S. Truman

Food Friday: Getting Organized

Last year we moved into a one-story brick house that we helped to renovate and remodel. It is a tiny place, just right for the two of us, the 70-pound dog, several linear miles of books and the odd visitor or two. We are enjoying the newness of it. New bathrooms, new appliances, clean expanses of walls without anyone else’s children’s footprints or schmears of snot. I am still running around with touch up paint whenever we ding a wall. I still can’t remember where the light switch is in the powder room. I wipe down the range every night, because even boiling water splatters and is unsightly. And my children can’t believe that I am paring down and organizing and enjoying the novelty of tidiness.

We cook most nights, as you know. Mr. Friday takes over on the weekends and is the Grill Master during the summer. I test Spy dishes often during the week. We have a white china dish next to the range that holds the bare essentials for cooking: a bottle of fancy olive oil, a tiny blue bowl of Maldon salt, a pepper grinder, some matches and a couple of cloves of garlic. (We can’t agree where the garlic should live – Food52 says in the fridge, Mr. Friday says next to the range…)

We keep cooking utensils in a nearby drawer instead of in a container on the counter. We are trying to avoid countertop clutter. Except when we are both cooking though, when the place looks like an explosion in a shingle factory. I wash up as I go along. Mr. Friday abandons his spent utensils and sticky bowls in the sink, waiting for that magic kitchen fairy to come along. Or exasperated me, who might just need that tomato-crusted slotted spoon or the colander.

This week we have both gotten the cold that seems to be sweeping the country. Which is better than falling victim to the flu. I cannot complain too much, but since I do have the Food Friday podium, I will. Mr. Friday had big plans for cooking a pork roast last weekend. He hunted and gathered the ingredients, which were numerous and expensive, and then he started running a fever. And then he started coughing and sneezing. Well. Our Sunday dinner turned into a chicken noodle soup event, and I volunteered that I would cook the pork roast for Monday dinner.

On Monday morning I found I had been mistakenly led to believe that this was a slow cooker recipe. I even located the slow cooker at the bottom of the pantry, where it was propping up a bag of dog kibble. The ingredient list promised an irresistible aroma: 4 cloves of garlic, black pepper, ground cumin, dried oregano, ground coriander, lime juice, orange juice and white white vinegar.

Further steps had me scoring the fatty side of the pork shoulder, rubbing the spices into the grooves, marinating the meat in a plastic bag in the fridge, turning “occasionally” from eight hours to overnight. Eight hours? It was noon! And then there was the small matter of the half hour that the meat needed to rest, while coming up to room temp, and another two and a half hours in the oven. Not a word about an easy peasy slow cooker meal!

It was going to have to be Tuesday night’s meal now. And it was just as well, because Mr. Friday came home from work early Monday afternoon, and needed another evening of chicken soup, Saltines and warm flannel sheets.

After I read the recipe through again I started to gather up all the aromatics that would fill the house with Cuban-style cooking smells. There is a little corner lazy-Susan corner cabinet next to the range, where we keep the spices. The ones used most often (Slap Ya Mama, Lawry’s Seasoning Salt, kosher salt, basil, dried parsley and dried red pepper flakes, oregano) tend to be in large, Costco-sized containers and are easy to find amid the welter of tiny spice jars. The others that I needed were scattered chaotically and uncategorically on that shelf. Cinnamon was next to nutmeg which was adjacent to tarragon which was butting up against the green sprinkles.

In disgust, and because I am trying to be a better person this year, I pulled everything out of the cabinet, and lined up the jars and boxes and tubes in alphabetical order on the counter. I know, Martha would have had a minion with a top-of-her-line label maker organizing in a flash. I stuck with a black Sharpie and a silver Sharpie, and put the names on top of all the lids. And then I alphabetized. I hope. (I also tossed out a few that were well past their sell-by dates. I once found a 10-year old tin of Old Bay tucked away among my spices. Which I am sure would still be delicious…)

All the baking products went in one clear plastic container: baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, almond extract, peppermint extract, sprinkles, dragées and birthday candles, and cupcake papers…

And then I put the alphabetized and newly-labeled jars into three other clear plastic containers, starting on the left with Allspice, and winding my way down to Thyme and Tumeric on the right.

I hope Mr. Friday is ready for leftover pork roast tonight, because I have the cold now, and I am sticking to chicken soup.

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/241452/cuban-style-roast-pork/

You could go out and buy a matchy-matchy set of spice containers, but where would the fun be? Don’t you need a nice, calming, time-wasting exercise in organization that won’t cost you any money? It is very therapeutic. https://www.marthastewart.com/1502464/kitchen-storage-organization

“A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.”
– Ogden Nash

Food Friday: Game Plan

I love my job. I have had to spend hours and hours in the venerable Spy Test Kitchen working on and trying out various deelish snackum recipes to serve at a football event that is coming up this weekend. (The owners of this event are quite litigious, so it must remain nameless. But you know what I mean. New England. Philadelphia. The big one.)

As the football teams gather in Minneapolis, we will assemble ourselves in the living room. Mr. Friday will watch the game from the sofa, and I will curl up in an adjacent chair, binge-watching a few episodes of ER on my Kindle. (I love technology!)

Originally I thought that I would make Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwiches and New England lobster rolls as clear representations of the two teams. But both sandwiches require a lot of prep work, and really are more delicious in their native settings. And that is not mentioning how crucial good crispy hot French fries are. I do not have enough arms to juggle all three.

https://www.boston.com/culture/food/2018/01/30/history-of-new-england-lobster-roll-philly-cheesesteak

Instead, I propose these delicious nachos garnered from Food52, which is the spot for all your food questions. I added some taco meat to the batch I made batch earlier this week, but you might be entertaining some vegetarians, so this recipe is just perfect. https://food52.com/recipes/60524-salad-nachos

Two helpful take aways I got from this recipe were just mind-blowing! 1. Open your chip bags from the bottom! Then all the little broken mingey bits are the first out of the bag, and you can cover them easily with the unbroken, easily more delicious chips that float on top. 2. 500 degrees F. I usually bake our nachos at 350°, and the cheese melts slowly, and doesn’t get good and gooey. 500 degrees lightly scorches the edges of the chips and the refried beans, and I am transported back to the first Mexican food I ever enjoyed at Mama Vicky’s El Acapulco in South Norwalk, Connecticut.

Here is a list of possible toppings for your Game Plan:
taco meat
pulled pork
shredded chicken (think leftover rotisserie chicken!)
sliced grilled steak
diced sausage
leftover chili (I just found a bowl from Monday in the fridge!)
shrimp
crab
crumbled bacon
black beans
pinto beans
refried beans
sliced pitted black olives
shredded Cheddar cheese
shredded mozzarella cheese
shredded pepper jack cheese
shredded Muenster cheese
crumbled feta cheese
sour cream
chopped onions
caramelized onions
chopped jalapeños (fresh – not out of a jar!)
chopped green/red/yellow peppers
sautéed green/red/yellow peppers
chopped tomatoes
radish slices
chopped scallions
diced avocado
guacamole
shredded lettuce
fresh cilantro
roasted corn
zucchini (if you still have some left from your neighbor’s summer’s harvest)
salsa

From J. Kenji Lopez-Alt – the perfect cheese sauce: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/09/cheese-sauce-for-cheese-fries-and-nachos.html

Ostensibly, you can make a Philadelphia Cheesesteak batch of nachos: top the chips with sliced roast beef or steak, smother in Kenji’s sauce and carmelized onions. Yumsters.

Or, you can make some New England lobster nachos, which are fancier. I guess it depends on your crowd: chips, lobster tail meat (about 3 ounces), roasted corn, chopped tomato and shredded cheddar or Kenji’s deliciousness to even the playing field.

For the few of you who will ruin a party by not wanting to consume mass quantities of corn chips, we do offer a kale alternative: https://minimalistbaker.com/kale-chip-nachos-30-minutes/

“…So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”
― Nick Hornby

Food Friday: Loving the Leftovers

Loving the Leftovers…

Or Parmigiana to Warm Your Chilly Soul

Although the weather has been bright and beautiful it is still winter and I am feeling chilly. And though a couple of New Year’s resolutions have already slid away from me, down that slippery slope, I am doing much better than last year in using up leftovers. I had a bucket of leftover spaghetti sauce in the freezer, but the beauty of this meal is that jarred sauce works fine, too, and you can substitute almost any meat (or vegetable) for the chicken. Welcome to the forgiving, oozy world of hot cheese, and chicken Parmigiana.

I cannot claim any proprietary rights to the deliciousness of the spaghetti sauce I used. Mr. Friday concocted it a couple of weekends ago. In our new enviable thrifty fashion we ate the meat sauce with Italian sausage and lacrosse ball-sized meatballs for Sunday dinner. Then served the sauce over ziti for a cold-busting Tuesday dinner. Then we popped the sauce into the freezer for almost a week. When Monday reared its ugly head we had a lovely piping hot carb-laden meal which prepared us for the onslaught of Tuesday. And on Wednesday evening I sizzled up a couple of breaded chicken cutlets and rummaged through the cheese collection to concoct chicken parmigiana. This is the recipe I used for temperature and timing guidance.

https://onedadskitchen.com/tag/new-york-times-cooking-chicken-parmesan/

First, pre-heat the oven. Then breading with flour, egg, and bread crumbs are the next step. There are as many variations of Parmigiana as exist in your imagination (or larder). Eggplant, whether you bread it and fry it, or not. (In Italy the eggplant is generally sautéed, not breaded.) I wouldn’t bread sausages or meatballs, either. But the crispy crunchy crust will surround and enhance shrimp, chicken or veal cutlets. And consider the cauliflower, suddenly palatable. I use unseasoned Panko bread crumbs – extra crispy is my motto. And as soon as you have fried up your main ingredient, pop it into the pan and add the sauce and the cheese. You do not want the crisp crust to get sodden or leaden during the baking process.

I used a ball of fresh mozzarella for the cheesy ooziness, and I also grated a mountain of fresh tangy Parmesan cheese. But I have also used grated, store-brand, almost-going-blue mozzarella, and cardboard container Kraft Parmesan sawdust, and none of my diners has ever complained. It’s warm and deelish.

Last night we also served up a bowl of spaghetti to be a nest for the chicken cutlet – because you can never have too much spaghetti – and salad and garlic bread and an inexpensive bottle of red wine. I also baked brownies, because if I am going to hell in a hand basket, I want to have enjoyed dessert. You can join me later this afternoon when Luke and I waddle around the cemetery, pretending to get some exercise.

And guess what’s for lunch? A leftover chicken parm sandwich! Luke is delighted! The New Year is off to a swell start!

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”
― Sophia Loren

Food Friday: A Chicken in Every Pot

It has been bitterly cold, with lashings of snow and ice; winter weather combinations that cry out for a warm kitchen and warm bellies. But with all the books we got for Christmas, we are still loathe to stir ourselves from our comfy chairs and sofas to waddle into the kitchen. What can we do when dinner time rears its ugly head once again?

I always opt for easy, with the prospect of many leftovers. Working from home does not afford me many glamorous luncheons, swanning about with my stylish Spy editors at fashionable eateries and watering holes. Most of the time it is just Luke the wonder dog and me, standing at the kitchen counter, scarfing up peanut butter crackers and the latest New Yorker magazine.

I’m sure the editors are doing lots of research, testing raw water and other trendy, newsworthy items. But back at the famous Spy test kitchens this week, we are eating lots of left over chicken. One-dish chicken dishes, to be specific, that we have had earlier this week for dinner. And I have to say, that as far as comfort and taste and making me feel warm all over, Vivian Howard’s mother’s chicken rice dish is my personal fave.

Scarlett’s Chicken and Rice takes some time to prepare. But that is what Sunday afternoons are for. Go buy a chicken and make this on Sunday. Along about Wednesday or Thursday you will be thanking your lucky stars.

SCARLETT’S CHICKEN & RICE

1 large chicken left whole (best case scenario, this would be an old tough bird/laying hen)
cool water to cover
1 yellow onion (peeled and split)
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs thyme
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups white rice (mom swears by Uncle Bens, I like Carolina Gold)
3 Tbsp. butter

Put your bird, the split onion, thyme, and bay leaf in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Cover the bird, just barely with cool water. Add 2 Tbsp. salt and 2 tsp. black pepper to the pot. Cover and bring it all up to a simmer. Cook for about an hour or until the bird, in my mom’s words, is “falling to pieces.”   If this is a typical young chicken this should not take any longer than an hour and a half. If it is a laying hen, it could take up to 5 hours. I know that is crazy, but a hen will provide a much better broth.

Once the bird is “falling to pieces” turn off the heat and let her rest in the broth for 30 minutes. Remove and reserve the bird. Discard the onion, bay leaf, and thyme. Tear the chicken meat into medium pieces and add it back to the pot. Bring the broth and the chicken up to a simmer. Add the rice. If you are a rice rinser, resist the urge here, as the starch helps make the broth homey and rich. Cook the rice for about 12 minutes, depending on the variety or brand the time could vary. The rice should be just cooked through and should absolutely hold its shape. Turn off the heat. Add your butter. Taste for seasoning and adjust with additional salt or pepper.
http://www.achefslifeseries.com/recipes/21

I particularly like to cook Miss Scarlett’s chicken and rice on Sunday, when I can enlist Mr. Friday’s help in picking the chicken off the bones. He does a much nicer job than Luke, who tends to be a little stingy when he should be sharing.

Mark Bittman, one of our household gods, has a one-dish recipe for Chicken with Vinegar.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 3-pound chicken, cut up for sauteing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup minced shallots or scallions
1 cup good red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon butter (optional)

PREPARATION
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Set a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; when it is hot, place chicken in the skillet, skin side down. Cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes, or until chicken is nicely browned. Turn and cook 3 minutes on the other side. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Place skillet in the oven. Cook 15 to 20 minutes, or until almost done (juices will run clear, and there will be just a trace of pink near the bone). Remove chicken to an ovenproof platter. Place it in the oven; turn off the heat, and leave the door slightly ajar.
3. Pour all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking juices out of the skillet (discard them). Place skillet over medium-high heat, and add shallots; sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until tender, about 2 minutes. Add vinegar, and raise the heat to high. Cook a minute or two, or until the powerful acrid smell has subsided somewhat. Add 1/2 cup water, and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring, until the mixture is slightly reduced and somewhat thickened. Stir in butter, if desired.
4. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet, and turn the chicken in the sauce. Serve immediately.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/5727-chicken-with-vinegar?emc=edit_nn_20180116&nl=morning-briefing&nlid=27941142&te=1 

This is an excellent chicken dish for a week night, when you want to look as if you actually care what everyone is eating for dinner. I am always surprised when six o’clock rolls around on the guitar again, so this is a good cover for me.

And here is a recipe you can winterize – just substitute canned tomatoes for fresh and you will have a deeply satisfying winter meal. It can be stretched out to lunch or dinner leftovers by shredding the chicken and adding it to fresh hot rice or pasta a day or two later when the chicken has soaked up even more tomato-y goodness. Food52 says this was one of their most viewed recipes in 2017. Get cracking!

https://food52.com/recipes/72191-jamie-oliver-s-tender-crisp-chicken-legs-with-sweet-tomatoes-basil

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell.

Food Friday: Remembrance

The perfect grilled hamburger doesn’t come from Vivian Howard’s Boiler Room restaurant in Kinston, North Carolina, although I encourage you to stop by if you are ever in her neighborhood. Her burgers are awesome and delicious.

Mr. Friday flips an excellent burger on his fancy gas grill on the back porch, and in the soon-to-be-well-seasoned cast iron skillet in the kitchen. He serves them on trendy potato rolls, with perfect heirloom tomatoes and lots of gooey cheese. They are hot and delectable, and in the middle of this gelid winter, deeply satisfying.

My perfect grilled hamburger comes from my youth, from the hibachi in the back yard, on hot summer nights, with sparks spewing and bats flying overhead. The burgers were not juicy and perfectly formed. They were irregular spheroids – well-charred and carbonized briquets – flipped and squashed until all the precious juices were mangled out. Hamburgers cooked by my father were unforgettable.

My father died this week, unexpectedly, yet not unsurprisingly; he was 92, but still, we were shocked. He had suffered a fall, and survived a week of hospital care. Returning to my hometown has brought myriad memories bubbling to the surface. Friends have called and texted my brother and me, and after the effusion of sincere condolences, peoples’ real recollections come tumbling out. Some folks even remember these gritty, over-cooked hockey pucks with great fondness. Not quite the stuff of legends, because Dad did so much more in his life, but the cookouts were pleasant interludes; respites when everyone slowed down, and sat in the squeaky, webbed aluminum chairs, and watched the sun set and the stars come out. There were no deadlines, or lesson plans, or homework to worry about. The summer evenings spent cooking out were relaxed, and filled with conversations – none particularly memorable – but all were amiable and rambling.

We sat around the small fire, some of us poking it with sticks hoping for conflagrations, some sipping warming Ballentine Ale. We shelled peas, snapped beans, and trimmed radishes. We churned ice cream. We ate tomatoes, warm from the afternoon sunshine. We flipped baseballs. We watched as the fireflies started to flit about. We saw twinkling airplanes on their approaches to the New York airports. We heard about childhoods in Hamden and New Haven, the Yale bookstore and the Panama Canal. We listened to stories about the South Pacific during the war. We learned about street cars, and ice men making deliveries with their horse-drawn carts, and the one-and-only time playing hooky to see Frank Sinatra sing. We talked about Maine vacations and Civil War battlefields. Sometimes we had sparklers, and wrote our names with the glowing wire tips. Sometimes the hamburgers were forgotten and the night was rich with family and starlight. We are bereft, but for the memories.

But if you prefer convention, Bon Appétit can show you the way:

RECIPE PREPARATION
• Divide meat into 4 equal portions (about 6 oz. each). Place 1 portion on a work surface. Cup your hands around the meat and begin to gently shape it into a rounded mound. (Use light pressure as you shape so you don’t pack the meat too tightly.) Lightly press down on the top of the meat with your palm to gently flatten it. Continue rotating and cupping the meat, patting the top of it occasionally, until you’ve formed a 4″-diameter, 3/4″-thick patty. Using your thumb, make a small indentation in the center to help keep the burger flat as it cooks. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining portions.

• Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high. Season one side of patties with salt and pepper; place on grill, seasoned side down. Grill until lightly charred on bottom, about 4 minutes. Season other side, turn, and top with cheese. Grill to desired doneness, about 4 minutes longer for medium. Transfer burgers to buns and let stand for 3 minutes before serving.

HARD-PRESSED NO MORE
•Spatulas were made for flipping, not pressing on the patty. Hear that hissing sound when you do? That’s all the flavorful juices dripping on the coals—they belong in the burger.

https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/the-ba-burger-deluxe

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Food Friday: Macaroni & Cheese

(My apologies for this recipe from the Spy’s Way Back Machine. I got caught in Connecticut during the latest blizzard, and couldn’t make it back to the ranch in a timely fashion. New stuff next week! Honest.)

Melted cheese is so good on many things – pizza, cheeseburgers, Fettucine Alfredo, grilled cheese sandwiches. They are probably all heart stoppers that gladden our future cardiologists – but they are necessary comforts to get through the wintertime blues. Remember being a little kid, with melting snow in your boots, and frozen toes trapped in the vise of wet socks? You would stand in the back hall, tearing off your wet snowsuit, starving after a morning of sledding down the hill, dodging trees and rocks. Don’t you remember what a cooking whiz your mother seemed when she would boil up a tin of un-ironic Campbell’s Tomato Soup, and then flip a grilled cheese sandwich with skill and aplomb? If you were lucky, there was a handful of Fritos on the plate, too.

We take comfort in many simple pleasures: food, routines, worn out blue jeans, a patch of butterscotch sunshine on the dining room floor early in the morning for the still-sleepy cat. When our children were little we established some routines that became informal traditions. Friday nights we rolled out and baked pizza together. Mondays we ate Mac & Cheese while discussing the challenges of the upcoming school week. Gradually those little palettes grew more sophisticated, and they eschewed the simple pleasures for something more complex – like Fettucine Alfredo. I like a good plate of fettucine, when I am not overly concerned with the carbs or the oodles of butter. Mac & cheese is earthier, more redolent of simpler times. Fettucine is just snooty, continental mac & cheese.

When I was a budget-minded college student there were times that we could not overcome our inertia to traipse the 500 yards or so to the dining hall, so we would rustle up our own dinner. That was when Shirl Ann introduced me to the joys of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, in a box, with dry, orange-y powder that miraculously turned the slimy little macaronis into bright, man-made neon objets. Totally deelish. (You must keep in mind that we were kitchen neophytes, who thought we were gourmands because we really threw spaghetti at the wall, to see if it stuck, as a test of doneness. We were just a tad naïve, and our mothers would despair had they but known.) One night Shirl came up with a superbly worldly innovation – adding garlic powder to the macaroni mixture to vary the plastic-y “cheesy” taste. She shook that jar of dehydrated garlic powder over the cooked macaroni with sangfroid. She was an imperturbable kitchen marvel.

I went up a couple of price points for our children – we had Velveeta Macaroni & Cheese on Monday nights. Sometimes we had the shell variety, and other times the elbows. Eventually we learned to resist the siren song of Velveeta and devised our own homemade mac & cheese recipe. It was quite a step up from those nights in college. And this is a crowd pleaser, especially if you have to entertain some of the Tall One’s taller friends.

3 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups uncooked pasta (penne, elbow, ziti, even shells if you want to wallow in nostalgia)
3 cups scalded milk
2 cups grated cheese (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Munster– grate your own – don’t buy bags of dried out cheese!!!)
1 cup grated Gruyère
½ teaspoon chicken bouillon
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter. Cook, stir constantly for about 2 minutes. In a large saucepan, cook the roux for about two minutes, add scalded milk and chicken bouillon, stir constantly bringing it to a boil – just. Add grated cheese and chicken bouillon. Lower the heat and cook until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy. Set aside. Boil the pasta in salted water, stirring occasionally, until done. Drain the pasta, and pour it into the saucepan with the cheese mixture. Let stand for about 5 minutes, stirring every once in a while. The cheese mixture will thicken as it blends with the pasta. We like to serve it with a little cloud of fresh shaved Parmesan cheese on top. And some black pepper, too. You can make this ahead of time, but where is the fun in that? It is better to grate the cheese together and talk about Algebra.

The Dinner Party Download is a delightful podcast. You will be so much more charming and informative if you listen to it every week. Trust me. http://www.dinnerpartydownload.org/food-names/ Hear what they have to say about Fettucine Alfredo and how it got it’s name.

This sounds yummy, but I have always been a little leery of the bread crumb aspect. I think it must be a childhood thing…
http://www.theculinaryenthusiast.net/2011/02/macaroni-and-cheese.html

“Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal.”
-Julia Child

Food Friday: Happy New Year!

Before opening the Spy’s much lauded Test Kitchen, one of my home office Christmas parties consisted of inviting a friend over to have a sad glass of indifferent Chardonnay, and to watch Leslie Warren’s Cinderella on our new fangled VCR.

This year for New Year’s Eve I am kicking back with gin and Champagne (probably Prosecco because we are starting a New Year’s Resolution Budget). We will fire up the Acorn TV and watch a couple of episodes of the original Upstairs, Downstairs. There is nothing that makes me feel like a schlubby, indulgent, middle-aged, middle-class American faster than Upstairs, Downstairs.

Prosecco or Champagne? It’s a personal choice. I am hugely impressed by a stately bottle of Veuve Cliquot, and would probably serve it to Mr. Hudson, the butler from Upstairs, Downstairs, if he ever came to call. But I find a pretty orange label on a bottle of Mionetto Prosecco just as appealing. Lady Marjorie, also from 165 Eaton Place, would never comment on the lower price point. She would be pleased just to loosen her corset stays and have a second glass. And then Lady Marjorie will tell me to relax, and to enjoy myself a little bit. “You never know when disaster will strike,” she confides. (Lady Marjorie went down on Titanic, so she has some experience with life changing moments.)

Mr. Hudson would tell me to pull up my bootstraps. The Christmas cookies are almost gone. In the meantime, it is Friday night, and it has been a long week. It’s the last time to indulge in 2017. Instead pouring a glass of my usual cheap winter Malbec, I thought I should test some seasonal, perhaps New Year-ish cocktail recipes, to get back into the holiday spirit. These are crowd pleasers, but they require a little planning.

“The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love is like being enlivened with Champagne.”
– Samuel Johnson

French 75s
“Hits with remarkable precision.”
-Harry Craddock, The Savoy Cocktail Book

2 ounces gin
1 ounce lemon juice
1 spoonful extra fine sugar
Champagne
Shake the gin, lemon juice and sugar in a cocktail shaker filled with cracked ice until chilled and well-mixed and then pour into tall glass containing cracked ice and fill up the glass with Champagne. This clever cocktail was said to have been devised during WWI, the kick from the alcohol combo being described as powerful as the French 75mm howitzer gun.

“Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of Champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.”
-Winston Churchill

Champagne Cocktail
In a Champagne glass add a teaspoon of sugar and enough Angostura bitters to melt the sugar. Add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier or cognac and mix in with the sugar, bitters mix. Add a “fine” quality Champagne and stir. Float a slice of thin orange on top. This is what Ilsa and Victor Laszlo sipped in Casablanca.

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”
-Mark Twain

As always, our festive friends at Food52 have some delightful ideas for nibbles to help soak up some of the bubbly we are sure to be drinking on New Year’s Eve. http://www.food52.com/blog/2807

On a recent trip to food-forward-thinking-Charleston, friends ordered Aperol and Prosecco cocktails, because they are oh, so trendy. I did not realize that this is the most popular cocktail in Italy. And now it can be one of yours, too!

Aperol and Prosecco
3 parts chilled, dry Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash soda
Serve with on the rocks in wine glass or rocks glass
Garnish with a slice of orange (this makes it practically health food!)
http://www.eater.com/2014/10/21/7020183/the-story-of-the-aperol-spritz-a-classic-italian-cocktail
This is very pretty, and so seasonal: pomegranate mimosas. Yumsters. http://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a46968/pomegranate-mimosas-recipe/

“My only regret in life is that I didn’t drink enough Champagne”
-John Maynard Keynes

And the best of both worlds: a Black Velvet! Champagne and Guinness. This drink is simply equal parts stout and sparkling wine, and to be honest, there are some who will never understand its appeal. But to fans, this is a perfect special-occasion drink, particularly suited to mornings and late afternoons. I had my first on a gelid night in London, at Rules, in Covent Garden. Divine.

Black Velvet
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Champagne or Prosecco
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Guinness Extra Stout
Pour the Champagne into a tall glass. We first had ours served in heavy pewter tankards, but at home we eschew the delicate flutes for a sturdy rocks glass. This is not an effete drink. It is robust, and fills your hand with determination. Be sure to pour the Guinness on top. (This is important: Guinness is heavier. If you pour the sparkling wine second, it won’t combine evenly, and will need to be stirred. I shudder at the thought!)

Enjoy yourself this weekend. Happy New Year! Loosen those corset strings. And let the games begin, again, on Tuesday.

“Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn’t everyone?”
-Noel Coward

Food Friday: Cake with Emily Dickinson

Merry Christmas from the Spy Test Kitchens.
Happy Winter from our muse, Emily Dickinson.

We have channeled Emily Dickinson’s recipe for her famous Coconut Cake. It is a simple recipe, especially today with all the devices making work in the kitchen so easy. The temperature in my gas oven never wavers. The KitchenAid mixer makes short work of processing butter and sugar and flour. The water in the kitchen faucet gets hot quickly with a tankless water heater, so I can wash the mixing bowls without toting water in from a well, and heating it on the stove. I don’t have a housekeeper, either. Dickinson not only enjoyed the baking process, but she wrote as she baked, and as she stepped around the household help.

Imagine baking a dream cake for Christmas, and thoughtfully writing a poem on the back of the recipe. Such a New England gesture – using the other side of a perfectly good piece of paper – use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without… I am usually stumbling over the ever-hopeful dog and listening to NPR, instead of thinking lofty thoughts. Dickinson once wrote a poem on the back of a wrapper of Parisian baking chocolate. Elegant.

The Emily Dickinson Museum says, “The kitchen appears to be one of the rooms where Dickinson felt most comfortable, perhaps most at home.” This is her poem on the back of the Coconut Cake recipe:

The Things that never can come back, are several —

The Things that never can come back, are several —
Childhood — some forms of Hope — the Dead —
Though Joys — like Men — may sometimes make a Journey —
And still abide —
We do not mourn for Traveler, or Sailor,
Their Routes are fair —
But think enlarged of all that they will tell us
Returning here —
“Here!” There are typic “Heres” —
Foretold Locations —
The Spirit does not stand —
Himself — at whatsoever Fathom
His Native Land —

http://www.openculture.com/2015/07/emily-dickinsons-handwritten-coconut-cake-recipe-hints-at-how-baking-figured-into-her-creative-process.html

The handwritten recipe is slightly different in the cookbook published by the Emily Dickinson Museum – Profile of the Poet as Cook.

“2 cups sugar (1 lb.)
1 cup butter (1/2 lb.)
2 cups flour
6 eggs
1 grated coconut
1 cup coconut milk

Cream butter and sugar. Gradually add flour, then beaten egg yolks. Beat whites separately and fold in along with some grated coconut and coconut milk. Retain some coconut for coating the cake after baking and the cake has been glazed with a simple sugar icing. Fill cake pans half full and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes. This is a very rich, heavy cake.”

Who grated the coconut? Where did one acquire a coconut in Amherst in the late 19th century? Apparently at Cutler’s General Store in Amherst, where the Dickinson family account shows purchases of both Caribbean coconut and French chocolate. The global marketplace had arrived in Western Massachusetts, and the Dickinsons were eager consumers.

Dickinson was enjoyed baking and sharing those treats. Famously she lowered a basket of gingerbread from her window to some neighborhood children. “Love’s oven,” she wrote in a note accompanying a packet of her caramels, “is warm”.

Go out to your kitchen and whip up a little bit of baking to share with the neighbors. Spread the word of Emily Dickinson’s sweet exotic cake. And warm yourself in front of the stove, and take pencil to paper. Enjoy!

“Then ring, ring, Christmas bells,
Till your sweet music o’er the kingdom swells,
To warn the people to respect the morn
That Christ their Saviour was born.”
-Emily Dickinson

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2011/10/20/141554113/a-coconut-cake-from-emily-dickinson-reclusive-poet-passionate-baker

https://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/emily-dickinsons-coconut-cake-2/

Be sure to watch the delightful film, A Quiet Passion. It is an exquisite view of the poet’s life.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2392830/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_6