Food Friday: The Siren Song of Seeds

Seed packets are tiny perfect jewels of graphic design. On the front there is a romanticized illustration of a freakishly perfect tomato; it is round and looks sun-warmed. So unlike the cardboard tomatoes we have been buying all winter at the grocery store. On the back there are instructions about sowing the seeds after all danger of frost has passed. I can tell you that those frosts are still a danger. I have lost four geraniums to my misguided enthusiasm, and belief that spring is right around the corner. I am ready to hang up the turtlenecks, and get out in the garden.

I have been waiting all winter for this – I admit it. I have been thumbing through seed catalogues and feverishly imagining my new and improved sunny, raised garden bed, fecund and lush and spilling over with cukes, and beans, and sun-warmed tomatoes. I have been thinking about all those tender, fresh, aromatic herbs that I will manage to coax along this year. I have picturthe the extra little flourish and the modest bow I will take when I humbly present our salad greens at the Fourth of July picnic. Envisioning how I will please, delight, and amaze Mr. Friday when I whip out a fresh, homegrown shallot for the salad dressing. I am still considering how I will take revenge on the idiot neighbor who mows his lawn on Sunday mornings – zucchini is the perfect passive/aggressive payback.

So let’s get hopping! These tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cabbage, beans, lettuce, beets, carrots, and radishes will not plant, water or weed themselves!

It’s time for a little elbow grease action – which is much more healthier than hot yoga. But don’t get so enchanted by the beauteousness of the seed packets to take on more than you can chew. Buy a few easy veggies, and a couple of happy flowers. Marigolds or nasturtiums go well in both a vegetable garden, and in the salad bowl.

I have learned over the years with my sandy back yard, and my short attention span, that I am easily distracted and disappointed. Now I keep my exposure to a minimum. I am happiest (and most successful) with a little container garden. I have fresh herbs and I do a couple of tomato plants every year. I am upping our game with a couple of blueberry bushes I have planted in the ground. We now have a blueberry farm. Maybe if I remember to water every day they will have a real shot at making it to the table.

I had a successful little run with lettuce a couple of years ago. We had a few awfully fresh salads. I doubt if it was very cost effective to wrangle my own little Bibb lettuces, but it felt so good to wander outside with the kitchen shears, and judiciously snip a leaf here, another leaf there, and know the salad was good and fresh, and I was leaving modest carbon foot print. Obviously I do not factor in the air pollution generated from multiple trips to the garden center…

If you do not feel not up to the responsibilities of growing your own vegetable garden this season, now that the snow has melted, and the daffodils are popping up every where, please think about supporting your local farmers at farmers’ markets and farm stands and CSAs. They were cool (and essential) long before Brooklyn and all its mustachioed, plaid-sporting, artisan, organic, heirloom, microcosmically hip farmers, soap makers, tanners, butchers, chicken farmers, bakers and baristas. We like homemade and all the virtues associated with it.

It is oh, so very pleasant to wander outside in your jim-jams on a summer morning, pausing to watch the sun rise, while munching meditatively on a dewy green bean that you have just twisted off a vine, before you ever have a cup of coffee or read the newspaper. Instagram cannot replicate that real delight. Honest.

“From December to March,
there are for many of us three gardens:
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind’s eye.”
– Katharine S. White

Food Friday: A Flock of Muffins

Sitting in a corner of the living room is a large cardboard box from Burpee Gardens, which contains elements of my fantasy summer life: two hydrangea plants, two wisteria plants, and two teeny, tiny blueberry bushes. They arrived last week, back when we thought we were hurtling into spring, flip flops and lemonade on the porch. Brrr.

It’s too early to set them outside right now. I hope next week, when I feel pretty sure that the danger of frost has passed, I’ll unpack them. In the meantime I murmur warm assurances to them as I pass by. “Soon! Soon you will all be knee-deep in rich soil, reaching up to the warm sun, burgeoning with fruit and blooms galore!”

The blueberries are the real experiment. I have never tried to grow berries before. I think it is too early to worry about rabbits and deer, but our back yard is a veritable United Nations of birds.

The round of robins enjoy some crazy rain dances in and around the holly bushes. I have watched the many robins sitting on branches that are already heavy with holly berries and rain, unconcerned that they are the only birds outside in a deluge, as they drunkenly nosh on the gleaming red berries. Sometimes I have watched the birds fall to the ground, only to see them then spring straight up in the air to grab at some more berries from the low hanging branches. Awkwardness and determination have never been so adorable.

An echo of scolding mockingbirds also spends time in the holly bushes. Luke the wonder dog does not avail himself of those bushes. He doesn’t like to getting dive-bombed as he patrols on his doggie missions. Although there are some squirrelly boys who like to hang around an nearby oak tree, tempting him with their rodent wiles…

In the back corner of the yard, tucked up in ivy trailing along a brick wall, a jar of nuthatches call out with their raspy, click-click-clicking sound of veiled threats. I’m sure if Luke ever saw how tiny they were he wouldn’t give them a second glance, but they sound like large machinery ratcheting back before a putsch. They might even have their beady little eyes on our blueberry potential.

Along the neighbor’s wall we have seen a few berry-eating birds: thrushes, cedar waxwings, blue jays, woodpeckers, catbirds, bluebirds, and doves. While they wait for me to plant the blueberries they have finished harvesting the dogwood and the juniper berries. No wonder they are impatient for spring to begin.

Mr. Friday likes berries on his bowl of cereal most mornings. I doubt if we will be saving any money by planting our own blueberry bushes, but as part of my summer fantasy, I will wander out into the back yard, with a little basket in hand, and I will pick some blueberries for his breakfast. Just imagine me bathed in Disney-diffused light, with the friendly birds singing sweetly; me with flowing tresses and a trailing gown instead of my usual Andy Warhol-hair and comfy yoga pants glory.

I prefer my blueberries in muffins or pancakes, which are serious weekend food, because, as you know, Gentle Reader, I am not very likely to get up early to bake. But this could be my fantasy summer vacation, where I would be wont to trail around the kitchen in a leisurely, and dream-like, un-rushed fashion; lovingly cracking organic free-range eggs and sifting dry artisanal ingredients. Instead of the real-life workday, when I am grouchy and harried, and gnawing on a frozen bagel and swigging Diet Coke. No, the Fantasy Me will sip fragrant Lapsang souchong tea from a precious antique bone-china cup, while I peruse the Times of London, and I complete the crossword without a single tempting, cheating, go-ahead-and-look-it-up-on-Google thought – in ink.

The heat just roared on again. It’s time to get cracking. Bake some muffins this weekend, and let me know how your spring garden plans are shaping up!

“Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”
-Wendell Berry

Food Friday: Pie Day

Winter is winding down, or so they say. Though I see there is snow in Friday’s forecast, and the weekend temperatures are supposed to plunge. The long range forecast says spring. Let’s heat up the kitchen another couple of times while we wait for spring to come peeking around the corner, and let’s get ready to celebrate Pi Day.

Pi Day is March 14, and it celebrates the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which is approximately 3.14159. (Pi Day = 3/14 in the month/date format.) I have a friend, a former math major, who does not count sheep when she has trouble sleeping. Instead, she calculates π digits. The infinite number amuses her and lulls her to sleep, but if I could hold all those numbers in my head there wouldn’t be room for Joni Mitchell song lyrics or English murder mystery plot points.

Instead of whipping out our iPhones and finding the calculator app, let us celebrate another aspect of Pi Day, and bake some pies. March 14 is also Albert Einstein’s birthday, so you can kick up your heels doubly. And you can rejoice that Pi Day rolls around every year, whereas Square Root day won’t happen again until May 5, 2025. (According to Wikipedia, Square Root day is celebrated on days when “both the day of the month and the month are the square root of the last two digits of the year.” I kid you not.)

Sweet or savory, there are pies for just about every appetite, and every level of skill. It is easy to pour chocolate pudding into a store-bought graham cracker crust and slather it with clouds of whipped cream. More complicated are lattice-work pies, which require forethought, and dexterity, and a good hand at pastry. You can be Sweeny Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, and make a name for yourself with meat pies. Or you can be James Taylor, and sing an ode to your own Sweet Potato Pie.

My favorite pie is chicken pot pie. I do a variation on Martha’s – but I buy the pie crust already made. Which is probably why I have never calculated pi since leaving school – I am always looking for an easy way out. Easy as pie, my foot. I can’t roll out a perfect circle, but those wily folks at Pillsbury can. And no one is the wiser. Mr. Friday would never notice if I toiled with butter and flour and sharp knives to make a homemade crust. Martha might, but so far our parallel universes haven’t come close to colliding. My secret is safe…

I also like a nice Key Lime pie. I always use the recipe on the bottle of Key Lime juice, but this is pretty close: It is lovely for Easter, when you don’t want to make a huge and vastly expensive cheesecake, and almost anything with whipped cream is a delight. You don’t have to wait for summer to have a little taste of the Keys. You could welcome Pi Day with a fluffy, mile-high Key Lime pie.

We managed to let George Washington’s birthday get away from us without the ritual and apocryphal cherry pie. What were we thinking? Unless you have Martha’s (Stewart – not Washington!) year-round access to fresh cherries, you will have to use frozen like the rest of us.

If spring is coming, can rhubarb be far behind?

And to hit all the relevant holiday notes – St. Patrick’s Day is next week. Maybe you should be preparing a beer-infused Guinness Chocolate Cream Pie. All of the sweet decadence of whipped cream, combined with dark chocolate and darker beer. Swoon-worthy. Thanks again, Food52 for setting the bar (and the beer) high!

We do a Boston Cream pie for birthdays here. It might not have the celebratory gusto of a pie topped with whipped cream, but the combination of the shiny chocolate ganache and thick custard filling is surprisingly festive. A heady combination of pie and cake, with candles. Albert Einstein would have loved our Boston Cream Pies.

A place in London I would like to visit, and not for the food, is Eel Pie Island. Can you imagine? Henry VIII was overly fond of the eponymous eel pies, but I think I would visit just to see the artists’ studios. Doubtless none of them has though much about pi since school, either.

Happy Spring – it’s coming!

“I went to sit in the bus station and think this over. I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that’s
practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of
― Jack Kerouac

Food Friday: Banana Bread for Procrastinators

It is a struggle for me to get the recycling out in time each week. The dire warning from the town clearly states the necessity to have it out by the curb by 7:00 AM on Mondays. I am up at six most mornings, a combination of Mr. Friday’s ridiculously early office hours and Luke the wonder dog, who just can’t wait to get up every day. And yet, most Mondays I dawdle around, reading the paper, checking Facebook, drinking the first Diet Coke of the day, looking out the window and counting daffodil blooms. And then, suddenly, I remember, and I am running down the driveway in my jim-jams, racing with an unwieldy recycling container loaded to the gills with cheap white wine empties, a collection of rattling Diet Coke cans, and lots of heavy newspaper, just a couple of houses ahead of the approaching recycling truck. I procrastinate. I could just take the recycling out the night before. But where would the fun and peril be in that?

I am always reading food articles, of course, and I fall prey to the ones that exhort us to eat better. Imagine that. Bananas are miracle food! Eat two bananas a day and shed pounds and become happier! Eat fifty a day for life-altering miracles! Reduce your risk of high blood pressure! Or stroke! Or cancer! Gluten-free!

Bananas do contain all sorts of healthy ingredients: flavonoids, ply-phenolics, lutein, beta and alpha carotenes, antioxidant, lots of Vitamin C, potassium, Vitamin B6, fiber, magnesium and copper. But I don’t think that’s why we buy them. We buy them because they are yellow. Bananas smell great – like lunch boxes on a rainy day, with no hope of recess, in elementary school. Bananas are portable. Bananas are fun to peel. They are much easier to open than milk containers or anything in a plastic clamshell. Bananas are deelish.

But after a couple of days you forget that there is a bunch of bananas in the bowl on the counter, over there, way across the kitchen, over by the toaster and the stack of neglected Visa bills. And suddenly, you realize that you have procrastinated and waited too long and soon the fruit flies will start to swarm. And now you need to make a loaf of banana bread, because throwing food away is a sin. This is a salvageable crisis. And one with many solutions. And you can still wear your jim-jams without the recycling guys sniggering at you.

Basic Boozy Banana Bread

3 to 4 overly ripe, brownish bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 to 1 cup light brown sugar – it depends on your sweet tooth
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (or rum)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Up to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon (or rum), and then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, stir. Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve. Do not delay. Yumsters.

“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”
-Groucho Marx

Food Friday: Fattening You up for Fat Tuesday

Depending on your personal philosophies you might be getting ready for Lent; challenging yourself for forty days of penance and fasting. Or you could be girding your loins for more parties and parades New Orleans-style; tossing back handfuls of King Cake, reaching up to grab another fistful of Mardi Gras beads. You might not have time (or the inclination) on Tuesday to do your full prep for Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, which is why we have weekends.

Weekends are a natural for pancakes. And if you are trying to remove temptations from your fridge in time for Lent, this is a good weekend to get that task done. Be a hero and make stacks of pancakes, using up the eggs, butter, milk, and fatty delicious Nutella, and chocolate chips. Go through the brown sugar, the ricotta cheese, the bacon and the maple syrup. You will feel so smug and austere come Lent, because there will be no temptations left in the house. (Warning: Do not beg with Alexa to deliver another bag of Ghiradelli 70% Cacao chocolate chips through Amazon Prime Pantry on Thursday. Be strong. It’s only forty days.)

The basic ingredients of pancakes are also Christian symbols: eggs for creation, flour is nourishment, milk is purity and salt is wholesomeness. And what is miraculous is all the different ways to combine these basics into myriad clouds of airy goodness. The popular British cook Jamie Oliver has reams of pancake recipes, which can be sweet or savory, thin and crepe-like, or study and filling. I find when I eat pancakes in restaurants I can never eat a whole stack. I like the idea of delicate crepes, oozing fresh, colorful fruit. They are practically health food.

I will trip along the nostalgia trail here, and am reminded of a great pancake breakfast on vacation in Maine one summer where we tumbled a couple of handfuls of fresh blueberries picked by our own little monkey fingers into the bubbling batter. The children became instant blueberry fans, having shunning them for their six or seven years on earth. This is a song that gets airtime when the family is whipping up batches of pancakes:

When the Tall One came home from college, where he was learning how to cook and fill his own food furnace when he wasn’t studying the intricacies of macroeconomics, we were introduced to his personal philosophy that everything is better with bacon. It is an excellent belief to hold. Bacon on pancakes. Bacon in pancakes. Bacon served on the side of a stack of pancakes. He even put bacon inside the hamburger he would grill, and then top with more bacon. Yumsters.

Another college skill he acquired was flipping pancakes. I do not recall having that much time on my hands when I was in college, but the times are a changin’. The Tall One would very casually take a smallish frying pan, into which he had poured pancake batter, and after the bubbles had stopped bubbling, and the surface of the pancake was no longer shiny, he would grab the handle of the pan, twirl the pancake a little bit, rotate his wrist, and hurl the pancake up toward the kitchen ceiling. And sometimes it came down into the pan. Mostly the dog was an enthusiastic observer, and with her big soulful eyes she encouraged many hours of practice. People who have more than my checkbook math have even found the mathematical equation for the foolproof pancake flip: L = 4×H /π– D / 2
(L = hand distance from inner edge of the pancake / H = height of flip / D = diameter of pancake)

Take a walk around the Garden District before Mardi Gras:

One of our household kitchen gods, Mark Bittman, has an excellent basic pancake recipe: And he even has a cornmeal variation:

Bacon Pancakes:
Garden and Gun has a slightly more sophisticated bacon pancake that will be perfect for an Easter breakfast:

And, of course, Bon Appétit has to do it bigger and better than everyone else – Chocolate Chip Pancakes Cooked in Bacon Fat! Apparently you will not die from immediate heart failure if you use whole wheat flour. I am sure that the Tall One would just audibly roll his eyes at that nonsense, and will reach for the Bisquick box instead:

In case you are not trying to use up whole wheat flour, and Bisquick is what you have on hand, too:

Enjoy the moment.

“My life is always more delicious when I have whiskers on my face, but that might just be because those whiskers tend to accumulate bacon crumbs and scotch, rendering them literally delicious all day long.”
― Nick Offerman

Food Friday: Prepping for Spring

Ah, February. A short month, granted, but one riddled with vagaries and inconsistencies. It’s warm and sunny one day, snowy the next. Then it is sunny and cold, then warm and rainy. So many wags have commented on the weather that I can hardly hope to contribute to the compendium in an original (or amusing) way. February: some days are warm, some days are cold.

Several times this month I have been tempted to make a vat of chili, if only for the warming exercise of standing at the stove and stirring the red mixture around and around in the pot. Those are the days when we will do almost anything to stay close to the pilot light. Chili is such a wintery meal; it’s when we pull close together in the candlelight and shrug on another sweater. We hold the chili bowls in our chilly little hands, hoping the radiant heat will warm our little bird-like bones. Brr. It is dark and freezing on chili nights.

But what about the bright, sunny day, when Luke the wonder dog and I have been walking through the neighborhood, lurking and snooping and scoping out other peoples’ gardens? When the sight of the first crocus can buoy my spirit? That is no night for heavy, winter-y chili – it is a night to celebrate the first hint of spring! It is a night for Warm Chicken Salad, with a big nod to the smart folks at Food52.

We enjoy a summertime staple meal of a BLT chicken salad, with bacon, lettuce and tomato and cool lashings of mayonnaise, but in the winter we prefer something less gauzy and breezy. Our warm chicken salad has heft and crispy potatoes, which warm the gullet and speak to the primal essence of survival. Winter is still here, Jon Snow, but spring is not far away.

We have been tinkering with the basic Food52 recipe, which is very grownup and practical. It calls for leftover chicken, from the bird you roasted in a methodical way on Sunday afternoon. And while I would like to marshal my thoughts enough to cook for a few hours every Sunday, I still have other projects which demand my attention. Soon, though.

We played a little fast and loose with the basic recipe, which is only to be expected. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without. I wanted to be sure that the potatoes were particularly crisp, so I fried up a couple of pieces of bacon and used the bacon fat for frying the potatoes. (I had the perfect excuse for a nice BLT lunch then, too.) We also had some leftover Italian sausage, which I tossed into the mix a few minutes before taking the pan off the stove. The sausage had enough time to reheat and get crispy around the edges, too.

If you want to organize yourself and get prepped for spring I cannot recommend too highly the newest Food52 cookbook: Food52 A New Way to Dinner: A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead. It will whip you into top cooking shape, and you will feel so responsible and methodical that it is possible to enjoy some leisure time for guilt-free snooping into your neighbors’ gardens, too. Or reading another murder mystery. Because why else do we strive for efficiency? So we have some time to savor and delight in the mundane. Go find a crocus blooming, and see how uplifted you feel.

“The true harbinger of spring is not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of the bat on the ball.”
-Bill Veeck

Food Friday: Love is in the Air

Or it could be snow. This might be a good weekend to stay in and cook. A bubbling pot of chili always radiates a nice, homey feeling. But you should be thinking about next Tuesday – hint – Valentine’s Day.

You will need to step up your cooking game for Tuesday. Because, really, who wants to go out to a crowded restaurant for an expensive and indifferent meal, when one cooked at home can be imbued with ardor? According to the Wall Street Journal , Valentine’s Day is a day when romantic gestures can be costly. The cheapest Champagne they list is a Dom Perignon, Rosé, for $795. The least expensive restaurant dinner is $395.00 per person, with wine. Heavens to Betsy! Look at all the money we have just saved!

If you cannily start to hunt and gather your ingredients this weekend, you can have a titillating Valentine’s meal at home. Mr. Friday always feigns surprise when Valentine’s Day rolls around. He assumes that it (and Christmas) should only pop up on the calendar every four years – like Leap Year, or the Olympics. So I can’t expect him to be the one scouring the cookbooks looking for a way to woo and delight me. Instead I will buy a few candles, and will stock up on some deelish Prosecco ($15.99), and Nigella and I will use the kitchen to lavish upon him some earthly delights.

Nigella Lawson has some fabulous ideas for romantic meals. One that she suggests is a simple steak for wooing a new love – because you both are nervous and giddy and clumsy and can’t handle chop sticks or French sauces. Assuming you are not dating a vegetarian, her Tagliata Steak for Two is a bold and confident approach to a first Valentine’s Night meal.

We usually have steak on the weekends, cooked to Mr. Friday’s exacting standards. So I will be springing another of Nigella’s sensual entrées on him – my personal favorite – Buttermilk Roast Chicken.

My favorite meal has always been chicken and rice (except when it was spaghetti and meatballs) and I find it a familiar, yet celebratory, dish. And while the chicken is marinating in the fridge, I can chuckle to myself that I am working so hard to prepare an appetizing and enticing dinner. And it took me at least twenty years to perfect this rice recipe – but I will share it with you, Gentle Readers: prepare rice according to package directions – except use chicken broth (homemade is best, but Swanson’s will do) instead of water.

1 cup rice
2 cups water (broth)

Bring water (broth) to a boil in a small saucepan
Stir in the rice
Cover the pan, and reduce the heat and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed.

Two servings. Perfection!

Buy a bag o’salad.

Nigella is the queen of desserts. You can wander through her books and website and gain weight just by looking at the images. You might prefer her Chocolate Raspberry Shortcakes.

I am going for all the gusto – and will be stirring up a Chocolate Guinness Cake. Yumsters!

And after we have consumed our swoon-worthy meal we can curl up on the sofa and watch Monday’s Stephen Colbert, which we cleverly programmed on Tivo. Romance in the 21st century.

“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

Food Friday: Downton Abbey’s Time Travel Nachos

Gentle readers: Food Friday is away, but has rummaged around in the Way Back Machine, looking for a gentler time. We will return to the craziness of 2017 next week. In the meantime, please remember your manners, and be kind to one another; play nicely.

Lady Mary Crawley is ever so sylph-like and elegant. She looks as if she has never eaten a sandwich in her entire gloriously privileged Downton Abbey life. She appears to have wafted on from the inconvenience of Mr. Pamuk’s nocturnal death, through the reluctant courtship, growing love and untimely tragedy with young Matthew Crawley. She is now managing the fatstock sales of 1925 without capitulating to the siren song of the lowest common denominator: food. Or so you might think.

Lady Mary, leaving behind no more than a trace of her eau de cologne and the distant click of her ropes of pearls, has been glimpsed will-o-the-wisping through the servants’ hall on the rare nights of televised sport, when Mrs. Patmore prepares her renowned Time Travel Nachos. These are the nights when Mr. Carson takes off his white tie, and Mrs. Hughes loosens her stays, and Mr. Molesley lets down his dyed hair. Quick as a flash, Lady Mary samples the nachos, and then disappears back upstairs.

Mr. Barrow smiles knowingly, as he and Miss Baxter share a glass of beer, and put their hard-working feet up, enjoying the blend of hot cheeses, bean dip and the thrilling burn of the exotic jalapeño peppers. The times they are a changin’ at Downtown Abbey, and Mrs. Patmore is going to bring everyone’s taste buds screaming into the twentieth century. Just wait for their heads to explode when they get to the guacamole! So long, bubble and squeak!

Perhaps we should not share any of these recipes with Robert, (spoiler alert!) in case his ulcer blows again, but we common folk are rather fond of almost any dish that serves hot melty cheese, crispy crunchy corn chips with a slew of ingredients that could mirror the cast of characters at Downton for sheer variety and eccentricity.

The onlookers at a fatback auction are nothing compared to a hungry crowd that has gathered at your humble crofter’s cottage for the quaint American activity known as the Super Bowl. Lord Grantham, be forewarned. The game is afoot.

We here at the Spy Test Kitchens abhor soggy nachos, so we recommend making several cookie sheets worth of nachos for your Super Bowl activities. It means more time hovering in the kitchen, and maybe missing some of the commercials, but that is why YouTube was invented. This way, everyone will be sure of having nice hot, crisp and cheesy nachos. We bake ours at about 450° degrees for about 7 or 8 minutes. Don’t wander off!

Use a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil for an easy clean up. Daisy has enough to do already, and doesn’t need to play scullery maid to you rude Americans. This way you can keep a continuous conga line of nachos moving up from the Kitchens through to the Great Hall.

Hint: don’t overload the chips with toppings – you’ll avoid sogginess and it is so much easier to eat lightly dressed chips with your fingers. (Don’t forget to take off your evening gloves, first.)

Here are some toppings for your own Mrs. Patmore’s delicious game day nachos:

Corn chips:
Buy them, or be prepared to spend your day hunched over a frying pan.

shredded Cheddar
Monterey Jack
Colby cheese

pulled pork
shredded rotisserie chicken
crumbled Italian sausage
browned taco meat
grilled steak

avocado slices
chopped sweet or red onions
shredded lettuce (add after cooking)
refried beans
black beans
chopped tomatoes
sliced pitted black olives
diced green, red, and yellow sweet peppers
jalapeños (use fresh – don’t use icky, pickled peppers)
fresh cilantro

To add after the nachos have come out of the oven:
shredded lettuce
sour cream

Mrs. Patmore also suggests strongly that Maryland’s Eastern Shore folks might enjoy this variation – crab and corn nachos.

8 ounces crabmeat
3/4 cup corn
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 teaspoon mustard

Spoon into tortilla scoops;
top with shredded Monterey Jack, then bake.

Mrs. Patmore knows her business!

(The Dowager Countess has already had a platter delivered to the Dower House; Violet is always planning ahead.)

Violet: “First electricity, now telephones. Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel.”

Food Friday: We are Toast

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about! I listened to a report about the perils of toast and potato chips this week. The plummy BBC accents did not make the reality any less harsh. There are new threats lurking in our kitchens, thanks to our fondness for the exceptional versatility and deliciousness of bread and potatoes. Toast and fries are a menace!

Acrylamides, the combination of water, sugar, and amino acids which are the very things that make bread toasty and tasty, are created when bread is heated in the toaster. They are what cause the browning of the surface of the bread, and make the delicious odor that wafts up from the toaster into your waiting nostrils. The essence of the the comfort we deride from toast is what is going to kill us all. Just when we need lots of hot sugary cups of tea, and plates of warm, buttery toast.

So long, toast.

Toast is the gateway ingredient for many other delicious meals. I remember my mother bringing me a trays of cinnamon toast when I was lying on the sofa, recovering from the mumps. Nothing more delicious had ever slid down that sore throat. And cinnamon toast was the first recipe I ever managed on my own. (The next was my famous peanut butter and potato chip sandwich, a classic combination of sweet and salty, soft and crunchy.)

If you can’t have toast, you can’t have grilled cheese: Grilled cheese is the basis for many a child’s sense of independence. One feels such autonomy when trusted to cook a grilled cheese unsupervised for the first time. From there it is a short hop, skip and jump to re-heating frozen pizza in the Toast-R-Oven.

Nor can you enjoy a grilled egg and cheese sandwich the Dan Pashman way: And nothing delightful and unexpected as this grilled cheese and kimchi sami: Ciao.

You won’t be able to consume French toast with abandon: So long to using up that stale bread and getting to drown your hungover Sunday in sweet lashings of maple syrup.

Say bye-bye to my favorite lunch, the BLT. And I cannot even begin to wonder what role acrylamides play in making bacon crispy and delish. Here is a more sophisticated and complex recipe, in case you ever get tired of the purity of a basic BLT:

When I feel like I have to order something for lunch that makes me exude worldliness, I will often order a club sandwich. Not any more, I suppose. I will be getting by with suggestions from the water sommelier. (I kid you not: How very depressing. Thank you Pioneer Woman for this very gussied up club sandwich:

While you are at it, you might as well whisper, “adieu” to the Croque Monsieur and the Croque Madame:

Say farewell to the best part of Caesar Salad, the crouton. Sigh. I fry ours in bacon fat, so I guess I am killing us off twice as fast.

And that’s the swan song for French Onion Soup, too. Frankly, the dripping browned cheese and the crouton are my favorite part of onion soup. That and trying politely to wrest a mouthful of melted cheese-draped bread out of the soup bowl without bringing shame to my family.

And toodle-oo to cocktail parties! No more witty banter while trying to appear poised enough to be a John Cheever character, as I successfully navigate the crowded room, a highball clasped in one manicured hand, the other winkling out a delicious toast point, coated with egg and a smidge of caviar.

It is the end of our happy times. Godspeed.

“It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you. ”
― Nigel Slater

Food Friday: The Common Cold

The temperatures have been dancing up and down, although it hasn’t seemed too much like a grim winter yet. Oh, dear. I’ve gone and offended the winter weather gods, and we will have blizzards throughout February. My apologies.

But that’s OK. I can just rack up some more quality time spent in bed, with my box of tissues, my dry up pills, and my Kindle. It is thoroughly demoralizing to be felled by a cold. Are there special colds, or just the common denominator kind? I have lived through car accidents, broken bones and childbirth, and nothing has made be feel more puny and vulnerable than a cold.

There is none of the middle-of-the-night drama of appendicitis, or the heaving violence of intestinal flu, thank goodness. I just lie against the pillows, hoping that I look vaguely like Camille, and cough cough cough. So attractive. And even more so now that my nose has gone a positively incandescent rose madder red from all the blowing. Who needs mousse? My hair stands up in spikes, all by itself.

Sadly, Luke the wonder dog speaks cough cough cough. He scuttles over from his comfy cushion in the corner of the bedroom, to sitting worriedly by my side of the bed, staring sadly at me. I wonder what doggy expletive I am shouting out to him whenever I cough. He does not react well to swearing as it is.

I let out a stream of oaths the other day when I dropped a bottle of wine, and it smashed to smithereens on the kitchen tile. Luke was so worried about that blue streak of swear words that spewed unbidden from my otherwise lady-like (Camille, remember?) lips, that he scuttled over as if he had been to blame. (I might yell at myself for stupidly dropping a bottle of cheap white wine, but I would’t yell at him. The poor dog has a misplaced sense of guilt and responsibility.) That is the sad, sincere, guilt-ridden face I see staring up at me whenever I have a coughing jag.

Luke does not let his responsibility for my cough cough coughing interfere when his internal clock announces that it is time for a walk. He might just be mutt of a dog, but he has a great facility for telling time. He might be Swiss, because at 8:00 AM, 12:01 PM and 4:59 PM he makes a dramatic show of wagging and wriggling himself about with anticipatory pleasure, insinuating himself between me and the computer, or me and the drawing table. That is very charming behavior normally, but when I have to drag the sneezy snotty cough cough coughing self out from the warm embrace of my Black Watch Pendleton blanket nest, and take someone out for walkies, I am aware of the injustice in the universe. I can hardly wait for the weekend to come, when I will either feel better, or Mr. Friday can walk Luke the wonder dog.

In the meantime, when I am not whingeing about poor, poor pitiful me, here are some things you can use to tempt your patients to consume; things that will improve their outlook and their poor raw noses.

Tissues – be sure to stock up on boxes and boxes of the kind suffused with lotion.

Fluids – Ginger ale, orange juice, Gatorade, tea

Bendy straws

Beef broth – you too, can pretend to be on the Queen Mary, wrapped in a thick wooly cruise ship rug, reclining on a spindly teak deck chair, watching for icebergs while sipping the warm broth as supplied by the nameless (yet attentive) deck hand.

Chicken noodle soup – when Mr. Friday had the cold he went through a couple of gallons of this.

Kindle, Netflix enabled or with any recent bio of Queen Victoria; the book will outlive the cold. It took me a week of steadily plowing through one biography, and King George VI had just died, and Victoria had just turned 18. If my cold worsens and I come down with pneumonia, maybe I’ll get to the wedding to poor, dear, doomed Albert.

Snacks – forbidden childhood favorites. Utz cheese balls. Yumsters.

Ice cream – for your sore throat

Drugs – you name an OTC cold remedy that we haven’t tried. Our Go To drug seems to be NyQuil, for its reliable powers to knock you out. Thank heavens. Otherwise Luke wouldn’t get a wink of sleep at night.

Here is a recipe from our clever friends at Food52. But I think you can cheat and use a can of Campbell’s. Shhh. You didn’t hear it from me!

“The only way to treat the common cold is with contempt.”
William Osler