Food Friday: Memorial Day Cookouts

FF_MemorialDayCookouts2

How will you be spending your Memorial Day weekend? Will you be marching in a parade? Or will you be surreptitiously trying to toss some Redcoats off the Sultana and into the Chester River? Will you be observing a more solemn occasion and take some flowers to decorate a family grave? Or will you be stuck in traffic attempting to flee the metropolis to get to a warm sandy beach, with ice cream stands and happy families frolicking in the water? There are so many possibilities for this upcoming weekend, especially now that you are allowed to wear white again.

I love ritual celebrations. I love small town parades. Once, back in our misspent youth, Mr. Friday and his chums had a martini stand at the annual Rowayton (Connecticut) Memorial Day Parade. (Another year they distributed Bloody Marys. They were quite the popular young gentlemen.) And back in those days, when one could still drink with impunity before noon, we sat in lawn chairs with martinis in hand, and cheered as the Scouts, the school marching bands, the firefighters, some antique cars, town officials and proud veterans paraded past us. And then we went to a Memorial Day cookout in a park, under the trees, on the river. It was a warm and sunny day, as most happy hazy memories tend to be remembered.

There are many ways to have a Memorial Day cookout. You can go fancy, or you can take the easy route. Guess which I suggest? There is no need to get elaborate: apple pie, hot dogs and hamburgers are swell ceremonial American foods and are great for any Memorial Day picnic. I usually whip up a batch of potato salad, but a bag of Utz sour cream and onion potato chips is never out of place! Is it too hot to bake a pie? Just bring out some Bergers. You will be a hero. Or slice open a frosty cold and refreshing watermelon. Put beers and glass bottles of Coke in a bucket of ice, but don’t forget the cheap white wine. I would not suggest martinis at this advanced age, though…

One must be mindful of our resident pescatarian. The Pouting One would prefer cool and delicate seasonal fruits, vegetables, and sticks and twigs, please. No meat. No chicken. Alas, she may have outgrown her appreciation of skillful watermelon seed spitting, but she might like this more sophisticated treatment: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/magazine/watermelon-burgers-with-cheese.html?_r=0

Fruit salads are easy to prepare ahead of time, and can be a side dish or a dessert:
Cuke & Watermelon Salad http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013208-cucumber-watermelon-salad

Bon Appétit fruit salad: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/fruit-salad-fennel-watercress-smoked-salt

Miss Pescatarian still has an appetite for carbs. Doing garlic bread on the grill is a swell alternative to heating up the kitchen with the oven/furnace blasting superheated air into every nook and cranny. I am ready to move the whole cooking shooting match outside anyway, so let’s start with the garlic bread: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014865-grilled-garlic-bread-with-basil-and-parmesan

You want to simplify in the summer, here are some more handy dandy ideas from The New York Times cooking whizzes. If you are going to be cooking on your summer vacation you really need to reduce and minimize your time in the kitchen. There are waves to catch, birds to watch, hikes to undertake, vistas to appreciate, and a glider in a corner of the cool, dark, screened-in porch with a good book are all calling out to you! Get out and enjoy yourself. Vacation cooking: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/10/dining/a-minimalist-approach-to-cooking-on-vacation.html?_r=0

Next weekend we will still face the bourgeois dining dilemma – what to have for dinner, again? Let’s find some more delicious hamburgers to cook. Hamburgers never grow old. Cook Out Season from Bon Appétit: http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/article/grilling-best-burgers

When it gets too buggy outside Sunday night, wander into the house and turn on the TV. There is nothing like a concert performed with pomp and circumstance and aplomb to make you feel proud. http://www.pbs.org/national-memorial-day-concert/home/

Here are some small town Memorial Day photos to enjoy: http://www.ryot.org/check-vintage-photos-memorial-day-years/698369

“I’m still passionately interested in what my fellow humans are up to. For me, a day spent monitoring the passing parade is a day well-spent.”
– Garry Trudeau

Food Friday: Celebrate! It’s National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!

FF_ChocolateChipCookieDay_web

Friday is National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. I just love significant food holidays. National Pizza Day is one I hold near and dear. I can’t muster much enthusiasm for National Zucchini Day, though. Unless a new zucchini sport (á la the caber toss) has been devised in recent years. National Zucchini Day is August 8, so mark your calendars accordingly. It might be wise to be away on vacation.

May is also National Strawberry Month, National Asparagus Month, National Barbecue Month, and, of course, the perennial favorite: National Mediterranean Diet Month. I am holding out for the highly anticipated National Beer Week – which is the fourth week of May. All of these days lead into the big Memorial Day Weekend, which is always cause for considerable celebration, enthusiastic shows of parading patriotism, and fine grilling. Thanks to the brilliant bakery innovation of the legendary Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, you can bring a platter of homemade chocolate chip cookies for the event. Everyone will be happy you did. Cookies are so much more enjoyable than a Jell-O salad.

National Chocolate Chip Day might well mean you spend weeks practicing and fine-tuning your secret family recipe. (Which is probably like everyone else’s and it comes from the back of the package of Nestlé’s chocolate baking chips.) Or I suppose you can be cheeky and mark the occasion with store-bought cookies. But there are so many reasons right now for indulging everyone’s inner child. The school year is winding down. Colleges are disgorging legions of hungry youth. Folks are having graduation parties. What can you bring to the best second grade teacher ever? The answer to all these social predicaments is to provide a warm and sweet plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Personally, we draw the line at slice and bake grocery refrigerator dough, but we can cut you a little slack if you buy a box of Ghiradelli chocolate chip cookie mix because we love it, too. But I cannot remember a single instance of resisting cookies because we knew they weren’t homemade, can you? Think of Famous Amos and Mrs. Fields’s cookies. Have you ever refused? What about Entenmmann’s? Or Keebler elfish cookies? Pepperidge Farm? Trader Joe’s? It is doubtful. We are forever youthful when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. It would be rude to be judgmental, or to refuse.

And while we never question the provenance of cookies, perhaps in our own smug way we should strive produce the best and the brightest cookies for our own satisfaction. We need to employ the scientific method and some insightful thinking. How else can we decide which is better: thick and chewy, or crisp with lacey edges? Kingdoms have been lost for more prosaic reasons.

Good Old Reliable Workhorse Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients
1⁄2 cup shortening
3⁄4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips (spring for Ghiradelli chocolate chips!)

DIRECTIONS
Cream first four ingredients
Combine dry ingredients
Add to wet ingredients
Add chocolate chips.
Bake @ 350°F, 10-12 minutes.

This is the recipe that Nestlé has on its website for the Original Toll House Cookies: https://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/18476/original-nestle-toll-house-chocolate-chip-cookies/

Here is a recipe for gooey, chewy chocolate chip cookies. http://hostthetoast.com/best-chewy-cafe-style-chocolate-chip-cookies/

Of course Martha has the answer to the crispy cookie conundrum. My crispy cookies are burnt ones, retrieved from the oven at just this side of incineration: http://www.marthastewart.com/343950/thin-and-crisp-chocolate-chip-cookies

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
― Neil Gaiman

Step Outside the Boxwood: “Eating the Landscape”

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 12.39.28 PM

Add beauty to your gardens and food to your table by mixing ornamentals and edibles in your landscaping.

Elizabeth Beggins will inspire you to step outside the boxwood with vegetables, fruits and herbs sure to enliven your planting beds and supplement the foods you prepare. All you need is some sun and some creativity to become a successful edible gardener.

Beggins is a freelance writer, educator, vegetable garden consultant, and cook with over a decade of experience as a market gardener on the Eastern Shore. She believes that our health depends on a keen understanding of what we eat, and that our choices as consumers are vital to sustaining ourselves and our planet.

As director of the You Food Project (www.facebook.com/youfoodproject), Elizabeth facilitates increased awareness of the connection between personal and environmental health. She will be sharing her expertise with us on Thursday, May 21 at noon, at the Easton branch of the Talbot County Free Library, along with a special sampling of food she has prepared.

Please join us for this fun and interesting program. Beverages and dessert will also be served by the Friends of the Talbot County Free Library. The program is free and open to the public.

Food Friday: Mother’s Day Ideas for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

FF_MothersDayweb

I am going to be out of town on Mother’s Day, so I am telling my children right now that the pressure is off. Relax. I don’t get home until after ten on Sunday night. Text me, though.

Mr. Friday and I are trying to get organized to move from a house where we have lived for more than twenty years. I opened a box this week, full of earnestly scribbled cards and Valentines, covered with crayon flowers, boats, Pokémon monsters, and abstract expressionistic family portraits. Some were obviously done as assignments with guidelines and too much adult assistance in pre-school and elementary school. And others are purely homemade and super sweet, as well as being creatively misspelled. Ah, sentimental fool that I am, they all went back into the box, and the box is moving with us.

All you other children: get cracking! Prepare a meal, cut some flowers, draw a picture, make a card, and be daringly retro and pick up the phone!

Breakfast: French Toast

We always have day old French bread (in fact we have a collection of French bread in the freezer) and it always seems a sin and a shame to pitch it, so this is a delightful and economical way to be frugal consumers. And Mr. Friday loves the added kick of the rum on an otherwise uneventful Sunday morning…

1 cup milk
1 pinch salt
3 brown eggs
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 generous dollop rum
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 1/2-inch slices day old French bread

Whisk milk, salt, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, rum and sugar until smooth. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium heat. Soak bread slices in mixture until saturated. Cook bread on each side for a couple of minutes, until golden brown. Serve with maple syrup and powdered sugar.

Lunch : BLTs – because they are perfect food.

Bacon improves everything it touches. One of my many reasons for embracing the British is because of their all-consuming love for bacon. The bacon butty is practically a national treasure. Think of a mound of bacon piled on a soft roll. I draw the line at HP sauce, but then I also restrict the application of mayonnaise or butter. I think a bacon sandwich is best enjoyed practically naked. There is quite enough fat without an additional schmear of butter. I like a good bacon sandwich on rye toast. Which is also how I like my BLTs. And my grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches. And my club sandwiches. Imagine how desolate a thin, unadorned grilled cheese sandwich is. But add some festive bacon and you can toss confetti and start a party!

Here are some more sandwich ideas: http://chestertownspy.org/2013/08/30/food-friday-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year/

Dinner: Easy Peasy Roasted Chicken

Start with a 3-pound bird and clear out the cavities. Shake salt and pepper over the chicken, pretend to be Hermione Granger, whispering a magic spell and hoping for the best.

Preheat the oven to 325° F, then put the chicken on top of a vertical non-stick chicken roaster, or plunk it down in a roasting pan. Cook for about 20 minutes a pound. Voila. Add some rice and a lively green salad, and since it’s Mother’s Day, up the wine ante a little bit. Go for some Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.

http://chestertownspy.org/2013/01/24/food-friday-weekend-chicken/

Time Spent Together in the Kitchen Spaghetti Sauce

This will thrill your mother – watching you cook her a vat of spaghetti sauce. Turn the tables and make an elaborate, messy, memorable meal. First, pour her a glass of wine.

http://chestertownspy.org/2013/06/14/food-friday-the-luxury-of-homemade-spaghetti-sauce/

Dessert: Ours to Share: Secret Family Recipe Brownies

My mother never used cake mixes; they offended her New England sensibilities. She would never have considered buying Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix, although I can assure you, it is a very fine product; many a box has migrated through our kitchen. When I was growing up my mother baked brownies made from scratch, and they were equally delish. They were made according to my grandmother’s secret family recipe, written down on a faded and thumb-printed, sticky index card. It was a family treasure, kept in a little wooden box in the pantry. A secret family recipe? Ha! Like most family secrets this was life-altering in its cunning and simple deceit – our Secret Family Recipe was pretty much verbatim the recipe on the back of the Baker’s Secret Chocolate box! Except that we left out the nuts.

Helen Foley’s Secret Family Brownie Recipe

4 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
Heat oven to 350°F.
Line a 9” x 9” pan with parchment paper.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudge-y crumbs. (Do not over bake.) Cool completely.

Here are a kazillion recipes from those clever folks at Food52:
https://food52.com/recipes/mothers-day

“Being a mother is an attitude, not a biological relation.”
― Robert A. Heinlein

Horticulturist Barbara Ellis Asks: How Does Your Chesapeake Bay Garden Grow?

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.01.02 PM

Local horticulturist and author Barbara Ellis can relax and garden this summer. For the past six years she’s been working on her book “Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping: The Essential Green Guide”, and that labor of love has taken precedent in her life. Now it’s out.

The book, which promises to become one of the horticultural bibles for Chesapeake Bay region gardening, was published in association with Adkins Arboretum by University of North Carolina Press this month.

The 328-page book offers 317 color plates by Neil Soderstrom.

UNC Press’ Southern Gateways calls Ellis’ book “comprehensive guide shows homeowners, gardeners, garden designers, and landscapers how to do just that for the large and beautiful Chesapeake Bay watershed region.”

Mollie Rideout, Director of Horticulture, Historic Annapolis Foundations writes, “An important, valuable, and timely resource for Chesapeake gardeners, and the only book of its kind for the region. The volume’s structure and practical how-to nature will make it useful both to readers just starting their gardening endeavors and to experienced gardeners inspired to bring their landscapes into more conformity with their natural contexts.”

Barbara Ellis was former managing editor at Rodale Press and publications director at the American Horticultural Society.

The Spy was happy to have caught up wither last week and talk about her new book.

Cover-main

 

Food Friday: A Mess of Frittatas

Frittatas

I just love this cheeky instruction from Jamie Oliver: “Preheat your oven to full whack.” It is succinct, to the point, and it definitely sets the tone – you will be in the proper frame of mind to roast, beat, and chop away as you prepare your own delicious custardy frittata.

The frittata can be served at any meal, which is a great relief, when you have suddenly remembered (as I often do, at about 5:15 every afternoon) that there will be hungry folks expecting dinner. Again. And have I graciously planned a nutritious meal having shopped with thrift and epicurious zeal at the food market? Doubtful. It’s time to go scrounging around the fridge and the larder and see what I can rustle up in the way of intriguing ingredients.

Butter. Check. Eggs. Check. Milk. Check. Ditto peppers, onion, Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, leftover potatoes, bacon and parsley. Check, check, check. The clever folks at Food52 think we should have foraged for fiddlehead ferns and our own morels. https://food52.com/blog/6663-how-to-make-any-frittata-in-5-steps
I think not. The basics have covered my bases. Now to look for something a little out of the ordinary: spaghetti. http://usa.fage.eu/recipe/frittata-alla-carbonara-fage-total?gclid=CjwKEAjwpYeqBRDOwq2DrLCB-UcSJAASIYLjXESVD206YvTAaYXh_cqjedZ4SJc8ShMk7b6W7V4qfRoCQSLw_wcB)

Leftovers can also supply a panoply of variations: sausage, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini, leeks, eggplant, spinach, squash, artichokes, ham, turkey, salami, chicken and smoked salmon. Add just about any cheese you can think of. I personally love a BLT frittata, because a BLT is the perfect food at any time of the day or night. Thank you, Rachel Ray: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rachael-ray/blt-frittata-recipe.html

Last Sunday morning, while Mr. Friday was out entertaining the Wonder Dog, I thought I would be nice, and make a proper breakfast for him, instead of shoving the usual weekday box of granola in his general direct, through the fluttering stack of the New York Times. Virtue is its own reward.

I did not preheat the oven to full whack, sorry Jamie. Instead I set it at 375°F, and baked a cookie sheet’s worth of thick cut bacon, while sautéing the vegetables I had on hand: green pepper, green onion, a minced garlic clove, and four small tomatoes. It is important to brown these water-bearing vegetables, so the water does not leak out into your egg mixture during the baking process, leading to a watery mess. At the last minute I tossed in a handful of leftover hash browns, just to warm them up, and to distribute them evenly among the vegetables.

I sautéed the vegetables in our new 8-inch cast iron frying pan. We have a glass-top stove, so I have been leery about using cast iron, and scratching the surface. But nothing is better for cooking frittatas (and corn bread) than a cast iron pan, so I moved it gingerly, and no disaster resulted. In the past I have used casserole dishes or pie plates for the baking part of the frittata, and things have always turned out fine. A speck of frittata has never been wasted in this house.

For years the Pouting Princess was served a vegetarian Christmas frittata, baked on Christmas Eve and warmed up in the morning, alongside the sausage balls enjoyed by us, her savage relatives. And that is another charm of frittatas; not only can you use leftovers as ingredients, you can enjoy leftover frittatas, warm or cold.

I then beat 6 large fresh, cage-free eggs, with about a third of a cup of half and half, salt and pepper, and a cup of shredded cheddar cheese with about a quarter cup of freshly grated Parmesan. I kept a handful of cheddar to toss on top of the egg mixture for the last few minutes of baking.

You need to remember to lower the heat under the frying pan as this is a slow cooking process, unlike omelettes. Make sure you have enough butter in the pan so the eggs do not stick when added to the vegetables. Remember, Julia Child had no fear of butter, and neither should you. I poured the eggs into the pan, stirred a little bit, and then delighted in using a wooden fork to lift the edge of the already set eggs, letting the still liquid egg mixture run underneath. (It was almost as satisfying as pricking holes into cooking sausages and letting the hot grease stream out!)

After about 10 minutes the egg mixture has set, and you can pop the frying pan into the oven. Add cheese.
In about 10 minutes, remove the frittata from the oven, slice it up, and add bacon. Add husband. Drop a piece of bacon on the floor. Move on to the Style section of the New York Times.

“Hai fatto una frittata,” in Italian means you have made a mess. But a delicious one.

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/eggs-recipes/roasted-chilli-frittata/#BvrqYq0Gg75DAvEJ.97

https://food52.com/blog/6663-how-to-make-any-frittata-in-5-steps

http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/common-mistakes/article/frittata-common-mistakes

“There was something sort of bleak about her tone, rather as if she had swallowed an east wind. This I took to be due to the fact that she probably hadn’t breakfasted. It’s only after a bit of breakfast that I’m able to regard the world with that sunny cheeriness which makes a fellow the universal favourite. I’m never much of a lad till I’ve engulfed an egg or two and a beaker of coffee.”
-P.G. Wodehouse

Food Friday: Vampire-Proof Chicken

FF_VampireProofChicken

I am sad to say that I did not look ahead last week, and managed to overlook the fact that Sunday, April 19, was National Garlic Day. We should have been celebrating like crazy, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy a little madcap garlic revelry this weekend. Let the Garlic Games begin!

Last Sunday Mr. Friday fired up the grill, and prepared a chicken dish from his bachelor days – which put my pathetic singleton cooking days to shame. He took a nob of good butter and three crushed cloves of garlic. He heated them in a small frying pan until they reached a rich, piquant, aromatic state. Then he basted the split chicken breasts he was masterfully tossing on the grill. Mr. F. added a small fling of parsley once he had plated the chicken, a green salad, some candle light and our favorite cheap white wine. I don’t know where you are in the vampire and zombie culture, but we exuded enough garlic that we were thoroughly vampire-proof by the end of the meal. And when the zombies eat our brains, they too will be impervious to vampire attacks.

Not only was the chicken well doused with garlic, but our salad was dressed in the finest homemade garlic dressing. We may have gone a wee bit over board with the garlic, but it was deelish nonetheless and I cannot recommend it too highly: it is brilliant in its simplicity:

3 cloves of garlic
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
2 ½ tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice

https://food52.com/recipes/31798-brussel-sprout-salad-with-creamy-garlic-dressing

Now that I am trying to reign in my carb intake I cannot eat garlic bread, at least until after next April’s wedding. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it’s toasty delish smell. I think a little bit of garlic bread would really top off this garlic fest of a meal. We usually split a baguette and put it under the broiler until it is lightly toasted, then rub a garlic clove over the toasted surfaces, then schmear on softened butter and drizzle it with oil. Then we pop it back in the oven to melt the butter. Ina Garten has a slightly more elegant was with garlic bread. http://www.barefootcontessa.com/recipes.aspx?RecipeID=102&S=0

The experts go back and forth on the merits of health benefits that result from eating garlic. I’ve read conflicting accounts: garlic lowers your blood pressure, it helps your cholesterol, it cures acne, it is an antiseptic, but watch out if you are on blood thinners. That is all well and good, but we eat it for the pleasure of the flavor and aroma, and as self-defense. And not just from vampires – if one of us eats garlic, we both eat garlic. http://www.realsimple.com/health/nutrition-diet/healthy-eating/health-benefits-garlic

Though this was interesting. Anything that brings illuminated medieval texts back into the public eye is newsworthy indeed:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/medieval-garlic-and-bile-potion-kills-mrsa-superbug/

If you still need ideas for your summer vacation, you can fly out to California and the Gilroy Garlic Festival – the original garlic festival – and wallow in garlic chicken popcorn, garlic Philly cheesesteaks, and garlic ice cream. Egads! The 2011 Garlic Cookoff winner was: Stacked Steak Napoleon on Garlic Paper with Asparagus, Radicchio, Shiitakes and Stilton – which sounds as if it is way above my skill set. They are serious about their garlic in California. http://gilroygarlicfestival.com/festival/gourmet-alley-food-beverage/

Here is a recipe for garlic ice cream, which one would not eat with a sugar cone walking down High Street on a summer’s evening, but would use as a side to compliment the complicated and sophisticated tastes you have magically woven in the kitchen: http://gildedfork.com/savory-garlic-ice-cream/

And my personal fave goes back to my impecunious college days, when Shirl and I would whip up a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. She had the virtuosic idea of adding garlic powder to the cooked day-glow mac and cheese, just before adding a good shake of Parmesan cheese (right out of the canister), and mixing well. Yumsters. Forever twenty-one.

“You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic, you can eat The New York Times.”
-Morley Safer

Former U.S. Botanic Garden Director Holly H. Shimizu Comes to Oxford May 7

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 10.02.27 AM

Native plants are excellent sources of flavor, fragrance, fiber, tea, dye and medicine. On Thurs., May 7, join Holly H. Shimizu from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Oxford Community Center for Native Plant Uses, a look at a wide range of natives and their rich value as useful plants in Native American and early American cultures.

Many of these plants, include sassafras, spicebush, goldenseal, native mints, ramps and mayapple are still highly valued and used, are being “rediscovered” or are in need of protection from overharvesting. Shimizu will also share samples of teas and flavorings for participants to experience.

Holly H. Shimizu

Holly H. Shimizu

Shimizu is a nationally recognized horticulturist with a rich background in plants and gardens. She served as director of the United States Botanic Garden for 14 years, during which time the Botanic Garden experienced a renaissance that included renovation of the Conservatory, completion of the National Garden, and countless inspiring and innovative projects. She has worked in gardens around the world and is often recognized as a host of the popular television show Victory Garden. She has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Thomas Roland Medal for outstanding contributions to horticultural education from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. She has written for many publications and is dedicated to heightening an awareness and love of plants through her work.

This program will be presented by Oxford Garden Club in partnership with Oxford Community Center and Adkins Arboretum. It will be held at the Oxford Community Center, 200 Oxford Road, Oxford, Md. The Chesapeake Bay Herb Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and enjoyment of growing and eating herbs, will be in attendance to share information about herbs and the organization. Admission is free and open to the public. Visit adkinsarboretum.org to register.

Food Friday: Get Ready for Spargelfest!

FF_Spargelfest

Are you all set for Spring? The snow has melted, the flowers are blooming and the sun is rising earlier every morning. Birds are singing. Have you started exfoliating? Are you eager to put the sweaters back in the closet? It’s finally April and we are springing with joy for asparagus season!

We have been eating asparagus for ages. 20,000 year-old wild asparagus seeds have been found at archeological digs in Egypt. There is an image of asparagus in an Egyptian frieze that was painted before 3000 BC. Queen Nefertiti decreed asparagus to be the food of the Gods. In the first century AD Emperor Augustus quipped, “Velocius quam asparagi conquantur,” which every clever Latin wag knows means, “As quick as cooking asparagus”. A recipe for cooking asparagus even appears in the oldest known cookbook: Apicius’s Third-century AD De re coquinaria, Book III.

The asparagus-loving emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus kept an “Asparagus Fleet” for importing their beloved vegetable from the far edges of their vast empire. Samuel Johnson, the great British diarist, made a note of having bought some at a market in 1677, though he called it “sparrow grass”, a more colloquial term than “asparagus”.

Asparagus, (or asparagi) named by the Romans, means “the first sprig or sprout of every plant, especially when it be tender”. There are four popular types consumed here in the twenty-first century: green, white, purple and wild. Green is what we usually find at the grocery store or farm stands. Germany goes mad for a couple of months celebrating white asparagus. They have Spargelfests, which are akin to Octoberfest, only they are celebrating the many virtues of asparagus. And the new asparagus crops will be coming to market soon.

Here is an asparagus-centric menu from the International Food and Wine Society’s Celebration of Asparagus Dinner held in England in 2010:

Asparagus mousse & char-grilled asparagus
With air-dried ham, toasted pine nuts, spring onion rings & 10 year old balsamic dressing.
Muscat Réserve, Trimbach 2008

Asparagus & watercress soup
Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Lemon-scented salmon fillet
With Jersey Royal new potatoes, roasted asparagus, sweet carrots & sorrel Hollandaise
Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Rhubarb & apple crumble
With vanilla pod ice cream
Clos L’Abeilly, Sauternes 2007
Freshly brewed tea or coffee with Florentines

“The mousse was lively and persistent, the wine light gold in colour and refreshingly dry with a good length.”

http://www.iwfs.org/assets/upload/regions/europe-africa/Food_and_Wine/Food__Wine_June_2010_1.pdf

But we are wasting time inside here at the computer. It is spring, and time to enjoy the great outdoors and the bounty of asparagus that is rolling our way. Carpe asparagi! Seize your lively and persistent asparagus by the lapels, and cook it with abandon! I have blown on before about our favorite way, which is to roast it on a cookie sheet under the broiler, with a scattering of salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. We also like to roll it up in aluminum foil and toss it on the grill for a few minutes. You can celebrate Friday Night Pizza and toss a handful on the pizza just as it goes in the oven. Or stick a few tender shoots on a piece of baguette with a schmeer of goat cheese. Don’t waste a minute, or a morsel.

Here are some other ideas for your own Spargelfest (Asparagus Festival)!

4 minutes (cooking time, add some more for prep)
http://www.diningchicago.com/blog/2010/04/21/eat-this-asparagus-the-vegetable-of-kings/

15 minutes for Julia Child’s classic hollandaise sauce:
http://www.food.com/recipe/julia-childs-hollandaise-sauce-251332

20 minutes:
Food52 has a genius of an idea, that they call: Alice B. Toklas’ Asparagus in Salt & Pepper Whipped Cream
https://food52.com/recipes/34736-alice-b-toklas-asparagus-in-salt-pepper-whipped-cream

20 minutes: Mark Bittman also suggests this heady combo: Asparagus with Miso Butter
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/11220-asparagus-with-miso-butter

25 minutes: The New York Times’ Mark Bittman suggests a hands down favorite Roasted Asparagus Frittata:
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017302-roasted-asparagus-frittata

And if you are trying to get some reluctant and unruly children to try asparagus, you can always start an Asparagus Race – who will smell asparagus pee first? Who knew that history and culture and a tasty plate of asparagus could lead to so much fun?

“A few Stems of Asparagus eaten, shall give our Urine a disagreable Odour…”
-Benjamin Franklin

Asparagus “…transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.”
-Marcel Proust

Food Friday: Living High Off the Hog

FF_Bacon_web

There will probably be a little tone of desperation running through my columns for the next year. The Tall One is to be married next April, so I have got a year to pull myself together. I always say that I would love to be taller, blonder and thinner; maybe discovering I was switched at birth, and I will find out that my long-lost aristocratic British parents left me their small estate in Sussex with a generous annual stipend and a wine cellar and a housekeeper.

Ah, the price I pay for working alone. I can have some pretty outlandish flights of fancy. Indeed,Luke, the wonder dog, would like you to know that he tries to entertain me the best he can with walks outside and treats and hunting snakes. All normal stuff. But the fact is that I want to look good in the wedding photos, and not echo Emma Thompson’s character in Love Actually, and lament that I am wearing Pavarotti’s cast offs. I think can manage blonder. And I am hoping for thinner.

So I am going to try to forgo carbs, at least during the week, and step out more often with Luke. We have been walking 3 and 4 miles a day for the past month. But now I will leave the biscuits behind. Sadly. I do love a nice, hot biscuit, with a bit of dripped butter glossing my chin. Sigh.

The only thing good about going carb-free is that I can ramp up my bacon intake. Everything is better with bacon, as the saying goes. Even without those invitingly warm, crumbly biscuits. Which is a good thing – I almost always have bacon in the house because one never knows when The Tall One will descend and bring his enormous appetite. Like catsup and mayonnaise, and Lipton chicken soup and Saltine crackers, I reliably have bacon on hand. Capers? Not that often.

And I will be taking you, Gentle Readers, on this carb-free year long adventure. Prepare to eat bacon. But keep your frying pans and skillets stashed in the cabinet. Get out a cookie sheet and bake your bacon. An ever-so-wise friend schooled me in this technique, and it has saved me from hours of scouring pans, and wiping the grease splatters off the tricky bits on the stove. I do go back and forth – whether to cook on a rack, or use parchment paper or aluminum foil to line the cookie sheet. Our current thinking is to bake the thick bacon on the rack – which despite being bought because the package was labeled “Non-Stick” – the thinner bacon does indeed stick. It is a sad and unholy mess pulling the stubborn bacon bits off, though Luke is happy, because then he gets a little smackeral of bacon.

The baking time bacon takes a little practice, because it can vary depending on the thickness of the bacon, and if your oven is like mine and is a little wonky. Generally we heat the oven to 375°F and bake for about half an hour, turning it halfway through, just when the odor gets irresistible. That being said, I burned bacon using this method a couple of weeks ago, for the very woman who advised me to adopt this otherwise reliable technique. I was yammering away and forgot to check every few minutes. Let that be a lesson to you. Pay attention! Don’t burn the bacon!

This next recipe for weaving bacon is sheer genius. You will never again have to endure a BLT that does not have B covering every square inch. I cannot believe how many years I have gone through life without this approach to bacon preparation. Thanks, Mimi for finding this!

Bacon weave recipe: http://myfridgefood.com/recipes/salads-and-sides/bacon-sheet/

I know some of you Gentle Readers will want to know about the dangers of sodium and cured meats, so I am thoughtfully adding a link to an NPR story about such incidentals. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/10/25/240556687/does-bacon-really-make-everything-better-here-s-the-math

Here are some of the truly bizarre recipes I found while doing my very scientific fieldwork:

Bacon Infused Vodka naturally leads to a Bacon Bloody Mary…
http://whatscookingamerica.net/Beverage/Bacon-BloodyMary.htm

Bacon Cheesecake. Honest.
http://kfgo.com/podcasts/it-takes-2/939/chef-scott-talks-bacon-who-doesnt-love-that/

Bacon Peanut Butter Cups. Really?
http://www.baconfreak.com/recipe-bacon-peanut-butter-cups.html

And one last glimpse at bacon excess, although I never thought that I would type those words in the same sentence: http://www.npr.org/blogs/waitwait/2010/08/16/129232792/sandwich-monday-the-lady-s-brunch-burger

Sadly, most of those recipes involve lots of carbs. But that’s OK. I am happy with just plain, crunchy delicious bacon. Bon appétit!

“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.”
-Thomas Jefferson