Food Friday: It’s Better with Butter

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Some foods are just better with butter; better dipped in butter, or served with lashings of melted butter. Those steamed organic French green beans? Add some butter. Have a tough little steak? Get out the beurre de maitre d’hotel.

And honestly, is there is nothing more satisfying than eating home made popcorn with oodles of melted butter? When you are still only halfway through the movie, and you have polished off the fluffy popped whole kernels, and you are reduced to pushing the hard nubbins and old maids around the bottom of the bowl, through the clots of salt and the limpid pools of melted butter. Divine! And look! Mr. D’Arcy and Lizzie are coming around, again! Pride and Prejudice can never get more romantic than that!

Melted butter is the principal excuse for eating so many of our favorite foods: popcorn, lobster, and artichokes. Add to those basics corn on the cob, conch, potatoes Anna, steamed stone crabs; feel free to fill in the blanks with a few of your own! _____________________________, ______________________________ and don’t forget___________________________. These foods are merely vehicles for conveying melted butter down our gullets and chins.

Here is a cheat sheet:

First: You have to know how to make clarified butter. In a 1-quart saucepan melt 1/2 cup butter over low heat without stirring. Remove from the heat and let the butter cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Use a spoon to skim off the milky top layer, if present, and discard. Pour off the clear top layer and save. This is the clarified butter.

Popcorn: https://food52.com/recipes/24215-perfect-popcorn

Steamed lobster: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/perfectly-steamed-lobster

Steamed artichokes: http://www.oceanmist.com/artichokes/steam-artichoke-2/

How to eat an artichoke: http://www.yummly.com/recipe/external/Basic-Steamed-Artichokes-506509

Stone crabs: http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Steamed-Stone-Crab-Claws-with-Melted-Butter

Corn on the cob: http://damndelicious.net/2014/04/18/mexican-corn-cob/

Conch: http://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/10/magazine/food-that-old-poisoned-arrow.html?src=pm&pagewanted=2

Potatoes Anna: http://www.marthastewart.com/338792/potatoes-anna
This was the recipe I used for years, and I thought quite deelish, but now my college graduate children say they disliked intensely. They said it was too greasy. Perhaps I erred on the heavy-handed side with the butter. But to my children, ungrateful wretches, to whom I say, “It’s a good thing you don’t live here anymore!”

Butter-Dipped Radishes: for when you need to impress! http://thesensitiveepicure.blogspot.com/2013/12/butter-dipped-radishes-with-sea-salt.html

The science of melted butter in baked goods: http://www.finecooking.com/item/31976/melted-butter-in-baked-goods

My brother is the mashed potato guru in our family. He is called upon to ritualistically prepare the tubers for major feast days. He mashes the steaming potatoes with a hand-held electric mixer before adding cream and then melted butter. He insists that using melted butter is the swiftest path to lump-free potatoes. And with the holidays sneaking up on us once again, that is probably a fun fact to file away.

You will be pleased to know that I draw the line at cinnamon fried butter from the Iowa State Fair– something I found during my research. It was almost as off-putting at the Fried Pig Ears (from the Minnesota State Fair) in a photo just below the fried butter story. Blech. (http://kitchenette.jezebel.com/the-most-ridiculous-deep-fried-foods-from-state-fairs-a-1572769682) I am sure that someday my heart will thank me for finally drawing a line in the butter!

Once, long ago and far, far away, I ordered Chicken Kiev at the old Russian Tea Room restaurant in New York City. It was a glorious, intimidating place, and I was fairly certain in my college-sophisticate fashion, that it was very expensive. I had read about it in New York Magazine, after all. I think I was given one of those menus often passed out to women diners in those days – no prices were printed on it. I had a reputation in college for being a cheap date, and invariably I would order chicken. Dutifully, I sipped thimbles of cold vodka, and fumbled with some unfamiliar caviar and blinis. When my default chicken dish arrived I was surprised, first when the waiter cut into it for me, and then when a small wave of tarragon-infused molten butter gushed out onto my plate. The chandelier and mirror-glittery, red velvet flocked restaurant was full of surprises. And the melted butter made it all so delicious.

“I shouldn’t think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.”
― Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

Food Friday: The Julia Child Effect

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Twice a day, Luke and I eye each other for a few moments after he sits, on command, before he falls on his bowl of kibble. He is waiting for me to give him the okay to start eating. What trills out of my mouth is my bad imitation of Julia Child shrieking in falsetto, “Bon appétit!” We have been doing this for two years. The poor dog. He lives in a bad Saturday Night Live sketch, sans a Bass-o-matic.

Although I should report that I just stalked back into the studio from the laundry room where I stood, and looked accusingly at Luke, as he retreated from attempting to inhale the stinky cat food. Wouldn’t Julia Child have shouted out, “Bad dog!” in French? “Luc, tu es un vilain chien!” (That was my best Kevin Kline French accent, by the way.) These are the daily trials that challenge people who work from home. If I had been in a proper office exchanging bon mots with my talented and creative colleagues, Luke could have carried out his mission in triumph, and no one would have been the wiser. The cat would suffer in her usual silent, moribund fashion. Bon appétit, indeed…

I hear Julia’s voice like Handel’s fanfare announcing the arrival of the Queen of Sheba when I think of certain foods, like quiche Lorraine, cheese soufflé and babas au rhum, and of course, coq au vin. Julie Powell wrote cleverly about her fascination with Julia Child, but I think we all have a little bit of Julia Child’s spirit when we return to the kitchen after our summer hiatus, and take up the challenge of cooking warm, nurturing meals for our dinner companions and loved ones. Julia is whispering inside our pointy little heads that we can be French chefs, if only for the weekend. Walk away from the grill, put down the pizza dough and file the take away menus. Light the stove. Open the wine. Let’s cook!

Coq Au Vin [Chicken in Red Wine with Onions, Mushrooms and Bacon]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Feeds 4 to 6 people
A 3- to 4-ounce chunk of bacon
A heavy, 10-inch, fireproof casserole
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 to 3 pounds cut-up frying chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Chianti
1 to 2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
12 to 24 brown-braised onions (recipe follows)
1/2 pound sautéed mushrooms (recipe follows)
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons softened butter
Sprigs of fresh parsley

1. Remove the rind of and cut the bacon into lardons (rectangles 1/4-inch across and 1 inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry. [Deb note: As noted, I'd totally skip this step next time.]
2. Sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Remove to a side dish.
3. Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole.
4. Season the chicken. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.
5. Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.
6. Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.
7. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (recipe follows).
8. Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off the fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf.
9. Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (buerre manie). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
10. Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. If this dish is not to be served immediately, film the top of the sauce with stock or dot with small pieces of butter. Set aside uncovered. It can now wait indefinitely.
11. Shortly before serving, bring to the simmer, basting the chicken with the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is hot enough.
12. Sever from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with spring for parsley.

Oignons Glacés a Brun [Brown-braised Onions]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

For 18 to 24 peeled white onions about 1 inch in diameter:
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
A 9- to 10-inch enameled skillet
1/2 cup of brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine or water
Salt and pepper to taste
A medium herb bouquet: 3 parsley springs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth
When the butter and oil are bubbling the skillet, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.
Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the herb bouquet. Serve them as they are.

Champignons Sautés Au Buerre [Sautéed Mushrooms]
Mastering the Art of French Cooking

A 10-inch enameled skillet
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small, sliced or quartered if large
1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions (optional)
Salt and pepper
Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating that it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.
Toss the shallots or green onions with the mushrooms. Sauté over moderate heat for 2 minutes.
Sautéed mushrooms may be cooked in advance, set aside, then reheated when needed. Season to taste just before serving.

(Thanks to http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2006/12/magnificence-au-vin/)

Here are one hundred of Julia Child’s favorite dishes:
http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/06/01/julia-child%E2%80%99s-100-favorite-recipes-revealed Mmmmm. #37, braised calf brains…

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
― Julia Child

Food Friday: Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow

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We have quite a few friends who are real beer enthusiasts. They have traveled to Belgium and Holland for the beer. They make sudden detours when spinning around Irish roundabouts to find remote specialty pubs. They visit microbreweries. They make knowing and considered remarks about the subtle and alluring flavor of a wheat beer. They nod seriously as they quaff. So perhaps they should read no further, because this week, in honor of National American Beer Month, we will be using beer as an ingredient, not as a beverage.

When I started drinking beer back in the Dark Ages, the event we remember most fondly about Freshman Orientation at Washington College was that there was a beer truck, dispensing pale, watery tepid refreshment. (It was legal back then for eighteen year olds to drink beer.) We progressed to highly sophisticated and stylish Dollar Drunks in East Hall, and on Thursday nights we ordered the cheapest, lightest beers at the Tavern. Flash ahead a few years when I was living in London, and learning to drink bitter, never lager. Perhaps it was the Orientation experience that set my palate for warmish, watery brews…

In Washington State while on vacation this summer we visited some local establishments that had many an artisanal beer on tap, and my recent college graduate would delight in pontificating on the pros and cons of each beer he taste-tested. I will drink a good local beer to be polite when traveling, but mostly I order Bass Pale Ale. With Fall arriving, we need to consider some comfort foods, and freshly baked breads and cakes should fit the bill.

Easy, Peasy Beer Bread

INGREDIENTS:
3 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces beer (I used Heineken)
2 tablespoons melted butter

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
2. Butter an 8×4 inch loaf pan and set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, salt and beer in a large bowl and mix well. The mixture will be sticky. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for about 55 minutes.
3. During the last few minutes of baking, remove the loaf from oven, and brush the top with the melted butter and return to oven for the final three minutes of baking.

Add chili, chips and more beer.

http://www.brit.co/beer-bread-recipes/

http://www.spoonforkbacon.com/2012/11/black-pepper-parmesan-beer-bread/

Here is a Guinness Cake from the kitchen goddess herself, Nigella Lawson:
http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/chocolate-guinness-cake-3086

I just love her opening line: “This cake is magnificent in its damp blackness.”

We have started talking about Thanksgiving – which is a huge development in our normal planning process (which is to procrastinate until the last possible moment) and perhaps we will be brining and then deep frying the turkey this year. Here is a baby step for anyone else contemplating such a radical change to a holiday tradition! And here we give thanks to our friends at Food52 for cooking a chicken: https://food52.com/recipes/1431-stout-little-hen

Needless to say, one must always be sure to use high quality, well-tested ingredients when cooking at home. Bottoms up!

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Food Friday: It’s National Pumpkin Month!

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And it is also National Dessert Month!

Heavens to Betsy! However shall we deal with two such charming prospects? Let’s start at the very beginning, and learn how to prepare pumpkin purée, so you can leave the cans of Libby’s on the grocery store shelves and do more than decorate with all of the pumpkins you are going to haul home from this weekend’s farmers’ markets.

Pumpkin Purée

Ingredients
3 pounds sliced pumpkin
½ cup water

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 375°F and put the pumpkin chunks on a cookie sheet with sides or a big sheet cake pan – skin-side down or up – it doesn’t matter.
Pour the water in the pan. Roast for 45 minutes until fork tender.
Remove the pumpkin from skin when it is still warm. Purée in a food processor or blender until it is smooth. Store it in a container in the fridge for about a week or freeze some of it for a later use.

Now that you have some purée on hand, it is time to get baking! And because it is National Dessert Month you have to bake something sweet and wicked and pumpkin-y. (Next week is National American Beer Week, in case you wondered…)

I am a big fan of cupcakes. They are small, sweet and finite. We don’t live in a big hipster city, so I haven’t experienced many artisinal bakeries that specialize in solely cupcakes. We wandered into the Hummingbird Bakery in London one cold wet November and were delighted by their wee, sweet, and colorful cakes, but I missed all the hoopla and hours standing in line in New York at the trendy Magnolia Bakery, which was made famous and desirable by Sex and the City – though I doubt whether those skinny-mini actors actually ate any of the cupcakes… I would opt for the cupcakes over their shoes, though.

Cupcakes are a temptation you don’t have to resist; they are a perfect form of portion control. Plus you can enjoy delicately peeling away the fluted paper cup, and remember that it is a lifelong skill you mastered in first grade, perhaps. If you have no impulse management at all you can go buy half a dozen pumpkin pecan cupcakes at Magnolia for $24, or you can bake some more humble – yet equally delish pumpkin cupcakes – yourself, and pocket about $20. http://store.magnoliabakery.com/pumpkin-pecan-cupcake-p44.aspx

Here is a family-sized recipe for pumpkin cupcakes.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting – makes 18 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt (we like crunchy Maldon salt)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin purée (but you have yours safely tucked up in the fridge!)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium sized bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice together and set aside.
In a big bowl, whisk the sugars, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Stir in the pumpkin purée.
Divide batter evenly among liners, I use a plastic measuring cup, either the quarter cup or the third of a cup, depending on the size of the cupcake. (Too much math for me to figure out mini cupcake measurements, though. You will need to eyeball those.) Fill them each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, or if the toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the pan cool on a rack.
It is the taste of pumpkin pie without the holiday trappings or in-law trauma!

Cream Cheese Frosting
Ingredients
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick, 4 ounces), room temperature
8 ounces of Philadelphia cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
2 to 3 cups of confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla – pure extract – no imitation!

Use an electric mixer and beat the cream cheese and butter together until completely smooth, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Then use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to be sure that the mixture is evenly mixed

Beat in the vanilla. With the mixer running, slowly add in the powdered sugar. Confectioners’ sugar has cornstarch that will help thicken the frosting, as well as making it sweet. Keeping adding confectioners’ sugar until the frosting is thick enough to schmear in an satisfyingly artistic fashion across the tops of the cupcakes. Decorate with abandon. Candy corn or sprinkles are encouraged, or the edible dragées, the silver ball bearings that the Doctor so adores. And what are you going to do with that $20?

“First we eat, then we do everything else.”
― M.F.K. Fisher

Food Friday: A Crop of Apples

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Crunch! Give me crunch. Walking through piles of leaves. Eating apples. The little bit of tooth that defines the perfect French fry. Bacon. The delicious snap of a thin, carmelized-along-the-edge chocolate chip cookie. To intone Martha, these are good things.

Apples always remind me of brown-bagged lunches, with warm, wax paper-wrapped cheese sandwiches. And they make me think of Jo March, scribbling in her cold New England attic, her inky fingers clutching apples as she gnawed away, reviewing her latest lurid tale. Apples bring knowledge and comfort, and at this time of year, there is a profusion of reasons to eat them often.

It’s a little early for the strolls through crunchy leaves, but the autumnal yen of eating crunchy apples can be indulged right now. You need to motivate and travel to your favorite farmers’ markets this weekend and stock up on freshly picked treasures, because there are so many good things you can make! Of course, it is always gilding the proverbial lily to do anything to an apple but wash it and take a bite. Even pies seem unnecessarily vulgar. Does an apple really need brown sugar, cinnamon and dabs of butter to taste better? Of course not! But any iteration of an apple is a good thing!

There is romance and poetry in the 7500* known varieties of apples: Adirondack crab-apple, Albermarle Pippin, Allen’s Everlasting, Ambrosia, American Mother, Annie Elizabeth, Cameo, Captain Kidd, Cellini, Coeur de Boeuf, Gala, Granny Smith, Maiden’s Blush, McIntosh, Red Jonathan, Rhode Island Greening, Winesap, and Zuccalmaglio’s Reinette. You should go to this site and read some of the apples’ characteristics. The Zuccalmaglio description reads: “Flavored with tones of wild strawberry, quince, pineapple, ripe ear and a fine floral touch. Rough sticky skin flushed brown-red with faint red stripes and some russeting. Fine grained flesh.” Sheer poetry. http://www.orangepippin.com/apples
(*Thank you, Serious Eats! http://www.seriouseats.com)

Our first world problems include having very few varieties of apples at the grocery store. Which is why you need to get to your farmers’ market. I would rather rummage through 19 varieties grown locally, than choose from 5 kinds shipped 2,000 miles across the country – fruits chosen for their long shelf life and bruise resistance. Here is an interesting article about testing 10 different kinds of apples to see which is the best for pie: http://sweets.seriouseats.com/2011/10/the-food-lab-what-are-the-best-apples-for-apple-pies-how-to-make-pie.html

Now here are just a few ideas of what you can do with all those delicious apples: applesauce, apple butter, apple fritters, apple cobbler, apple cookies, apple fritters, apple jelly, candy apples, apple crisp, mulled cider, apple cake, apple chutney, apple-tinis, cider doughnuts, apple pancakes, apple turnovers, apple stuffing, Waldorf salad, apple tarts, baked apples, apple brown Betty, apple muffins, and, of course, apple pie (deep-dish or regular).

This Apple Crumble is easy peasy and so good!

6 Golden Delicious or Braeburn apples, peeled, sliced into ¼ inch pieces
4 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoon lemon juice
Grated zest of one orange
2/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup uncooked oats

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Mix apples, sugar, lemon juice and orange zest. In another bowl combine flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Toss with butter. Combine with apple mixture in a buttered baking dish.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a nice big splotch of whipped cream. Yumsters. All of the taste of apple pie with no fragile or temperamental pie crust to contend with.

For a boozier cream try this:
Bourbon Cream
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon good bourbon

Appletinis:

This is a serious treatise on the awful syrup-y sweet cocktails of the 90s. It treats apples with respect and good bison grass vodka:
http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2013/01/cocktail-overhaul-upgraded-appletini-better-apple-martini-vesper-variation.html

“Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard.”
― Walt Whitman

Food Friday: Eat Your Vegetables!

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Roasting and Grilling Farmers’ Market Vegetable Mélanges

Have you felt the weather starting to change? It’s just a little cooler in the evenings. I take Luke out back to toss the ball just before dinner, and we have been stopping to linger for a few minutes – the furnace of summer is cooling down. I sit in the Adirondack chair with a glass of wine and a section of the paper, he lolls in the grass, happily smelling all he surveys. The osprey pair has been doing a lot of fishing, and commentating raucously throughout the day. The geese are beginning to move through. And wasn’t that Harvest Moon a sight to behold?

There are still lots of veggies available at the various farmers’ markets around us. And while I think we have flipped the last burger of summer, there are some flavorful grilled and roasted vegetable meals ahead of us. I like the comic strip Mutts and its advocacy of meatless Mondays (although I slip up sometimes and do a spaghetti carbonara with bacon some weeks…) and any of these flavorful vegetable dishes would qualify. This weekend we’ll grill the veggies, and on Monday I will roast some more in the oven.

For grilling the vegetables outdoors there are some easy peasy rules to follow:

1. Grease them up: vegetables will dry out when they are heated without a little oil. Before grilling, toss them lightly with smackeral of oil.
2. Know your vegetables: some cook in the wink of an eye and others will take longer. Dense vegetables such as potatoes require the longest cooking times. To prevent burning, sear vegetables first over a high heat, then move them to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking. Or parboil them first and just give them a few minutes on the grill to get some color and those yummy grill marks on the outside
3. Use a skewer or a basket: cherry tomatoes are great grilled, but they’re a little unruly. It is best to skewer roly poly tomatoes or tiny little red potatoes, or use a basket: fewer vegetables falling onto the coals, or off the grill into Luke’s eagerly awaiting maw.
4. Yes, size does matter. If you want the vegetables to cook quickly, chop and slice accordingly. Thin rounds of onion, with more surface area, will cook more quickly than fat wedges.
5. Try cooking in foil: if you don’t feel like babysitting your vegetables cook them in foil packets instead. This method works great for the dense vegetables and ears of corn. Unfurl a large piece of aluminum foil, lightly spray the surface with cooking oil and arrange sliced vegetables a single layer, slightly overlapping. Fold up into a nice neat little foil envelope and then place on the grill. Cover the grill and cook until the vegetables are tender (about 12 to 15 minutes, for potatoes). This way you can toss the ball for Luke for a few minutes and he will be forever grateful.

That was outside grilling – now for roasting inside: one of my favorite ways to prepare vegetables is roasting. I hate vegetables that have been boiled into oblivion. Roasting at a high heat converts a plain vegetable into a delicious caramelized treat.

You can roast any type of vegetable you want with this basic recipe. Adjust the amount of oil you use accordingly. We’ve roasted asparagus, garlic, squash, broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, corn, carrots, zucchini, you name it.

Roasted Veggie Mélange

1.Preheat oven to 450° F.
2.Toss all the vegetables together in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
3.Divide the vegetables among two cookie sheets – mine have sides, for less spillage. Put fast cooking vegetables together, and group the slow cookers likewise. Few headaches!
4.Roast vegetables for 35-40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

The vegetables cook quickly — some vegetables may take only 15 to 20 minutes — but they still have a chance to brown nicely on the outside by the time they become tender inside. So keep an eye on them. Carmelized onions are one thing, blackened and incinerated are another.

It’s very important that you cut the vegetables in pieces of about the same size. Unevenly sized pieces won’t roast and brown in the same amount of time, and you’ll end up with both over roasted and under roasted vegetables. And if you have any fussy eaters, you won’t be able to persuade them to enjoy the rich roasted flavors of fall.

And here is some more inspiration for you – this week Mark Bittman of the New York Times wrote about some new restaurants in London where he has had some exquisite meals: “If you can get past all the glitter, you will find vegetables treated as respectfully as animals. Planks of sweetly caramelized roasted celeriac are served with walnuts, onions and greens, and though one would hardly argue that these are as killer as the wood-grilled rib-eye (served with chimichurri, which is the new pesto, I guess), they are plenty satisfying. Chargrilled Ibérico pork with collards and roasted garlic is difficult to write about without my mouth watering. A starter of roasted cauliflower in mayonnaise is sadly no longer on the menu. Grilled octopus with eggplant is, however, and I would grab that.” Now I am starving! How about you?

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/dining/restaurant-story-chiltern-firehouse-gymkhana-and-barnyard.html?_r=0

“An onion can make people cry but there’s never been a vegetable that can make people laugh.”
Will Rogers

Food Friday: After School Snackums

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Is everyone getting into the swing of back-to-school? Are you the very model of efficiency and good nutrition, whipping up tasty lunches with oodles of hidden kale? Are you using your leftovers wisely? Did you get cute little Bento lunch boxes for everyone? More importantly, are you an after school superhero?

Yes, you should prep and cube up some watermelon (which is really sweet and delish right now), and have it in the fridge next to the yogurt and the carrot sticks and hummus dip. But if you really want to make an impression on those malleable little minds, every once in a while throw caution to the autumn winds, and bake some homemade Ding Dongs.

We called them Ring Dings in Connecticut, where I grew up, but apparently the rest of the world knows them as Ding Dongs. I don’t know which is sillier…

I grew up in a house where, embarrassingly, my mother insisted on giving out tiny little boxes of raisins at Halloween. I had no street cred in a kid world where full size candy bars, distributed with the UNICEF pennies, were the norm. After a couple of years of raisin dispersal, our house was given wide berth at Halloween. There were probably invisible plague markings over our front door: Avoid this house, there be raisins here, and not the chocolate covered ones, either! (We also received new toothbrushes in our Easter baskets. The Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were in cahoots with my mother.)

Luckily, my brother and I grew up without too many other psychic scars. We went on to college, jobs and marriage. While in college I discovered that one of my friends had the best sort of mother – one who appreciated the value of a good treat. Whenever we descended on her house, whatever the season or time of night, we could be assured of finding a pristine, still-wrapped-in-cellophane box of Ring Dings in their refrigerator, and being good and thoughtful house guests, we would devour them all with tall, cold glasses of whole milk. Remember whole milk? The Ring Dings had developed a crisp chocolate carapace from being chilled in the refrigerator, which yielded to the soft cake interior, and the creamy goodness at the center. (Twinkies, we later discovered, also benefitted from being refrigerated…)

You can tell that this eating experience made a lasting impression upon me. I vowed with all the fervor of Scarlett O’Hara that I would take a page from this family’s book, and in the future I would make Ring Dings freely available whenever we had were young house guests. And sometimes even for an ordinary after school snack. Yumsters!

But this is even better: baking your own. Forget the falafel. Overlook the granola. Dismiss the dried apricots. Consider the sweet chocolate coating, the crumbly cake, and the delicious cream filling, which will be oh so tasty when you make it yourself. Sweet memories are made of this.

http://tastykitchen.com/recipes/desserts/deliciously-dandy-ding-dongs/

And here is a vegan approach, though you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb: http://thetolerantvegan.com/2011/04/homemade-ding-dongs/

You will of course be doing your baking with this oven – not my middle-of-the-line Kenmore electric range: “THE “ULTIMATE” // La Cornue Château Series: These ranges would be equally at home at Downton Abbey and the world’s greatest restaurants. Grand Palais 180 in stainless steel with polished copper trim, $54,700, Purcell Murray, 800-457-1356”. As seen in Wall Street Journal.

http://online.wsj.com/articles/culinary-cult-objects-worth-the-price-1409268010?KEYWORDS=best+ovens&cb=logged0.12614128203131258

(Here is a very handy dandy column from the New York Times in case you can’t be as devil-may-care about lunches as some of us are: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/29/dining/no-pbj-allowed-put-dips-into-lunchboxes.html?ref=dining&_r=0 )

“Your hand and your mouth agreed many years ago that, as far as chocolate is concerned, there is no need to involve your brain.”
― Dave Barry

Food Friday: End-of-the-Summer Grilling

FF_EndofSummerGrilling

It’s the end of summer, and sadly, we are not jetting to the Hamptons or the Vineyard, (though no one else is either because of the President!) but are having a little three day stay-cation at home. It is still plenty hot, so we will not be waxing nostalgic about the summer weather, but we will be standing around the grill, wearing white, twirling kebabs, and hoping that the high temps cool down sometime soon.

I just love this quotation from Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal: “Protein prices are just so visible to people because they build their meals around it,” says Stacie Rabinowitz, a senior analyst with research firm Consumer Edge Research. “All incomes feel it.”

http://online.wsj.com/articles/high-food-prices-lead-to-trade-offs-even-in-upper-income-households-1409094494?tesla=y&mg=reno64-wsj

Prices are soaring, so we need to analyze the best way to deliver protein to our families. Yikes. Beef prices are up, but so is everything else. We were planning on grilling chicken this weekend, eating economically and eating “more better”, to quote Dan Pashman from The Sporkful podcast.

We didn’t feel as if we were scrimping when we whipped up these kababs last weekend: skewered chicken, Vidalia onions and red, green and yellow peppers, served with grilled ears of corn, a nice green salad and the usual accompaniment of cheap white wine. Beer was available for the non-bon vivants.

Best Beloved’s favorite chicken strategy is to allow the chicken to marinate in one of his concoctions for about an hour. First he chunked the boneless chicken breasts (bought on sale) and let the large cubes steep in a bowl of white Worchestershire sauce, with a handful of capers, some good quality olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. And then he threads the ingredients onto metal skewers. Then he wrapped shucked corn in aluminum foil, with a big pat of butter. He tossed skewers and the ears of corn onto the grill, drank a beer, threw the ball for the dog and then walked inside to sit down to eat. In the interim, I managed to boil up a pot of rice, wash a bowl of salad, lighted some candles and poured the wine. Phew! It is had work being a weekend sous chef!

Now, if you want to get fancy, like our friends at the Wall Street Journal did, then you could add a couple of hundred people, vats of potato salad, fancy drinks, and a band, and then wonder why hamburger prices have gone through the roof. We aimed for a more modest production. We listened to jazz on Pandora, lighted the candles and ate dinner. Enough is as good as a feast, as Laura Ingalls Wilder often wrote.

We also returned to childhood and had a Famous Wafer refrigerator cake. The recipe and the informative photo are right on the side of the box, in case you have forgotten how to whip cream and stack layers of cookies. Food52 gussied it up a little bit, as is their wont, although they did say, “The best summer dessert is also the easiest.” How right they are! https://food52.com/blog/7061-how-to-make-any-icebox-cake-in-5-steps

This “Chicken Under a Brick” recipe from Bon Appétit sounds first rate: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/chicken-under-a-brick

But if you want to stick to skewers, this is far more exotic than ours: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sambal-chicken-skewers

Martha weighs in with her fancier-than-thou chicken skewers: http://www.marthastewart.com/341224/cajun-kebabs-with-chicken-and-andouille#Grilled%20Chicken%20Recipes|/275423/grilled-chicken-recipes/@center/276943/grilling-recipes|341224

Here is another podcast I enjoy: The Sporkful. (http://www.sporkful.com/) Dan Pashman gets to the root of many a food conundrum: Is a hot dog a sandwich? What is that gizmo in the Guinness can? What is the best weather-themed dessert? So many concerns you had never before reflected upon! It is a highly amusing and informative podcast, which often brings a smile to my face. Give it a try!

Enjoy the end of summer. It’s hard to believe it is really here, though the children are back at school already, and it is still stinking hot out there. But have you noticed the light is changing? Most nights Luke-the-wonder-dog and I walk out to the end of the street to get a good view of the sunset, and last night we dawdled a minute or two sniffing some most fascinating leaves of a bush, so we were too late for that golden moment. The pinks were fading to grays and the cardinals had started singing their nighttime songs. Revel in your long weekend!

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
― John Steinbeck

Food Friday: Let’s Do Lunch!

FF_LetsDoLunchslide

It is time to Go Back to School! Hooray!

This is a list to keep on the fridge door – so you don’t lose heart at night when making lunches to send off to school, or to take to the office, or just to get a jump on the week. Start with Column A, move through the alphabet, and embellish at will.

I work from home, consequently I have no excuse to have sad little meals of peanut butter on Saltines. I should have a well-stocked fridge, packed to the gills with tasty amuse bouche and nutritious luncheon ingredients. And here, at the beginning of the school year, so should you.

Get out the tiny little Tupperwear containers, find all the maddeningly elusive lids, and start chopping. Make yourself little Bento boxes of luncheon-y delights for every day. Shake up your routine, and experiment. Try chopped cornichons. Swipe on some chutney. Dust a sandwich with a handful of sprouts. Give up the Pepperidge Farm white bread and try Naan bread. And don’t forget leftovers! The Tall One made some interesting combinations with leftovers from Thanksgiving, theorizing that everything tastes delicious on a crescent roll, especially when daubed judiciously with cranberry sauce…

Here is your list of school supplies:

Column A
Let’s start with bread:
Ciabatta bread
Rye bread
Whole grain breads
Hard rolls
Portuguese rolls
French baguette
Italian bread
Brioche
Flour tortillas
Croissants
Bagels
Challah bread
Crostini
Cornbread
Naan bread
Focaccia bread
Pita bread

If storing overnight, top bread with lettuce first, then the spreads, to keep sandwich from getting soggy.

Column B
Next, the spread:
Mayo
Sriracha sauce
Ketchup
Dijon mustard
Honey mustard
Italian dressing
Russian dressing
Cranberry sauce
Pesto sauce
Hummus
Tapenade
Sour cream
Mango chutney
Butter
Hot sauce
Salsa

Column C
Cheeses:
Swiss cheese
American cheese
Mozzarella
Blue cheese
Cream cheese
Havarti cheese
Ricotta cheese
Cheddar cheese
Provolone cheese
Brie cheese
Cottage cheese
Goat cheese

Column D
The main ingredient:
Meatloaf
Turkey
Chicken
Corned beef
Bacon
Crumbled hard boiled eggs
Scrambled eggs
Corned beef
Salami
Italian sausage
Ham
Roast beef
Egg salad
Tuna salad
Ham salad
Crab salad
Chicken salad
Turkey salad
Lobster salad
Tofu

Column E
The decorative (and tasty) elements:
Tomatoes
Lettuce
Basil
Onion
Avocado
Cucumber
Cilantro
Shredded carrots
Jalapenos
Cole slaw
Sliced apples
Sliced red peppers
Arugula
Sprouts
Radicchio
Watercress
Sliced pears
Apricots
Pickles
Spinach
Artichoke hearts
Grapes
Strawberries
Figs

Column F
Finger foods:
Cherries
Carrots
Strawberries
Green Beans
Broccoli
Celery
Edemame
Granola
Rice cakes
Apples
Bananas
Oranges
Melon balls
Raisins
Broccoli

Nobody will ever complain about lunch again if you can remember to jazz it up a little. My son, who lived for at least an entire year on (requested) white bread, bologna and yellow mustard sandwiches, is now a strapping 6 feet 4 inches tall. Imagine how far into the clouds he would stretch if we had thought to make him fig, goat cheese and carmelized onion sandwiches…

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/magazine/how-to-create-an-artful-sandwich.html?ref=dining&_r=0

http://www.laptoplunches.com/bento-menus/

http://www.marthastewart.com/853321/brown-bag-sandwich-recipes/@center/856055/lunch-recipes

http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/breadstuffs/sandwich-types.asp

“I always tell my kids to cut a sandwich in half right when you get it, and the first thought you should have is somebody else. You only ever need half a burger.”
― Louis C.K.

Food Friday: Mason Jar Salads

FF_MasonJarSaladsslide

We all have a friend like this. Mine is quite adorable and enjoyable, witty and smart. She reads good books, enjoys a good beer, she tells great jokes. She has wonderful fashion sense, has smart children and drives a hybrid car. But she does have a smug flaw: for years, she has been very cheerfully efficient about doing household chores. She does not groan or hide herself away in the bedroom with her book (the way I do). She smilingly cleans bathrooms and remembers to vacuum at least twice a week. Her husband is equally loathsome. Imagine the audible nature of their eye rolls when a tumbleweed of dust and dog fur comes flying from behind our sofa. Ghastly!

She also makes meal plans. Imagine that. If you call her on a Sunday afternoon she will be roasting a chicken for dinner that night, and she will proceed to get two more meals out of it during the week. And she’ll pick the little bits of meat off the bones to feed to her ancient, fussy cat. Later she will probably start rolling out meatballs for a huge homemade spaghetti sauce. She might even make her own fresh pasta, but I haven’t asked, for fear that it might be true. And she finds time to exercise.

When her kids were little she made healthy, colorful lunches with tempting comestibles for them to eat with gusto for their school lunches. Mine probably traded the bologna-on-Pepperidge-Farm-white-bread-with-yellow-mustard sandwiches for Twinkies. (Note: The Tall One ASKED for bologna sandwiches – for years!)

My children have grown up and moved on without too many psychic scars, so at least I don’t have that school lunch panic clawing at my being on Sunday afternoons any more, but there is still the week of dinners that really should be planned. Perhaps I will reform one day, but I suppose I am still wandering around waiting for Good Witch Glinda to fly in and grant me a few wishes, and if dinner planning is going to use up one of them, then I am indeed a sorry sad sack.

Imagine my delight when I started reading about a new food trend: Mason jar salads. It was probably hatched up in Park Slope, Brooklyn where some hipster was confronted by a collection of vintage Mason jars and wondered how to monetize them. That’s OK. I am using my own decidedly un-hip jars from grocery store spaghetti sauce, recycled. (That’s our little secret – doctor the sauce up with a couple of cloves of garlic, lots of good olive oil and a handful of basil and you have a last minute meal that is quite palatable. My speciality.)

What I like best about the Mason jar salad approach is that with just a little effort, and not too much because I cannot change my stripes overnight, I can wash some Romaine lettuce, tear some more greens, rips leaves from the basil plant, cube some Mozzarella, wash some tomatoes and whip up an improvised pesto. And it is easy to stick with one theme or to go wild with different veggies and ingredients. In about half an hour I have salads for a week. And then I have no excuses not to have a fresh salad every night or for my own lunch. Yesterday I dragged my starving self out of the studio for some lunch and was reduced to eating peanut butter on Ritz crackers. Not very inspired for someone who writes a food blog…

There are a few things to keep in mind to be sure the salads last for five days. Layer wisely. Put your salad dressing in first, to coat the bottom of the jar. Tear your lettuce and greens because cutting them, besides being aesthetically unpleasing, will cause brown edges. Ick. Don’t cut tomatoes – use small cherry tomatoes or those tiny, jewel-like Marzanos whole. Then things won’t get soggy. If you are bringing your salads to the office, please watch out how much garlic and onion you use. You do not want to alienate anyone. Shake, don’t stir. Enjoy. Repeat.

So take heart, fellow procrastinators. This is not a step that will have you competing in the marketplace with Martha, but it will give you a sense of well-deserved smugness. Look at the facts: you are recycling and re-using Mason-like jars and you will be eating salad five days a week. Additionally, you can grill some chicken or steak or fish or serve with some garlic bread. You have planned ahead. And when Glinda comes a calling you can use your wishes for something important, like new ruby slippers.

Caprese Pasta Salad
2 tablespoons basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 ½ ounce fresh mozzarella, chopped into bite sized pieces
2 ounces cooked penne pasta
½ cup fresh Romaine lettuce
½ cup fresh basil, torn with verve

“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomat – the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know how much oil to mix in with one’s vinegar.”
–Oscar Wilde

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/06/mason-jar-salads_n_5452313.html

https://www.themuse.com/advice/the-best-new-way-to-bring-your-lunch

http://www.phillymag.com/be-well-philly/2014/02/12/instagramable-lunch-ever-14-healthy-mason-jar-salad-recipes/