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Food Friday: Countdown to Thanksgiving | Baking

I am looking forward to Thanksgiving. We are celebrating as a small family unit, six adults and one two-year-old, and everyone is making their own contribution to the meal. For the first time the children are assuming their new roles as newlyweds and parents, and Mr. Friday and I are no longer the sole grownups. There will be additional cooks assembled for the big day who can assume the green bean casserole mantle. I can relax, as long as I show up with a fresh turkey, sausage balls, dinner rolls and a lot of Chex Mix. Pour some of the Beaujolais Nouveau, I am ready to be thankful.

I am mindful that the grown children still put away enormous amounts of food, and that there must be plentiful backup in case anyone gets peckish during the long weekend. So I am also planning on baking a couple of batches of Garden & Gun’s “Easiest Biscuits You’ll Ever Make.” http://gardenandgun.com/blog/easiest-biscuits-youll-ever-make

These biscuits will come in handy morning, noon and night. Initially they can first be served with Thanksgiving dinner, oozing rivulets of golden butter, or sopping up some of the nectar that is gravy. In the morning they can be re-heated and then loaded with bacon, eggs, sausage, cheese or Spaghetti Os, depending on the vagaries of the crowd. At lunch, the few leftover rolls can be the base for ham biscuits. (Be sure to stock up on ham, a little Swiss cheese and some sharp mustard on your market run.) If there are any biscuits left after this late date, you can use them to polish someone’s patent leather pumps. Or toss one, surreptitiously, to the loyal dog who has been following you around all day.

I have tried the recipe a couple of times now, and can report that short of going to a restaurant or having someone else do the baking for me, these were indeed easy and fabulous. And unlike Sharon Benton, who originated the recipe, I did not have access to fancy artisanally-sourced flour or buttermilk. I used White Lily self-rising flour and the grocery store brand buttermilk. The fanciest I got was swooshing melted French President butter over their precious little biscuit tops, and then adding some crumbles of some By-Appointment-to-Her-Majesty-the-Queen Maldon salt. Yumsters. Go for it.

I might shake things up a little bit this year. We can never quite remember what we served the year before – did we have Parker House rolls, or did we do Pillsbury crescent rolls? (No one ever remembers to Instagram Thanksgiving, so we do not have an accurate record.) Without telling any one, I have decided that we are going to have a Food52 recipe that I tested earlier this week. We are going to have Harvest Stuffing Bead. https://food52.com/recipes/64990-harvest-stuffing-bread

Harvest Stuffing Bread is aromatic and delish, and frankly the most expensive loaf of bread I have ever eaten. Perhaps if my herb collection was a little more up-to-date I wouldn’t have had to re-stock the rosemary, celery seed, thyme, sage, marjoram, parsley and powdered onion. $23.65 for those seven – yikes. I had best plan on baking this bread often to justify that expense. For Thanksgiving I will be trying out the dinner roll version. The other night I baked a satisfying footwall-sized wedge of bread, that was good again for breakfast in the morning. I love the crispy crunchy celery seed and flaky Maldon salt crust, which gave me the illusory satisfaction that I can bake bread. Plus the whole house began to smell like Thanksgiving, a week early.

The Thanksgiving countdown is winding down. Have you ordered your fresh turkey? Don’t wait until Tuesday, or you will spend all of Wednesday trying to thaw a damn Butterball. There is not enough Beaujolais for that kind of worrying. You want to sit back and watch the day unfold.

Here is some of my list of things to remember – because we are spending the weekend in a rental house I am not sure what sort of kitchen equipment will already be in place – so we are planning on packing the gravy separator, the electric knife, a festive turkey platter and the spare Pack & Play for the ranging two-year-old. Also candles, $23.65 worth of fresh herbs, extra President butter, a frozen (homemade!) lasagna, potatoes, sausage balls, and lots of Beaujolais. I hope someone remembers the beans!

Here is a handy checklist from Saveur magazine, in case I have forgotten something important: http://www.saveur.com/thanksgiving-recipes

Also – Cook’s Illustrated with a veritable compendium of sure fire recipes: https://www.cooksillustrated.com/guides/thanksgiving

National Public Radio celebrates Thanksgiving every year with a recitation of Susan Stamberg’s mother-in-law’s recipe for cranberry relish. http://www.npr.org/series/4175681/susan-stamberg-s-cranberry-relish-tradition The Spy will continue our tradition of telling you what to do with all those Thanksgiving leftovers.

Have a wonderfully sentimental Thanksgiving. Be kind to your relatives. Eat lots of turkey!

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
~Thornton Wilder

Food Friday: Countdown to Thanksgiving | Sweet Potatoes

Thanksgiving is a meal steeped in family tradition, and it can be a veritable minefield of ancient familial conflicts and IEDs.

Do not talk about the recent election. Do talk about the Chicago Cubs.

Do not mess with family recipes if your table is loaded with competitive/combative siblings who would like nothing better than to prove they are the favorite child.

Do pick a nice wine. Food52 suggests a Pinot Noir. https://food52.com/blog/18295-the-only-wine-you-need-on-your-thanksgiving-table We like to have the current Beaujolais Nouveau, and then we pretend to sound as if we know what we are talking about wine-wise, which is absolutely nothing.

Do iron a tablecloth. And do set out some of the silver, unless your sister has her eye on that Gorham Lyric pattern pickle fork (never mind that it was a wedding present – it matches her silver pattern and she still hasn’t forgotten what you did to her in the fourth grade).

Do light some candles. Everyone looks better in candlelight. Even the sweet potato casserole you left in the oven for a few extra minutes.

Do thank everyone for coming and contributing. We are going through a big transition, and it is best to be loving and supportive.

Depending on your states of panic and skill, and how many plates you are juggling, the Spy Test Kitchens have curated some sweet potato recipes for your Thanksgiving holiday. As I said last week, we are going to be six adults and one energetic two-year-old this year. Some of us will be able to focus on dinner prep, while some of the others are child wrangling, and still others are catching up on football. Sharing is the word of the day.

I have been slow to come to the sweet potato. Frankly, Thanksgiving is the only meal I ever associate with sweet potatoes. Imagine my surprise when I discovered sweet potato toast. What a marvelous concept! When you wander into the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning, you can either inhale a few of the sausage balls I lovingly roll up for every major religious holiday that we celebrate, or you can consider your overall health, and consume some sweet potato toast. Yumsters. Sweet potatoes, not just for Thanksgiving!

Here is a short list of sweet potato recipes for your holiday enjoyment – ranging from fast and easy to slightly more involved, but still highly pleasurable.

Easy Peasy: http://www.familyfoodonthetable.com/sweet-potato-toast/

Here are some sweet potato toast toppings to consider:
Poached egg with bacon and guacamole
Sausage with guacamole, salsa and peppers
Prosciutto with avocado slices and tomato
Smoked salmon with guacamole and cucumber slices
Wild salmon, arugula, roasted tomatoes
Almond butter with fruit and drizzled honey

If you want to have a traditional casserole, but want to show your family that you are the fun one, consider this recipe:

Middling: https://food52.com/recipes/1662-roasted-sweet-potatoes-with-maple-smoked-bacon-and-beer

If you are trying to worm your way back into the will, and no one ever liked your aunt’s sweet potato casserole, then try this good old reliable tour de force:
Traditional Thanksgiving Sweet Potato Casserole: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/sweet-potato-casserole

If you have made wise investments, and are living an admirable life with lots of volunteer hours, and your only dinner assignment is the sweet potato dish – then for heavens sake, spend some time, and do a decent job. You may get back into your brother’s good graces after all these years.

What You do for Love: http://recipes.177milkstreet.com/recipes/sweet-potato-gratin

Remember to clean as you go, empty the trash, put the lid down, take the two-year-old out for a throughly exhausting run on the beach, and don’t drink all the Prosecco. We gather together for a reason.

“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.”
― Andre Simon

Food Friday: Squirreling Away

Luke the wonder dog and I have been enjoying our daily walks around town quite a lot these days. I am thrilled not to be sweating and panting from the merciless heat of summer. He, being a happy kind of guy, is just glad to be out of the studio and in a world of swirling smells and sights. And then there are the squirrels. The squirrels are everywhere!

Luke is a mutt of indeterminate parentage. We adopted him from the Humane Society four years ago when he was just a wiry black, brown and white pup. Since then we have learned that he sheds about a bale of fur every day, his favorite spot in the house would be smack in the middle the white sofa if he were allowed on it, he does not like the UPS man, he loves to play ball, and his heart’s desire is to catch a squirrel.

Luke is a short hair something. Passersby often comment that he looks like a blue tick. Or a short Doberman. Or a tall beagle. Or something else with papers and lineage. We think he is a true American mongrel – our own mid-sized melange of a dog. He is not a water dog, although he loves to swim – but only if he is retrieving his ball. He is not a retriever, until you hurl his ball though the air, and then he goes tearing across the field like a race horse, intent upon catching his ball. He is a snob. No common tennis balls for him. He is not a Lab. Only orange and blue Chuckit!® balls for Luke.

Luke is not nearly as fussy about squirrels. He is pathetically comical when he sees a squirrel. Suddenly he assumes his cloak of invisibility and cartoonishly slows his pace, as he tiptoes, silently, toward his intended. The squirrels will sit, unblinking, staring back at Luke, munching on their nuts, until the dog is inches away. Then, in a tiny furry flash, the squirrels pivot and exit the scene, often vertically. Keep in mind that I am part of this scenario, every time, as Luke and I are attached by 6 feet of heavy duty leash. In the cartoon that is our life, I am the dust and debris behind Wiley Coyote and the squirrels are the Roadrunner.

Fall is a marvelous time for the squirrels. There are acorns and pecans and dogwood berries pelting down from the trees. We squashed our way through some ripe-smelling ginkgo fruit yesterday. But the best part of fall for the squirrels (and for Luke) seems to be enjoying the Episcopal church pumpkin patch. We walk by the pumpkin patch a couple of times a day. This morning it was swathed in a cool wispy fog. Yesterday it was sunny, and before the church ladies arrived to set up their cash box, the church yard was buzzing with busy squirrels, grazing on the pumpkins and gourds. We saw one squirrel who was enjoying the buffet with a dinner plate-sized slice of pumpkin while sitting on a flat gravestone. It was a tasty looking breakfast. The squirrels had nothing to fear from Luke, because they were behind the wrought iron fence, and Luke was on this side. He paused often and poked his nose through the rails, sniffing, willing his luck to change. Luke is ever vigilant and ever hopeful. With almost a dozen squirrels to consider, surely the odds would tip in his favor eventually.

Back in the real world we are enjoying the notion of fall. As we turn back into the kitchen to prepare warmer meals for the cooler days, I am like Luke, and always hoping for a tasty schmackeral or two. I’m not hanging out at the churchyard, hoping to catch a squirrel for dinner, but I am always looking for something deelish and easy. Fall means the return of root vegetables. Get down to the farmers’ market this weekend, and load up on some local produce. Squirrel some away for an easy dinner (or two) this week. Roasting vegetables fast and easy, and you can take a little leisure time walking through the fallen leaves, watching the squirrels stock up for winter.

http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017703-roasted-vegetables
http://www.eattheweeds.com/ginkgo-putrid-perfection/

“Experiment to me
Is every one I meet
If it contain a Kernel?
The Figure of a Nut
Presents upon a Tree
Equally plausibly,
But Meat within,
is requisite
To Squirrels,
and to Me”
-Emily Dickinson

Food Friday: Boeuf Stew – Winter is Coming

There are many schools of thought (and even more recipes) about beef stew. Every family does it differently. It is a good and hearty meal to have bubbling away on the back burner; fragrant and fortifying. Julia Child’s famous Boeuf Bourguignon might be a little daunting, as can be seen in the fey (and much admired) Nora Ephron film, Julie and Julia. Lots of steps, lots of prep work, lots of cooking time – for a meal that gets consumed in a flash! You have barely ladled the chunky, meaty morsels into a pretty antique porcelain soup plate, just scraped the knob of sweet Irish butter across the hunk of artisanal French bread, and had your first sip of perfumed red wine – when the meal you have labored over for two days is but a memory. Poof!

My mother watched Julia Child on The French Chef on PBS, back in the old days, on the black and white Zenith console TV in the living room. She kept a supply of little three by five notecards to remind herself of some of Julia’s witticisms and helpful kitchen techniques. This must been the time when my mother suddenly decided to add red wine to her stodgy winter staple: beef stew. Otherwise, the fanciest she had ever gotten, cooking-wise, was when she bought a garlic press and introduced her WASP-y family to the flavors of Continental cuisine. Julia Child then brought us into the vibrant 20th century world of the global kitchen. Good-bye Jell-O molds! So long to Velveeta! Howdy, La Tarte Tatin. My mother never got to level of Pâté de Canard en Croûte, probably because the butcher she patronized around would never have stocked duck, but her curiosity and appetites were whetted and our meals certainly became more flavorful.

I haven’t had a chance to recreate many of Julia Child’s recipes. I dip in and out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking from time to time – when I want something ceremonial or mind-blowingly impressive. Boeuf Bourguignon is not a recipe to be entered into lightly. However, given a couple of home-bound hurricane days and a well-stocked kitchen it is a good way to while away the hours.

Be sure you have wine, bread, a small salad and then whip up a batch of Julia’s favorite brownies while waiting for hurricane season to end. Winter is coming.

http://www.food.com/recipe/best-ever-brownies-from-baking-with-julia-child-99113

http://www.tablespoon.com/recipes/julia-childs-beef-bourguignon/f7e0a6c5-710d-4c83-89a6-2a4936fec81a

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/beef-bourguignon-recipe.html#
http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/boeuf_bourguignon/

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/feb/27/beef-stew-bread-dumplings-bowl-no-potatoes?CMP=twt_gu

And if you would like to addle your sad winter-tinged brain with more possibilities and permutations – here are 42 recipes from the clever folks at Food52, who had a contest for the best beef stew recipe ever.
http://food52.com/contests/109-your-best-beef-stew

“If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.”
-Dr. Seuss

Food Friday: Back Into the Kitchen

Summer ended last week. It is time to reacquaint yourself with the pots and pans and woks and cast iron skillets and cookie sheets that are going to be your seasonal life savers. Turn up the heat and welcome back to the kitchen.

I have some favorites that will be coming back into rotation now that I can’t foist most of the evening grilling on Mr. Friday. And I am relying on one of my favorite food resources, The New York Times.

Some folks have headed back to college, and have gone off their comfortable meal plans, and are fending for themselves for the the first time. There is more to life than ramen noodles and cold pizza. The rest of us come crawling into the kitchen each night, and wonder what on earth we can possible make for dinner without feeling totally keelhauled. Before heading directly for the cheap white wine (although it will be time to switch up to a nice inexpensive Malbec soon!) I want to point out that here are some basics that work without much risk of disappointment or failure.

These are easy peasy, as we are wont to warble. Throw that chicken in the oven and let the Slate Culture Gabfest podcast amuse you with their take on the intricacies of modern culture. And now you can have some wine. http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/culturegabfest/2016/09/slate_s_culture_gabfest_on_don_t_breathe_high_maintenance_and_harry_potter.html

Fettuccine Alfredo: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9025-elaines-fettuccine-alfredo?smid=fb-nytdining&smtyp=cur

If that seems too fancy, here are eight, 8, ways to make mac & cheese: http://cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/961504-amazing-ways-to-do-macaroni-and-cheese

Salmon, for the fish eaters: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/5703-salmon-roasted-in-butter

Cast Iron Pan Steak: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016334-cast-iron-steak

Bearnaise to go with that fine steak: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017389-bearnaise-sauce Because if you are going to hell, you might as well go in style. Yumsters.

Because you really could have spaghetti every night.
Spaghetti: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016833-spaghetti-and-drop-meatballs-with-tomato-sauce

It took me years, YEARS, to get rice right. Here is a never fail approach: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016673-cant-miss-rice

Craig Claiborne’s Beef Stew: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1321-craig-claibornes-beef-stew It is going to get chilly, honest.

Even easier is a good meatloaf. Although if your household is anything like ours, you have some ancestral meatloaf recipes in place already. Still, does yours count pancetta among the ingredients? Doubtful. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1012686-fancy-meatloaf

And here is the definitive list of the New York Times’s 50 most popular recipes: http://cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/3238216-our-50-most-popular-recipes

You are on your own for salads and desserts. For this week, at least. Next week – breads!

“No man is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention.”
-Christopher Morley

Food Friday: The Great Lunchbox Cookie Bakeoff

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! School is starting! Everyone is ready for the heat of summer to be over, and for all the crisp fall excitement that a new school year brings. While we are in denial about Sunday night homework anxiety panics, we are looking forward to new shoes and new school supplies. There is nothing like a fresh, fragrant box of crayons!

Before I allow the wave of nostalgia to completely sweep me away I have to remember that filling lunch boxes can be an awful tedious grind of a routine. It is difficult to keep all the lunch plates spinning in the air while trying to provide a nutritious and delicious meal to be consumed in a flash, in a loud room, filled with quick-to-judge pint-sized peers. I am afraid that those cute little notes I put in my kids’ lunch boxes were hastily pocketed, because those mean girls at the table were too cool for such sentimentality. And if the vixens of the fourth grade were scornful of those yellow post-it tokens of motherly love – what were they saying about the organic oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies?

It is such a punch list – to make it healthy, tasty, portable and appropriately cool. No wonder we give in to buying packages of Chips Ahoy cookies. They are uniform, anonymous and safe for the perilous world of scornful fourth graders. But they are not fun to bake.

Cookie baking is a great family activity. When you are tender and vulnerable to the Sunday afternoon homework anxieties, pull that fourth grader into the kitchen. Forget about the teachable math moments of measuring ingredients accurately. Sift a little flour onto the kitchen counter, and roll some dough balls around. Have a chat while you wait for the oven to preheat. Nibble on some chocolate chips – someone needs to taste test them for quality control. Show the love while eating the cookie dough – it means more here in the kitchen than some corny lunchbox note. Burnt cookies never tasted sweeter than these.

And putting a batch of homebaked cookies in a box and sending it off to a far away college does a lot to assuage the growth pains at both ends of the mail route. Everyone will remember how the time slowed for a while, while the butter was softening and the cookies were baking. We always wanted the process to hurry along, so the cookies would be done, and out of the oven. Now we want the cookies to bear the sweetest memories across time and miles.

I digress. Bake some cookies for everyone. You can never go wrong.

Trust Martha to figure out that there are three kinds of chocolate chip cookies: crisp, soft, or cakey. It all depends on the amount of butter you add. She probably has reams of top secret think tank research about brownies, too.
http://www.marthastewart.com/346831/crisp-and-chewy-chocolate-chip-cookies
http://www.marthastewart.com/344840/soft-and-chewy-chocolate-chip-cookies
http://www.marthastewart.com/313548/ultimate-chocolate-chip-cookies

Do not be this person. Do not be a vegetable sneak. Those fourth grade girls will make your life a living hell, and I will pay them to do it! http://www.food.com/recipe/chocolate-chip-zucchini-cookies-61402
Instead, be like Nigella. Warm, earthy, sweet and flavorful. And perhaps you will develop a cute British accent.
https://www.nigella.com/recipes/chocolate-chip-cookies

Here is the original back-of-the-packet recipe from Nestlé for their tollhouse cookies. You can’t go wrong, however intimidating Martha and the mean girls seem. https://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/18476/original-nestle-toll-house-chocolate-chip-cookies/

And don’t mention it to my children, but I also found that keeping a box of Ghirardelli chocolate chip mix on hand is like finding a dollar in a pair of blue jeans that has just tumbled out of the dryer. Warm and toasty and a pleasant surprise.

Have a most excellent school year!

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”
― Neil Gaiman

Food Friday: Summer Corn

I am shocked. Shocked! Shocked to realize that we are in summertime wind-down, and I have only had corn on the cob twice! What have I been thinking? Corn is delicious, easy peasy, and totally beautiful. Look at those kernels! Symmetry, precision, uniformity – yet each is a tiny, individual microcosm of corn deliciousness. Prepare yourself for some genius corn recipes.

And yes, I realize that I am going against my cardinal rule of summer, and I will be turning on the oven, as well as the stove. Some pleasures are worth the extra heat in the kitchen. I plan to take everything out to the picnic table anyway, where I can enjoy a bit of a breeze, and watch the birds sail home. The mown grass smells particularly green at this time of year, and I have a nice chilly glass of cheap white wine. What could be better? Why having some melted butter dripping down my chin, of course!

My mother, as I am sure most mothers who came before us did, boiled the living daylights out of ears of corn. And yet, the corn still tasted like the golden miracle that nature intended. Perhaps, like lobster and popcorn, corn on the cob is merely a vehicle for butter. That is a conundrum I am willing to spend the next thirty years mulling over in my pointy little head.

I like to steam corn on the cob in a big pot, with just an inch of water, and a metal vegetable steamer. I like to use the big lobster steamer pot. This is a dramatic production. Mr. Friday likes to wrap the ears of corn in great sails of aluminum foil, dotted with big gobs of butter, which he then tosses onto the sizzling grill. I suspect he is reliving Boy Scout camping trips. If some of the corn isn’t burnt and charred then it hasn’t been properly grilled. Just in case you wondered how to tell it was done. http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/07/best-basic-grilled-corn-food-lab-recipe.html

If you are of a more practical ilk, and like to cook one meal, and have viable leftovers, then this frittata dish is for you. Cook it once, and use it again for breakfast or lunch. It travels well, so you can nestle it in a brown paper sack and call it lunch. Or it could be the basis of a picnic. You can eat it with your hands when you are stuck in weekend beach traffic. It is a marvel! http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2016/08/frittata-bacon-corn-gruyere-dinner-in-20-recipe.html

I always cook too much corn – just look at the size of that lobster pot! With the extra ears of corn I have more than a few options for meals for the week. Those ever practical folks at Food52 have a great corn salad recipe: https://food52.com/recipes/37430-sriracha-lime-corn-salad

Summertime also means lobster time. We like to have a lobster fest at least once a summer, and this usually means lots of leftovers. Here is a budget-friendly recipe that brings the lobster fest feelings back home: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017627-corn-and-lobster-tart

If you would like to enjoy an elegant meal, then consider this corn soup recipe from the New York Times: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12665-summer-corn-soup

Think ahead! If you are particularly ambitious, and have bought a lot of sweet summer corn from your local CSA or farmers’ market, here is a recipe for corn relish that will distill summer for you, when you have forgotten how hot and grumpy you were in August; a little bit of summer sunshine for the long gray days of winter: http://www.daringgourmet.com/2015/07/19/homemade-sweet-corn-relish/

“I have no hostility to nature, but a child’s love to it. I expand and live in the warm day like corn and melons.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Food Friday : Salads – Hold the Lettuce

Is there anything more boing than a lettuce salad? It is nothing but tasteless, crunchy water, slathered in oleaginous dressings, dotted with hot house tomatoes, sprinkled with stale croutons. Do you remember Bac’n Bits – those leathery maroon soy flakes that purportedly tasted like bacon? I am much happier now that I fry my croutons in bacon fat, and then crunch that real bacon up and scatter it on my salad, not overlooking a smackeral for my constant, dogging companion. How about orange French dressing? Now we can hurl a garlic clove into a bowl, douse it with good oil and vinegar and salt, and there we have it, the best salad dressing ever. Holy smokes, the times they are a changing, and everything salad-wise keeps getting better.

Personally I could never understand the appeal of the iceberg wedge salad. Whack a wedge out of a head of iceberg lettuce, dribble it in bottled blue cheese dressing, serve it on a minimalistic square plate and charge $9 for it. I could do that at home, except that I wouldn’t. I would rather eat something a little more flavorful and deelicious. How about you?

True confession: I violated my summertime rule about shunning the kitchen, or at least the hot stove, earlier this week. Once I had rooted around the internets looking for interesting salads, I must admit to you Gentle Reader – I boiled water. It is shameful, I know, but my cause was good and just, and ultimately, I got three meals out of that half hour of steam heat. I think it is a healthy ratio of time spent cooking compared to time spent eating nice, cool leftovers.

Spy Summer Farm Stand Salad

3 cups fusilli (or any macaroni product you have on hand – fusilli is very attractive and super hard to draw)

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil – or what you can approximate from the grocery store

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup diced cukes (I still like the seedless English variety, but use your fave)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (or just chunk up some tomatoes from your kitchen windowsill)

1 ear of cooked corn – slice the kernels off, please

1/2 cup chopped peppers

1/2 cup snow peas

1/2 cup fresh green beans

1/2 cup asparagus tips

1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, cubed, or a handful of feta, or shavings of Parmesan

1/4 cup roughly chopped Vidalia onion

1/4 cup chopped celery for lots of crunch!

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Maldon salt

In a large, large bowl: add the crushed clove of garlic, and whisk it with the olive oil and vinegar. Add the red pepper flakes, and some Maldon salt.

Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain in a colander, rinse with cool water, and shake the water off like a good dog. Add the pasta to the big bowl of garlic and oil. Toss the pasta until it is evenly coated with the good garlicky oil. Set aside.

Boil up another pot of water and toss in the asparagus, peas and beans for a minute or two, just until everything looks as bright green as the first grass in spring. Drain in the colander, and quickly dump them into another bowl filled with ice and ice water, to halt the cooking. Kazaam! Crunchy, green vegetables ready to mingle with your delicious pasta.

Now toss everything together, tear into some French bread, and have a fortifying glass of cheap white wine. You can repeat this as a side dish tomorrow night, and then have it for lunch the day after that. Feel free to embellish – you can add chicken, shrimp, salami, olives, artichoke hearts, sprouts, roasted red peppers, basil, flat leaf parsley – you name it. You can even serve it on a bed of lettuce.

“Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures.”
-M.F.K. Fisher

Food Friday: Cherry Pie for the Fourth of July

Hooray for the Fourth of July!

Are you getting excited about the Fourth of July? I am. I ready for a four-day weekend, sleeping late, fireworks, swimming, languidly of course, and generally enjoying some summertime. No computer for me! I am still steering clear of the kitchen, too. If something needs to be cooked then it has to go on the grill. That will free up some of my valuable time for books and blockbuster movies. Surely Independence Day: Resurgence can’t be all that bad. Dana Stevens of Slate magazine thought it was a delightful summer movie, after all.

For our old neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July extravaganza we decorated our bikes (and the dog) with crepe paper streamers, bunting and flags. More importantly, everyone brought a covered dish to share. We would all admire one friend’s trademark handiwork every year: the ceremonial red, white and blue cake. She baked a simple vanilla sheet cake and decorated it with a bucket o’whipped cream, a precise arrangement of blueberries and some snappy red waves of strawberries, sliced with surgical skill. It was a crowd pleaser. We’d light a couple of sparklers and feel patriotic. And then we fall on the cake like a pack of wolves. Forget about always having room for Jell-o, give us Red White and Blue Cake, even though we had already stuffed our suburban bellies with all the standard cookout goodies. You know the drill: potato salad, cole slaw, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, watermelon, beans, weenies…

We grownups would all stand in the back yard, swatting at the mosquitos, waiting for it to get dark enough to go to the fireworks downtown. The sun never seems to set fast enough on the Fourth of July. Can you remember the joy of writing your name, in newly mastered cursive, with the glowing tip of a spent sparkler? Some bright spots never diminish with time.

I can’t compete with Lisa’s annual patriotic confection, but I can appeal to a different crowd: a large pitcher of sangria. The founding fathers would have enjoyed this during that hot July in Philadelphia.

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2012/08/stone-fruit-sangria

Even though I am in my summertime kitchen denial, I do like to have a few things up my sleeve and sitting in the fridge. Sometime between the end of our latest Orange is the New Black binge and bedtime, someone I know will want a dessert-y snackum. Even if it doesn’t have any chocolate, this is a sweet summer treat. And the fresh tangy cherries are so lush and tempting and ephemeral

Just a Little Bit of Time Spent Slaving Over a Hot Stove Cherry Pie

Pre-fab pie crust
4 cups fresh cherries, pitted
1 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

Take the pie crust out of the packaging. Recycle the plastic, please. Bake as per directions.

Pit the cherries (very important!) and arrange most of them in the baked crust. Reserve about 1/3 cup.

Mash remaining cherries, and combine with sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Gradually stir cornstarch mixture into the boiling cherries. Reduce heat and simmer mixture until thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Allow the cherry mixture to cool slightly and then pour it over the cherries in the pie shell. Canned cherries never tasted like this!

Chill for several hours before serving.

This is one I am going to make for the Tall One when he next visits. Ever since he discovered Walker’s shortbread biscuits while on walkabout in Scotland a couple of years ago and brought them back to the intrepid colonists here he has had a fondness for shortbread.

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/06/sweets-cherry-amaretto-tart-recipe.html

Now I need to go supervise the our the ritual grilling of the hamburgers, brats and ears of corn. Have a wonderful, and safe, Fourth of July! Walk away from the computer!

“Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation and freedom in all just pursuits.”
-Thomas Jefferson

Food Friday: Blueberries for Dad

Just in time for Father’s Day, June is busting out all over, summer is almost here, and if you listen carefully you’ll hear the blueberries ripening. Little globules of vitamin-rich blue goodness! ’Tis the season to revel in local blueberries!

A great Father’s Day weekend activity might include visiting a farmers’ market or a farm stand, to spend some quality intergenerational time together. Our children never ate blueberries except in muffins and pancakes until we visited a blueberry farm in Maine, and they got to fill both their buckets and their greedy little gullets with blueberries that they hunted and gathered themselves. Now they are confirmed blueberry aficionados. I should have started with spinach. Hit the farmers’ markets near you on Saturday to pick up a nice fresh pint or two of locally grown blueberries. And if it is early, satisfy your yen with strawberries or blackberries. Yumsters.

You can start the Father’s Day’s celebration off with blueberry muffins at breakfast! http://www.onceuponachef.com/2014/07/best-ever-blueberry-muffins.html Mr. Friday starts each day in a healthy manner – unlike me – who still yearns for those good old days of cold pizza for breakfast. No. Mr. Friday has always set a good example, and manfully tosses a handful of glistening blueberry goodness on top of his bowl of leaves and twigs every morning. So I imagine he will like the next suggestion. For a more health conscious father, you can exhibit some restraint and be oh so au courant with this smoothie treat: http://www.blueberrycouncil.org/blueberry-recipe/blueberry-green-tea-smoothie/ You can probably even sneak in some kale or trending broccoli rabe and he will never notice. Take that, Mr. Friday!

Here’s an easy one for getting out of the house quickly in the morning, yet still getting some nutrition inside your busy dad: http://www.southernliving.com/food/kitchen-assistant/fresh-blueberry-recipes/blueberry-soy-shakes

What are you doing for lunch? How about a colorful salad? For a delightfully cool lunch salad, try pairing blueberries with cucumbers and some feta cheese. The weekend promises to be steamy, so plan ahead. http://www.blueberrycouncil.org//blueberry-recipe/blueberry-cucumber-salad/

Cocktail hour! John Derian is as stylish and clever as folks come, and this is his recipe for a Blueberry Smash. Deelightful! http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/blueberry-smash

I thought this drink was a little sweet, which goes to show the dedication I have toward providing you with accurate food info: https://marlameridith.com/blueberry-martini-recipe/ .

But maybe your dad has a sweet tooth. In which case, maybe you should just concentrate on a really good, old-fashioned dessert. And try to be a good baker, and roll out your own pie crust. Imagine your pride swelling as Dad enjoys the juicy goodness of a slice of your home-baked pie. There is no better way to indulge the fathers in your life than with a nice home-baked blueberry pie. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12654-blueberry-pie-filling?smid=fb-nytdining&smtyp=cur

Or should you be more restrained (and less blue) and try this lemon blueberry poke cake? http://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/how-to-make-homemade-lemon-blueberry-poke-cake-article

Be careful not to try any of Willy Wonka’s magic Three Course Meal Chewing Gum on your dad. Mr. Wonka is still working on the getting the kinks out of the formula. You do not want your dad to blow up and turn into a giant blueberry like Violet Beauregard did: “’Blueberry pie and cream!’ shouted Violet. ‘Here it comes! Oh my, it’s perfect! It’s beautiful! It’s . . . It’s exactly as though I’m swallowing it! It’s as though I’m chewing and swallowing great big spoonfuls of the most marvelous blueberry pie in the world!’’
-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

“She picked three more berries and ate them. Then she picked more berries and dropped one in the pail-Kurplunk! And the rest she ate. Then Little Sal ate all four blueberries out of her pail!”
-Robert McCloskey, Blueberries for Sal

Chestertown Farmers’ Market: http://www.chestertownfarmersmarket.net/
St. Michaels FreshFarm Market: http://www.localharvest.org/st-michaels-freshfarm-market-M625
Centreville Farmers’ Market: http://marylandsbest.net/producer/centreville-farmers-market/
Easton Farmers Market: https://avalonfoundation.org/easton-farmers-market
Lockbriar Farm 10051 Worton Road, Chestertown, MD 21620. http://www.lockbriarfarms.com/u-picking-at-lockbriar/
Redman Farms 8689 Bakers Lane, Chestertown, MD 21620. http://redmanfarms.net/