Food Friday: Memorial Day Cookouts


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:

Fruit salads are easy to prepare ahead of time, and can be a side dish or a dessert:
Cuke & Watermelon Salad

Bon Appétit fruit salad:

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:

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:

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:

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.

Here are some small town Memorial Day photos to enjoy:

“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!


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

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!)

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:

Here is a recipe for gooey, chewy 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:

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

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


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:

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.

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.

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:

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

Food Friday: A Mess of 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.
I think not. The basics have covered my bases. Now to look for something a little out of the ordinary: spaghetti.

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:

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.

“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


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

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.

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.

Though this was interesting. Anything that brings illuminated medieval texts back into the public eye is newsworthy indeed:

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.

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:

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

Food Friday: Living High Off the Hog


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:

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.

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…

Bacon Cheesecake. Honest.

Bacon Peanut Butter Cups. Really?

And one last glimpse at bacon excess, although I never thought that I would type those words in the same sentence:

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

Food Friday: Boston Cream Pie – Better than Jelly Beans


This is a big food weekend; Passover Seders and Easter extravaganzas will abound. As always, I encourage you to simplify your life, and bake a pie that is really a cake: Boston cream pie.

We had neighbors who did not celebrate family birthdays with cakes – instead they always had pie – and sometimes store-bought pie, to boot. Somehow blowing the candles out on a dowdy, brown, deep-dish apple pie was never appealing to me. I always thought their behavior was edging deep into the grasses of the lunatic fringe, but now I realize that we have been baking Boston Cream Pies for birthdays and major family celebrations for YEARS! We probably haven’t baked a proper birthday cake since the year I pieced together Thomas the Tank Engine and some of his friends, for the five-year old birthday boy, who is now out of college and is engaged to be married. Once again my hypocrisy and quick moral high road are being questioned.

Though Boston cream pie is indeed a cake, with two layers and a custard filling, that is covered with chocolate icing. It was created for the Boston Parker House Hotel by Armenian-French chef M. Sanzian. It is the official dessert of Boston! It is a fun fact and good to know in case you are considering moving based on your love of regional foods. Boston is much closer than Aix-en-Provence.

Of course we take every shortcut known to science in the kitchen, and the BCP is an eager co-conspirator. If there isn’t time to bake the cake from scratch, it is easy to substitute a quick mix from Betty Crocker. If you haven’t yet mastered a decent crème pâtissière, then yummy custard filling can be made from Jell-O instant vanilla pudding. And the icing? It is the easiest thing ever, and the shiny patina makes even the most rudimentary baker look as skilled as the Best Amateur Baker in the Great British Bake Off. You will be a rock star. Now bake!

Although baking is a science as we are often admonished, sometimes you have to improvise. I do not use the entire batch of batter for a Boston cream pie. After I make the batter, whether homemade, or as I have suggested whipped up slyly from a cake mix, I only use about 2/3 of the batter. In my mind a BCP should not stand as tall as a two-layer layer-cake. The other third I pour into a couple of cupcake papers and leave out to keep the circling cake samplers at bay.

I line a spring form pan with parchment paper, and pour the cake batter into the pan, which I then place on top of a cookie sheet, and bake according to directions. After the cake has baked, and cooled, I slice it into two rounds, using a long bread knife so I don’t hack the cake to bits. (Martha suggested using dental floss to split cake into layers once. I cannot recommend this method, unless you are a very experienced ceramic artist. I could not achieve a straight line – it wobbled and looked like corrugated tin.)

Crème Pat – as they like to say on the BBC – courtesy of Martha Stewart

1 cup milk
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar together in a small bowl. Add flour, and mix until smooth and free of lumps.

Thin egg-yolk mixture with approximately 1/4 cup of warm milk. When remaining milk begins to boil, add it to egg-yolk mixture, and stir well. Return to saucepan, and place over high heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until pastry cream thickens and boils, about 1 minute. (Turning the pan as you whisk helps to easily reach all areas of pan.)

Reduce heat to medium, and cook, whisking constantly, until cream becomes shiny and easier to stir, about 2 minutes more. Pour into a bowl, and stir in vanilla. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming, and allow to cool.

Or you can default to Jell-O Instant Vanilla Pudding. No one will mind. (Not even our houseguest, who works for Bon Appétit magazine!)

Artfully trowel on a good thick layer of the Crème Pat (or the vanilla pudding) on the bottom half of the pie and carefully replace the top half.

You cannot change one speck of this magic chocolate glaze! I have been using this glaze since 1989. The cookbook always falls open to this page, which is also the glaze I use for Flourless Chocolate Cake. It is covered with crumbs and splatters from the festivities from the last 26 years.

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon

Melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the brandy. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, smoothing with a spatula, and let it drip down the sides.

(The glaze recipe is from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, which I cannot find digitized or linked to any place on.)

Here is the link to the Spring Forth Cake from a couple of weeks ago:

And here is a short history of BCP:

Cover and put in the fridge. Uncover and let the glaze warm up a bit before serving – this will bring the shine back to the chocolate glaze. And sit back and bask in the glory. Hop on down the bunny trail. Yumsters.

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”
― David Mamet

Food Friday: Spring Planting = Summer Delights


You have been waiting all winter for this – admit it. You have been thumbing through seed catalogues and feverishly imagining your sunny, raised garden bed, fecund and lush and o’er-spilling with cukes, and beans, and sun-warmed tomatoes. Thinking about all those tender, fresh, aromatic herbs that no one else can coax as greenly as you. Picturing the extra little flourish and the modest bow you will take when you humbly present your salad greens (with brio) at the Fourth of July picnic. Visualizing the ribbons you will take home from the Fair. Envisioning how you will please, delight, and amaze your family when you whip out a fresh, homegrown shallot for the salad dressing. Or when you pop open a jar of homemade pickles at Thanksgiving. Considering how you can take revenge on the idiot neighbor who mows his lawn on Sunday mornings – zucchini is the perfect passive/aggressive pay back. All the glory goes to you.

So get hopping!

summer squash,
pole beans,
lima beans,
and zucchini
will not plant, water, NOR weed themselves. “Plant a carrot, get a carrot.” Get in a little elbow grease action – which is much more nurturing and healthy than hot yoga. Heavens to Betsy.

I have learned over the years with my sandy back yard, and my short attention span, that I am easily tired and discouraged. I now keep my exposure to a minimum. I am happiest (and most successful) with a little container garden. I have fresh herbs, and a catnip plant to keep the ancient bony cat entertained. I do a couple of tomato plants every year, but this year I bought some trendy heirloom, organic tomato seeds. Let’s see if they do better than my usual cheating, pre-fab seedlings from the hardware store. Although anything is better than those soul-less, soggy, cardboard globes I get at the supermarket.

It is time for my annual bean experiment. I imagine myself living in someplace ancient and beautiful like Sissinghurst Castle, where the gardener’s assistants take care of the weeds, and I am left with my follies and the trés amusement
garden structures I fashion from bamboo poles and woven willow strips. I will train the beans this year in a big terra cotta pot, with three bamboo poles perched like a teepee above the seedlings. Maybe they will do better than last year’s. Maybe if I remember to water every day they will have a shot at making it to the table.

I had a successful little run with lettuce last year. We had some awfully fresh salads for a couple of weeks. I doubt if it was very cost effective to wrangle my own little Bibb-aroos, but it felt so good to wander outside with the kitchen shears, and judiciously snip a leaf here, another leaf there, and know the salad was good and fresh, and I was leaving modest carbon foot print.

They are saying that all those Amazon deliveries, however convenient and fast, are proving problematic – they are increasing traffic and road wear as those UPS trucks come streaming our way with our cheap books and Kindles. So I have to do my bit and think of the environment when I plant my tiny little vegetable garden.

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

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

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

Food Friday: Spring Forth with Cake!


One of the perils of working from home is that I don’t get out much. Some days the only conversations I have are with the clerks at the grocery store. My office companion, Luke, the wonder dog, and I take a couple of walks every day. Luke is an enthusiastic and charming fellow, but his conversational skills are minimal. I can’t remember the last book he read, and he never minds that I do the crossword puzzle in ink. He might comment that I will never catch a squirrel, or that I don’t sniff mailboxes with gusto. And he would be right.

When Luke and I go on walkabout I usually have my earbuds firmly planted. I listen to several podcasts, and often feel that the folks on these podcasts are my real office co-workers. Podcasts are the intimates of solitary freelancers, nursing mothers and the sleepless. Every week Julia Turner, Dana Stevens and Stephen Metcalf charm my socks off. Their Slate Culture Gabfest podcast is full of good humor, insight, wit and bon mots. They merrily discuss popular culture with aplomb; dissecting current memes, television, music, and movies. Where else can I go for brilliant water cooler conversation? And one week, a couple of months ago, Julia (Yes, I do call her “Julia” in my cheeky fashion.) rhapsodized poetical about a recipe she had found in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for the perfect cake. I looked up the recipe and filed it away for another day.

And today is the day! It’s time to forget about winter, and move on to celebrating Spring! I have had the delightful television baking experience of The Great British Bake Off to fan my enthusiasm for home baking, and what better way to pay homage to Spring than with Smitten Kitchen’s Best Yellow Layer Cake? While you are poking through the brown oak leaves under the side yard hedge, looking for tender green daffodil shoots, you will be much happier knowing that there will be a slice of cake and a tall cold glass of milk waiting for you in the kitchen. The squirrels have retreated, so Luke has to stick with kibble, which always makes him very happy.

Smitten Kitchen’s Best Yellow Layer Cake

“Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, and, in theory, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake
4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.”

The Smitten Kitchen goes on to suggest that you use a chocolate icing, but I am feeling too cheerful and full of new spring hope. I am making a light, lemon-y icing instead.

Lemon Buttercream Icing

1 stick butter – room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons half and half or milk

Beat the butter in the bowl with and electric mixer until it is fluffy. Add the confectioner’s sugar just a few tablespoons at a time. Add the salt and vanilla extract. Continue adding confectioner’s sugar, alternating with splashes of cream (or milk) and lemon juice Add more cream (or milk) if you like thinner frosting. You will need to double this recipe if you want to have tidy frosted sides to the cake.

Scrumptious! Thank you, Julia Turner!

You can find more charming intelligent folks on the Slate Panoply podcast network who discuss sports, finance, politics, the Supreme Court and even our friends from Food 52 with a podcast called Burnt Toast:

More recipes:

More of Julia, Dana and Stephen:

“In Britain, a cup of tea is the answer to every problem.
Fallen off your bicycle? Nice cup of tea.
Your house has been destroyed by a meteorite? Nice cup of tea and a biscuit.
Your entire family has been eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex that has travelled through a space/time portal?
Nice cup of tea and a piece of cake.
Possibly a savoury option would be welcome here too, for example a Scotch egg or a sausage roll.”
― David Walliams

Food Friday: Happiness is Chocolate Mousse


I know; all the other food columns this weekend will be telling you how to prepare the World’s Best Corned Beef and Cabbage, or Yummy Irish Stew prepared with Guinness stout. They are all about St. Patrick’s Day, and green beer, and steak and ale pies.

You won’t find any of that malarkey here at The Spy. I still shudder at the very notion of corned beef. That cooked cabbage odor haunts me lo these many years since I last smelled it, wafting up the stairway from my mother’s kitchen to my lair at the back of the house. I will NEVER cook a cabbage. I can promise you that.

Instead, we are going to share with you a deelish recipe we found in last week’s Wall Street Journal, a newspaper not known for its flights of whimsy. Power up your printers, because this is too good to be true. You will go down in your family’s annals as the sainted chocolate mousse magician. You will never be forgotten. And many thanks to Wall Street Journal writer Gail Monaghan for lighting the way to bliss!

12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (we used Ghiradelli semisweet chips – hooray, no chopping!)
¾ cup water
2 tablespoons instant espresso coffee granules (we used 2 teaspoons, and next time will use 1 teaspoon – I am not a big coffee fan, but the little coffee kick intensified the chocolate flavor)
4 egg yolks
Salt – just a pinch
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Cognac (or Bourbon, use your imagination)

Note: Make some extra whipped cream for topping. You’ll be glad you did. We also splurged and bought some raspberries which are hideously expensive right now, because they probably came from deepest darkest Peru along with Paddington Bear, but they were well worth the extravagance.

Heat the chocolate, water, coffee powder and salt in a double boiler – or in a metal bowl over a pot of just simmering water. Be careful not to scorch the chocolate! Stir the mixture frequently until the chocolate melts. Take the bowl off the heat and beat in the egg yolks – one yolk at a time. Cool the chocolate mixture in the fridge. In another bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Be sure to add the Cognac. Fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate. Pour the mousse into cups or small bowls or wine glasses. Top with whipped cream and some raspberries.

The mousse will be very rich, so use small containers. We made the mistake of using large wine glasses, and were overwhelmed by the luxurious richness of the dense chocolate-y mousse halfway through gobbling up our desserts. We had to cover them with Saran Wrap, and store them in the refrigerator overnight. They were even better the next day, I am happy to note. Of course, we added more whipped cream and some more raspberries because we need to get our daily vegetables and fruits…

Forget the corned beef. Make Chocolate Mousse your new St. Patrick’s Day celebratory food. Its charms are so glorious that it will be equally nice for April Fool’s Day, Easter, Passover, Martha Washington’s birthday and Labor Day.

“Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or tortuous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.”
― Joanne Harris, Chocolat