FF_Lunchbox Cookies

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.

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.

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.


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.


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/

Food Friday: Rooting for Radishes

I have always associated radishes with sitting on the back porch on summer evenings when I was little, watching my father transform pink hamburger patties into charbroiled hockey pucks on the hibachi. We would snack on the raw, red-skinned radishes that my mother served to us in little clear glass Pyrex bowls, filled with bone-chilling ice water. How could anything so cold have such a spicy kick? Such were the summery mysteries I contemplated back then, waiting for the dusk to fall, and the fireflies to rise from back garden.

Luke the Wonder Dog and I saw some fireflies the other night, so I imagine that summer is almost upon us. Can we resist the lure of fresh radishes? This summer I am going to be a little more adventurous and try radishes in new and different ways. I have started to branch out, by using radish slices as a garnish when we make tacos. You can never have enough crunch, and radishes provide it reliably.

For the data driven – radishes are high in fiber, riboflavin, and potassium. They are low in calories, and have lots of Vitamin C. They are a natural diuretic, and have detoxing abilities.

I prefer to dwell on the spicy flavor and the crunch.

Have you tried sliced radishes on buttered bread? They will jazz up your next tea party the way cucumber sandwiches never have. Although, if you were French, you would have been eating radishes on buttered slices of brown bread for breakfast for years. Mais oui! http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125066665

And if you’d rather not be picking up disks of radishes escaping from your sandwiches, try this easy peasy radish butter. Yumsters! https://mykitchenwindowsill.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/radish-butter/

Martha suggests adding radishes to corn salad – what a great idea, Martha! The bright red color of the radishes will make a heaping bowl of cooked corn quite appealing. And the subtle addition of jalapeño gives an extra spicy kick. This is a perfect summertime backyard cookout menu item.

Consider the summer cocktail, and how easy it is to add some sliced radishes to your favorite Bloody Mary recipe. I’m not sure that I would go to all the trouble that this recipe stirs up – I would have to make a separate trip out to buy sherry, after all. http://www.sofeminine.co.uk/drinks/summer-cocktails-d40795c601836.html

For your next book club meeting, here is a cocktail with literary aspirations: http://www.tastingtable.com/cook/recipes/radish-gin-cocktail-recipe-spring-vegetables-the-red-cat-nyc I haven’t been able to find the Cocchi Americano at our liquor store, though. So I have left it out, and no one seems the wiser. Nor has it been noted by my well-read blue stockings that I also used Bombay instead of the requisite Dorothy Parker gin. (For the crowd that is used to extremely cheap white wine, this is an eye-opener, just like Uncle Willy’s in Philadelphia Story. It packs a punch.)

Here’s one for Mr. Friday to perfect: grilled steak with grilled radishes. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/grilled-steak-and-radishes-with-black-pepper-butter
It makes me sad, though, to cook a radish. There are some vegetables that are meant to be eaten gloriously simple and raw – like fresh peas, carrots, green beans and celery.

I think I will just mosey out to the kitchen now and cut the tops off some fresh, rosy red radishes. Then I’ll slice off the root ends, pretend that I can carve the little globes into beauteous rosettes, and plop them into a small bowl of ice water. Then I will sprinkle some crunchy Maldon salt flakes over the clumsy rose petal shapes I have created, and eat one of my favorite root vegetables. Ah, summer. It is good.

“Plant a radish.
Get a radish.
Never any doubt.
That’s why I love vegetables;
You know what you’re about!”
Tom Jones – The Fantasticks

Kiss the next 5 minutes of your life away! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Jf9HQl8qv0

Food Friday: Artichokes for Streaking

How are you getting ready for May Day? Are you practicing your May pole dance? Have you shaken out the dust and the bells on your Morris dancing costume? Are you looking for love? Are you going to participate in the much-loved rite of spring: streaking? If you answer “Yes!” to any of those questions then you might want to buy some artichokes in preparation.

Long considered an aphrodisiac, the artichoke is technically a flower bud that has not yet bloomed. Such a potent symbol: prickly on the outside, soft and yielding on the inside. In 1576, Dr. Bartolomeo Boldo wrote that the artichoke “has the virtue of … provoking Venus for both men and women; for women making them more desirable, and helping the men who are in these matters rather tardy.” Stock up on equal opportunity artichokes, they are good for everyone!

Greek mythology gives Zeus the credit for creating of the artichoke. After he had been spurned by a beautiful woman, Zeus turned his love object into a thorny thistle, the artichoke. The ancient Greeks and Romans thought the artichoke was a rare and delicious delicacy. What better time than the beginning of May to celebrate the artichoke, particularly when it is at the peak of its season? And Sunday is May Day, so you should get off on the right foot.

After the Greeks and the Romans the artichoke spread to Spain. Catherine de Medici was supposed to have brought the artichoke to France when she arrived to marry the future Henry II. Catherine was known for her voracious appetites for both food and romance, and she scandalized the French court by eating lots of artichokes, and enjoying the sexy reputation that resulted. Shortly thereafter the artichoke crossed the Channel, where Henry VIII, he of many wives, was thought to be quite fond of them.

The French brought the artichoke to America. George Washington grew them at Mount Vernon. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contains a 17th-century recipe “To Make Hartichoak Pie.” At one point in Hamilton, the current Broadway show, it is remarked that Alexander Hamilton was a serial philanderer, and “Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after him.” One wonders if she ever served Alexander Hamilton Harty Choak Pie, too.

From Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery:

To Make an Harty Choak Pie:
Take 12 harty choak bottoms yt are good & large, after you have boyled them, take them cleere from ye leaves & cores, season them with a little pepper & salt & lay them on a coffin of paste, with a pound of butter & ye marrow of 2 bones in bigg pieces, then close it up to set in ye oven, then put halfe a pound of sugar to halfe a pinte of verges [a sauce made with green herbs] & some powder of cinnamon and ginger – boyle these together & when ye pie is halfe baked put the liquor in & set it in ye oven againe till it be quite bak’d.

Most artichokes sold in the United States today are grown in Castroville, California. In keeping with the artichoke’s somewhat sensual reputation, it should be noted that in 1947 Marilyn Monroe, then Norma Jean, was crowned Castroville’s first Artichoke Queen.

If you are going to get up to corporeal mischief this weekend, here are some helpful pointers:
This is a useful video of Jacques Pepin prepping an artichoke:

I have a fantasy life where on the weekends we are visited by our sophisticated and witty friends, who are stealing time away from their fascinating and glamorous careers in the arts. The only breakfast I could dream of serving them would be this:

It never hurts to have elegant imaginary friends.But if I expect a little romance myself this weekend, I had best up our breakfast game. I am going to give this a whirl: http://artichokes.org/recipes-and-such/recipes/artichoke-frittata Sadly, the Saturday morning reality is just Mr. Friday and me sitting blearily at the kitchen table, reading the papers, and considering our list of weekend chores while shoveling sticks and twigs into our gawping mouths. On Sundays we add bacon. This weekend I will throw a some inspiring artichokes into the mix and trust to fate!

“Tra la! It’s May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev’ryone goes
Blissfully astray.”
-Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Camelot

Here is a nice Maryland variation on the artichoke theme that Food52 suggests we try: https://food52.com/recipes/4382-crab-stuffed-artichokes

Food Friday: Hamburger Helper!

It really doesn’t get any simpler than this: ground beef, salt, pepper, and a cast iron skillet. With a little practice, you can have an excellent bar burger at home without lighting up the grill, without baking your own buns, and without paying for overpriced beer. Yumsters.

I have always believed that hamburgers cooked outside over a charcoal grill were manna from heaven. American fast food manna, for sure. When Mr. Friday switched from charcoal to a gas grill, I was disappointed in the flavor of my burgers. Those carcinogens emitted by the charcoal were very tasty. And I would never venture outside to grill my own hamburgers if Mr. Friday was away, as he often is. The gas grill was intimidating with its buttons and gauges and whooshing and the inherent explosive nature of the gas tank. No, thank you. Instead I would get take out at the local drive through – which has excellent onion rings, as well as a good, cheap cheeseburger.

I expect an excellent burger when I go out to a sit-down restaurant, and mostly I get served merely adequate, formerly frozen, blocks o’meat. But if they are served with crispy, blisteringly hot French fries, I tend to nibble around the burger, eating the well-done bits, and I try to feel as if I have had a satisfactory dinner. There have been expertly cooked, gold standard bar burgers in my past, and I savor their memories, but present day, my local burger dining experiences have been disappointing.

Enough of that nonsense! I have discovered a burger I can cook on top of the stove, without fear of explosions, without carcinogens, without getting into my car and having to share with Luke the wonder dog on the ride home. Thank you, Sam Sifton of the New York Times. You have allayed my cooking fears, encouraged bad behavior in smashing the cooking beef, and given me home-cooked hamburger independence.

I am always searching for the perfect French fry prep, and have found that Crispy Crowns are perfect temporary accompaniment. Heresy for sure, but they are hot, crunchy, crispy, and deelish, and all they need is a couple of shakes of Lowry’s Seasoning Salt. And they fend for themselves in the oven while you are performing your rapid-fire maneuvers with the burgers. It is hard to juggle a vat of boiling oil and a couple of searing hamburgers. Trust me, the gas grill is less dangerous.

Mr. Friday was not convinced about using cold meat, right out of the fridge until I showed him the video graphic evidence – so take a few minutes to watch the video. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/25/dining/how-to-make-a-great-burger.html?_r=0 He enjoyed squishing the hamburger with a heavy spatula, and you will, too.

And here are the steps, courtesy of the New York Times.

1. Add oil or butter to a large cast-iron or stainless steel skillet and place over medium heat. Gently divide ground beef into 8 small piles of around 4 ounces each, and even more gently gather them together into orbs that are about 2 inches in height. Do not form patties.

2. Increase heat under skillet to high. Put half the orbs into the skillet with plenty of distance between them and, using a stiff metal spatula, press down on each one to form a burger that is around 4 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Cook without moving until patties have achieved a deep, burnished crust, a little less than 2 minutes. Use the spatula to scrape free and carefully turn burgers over. If using cheese, lay slices on meat.

4. Continue to cook until meat is cooked through, approximately a minute or so longer. Remove burgers from skillet, place on buns and top as desired. Repeat process with remaining burgers.

We tried cooking our two burgers, a thin, bar-style for me, and the larger, thicker hamburger for Mr. Friday in our relatively new, only slightly seasoned cast-iron skillet. What an excellent addition to the pots and pans assemblage that pan has become! It is perfect for so many kitchen essentials: corn bread, bacon, fancy pan-seared steaks à la Mr. Friday, fried chicken, cobblers, hash browns; you name it. The clever folks at Bon Appétit have dozens of ideas: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/cast-iron-skillet-recipes

I topped up with cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickles. Mr. Friday used catsup, spicy brown mustard, and lettuce. I find catsup an abomination, and much prefer a nice slice of a room-temp local tomato. Inevitably, at this time of year, it is an overpriced organic heirloom ugly tomato that I have carted home from the grocery store. But tomato season is rapidly approaching!

Served with Crispy Crowns which I always overcook slightly (by design) and a pleasant, inexpensive plonk, we had a fine meal, topped off with many calories from a raspberry fool.

“You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars.”
― Charles Kuralt

Helpful cast iron pan hints: http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/11/the-truth-about-cast-iron.html

Food Friday: April Fools

Sadly, I am not clever enough to come up with a brilliant idea like the BBC’s famous spaghetti farm for April Fools Day. You have to watch this little video even if you have seen it before. ‘Tis the season to enjoy something silly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVo_wkxH9dU

I have my humble, little container garden of basil and greens, and earlier this week I planted some sprouting garlic to start my Middle Street Garlic Ranch. All I need now are tomatoes, and the fabled spaghetti harvest, and I will be in business. I’ll need some breadfruit, too, I suppose.

I thought we could test drive some fruit fools, and decide for ourselves which would be the tastiest way to spend April Fools Day. This cannot be a choice which we make lightly – do we want whipped cream, custard or yogurt? Do we want to add meringue bits or crumbly crumbs to give the mixture a little texture? Do we stew the fruit, or crush it? We will have to don our aprons with open minds and mouths. It is time for the fool smack down.

When I was growing up we had a couple of rhubarb plants in the lower garden by the corner of the old barn cum garage. perennials, they were spectacularly lush every summer, with huge rain forest-worthy leaves; their growth fueled by being the plants closest to the compost pile. I am sure my mother kept the plants just for their appearance, because she never cooked the pink stalks. They were attractive, just not food-worthy in her judgment. She grew plants purely for their ornamental value, rarely for harvest. We did grow tomatoes every summer, and there were the few times my father tried to introduce a green pepper crop, but mostly we had flowers for their beauty alone, and their ability to lure butterflies or hummingbirds.

The rhubarb I see these days in the grocery store does not live up to my memories of the rhubarb in the back yard – the strong, stringy batons that were wildly sour when we tried to nibble them. (“Don’t eat the poisonous leaves,” we were warned, so we assiduously removed all vestiges of the dangerous green as diligently we avoided the three forms of poison ivy.) What I see at the market these days is rhubarb that is far from it place of origin, and has gone all limp and sad. Therefore, we must restore this herbaceous vegetable that aspires to be a fruit, and is the center of our April Fools Feast, with a fluffy whorl of cream and sugar greatness.

Here are several ways to prepare rhubarb for a delicious smackeral of a fool – by stewing, boiling or puréeing. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/apr/12/how-to-make-perfect-rhubarb-fool

If you want to venture beyond your own back garden harvest, (or the farmers’ market crispy fresh rhubarb) you can always try soft berries, which you only need to smash a little, before blending with the cream, custard or yogurt. I am always partial to raspberries, with strawberries being the more practical and economical choice, in a heady mixture of whipped cream. If I could swirl the berries in Devonshire cream I certainly would, but a nice big bowl of fresh homemade whipped cream is perfection unto itself.

There cannot be a simpler recipe to follow for a delectable dessert: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9592-strawberry-fool

But if you add some meringue to strawberries and cream, you can puff out your chest and announce that everyone is eating Eton Mess, which sounds grand, and tastes even better:
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/eton-mess-103204 We like to promote recipes that include gratuitous dollops of alcohol, as you can tell.

And once you have mastered Eton Mess, a strawberry Pavlova is destined to be your next dessert accomplishment. This is most impressive, but it requires a slightly steadier hand than the Mess, so cut down on the cooking sherry. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9641-strawberry-pavlova

But once again I have strayed from the footpath. Now that we are enjoying a beautiful flower-filled spring, let the joy we have felt watching the cherry blossom petals waft onto the lawn extend to whipping up some cream and crushing some fruit. Enjoy a fool’s paradise.

“Compromise is a stalling between two fools.”
― Stephen Fry

Food Friday: Rabbit Food

At Easter I like to haul out my dear friend’s lemon cheesecake recipe, and reminisce, ruefully, about the year I decorated one using fresh nasturtiums from the garden, which unfortunately sheltered a couple of frisky spiders. Easter was late that year and tensions were already high at the table, because a guest had taken it upon herself to bring her version of dessert – a 1950s (or perhaps it was a British World War II lesson in ersatz ingredients recipe) involving saltines, sugar-free lime Jell-O, and a tub of Lite Cool Whip. The children were divided on which was more terrifying: ingesting spiders, or many petro chemicals?

I am also loath to remember the year we hosted an Easter egg hunt, and it was so hot that the chocolate bunnies melted, the many children squabbled, and the adults couldn’t drink enough Bloody Marys. The celery and asparagus were limp, the ham was hot, and the sugar in all those Peeps brought out the criminal potential in even the most decorous of little girls. There was no Martha Stewart solution to that pickle.

Since our children did not like hard-boiled eggs, I am happy to say that we were never a family that hid real eggs for them to find. Because then we would have been the family whose dog discovered real nuclear waste hidden behind a bookcase or deep down in the sofa a few weeks later. We mostly stuck to jelly beans and the odd Sacajawea gold dollar in our plastic Easter eggs. It was a truly a treat when I stepped on a robin’s egg pink plastic shell in the front garden later one year when I was hanging Christmas lights. There weren’t any jelly beans left, thank goodness, but there was a nice sugar-crusty gold dollar nestled inside it. Good things come to those that wait.

We won’t be hiding any eggs (real or man-made) this year, much to Luke the wonder dog’s disappointment. Instead we will have a nice decorous finger food brunch, with ham biscuits, asparagus, celery, carrots, tiny pea pods, Prosecco (of course) and a couple of slices of lemon cheesecake, sans the spiders, sans the lime Jell-O and Cool Whip. And we will feel sadly bereft because there will be no jelly beans, no melting chocolate and no childish fisticuffs.

Chris’s Cheesecake Deluxe
Serves 12

1 cup sifted flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/2 pounds cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400° F

Crust: combine flour, sugar and lemon rind. Cut in butter until crumbly. Add yolk and vanilla. Mix. Pat 1/3 of the dough over the bottom of a 9″ spring form pan, with the sides removed. Bake for 6 minutes or until golden. Cool. Butter the sides of the pan and attach to the bottom. Pat remaining dough around the sides to 2″ high.

Increase the oven temp to 475° F. Beat the cream cheese until it is fluffy. Add vanilla and lemon rind. Combine the sugar, flour and salt. Gradually blend into the cream cheese. Beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time, and then the cream. Beat well. Pour into the pan. Bake 8-10 minutes.

Reduce oven heat to 200° F. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until set. Turn off the heat. Allow the cake to remain in the oven with the door ajar for 30 minutes. Cool the cake on a rack, and then pop into the fridge to chill. This is the best Easter dessert ever.



“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
― Michael Pollan