FF_Artichokes for Streaking

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

Food Friday: Salad Days

Sunday is the first day of spring! Hooray! The weather forecast for Sunday isn’t too spring-y; there seems to be a chance for snow, but don’t let that stop your rites of spring. It’s time to put away your turtlenecks, pack up your wool sweaters, store the Pendleton blankets and walk away from the winter recipes. It’s time to think about salad.

I got a jump on spring last weekend and bought some lettuces for my minuscule container garden. I bought four Romaine plants and four Bibb plants, and have nestled them into a couple of planters and I have been assiduously overwatering them ever since. My plants always get more attention in their first week than they will in the whole of July, sadly. I have not gone all Prince Charles on them yet – they do not seem to need me out there murmuring encouragingly.

I wander out to check on their progress, hourly, it seems. I seem to need a lot of breaks. But at this stage, when everything is growing at the rate of a kudzu locomotive, it is an amusing diversion. The nasturtium seeds I planted two weeks ago have suddenly sprouted, and the morning glories emerged from the soil in just two days. I imagine that I will be giving the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum some real competition when it comes to nasturtium bowers this year. Mine will be humble, of course, since my staff is much smaller, as is my display space. And I am trying to focus on practical lettuce farming, anyway. http://www.gardnermuseum.org/gardens/courtyard/hanging_nasturtiums

While I will still have to patronize the grocery store and the farmers’ market, my little lettuce farm gives me a little frisson of radical independence. I am Laura Ingalls Wilder out on the prairie, making my way west; a rugged individual who can twist wheat into firewood, battle locust, win the spelling bee and serve up a salad of fresh tasty greens. When I take a pair of scissors outside to harvest some basil leaves I can comport myself as decorously as a Jane Austen heroine, with Mr. Knightley smiling benignly at my foolishness. I digress.

Lettuce can be the meal, or the bed upon which you, you madcap non-fictional character, can serve a more substantial ingredient or two. But you know what to pile on top of a salad. I like to rummage around the fridge and find leftovers. Tonight I’m serving up a little bit of steak from the other night. There isn’t enough to make a cheese steak sandwich, which would have been my first choice, though there is plenty to slice over some store-bought Romaine, with a slice or two left to give to Luke, the wonder dog.

And with summer fashions rapidly approaching like an oncoming mega-death meteor, I should consider the salad option more often. This salad vending machine concept would be a great item to have in my perfect imaginary world. I bet Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jane Austen would both approve, too. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-inconvenience-of-salad/382613/
Mr. Knightley and Almanzo would both have benefited from more greens in their diets. Back here on Planet Earth, I would say that you should get yourself to a nursery or a hardware store and stock up on some edible green plants since those vending machines will not be coming to our towns any time soon.

I will keep you posted on the progress our plants are making out on the balcony. Right now we have basil (which we used the other night with some yumsters Burrata cheese and fresh tomatoes), thyme, chives, two kinds of lettuce and nasturtiums by the boatload. We also have a couple of planters of purely decorative flowers: hot pink petunias, white dianthus, fuzzy Dusty Miller, some trailing variegated vinca major, and I have planted three seed packets of morning glories. I am still on the prowl for some lobelia. Isn’t it great to be outdoors?

“I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. I carried so many home I was hunchbacked for years. Philosophy, art history, politics, social science, the poem, the essay, the grandiose play, you name ’em, I ate ’em.”
– Ray Bradbury


Food Friday: Penne, Please

Can Food Friday remain relevant when experimenting with a recipe that is decades old, doesn’t contain kale, and is a wee bit twee? I was rooting around the internets earlier this week, ostensibly researching food ideas for this column. Though sometimes when I roam through food sites it just to mollify Mr. Friday, and the goal that is to prepare something tasty and nourishing, yes, and also somewhat interesting for our evening meal. His idea of bliss is not eating leftover chili for a week, silly rabbit. While we are never really close to the cutting edge of food fashion, sometimes we like to experience a little zeitgeist and stardust, and be au courant. Sometimes I am decades late.

Mondays are hard. After an eventful and exhaustively festive weekend here I did not want to reinvent the proverbial wheel, and I am always inclined to prepare the easiest and most comforting pasta meals on Mondays. I stumbled across this Penne alla Vodka dish, which is supposed to be one of Nigella Lawson’s all time most popular recipes, and yet I had never cooked it. Perhaps, finally, now would be a good time to indulge. And I imagine it could be just as deelish on a Friday or Saturday night when you are entertaining your dozens of stylish friends as it was on Monday.

When I first heard about pasta alla vodka I can remember thinking how decadent it was because it included vodka as one of its main ingredients. It wasn’t continental like Chicken Marsala or frivolous like Baba au Rhum. You must understand that I carry the weight and guilt and preoccupation with sin of several generations of stoically stern and hidebound New Englanders on my bowing shoulders. I doubt if Jo March had ever heard of vodka. (True confession: we have a bottle of vodka stashed in the freezer for emergencies. I can’t imagine what kind of emergency would actually require frozen vodka, but we will be prepared. Let me know if I can ever help you out.)

Penne Alla Vodka

(I halved this recipe – 2 pounds is too much of a muchness for 2 people.)

1 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons garlic-infused oil
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes or 3 cups finely chopped fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 pounds penne rigate
½ cup vodka
4 tablespoons butter
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1.Boil a large pot of salted water. Sauté onion, oil with a sprinkling of salt until soft and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juices, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Add cream, and remove from heat.

2.Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain it and return to cooking pot. Add vodka, butter and salt to taste. The air in the kitchen will be heady for a moment or two, as you remember your misspent youth. Add tomato mixture, and mix until pasta is coated.

This vodka sauce has gotten so popular over the years that you can buy jarred versions of it at the grocery store. My inner New England self frowns sternly at that notion, but the Monday me won’t narc you to your dinner guests. Although I think you will have fun putting it to the test, and actually cooking it yourself. And then you too will have a bottle of vodka in the freezer, and when Louisa May Alcott stops by for a chat you can make her a nice stiff Martini. I wonder if she would prefer a lemon twist to an olive?

As always, I would add a nice loaf of garlic bread, dripping with good butter and reeking and redolent with crushed garlic cloves, a nice tossed salad and a few glasses of plonk. Don’t forget to grate some fresh Parmesan cheese and light a few candles. It is still winter out there. Don’t let the early daffodils lull you into believing that spring is just around the corner. We have March lions sidling up, girding their leonine loins; waiting to catch us vulnerable, wearing shorts a couple of months early as we anxiously peer into the garden beds that get that little bit of extra sunshine every day, back by the garage, willing the crocuses up into pale violet blooms.


“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”
– Charles Dickens

Food Friday: Mrs. Patmore’s Time Travel Nachos

Lady Mary Crawley is ever so sylph-like and elegant. She looks as if she has never eaten a sandwich in her entire gloriously privileged Downton Abbey life. She appears to have wafted on from the inconvenience of Mr. Pamuk’s nocturnal death, through the reluctant courtship, growing love and untimely tragedy with young Matthew Crawley. She is now managing the fatstock sales of 1925 without capitulating to the siren song of the lowest common denominator: food. Or so you might think.

Lady Mary, leaving behind no more than a trace of her eau de cologne and the distant click of her ropes of pearls, has been glimpsed will-o-the-wisping through the servants’ hall on the rare nights of televised sport, when Mrs. Patmore prepares her renowned Time Travel Nachos. These are the nights when Mr. Carson takes off his white tie, and Mrs. Hughes loosens her stays, and Mr. Molesley lets down his dyed hair. Quick as a flash, Lady Mary samples the nachos, and then disappears back upstairs.

Mr. Barrow smiles knowingly, as he and Miss Baxter share a glass of beer, and put their hard-working feet up, enjoying the blend of hot cheeses, bean dip and the thrilling burn of the exotic jalapeño peppers. The times they are a changin’ at Downtown Abbey, and Mrs. Patmore is going to bring everyone’s taste buds screaming into the twentieth century. Just wait for their heads to explode when they get to the guacamole! So long, bubble and squeak!

Perhaps we should not share any of these recipes with Robert, (spoiler alert!) in case his ulcer blows again, but we common folk are rather fond of almost any dish that serves hot melty cheese, crispy crunchy corn chips with a slew of ingredients that could mirror the cast of characters at Downton for sheer variety and eccentricity.

The onlookers at a fatback auction are nothing compared to a hungry crowd that has gathered at your humble crofter’s cottage for the quaint American activity known as the Super Bowl. Lord Grantham, be forewarned. The game is afoot.

We here at the Spy test kitchens abhor soggy nachos, so we recommend making several cookie sheets worth of nachos for your Super Bowl activities. It means more time hovering in the kitchen, and maybe missing some of the commercials, but that is why YouTube was invented. This way, everyone will be sure of having nice hot, crisp and cheesy nachos. We bake ours at about 450° degrees for about 7 or 8 minutes. Don’t wander off!

Use a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil for an easy clean up. Daisy has enough to do already, and doesn’t need to play scullery maid to you rude Americans. This way you can keep a continuous conga line of nachos moving up from the Kitchens through to the Great Hall.

Hint: don’t overload the chips with toppings – you’ll avoid sogginess and it is so much easier to eat lightly dressed chips with your fingers. (Don’t forget to take off your evening gloves, first.)

Here are some toppings for your own Mrs. Patmore’s delicious game day nachos:

Corn chips:
Buy them, or be prepared to spend your day hunched over a frying pan.

shredded Cheddar
Monterey Jack
Colby cheese

pulled pork
shredded rotisserie chicken
crumbled Italian sausage
browned taco meat
grilled steak

avocado slices
chopped sweet or red onions
shredded lettuce (add after cooking)
refried beans
black beans
chopped tomatoes
sliced pitted black olives
diced green, red, and yellow sweet peppers
jalapeños (use fresh – don’t use icky pickled peppers)
fresh cilantro

To add after the nachos have come out of the oven:
shredded lettuce
sour cream

Mrs. Patmore also suggests strongly that Maryland’s Eastern Shore folks might enjoy this variation – crab and corn nachos.

8 ounces crabmeat
3/4 cup corn
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 teaspoon mustard

Spoon into tortilla scoops;
top with shredded Monterey Jack, then bake.

Mrs. Patmore knows her business!

(The Dowager Countess has already had a platter delivered to the Dower House; Violet is always planning ahead.)





Violet: “First electricity, now telephones. Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel.”


Food Friday: Hot Potatoes!

We have survived the first snowstorm of the season! Hurrah! And with the end of January approaching this weekend, it seems that we should be in the clear and maybe contemplating our spring wardrobes. Silly me, what was I thinking? It is still cold, and we still need good hot, peasant food to get us through the winter months.

The reality, I am afraid, is that February, although it is the shortest month and is packed with some festive and colorful events (Mardi Gras, the Super Bowl™, Valentine’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Chinese New Year, and Linus Pauling’s birthday), it tends to drag its icy, leaden feet inexorably from one long cold dark night to another.

Pollyanna note: Just the other day I noticed that the sun is setting a wee bit later every day, which is an important dog wrangling detail in my life. Luke the wonder dog and I head out for our last afternoon stroll around 5, so we can watch the sun set over the river. Luke never misses it. Now it is still light when we scamper down the stairs at about 5:10. In December we were used to switching on the lights before leaving at about 4:45. Hooray!

Every culture has delicious and hardy traditional potato dishes which ward away the gloom of the gelid polar evenings. The Brits enjoy bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, Cornish pasties, bubble and squeak, not to mention the exquisite chipped potato. The best British chips come from chippies – shops devoted to the fine art of deep frying chipped potatoes. I could wax poetical here about the sheer glory of a perfectly crisp, furnace-hot chip, dusted with salt, steaming in its paper nest, but I must not rhapsodize in the middle of a thoughtful piece of food journalism. Hot chips (and fries) are perfection. I actually sent some fries back at a restaurant the other night. Some people are wine snobs; give me an indifferent glass of plonk anytime, but be sure the fries are right out of the grease, please.

Baked potatoes are easily the workhorse potato dish that crosses all the international borders. Use Idaho, Yukon Gold, Russet potatoes, Red Ruby or even sweet potatoes for your meal. Some people fill double-baked potatoes with sauerkraut: http://www.all-creatures.org/recipes/potato-stuf-sauer.html
Calcium seekers fill their baked potatoes with blue cheese and chicken: http://www.iofbonehealth.org/recipes/blue-cheese-and-chicken-stuffed-baked-potatoes
The Potato Hut in Dubai will serve you baked potatoes stuffed with fajita, steak, tuna and mayo, BBQ, or veggie delight. They are also looking for fanchisees. I would suggest an English-speaking proofreader for their website, though. http://www.potatohut.com/order/

I don’t want to make any more runs to the grocery store on skittery, icy roads than I have to. Prudently, we have a pile of potatoes and a fridgeful of topping ingredients in case of snow, or ennui. Some evenings when Luke and I stumble back in the house we can barely think about dinner prep. We want to have a glass of that reviving plonk, and warm up under the down throw and return to Bill Bryson walking his way back to Little Dribbling. So here are some things to keep on hand, to minimize your travel time and to maximize your reading time: bacon, chives, sour cream, crème fraiche, smoked salmon, ranch dressing, fried onions, pulled pork, cole slaw, Burrata, prosciutto, crab salad, Cheddar cheese, and sprouts.

Also veggies: tomatoes, peppers, onions, avocados, and salsa! Leftovers! What a concept. Use up the leftover chili, taco meat, beef stew and chicken pot pie! Use it up! Make it do! (Thanks, BA for the fancy ideas: http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/slideshow/top-baked-potato)

A plain baked potato, topped with good butter and fresh pepper can be a divine way to warm up, so don’t stress if you don’t have all the trendy ingredients. If you want to get fancy, you can. Or you can just root around in the fridge for some ideas, while also checking your sell by dates. Keep it warm and nutritious, because that’s what baked potatoes are.

More ideas: http://www.theyummylife.com/baked_potato_bar

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder


Food Friday: Winter Storm Warnings!

We are about to be blizzardized! And as much as I famously avoid the kitchen in the summer, I am strangely drawn to its irresistible warming, and soothing, and aromatic ways in the winter. It becomes a pleasure to prepare life-sustaining foods: to bake and braise, to baste and broil. I welcome any excuse, such as the oncoming storm, to bustle into the kitchen and turn on the roaring oven. It is the one warm room in the house, companionably accessorized with comfy chairs, newspapers and magazines, seed catalogues, snacks and an air of survival techniques.

I can see quite clearly in my mind’s eye the vat of homemade soup I will have bubbling merrily on the hob, solace for the snowy days yet to come. In the meantime, let’s make a tiny adjustment for a reality check; a steaming bowl of Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup may have to suffice. Because that’s all that is in the cupboard, and they are calling for a lot of snow,
Our options for going out have dwindled. While the first hyped storm of the season is aiming a wide and snowy path at us, let us contemplate the humble roasted chicken.

Everyone has a favorite roasted chicken recipe, and I firmly believe that you can never have too many of them, either. Mothers, uncles, best friends, registered dieticians, financial advisors, pre-school teachers and neighbors all have variations on this supremely cheering and practical meal. It is popular because it is just so good. We have heard all too many times the self-righteous food blog mantra that one should roast a chicken on Sunday night, so as to have enough leftover chicken to prepare and plan for a week of meals in a thrifty and hyper-controlled fashion.



Bosh! I cannot think of a better meal than roasted chicken with rice. When the desert island folks come to ask me what I want to take with me, I will say a nice navy blue Aga (it never hurts to ask), a fridge full of chickens, and a bag of good rice. Then I will have to rely upon myself to finally write that book to keep me intellectually stimulated as I sit, solitary but never lonely, in my carefully fashioned palm frond hut every night, eating roasted chicken, quietly contemplative, and appreciating the sheen of the golden chicken fat on every grain of perfectly formed and fluffy Basmati rice. I will write odes that would make Mr. Keats weep with blissful epiphany.

I doubt if the desert island folks have me on any list, so this isn’t happening any time soon. Sadly for me and for the oft-neglected field of poetry that praises the beauty and deliciousness of roasted chicken: sestinas of the elation that is manifest in the crackle of crunchy, parchment-like skin; couplets illuminating the surge of warmth and the ecstasy of the warm steam rising from the humble roasted chicken. You can see that this is a subject that bears much study and research.

And as we praise the chicken, and it perfect compliment, the bed of rice, let us not neglect the roasted vegetable medley: many folks enjoy tucking into some healthy, piping hot, vegetables along with their chicken and rice. (I would have included them in my desert island list, but one doesn’t like to look greedy.) There is so much one can do in the winter to keep the kitchen warm and inviting.

And we should not overlook dessert. What could be a better way to end a perfect meal than with a bowl of warm, homemade chocolate pudding? I encourage this exercise, considering how many times I have walked Luke the wonder dog down to the river in the cold this week. He is wearing a fur coat, after all, and doesn’t realize how many layers I have piled on just so he can get all skittish and colt-like, scaring himself when the visiting gulls rise like a plume of shrieking, spinning harpies. I think I deserve a little warm pudding.


I should not complain, however. I am enjoying the novelty of bundling, and the layers, and the pink cheeks, and the warm meals I don’t mind the cooking in the winter. The kitchen is a cozy place these days. Enjoy any excuses you can find to hang around the reliable warmth of the kitchen oven. Soon, we too can virtuously re-purpose our chicken carcass into a pot filled with chicken soup. And Spring is just around the corner…

“Surely everyone is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a wintry fireside; candles at four o’clock, warm hearthrugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies to the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without.”
― Thomas de Quincey


Food Friday: Winter Comforts

After a balmy-verging-on-subtropical Christmas season, the temperatures have finally dropped. I didn’t feel much like fa-la-la-la-la-ing while cherry blossoms were popping out and daffodil were sending tremulous green fingerlings up through the soil in sunny corners of the neighbors’ gardens. The Chesapeake Bay is freezing in spots. Things are looking cold! And now that the frantic and festive holidays are behind us, we can cozy up on the sofa under a wool blanket with the latest Kate Atkinson, while we wait for the new X-Files to begin.

I have been thinking a lot about comfort food, in my own limited Nigella fashion. Warm and slow, aromatic and familiar. And easy – no recipes, please. The fact that there will be leftovers is always the key to my heart – meatloaf tonight means a meatloaf sandwich tomorrow. Chicken parm tonight equals a bowl of leftover spaghetti for lunch tomorrow. Quid pro quo. Deus ex machina. It really boils down to the fact that I would rather not hunt and gather too many original meals. Leftovers cunningly packaged up in the fridge will be a wondrous by-product of the redolent aroma of beef stew wafting around and through the kitchen dust motes this afternoon. A hot, savory bowl of beef stew tonight, and tomorrow as well. Life is grand!

Now that the warm weather has evaporated, it is time to dust off some old favorites. It had been such a long time since I last made beef stroganoff that I had to look up a recipe. I relied on our friends at Food52 for their Skillet Beef Stroganoff recipe, although I altered it just slightly. I don’t care for mushrooms, so we fried up a small pan’s worth for Mr. Friday to add to his plate. I also omitted the brandy – because all we had was bourbon, and I cannot imagine bourbon-infused egg noodles. I’ll put it to the shopping list for next time. https://food52.com/recipes/14024-skillet-beef-stroganoff

I laugh at the Epicurious suggestion that says their beef stroganoff is a dish that can (and should!) be prepared in front of company – watching me dredge small chunks of meat and browning them for the roar of peer approval seems a little farfetched. But if you come back later this afternoon I will be painting, and you are welcome to watch it dry… Still, the folks at Epicurious are wise in their kitchen ways and you might prefer this version. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/beef-stroganoff-102134 It includes lots of paprika, which is a colorful addition, and the crowd might enjoy your artistic flaying about the kitchen.

A household staple of our youth was meatloaf. We have two ways to make meatloaf in our house – my mother’s recipe, and Mr. Friday’s mother’s recipe. The basic difference is that my mother’s calls for chopped raw onion and crushed Saltine crackers. Irene’s uses onion soup mix, bread crumbs and catsup. You know that Erma Bombeck and Peg Bracken are smiling down at us, don’t you?

I am sure you have a couple of family recipes yourself, so dust them off, and have a warm nostalgic dinner. You’ll thank me when you pull your meatloaf sandwich out of its Baggie at lunch tomorrow. It will fling you back to your fifth grade lunch period self when Susan Fricker is bound to torture you. Add a cardboard carton of warm milk and a crusty pre-sectioned, room temperature orange to to complete your flashback. Here is a crib sheet in case you have forgotten something crucial: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/mom-s-meat-loaf

And here to jog your memory is some beef stew advice from Paula Deen: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/old-time-beef-stew-recipe.html

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell