Food Friday: Enjoying the Heat?

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I can barely walk Luke the Wonder Dog in all this heat. We open the front door, only to be blasted backward with eyebrow-singeing heat waves. He has figured out how to walk in the shadows cast by buildings later in the afternoon, but the 11:30 walk is brutal. The sun is relentless and steadily broils the tops of our heads as we scurry around the clumps of blooming crepe myrtles, through a parking lot shimmering with heat, around the corner, through the sun-crisped weeds, trekking over the undulating brick sidewalk, and eventually pull ourselves back into the coolth of the house. The walk only lasts about 20 minutes. He lies panting on the chilly tile bathroom floor for half an hour, and I change out of my literal sweats. Again. Remind me in the dead of winter how much I enjoy summer, please.

Luckily, when I am barely strong enough to turn another page of my current mystery novel, I have a cool summer dinner strategy. I have a stash of farm-fresh vegetables, some good bread, with a couple of bottles of cheap white wine cooling merrily in the fridge. There are Popsicles in the freezer. I can check dinner off the Worry List – it can practically make itself. The trick is to acquire and actually use fresh vegetables. All too often I forget about the cucumber, and a week later I find a baggie of green goo in the bottom of the vegetable bin. It is a sad business when a cucumber oozes away.

Here is a list of summer vegetables and some staples I try to have on hand to relieve my heat prostration:

Eggplant
Onions (green, purple and Vidalia)
Green peppers
Red peppers
Jalepeno peppers
Habanero peppers
Tomatoes (heirloom, Roma, Campari, canned)
Zucchinis (this is summer after all, and folks will soon be piling these home-grown
beauties, anonymously, on your front porch, in the dead of the night!)
Basil, basil, basil
Cucumbers
Parsley
Cilantro
Lime juice
Watermelon
Radishes
Feta cheese
Mint leaves
Olive oil
Vinegar
Garlic
Bread
Sea salt
Capers
Anchovies (I’d rather not, thanks)
Serano ham
Manchego cheese
Bacon (because you can add bacon to just about anything and make something
wonderful)
Yogurt
Blender

And here are some lovely, cool and easy recipes. The Chez Panisse Ratatouille is listed in case you need to show off and don’t mind standing at the stove for a little while. We are having some business acquaintances over for dinner next week, so I think we will try to impress with that. But if it is too hot for me to abandon Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers with that nasty trip wire murder in Essex, I think the Little Observationist Gazpacho will fit the bill admirably. I might up the dessert ante a little bit, though, and slice some peaches over bowls of vanilla ice cream. Yumsters. I do love summer. Remind me again this winter…

We like this salad, but surprisingly, Mr. Friday (who is such a caper devotée) prefers it without the capers. You try it and let us know.
Panzanella Salad:
http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/bread-recipes/panzanella-tuscan-tomato-bread-salad/#LV39AbqTHAU2GTDo.97

If you have ever longed to live a charmed life in London you should visit this highly entertaining blog: http://www.littleobservationist.com/ Ex-pat Stephanie travels, takes excellent envy-inducing photos, wines, dines and gets to preview the Royal Chelsea Flower Show among her many London adventures. It is one of my favorite blogs. This is a recipe she shared this week when her husband prepared Jorge’s Refreshing Summer Gazpacho:
http://www.littleobservationist.com/2015/07/08/recipe-jorges-refreshing-summer-gazpacho/#more-9576

Our super cool friends at Food52 are always looking for new and quick and tasty. We love this Fresh Hot Salsa with some warm tortilla chips and some cold beer:
https://food52.com/recipes/13510-fresh-hot-salsa

It can’t get much easier or tastier than this Rachel Ray Tomato and Onion Salad:
http://www.rachaelray.com/recipes/tomato-pepper-and-onion-salad

The Smitten Kitchen even helps us combine dessert fruit with the main course, cutting down on the number of dishes to be washed and overall prep time, Chopped Vegetable, Watermelon and Feta Salad:
http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2008/07/chopped-vegetable-watermelon-and-feta-salad/

Slice and dice to impress with Chez Panisse Ratatouille:
http://www.cookooree.com/u/lizdunn/recipes/chez-panisse-ratatouille

“Summertime, oh, summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade-proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweetfern and the juniper forever and ever . . . the cottages with their innocent and tranquil design, their tiny docks with the flagpole and the American flag floating against the white clouds in the blue sky, the little paths over the roots of the trees leading from camp to camp. This was the American family at play, escaping the city heat.”
― E.B. White

Food Friday: Festive Fourth of July Feasts

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There are a couple of paths that national holiday foods take here in the United States: hidebound and family-centric, or casual and open-to-suggestion. On Thanksgiving we gather closely together inside the confines of a house to share a bounty of foods with our nearest and dearest – and every year everyone brings the exact same dishes (and baggage) to the table. Mom always brings the pearl onions. Ken always mashes the potatoes. Peter is loathe to let anyone else lovingly baste the turkey. We have assignments and mutual expectations for the annual ritual. Each year we tell the same stories, and most likely, engage in the same jawboning arguments. We get increasingly snappish with the each glass of wine. Turkey and tiffs, they go together.

The Fourth of July reliably brings back free and happy plein air-y summer memories of childhood. A general feeling of freedom and bonhomie presides over the Fourth of July. We rid ourselves of tyranny, so now, let the games begin! We’ll be eating outside, waving sparklers, cooling off with a hose and being impatient for the fireworks to begin. We play baseball and horseshoes or even croquet! We share a collective memory of sitting on a blanket, waiting for dusk to fall, trying to catch fire flies. The blanket is on the damp grass in a lumpy, bumpy field surrounded by small clusters of friends and family and strangers. There is always a baby who is startled by the unexpected noise, and then, hopefully, is charmed by the magical streaking lights in the sky. By the time the grand finale rolls along one hopes the baby is a fireworks convert. If not? There is always next year.

Unlike Thanksgiving there is no set-in-stone food item on the Independence Day menu. You can let your imagination run riotously through the grocery store aisles. Instead of staid turkey you can rustle up a veritable cornucopia of delights. You can have hamburgers, hot dogs, steak, fried chicken or brats. I daresay some folks will be grilling lamb chops, barbecued ribs or shish kabobs. And what about shrimp and paella? Opportunistic vegetarians can toss any number of veggies onto the barbie. Grilled corn! What a summer treat! Baked beans! Potato chips! Potato salad! Cucumber salad! Pickles! A clambake! Lobster! Crabs! The picnic table can be a veritable groaning board on the Fourth of July, and it is up to you to explore the possibilities! And best of all, there is no good china to wash, or silver to polish.

The New York Times has a mind-boggling array of Fourth of July food ideas: http://cooking.nytimes.com/topics/fourth-of-july-recipes

Our clever friends at Food52 also have a compendium of inspiration: https://food52.com/recipes/fourth-of-july

All of our grill masters have their own secret hamburger grilling practices, but we found advice from an unusual source: Popular Mechanics! http://www.popularmechanics.com/adventure/outdoors/g223/4279130/?slide=1

There are some among us who dote on deviled eggs, and the Fourth of July is the perfect time to whip up a batch or two: http://gardenandgun.com/blog/deviled-eggs-recipe

Here is an idea for sprucing up the corn on the cob ritual, grilling instead of boiling or steaming, and adding some lime juice and a dusting of cheese: http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/grilled-corn-cheese-lime-recipe
Or this way with ginger bacon butter! http://www.pbs.org/food/recipes/grilled-corn-ginger-bacon-butter/

Drinkwise, I think filling a galvanized tub filled with ice, glass bottles of Coke, a few beers, some Prosecco and a big fat watermelon is quite enough for a perfect Fourth. But you might want to try some of these festive Fourth of July-themed cocktails: http://www.eater.com/drinks/2015/7/1/8836235/bartenders-fourth-of-july

I am going to try my hand at this impressive Food52 American Flag Cake: https://food52.com/recipes/28811-american-flag-cake
All I ever usually manage is a vanilla sheet cake, slathered in whipped cream and artfully decorated with a square of blueberries and some wobbly, waving strawberry stripes. It is always delicious, it is a kid crowd pleaser, and it is easy peasy, which as you Gentle Readers know, is my kitchen mantra. Yumsters!

Have a happy and safe Independence Day!
From your friends in the Spy test kitchens!

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”
-Erma Bombeck

Food Friday: Easy Peasy, No-Bake Summertime Desserts

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One of my favorite, best-thumbed, dog-eared, crumb-y cookbooks is Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book. Partly because she is so funny, partly because of Hilary Knight’s charming illustrations, and partly because Peg Bracken is so right. It is stinking hot, and because we are middle class folks, we seem to think we need three meals a day to exist. Didn’t we just eat supper last night? Do we really have to cook again? Right now, I just hate to cook.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/books/19cookbook.html

I have been running out of ideas for supper. I could be very happy with a Popsicle or two for supper at this time of year, but then I am afraid the wine to Popsicle ratio would get out of whack and I would gain a reputation. Bread and cheese would be a clever alternative, with a sliced apple or a pear, but we are being warned away from wheat flour and unless we pick those apples ourselves on a certified organic farm, who knows what petrochemicals lurk beneath the skins?

Last night we made nachos for dinner, which was a pretty basic meal. The most labor-intensive action was browning the meat, followed by grating some sharp Cheddar cheese. Dicing the onions and jalapenos required little physical (or mental) effort. Opening the can of refried beans was a breeze. And then we sat at the kitchen counter, with two candles as our gesture toward romance. We couldn’t even stagger into the dining room it was so hot, and we were worn to a frazzle.

I hate some of the magazine recipes that sound so breezy and self-assured. Especially the ones that claim that you can make them with the ingredients already in your kitchen. I once went to a highly deceptive cooking class. It claimed to teach you how to make the perfect emergency recipe, if people stopped by around the cocktail hour. You could whip this up in a jiffy with the basic stores every decently-run household keeps on hand. To which I had to say, “Ha!” If my friends stop by at the cocktail hour, they know that their best shot at getting hors d’œuvres or an aperitif would be a handful of Planter’s Lightly Salted Peanuts or maybe some aging Doritos. (These friends who stop by at the cocktail hour would be well advised to bring along some chilled, cheap white wine.) I do not keep frozen shrimp in the fridge (unless it is bait). I have never bought fois gras. Chervil? Figs? Mascarpone? I do have a large jar of capers, though. And cornmeal. And olives. OK. I could do a 1950’s relish platter. I have pickles, olives, celery and carrots. But the celery is looking a little limp…

I found this recipe while trolling around, and it could almost be classified as one you could make with ingredients on hand. Ostensibly. Raspberries are in season. Heavy cream is easily hunted and gathered. Many households stock graham crackers, although my kindergarteners are out of college right now. And chocolate chips. If you have them, great. If not, I bet this would still be divine. It is almost like a berry shortcake, but without having to turn on the oven to bake the shortcake. And it would work with different fruits, too. Strawberries, blueberries, peaches, plums. Maybe not rhubarb. But I digress.

Here is the recipe the way I found it – then I will tell you how I changed it to fit us.

No-Bake Strawberry Icebox Cake
Serves 8 to 12
2 pounds fresh strawberries, washed
3 1/4 cups whipping cream, divided
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon rosewater (optional)
4 sleeves (about 19 ounces, or 24 to 28 whole crackers) graham crackers
2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

Take out a few of the best-looking strawberries and set them aside for the garnish. Hull the remainder of the strawberries and slice each berry into thin slices.

With a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer, whip 3 cups of cream until it just holds stiff peaks. Add the confectioners sugar, vanilla, and rosewater (if using) and whip to combine.

Spread a small spoonful of whipped cream on the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking pan, or a similarly sized platter. Lay down six graham crackers. Lightly cover the top of the graham crackers with more whipped cream, and then a single layer of strawberries. Repeat three times, until you have four layers of graham crackers. Spread the last of the whipped cream over the top and swirl it lightly with a spoon. Add a few more strawberries.

http://www.thekitchn.com/summer-recipe-nobake-strawberry-117900

No-Bake Berry Refrigerator Cake, à la Spy

1 16-ounce container of fresh raspberries (or blueberries, or a mixture)
1 pint heavy whipping cream (do NOT use Cool Whip)
1 tablespoon (if you must) Confectioner’s sugar
Graham crackers to fit (I used about a sleeve and a half)
2 ounces Ghiradelli 60% Cacao bittersweet chocolate chips
2 ounces butter
1 splash of Bourbon or Crown Royal (This is what we used to make ganache, and we still have no idea where the bottle came from. Nobody remembers buying it.)
1 brownie pan

Rinse the raspberries, carefully.
Whip the cream until stiff. Add the Confectioner’s sugar, if you want to. The berries and the graham crackers are sweet enough, in my opinion.

Lightly slather some whipped cream in the bottom of the pan. Line the pan with 1 layer of graham crackers. You will have to break them up a little bit to fit your pan. Add a layer of whipped cream; add a layer of raspberries.

Repeat: graham crackers, whipped cream, berries. I got to about 3 layers of graham crackers, but I have a deep brownie pan. Finish off with whipped cream and a presentable arrangement of berries.

Now melt the chocolate and the butter together in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring constantly, so the chocolate doesn’t scorch. Stir in the splash of Crown Royal, or not.

Dribble the chocolate ganache over the top of the heavenly mixture.

Pop in the fridge to cool. Then cover, and keep in the fridge for a few hours to let everything ooze and mingle and meld.
Serve. And eat deeply of summer.

“How sweet I roamed from field to field, and tasted all the summer’s pride.”
-William Blake

Food Friday: Going on Vacation Tomatoes

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(I am sneaking out of town, so this is a repeat of a Food Friday column from a couple of summers ago. Enjoy!)

As we mosey into summer, we need to conserve all of our energy, and we don’t want to heat up the whole house with a wayward oven, or sweat in an embarrassing and unnecessary fashion. We are too cool, after all. We require shade and comfy pillows and a good long book.

I was trapped in the grocery store the other day by an early summer thunderstorm. The rain fell in loud torrents onto the flat roof and it felt like I was inside a steel drum. Luckily I was meandering in the produce department – which is always a great source of inspiration – and I found an artful display of fat, healthy red tomatoes. Now I don’t live near Brooklyn, so the hip, green market vibe, with young artisanal entrepreneurs growing organic heirloom tomatoes in their back yard allotments, isn’t my current shopping style. Sigh. Mostly I see bland, cotton-y, grocery-store variety, hothouse tomatoes. I am so glad it is finally tomato season and I can visit the farmers’ market on the weekend and stock up on the good stuff!

Still, these were beautiful and intriguing. Just look at those jewel tones! I brought a few home to try out with one of my favorite Martha recipes. This is one to try, and then use in the dinner menu rotation during the warm summer months. You may be tired of it by October, but that’s OK, because by then you will be eager to have sauces simmering on the back of the Aga. Now there are too many nighttime walks to take with the dog while watching the moonrise over the river, or outdoor concerts, or going downtown to eat ice cream and window shop. Get out of the kitchen! Get out of the house!

http://www.marthastewart.com/904229/pasta-fresh-tomato-sauce

Sometimes in the summer we almost forget to eat, or are just too lazy to be creative. One of my favorite last minute meals (are there anything but last minute meals in my house?) is almost a snack. I do not suggest it for a first date. Wait until you know someone well enough to allow him/her to wipe the drip of olive oil from your chin. I take a baguette and cut it down the middle and broil the halves lightly. Once they have cooled I rub a clove of garlic over the toasted tops, generously wave the olive oil container, add tomato slices, layering them with basil from the back yard basil farm, and then I top it all with fresh mozzarella, or buratta, or feta cheese. Dizzle some more oil, pop them back under the broiler for a moment or two, and be sure the wine is nice and cold. A nice warm salad sandwich. And cold is fine, too.

Or you can chop up the tomatoes and make a bruschetta.

This next recipe requires that you boil a pot of water and cook some tortellini. And then you have to cut corn off a couple of cobs, but it is summer vacation now, and those young ‘uns need to make some memories. Send them outside to shuck some ears of corn on the back steps.

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/tortellini-and-tomato-salad-50400000113912/

Do you remember when this seemed like an exotic and unfamiliar meal? Yumsters! http://localfoods.about.com/od/salads/r/caprese.htm

Mark Bittman, who is my new household god, has mined the mother load here, with stunning graphics. Good bye, Martha! I can’t decide what we will have tonight – the B.L.T. Style Salad or the Stuffed Tomato. Such decisions!

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/08/07/magazine/mag-07eat-recipes.html?_r=0

Martha Rose Shulman is coming in as a close second household god. This sounds divine. But I am going to wait for a rainy day, when I won’t mind being in the kitchen while baking the focaccia.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/health/focaccia-with-tomatoes-and-rosemary-recipes-for-health.html

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

Food Friday: Picnic Season

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‘Tis the season to skip away from the hot stove and the high maintenance kitchen to dine al fresco, lolling on the grass, longing for someone to peel my grapes, or suggest that we pose for a modern take on Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. I will be wearing a crisp, freshly ironed white Laura Ashley dress, though, with a little sprigging, and my hair will be long and luxuriant. Monsieur Friday and I will have some fine chilled Chardonnay and a basketful of sandwiches. The stream will babble and the mosquitoes will buzz elsewhere.

http://daily-norm.com/2012/03/14/persistently-mysterious-indubitable-genius-manets-le-dejeuner-sur-lherbe/

And we take time to thank Mark Bittman for all of these wonderful ideas which will liven up what could have been the hackneyed and the unambitious luncheon items I thought of first: fried chicken (store bought), watermelon and carrot sticks. Instead, we will have PANZELLA – to which I added a sliced peach after reading his idea for a tomato and peach salad – yumsters.

I love Mark Bittman. Even though he is intent upon helping us eat better, he recognizes the vital importance of the humble potato chip in our lives: “ROAST BEEF AND BLUE Start with whole-grain rolls. Smear blue cheese on one side and prepared horseradish on the other. Add red onion and thin-sliced roast beef, pork or lamb. Pack! Lettuce and tomato on the side. Potato chips are mandatory.” Mandatory! The man is brilliant!

And what a simple and unusual idea he has for a dessert – cornbread cubes with blueberries! “Toss cornbread cubes with blueberries, lemon juice, olive oil and hazelnuts. Yes.” And I agree. The Tall One will quite like this, if I can wrestle the corn bread pan away from him.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/dining/02mlis.html?ref=dining

I printed this list of ideas for summer meals and have it on the kitchen counter so I will remember to vary our summer meals and make them a little more interesting. Be sure to keep cool this summer!

The Wall Street Journal has been a little less stodgy of late and had this divine recipe. It might be a little labor intensive for us kitchen shirkers, but it is nice to read, in a leisurely fashion, in the shade, with some nice cool lemonade:

Sarabeth’s Summer Chicken Salad
½ pound asparagus, steamed, cooled and cut diagonally into 2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups tricolor couscous, cooked, rinsed and at room temperature
1 large rotisserie chicken, cooked and sliced (or 6 lightly seasoned chicken cutlets, sautéed or grilled and sliced
1 pound mixed greens (romaine and Boston lettuces, mixed baby greens)
1 large seedless cucumber, peeled and sliced
3 medium seedless oranges, peeled and cut into segments
1 small jicama, peeled, sliced and cut into matchsticks
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
4 ounces sweet pea shoots
½ cup whole almonds, toasted
2 cups Tarragon-French Sheep Feta Dressing (recipe follows)
In a large salad bowl, lightly toss the greens, cucumber, orange segments and jicama. Add the couscous. Place the tomatoes on top. Add the pea shoots. Sprinkle on the almonds. Plate each serving and top with the asparagus and chicken slices. Serve with dressing drizzled on top, or on the side. Serves six.

Tarragon-French Sheep Feta Dressing
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
3/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 ounces French Sheep Feta or buttermilk blue cheese, crumbled

In a bowl, whisk together ingredients through salt and pepper. Add the cheese and whisk lightly, leaving small chunks of cheese visible. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Yield: 2 cups
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323372504578469502942132488.html?mod=lifestyle_newsreel

Food Friday’s Popular Potato Salad
This is a recipe that people actually ask for – and not just because they are my in-laws and trying hard to be polite! It that constantly evolves and adapts, and each summer brings a new twist. I don’t always have green onions – Vidalias work just fine. No red potatoes? Go for Russets. A little fresh thyme? Why not? It is dependable, tasty and can be adapted and stretched to feed the masses. Just add more potatoes, and more mayonnaise. Particularly fine for large picnic gatherings. Plus you can make it in the morning, and it is just right by suppertime.
Many, many servings…

• 2 pounds little new, red potatoes
• 1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise thinned with milk
• 1 bunch green onions, chopped
• Sea salt and pepper to taste
Boil the potatoes until tender. While warm (but not still steaming hot – I have melted my fingerprints slicing too early and my life of crime may start any minute now) slice potatoes and begin to layer them in a large bowl – 1 layer potatoes, then a handful of green onions and salt and pepper. Pour on some of the mayonnaise mixture. Repeat. Gently stir until all the potatoes are coated. You may need to add more mayonnaise mixture when you are ready to serve, as the potatoes absorb the mayo. Put on the table and stand back – the stampede might knock you down!

“’Never plan a picnic,’ Father said. ‘Plan a dinner, yes, or a house, or a budget, or an appointment with the dentist, but never, never plan a picnic.”
― Elizabeth Enright

Food Friday: Strawberry Season

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Strawberries are packed with vitamin C, potassium , dietary fiber, folate and antioxidants. Not only are strawberries delicious, they are good for you, obviously. But trust Wikipedia to suck all the joy out of something as delightful as a strawberry. A strawberry “ is not a botanical berry, but an aggregate accessory fruit”. While this information is not as quite as disturbing as looking behind the curtain and discovering that the Wizard of Oz is a merely a nice man from Kansas, it does not inspire felicity. Strawberries are exquisitely tasty, juicy, glistening, ruby-red globules of bliss which happen to healthy food. One doubts that there are many aggregate accessory fruitopians wandering out there.

These wonderful aggregate accessory fruits* abound right now, and so it is time to claim your rightful fill of them. The farm stands and green markets are groaning with the weight of so many strawberries! Hull a handful and sit on the front steps to watch the passing parade. Strawberries are the prelude to summer porch behavior.

Experiment this weekend. While it may be cliché, pop a couple of strawberries into a glass of Champagne. They will beautify that sparkling beverage. It is like algebra – you are squaring two kinds of perfection, resulting in a fizzy glass of X. Even if you are cheap like me and use Prosecco or Cava…

One day I would like to go to Wimbledon. Not for the tennis, mind you, but for the legendary strawberries and cream. The concept of strawberries and cream is genius; so simple, so pure, so divine. Sun-warmed berries are already perfection, but you can go ahead and gild those lilies, and lay on the whipped cream. Slather it on. Nirvana. http://www.babble.com/best-recipes/strawberries-and-cream-a-simple-summer-classic/

Now you can start tinkering. Take those strawberries and whipped cream, and add some sponge cake and meringues and voila – Eton Mess Trifle: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3090675/eton-mess-trifle

This is one of my favorite summertime dishes. Take the strawberries and whipped cream and add some simple shortcake: https://food52.com/recipes/17661-james-beard-s-strawberry-shortcakes Taste the sweet, smooth whipped cream, combined with the juicy berries and crumbly, salty shortcake. It is time travel for me. I am back in the kitchen in the house where I grew up. The room is warm because we have had the gas oven churning away, baking the shortcakes. But I can walk away, out to the cool shady front porch, and I can sit in one of the old wicker chairs, eat my shortcake and read a book. The perfect summer pastime: literature and fine food.

A few more ingredients are required for this Strawberry Crisp, but it is easy and sweet and you don’t have to turn on the oven – one of my adult requirements for perfect summer eating: http://www.pbs.org/food/fresh-tastes/strawberry-crisp/

Now some of you might be more ambitious than the rest of us. In which case I invite you to try Melissa Clark’s Double Strawberry Cheesecake recipe. You do have to turn the oven on for 30 minutes. Call me when it has cooled, and I’ll bring the Prosecco.
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016566-double-strawberry-cheesecake

And finally, our friends at Food52 have a great strawberry recipe that doesn’t require an oven, just a food processor and a freezer. No wonder it is one of their Community Picks. It is a fabulous combination: simplicity and blessed coolth for our crazy, overheated world.
https://food52.com/recipes/28429-sensational-strawberry-sorbet

Years ago my mother gave me a small metal strawberry huller, which has since disappeared. Actually, I don’t think I have seen it for twenty years – never once in this house. So, as the family disappointment, I stopped hulling strawberries and merely lopped off their leafy little heads with a paring knife. You have to sit through a commercial before you can see this helpful video, so I do apologize, but it really is one of those brilliant ideas you wish you could claim as your own – using a drinking straw to hull strawberries: http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/2014/05/26/how-to-hull-strawberries-with-a-straw

*“Technically, the strawberry is an aggregate accessory fruit, meaning that the fleshy part is derived not from the plant’s ovaries but from the receptacle that holds the ovaries.[4] Each apparent “seed” (achene) on the outside of the fruit is actually one of the ovaries of the flower, with a seed inside it.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strawberry

“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
― Sam Gamgee

Food Friday: Memorial Day Cookouts

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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: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/magazine/watermelon-burgers-with-cheese.html?_r=0

Fruit salads are easy to prepare ahead of time, and can be a side dish or a dessert:
Cuke & Watermelon Salad http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013208-cucumber-watermelon-salad

Bon Appétit fruit salad: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/fruit-salad-fennel-watercress-smoked-salt

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: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014865-grilled-garlic-bread-with-basil-and-parmesan

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: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/10/dining/a-minimalist-approach-to-cooking-on-vacation.html?_r=0

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: http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/article/grilling-best-burgers

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. http://www.pbs.org/national-memorial-day-concert/home/

Here are some small town Memorial Day photos to enjoy: http://www.ryot.org/check-vintage-photos-memorial-day-years/698369

“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!

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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

Ingredients
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!)

DIRECTIONS
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: https://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/18476/original-nestle-toll-house-chocolate-chip-cookies/

Here is a recipe for gooey, chewy chocolate chip cookies. http://hostthetoast.com/best-chewy-cafe-style-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: http://www.marthastewart.com/343950/thin-and-crisp-chocolate-chip-cookies

“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

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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: http://chestertownspy.org/2013/08/30/food-friday-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year/

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.

http://chestertownspy.org/2013/01/24/food-friday-weekend-chicken/

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.

http://chestertownspy.org/2013/06/14/food-friday-the-luxury-of-homemade-spaghetti-sauce/

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:
https://food52.com/recipes/mothers-day

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

Food Friday: A Mess of Frittatas

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. https://food52.com/blog/6663-how-to-make-any-frittata-in-5-steps
I think not. The basics have covered my bases. Now to look for something a little out of the ordinary: spaghetti. http://usa.fage.eu/recipe/frittata-alla-carbonara-fage-total?gclid=CjwKEAjwpYeqBRDOwq2DrLCB-UcSJAASIYLjXESVD206YvTAaYXh_cqjedZ4SJc8ShMk7b6W7V4qfRoCQSLw_wcB)

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: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rachael-ray/blt-frittata-recipe.html

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.

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/eggs-recipes/roasted-chilli-frittata/#BvrqYq0Gg75DAvEJ.97

https://food52.com/blog/6663-how-to-make-any-frittata-in-5-steps

http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/common-mistakes/article/frittata-common-mistakes

“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