Food Friday: Wrap it Up

We are watching the new container garden with the anxiety level of people in search of a new binge-worthy TV show. When Mr. Friday comes home at night we amble outside with glasses of cheap white wine, tossing the ball for Luke the wonder dog, and then we circle the newly rabbit-proof-fenced garden. The first blossoms on a tomato plants were duly noted on Wednesday, as were tiny nubbins emerging on the pepper plants. Right now the lettuces are scarcely large enough to interest the Borrowers. But still, we dream.

We dream about lettuce wraps, and salads. Deelish medleys of chopped and sautéed vegetables and tender meats wrapped in brilliant green lettuce leaves, grown in our own back yard. Or a bowl heaped with crisp fresh lettuce leaves, peppers and tomatoes, topped with sizzling slices of steak. It has been a very long winter, hasn’t it, that we are dreaming in these early, tentative days of springtime weather of the golden glories of summer harvests? The weeding hasn’t even begun and we are hurling ourselves into the future, with immodest projections of bumper crops. It will be the best vegetable garden ever, our eight foot by 4 foot allotment of expensive, perfect, bug-free, pesticide-free veggies.

In the meantime, we still need to eat, and must support our professional farmers. Poor Mr. Friday was victimized this week. He was my lab rat as I tested some of these recipes on him. One night he endured the BLTA chicken salad lettuce wrap, and the next he had a very similar tuna salad wrap. It wasn’t very scientific or methodical, but I thought I was getting two things done at once – dinner for us, and a few lunches stockpiled for me. But as I say, he is a patient man.

During the week we tried a variety of lettuce wraps, mostly because we were wildly bored with the usual winter fare. It’s April, so surely spring can’t be far off, don’t you think? I am unboxing my summer fantasies of flowy white dresses and dappled sunshine on the back lawn. I am denying the more distinct possibilities of hot humid weather, with a mosquito population that surpasses last year’s, and that is after I saw video of snow falling in Ohio. We may still have a way to go.

We are streaming “Lost in Space” now on Netflix. I loved it when I was little. So far the only food I have seen them eat has been a box of delightfully crunchy Oreos. That is one well-planned space mission. Perhaps they should consider adding the much vaunted BLTA Chicken Salad Lettuce Wrap: https://www.cookingclassy.com/blta-chicken-salad-lettuce-wraps/. There will be limited dishes to wash – my personal philosophy and perfect for busy space explorers.

I am also working my way through all 15 seasons of “ER”, and when I am not mimicking dire symptoms, I am conscious of the fact that we need to cut back on carbs and fats. I love a crispy taco shell, too, but low-cal lettuce wraps have next to no calories. One fried hard corn taco shell packs about 150 calories, and a lettuce leaf has only 5. Which, according to my art major math, means you have saved enough calories for another glass of wine. https://www.staysnatched.com/spicy-low-carb-steak-lettuce-wraps/ Lettuce is nothing but crunchy water, and it is virtuous.

This is the recipe that inspired this week’s Food Friday: https://shewearsmanyhats.com/chicken-cashew-lettuce-wraps/ I am a sucker for cashews. This dish gives me joy, and hides the fact that I still have not mastered using chopsticks. It is everything you want in a simple, fast meal, too, with lots of healthy color and texture and crunch. Not as delectable as Oreos, but you knew that.

We will be walking around the garden most evenings, talking about our dreamy dreams of glorious harvests and tasty tomatoes. And hoping the rabbits don’t get too many ideas.

“We will gladly send the management a jar of 
our wife’s green-tomato pickle from last summer’s crop — dark green, spicy, delicious, costlier than pearls when you consider the overhead.

—E. B. White

My musings about lettuce wraps did not include the real danger out there – E. coli. Please read this CNN report and be careful when you buy lettuce. Have a Happy Earth Day! https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/19/health/chopped-romaine-lettuce-ecoli-outbreak/index.html

Food Friday: Asparagus Time!

Forget about that forecast for snow tomorrow. Do not listen to those weather reports. Spring has sprung, and one of the first harbingers of the joyous season of renewal is the deliciousness that is asparagus. Maybe you are the hardy sort who plants it, or you are like the rest of us, and you are a loyal consumer. Either way, it’s time. Get out there and plant, or go out and buy a big, verdant bunch of super fresh asparagus.

Just to let you know what sort of household I live in – my children thought that pickles were green, leafy vegetables. It was difficult to get them to eat anything exotic (read: healthy) from the produce section. I have never been a big fan of stinky, cooked vegetables either, so they must come by it naturally. It wasn’t until I went to college that I finally ate a cooked pea. Mostly because there was no one in the dining hall who would accommodate my eating peccadillos. I drew the line at Brussels sprouts that were served there;talk about stinky!

I still don’t like vegetables that have been stewed beyond recognition. And I resist kale on principal. Aren’t we lucky there are so many ways to enjoy asparagus? Lightly roasted, gently steamed, broiled, wrapped with bacon, folded into pasta, trembling on the edge of ancestral china, lightly dusted with grated egg yolks, rolled in sesame seeds, on top of pizza, in a quiche …

Here is a duel between a Food52 recipe for asparagus and pasta, and one by Martha. I am inclined toward the Food52 version, just because I have all the ingredients, and don’t need to shovel the driveway to go to the store for mascarpone.

Creamy Asparagus, Lemon, and Walnut Pasta
Serves 2

7 ounces dried spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
1 pound asparagus spears
1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Zest of one lemon
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a strong boil. Season with salt, then add pasta. Cook according to package directions for “al dente.” Set aside about 1 cup cooking water, then drain pasta.

While water is coming to a boil, cut off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus. Cut the remainder into 1/3-inch rounds, leaving the tips intact. Heat olive oil and garlic in a large pan over medium heat for five minutes. Add asparagus, salt, pepper, and 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water. Cover pan and cook asparagus for 4 to 8 minutes, until tender to the bite. Turn off heat and discard garlic.

Once pasta is finished, purée 1/3 of the cooked asparagus and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water in a food processor, blender, or immersion blender until smooth. Try to avoid blending the asparagus tips, for aesthetic reasons.

Add puréed asparagus back to pan, along with sliced asparagus. Mix in cooked pasta, lemon zest, and more pasta water as needed to keep the sauce loose. Heat on low for a minute or two to allow pasta to absorb some of the sauce. Serve immediately, topped with chopped walnuts.

https://food52.com/recipes/28279-creamy-asparagus-lemon-and-walnut-pasta

Egg Noodles with Asparagus and Grated Egg Yolks
Serves 4 to 6

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, stems cut on the bias into 1/2-inch pieces, tips cut into 2-inch lengths
12 ounces wide egg noodles
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 3 tablespoons fresh juice
8 ounces mascarpone
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan (2 ounces)
4 hard-cooked egg yolks, grated on the large holes of a box grater

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook until crisp-tender and bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add pasta to water; cook according to package instructions until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta water. Return pasta to pot with asparagus. Stir in zest and juice and both cheeses; toss to coat. Add pasta water, little by little, to adjust consistency until creamy. Sprinkle with grated yolks and pepper; serve.

https://www.marthastewart.com/1515859/egg-noodles-asparagus-and-grated-egg-yolks

If you want to start planning for your asparagus future, you had best get to work on your asparagus bed. We aren’t going to try them this year in our new raised garden bed. We have a very humble 4 feet by 8 feet raised bed that we built last weekend. I feel like Mrs. Ingalls out on the prairie with our six tomato plants, 6 pepper plants, 2 basil plants, a dozen beans, and a whole row of nasturtiums. Everything will be edible and beautiful. The bunnies are sure to appreciate all our efforts, thank you, Mary Lou!

I just didn’t think that we would be vigilant and enthused enough to attempt asparagus on this first outing. The weeding alone would disqualify me. Asparagus plants do not tolerate weeds. So think about that as you start nibbling away on your own the sweet, tender asparagus spears you bought at the farmers’ market this weekend. https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/growing-asparagus/7343.html

“Asparagus, when picked, should be no thicker than a darning needle.”
Alice B. Toklas

Food Friday: In My Fantasy Garden

Are the Nor’easters through with us yet? Can we please go outside and dig? All my little seed packets exhort me to wait until the danger of frost has passed. It is practically April! I am ready to hang up the turtlenecks, and get out in the garden.

I have been waiting all winter for this – I admit it. I have been thumbing through seed catalogues and feverishly imagining my new and improved sunny, raised garden bed, fecund and lush and spilling over with cukes, beans, and sun-warmed tomatoes.

I have been thinking about all those tender, fresh, aromatic herbs that I will manage to coax along this year. I have pictured the modest bow I will take when I humbly present our salad greens at the Fourth of July picnic. Envisioning how I will please, delight, and amaze Mr. Friday when I whip out a fresh, homegrown shallot for the salad dressing. I am still considering how I will take revenge on the idiot neighbor who mows his lawn on Sunday mornings – zucchini is the perfect passive/aggressive payback.

So let’s get hopping! These tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cabbage, beans, lettuce, beets, carrots, and radishes will not plant, water or weed themselves!

It’s time for a little elbow grease action – which is much more healthier than hot yoga. But don’t get so enchanted by the beauteousness of the seed packets to take on more than you can chew. Buy a few easy veggies, and a couple of happy flowers. Marigolds or nasturtiums go well in both a vegetable garden, and in the salad bowl.

I have learned over the years with my sandy back yard, and my short attention span, that I am easily distracted and disappointed. Now I keep my exposure to a minimum. I am happiest (and most successful) with a little container garden. I have fresh herbs and I do a couple of tomato plants every year. Maybe if I remember to water every day they will have a real shot at making it to the table.

I had a successful little run with lettuce a couple of years ago. We had a few awfully fresh salads. I doubt if it was very cost effective to wrangle my own little Bibb lettuces, but it felt so good to wander outside with the kitchen shears, and judiciously snip a leaf here, another leaf there, and know the salad was good and fresh, and I was leaving modest carbon foot print. Obviously I neglect to factor in the air pollution generated from multiple trips to the garden center…

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

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

http://www.almanac.com/vegetable-garden-planning-for-beginners

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-make-vinaigrette-1415996135

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

Food Friday: Guinness is Good!

This weekend we will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in the time-honored tradition of consuming mass quantities of dark beer, none of that green stuff, please. But not to overdo or inebriate – but to add some flavor to our lives as we wait out the last few days of winter, and anticipate the glories of spring. We will have Guinness cocktails, Guinness burgers (or maybe Guinness Irish stew) and Guinness chocolate cake. Let’s give a toast to improving weather!

“May you have warm words on a cold evening,
A full moon on a dark night,
And the road downhill all the way to your door.”

Tonight we are breaking with our usual Friday night pizza routine, and we are going to make Guinness burgers. And lots of crispy hot chips. And we will pour a couple of pints of Guinness stout for the cocktail hour. Or we might even have a couple of Black Velvets, which a chatty waiter once told me were Catherine’s (Duchess of Cambridge) fave. Doubtful. But they are very delicious! Gourmet Guinness meatloaf on a bun!

Guinness Burgers
https://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/guinness-burgers.html

Black Velvet Cocktail
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Champagne or Prosecco
4 ounces (1/4 cup) chilled Guinness Extra Stout

Pour the Champagne into a flute or another tall glass.
Pour the Guinness on top
Consume. Repeat, as necessary.

If you would like a fancier cocktail, try some of these. I like the equal proportions for the Black Velvet, and then wondering whether I should have poured the Champagne, or the Guinness, into the glass first. It is a wonderful conundrum, and no one seems to agree.

https://www.thegooddrink.com/st-patricks-day-guinness-cocktail/

“Moderation is a fatal thing– nothing succeeds like excess.”
–Oscar Wilde

It is going to be cool enough this weekend that it might be wise to have a pot of stew bubbling away on the stove so you can get warmed through and through. May I suggest a seasonal Irish stew recipe? The addition of Guinness makes it warm and dark and comforting, enough to get you to spring next Tuesday.

Guinness Irish Stew
http://dadwhats4dinner.com/guinness-irish-stew/

I love a great dense chocolate Guinness cake. I will be baking one Friday afternoon. It should see us through the weekend and beyond. I prefer masses of cloud-like whipped cream to the cream cheese icing here, though

Chocolate Guinness Cake
Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
¾ cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking soda

FOR THE TOPPING:
1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
½ cup heavy cream

1 For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.
2 In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.
3 For the topping: Using a food processor or by hand, mix confectioners’ sugar to break up lumps. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add heavy cream, and mix until smooth and spreadable.
4 Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Ice top of cake only, so that it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1875-chocolate-guinness-cake


“St. Patrick’s Day is an enchanted time —a day to begin transforming winter’s dreams into summer’s magic.”

Food Friday: Potatoes à la Lyonnaise

Last weekend I was pleasantly surprised by a new potato recipe I stumbled over on the brilliant Food52 website. I know – what can’t be done to the potato, and what else could we possibly discover? Incroyable! These potatoes were the elegant accompaniment to the nice little filets mignons that Mr. Friday cooked on the grill – spring is coming! The daffodils are up. Never mind that snow – it is melting away as we sit and wait for balmier days.

https://food52.com/recipes/31663-potatoes-a-la-lyonnaise

This is a recipe that I am sure to add to our répertoire. It was multi-stepped, but I expect it will soon evolve into an intuitive recipe – much like mastering the Adobe InDesign program: simple, elegant, instinctive. And it seems easily adaptable. As always, I used what we had on hand, and we did not have sweet little petite potatoes. There were a couple of Russet potatoes lurking in the larder, which I peeled before parboiling. Then I sliced a large, sweet onion. (I try to get Vidalias when they are in season – I expect that I was using something from Peru, so there go all my carbon footprint credits.)

I love a cooking challenge that involves mass quantities of butter. I sautéed the onion slices in 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter, while I was achieving a nice crusty crispy surface on the potatoes with another 3 or 4 tablespoons of butter. I loved having two frying pans going at the same time – it made me feel like a sous chef who has been given a little more responsibility; and it reminded me of dueling banjoes, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and I remembered pushing two small children on swings at the same time…

I did not have a suitably posh French baking dish for the ten minutes the onions and potatoes spent together in the oven. It would have been nice to have a hideously expensive yet, oh, so élégant Staub enamel dish, but I found that the aluminum birthday sheet cake pan worked just as well. And as I was plating in the kitchen, Mr. Friday had no idea that his piping hot, piquant potatoes were cooked in such a pedestrian pan.

A good crispy potato is a culinary achievement. The perfect frite can bring tears of joie. I have been known to embarrass Mr. Friday by sending back soggy French fries – the ones which have been sitting limply under a heating lamp in the restaurant kitchen. I want potatoes that have been snatched out of the blazing hot fat and whisked over to my table tout de suite. The main dish is almost a secondary when the potatoes are transcendent.

And even better news? There were enough potatoes left over to heat up in a little skillet in the morning. It was the perfect Sunday breakfast: homemade biscuits, thick rashers of applewood smoked bacon, and recycled Potatoes Lyonaise. Délicieux.

“It is easy to think of potatoes, and fortunately for men who have not much money it is easy to think of them with a certain safety. Potatoes are one of the last things to disappear, in times of war, which is probably why they should not be forgotten in times of peace.”
― M.F.K. Fisher

Food Friday: Homemade Ravioli

It is just as well that spring appears to be coming early, because we have started to mess with the new pasta machine. You must remember that we have baked pizza almost every Friday night for at least 25 years, and consistently roll out (and devour) parabola-shaped pizza pies. Precision is not our métier or our skill set. So what were we thinking when we unboxed two Christmas presents,the new ravioli maker, and an electric meat smoker on a rainy Sunday? We really need to get outside more, and fast.

I can credit Mr. Friday for this adventure. Give the man a decent gas range and suddenly he has a yen for cooking. I applaud that impulse, I just wish it did not include machines with sharp moving parts, and multi-step productions that require more than the four hands available. Luke, the 70-pound ankle bracelet was willing as always to help us in any way, but he was transparently hoping for falling gifts and could not advise us, let alone assist.

We have only tried making homemade pasta twice since Christmas. The first time resulted in some very tasty(though frankly, irregularly-shaped) fettucine noodles. The second time we leapt out of the frying pan into the roiling ravioli water. We do not have a lot of experience with pasta and neither of us had Italian grandmothers who patiently turned out dozens of perfect tortellini for admiring crowds. We did read Strega Nona aloud to our children a few dozen times, but no spaghetti magic did she impart. We grew up in households where Wednesday night was indeed Prince Spaghetti night: the pasta was store-bought and in a box, although the sauce was homemade. Neither of us has ever taken a pasta making class at Sur la Table. I did work in an Italian restaurant once. It specialized in Chicago-style pan pizza, which does not give me any street cred.

We follow recipes. But not always to the letter. And sometimes we make substitutions, or take shortcuts, or feel we have gut instincts worth following. We are often foolish. Which could explain our history of parabola pizzas, sunken brownies, and overdone smoked briskets…

Bon Appétit knows their stuff: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/fresh-pasta-dough

And who would argue with Martha? https://www.marthastewart.com/972476/basic-pasta

Apparently we need to practice more, so it is a good thing we are heading into another weekend.

Back to Bon Appétit for the ravioli lesson. https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/primers/article/how-to-make-ravioli-guide

For building the ravioli we followed the instructions on the back of the ravioli maker, which drew me back to my Play-Doh days; lots of squeezing and molding. We had some sticking issues, but I think it was the combination of wet weather, and the experiment with 00 flour. It was super fine and prone to making itself adhere to all the surfaces we were using: countertop, rolling pin, ravioli mold, and even the pizza cutter,

For the filling Mr. Friday experimented and improvised. So you might want to go back to Bon Appétit or Martha for something predictable and orthodox. But ours was pretty yummy. I am guessing at exact measurements, so you might have to go with your own gut feelings.

4 ounces bulk Italian sausage
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon grated whole nutmeg

Mr. Friday frizzled up the sausage, over a medium heat, on the nifty new gas range, and then drained it on paper towels. Then he mixed the cooled meat with the beaten egg, cheese, basil and nutmeg. Then he filled the ravioli bottoms, and then applied the top sheet. He used a pizza cutter to cut the ravioli apart, and then refrigerated them until Monday night, because, multi-takers that we are, we still had to figure out if we had smoked the brisket for the proper amount of time. The new smoker was smoking away out in the back yard, where we had to occasionally run to protect it from the irregular rain showers. Lots of experimenting went on that day!

Monday night Mr. Friday waltzed in the door, poured two glasses of wine and started an easy peasy pasta sauce – and three cloves of garlic, lightly heated in olive oil until fragrant and then smothered with a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. I was assigned Parmesan cheese grating and topping up the wine glasses.

Mr. Friday popped the 12 ravioli into a boiling vat of water for about 4 minutes, and artfully plated them, and swhooshed a light lashing of aromatic sauce over the ravioli, dusted them with cheese and another sprig of fresh basil, and put them on the table. Where we fell on the plates like starving dogs, and gobbled the food all up. Deelish. Poor Luke. Gravity failed him this time. He did not appreciate the heel of bread, even though it was schmeared with the best Irish butter.

The next time you want to fill up a weekend, consider homemade ravioli. Personally, I am hoping it is going to be warmer this weekend, and we might have to occupy ourselves outside. Otherwise I might start thinking about perfecting my bread baking. My loaves have been likened to medicine balls and loads of bricks. Yummy!

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”
― Federico Fellini

Food Friday: Winter Root Vegetables

It has been a very odd winter. When I first planned this column I had imagined that we would still be digging cars out from snow drifts and warming our hands on big frothing mugs of tasty hot chocolate. Instead, we have taken off the wool sweaters, stashed the turtle necks, and opened up the windows to some delightful spring-like weather. And now I have to spend the weekend washing windows, because the short bit of winter we did have has covered them with a lot of schmutz and dust.

Part of my vision for this week was going to be a lively little rummage through our vegetable bins, pulling out all the winter-y root vegetables I could find for some quick and easy roasted vegetable dishes, or some lively stir fries. Instead, I think we need to pursue the more topical discussion: Gins and Tonic vs. Vodkas and Tonic. Who needs a hot toddy during this last week of February? Bring out the tall glasses, the limes, and lots of ice from the freezer, and let’s meet on the back porch for sunset cocktails!

Still, there is the pesky matter of dinner. We can’t let those cocktails go to our heads. We can still have crunchy salads, roasted veggies and a stir fry feast.

I love the way Bon Appétit has complete confidence in our mandoline slicing skills. And I just love these croutons – much healthier than my usual recipe which calls for frying the bread in bacon fat. This is just a beautiful salad, especially with the addition of jewel-like pomegranate seeds.

Crunchy Winter-Vegetable Salad

INGREDIENTS
Croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
½ garlic clove, finely grated
4 cups ½–¾-inch pieces country-style bread
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
Dressing and Assembly
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ garlic clove, grated
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for serving
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 head of Treviso or Chioggia radicchio, leaves coarsely torn
1 large head fennel, very thinly sliced
2 medium golden or red beets, very thinly sliced
8 small white turnips, trimmed, very thinly sliced
8 cups torn lettuce leaves (such as red oak or Little Gem)
½ cup pomegranate seeds

RECIPE PREPARATION
Croutons
•Preheat oven to 350°. Mix oil, butter, thyme, and garlic in a small bowl. Scatter bread on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle oil mixture over. Toss, squeezing oil mixture into bread; season with salt and pepper.
•Bake, tossing occasionally, until croutons are golden brown and crisp, 20–22 minutes. Let cool.
•Do Ahead: Croutons can be made up to 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
Dressing and Assembly
•Shake oil, vinegar, mustard, and garlic in a jar to combine. Add 2 tsp. tarragon; season dressing with salt and pepper.
•Toss radicchio, fennel, beets, turnips, and lettuce in a large bowl to combine. Drizzle dressing over and toss to coat; season with salt and pepper.
•Toss in croutons and pomegranate seeds and serve topped with more tarragon.

https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/crunchy-winter-vegetable-salad

For a heartier appetite – especially for those who have been compelled to do spring cleaning a month ahead of time – this is a substantial, hearty meal of roasted chunks o’root vegetables: https://news.christianacare.org/2017/11/roasted-root-vegetables/

And if you want to add some sizzle to your meal, our household god, Mark Bittman, has a tempting recipe for stir fry root vegetables: http://markbittman.com/root-vegetable-stir-fry/ Be careful with the box grater, though. I have a few raw knuckles from being too enthused about this dish.

It looks like the next week is going to continue to be warm during the day, and cooler at night. I hope I am not being premature in starting some of our seeds. In addition to washing windows this weekend we are finally going to built a raised garden bed. I started some seeds yesterday in peat containers: coleus, nasturtium, basil, lettuce and some pole beans. In a few months I will be looking for a lot of basil recipes – I found four seed packets for basil in my little stash…

Don’t forget to wear your sunscreen!

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
–Albert Einstein

Food Friday: Presidential Foods

President’s Day is giving some of us a nice three-day weekend. Another day to linger over the papers, to make breakfast and enjoy ruminating about having a little unusual leisure time. And if you have young ‘uns at home, you can have an educational moment and make some of George Washington’s favorite Hoe Cakes for breakfast. Isn’t it nice to know that he didn’t subsist on that mythical cherry pie?

Hoe Cakes were cooked like pancakes on the back of a garden hoe, or on a griddle. Use whatever you have at hand.

Ingredients
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups white cornmeal, divided
3 to 4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Melted butter for drizzling and serving
Honey or maple syrup for serving

Directions
Mix the yeast and 1 1/4 cups of the cornmeal in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the lukewarm water, stirring to combine thoroughly. Mix in 1/2 cup more of the water, if needed, to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200°F.

When ready to finish the hoecakes, begin by adding 1/2 to 1 cup of the remaining water to the batter. Stir in the salt and the egg, blending thoroughly.

Gradually add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of cornmeal, alternating with enough additional lukewarm water to make a mixture that is the consistency of waffle batter. Cover with a towel, and set aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat a griddle on medium-high heat, and lightly grease it with lard or vegetable shortening. Preparing 1 hoecake at a time, drop a scant 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle and cook on one side for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. With a spatula, turn the hoecake over and continue cooking another 4 to 5 minutes, until browned.

Place the hoecake on a platter, and set it in the oven to keep warm while making the rest of the batch. Drizzle each batch with melted butter.

Serve the hoecakes warm, drizzled with melted butter and honey or maple syrup.

http://www.mountvernon.org/inn/recipes/article/hoecakes/

As long as you are entertaining President Washington for breakfast, you should invite President Lincoln to come along, too, since one of his favorite foods was bacon. I can’t imagine a tastier companion to hoe cakes than a few sizzling rashers of bacon. http://mentalfloss.com/article/61607/5-abraham-lincolns-favorite-foods

We’ll ask President Jefferson to bring a covered dish of mac and cheese to the cookout we are going to have later this afternoon. He made macaroni and cheese a popular dish, but he also championed Champagne. http://mentalfloss.com/article/62565/5-foods-thomas-jefferson-introduced-or-made-popular-america Also coming with his own Crock Pot is President Obama, who is bringing his world famous chili. http://www.pbs.org/parents/kitchenexplorers/2013/02/21/president-obamas-chili-recipe/

President Franklin Roosevelt, who once served hot dogs to the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they toured the United States, has offered to be grill master. https://food52.com/recipes/12425-yum-dogs

President Theodore Roosevelt is ready to shuck a couple of bushels of oysters. President Van Buren is getting ready to help; he’s making a pile of ice chips. https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-shuck-oysters-2217269

President Lyndon Johnson is going to flip the steaks, since he had the first White House cookout and knows the ropes. They are a presidential favorite; also eager for a steak are Presidents Grant, Truman, Eisenhower and Reagan:https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/broiled-steaks-with-parmesan-sage-potatoes

Dessert is going to be easy. Ice cream for everyone. Thank you, President Washington who spent an extraordinary $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790 (http://www.idfa.org/news-views/media-kits/ice-cream/the-history-of-ice-cream/). President Jefferson built an ice house on the White House grounds to be sure he had easy access to ice cream all year long. We should also thank Dolley Madison, who was married to the fourth president. She had festive White House parties that featured elaborate ice creams. I don’t think TR is going to donate any oysters to her favorite Oyster Ice Cream, but he’ll be happy for a dish of vanilla. http://www.pbs.org/food/features/ice-cream-founding-fathers/

http://www.businessinsider.com/all-44-presidents-favorite-meals-2012-7

Many of the livelier American presidents have enjoyed their cocktails. Jefferson, Madison, Tyler, and Grant were all very fond of Champagne. Which seems like a suitable way to toast President’s Day. https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog/2017/02/20/drinking-with-the-presidents/

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
– Harry S. Truman

Food Friday: Getting Organized

Last year we moved into a one-story brick house that we helped to renovate and remodel. It is a tiny place, just right for the two of us, the 70-pound dog, several linear miles of books and the odd visitor or two. We are enjoying the newness of it. New bathrooms, new appliances, clean expanses of walls without anyone else’s children’s footprints or schmears of snot. I am still running around with touch up paint whenever we ding a wall. I still can’t remember where the light switch is in the powder room. I wipe down the range every night, because even boiling water splatters and is unsightly. And my children can’t believe that I am paring down and organizing and enjoying the novelty of tidiness.

We cook most nights, as you know. Mr. Friday takes over on the weekends and is the Grill Master during the summer. I test Spy dishes often during the week. We have a white china dish next to the range that holds the bare essentials for cooking: a bottle of fancy olive oil, a tiny blue bowl of Maldon salt, a pepper grinder, some matches and a couple of cloves of garlic. (We can’t agree where the garlic should live – Food52 says in the fridge, Mr. Friday says next to the range…)

We keep cooking utensils in a nearby drawer instead of in a container on the counter. We are trying to avoid countertop clutter. Except when we are both cooking though, when the place looks like an explosion in a shingle factory. I wash up as I go along. Mr. Friday abandons his spent utensils and sticky bowls in the sink, waiting for that magic kitchen fairy to come along. Or exasperated me, who might just need that tomato-crusted slotted spoon or the colander.

This week we have both gotten the cold that seems to be sweeping the country. Which is better than falling victim to the flu. I cannot complain too much, but since I do have the Food Friday podium, I will. Mr. Friday had big plans for cooking a pork roast last weekend. He hunted and gathered the ingredients, which were numerous and expensive, and then he started running a fever. And then he started coughing and sneezing. Well. Our Sunday dinner turned into a chicken noodle soup event, and I volunteered that I would cook the pork roast for Monday dinner.

On Monday morning I found I had been mistakenly led to believe that this was a slow cooker recipe. I even located the slow cooker at the bottom of the pantry, where it was propping up a bag of dog kibble. The ingredient list promised an irresistible aroma: 4 cloves of garlic, black pepper, ground cumin, dried oregano, ground coriander, lime juice, orange juice and white white vinegar.

Further steps had me scoring the fatty side of the pork shoulder, rubbing the spices into the grooves, marinating the meat in a plastic bag in the fridge, turning “occasionally” from eight hours to overnight. Eight hours? It was noon! And then there was the small matter of the half hour that the meat needed to rest, while coming up to room temp, and another two and a half hours in the oven. Not a word about an easy peasy slow cooker meal!

It was going to have to be Tuesday night’s meal now. And it was just as well, because Mr. Friday came home from work early Monday afternoon, and needed another evening of chicken soup, Saltines and warm flannel sheets.

After I read the recipe through again I started to gather up all the aromatics that would fill the house with Cuban-style cooking smells. There is a little corner lazy-Susan corner cabinet next to the range, where we keep the spices. The ones used most often (Slap Ya Mama, Lawry’s Seasoning Salt, kosher salt, basil, dried parsley and dried red pepper flakes, oregano) tend to be in large, Costco-sized containers and are easy to find amid the welter of tiny spice jars. The others that I needed were scattered chaotically and uncategorically on that shelf. Cinnamon was next to nutmeg which was adjacent to tarragon which was butting up against the green sprinkles.

In disgust, and because I am trying to be a better person this year, I pulled everything out of the cabinet, and lined up the jars and boxes and tubes in alphabetical order on the counter. I know, Martha would have had a minion with a top-of-her-line label maker organizing in a flash. I stuck with a black Sharpie and a silver Sharpie, and put the names on top of all the lids. And then I alphabetized. I hope. (I also tossed out a few that were well past their sell-by dates. I once found a 10-year old tin of Old Bay tucked away among my spices. Which I am sure would still be delicious…)

All the baking products went in one clear plastic container: baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, almond extract, peppermint extract, sprinkles, dragées and birthday candles, and cupcake papers…

And then I put the alphabetized and newly-labeled jars into three other clear plastic containers, starting on the left with Allspice, and winding my way down to Thyme and Tumeric on the right.

I hope Mr. Friday is ready for leftover pork roast tonight, because I have the cold now, and I am sticking to chicken soup.

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/241452/cuban-style-roast-pork/

You could go out and buy a matchy-matchy set of spice containers, but where would the fun be? Don’t you need a nice, calming, time-wasting exercise in organization that won’t cost you any money? It is very therapeutic. https://www.marthastewart.com/1502464/kitchen-storage-organization

“A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.”
– Ogden Nash

Food Friday: Game Plan

I love my job. I have had to spend hours and hours in the venerable Spy Test Kitchen working on and trying out various deelish snackum recipes to serve at a football event that is coming up this weekend. (The owners of this event are quite litigious, so it must remain nameless. But you know what I mean. New England. Philadelphia. The big one.)

As the football teams gather in Minneapolis, we will assemble ourselves in the living room. Mr. Friday will watch the game from the sofa, and I will curl up in an adjacent chair, binge-watching a few episodes of ER on my Kindle. (I love technology!)

Originally I thought that I would make Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwiches and New England lobster rolls as clear representations of the two teams. But both sandwiches require a lot of prep work, and really are more delicious in their native settings. And that is not mentioning how crucial good crispy hot French fries are. I do not have enough arms to juggle all three.

https://www.boston.com/culture/food/2018/01/30/history-of-new-england-lobster-roll-philly-cheesesteak

Instead, I propose these delicious nachos garnered from Food52, which is the spot for all your food questions. I added some taco meat to the batch I made batch earlier this week, but you might be entertaining some vegetarians, so this recipe is just perfect. https://food52.com/recipes/60524-salad-nachos

Two helpful take aways I got from this recipe were just mind-blowing! 1. Open your chip bags from the bottom! Then all the little broken mingey bits are the first out of the bag, and you can cover them easily with the unbroken, easily more delicious chips that float on top. 2. 500 degrees F. I usually bake our nachos at 350°, and the cheese melts slowly, and doesn’t get good and gooey. 500 degrees lightly scorches the edges of the chips and the refried beans, and I am transported back to the first Mexican food I ever enjoyed at Mama Vicky’s El Acapulco in South Norwalk, Connecticut.

Here is a list of possible toppings for your Game Plan:
taco meat
pulled pork
shredded chicken (think leftover rotisserie chicken!)
sliced grilled steak
diced sausage
leftover chili (I just found a bowl from Monday in the fridge!)
shrimp
crab
crumbled bacon
black beans
pinto beans
refried beans
sliced pitted black olives
shredded Cheddar cheese
shredded mozzarella cheese
shredded pepper jack cheese
shredded Muenster cheese
crumbled feta cheese
sour cream
chopped onions
caramelized onions
chopped jalapeños (fresh – not out of a jar!)
chopped green/red/yellow peppers
sautéed green/red/yellow peppers
chopped tomatoes
radish slices
chopped scallions
diced avocado
guacamole
shredded lettuce
fresh cilantro
roasted corn
zucchini (if you still have some left from your neighbor’s summer’s harvest)
salsa

From J. Kenji Lopez-Alt – the perfect cheese sauce: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/09/cheese-sauce-for-cheese-fries-and-nachos.html

Ostensibly, you can make a Philadelphia Cheesesteak batch of nachos: top the chips with sliced roast beef or steak, smother in Kenji’s sauce and carmelized onions. Yumsters.

Or, you can make some New England lobster nachos, which are fancier. I guess it depends on your crowd: chips, lobster tail meat (about 3 ounces), roasted corn, chopped tomato and shredded cheddar or Kenji’s deliciousness to even the playing field.

For the few of you who will ruin a party by not wanting to consume mass quantities of corn chips, we do offer a kale alternative: https://minimalistbaker.com/kale-chip-nachos-30-minutes/

“…So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”
― Nick Hornby