Food Friday: Me Oh My! Pie!

One of my favorite movie scenes is when Andie McDowell is sitting in a cramped restaurant booth as she sings her pie song in the Nora Ephron movie Michael. This is a terrible copy: The character Dorothy is earnest and awkward and sweet – rather like one of my less-than-perfect pies.

The possibilities of pie are endless. And I do not mean just the numerical constant that is π: 3.14159… I do like baking a pie on March 14, π Day, but that is the end of my fascination with the number. I do not bake many pies a year, which is probably why I have never yet rolled out a round pie shell. Amoebas R us, even with our almost weekly home-baked pizza pie. Among the kitchen skills I would like to master: round, flaky pie crusts (and within that set, nicely plaited lattice tops for cherry pies); round, thin-crusted pizza pies, and bread that will not break a bone when it is dropped on my foot. You can have sweet pies, savory pies, cream pies, hand pies, fried pies, and humble pies.

With Thanksgiving coming next week there is pressure to bake something amazing – a Thanksgiving pie that will go down in family history, although, frankly, I don’t think anything is ever going to beat that Easter when the spider crawled out from under the freshly picked nasturtium on the lemon cheesecake. I have been looking at various pie recipes, and the beautiful versions that Food52 and the New York Times kitchens are sharing are quite intimidating. They can’t leave well enough alone, and have gentrified and gilded the lilies on all of the comforting pies from our childhood memories.

My mother baked a plain and servicable pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving, and it was very tasty, and we looked forward to it every year. It had a nicely crimped, evenly baked, homemade piecrust. I crimp awkwardly, and I have to remember to turn the pie around halfway through the baking process so the crust browns evenly.

Some years we had a lemon meringue pie, too. The lemon filling came straight from Jell-o or My-T-Fine, but the meringue was homemade and towering and diaphanous. Divine.

We used to know a couple who scorned ritual birthday cakes, and served pie instead. An apple pie for your birthday? You might as well rake leaves or fold laundry on your birthday, too, while wearing a hair shirt and practicing good posture. The pie couple has since divorced.

Our ritual birthday cake is a Boston Cream Pie. I am not being a hypocrite here – Boston Cream Pie is actually a cake. I bake a round, yellow cake, split it, slather one half with vanilla pudding, and pour a generous thick, gleaming coating of chocolate ganache over the reassembled cake. If I have tempered the chocolate correctly, it cools into a shiny, slick surface. Perfect for reflecting those myriad birthday candles.

It took a few years to master the art of the Boston Cream Pie. It was hit or miss for a while. There were the couple of times I was bent of heeding Martha who whispered tauntingly to me that the best way to slice the cake into two perfect halves was by using dental floss. She did not say to use plain dental floss. Our BCP had a faint hint of peppermint a couple of times, before I decided that the serrated bread knife did a masterful slicing job.

I can never remember my favorite ganache recipe and have to go look it up in a chocolate-speckled cookbook that opens to just one single recipe.It is really meant to cover an incredible flourless chocolate cake. I think I like the wicked requirement of bourbon, instead of the vanilla that the faint-hearted use.

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

Melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the brandy. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, smoothing with a spatula, and let it drip down the sides. (The ganache recipe is from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, which I cannot find digitized or linked to any place. But if you need a good flourless cake recipe, drop me a line!)

So bake what you love on Thanksgiving. And as you gather together, think of past Thanksgivings, and remember to sing:

Me oh my
Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry
all at once o well it’s pie
an’ wet bottom.
Come to your place everyday if you’ve got em’
Me o my
I love pie”
-Andie McDowell

Food Friday: Thank You, Dorcas Reilly!

In two short weeks Thanksgiving will be over – except for the best part with the Pilgrim sandwiches, and some leftover pumpkin pie, smuggled cold from the fridge and eaten hastily while standing at the pantry window, looking out over the swirl of black leaves in your childhood home’s back yard.

Thanksgiving can be fraught with peril: although the food remains basically the same, the group dynamics change annually; the rules and the dance partners are as varied and intricate as any Regency dance in a Jane Austen novel. There are always new partners, babies, newish children, a different kitchen, family recipes, new recipes, store-bought, homemade, football, gossip and hurt feelings.

I almost overlooked an obituary in the New York Times a few weeks ago. Dorcas Reilly died in New Jersey. She was 92. Reilly invented the almost ubiquitous Green Bean Casserole that appears on so many Thanksgiving dinner tables. Modestly, Reilly asserted she was just part of the team that developed the dish at Campbell’s Soup in Camden, New Jersey in 1955. They were looking for a tasty, economical side dish. It has just six ingredients, and it can be easily assembled by anyone. It became an institution; it was America at its most homogenous and bland. Campbell’s estimates that 20 million green bean casseroles will be prepared in the United States this Thanksgiving. Imagine being the person who was responsible for such an institution. Will you have a green bean casserole on your table?

Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole (originally called Green Bean Bake)

1 10 3/4-ounce can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
A dash of pepper
4 cups cut green beans
1-1/3 cups of French fried onions

Mix soup, milk, soy, pepper, beans and 2/3 cup onions in 1-1/2-quart casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until hot. Stir. Sprinkle with remaining onions. Bake five minutes. Serves six.

The genius was adding the crunchy French fried onions, which I could happily eat by the handful, out of the can, any day of the week. It is a Thanksgiving moment I relish!

But we live in different times, and as much as we would like to remember our childhood holidays, there are new memories to be made. So when you are helping in someone else’s kitchen this year, be aware of the minefield of kale salads and chestnut brioche stuffings. Bring some nice wine and offer to wash and dry the dishes. There is a new crop of home cooks ready to stretch their wings, and they are going to smoke turkeys in the Big Green Egg. And they have their own green bean casserole recipes.

Thank you, Dorcas Reilly, for so many memorable Thanksgivings.

This is a labor-intensive recipe, best brought to a potluck Thanksgiving, when you can boast about making the mushroom sauce from scratch. No sodium-riddled canned soup for you!

This must be prepared on-site, so be sure that there will be an available burner, or two:

This recipe can be made in advance, but it eliminates all the fun of the French fried onions, and it makes you make bread crumbs! Shocking!

This is a thrifty version, that is probably healthier, because it introduces another vegetable. But it, too, eliminates the French fried onions. Obviously not my first choice: You can make this in advance, though it will require about 15 minutes in the oven, to warm up before serving.

I like this, even though shallots are used. But I think this will appeal to the sensibilities of our gourmands-in-training hosts this year. I’ll just smuggle in a can of French fried onions to snack on while assisting in the food prep and the wine tasting.

Get organized! The Thanksgiving clock is ticking down!

“What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?”
Erma Bombeck

Food Friday: Halloween Leftovers

Skulking in my front hall is a large stainless steel bowl, brimming with evil intent and oodles of leftover Halloween candy. Being new to our neighborhood I didn’t know what to expect in the way of trick or treaters. I didn’t know if this was a street that the kids flocked to or shunned. So I bought a lot of Halloween candy. Just in case.

Our next door neighbors’ house seemed like it would be a real draw for the thrill seekers: there is an well-lighted, moving skeleton of a fire-breathing dragon, and another skeleton (human) that is either escaping from, or getting ready to leap down into, the chimney. Strings of purple and green lights flash along the roofline. Scary robotic cats line the front porch. There are dozens of foam gravestones, planted with precision in the middle of the lawn, and lighted ghosts and jack o’lanterns are lurking among the shrubberies. The kids will either hit this place like crazy, or will be deathly afraid of it.

Our current neighbors’ is a relatively restrained display of plastic-y Halloween zeal. We once lived down the block from people who went overboard on Halloween. One fabled year they built a corn maze in their front yard, and had a Freddy Krueger wannabee periodically rev up a real chain saw. There was a mysterious, silent figure holding s scythe. Our children, admittedly tiny and rational, refused to set foot on the property, even with the promise that there were full-size Snickers bars available to those who made it through the labyrinthian challenge.

I guess I can’t take it personally that our modest Halloween display was not alluring enough to draw crowds. We have half a dozen lighted pumpkins and a pair of black plastic flamingo skeletons poked into the urns with the Martha-approved rust-colored chrysanthemums. Maybe it was the tasteful hydrangea wreath with a chrysanthemum-coordinated rust-colored bow that sent them back into the night.

Two little girls braved knocking at our front door. They were a little taken aback when Luke the wonder dog barked with all the ferocity he normally reserves for the regular home invasions by the UPS guy. But when he was penned up in the kitchen, the girls took their fair share of Halloween treats, and not a goodie more. Which leaves me with this bowl brimming with quality candy.

I didn’t want us to be the bad neighbors who handed out raisins or popcorn balls. But I didn’t want to be the ones handing out the full-size Snickers, either. There has to be a happy medium between excess and handing out the wrong kind of candy. Did I want us to be known as the People Who Dole Out Dum Dum Lollipops at Halloween? Of course not. Sugarless gum? Hell, no. We had snack-size Reese’s peanut butter cups, glow-in-the-dark Twix bars (also snack-size), and the new-fangled dark chocolate (snack-size) Twix bars. Better than Tootsie rolls, but not as good as Bendicks Bitter Mints.

I doubt if our visiting princesses were super impressed by our candy. We had merely lived up to the neighborhood contract and had plenty o’candy ready for the invading hoarde of trick or treaters. Maybe next year we will get a few more. In the meantime, what to do with all that leftover chocolate?

The savory leftovers at Thanksgiving are one thing. Who doesn’t like sitting down with a nice turkey sandwich and a sliver of pie after all the pesky relatives have gone home? The idea of baking with leftover Halloween candy is mildly nauseating. I can’t face Hershey Kisses at the best of times, but to think of them as a massive decorative component is really quite beyond me. M&Ms and candy corn? I guess it depends on your sweet tooth. Here are some links to recipes that might just bail you out.

I am going to take the high road with our leftover candy, and donate it to folks who might appreciate it as much as the little princesses, if not more.

That way Luke the wonder dog and I might not have to take an extra-long walk this afternoon. It can be snack-sized.

‘Mr. Wonka: “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.”
Charlie Bucket: “What happened?”
Mr. Wonka: “He lived happily ever after.”’
― Roald Dahl

Food Friday: Festive Weekend

There is lots going on this weekend on the Eastern Shore waterfronts. Chestertown is preparing for the 18th Sultana’s Downrigging Weekend Tall Ship and Wooden Boat Festival. This four-day extravaganza boasts ships aplenty, tours, music, lectures, classic cars, fireworks and food.

Or if you are lucky enough to be in St. Michaels on Saturday, you can join the proud ranks of the oyster lovers at this year’s OysterFest. Come rain or shine, there will be oysters galore at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s annual OysterFest.

“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.”
-Jonathan Swift

In addition to oysters in St. Michaels, there will also be dogs, boats, beer, music, Miss Edna the cat, and the re-launch of the 1889 bugeye Edna E. Lockwood. You can get more information at the website, but here are the basic ticket prices: OysterFest admission is $5 for CBMM adult members, or $18 for non-member adults; $15 for seniors and students with ID; and $6 for children ages 6 to 17.

There is that old saying that oysters should only be eaten in months that contain the letter “R” – September through April. Now, because of oyster farms in cold waters and modern refrigeration, it’s safe to eat oysters raw anytime. Nowadays we don’t eat them in “R” months because oysters spawn during warmer weather and just don’t taste good. Oysters generally taste better in the late fall and early winter months because at this point of the oyster’s life cycle it is richer and plumper. And here we are, right next to the Chesapeake Bay; pretty lucky not to be in Iowa.

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
-Ernest Hemingway

Oyster Rules
Make sure they smell good.
Make sure they’re cold.
If you’ve never tried one, have your first one naked.
Slurp, then chew!
Don’t pour out the liquor – it is full of briny flavor.
Don’t put the shell back on the ice tray.

We think anything cooked with bacon is worth trying. Perhaps you should try fried oysters:

Chesapeake Oyster Loaf:

To encourage and whet your appetite: Oyster shell crafts!

Oyster shell chandelier:

Oyster shell salt and pepper cellars:

Oyster shell dish – where would we be without Martha?

Fun facts to know and tell about oysters:

“It should be opened at street temperature in a cool month, never iced, and plucked from its rough irregular shell at once, so that its black gills still vibrate and cringe with the shock of the air upon them. It should be swallowed, not too fast, and then its fine salt juices, more like the smell of rock pools at low tide than any other food in the world, should be drunk at one gulp from the shell. Then, of course, a bite or two of buttered brown bread must follow, better to stimulate the papilles…and then, of course, of course, a fine mouthful of a white wine.”
-M.F.K. Fisher

And a good, long read from Calvin Trillin:

Have a great weekend!

“‘O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter, You’ve had a pleasant run! Shall we be trotting home again?’ But answer came there none – And this was scarcely odd, because They’d eaten every one.”
-Lewis Carroll

Food Friday: Pick Some Winners

Here it is, mid-October and I am finally wearing a sweater. A very light sweater, I admit, but it has two long sleeves and I pulled it on over my head. I am ready for the great apple gathering.

You can never have too many apples. I love having a big bowl of apples on the table in the kitchen. It looks artful and smells wonderful. It is less expensive than cut flowers, and is right there, out in the open, when I wander helplessly into the kitchen looking for something to gnaw on. Obnoxiously, some people say that apples are nature’s dental floss; how prosaic and demeaning for the noble apple, which has been captured in language that is so much more romantic and transporting.

Read these names, and see if you don’t suddenly have a yen to wander into your own kitchen to rustle up a sweet snack:
Allen’s Everlasting apple
Ambrosia apple
Beautiful Arcade apple
Beauty of Bath apple
Bedfordshire Foundling apple
Bloody Ploughman apple
Brown Snout apple
Buckingham apple – Pale yellow flushed and mottled with red, and striped and blushed with
bright red. The surface is covered with white dots. Shape is oblate and somewhat
irregular with tough thick skin is tough and flesh juicy, yellow, crisp and sprightly
subacid. It has a small core and a short stalk.*
Catshead apple
Cheddar Cross apple
Coeur de Boeuf apple
D’Arcy Spice apple
Doctor Harvey apple
Duchess of Oldenburg apple
Esopus Spitzenburg apple – said to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite!*
Fallstaff apple
Foxwhelp apple
Frostbite apple
Goof apple
Horneburger Pancake apple
Kentish Fillbasket apple
King Cole apple
Michelin apple
Nonnetit Bastard apple
Northern Lights apple
Northern Spy apple – one of our personal faves (There is also a Prairie Spy apple)
Obelisk apple
Peasgood’s Nonsuch apple
Pixie Crunch apple
Scotch Dumpling apple
Sheepnose apple
Sir Isaac Newton’s Tree apple
Twenty Ounce apple
Westfield Seek-no-Further apple

Visit this link to see even more poetic apple names. You may be inspired to do a still life painting of apples, or you can surely find a name for the pub you have always wanted to open:*

I digress.

Right now is an excellent time to stock up on apples that store well, either in your coolish back hall, in the fridge, or in your basement; someplace cool and dark. Apples that are ripening now in October have the best chance of keeping well. Pick wisely. Red Delicious, Winesap, Rome, McIntosh, Golden Delicious. Sort through your apple haul, and choose medium-sized apples, checking for bruises or broken skin. Eat the large ones now and use the bruised apples for baking or applesauce. Some apples will keep for up to five months, but you should check often to see how the ripening process is – there is a reason for some of those old sayings, and you don’t want to discover that one bad apple three months from now. More helpful hints can be found here:

Some apples are better for applesauce: Cortland, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Rome. Some are better for pies: Granny Smith, Sun Crisp, Pink Lady. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so start practicing your pie crusts!

There are more uses for apples that snacks on the fly, applesauce or pie.
Our kitchen god, Mark Bittman, has a deelish recipe for Apple Crisp, with oatmeal and cranberries:

And here are some others:

And the best use of apples (and oh, so seasonal) is apple cider doughnuts. Yumsters!

“And then there is that day when all around,
all around you hear the dropping of the apples, one
by one, from the trees. At first it is one here and one there,
and then it is three and then it is four and then nine and
twenty, until the apples plummet like rain, fall like horse hoofs
in the soft, darkening grass, and you are the last apple on the
tree; and you wait for the wind to work you slowly free from
your hold upon the sky, and drop you down and down. Long
before you hit the grass you will have forgotten there ever
was a tree, or other apples, or a summer, or green grass below,
You will fall in darkness…”
― Ray Bradbury

Food Friday: Lotsa Baked Pasta

Last weekend, as we were relaxing after an accumulation of hurricane stress (little realizing we were about to gird our loins for Hurricane Michael), Mr. Friday decided that he wanted to do some cooking. In his charmed life, Mr. Friday likes to cook to relax, and he produces some marvelous meals. I, on the other hand, like to think I should bake to feel creative and release my inner Thomas Keller. My baked goods are consistently disappointing. The last time I tried baking bread the dough never rose, and we sadly viewed the final results as I tipped them, thuddingly, into the trash.

I try to follow the rules. Maybe it’s because I once heard Martha proclaim that baking isn’t an art, but a science. I have scales. I have fantastic measuring cups. I measure precisely. I try to avoid humid days for rolling out fragile doughs — never mind that it is almost always pouring down rain outside the baking tent on The Great British Bakeoff, and they can still bake the most diaphanous sponge cakes and towering tiers of meringues. I find a warm corner of the kitchen and cover the bowl of dough with a crisp, fresh linen tea towel, and yet the dough refuses to rise. My cakes tilt. My cookies spread. Brownies always work out, but they are rather forgiving and basic. Not soul-satisfying to create. There is no magical thinking required when you bake a warm pan of brownies.

Mr. Friday, however, reads an oft-tested and trusted recipe, and decides that he can make it better. And on Sunday he took on Food52. Damn him. He made their very attractive and tasty Baked Pasta with Sausage Ragù for Sunday night dinner. Mr. Friday also made enough ziti that he has bundled two neatly labeled Tupperware containers into the freezer for future dinners. For a night when I have been overcome by existential ennui about the state of the world. He had fun in the kitchen and relaxed and effortlessly prepared a few great meals. He is kind and thoughtful. The next time I bake I will drop the resulting leaden loaf of bread on his foot as a signal of my impotent rage.

Baked Pasta wit Sausage Ragù

The substitutions Mr. Friday made:
• He halved the recipe — there are just the two of us, although Luke the wonder dog would be oh, so grateful if we pulled up a chair for him, too.
• Instead of using 8 cups of chopped tomatoes, he used about 4 cups of leftover, homemade spaghetti sauce.
• Instead of 2 pounds of sausage, removed from its casings, he broke up about 6 meatballs and 6 sausage links from the leftover spaghetti sauce
• Instead of 1 cup of heavy cream, he used about 3/4 cup of half and half, because, you know, every calorie counts.

And there you go. I made some aromatic garlic bread — because you can’t possibly have any other kind — and ripped open a bag o’salad. We splurged on a nice bottle of Hess Cabernet Sauvignon, and nursed headaches on Monday morning.

But, feeling like we have money in the bank, we now have two more delicious batches of Food52-ish baked ziti in the freezer, so we can confidently sally forth and be fueled while picking up the branches that fell when Hurricane Michael zipped through our back yard. Listen to your inner cook, and bend some rules to your own devices.

Have a great weekend!

“When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s ‘The Thieving Magpie,’ which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.”
― Haruki Murakami

Food Friday: The Last Harvest

It is beginning to cool down, at night at least. The dogwoods look as if they are considering changing color as they rustle in the breeze. They’ve gone from dull green to slightly bronze-tinged this week. And our noble raised vegetable garden bed experiment has finally come to a seasonal end.

I looked out at the tangle of a garden that I have been avoiding assiduously for the past month, and realized that I needed to take pity on our neighbors, and take a machete to the jungle growth. It was a small 8 foot by eight foot garden bed, and we overloaded it with our ambitions and expectations.

It was a giddy day when we built the frame for the beans. We transplanted twelve seedlings in their precious little peat cups. The vines took off and grew like crazy, making us believe that Jack and the Giant would come tearing through the yard sometime this summer. We had a veritable curtain of bean vines. We picked exactly eleven individual beans. All summer. No Jack, no Giant, no golden goose. Just a lot of vines. There must be a reason for this.

After researching this problem, Google has a lot of answers for me.
I hesitate to think that we lacked pollinators, because the bee balm was abuzz all summer, and we had lots of visiting hummingbirds. So I am betting more on too much fertilizer, or too much heat. The garden got plenty of sun from eleven o’clock on, and the baking summer sun at that. Resolve: plant the seedlings earlier next year and actually analyze the soil.

We also over estimated the number of tomato plants that two people actually need. We started with a dozen small plants, but were clueless about how big they would get. It got Tokyo subway-crowded in that tiny little garden. There is science to be applied, and a lot of math, too, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Resolve: fewer plants in 2019

We also planted the basil farm, which is our favorite ingredient, this side of garlic. We had half a dozen basil plants, which were well-tended and yielded a hefty amount of basil through the spring and summer. The plants were all pretty leggy when I finally paid attention to things, but I managed to fill a gallon-sized Baggie with fragrant basil leaves to tide us over the long winter months. I am going to pop in another couple of plants until the first frost wipes us out. You can never have too much basil. Resolve: more basil in 2019.

The row of nasturtiums was shiny and bright with color for a few weeks. The plants did not self-sow, which was a disappointment to my lazy soul, because I never remembered to plant any more nasturtium seeds. And my neighbor had mentioned once that she just loved nasturtiums. Resolve: be a better neighbor, and plant more nasturtiums.

Our one triumph was the pepper collection. We planted half a dozen, and every week something edible was harvested. There was the one Sunday when I flitted down to the garden to get a pepper for the scrambled eggs. It’s funny how the jalapeno peppers looked exactly like the sweet peppers. Those were some eye-opening eggs! Resolve: better pepper labels in 2019.

The peppers in the illustration are the last harvest of 2018, unless I run out to the garden center and get some more basil plants this afternoon. I think I will. There won’t be a frost for ages! And this little bit of gardening should satisfy my primal urge to dig in the dirt, until the spring bulbs I’ve ordered arrive.

“It was a beautiful bright autumn day, with air like cider and a sky so blue you could drown in it.”
― Diana Gabaldon

Food Friday: What’s in Your Freezer?

Ahead of the hurricane I heeded to my own advice, and cleaned out the freezer. I didn’t want to come home to thawed and possibly rotting meat because of the inevitable power failure. We were lucky enough to return to some downed tree branches, a yard full of leaves, and full power. We were amazed by our good luck.

Which leads me to think I have been given a second chance at freezer organization. It is harvest time at the framers’ markets, and a perfect time to start to stockpile for the winter. As I poked around the internet for some freezer guidance I found all sorts of curious nuggets and ideas for what to keep on hand as a resourceful cook.

Mark Bittman is someone whose cooking advice I respect. If he thinks I should save egg whites, then I am going to start saving egg whites. He also believes in using Baggies as a reliable storage unit – providing that you make a note in bold Sharpie letters about the contents and the date you tossed said Baggie in the freezer. One Baggie of crushed tomatoes looks a lot like another Baggie of cubed tomatoes. And this week’s leftover taco meat looks suspiciously like August 7th’s leftover taco meat. It will save a lot of money, and trips to the grocery store, if I pay a little more attention to what leftovers we have already generated. (Apologies for the New York Times paywall:

In our fairly cavernous and nearly empty freezer at this exact minute – and I have trotted to the kitchen with a notebook in hand – are:

Ice cubes

1 box Outshine Fruit Bars (Strawberry, Lime, Raspberry), my dessert on weeknights

1 Baggie diced tomatoes 9/24 – half of a 15-ounce can

1 Baggie chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce 9/24- half of a small can

1 large Rubbermaid container of Mr. Friday’s homemade spaghetti sauce, with meatballs and sausage (pre-hurricane, but kept frozen in evacuation cooler)

1 package hot dog buns 9/23

1 package hamburger buns 9/23

24 frozen chocolate chip cookie dough balls 9/23 (375°F for 12 minutes) because the geniuses at Food52 suggested freezing half of the dough, instead of cramming every last cookie in our greedy little maws. So we had some nice hot and fresh cookies on Sunday, and in a week or two, when we get the hankering again, all we have to do is slide the dough balls out of the freezer and into the pre-heated oven. I told you they are geniuses!

And now it is time to get serious about what to stash in the freezer – it’s not just for leftovers and the occasional sweet treat. Get some freezer Baggies, and a Sharpie, and get ready to make informed decisions about taking charge of your freezer. And double bag so you avoid freezer burn. A lot of money can be wasted if you can’t eat your stash. Here are some scientific tips:

Make some soup stock, chicken, beef or vegan. Put it in manageable containers, and label with contents and date.

If you cook grains or beans, cook extra for the freezer, so you can whip out a serving of rice in a couple of weeks, without waiting half an hour to cook some for a quick pre-PTA chicken meal.

Freeze dough, bread and pasta. Well-wrapped and clearly labeled. If you bake a cake, or some bread, freeze half. The birthday party doesn’t need to ever end! Make pancakes ahead. Fill up some tortillas for easy breakfast burritos and lunches.

Tomatoes. Tomato sauce.

Bacon. I love bacon. You love bacon. Wouldn’t we eat it more if we didn’t have to cook it every single time? Imagine wandering into the kitchen, longing for a BLT. Oh, look! There is a Baggie o’bacon in the freezer. You can feel so virtuous on the Sunday morning when you cooked 12 slices, and froze 6. You, too, can be a genius.

Fresh herbs. I have a pesto farm in the back yard: basil by the bushel. I am going to freeze it all so I don’t have to resort to flavorless dried basil, or worse, basil that costs $2 per fresh sprig in winter and driven across the country from California. Nope. I am going to be self-reliant. I will also freeze some thyme, and resolve to grow more herbs next summer.

Fresh fruit. Heavens. I looked at blueberries in the freezer at the grocery store the other day – $7 for about a pound of fruit. Mr. Friday likes blueberries on his cereal in the morning. I am going to freeze some fresh, on a cookie sheet, and see how he likes them on the dark winter mornings.

Also coffee. I understand that persnickety people say frozen coffee beans aren’t as tasty, but I don’t drink coffee, so I’ll never know. And I doubt any of my gentle guests would dare comment.

I had to laugh when Mark Bittman suggested freezing leftover wine. How amusing. But if you are interested in adding flavor to the sauce, consider freezing some wine.

Some more scientific tips on what to freeze and what not to freeze:

Get thee to the farmers’ market this weekend, and join me in stocking the freezer with easy peasy ingredients and meals. Not that ridiculous wine idea, but perhaps a meatloaf or two.

“’If you are careful,’ Garp wrote, ‘if you use good ingredients, and you don’t take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day; what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.’”
― John Irving

Food Friday: Relishing the Sauces

As summer comes grinding to a halt this weekend, we hope for cooler days as the leaves fall, and the crisp air lures us back outside. We haven’t started to wear our aprés ski togs just yet, so we are still imposing on Mr. Friday to do the bulk of the weekend cooking, outside on the grill. He is such a good sport, that we tolerate, nay, we encourage, his experimental cooking. He has taken a page from Ron Swanson’s book lately, and everything is about meat. And if we can wrap bacon around it, it is even better.

Ron Swanson was the blustering, endearing, meat-loving character on the network television show Parks and Recreation. Mr. Friday has had a Ron Swanson-sized hankering for ribs lately, but hasn’t quite hit upon the ideal combination: rubbed, braised or smoked short ribs? Grilled baby back ribs? What kind of sauce? Vinegary barbecue sauce that is the regional favorite of North Carolina? Root beer based barbecue sauce? Kansas City? Smoky? Tomato-y? Sweet? Savory? Piquant? Red or white? Heavens to Betsy.

Luckily, these sauces can also be used on chicken, so you needn’t worry about your heart stoppage from a massive intake of cholesterol via chunks of beef and pork. You could probably be creative with these and tofu, but I can’t go there.

Instead – let’s try the startling and unusual!

Root Beer Barbecue Sauce
1 cup root beer
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon mild-flavored (light) molasses
1 teaspoon liquid smoke*
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Cool slightly. Transfer to bowl. Cover and refrigerate. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead; keep refrigerated.)

*We do this recipe minus the Liquid Smoke – Mr. Friday has high standards. And when he is feeling adventurous, he’ll switch out the root beer for Cheerwine. Sometimes we lead a very intrepid National Geographic-kind of life.

There is a variation for smoked ribs, too. Mr. Friday has a smoker that gets lots of use in the winter. I might just be able to position myself as the chief salad maker all winter long if he keeps up his experimenting with ribs.

That being understood, we are fond of Vivian Howard’s Blueberry BBQ Sauce. It is her rather unique take on the vinegar-based barbecue sauces of Eastern North Carolina. We like to think we have mastered this recipe, but sometimes we delude ourselves. But it is nice to have blueberries for dinner, and we can do this in the oven all year long. I like having a bit of summery Maine in January.

Mr. Friday is fond of beef short ribs. I prefer pork baby back ribs. But I also recognize which side my bread is buttered on, so I will scarf down whatever he has decided to prepare. And I can get by licking the sauce off my fingers, no matter what the meat turns out to be. I even like barbecue-flavor potato chips, so that will tell you how deeply fussy I am.

Smoky-Sweet BBQ Beef Short Ribs This recipe link has a helpful video, too.

Here is a recipe with the best of two worlds – using both a rub and barbecue sauce. It is versatile and you can use it on beef, chicken and pork. They suggest that the rub can even be used on sweet potatoes. Hmmm. Let me know how that goes.

And finally, for a real change of pace, a white barbecue sauce. Crazy!

Enjoy the Autumn Equinox. And let’s say goodbye to a long, wet, hot summer!

“Leslie, you need to understand that we are headed to the most special place on earth. When I’m done eating a Mulligan’s meal, for weeks afterwards there are flecks of meat in my mustache and I refuse to clean it because every now and then a piece of meat will fall into my mouth.”
-Ron Swanson

Food Friday: Hurricane Prep!

The Spy Test Kitchens are facing a new challenge this week – Hurricane Florence. We are getting ready for the storm, and are planning our emergency supplies in case we lose power, or worse. The kayak might be our only reliable transportation in a couple of days.

Still, we are smiling through the stress as we check off the many lists. We lived for twenty-something years in Florida, so this should be rote behavior. Forgive me if you have already made your plans, or if you have Dade County Code-approved hurricane impact windows, motorized rolling hurricane shutters, or are conveniently located atop a hill with a generator and a big deep freeze full of home-grown delights. We felt we fended off hurricanes for a few years because we bought a second cat carrier. Laughably, we no longer have the cat, or the carrier, thus putting ourselves in our current pickle!

We do have to be responsible for Luke the wonder dog, so I have made sure that we have a new bag of kibble, plus a traveling bed, bowl and a baggie of treats in case we decamp to a hotel. He will also have a couple of gallons of drinking water.

This should make my heart sing, not having to cook for a few days. But absence does make the heart grow fonder. I am sure that after a couple of days of apples and peanut butter sandwiches I will be longing for complicated and subtle bouillabaisse: or boeuf bourguignon: Until then, it is survival of the fittest. And Dinty Moore beef stew, straight from the can. Yumsters.

Here are things to stockpile because you never know when bad weather will keep you marooned at home:

Water, juice boxes, Gatorade
Apples – they stay fresh without refrigeration for a long time
Peanut butter – or almond butter – and jellies
Long-life milk, rice milk or soy milk in individual or family-sized boxes
Pasta and rice
Marinara sauce
Canned ravioli
Canned veggies
Canned tuna, salmon

Dare we say it? – Spam
Protein bars
Pudding cups
Trail mix
Low-sodium soups
Ramen noodles
Mac and cheese
Packets of sauces: mayonnaise, mustard, catsup, soy sauce

Store everything up on high shelves. In case of flooding.

Don’t forget to check your batteries. The Dollar store is a good place to stock up on candles.

Fill a cooler with ice. Make extra ice by filling gallon sized baggies with water and then freezing. It never hurts to have extra.

Before the storm comes, clear out your fridge. The smell of rotting meat is something that you will never forget.

Boil the eggs, cook the bacon, make hamburgers. Have a pre-hurricane feast.

Be careful!

“The first rule of hurricane coverage is that every broadcast must begin with palm trees bending in the wind.
Carl Hiaasen