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

PREPARATION
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. https://heygrillhey.com/smoked-dr-pepper-ribs-recipe/ 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. https://www.pannacooking.com/recipes/blueberry-bbq-chicken-vivian-howard/

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
https://www.chowhound.com/recipes/smoky-sweet-bbq-beef-short-ribs-30742 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. https://www.thespruceeats.com/kansas-city-rib-rub-recipe-335915 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! https://keviniscooking.com/alabama-white-sauce/

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: http://www.slowburningpassion.com/how-to-make-a-classic-french-bouillabaisse/ or boeuf bourguignon: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/boeuf-bourguignon-104754. 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
Bananas
Carrots
Broccoli
Organges
Grapefruit
Peanut butter – or almond butter – and jellies
Crackers
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 https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/tuna-white-bean-and-red-onion-salad

Dare we say it? – Spam
Jerky
Protein bars
Pudding cups
Trail mix
Cereal
Applesauce
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

Food Friday: Fall Is Coming to the Spy Test Kitchens

School is back in session. The nest has emptied. The sun is setting earlier. And it is rising later. I have seen a hint of bronze on the green dogwood leaves. The autumn clematis has swept over the mailbox in a wave of white blossoms. It is still summer, technically, but I think we can embrace the notion that fall might be around the corner. Certainly if the Halloween decorations at Target are any indication of the relentless advance of shameless commerce, so Christmas should happen along any day now.

I haven’t gotten my sweaters out yet. Nor have I turned off the A/C, so I might be able to persuade Mr. Friday to continue at his post as grill master on the back porch. But I am itching to get back to the interesting baking that I keep reading about.

There are some cream puffs from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook that I am longing to try. Instead, I whipped up a batch of mix brownies last weekend. They were a jot easier; I just ripped open a Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate Brownie box and added an egg, basically. I didn’t have the inclination to stand over a hot flame stirring up choux. But I bet the reaction when I finally do present the cream puffs will be worth the effort.
http://www.deliciouslynoted.com/2013/08/bouchon-bakery-cream-puffs/

I am waiting for the The Violet Bakery Cookbook to come in the mail. I tracked down a second-hand version that is being sent via media mail, which probably means it will arrive along about Thanksgiving, when by rule of law, I can only bake the traditional pumpkin and pecan pies, and I will be yearning to bake Harry and Meghan’s elderflower wedding cake instead. A slightly scaled down version, of course. Maybe even cupcakes. We’ll see. https://livforcake.com/lemon-elderflower-cake/

I have looked with yearning at a brand new, untested French bread pan I bought last year, when I felt sure that I was going to be a great bread baker. Instead, it has been tucked way back in one of the kitchen storage cabinets. Standing in the dark. The road to my personal hell is littered with lots of good intentions. http://markbittman.com/fast-french-bread-or-rolls/

I was once given a tour of the vaunted Condé Nast test kitchens, before they moved their offices downtown, and I was enchanted by the space. Acres of pots, pans, stovetops, ovens, and turkeys being roasted in August for the Bon Appétit Thanksgiving issue. I was positively giddy feeling the zeal and enthusiasm for food there.

Bon Appétit has put out a lot of videos of their cooks and food editors in their shiny new 1 World Trade Center kitchens. I tried out this fettuccine recipe earlier this week. It was a keeper – no more fettuccine dripping high calorie heavy cream for us. This was practically health food! It was a warm pasta meal that I could make on a work night, with stuff I had actually hunted and gathered a couple of weeks ago. https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-Lkry-SF01&hsimp=yhs-SF01&hspart=Lkry&p=bon+appetit+fettuccine#id=2&vid=20e632721b6be3fa4b03b81e4a748282&action=click

I love a recipe I can prepare with food items already stockpiled in the kitchen. The less time I spend at the grocery store is good: there are books to read, and paintings to paint and falling autumnal leaves to await. I can’t wait for the weather to cool down, so I can have my own Spy test kitchen moments.

“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.”
― J.K. Rowling

Food Friday: Farewell to Summer

Quick! This is it. It’s the last weekend of summer, and you have a lot to accomplish before you put your white shorts away for the season, and start looking through closets for your sweaters. (Frankly, I am excited to think about sweaters and tights and scarves – but I did live in Florida for an awfully long time and I still get a little giddy thinking about putting on layers of clothes.) I have even started to flip through the Bean catalogue, looking for the perfect black wool sweater, which has become my raison d’etre the last couple of falls. I want to be toasty warm (and stylish) when I am planting daffodil bulbs in November.

But as I anticipate the delights of the upcoming change of season, I am also thinking about the tasks I did not accomplish this summer: the books I didn’t read, the sunsets I missed, the European travel that we started to plan (but postponed until next year), the domestic travel we didn’t manage to shoehorn into our busy-with-work lives, the popcorn movies I didn’t see. It is going to be a busy weekend.

Labor Day Weekend To Do List:

1. Read Elana Ferrante quartet of books: starting with My Brilliant Friend, http://elenaferrante.com
I have only just started the first book. I will spend a couple of hours in the hammock with it before we pack the hammock off to the garage for the fall.

2. Have a crab feast. Whatever was I thinking all summer? You bring the beer.

3. Eat a soft serve ice cream cone. Outside. And let it melt and ooze down my arm, until it drips off my elbow.

4. Cook marshmallows over a campfire while counting fireflies. Is it too late for sparklers?

5. See at least one of the movies I missed this summer: “Eighth Grade”, “Bookclub”, “On Chesil Beach”, “Ocean’s 8”, “Won’t you be My Neighbor”, “The Spy Who Dumped Me”, “Crazy Rich Asians”. Better yet – find a drive-in movie theatre!

6. Run to New York City to see: “My Fair Lady”, “Aladdin”, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and then buzz up to Tanglewood to see the Wynton Marsalis Quintet. Sadly we have missed Shakespeare in the Park. We can pop over to D.C. to the Folger Library and sneak a peek at a first Folio: https://www.folger.edu/exhibitions/form-function-genius-of-the-book And the Scottish Play starts on September 4: https://www.folger.edu/events/shakespeares-macbeth

7. Have a lobster feast. You bring the beer.

8. Get the kayak out of the garage and put it in the water.

9. Get the hiking app AllTrails and go for a hike!

10. Go to an independent bookstore. Browse around. Chat up the bookstore cat. Buy a book.

11. Weed the tomato garden. For once this season.

12. Make a fresh strawberry pie. It is worth it for the crust alone!

FOR THE CRUST
10 ⅔ ounces/300 grams shortbread cookies (2 5.3-ounce packages)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup/55 grams unsalted butter, melted

FOR THE FILLING
2 ½ pounds/about 1 kilogram strawberries (about 8 to 10 cups), hulled
⅓ cup/67 grams granulated sugar
3 tablespoons strawberry preserves
¼ cup/30 grams cornstarch
Pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

FOR THE TOPPING
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)

Prepare crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine shortbread cookies, sugar, flour and salt and blend until you have fine crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a medium mixing bowl. Add butter and mix with a fork until crumbs are evenly moistened. Tip crumbs into a standard 9-inch pie plate and press them in an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Bake until golden brown and set, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Prepare filling: Cut each of the strawberries in quarters or eighths, if they are large. Transfer 2 cups berries to a small saucepan and crush completely with a potato masher. Set aside the remaining berries in a large bowl. Add the sugar, preserves, cornstarch, 1 tablespoon water and salt to the saucepan.

Bring strawberry mixture to a boil over medium heat and then cook it an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add strawberry mixture and lemon juice to the strawberries in the bowl and stir to combine. Transfer to the prepared crust and gently tap it down into an even layer. Transfer to the fridge to set for at least 4 hours.

Just before serving, whip cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, if using, to soft peaks. Top pie with whipped cream.

There is no going back to strawberry shortcake.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1019379-fresh-strawberry-pie

13. Make some quick pickles.
https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/quick-pickled-vegetables

14. Cook hot dogs on the grill. You know you haven’t done it all summer, and you really want to.

15. Play croquet.

16. Go to a baseball game.

17. You-pick-it: apples, blueberries, blackberries. Get in some training for pumpkin picking and corn mazes and zucchini dodging.

18. Turn on the sprinkler, and walk through it. Repeat. Delicious.

19. Stay up late. Sleep late. Take a nap.

“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.”
― John Keats

Food Friday: Radish Salad

I felt it for a fleeting moment this morning. There was a cool breeze wafting up the driveway. The chippering cardinals were quick to point this out to me. Perhaps it was a sign of sweaters to come. I realize I am deluding myself, as there will be 90 degree weather next week, but I enjoyed the brief respite, and the coolth, and the thought that the seasons are going to change.

In the meantime there is still tonight’s dinner to consider. I really must listen to myself one of these days and at least write out a list of what to prepare for the weekly meals, ahead of time. Instead I play Kitchen Roulette, and peer hopefully into the freezer compartment every morning. Luckily there are some frozen chicken cutlets, so we will have chicken schnitzel tonight. Otherwise, my default plan was going to serve leftover spaghetti, which is what we had for dinner last night, so I feel there would have been some rebellion among the troops. Fools. Leftover spaghetti is the perfect meal. I could eat it every night.

I will also devote some precious time tonight to the preparation of a tasty and colorful salad. I found a marvelous recipe for a radish salad in the New York Times last week which sounded seasonal and intriguing. I normally associate radishes with 1950s style relish dishes, where they are served all tarted up as little rosettes, nestled among sweet gherkin pickles, celery stalks and carrot sticks.

Or I remember the radishes of my youth, handed out to the children in small Pyrex bowls of ice water, out on the back porch where we had been culled from the adults, so our buoyancy and noise would fail to annoy. Ha. Like that worked. And last year I fell upon a recipe for radishes served with good, high fat content European butter with a sprinkling of Maldon salt. Deelish.

(This link won’t work unless you already subscribe to the NYT – but I have copied the recipe out for you below.)
https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018648-herb-and-radish-salad-with-feta-and-walnuts

Herb and Radish Salad With Feta and Walnuts

1 cup walnuts
2 bunches small radishes, trimmed (about 15 radishes)
3 Persian cucumbers, ends trimmed (I like the seedless English sort)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
3 ounces sheep’s milk feta cheese, crumbled (preferably French feta)
½ cup chives cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 bunch)
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and tender stems (about 1 bunch)
1 cup loosely packed dill fronds, stems removed (about 1 large bunch)
½ cup loosely packed mint leaves (about 1 small bunch)
2 sprigs tarragon, leaves stripped

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast for 10 to 12 minutes until lightly golden. Let cool, then chop roughly. Place in a sieve and shake away loose skin and crumbs. Set chopped nuts aside.

Use a sharp knife or mandoline to slice the radishes and cucumbers into thin coins roughly 1/8-inch thick. Place in a medium bowl. Add walnuts.

In a small glass or jar, whisk together lemon juice and olive oil to make the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Just before serving, season radishes, cucumbers and walnuts with a pinch of salt and dress lightly with 3 to 4 tablespoons of vinaigrette. Toss well to combine. Add crumbled cheese and toss gently to combine without breaking the cheese down too much. Arrange in a loose mound in a shallow serving bowl (or on a platter).

Place herbs in the mixing bowl, season with a pinch of salt, and dress very lightly with about 1 tablespoon vinaigrette. Toss to combine, then pile the herb salad atop the radishes and cucumbers. Serve immediately.

I plan on being fast and loose with my version of this recipe. My grocery store does not carry French feta, because I do not live in Manhattan or France. And I find that a little dill goes a long, long way. But it is the sort of recipe you can personalize. Maybe you will use pine nuts instead of walnuts. Maybe you have access to French feta, in which case I will bring my mandoline and will slice the radishes in your kitchen. I hope that you have some French wine you would like to share with me, too.

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

In any case, it is imperative to slice and dice and move this to the table quickly, though without leaving your fingerprints behind in the mandoline. Be careful! (Mr. Friday bought some new knives recently, and I sliced a good chunk off my left index finger while preparing croutons last week. Ouch!) Both cukes and radishes get rubbery and unappealing within seconds of introducing salt or salad dressing. Have your chicken schnitzel cooked and keeping toasty in the oven while you prepare this delightful and tangy salad. The radish salad will remind you of summers past, and the cool of the autumn that is just around the corner. I hope.

Enjoy!

https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/chicken-schnitzel

“Our vegetable garden is coming along well, with radishes and beans up, and we are less worried about revolution that we used to be.”
E. B. White

Food Friday: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

It’s time for all the kiddos to go back to school. Everyone gets back into the comforting routine of an academic year, and the frightening reality of daily lunch obligations and responsibilities. Lunch is my favorite meal to have in a restaurant; I love a good turkey sandwich and please can I have some crispy, hot French fries? But that is my fantasy life – the one where I also live in a cozy little pied-à-terre in London, and get invited to paint watercolors with Prince Charles a couple of times a year. But I digress. Lunch.

Lunch can be a wonderful treat, or the slough of despair. You can take all sorts of time and imagination stuffing little bento boxes with cleverly crafted Where the Wild Things Are broccoli-based creatures, or you can assemble lunches using the items from Columns A through F. These are practical, nutritious and will make you life easier. Because then you can spend more time reading with your own Wild Things, and less time in the kitchen. Print this list and keep it handy whenever you troll the grocery store.

This is the time-honored Spy Test Kitchens Back to School Sandwich Ingredients List. Enjoy!

It is just as timely today:

Column A
Let’s start with bread:
Ciabatta bread
Rye bread
Whole grain breads
Hard rolls
Portuguese rolls
French baguette
Italian bread
Brioche
Flour tortillas
Croissants
Bagels
Challah bread
Crostini
Cornbread
Naan bread
Focaccia bread
Pita bread
(If storing overnight, top bread with lettuce first, then the spreads, to keep sandwich from getting soggy.)

Column B
Next, the spread:
Mayo
Sriracha
Ketchup
Dijon mustard
Honey mustard
Italian dressing
Russian dressing
Cranberry sauce
Pesto sauce
Hummus
Tapenade
Sour cream
Mango chutney
Butter
Hot sauce
Salsa

Column C
Cheeses:
Swiss cheese
American cheese
Mozzarella
Blue cheese
Cream cheese
Havarti cheese
Ricotta cheese
Cheddar cheese
Provolone cheese
Brie cheese
Cottage cheese
Goat cheese

Column D
The main ingredient:
Meatloaf
Turkey
Chicken
Corned beef
Bacon
Crumbled hard boiled eggs
Scrambled eggs
Corned beef
Salami
Italian sausage
Ham
Roast beef
Egg salad
Tuna salad
Ham salad
Crab salad
Chicken salad
Turkey salad
Lobster salad
Tofu

Column E
The decorative (and tasty) elements:
Tomatoes
Lettuce
Basil
Onion
Avocado
Cucumber
Cilantro
Shredded carrots
Jalapenos
Cole slaw
Sliced apples
Sliced red peppers
Arugula
Sprouts
Radicchio
Watercress
Sliced pears
Apricots
Pickles
Spinach
Artichoke hearts
Grapes
Strawberries
Figs

Column F
Finger foods:
Cherries
Carrots
Strawberries
Green Beans
Broccoli
Celery
Edemame
Granola
Rice cakes
Apples
Bananas
Oranges
Melon balls
Raisins
Broccoli

Be sure to check with your school about peanut policies.

Nobody will ever complain about lunch again if you can remember to jazz it up a little. My son, who lived for at least an entire year on (requested) white bread, bologna and yellow mustard sandwiches, is now a strapping 6 feet 4 inches tall. Imagine how far into the clouds he would stretch if we had thought to make him fig, goat cheese and caramelized onion sandwiches.

From the people who have time to recreate literary masterpieces: https://www.chron.com/living/article/TK-amazing-lunch-box-ideas-for-back-to-school-11947764.php#photo-10833935

And don’t forget dessert!

“A party without cake is just a meeting”
― Julia Child

Food Friday: Easy Peasy Pasta

(Mr. Friday has whisked me away on vacation this week, so I have reached into the Spy Way Back Machine for a suitable column for your edification and enjoyment. Happy August!)

Here we are smack in the middle of a blazingly hot summer. I am still trying to keep my distance from the stove. But sometimes, even I realize that we cannot live on watermelon alone. Sometimes we need to feed the pasta craving. And for that, we need to boil water.

Last weekend we found a way to enjoy wonderfully gooey gobbets of melty mozzarella without compromising my seasonal standards. We did not dine on a wintery lasagne, which delivers molten strings of ropey cheese in a very satisfying fashion – albeit after much time is spent cooking in the oven. Instead we tossed hot fusilli into a large bowl over the nest of fresh burrata. Then we added a few fistfuls of fresh-from-the-back-porch basil and another of mint, with a smattering of crunchy pine nuts and a satisfying jolt of garlic, and topped it with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Wowser. Fantastic. This has been added to our summer repertoire.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/14/dining/pasta-herbs-and-plenty-of-melting-mozzarella.html?_r=0

There are so many tomatoes tumbling off their vines right now. We have a small bowl on the kitchen counter, spilling over with the daily harvest from our own modest tomato farm. Since you are a better gardener, you must have truckloads of the ruby red fruit ! And look at the wonderfully arranged pyramids and cardboard containers of tomatoes at the farmers’ market. Outstanding. You will have to remember these glorious days of summer when winter comes, when all that will be available to us in the grocery store will be weak, watery, hot house tomatoes.

I read a story this week about the musician Gillian Welch. She compared vinyl recordings of music to digital recordings as being like, “fresh basil and dried basil.” Suddenly, I understood her perfectly. Fresh basil for me, please. https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-vinyls-boom-is-over-1500721202

In the summer we are devoted to three ingredients: tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic. Vampires shun us. This recipe involves a little more time spent standing and stirring at the stove, but it is worth the effort. And why else did I buy a comfort mat to put on the floor in front of the stove? So I could whine as we sit down to a wonderful dinner that took a few minutes of my time. Sheesh. It’s not like I was kneading bread for hours. Or piping dozens of perfect macarons.

https://food52.com/blog/11127-michael-ruhlman-s-pasta-with-tomato-water-basil-and-garlic

There is a recipes from Martha that has been in our summer rep for years: http://www.marthastewart.com/904229/pasta-fresh-tomato-sauce I cook the pasta in the morning before the world heats up, and add the rest of the ingredients, and then let them all stew together all day long. By dinner time it is a magnificent melange of richness, redolent of garlic, which, to quote Martha, “Is a good thing.” Add some bread and butter, a small green salad and lots of cool cheap white wine. Winter is coming.

“You know, when you get your first asparagus, or your first acorn squash, or your first really good tomato of the season, those are the moments that define the cook’s year. I get more excited by that than anything else.”
-Mario Batali

Food Friday: What’s on Your Grill?

How is your summer going? Are you working on your tan, or bailing water? Honestly, it has been the summer of the rolling thunder review with all of this rain. Have you had any quality time with your grill? It is still plenty hot, so I hope the rain lets up soon, so we can be standing around the grill, wearing white, twirling kebabs, and swilling chilled rosé.

Beef prices are up, but so is everything else. We are planning on grilling chicken this weekend, eating economically and eating “more better”, to quote Dan Pashman from The Sporkful podcast.

We didn’t feel as if we were scrimping when we whipped up these kababs last weekend: skewered chicken, Vidalia onions and red, green and yellow peppers, served with grilled ears of corn, a nice green salad and a homemade refrigerator cake. (And as always, there are always Popsicles in our freezer – so feel free to stop on by.)

Mr. Friday’s favorite chicken strategy is to allow the chicken to marinate in one of his concoctions for about an hour. First he chunked the boneless chicken breasts (bought on sale) and let the large cubes steep in a bowl of white Worchestershire sauce, with a handful of capers, some good quality olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. And then he threaded the ingredients onto metal skewers. Then he wrapped shucked corn in aluminum foil, with a big pat of butter. He tossed skewers and the ears of corn onto the grill, drank a beer, threw the ball for the dog and then walked inside to sit down to eat. In the interim, I managed to boil up a pot of rice, wash a bag of salad, lighted some candles and poured my wine. Phew! It is had work being a weekend sous chef!

We also returned to childhood and had a Famous Wafer refrigerator cake. The recipe and the informative photo are right on the side of the box, in case you have forgotten how to whip cream and stack layers of cookies. Food52 gussied it up a little bit, as is their wont, although they did say, “The best summer dessert is also the easiest.” How right they are! https://food52.com/blog/7061-how-to-make-any-icebox-cake-in-5-steps

This “Chicken Under a Brick” recipe from Bon Appétit sounds first rate: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/chicken-under-a-brick

But if you want to stick to skewers, this is far more exotic than ours: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sambal-chicken-skewers

Martha weighs in with her fancier-than-thou chicken skewers: http://www.marthastewart.com/341224/cajun-kebabs-with-chicken-and-andouille#Grilled%20Chicken%20Recipes|/275423/grilled-chicken-recipes/@center/276943/grilling-recipes|341224

Enjoy August. It’s hard to believe it is really here, and that school will be starting soon. Have you noticed the light is changing? Some nights Luke the wonder dog and I walk out to the end of the street to get a good view of the sunset, and last night we dawdled a minute or two sniffing some most fascinating leaves of a bush, so we were too late for that golden moment. The pinks were fading to grays and the cardinals had started singing their nighttime songs. Revel in your weekend!

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
-John Steinbeck

Food Friday: Berry Delicious Ice Cream

This summer is zipping past, like a hot knife through butter, which is about how I have been feeling with all the warm weather: like a pool of runny, melted, formless butter. Plus I am very damp around the edges. There has been quite enough rain, thank you.

I am also deeply saddened that we will not be viewing the Total Lunar Eclipse. But we are supposed to have a very good view of Mars. https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/night/usa/chestertown

I am not looking forward to hurricane season, but I think it is just about time for Labor Day to roll around and bring us some cooler temps and to give me the will to be creative in the kitchen again. I am tired of my desultory attempts at dinner preparation. Tonight we are going to have Panzella Salad. Again. I know I will miss the fresh tomatoes come winter, so I am happy to pluck them with reckless abandon now, but I am also yearning for something warm to emerge from the oven. Is it too early to think about lasagne?

Naturally when the weather is hot, and the day drags, my thoughts turn to home made ice cream. When I was little my older brother and I sat on the back porch steps, taking turns turning the crank on the old manual ice cream churn. No blue tooth gelato machines then! I assumed this Sisyphian task was as every bit as arduous as Laura Ingalls Wilder helping Ma churn the cream for butter. And every time we were called upon to help make delicious slurpily-sweet ice cream, my brother would goad me into tasting the kosher salt. I fell for it every single time. At least the taste of the ice cream is a pleasant memory, with its glorious vanilla perfume. Sometimes all of the sugar didn’t dissolve and there would be little crunchy granular surprises. Yumsters.

My mother never gussied up the ice cream. She was a purist. We had vanilla, pure and simple and nothing fancy. But this time around we are going to try for strawberry. I understand that in adventurous households people also make pistachio flavored ice cream. Well, lah-de-dah, I say. I am screaming for strawberries.

No Churn Strawberry Ice Cream

Ingredients:
2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 pound of fresh strawberries, hulled and mashed
A few slices of strawberry for garnish

Mash strawberries in a bowl and set aside.
In large mixing bowl, add the heavy whipping cream and the sweetened condensed milk.
Whip the heavy cream mixture on high speed (do not do by hand!) until stiff peaks form.
Pour the mashed strawberries into the mixture and gently fold in until combined.
Pour the whipped mixture into a freezer safe container. We like to use a loaf pan. Top with a few slices of strawberries for garnish (optional). Cover and freeze for about 4-5 hours. In about 3-4 hours you can have a “soft serve” type ice cream. If you prefer a firmer texture, freeze for at least 5-6 hours, or overnight.

That is the lazy git recipe; perfect for me. Now if you want to be a show off, the kind folks at Food52 have a more intensive, riddled with steps and dishes-you-will-need-to-wash kind of recipe for you:

Old-Fashioned “No Short-Cuts” Strawberry Ice Cream
https://food52.com/recipes/28442-old-fashioned-no-short-cuts-strawberry-ice-cream

My only other suggestion is to keep a good supply of popsicles in the freezer.

“Whipped cream isn’t whipped cream at all if it hasn’t been whipped with whips, just like poached eggs isn’t poached eggs unless it’s been stolen in the dead of the night.”
-Roald Dahl

Food Friday: Hand Me a Cool Drink!

Thank heavens it is finally Friday! What a hellish week it has been, and I don’t mean just all the roiling news from Helsinki and Washington. Anxiety, stress, deadlines, spilled ink, clogged pens, heat rash, dying geraniums, mosquitoes and an overrun tomato patch have been my first world problems this week.

And how about you? Has everything gone smoothly at work? How’s that commute? Is your car’s air conditioning working? Are you enjoying re-reading Howard’s End? Or are you thinking about dipping your figurative toes into Daniel Silva’s latest potboiler?

And just how many editions of Slate’s Trumpcast are they going to produce this week? The dog is getting way too much exercise while I listen to all those podcasts. I’m going to take the weekend off from political dramas and have a nice, cool summer cocktail. Maybe I will even have two.

As folks celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the first broadcast of Sex and the City it seems appropriate to have a Cosmopolitan, which was the potent and extravagant pink drink of the four fictional friends on the show. I came late to SATC, and only binge-watched it last year. I feel lucky that I never wanted their expensive shoes, and as much as I would have liked a chance to live in New York City when it was perpetually spring, I think a Cosmo will manage to assuage my tormented soul.

Cosmopolitan

Serves 1
1 ounce Citron Vodka
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1 ounce cranberry juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Shake all ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain into a large cocktail glass. Garnish with lime slice. (I use a straw because a Martini glass is just too tippy.)

http://iba-world.com/cocktails/cosmopolitan/

During this overwhelming summer we are all about simplicity and relaxation at home. I do not want to fly out to the store to buy an expensive ingredient that I might only use once a year. No elderberry cordial for us. Our bottle of Cointreau is probably two years old, which shows how many Cosmos we drink every year. Although that number is more than the pairs of Jimmy Chou shoes in my closet, for sure.

We are fond of Prosecco, raspberries, and mint, however. Our raspberries are store-bought (although you can probably keep a supply in the freezer in case you get an unexpected hankering for one of these drinks) and our mint is from the garden. We bought a clump of mint for Kentucky Derby Juleps, and now it is threatening to take over the aforementioned tomato patch.

Raspberry, Prosecco and Mint Cocktail

Serves 2
2 ounces simple syrup (you can buy this now, you lazy git)
1/2 pint raspberries
2 ounces vodka
Handful of mint leaves, artfully torn
Pinch of red chili flakes
4 ounces Prosecco

Purée the raspberries in a food processor or blender until smooth. Fill a cocktail shaker half way with ice, and add the vodka, mint leaves, chili flakes, raspberry purée and the simple syrup. Shake these well. Strain into cooled glasses and top with Prosecco. Garnish with a speared raspberry. If you must. Add a pool, beach ball or an Adirondack chair. Relax.

Sometimes I long for cocktails that aren’t sweet. I am raiding the garden again for this drink I am going to try this out on Mr. Friday, because he doesn’t drink Cosmos. He and Mr. Big. This drink calls for robust heirloom tomatoes, aromatic basil and lots of vodka.

Fresh Tomato Martini

this makes 5 drinks, which is a lot. But it is much lighter than Bloody Marys. It is a perfect summer cocktail, while also dealing with the bumper tomato crop.

1 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into large chunks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
10 ounces vodka
5 medium basil leaves
Ice
5 lemon twists

• Place the tomatoes and measured salt in a medium bowl and smash with a potato masher until the skins separate from the flesh and seeds.

• Place the mixture in a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl. Using the potato masher, firmly press out as much juice as possible (be careful not to break the strainer). Switch to a rubber spatula and continue to press until only solids remain. Scrape the bottom of the strainer and discard the solids. You should have almost 1 cup of juice; set aside.

• 
Place 5 martini glasses in the freezer to chill.

• 
To make 1 drink, place 2 ounces of the vodka, 1 1/2 ounces of the tomato juice, and 1 basil leaf in a cocktail shaker. Muddle until the basil is just crushed and fragrant. Add ice to fill the shaker halfway and shake until the outside is frosted, about 30 seconds.

• 
Strain into 1 of the chilled glasses and garnish with a lemon twist and a pinch of salt. Repeat to make 4 more drinks.

https://www.chowhound.com/recipes/fresh-tomato-basil-martini-30770

Out on the back porch, the sun has set as we swat away the mosquitoes. The air is cooling and we are enchanted once again by the emerging fireflies. Breathe.

“Again and again, the cicada’s untiring cry pierced the sultry summer air like a needle at work on thick cotton cloth.”
― Yukio Mishima