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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Those ubiquitous strawberries

On some of the cooking blogs I follow I’m beginning to see the same plaintive question: “What new thing can I do with strawberries?’  You’ve made shortcake, and you’ve served the berries over biscuits and angel food cake. You’ve put out bowls full of sugared berries. What else can you do to capture that summer flavor? Here are some ideas.

Strawberry salsa

            These days we make salsa out of every fruit imaginable, but when I first made this, ten years ago, it was cutting edge. I proudly served it with corn chips on Easter Sunday and wouldn’t you know, one of our extended family refuses to even try anything with onions in it. But don’t leave them out.

Strawberry salsa

1 pint chopped strawberries

8 green onions

2 pints cherry tomatoes, chopped

¼ c. fresh cilantro, chopped

Mix together. Coat with a dressing made of:

6 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Pinch of salt

Refrigerate at least an hour. Serve with tortilla chips.

Want a dessert? Here’s one simple and one more intimidating..

Strawberry fool

            This is basically strawberries and cream. Serves four.

1 cup strawberries, washed, stemmed, and sliced

2 Tbsp. sugar (divided)

2 cups whipped cream

1 tsp. vanilla

Cookies crumbs for topping (optional)

Toss the berries with one Tbsp. sugar.  Reserve a few slices for garnish, and puree remainder in blender, with vanilla, until smooth. Whip the cream with the remaining sugar. Gently fold the puree into the whipped cream.

Spoon into four small serving dishes or cocktail glasses. Top with crumbled cookies of your choice and/or reserved strawberry slices. Some recipes call for butter cookies, but I think Girl Scout thin mints would be exceptional if you happen to have them in the freezer.

Strawberry Pavlova

It isn’t that this is hard to make. It’s just that the idea of meringue is a bit intimidating. The late Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, for whom the Pavlova dessert was named, is said to have been ethereal, delicate and slightly controversial. Her namesake, this simple confection, is a ethereal and delicate but there’s no controversy about the taste. As light and airy as you expect a ballerina to be.


3 egg whites

¾ cup sugar

Pinch of cream of tartar

1 tsp. vanilla

            Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Be sure your bowl is perfectly clean and there is not a speck of yolk with your eggs—you do separate each into a separate dish, don’t you, so if you ruin one, you haven’t ruined the whole batch? Slowly add sugar as you beat, a tablespoon at a time. Beat until whites form glossy peaks.

Spread the meringue in a ten-inch circle on your prepared baking sheet—it might be wise to draw the circle on to give you a guide.

Bake 1-1/2 hours at 275. Turn off the oven but do not open it, no, not even to peek. Let the meringue dry six hours or more. Overnight is great—or all day.

For the strawberries;

1 pint strawberries—washed, stemmed, and halved or quartered

½ tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

2 tsp. sugar

Combine above ingredients and let sit in a covered bowl at least 15 minutes. When ready to serve, whip

2 cups heavy cream

Carefully peel paper off pavlova and set it on a platter. With the back of a spoon, make a gentle indentation in the top. Don’t be alarmed if it cracks; it’s supposed to. Spoon whipped cream over the meringue and top with the berries. Serve at once, cutting very carefully into serving size pieces.

My cooking oddity for the day

I’m a big fan of Sam Sifton, food editor for The New York Times, but occasionally his experimentation goes too far for me. Like the other day when he offered a recipe for broccoli with apricot puttanesca. Puttanesca is a sauce for pasta that normally includes tomatoes, garlic, olives, and anchovies. The name comes from the Italian for prostitute, because those “loose women” served pasta with a sauce made of whatever was in their cuupboards.

            Apricot? Really/ With broccoli?


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Cold summer soups

            Once the weather turns hot, there’s little better for a light supper than a cold soup followed by a salad. The choices are endless—spring pea soup, watercress, gazpacho, white gazpacho, cucumber, avocado, zucchini. I once had a recipe for cold corn soup with bourbon—wish I could find it again. Sometimes soups are fruit-based—peach or watermelon come to mind.

Cold soup always makes me think of my former mother-in-law. She came from Romania as a very young child and lived all her life in the Bronx, only venturing to Texas a few times to visit her son, then my husband. Once we took her to one of Fort Worth’s upscale restaurants—this was in the early seventies and there were only two, maybe three such places in addition to private clubs. Vichyssoise was on the menu, and Joel asked his mom if she’d like some. She said she didn’t know what it was, and he inelegantly replied, “Cold potato soup, Ma.” Her eyes got wide, and there was horror in her voice when she answered, “Could potato soup? I couldn’t.” And she didn’t.

Recently I found a recipe for okroshka, a traditional Russian cold soup of vegetables and a cooked meat in a base that was, historically, something called kvass, a nonalcoholic beverage made from fermented black or rye bread. The meat could be beef, veal, sausage or ham. Sometimes the soup was garnished with sour cream. Later versions used kefir, a fermented milk beverage like a thing yogurt, and there lies the foundation for today’s updated version of this soup.

My version used buttermilk and Greek yogurt (plain, full fat) diluted with a bit of water as the base. I made half the original recipe, served it to one guest, and happily ate leftovers for almost a week. It’s one of those things you kind of always want to keep in the fridge for those summer moments when hunger strikes and you want something that doesn’t require cooking.

For timid eaters, who might be put off by okroshka, you can always call it cold cucumber soup.

Cold cucumber soup (serves two with lots left over—or at least six at one seating)

Dice and combine in a large bowl:

1 medium Yukon Gold potato, boiled, cooled, peeled and diced

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced

1 small cucumber, peeled and diced

1 cup diced meat (I used chicken, but I think ham would also be good; beef might be too heavy)

4 radishes, cleaned and sliced thin

3 green onions, sliced

In a separate bowl, mix:

2 cups plain Greek yogurt

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups cold water

1 lemon or lime, scrubbed and sliced thin

½ tsp. Kosher salt

You can just as easily use 4 cups yogurt or 4 cups buttermilk or kefir if you can find it in a specialty market. I liked the mixture          lot.

Pour the liquid mixture over the vegetables. Stir and chill before serving. At serving, garnish with chopped parsley if you like.

            Summertime, and the livin’ is easy! Enjoy!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Don’t overlook cabbage

My relationship with cabbage has been one of a slow progression from cole slaw to main dishes. I’ve always liked the crispness and slight tang of cabbage, but for years I didn’t know much to do with it except cole slaw and occasional shredded red cabbage to brighten up a green salad. Hard to use up a whole head that way, and I found we often tired of it with half a head still in the fridge.

Somewhere years ago one of my sons decided he liked cabbage sautéed in butter, and then we got adventuresome and added sour cream. But it still was not something I cooked often. For one thing, the rest of the family didn’t like it.

Then along came grilled cabbage, which like its cauliflower counterpart, became a trend. You can do it on the grill (where it has a tendency to fall apart) or in the oven on an oiled cookie sheet (my preferred method).

Simply cut “steaks” – pieces about an inch wide—from the center of the cabbage. Maybe simply is the wrong word to use—I find slicing raw cabbage is a feat of strength. Be sure to core the head before you slice, and then be careful to keep the slices together. Brush both sides with olive oil and dot with garlic or let a garlic clove sit in a Tbsp of olive oil for a bit to flavor the oil. I’ve also heard of cooks using a vinaigrette dressing to brush the cabbage.

Bake at 450o until the edges just begin to brown. If you roast too long, it can become bitter. Serve with salt and pepper, and it’s hearty enough to be the entrée for a light supper. But wait! There’s more.

I saw a suggestion recently for garnishing the roasted slices, so I tried it but added some touches of my own, sprinkling the steaks with crumbled bacon, chopped tomatoes, diced green onions, and crumbled blue cheese. (Note: think about adding blue cheese the next time you make cole slaw.) Then I drizzled with good, homemade ranch dressing (I avoid commercial brands of ranch which have a tinny, preservative taste to me).

These decorated slices were a little difficult to eat—knife and fork needed, and the cabbage falls apart if you’re not careful. But the taste is wonderful. 

Or make a cabbage wrap instead of a lettuce wrap. I served this to a friend recently, and it met with raves. Peel and discard outer layer of leaves from a head of cabbage. Then carefully peel away large leaves, keeping them intact if you can. Start by slicing at core end where leaf attaches to the head, and then starting at the top, gently peel.

Bring a pot of water to boil and, using tongs, submerge the leaves for twenty to thirty seconds, just long enough to soften. Lay leaves flat on work surface, put some sauerkraut down the middle, and top with a cooked piece of kielbasa or Polish sausage. Mustard optional.

You can eat as is or, with toothpicks holding the wrap together, grill just enough to heat but be careful to avoid burning the cabbage. It might be one of those cases where you put the heat at one end of the grill and the food at the other.

Cabbage is a nutritional winner, high in protein and fiber density, low to none in fat content, and low in sugar. We all ought to make better use of it, and I hope these suggestions will help you combine a tasty meal with healthful eating.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Three Bites for Politeness Sake

Did your parents use to preach that doctrine to you? My mom’s voice rang in my head like a refrain as I read a recent thread on the New York Times Cooking Community Facebook page. It all started when someone asked, “What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?”

I know my brother would say, “Spinach souffle.” It’s a legendary story in our family. But, seriously, the answers were astounding. Many dishes came from Asia and were things I’d never thought about eating—fried and dried insects of various kinds, scorpions, squid on a stick. Whale and blubber were mentioned frequently, along with kangaroo and tapir, sea urchin ceviche. One woman had dancing shrimp salad, which turned out to be tiny live shrimp that “danced” because the vinaigrette in the dressing bothered them.

There were a couple of things I’d never thought of as objectionable, even if they’re not on the list of foods I crave. I’m not fond of lima beans but how bad can they be? And oatmeal? The reason given was, “It’s too slimy.” One person objected to one of my favorite dishes, now sort of retro—sloppy Joe.

And there were a couple we can all agree on, like muskrat. Phew, smelly! But margarine? I don’t like the stuff, don’t eat it or cook with it, but it’s not really gross which, to me, is an extreme category. Then again, it was invented during WWII to fatten fowl for consumption. And we eat it?

But what astounded me was the number of dishes I like that were on other people’s lists. Blood pudding—well, I don’t particularly like it, but it wasn’t bad. I had it in Scotland, and when I asked the B&B host why they added blood to the oatmeal, he shrugged and said something about using all parts of the animal. Bone marrow—as a kid I fought with my brother to get the little bit of marrow inside the bone in a round steak, and today I’m delighted that it’s on trendy menus in larger quantity. Kidneys—lamb, never beef; my mom chicken-fried them with bacon and served with ketchup, especially for my Anglophile dad. Today I’d like to try to see if I still like them, but you have to order a case which seems excessive when all I want is two. I had hoped they’d be on breakfast menus in Scotland but no such luck. Escargot—my ex-husband taught me to like that delicacy, though I admit what I like best is bread soaked in the rich garlic and butter sauce—forget the little critters. And pickled herring—in the late sixties and seventies, I used to put large bowls of it out for our annual holiday party. Today, I get the feeling nobody but me eats it.

To nobody’s surprise, liver was frequently mentioned. Many of us have childhood memories of being told, “Eat your liver. It’s good for you.” My mom was a terrific cook, but she didn’t get liver right. Like most of her generation, she cooked it until it was well done, sort of like shoe leather. I remember dreading the nights we had it for dinner. But now I can cook it so I really like it—and you probably would too, if you’d try. Lemon juice makes the difference—it cuts the gamey taste.

Liver and onions

1 lb. calves’ liver


Diced onion

At least one lemon

            You can cook the liver in serving-size pieces or in finger-size strips. Either way, squeeze plenty of lemon juice over both sides of the raw meat and let it sit briefly. Then flash fry in butter (no substitutes). The meat should still be soft, rather than hard and overcooked. Quickly remove meat and cover with foil to keep warm. Sauté diced onion in remaining butter, scraping up bits from the pan. If necessary, add more butter. Squeeze more lemon juice into the butter and onion mix and pour over meat. Serve quickly. Nice with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.

As for that line about politeness, I’ve tried it on my grandchildren, and it doesn’t work. I think it’s an old-fashioned thing.