July 4th

Baked Beans. Real American Food for the 4th.

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I was thinking about which "real American" foods to serve on July 4th. Not just the usual icons: burgers, apple pie, lemonade. I wanted something that represented the "mongrels" that we are: Americans may be tribal in some ways, but we are also an odd mix-and-blend of a zillion cultures.

And so is American food.

For example, some say that Baked Beans are originally from France -- some sort of easy version of cassoulet. But the countries where they eat baked beans the most are English speaking: England, Ireland, Canada and Australia.

And yet ... baked beans are also a favorite in Holland and Hong Kong.

And of course beans themselves are native to South America, so who knows?

The original Puritan colonists in New England made baked beans often and for the same reason as observant Jews make cholent -- the dish cooks slowly in a pot so there's no work to be done during the Sabbath. Baked beans have been popular ever since, and particularly so after the canned versions first came along at the turn of the 20th century. 

Green labelled Heinz Vegetarian baked beans were a standard item at my house when I was a kid.

So, baked beans it is.

I like making my own because when they're homemade I can season the beans the way I like, make them spicy or not, use more or less sugar (or sugar substitutes such as honey or maple syrup), make them vegetarian or with meat.

I recently had a couple of slices of flanken left over, so I decided to use them in a new recipe.

My husband usually likes my cooking and there are some dishes he thinks are so good he brags to people about them. Like my recipe for Carrot Soup with Harissa and Coconut.

These beans? He told me several times that they are among the best foods he has ever tasted. In fact, one night he only had baked beans (and a few of the chunks of flanken in them) for dinner. 

So, this recipe is a yes for July 4th.

Baked beans take time. But you can make them several days ahead. They last for a week in the fridge. If you don't have flanken you can use chuck, smoked turkey or some kind of sausage.

 

Baked Beans for the Fourth of July

  • 1 pound dried navy or great northern beans
  • water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6-8 ounces beef chuck or flanken , cut into chunks
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon powdered mustard

Place the beans in a large saucepan and cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the beans soak for one hour. Drain the beans and return them to the pot. Cover the beans again with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. (Alternatively, cover the beans with water and let them soak for at least 8 hours.) Drain the beans and place them in an oven-proof casserole. While the beans are cooking, heat the vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the meat and cook for 5-6 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally, until they are browned. Remove the meat from the pan and add to the beans. Add the onion to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes to soften. Add to the drained beans and meat. Place the brown sugar, honey, ketchup, salt and mustard in a bowl and mix thoroughly to blend the ingredients. Stir in 2-1/2 cups water. Pour the mixture over the beans and meat. Cover the casserole and put it in the oven. Set the temperature at 300 degrees and cook the beans at least 5 hours, or until they are tender.

Makes 8 servings

Strawberry Shortcake (Without the cake)

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The strawberries are fabulous right now -- the local ones anyway. They're sweet, juicy and fragrant. They're small to medium rather than gigantic -- like the year-round supermarket staples, which are dry, tasteless and smell like plastic. The strawberries you can buy now are the kind I remember strawberries from long ago, (especially the ones I picked right off the plants in my parents' garden).

If you are lucky enough to get good, seasonal strawberries, try this recipe. I call it Strawberry Shortcake without Cake because the whipped cream mixture, which is made with mascarpone cheese, is thick, almost like a really moist cake, and yet it is sort of like whipped cream.

So easy too!

Remember this recipe next Passover. Or Valentine's Day. Or July 4th for that matter!

Make the cream part ahead and top it with berries just before you serve it. Lovely with coffee or tea and also an after dinner drink (brandy and so on).

Strawberry Shortcake without Cake

  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup mascarpone cheese (or use whipped cream cheese)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh orange peel
  • 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar

Wash and dry the berries and remove the hulls. Make incisions into each berry as if to cut slices but do not slice through. Set aside. Whip the cream and mascarpone cheese with the sugar and orange peel until the mixture is thick. Fold in the Balsamic vinegar. Spoon equal amounts of the cheese mixture onto 4-6 dessert plates. Place sliced strawberries on top, gently moving the “almost” slices to fan them slightly.

Makes 4-6 servings

 

 

Tropical Salsa

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In our family, Mother's Day involves a cookoff. Everyone participates in some way. We pick a theme, some people cook, some set the table, some help clean up and so on. Then we all eat what we have cooked and everyone wins a prize for something, like: best looking; most delicious; most unusual.....

It's been so much fun over the years and we all believe it beats going to a restaurant which, because it's a holiday, is usually crowded and noisy and the service awful.

This year's theme was "dips."

My son-in-law and one of the grandkids made a hot French Onion Dip; one daughter and granddaughter made a spicy Red Pepper Dip; another daughter and child made a chocolate dip for dessert.

It was all awesome.

This was my entry, which got the award for "most refreshing" and "most attractive" as well as "most perfect for summer" awards.

It's so easy to make too.

Also, it really is perfect for summer.

And it is actually refreshing and attractive.

So -- for summer company or just for yourself, try my award-winning Tropical Salsa. Serve it on Father's Day. Or July 4th!

By the way, this is also a good side dish with grilled meat, poultry or fish and can be used to top a hamburger.

Tropical Salsa

  • 2 cups diced fresh papaya
  • 2 large mangoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 large avocado, peeled and diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lime peel
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt
  • corn chips or other favorite chips

Place the papaya, mango and avocado dice in a bowl. Add the jalapeno pepper, lime peel, lime juice and cilantro and toss to distribute the ingredients evenly. Taste and add salt as needed. Serve with chips.

Makes about 3 cups

Potato Salad with Lemon-Oregano Vinaigrette

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Some people say potato salad comes from German cuisine. Others tell you it is French. Or from some other European country.

But I think potato salad is actually thoroughly American.

Potatoes are a "new world" plant. Back in the 16th century, before Europeans ever knew there was even another continent, Spanish explorers sailed to what would later become the "Americas." They were looking for gold and plenty in the mythical kingdom of El Dorado. 

Surprise!

What they found were plenty of potatoes, and that was their real treasure.

They brought potatoes back to Europe, where it met with mixed reviews, especially because so many people thought potatoes were poisonous. Others refused to eat potatoes because they weren't mentioned in the bible. 

Fortunately potatoes are nourishing and easy to grow, so in the poorer European communities the people were obliged to eat them or starve. 

And so by the time Europeans settled in what would become the United States, potatoes were a staple part of the diet.

With all this in mind, I say again: potato salad is an American food, because -- it all started with the potato. And so it's the perfect side dish for a 4th of July picnic, barbecue or any other sort of get-together.

For my money -- potato salad is best when served at room temperature. Not hot, not cold. There are a zillion versions. Here's one:

Potato Salad with Lemon-Oregano Vinaigrette

  • 2-1/2 pounds small red potatoes        
  • lightly salted water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped        
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (1-1/2 teaspoons dried) 
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, or salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with lightly salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain under cold water and peel, if desired. Cut the potatoes into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl. Pour in the olive oil and lemon juice and toss ingredients gently. Add the scallions, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper. Toss gently. Let rest at least 1 hour before serving.

Makes 4-6 servings

 

 

 

Peanut Butter Cookies

July 4th brings out the all-American food fest. You know, hot dogs, hamburgers, cole slaw, potato salad and so on. Everybody’s cooking up a storm.  My own American favorite: Peanut Butter Cookies. First brought to the country’s attention by George Washington Carver (1864-1943), Tuskegee Institute’s famous teacher and promoter of the peanut crop. He apparently included some recipes for peanut-based cookies in a bulletin he put together early on.  Have you ever wondered why peanut butter cookies always have criss-cross fork marks on top?   It’s because the dough is dense and doesn’t spread easily. The fork flattens the cookie so it bakes evenly and the outside has a bigger surface area for crisping.  I guess you could roll the dough and cut out peanut butter cookies and they would bake just as well.  But then they wouldn’t be American Peanut Butter Cookies, would they?  Here’s my mother’s recipe. It doesn’t get better than these. They are compellingly sweet and salty at the same time, an old-fashioned taste that peanut butter cookie aficionados understood and loved long before sea-salted caramels came along.  My Mom always made these with Skippy peanut butter. I’ve made them with all other kinds, commercial brands and organic-bulk.  Skippy’s the best there is for these.      Peanut Butter Cookies       2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour  2 teaspoons baking soda  1 teaspoon salt  1 cup white sugar  1 cup packed brown sugar  1 cup peanut butter  1 cup vegetable shortening  2 large eggs     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, white sugar and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer (or use a handheld mixer and large bowl) and mix at medium speed for about 1 minute or until the mixture is uniform and the ingredients are evenly distributed. Add the peanut butter, shortening and eggs and beat the mixture for about 2 minutes, starting at low speed then gradually switching to medium until a uniform dough forms. Take off pieces of dough and shape them into balls about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Flatten the balls between your palms. Place the cookies on the prepared sheet, leaving an inch of space between them. Press the top of each cookie with the flat, bottom side of a fork to make a crisscross design on top of each cookie. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until the cookies are richly browned and crispy. You can freeze these cookies for 6 months.  Makes about 8 dozen

July 4th brings out the all-American food fest. You know, hot dogs, hamburgers, cole slaw, potato salad and so on. Everybody’s cooking up a storm.

My own American favorite: Peanut Butter Cookies. First brought to the country’s attention by George Washington Carver (1864-1943), Tuskegee Institute’s famous teacher and promoter of the peanut crop. He apparently included some recipes for peanut-based cookies in a bulletin he put together early on.

Have you ever wondered why peanut butter cookies always have criss-cross fork marks on top? 

It’s because the dough is dense and doesn’t spread easily. The fork flattens the cookie so it bakes evenly and the outside has a bigger surface area for crisping.

I guess you could roll the dough and cut out peanut butter cookies and they would bake just as well.

But then they wouldn’t be American Peanut Butter Cookies, would they?

Here’s my mother’s recipe. It doesn’t get better than these. They are compellingly sweet and salty at the same time, an old-fashioned taste that peanut butter cookie aficionados understood and loved long before sea-salted caramels came along.

My Mom always made these with Skippy peanut butter. I’ve made them with all other kinds, commercial brands and organic-bulk.

Skippy’s the best there is for these.

 

Peanut Butter Cookies

 

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup white sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup vegetable shortening

2 large eggs

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, white sugar and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer (or use a handheld mixer and large bowl) and mix at medium speed for about 1 minute or until the mixture is uniform and the ingredients are evenly distributed. Add the peanut butter, shortening and eggs and beat the mixture for about 2 minutes, starting at low speed then gradually switching to medium until a uniform dough forms. Take off pieces of dough and shape them into balls about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Flatten the balls between your palms. Place the cookies on the prepared sheet, leaving an inch of space between them. Press the top of each cookie with the flat, bottom side of a fork to make a crisscross design on top of each cookie. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until the cookies are richly browned and crispy. You can freeze these cookies for 6 months.

Makes about 8 dozen

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Pie

Is there any food more “American” than pie?  Okay, maybe. Hot dogs, hamburgers and stuff. Cole Slaw. Potato salad. And lots of others.  Actually, none of the ones I mentioned were “American” at the start. Hot dogs, burgers and potato salad are German foods, Cole Slaw is Dutch and Pie began as British.  No matter. They’re American now, all terrific summer foods also. And all perfect for any Fourth of July celebration.  So, when our local Hadassah decided that our biweekly Tea (for cancer patients and their caregivers at Stamford Hospital) should have a Fourth of July theme, I decided to bake a pie to give.   This one is red (sort of), white (beige crust/white sugar) and blue: a riff on Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie. It includes blackberries because I had some in the house and figured why not. You can leave out the blackberries and add more rhubarb and/or strawberries.  Also, I used orange peel as flavor, but you can switch to lemon peel. And I used orange juice for the crust. First because orange goes really well with berries and rhubarb and also, my mother, a consummate pie baker, always told me that the liquid you use to make pie dough can be just about anything. She frequently used juice for fruit pie (the juice depended on the pie). Juice not only gives the crust more flavor, it helps the dough bake into a lovely brown color crust too.   Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Pie   dough:  2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour  3/4 teaspoon salt  1 teaspoon grated orange peel  1/2 cup unsalted butter  1/3 cup chilled vegetable shortening  4-5 tablespoons orange juice  filling:  3 cups sliced (1/2-inch pieces) rhubarb, about one pound  2 cups strawberries cut in half  1 cup blackberries  2/3 cup sugar (or to taste)  1/4 teaspoon salt  5 tablespoons flour  1 teaspoon grated orange peel  1/4 teaspoon cinnamon  1 tablespoon butter     Combine the flour, salt and orange peel in a food processor. Add the butter and shortening in chunks and process on pulse about 24 times, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add as much of the juice as is needed to make a soft, but not sticky dough. Cut the dough in half, flatten into disks and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough into circles to fit a 9” pie pan. Place one circle inside the pie pan.  To make the filling, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, blackberries, sugar, salt, flour, orange peel and cinnamon. Add the filling to the pie pan. Cut the butter into chunks and place on top of the filling. Cut strips from the second dough circle and place them in a lattice design on top of the fruit. Seal the edges where the strips meet the bottom crust. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown.  Makes one 9-inch pie

Is there any food more “American” than pie?

Okay, maybe. Hot dogs, hamburgers and stuff. Cole Slaw. Potato salad. And lots of others.

Actually, none of the ones I mentioned were “American” at the start. Hot dogs, burgers and potato salad are German foods, Cole Slaw is Dutch and Pie began as British.

No matter. They’re American now, all terrific summer foods also. And all perfect for any Fourth of July celebration.

So, when our local Hadassah decided that our biweekly Tea (for cancer patients and their caregivers at Stamford Hospital) should have a Fourth of July theme, I decided to bake a pie to give. 

This one is red (sort of), white (beige crust/white sugar) and blue: a riff on Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie. It includes blackberries because I had some in the house and figured why not. You can leave out the blackberries and add more rhubarb and/or strawberries.

Also, I used orange peel as flavor, but you can switch to lemon peel. And I used orange juice for the crust. First because orange goes really well with berries and rhubarb and also, my mother, a consummate pie baker, always told me that the liquid you use to make pie dough can be just about anything. She frequently used juice for fruit pie (the juice depended on the pie). Juice not only gives the crust more flavor, it helps the dough bake into a lovely brown color crust too.

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Pie

dough:

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/3 cup chilled vegetable shortening

4-5 tablespoons orange juice

filling:

3 cups sliced (1/2-inch pieces) rhubarb, about one pound

2 cups strawberries cut in half

1 cup blackberries

2/3 cup sugar (or to taste)

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon butter

 

Combine the flour, salt and orange peel in a food processor. Add the butter and shortening in chunks and process on pulse about 24 times, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add as much of the juice as is needed to make a soft, but not sticky dough. Cut the dough in half, flatten into disks and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough into circles to fit a 9” pie pan. Place one circle inside the pie pan.

To make the filling, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, blackberries, sugar, salt, flour, orange peel and cinnamon. Add the filling to the pie pan. Cut the butter into chunks and place on top of the filling. Cut strips from the second dough circle and place them in a lattice design on top of the fruit. Seal the edges where the strips meet the bottom crust. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes one 9-inch pie