Living Room Picnic

Last night I was supposed to meet friends in Prospect Park for a screening of The Muppet Movie. Mother Nature had other plans. I’d been prepping for a picnic, but a blanket over the coffee table would have to suffice. On the menu: a Pressed Picnic Sandwich, Quick-Pickled Kale and Beets, Potato Chips (lifted from Thursday’s Prospect Park Alliance fundraiser) and a boatload of rosé.

Pressed Picnic Sandwich

This isn’t so much a recipe as a concept. The idea here is to layer a bunch of tasty ingredients in a logical order and then to press the sandwich with a weight.

I started with a round, day-old olive loaf from BKLYN Larder, but imagine you could use any rustic loaf with a nice crust. I sliced the loaf in half horizontally and scooped out most of the soft stuff with my hand, leaving about 1/2 inch all the way around. I then slathered the inside, top and bottom with a homemade tapenade (oil-cured black olives, anchovies, basil, garlic scapes, almonds, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, capers, and whatever else was lurking in my fridge.). You could use prepared tapenade or pesto or even some herbed mayonnaise. The key is that you need a layer with some fat in it to prevent the bread from getting soggy.

I then added a layer of browned onions followed by strips of grilled summer squash. (I like to do this in a hot cast iron pan and then sprinkle the vegetables with smoked sea salt to give them the depth that comes from outdoor grilling). Next up was an Italian cow’s milk cheese. I’m blanking on the name, but it was creamy and a little tart, which provided a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the veggies. Then layers of hot sopresatta, prosciutto and peppadew peppers.

I wrapped the sandwich in a couple of layers of aluminum foil and placed a cast iron grill pan over the top. Periodically, I would flip the sandwich and apply pressure to the pan until the sandwich looked like a UFO. I would guess that you want this to sit for at least an hour. (Had we been successful in dining outdoors, I would have stuck the sandwich in the bottom of the picnic basket, allowing the weight of the other items to do the pressing.)

As you can see, it sliced beautifully.

Quick-Pickled Kale and Beets

  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 Tbsp combined of whole pickling spices (such as coriander, fennel, allspice, cloves, cumin, fennel, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, mustard seed, etc.)
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 thinly sliced red onion
  • 4 large beets
  • Small bunch kale including stems, roughly chopped

Combine all but the last two ingredients along with ½ cup of water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20-30 minutes to give the spices a change to release their flavor into the brine. In a separate pot, add the beets, cover with water, bring to a boil and cook until they give when pierced with a fork (approximately 30 minutes). Pull the beets out and add the kale, starting with the stem pieces. Let this boil for a few minutes and then drain. When beets have cooled, peel and slice them. Combine beets, kale and brine in a jar or plastic container and let sit for at least one hour, making sure to stir if the brine doesn’t fully cover the vegetables.

The living room picnic continued with a trip to the wine shop for reinforcements, a Barbie styling session and fresh nectarines and rum over salted caramel ice cream. Regrettably, it did not conclude with any efforts to clean up.

Nothing Bacon Can’t Cure

Last night, I headed over to the boathouse for the Prospect Park Alliance Junior Committee’s Summer Soiree. I throw a lot of fundraisers for work, so it is truly a treat to be a guest.

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No dinner and a few hours of open bar later, I found myself getting cozy with a bare air mattress in my friends’ living room. (They offered sheets, but that would have necessitated me getting up.) This morning I walked the hot and humid mile home in pajama pants, my dress bulging out of my gift bag.

I knew I had some nice slab bacon and CSA veggies at home, so I swung by the grocery store for eggs. I sliced about half an ounce of bacon into lardon and rendered these in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. I added a few big chunks of garlic and toasted these in the bacon fat. I coarsely chopped a bunch of chard and sautéed it in the pan before adding salt and pepper. I slid the wilted greens to the side and toasted half of a whole wheat flatbread right in the skillet. I made some scrambled eggs in another pot and threw it all together, adding half of a very ripe tomato.

This plus a latte and I was good to go.

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Dog Day Salad

It was 95 degrees when I arrived for tonight’s 7:00 CSA work shift. We checked members off on a list, restocked vegetables and loaded the unclaimed food into a car for transport to a local food pantry. As it happened, all four of us were nonprofit workers, so we talked shop–and sweat. By 8:30, we said our goodbyes and headed off in search of air conditioning, dinner and (at least in my case) a cold beer.

My tote contained my weekly share of red and yellow tomatoes, scallions and more of those delightful cucumbers. In the fridge at home I had some fresh dill and Greek yogurt left over from this past weekend’s Russian extravaganza.

Dog Day Salad

1 large cucumber, seeded and diced
2 large tomatoes, diced
3 Tbsp fresh dill
3-5 scallions, minced
2 ounces crumbled feta or farmers cheese
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp creamy Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon

Crack open a cold beer. Toss the above ingredients together in a small mixing bowl, taking swigs of the beer as needed. If you’re not starving, chill this in the fridge for a bit. If it’s all you’re eating, you might want to toast some whole wheat flatbread, tear it up into bits and mix it right in.

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I found that this paired well with a Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre and Dog Day Afternoon, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Make this salad or not; I don’t really care. But, if you’ve never seen Al Pacino in his prime, do yourself a favor.

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Pretty in Pink Borscht

Last week’s CSA share included a handful of beets. I knew they would keep until this week, when I had a hunch I’d be getting some more. Sure enough, Tuesday brought another bunch–along with some of the crispest cucumbers I’ve ever tasted.

That very day, NPR reported that this is the hottest summer on record in the U.S. Roasting the beets was out of the question.

But cold borscht was not. I boiled my beets and eggs while preparing my morning coffee and a garlic, beet greens and egg scramble that I ate with a sliced fresh tomato–the first of the season! With the hot work completed early in the day, dinner preparation would really just be a matter of assembly.

Cold Borscht (serves about four)

  • 2 bunches beets (greens reserved for a nice sauté)
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 whole allspice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp pink peppercorns
  • 1 tsp green peppercorns
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you like a little heat)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt (and more to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp prepared horseradish (or to taste)

Clean the beets by soaking them in water and scraping off any lingering dirt. (I recommend using the edge of a teaspoon; three days and a few showers later, I am still trying to dig dirt our from underneath my thumbnail .) Trim the tops, bottoms and any rogue hairy stuff. Add these along with everything above except the horseradish to a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until your beets give easily when pierced with a fork (somewhere between one and two hours). Remove beets and strain liquid into a bowl using a chinoise or other fine mesh sieve. Once beets have cooled, slip peels off with your hands. Add all but one of the beets, reserved liquid and horseradish to the work bowl of your food processor and purée until smooth. You may need to add more water to get the desired consistency. Pour mixture back into the bowl and refrigerate for at least a few hours. (A full day would be fine.)

  • ¼ cup crème fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 cooked beet, diced
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs
  • 2 Tbsp minced dill plus more for garnish
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

Whisk minced dill and crème fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt into soup and season to taste with fresh-ground black pepper, salt and/or vinegar. Ladle soup into bowls, garnishing with halved eggs, beet and cucumber cubes and sprigs of dill.

It turned out that these were Chioggia beets, which were breathtakingly beautiful, though the dramatic stripes faded a bit during cooking and, ultimately, made for a borscht the color of Molly Ringwald’s prom dress at the end of Pretty in Pink. (Am I alone in having found that dress rather disappointing after all of the buildup?)

Still, it was damn tasty. I served it with a kale, sugar snap pea and pickled red onion salad and toasted pumpernickel bread topped with a crème fraiche spread and some killer smoked salmon that I’d picked up from Josephson’s Smokehouse in Astoria, Oregon. (Astoria is the town where Goonies was filmed, which makes for two ’80s movie references in a single blog post.)

An earthy rosé rounded out our feast, though I suppose that vodka would have been more traditional.


Kale, Sugar Snap Pea and Pickled Red Onion Salad

Kale, Sugar Snap Pea and Pickled Red Onion Salad

  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1-2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp creamy Dijon mustard
  • Salt and fresh-ground pepper (to taste)
  • 1 bunch kale (I happened to have Red Russian, which worked nicely with the theme)
  • 2 cups sugar snap peas

Combine first six ingredient in a lidded jar and let stand for an hour or more, shaking periodically. Combine dressing with shelled peas and thinly sliced kale and pea pods and let sit for at least ten minutes until kale begins to wilt.

Mid-July CSA Salad

The tomatoes are here!  Tonight’s CSA share included basil, cucumbers, scallions and some truly glorious tomatoes.  I had a wedge of red cabbage left over from the five-spice kale and cabbage slaw I made for a Fourth of July Party.  And I has some feta–yet another great emergency protein source.

Mid-July CSA Salad

  1. Finely slice a quarter of a head of red cabbage and toss with a teaspoon of salt in a wooden bowl.  The salt will start to break down the cabbage, allowing it to wilt and more fully merge with the rest of your salad.  (Fun fact: sauerkraut is just cabbage, salt and, possibly, seasonings that have been left to ferment.)
  2. Peel a few cucumbers, slice them up in half and scrape out the guts, which will make your salad too watery.  Then dice them and add them to the bow. 
  3. Add a couple of diced tomatoes.  Some folks would have you de-seed these as well, but there was no way I was wasting any of that glorious tomato goodness.
  4. Add a few thinly sliced scallions and some basil chiffonade.  Chiffonade is fancy chef speak for thinly sliced.   I find the best technique is to stack the leaves (about 10 in this case), roll them into a spiral and then slice the whole stack.
  5. Crumble two or three ounces of feta and toss that in too.
  6. Drizzle with a tablespoon of good quality olive oil, a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar and some fresh-ground black pepper and toss it all together.

You could toss some toasted whole wheat pita bits or some quinoa in if you’re looking for something a little more filling.  If you are a patient person, you could let it sit for a bit so that the flavors meld.  Alternately, you just could pour a glass of Vinho Verde and get to work.