The devils you don’t know

Peter Cottontail is hopping down the bunny trail toward Sunday’s big event, which is the center of traditional deviled egg season.

I like deviled eggs as much at Christmas as at Easter – that’s one reason I wrote a whole book on them. But I thought there must be options beyond pickle relish and mayo. And there certainly are. The book has deviled eggs with smoked salmon or blue cheese, even salsa or black olives.

This recipe from my book “Deviled Eggs: 50 Recipes from Simple to Sassy” published by Harvard Common Press is bright and different with fresh flavors for spring. Go get a pretty deviled-egg plate and put these out for Easter dinner – they’ll be the first things to go, I promise.

Springtime Herb Delights

6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, cut in half and yolks mashed in a bowl

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley (leaves only, no stems)

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives

Salt and black pepper to taste

Fresh Italian parsley leaves for garnish

Combine the thoroughly mashed yolks with the mayonnaise and lemon juice. Stir in the finely chopped herbs. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.

Fill the whites evenly with the mixture and garnish each egg half with a whole parsley leaf.

Makes 12

Jump in, the water’s fine

lavender mint

lavender mint

When I’m thirsty on a hot day, like the ones we’re finally having in the Carolina urban swamp, I find Vintage Raleigh Tap perfectly refreshing. But some people I know (primarily male people, for some reason) simply won’t drink plain, old water. The bulging supermarket shelves dedicated to flavored waters of all kinds bear out my impression. I laughed when I first saw a product in a small flask that allows you to flavor your own bottle of water. We had that when I was a kid. It was called Kool-Ade.

Many of the products also claim they’re making H2O healthier in some way, adding a miniscule amount of minerals of vitamins. What most of them add is a lot of sugar or fake sweeteners. And they add to company

other mint, maybe kentucky colonel

other mint, maybe kentucky colonel

profits.

Confirmed agua-phobes don’t much listen when I attempt to convince them that naked water is good. I see them reach for caffeine-free, sugar-free sodas and point out that, except for the color, chemicals and fizz, they’re basically getting what flows from the kitchen spigot. Doesn’t work. And that stuff costs more, too.

Here’s an easy way to refresh yourself or try to tempt the anti-water crowd: Infusing water with herbs. Mint is an obvious choice, and my mint is overflowing. I have two kinds, a conventional type (I think it might be Kentucky Colonel) and a lavender mint with a fascinatin hint of lavender flavor and scent. I grab about a half a cup of each – stems and all are OK – or a whole cup of one kind. Wash it. Put it in a pitcher. Pour about a quart of boiling water over it. Let it sit for 20 or 30 minutes or longer, however much flavor you want. Then remove the herbs. I sweeten mine with a little stevia, or sometimes sugar. Or you could leave it as-is.

The same thing works with other herbs: lemon balm, lemon verbena, other mints; even basil, if you’re adventurous.

The infusion will keep in the refrigerator several days. Mix it with ice if the flavor is too strong for some people, although I can’t imagine who that might be if they’re used to drinking those jelly-bean waters.

Don’t fear the flavor

I’ve heard from quite a few people about my Sunday column in The News & Observer. Apparently, “Spice Hoarders” could be a new show on cable. Y’all just don’t want to turn loose of those cans marked 75 cents with labels from defunct supermarkets. (And, cans? Spices haven’t been sold in metal cans since the Carter administration. At least the rust might give the arid contents some flavor.)

What surprised me were the pleas for the spaghetti sauce recipe I referred to. It’s nothing fancy, really, but it can help you abandon the tyranny of the jarred sauce. The secret is to load it up with plenty of flavor. That means letting go of those ancient jars. This recipe is also merely a starting point for you. I’ve rarely measured this myself, just scooped heaping spoons of herbs into it. Add more or less of things you don’t like, or omit the meat for a vegetarian sauce. Heck, throw in some spinach. This recipe makes a ton of sauce and it freezes great.

Spaghetti Sauce with Lots of Flavor

A couple of tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 to 1 1/2 pounds ground beef

3 links Italian sausage, sliced

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (I use Furmano’s or San Marzano brands. I have used an equivalent amount of chopped tomatoes from my freezer if I had time to freeze them during the summer)

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

3 tablespoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons dried marjoram

1 tablespoon dried basil

2 teaspoons dried aleppo pepper (you could substitute the dried red pepper that you shake on pizza, but it may be hotter)

Salt to taste

Heat some olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium. Cook the onions and garlic just until they are soft. Don’t let them brown. In a separate skillet, brown the ground beef and sausage and drain very well. Add the tomatoes and paste to the saucepan and stir. Stir in all the herbs and pepper, then stir in the well-drained meats. Stir in about 2 cups of water, or enough to make the sauce not extremely thick. Taste, then add salt (I start with about 1/2 teaspoon). Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover. Let it simmer for at least 1 hour – 2 hours is better. Check after an hour or so, and if the sauce seems too thick, add more water. Taste and see if it needs more salt.