Man does not cheer by wings alone

No matter how much other foods may try to horn in on the Super Bowl madness (Tacos? Seriously, Taco Bell?), wings are the nosh of the day. I won’t argue with that, since I have some expertise in the wings field. But you can’t fuel the multiple hours of pre-pregame, pregame, game, halftime, postgame and post-postgame solely on wings. There aren’t enough chickens in the world for that.

This salad is a favorite at every party I host, whether it’s sports related or not. It’s simple, and you can make it the day before the game. It will also lend an air of healthy eating to the proceedings, alleviating any possible guilt about having that 14th wing. It’s from my book, “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” published by Harvard Common Press.

Crowd-Pleasing Marinated Green Beans

1/2 of a large red onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup Italian herb-flavored wine vinegar, or your favorite wine vinegar

Salt and black pepper to taste

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 pounds fresh green beans, ends trimmed

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the sliced onions in a colander over the sink. In a small bowl, stir together the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper until combined. Stir in the garlic. Set aside.

When the water comes to a boil, add the green beans. Cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, just until the beans are bright green. Do not overcook. Pour the beans and hot water over the onions in the colander. Rinse under cold running water to cool down. Drain well for a few minutes.

Place the beans and onions in a large bowl or large recloseable plastic bag. Pour in the dressing and mix with the vegetables. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight, stirring or shaking occasionally. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Serves 6-8

Don’t bug me about corn

It was well over 100 degrees here in Raleigh on Saturday. But it was also corn season. Nothing stands in the

fresh corn and black bean salad

way of corn season. My neighbor Tom and I dragged about 25 ears to the patio for shucking prior to freezing. It wasn’t yet hot enough to turn the sweet corn into popcorn, but it was getting there. However, you don’t want to do this in the house, unless you enjoy picking corn silks and shreds of green shucks out of everything in a 30-foot radius.

It’s near the beginning of corn time here, and the corn will likely be a little less expensive when we hit the high season. But the biggest advantage of early corn – besides that it’s here now and irresistible – is that it’s mostly worm free. No dealing with the green crawlies and the mess they make as they chew through what rightly is mine. I don’t like to share with bugs.

Another reason for confining shucking to the yard is that stripping kernels from the cobs will make enough of a mess. I’ve found splatted kernels on light fixtures and the coffeepot before, when the carnage was over. Tom freezes corn both on the cob and off. I prefer it off the cob, because that’s more versatile. When it’s 40 degrees and raining – as it will be in not that many months – the summer corn can bring sun into chowders, corn puddings and muffins.

If you plan to freeze corn, you should blanch it first. This means plunging the whole ears into boiling water for no more than a minute or so. Then drop the ears into a large bowl of iced water, to stop the cooking as quickly as possible. Then use a sharp knife (I don’t bother with corn-shucking gadgets and neither does Tom) to strip off the kernels. I packed them into one-pint freezer bags, because I find that’s a good amount for recipes for The Hub and me. Need more? Just thaw out more bags. Be sure to squeeze out all the air you can when packing the bags.

I ended up with a short bag – not really enough to freeze. That I turned into a salad for lunch. With the corn already shucked, I threw together the salad in 30 minutes, then chilled it for about an hour. This would be good rolled in a tortilla with some feta, too.

Corn and Black Bean Salad

2 cups fresh corn kernels

2 cups canned black beans, rinsed off and well drained

1 small onion, chopped

1 sweet banana pepper, chopped

1 small tomato, chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Salt and black pepper to taste

About 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

In a large bowl, toss together the corn, black beans, onion, banana pepper and tomato. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, chili powder, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat them all. Stir in the cilantro. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors come together.

Salad couture

The News & Observer’s Andrea Weigl wrote here about her salad-a-day plan to help lose the baby weight. To make a salad a meal, you have to keep things interesting, and Weigl asked for reader suggestions on how to do that.

She overlooked the single spot where good salads can go bad in both diet and flavor: The dressing.

I got on a salad kick a year or so ago. I just started wanting salads for lunch instead of sandwiches. Whatever kind of odd craving this is has continued, and I’ve drawn The Hub into the leafy green vortex. I quickly became disgusted with nearly all bottled salad dressings. Not only are they underground monsters of salt, fat and sugar, but most of them just don’t taste good – especially once you start making your own. Today, I can whip up dressing for two almost as quickly as I could grab a bottle from the refrigerator and shake it until its gelatinous goo manages to become liquid.

The first thing I did was purchase one of those powdered dressing mix-with-bottle sets at the supermarket. I threw out the mixes and had a lovely bottle with a tight-fitting lid, perfect for shaking. You can use any glass jar with a screw top, but this looks nice on the table and pours easily.

Then, I mastered the basic vinaigrette. For math fans, it’s a simple ratio: 3 parts oil to 1 part acid. Add salt and pepper to your liking, shake well. Some emulsion fans (that’s what a vinaigrette is) insist on using a food processor to make it all come together, but that’s too much trouble for a Tuesday lunch. Unless there’s a lot of chunky ingredients, shaking should do just fine.

The oil can be such things as olive oil, vegetable oil, avocado oil or walnut oil. Acids could be wine or balsamic vinegars, lemon juice, lime juice, or a combination thereof. You don’t have to spend a lot on fancy oils and vinegars – your fresh dressing will taste better than the bottle no matter if the ingredients are pricey or not. But you could splurge, if you like, on some good balsamic vinegar or an unusual oil.

Which brings me to the add-ins. You can toss in a crushed garlic clove, dab of Dijon mustard, chopped fresh basil or tarragon, dried herb blends, drained capers, sesame oil, grated fresh ginger, tahini paste, mashed ripe avocado – you name it, pretty much. If you have a reasonably well-stocked pantry and spice shelf, you can come up with a different dressing for every weekday lunch. Homemade dressing will keep in the refrigerator, but I prefer to make just what I need and use it fresh. Let it sit for a few minutes if you’re adding flavors – while you’re compiling your salad is a good length of time.

If you want a fancier dressing, this recipe from “Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen” by Elizabeth Sims with Chef Brian Sonoskus (Andrews McMeel, 2011) is lively and different. You will need the food processor for this one. It’s easy to divide in half if you don’t need so much dressing.

1/4 cup pecans

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

2 1/2 teaspoons Dijon musterd

2 1/2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons tupelo honey

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup canola oil

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Roast the pecans on a rimmed sheet pan in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the pecans are roasted or slightly browned. Remove, cool and grind in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Transfer the pecans to a small bowl. Puree the vinegar, garlic, Dijon mustard, whole-grain mustard, honey, sugar, salt and pepper in a food processor and while the machine is running, drizzle in the canola oil and olive oil. Remove and pour into a container. Stir in the ground pecans and serve. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 30 days. Makes 2 cups.

Creature from the salad bar

I’ve been eating a lot of salads lately. Maybe it’s from having April in February, or maybe it’s because i have access to lettuce with actual flavor. I get mine from a CSA. This photo shows the latest load of leafies: a ruffled type of lettuce called panisse and some romaine. I even snack on the leaves on their own, chomping like a large rabbit.

But I never knew that innocent salads were a threat. I discovered that a friend, let’s call her “Molly,” hates salads and all that go into them: carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, even lettuce. “How can you hate lettuce?” I asked. “It’s like eating green, crunchy air.” She just does. “It’s a texture thing,” she said. She also picks lettuce and tomatoes off of sandwiches.

“Molly” contends that she does like vegetables: peas, corn and potatoes. And broccoli, but only the stalks.

She also hates celery. “Celery? How can you hate celery?” said another friend sitting nearby. “Celery doesn’t have any flavor. Unless you dip it in hot sauce. Have you ever tried that?” “Molly” made what my father would have called a “cow eating briars” face (except that she doesn’t graze on green things). She held the face and shook her head as Friend 2 and I discussed whether we could get celery stalks to soak hot sauce up into their fibers, then use them in bloody marys. This I will try. But I won’t make “Molly” watch.

As corny as NC in spring

The stack of corn in my freezer is smaller, but still there. Little bags of white-gold reproach, they are. To go with our Memorial Day burgers, I used some to make a corn and black bean salad.

The corn had a lot of liquid in it, so I heated it in a non-stick skillet, stirring, until the liquid was gone but the kernels were still moist. I mixed about a cup of the corn with a can of black beans, which I had rinsed and drained to remove some of the salt. I always do that with canned beans. Some chopped Vidalia onion and green bell pepper went in, too. Cilantro would have been nice, but I didn’t have any.

I concentrated on getting a lot of flavor into the dressing. I mixed olive oil, oregano, thyme, salt, black pepper, garlic, red wine vinegar, a squirt of lime juice and my secret weapon, homemade hot pepper vinegar. I threw in a few dashes of chili powder and smoked paprika, too. I poured the dressing over the vegetables and refrigerated it all for about five house, giving it a shake occasionally. The sweet corn and the other flavors worked out just as I’d hoped.

If you’ve never made hot pepper vinegar, it’s so stupidly easy. Get a scrupulously clean jar and enough fresh hot peppers to fill it up. Pour in white wine vinegar. Add a couple cloves of garlic, if you want. Sit the jar, covered, in a cupboard for a week or two, or until it’s hot enough for you. Leave it as is, or decant into another, more attractive bottle and toss in some of the peppers. Done.

Food news roundup

Passover starts Monday night, and The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) explores recipes for something I have never tasted, but have heard of: matzoh brei. The Hub described it to me once as French toast without the flavor. But how can something that starts with a big ol’ hunk of butter be all bad? Read more here. It’s in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer as well, along with the busting of a burger myth.

The tree-rat squirrels kept their nasty paws off my backyard lettuce plants, thanks to a dome of wire I installed to defeat them. Now, it’s salad season, and recipes are in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal here.

The latest on the Raleigh, N.C. food truck controversy is in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) here. And a rodeo is coming up.

It’s not beyond comprehension that people would go to baseball games for the food. That’s the only way you’d get me in one. No, I don’t like baseball – I prefer to take my naps indoors. At a field in Charleston, S.C., fans can feast on The Pickle Dog: Two pickle halves, hollowed out like canoes, which serve as the bun for a hot dog and coleslaw. And that’s not the only creation of the food director’s fevered brain. Read more in the Post and Courier, here.

Speaking of baseball, the winners of the annual Matzoh Bowl matzoh ball contest at a Ft. Lauderdale retirement community are revealed in Does the winner get to throw out the first one on Monday night?

Chapel Hill food writer Nancie McDermott takes a pie field trip to New York City, where she finds all the crust is upper. read more here.

In junior high school, a friend and I made butter by accident. We were trying to whip cream in a blender, then we got to talking about whether Deanie and Donnie had broken up AGAIN, and if Judy’s obsession with the Jackson Five would warp her forever. Important matters, which led to a ball of goo stuck to the blades. A more mature cookbook author who possesses the proper equipment (her views on the Jackson Five are unknown) teaches how to make butter in the Kansas City Star and talks about her cookbook, here.

That expiration date on food items – is it a rule or, like the Pirate Code, more like a guideline? The Boston Globe explores the issue here.


Man vs. squirrel

The furry rodents will not defeat me. I spent part of the lovely Sunday replacing my pots of lettuce. The originals vanished at the paws of squirrels. They didn’t just eat the lettuce, they dragged the whole plants off to their little nut lairs somewhere. Now, I have new red romaine and green leaf lettuce plants, and I want them to stay around.

Those who have read Beatrix Potter one too many times think squirrels are cute. A friend tried to persuade me to take a gentler, cooperative approach. Humph. This is war. Besides, there are plenty of pine cones in my yard – let ’em eat pine nuts.

I know from past experience with a bird feeder that squirrels will chew plastic to bits. I put wire around the pots. That ought to keep their hairy mitts off my future salad.

The eating of the greens and soft-shell crabs

It feels like Christmas in April – I picked up the first CSA box of veggies this week. The result: I had enough lettuce

lettuce, green onions, strawberries and more lettuce

lettuce, green onions, strawberries and more lettuce

to make salad for all in the immediate area of Moose Manor, thanks to the ample contents and the three large pots of leaf lettuce I’m growing on the patio. Planning, not my middle name.

Fortunately, I have been on a trend of salad for lunch for several months and I’ve become creative with dressings. I prefer to make my own – it’s easy and tastes so much fresher than bottled dressing (probably less expensive, too). I can also leave out things I don’t want, like a ton of salt or sugar. Herb flavored vinegar, balsamic vinegar, chunks of garlic, shakes of herbs, lemon or lime juice, Dijon mustard, mashed avocado, even a dab or two of barbecue sauce all make nice friends with olive oil.

The CSA alone would have made it a big week in the kitchen for me, but there was also the opening of the downtown Raleigh farmer’s market on Wednesday, on the end of Fayetteville Street near the convention center. Ed Mitchell of The Pit was cooking ‘cue, so the place was mobbed. But as a friend and I slogged through the crowd, I found North Carolina soft-shell crabs. I snatched them up like the pure spring gold that they are and ran home to my kitchen, where I did a little jig of delight and called my husband to share the news.

There was one little thing about these soft-shells: I had to clean them myself. In this case, “clean” means dispatching them to crab heaven, because fresh soft-shell crabs are sold live. The fishmonger had always cleaned them for me before. As oil heated in my frying pan, I pulled the package from the refrigerator and unwrapped it. The crabs twitched slowly, like slightly drunk spiders. I followed instructions: Snip off just below the eyes with a pair of kitchen shears, open the top of the shell and pull out the gills, then snip off a triangular spot on the back.

With that, I had killed my own food for the first time. Watch out, Ted Nugent.