Woman vs. Squash

Photo of butternut squash by Cassandra Birocco. Copyright 2011

Here in Virginia we are scrambling to enjoy every last bit of summer. It’s 80 degrees today in late September and I’m harvesting loads of basil for pesto and my neighbor still has a good crop of tomatoes. No one wants to see the warm weather end. We’ll dine on the deck as long as we can.

To the contrary, our friends in Florida have had it with the heat and will do anything to usher in some cooler temps. I think that is why my friend Judy Martin from Jacksonville decided to make butternut squash soup—anything to encourage fall. But, it wasn’t so easy. First, Judy had to conquer the squash. I think it’s better if she tells the story.

Here’s what Judy writes from Florida:

It was nearing the fall season, and my food thoughts harkened back to childhood when my mom prepared butternut squash in my favorite way, baked, with butter and brown sugar. So, even though it’s still hot and humid in Jacksonville, Florida, I wanted to relive those memories and that taste.

As if reading my mind, the Publix supermarket encouraged me by displaying the most beautiful specimens. Google found me the perfect instructions for preparation and off I went. A half hour later found me grunting and chopping and crookedly slicing my beautiful vegetables. All these years later, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome had let the squash outwit me. Nevertheless, lopsided as they were, husband Tom and I enjoyed them tremendously.

How do I cut the squash in half?

Not wanting to let a simple vegetable get the best of me, I went online to make a request of my Facebook friends—what’s the best way to cut one in half? The answers were quite varied:

  • Use an electric knife but watch out for your fingers
  • Don’t do that; buy it already cut up
  • Have Tom do it
  • Have them split it for you at the market
  • Soften it in the microwave
  • Use a chain saw, hack saw; hatchet, axe, use a large knife then pound it with a hammer
  • Cut off the skinny end, poke the squash with a knife, than microwave it for a few minutes
  • Bake it whole in the oven, then cut and remove seeds
  • Go to YouTube for a demonstration

The subject of squash soup came up and good friend Bee Kelley (author of this blog), from the Hearing Loss Association of America, sent me three recipes from which to choose. They all immediately made my mouth water. I chose the simplest one for my first effort.

Judy's butternut squash soup for two. Photo by Judy Martin.

CUTTING TIP: This recipe had a sidebar explaining how to peel and cut butternut squash. Thank goodness! Cutting the top and bottom off, then peeling the skin was the first step. Finally, to cut through the squash safely, gently tap on the back of a chef’s knife using a rubber mallet. I didn’t have one so used a metal mallet—yes, very gently—and it worked like a charm. I’ve put a rubber mallet on my wish list.

Because it took a considerable amount of energy, I made a double batch. My friend from my old hometown in New York assured me it would freeze nicely. It did, so we had enough for three or four meals.

A happy Tom says, "Judy can we eat that soup now?" Photo by Judy Martin.

Now I feel my celebration of autumn is complete. Bring on Halloween and thank you, Ms. Bee.

Editor’s Note: You’re welcome, Judy. Thank you for writing this up for my blog. The recipe Judy chose is from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. The recipes are just as the title suggests: well tested. I cook from this book a lot and love the show on PBS. I also sent her two other recipes. As soon as I conquer my own butternut squash, I will share another recipe. Until then, I’m hanging onto summer with dear life! And thank you to Cassandra Birocco, my childhood friend, for photographing a butternut squash on demand.

Butternut Squash Soup

TIP FROM AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN: Stay away from the pre-cut squash, as its flavor is usually dull and its texture dry.

  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
  • 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper

1. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the squash, broth, thyme, and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the squash is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Remove the thyme sprigs and puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth.

3. Return the pureed soup to the pot. Stir in the cream. Bring to a brief simmer, then remove from the heat. If the soup seems too thick, thin it out with additional broth or water. Sprinkle individual servings with more nutmeg, if desired.

Serves 8.

To Make Ahead

This soup can be prepared through step 2 , cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 months. Reheat over low heat, adding additional water or broth to adjust the consistency, before proceeding with step 3.

Call of Duty, Part II: Steaks and Cakes

Corpsman "Mac" Maculenicz and CPT Mark Brogan, U.S. Army, Ret.

Sometimes hospitality has to be delivered, in this case to Captain Mark Brogan, U.S. Army, Ret. He is a wounded warrior at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I introduced him in a previous blog. He is 31, married to Sunny, was wounded in Iraq in 2005 and sustained traumatic brain injury. My colleague and friend at the Hearing Loss Association of America, Nancy Macklin, and I went to see Mark. We learned that when they reconstructed Mark’s skull after the accident, something to do with his temporal lobe affected his sense of taste. Sometimes he can’t taste food at all or it tastes weird. We found out, however, that he does like spicy foods and can actually taste them.

We also learned that Mark, being from Knoxville, Tennessee, has never had a Philly cheesesteak. How did the topic of cheesesteaks come up? Corpsman Stanley “Mac” Maculenicz (21), originally from south Philadelphia, told Mark all about the famous Philly cheesesteak. Mac accompanies Mark wherever he goes in the hospital. So when we visit Mark, Mac is usually nearby.

Mark, having sustained a hearing loss from his injury, at first thought we were talking about cheese cake. After we got that straightened out, Nancy and I left that day vowing to return with Philly cheesesteaks. After all, Mark had never had one, and Mac could use a taste of home.

Minced Steak But Not Minced Words

"Mac" and Mark Brogan display the hot sauces we brought for Mark to share on the TBI floor.

We picked up the cheesesteaks from a local establishment and went to Bethesda Naval, as it is commonly referred to. You need a GPS just to find your way to the right building let alone the wing, the floor, then the room. We navigated our way to Mark and Mac suggested an outdoor eating area near the “mess.” Mark hadn’t been outside in days and drew a big breath of fresh air.

Mark seemed really pleased when we presented him with a variety of hot sauces to put on his cheesesteaks. (Remember, he can sometimes taste spicy.) Mac looked skeptical. Nancy announced we got a variety of toppings on the cheesesteaks — one with onions and mushrooms, one with green peppers, etc. Take your pick.

Corpsman Mac said, “Cheese steaks never have green peppers.” But since Mark doesn’t like green peppers, he took that one (that’s the military for you, always sacrificing for the good of another!). Looking suspicious as he unwrapped the cheesesteak, Mac took a bite and began his critique:

“No, it’s all about the roll and this one is horrible!…too soft, not crunchy. It’s supposed to be an Amaroso roll; it should be somewhat crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Rubbing some meat between his fingers he said, “The meat shouldn’t be minced up like this, it should be sliced very thin, slivers. And, never this kind of cheese, it should be provolone or Cheez Whiz.”

“Cheez Whiz?” Now, Nancy is skeptical.

“Yes, and the whole thing should be about this big.” (He gestures.)

The sailor from South Philly hath spoken.

Mac shows us how big a Philly Cheesesteak should be. The one we brought paled in comparison.

Mac is right, actually. A little digging on my part found out that any reputable cheesesteak purveyor will tell you the bread is paramount to a properly-made sandwich. And, any old roll won’t do it. No wonder Mac gave us a good tongue lashing about the roll. And about that Amaroso roll, Mac is right again. Amaroso’s Bakery is often considered the first name in cheesesteak rolls. And how about that Cheez Whiz? Yep! Mac has it all down and why should we have doubted him? He is from South Philly!

The Cakes

Nancy's rendition of the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes

Nancy Macklin doesn’t let any occasion, large or small, go by without one of her homemade goods.This time she brought cupcakes for Mark and everyone on the TBI floor. She suggested that Mark quickly squirrel away a few for him and Sunny as they were going fast. (Sunny took the opportunity to go have her hair done. She is with Mark nearly all the time and stays in Fisher House while they are here.)

In my humble opinion, cupcakes can often be dry. A theory is that there is not enough space to hold the moisture in that little cup. In a whole cake, the moisture has a lot of room to stay and hang out.

Not so with Nancy’s cupcakes. She executes perfectly a cupcake that defies my unscientific theory. She makes the Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes. From cake to frosting, these little cakes are melt-in-your-mouth goodness. And she lays the frosting on thick because it is not a goo of confection, it is perfectly sweet and light and you want a lot of it! The recipe is simple, but follow it to a T. And, unsalted butter is essential, don’t substitute. Your result will be perfection.

I’m thinking about using this recipe for the basis of a margarita or key lime cupcake. That will take some experimenting at a later date. For now, I give you Nancy’s recipe:

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp of vanilla

Grease lightly and line muffin pans with liners. Cream butter until smooth; add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Combine flours and add in 4 parts alternating with milk and vanilla. Spoon into cups, ¾ full and bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes or until top springs back. Makes 24 cupcakes.

Frosting:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 8 cups confectioners’ sugar (2 boxes)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Combine butter, 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, milk and vanilla; beat until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the remaining sugar one cup at a time until spreading consistency. Use and store at room temperature. You can store icing in airtight container for three days.

*******

Nancy and I left (again needing a GPS to get out). We talked about Mac and how he and his wife Kelly are expecting their first baby soon. We talked about Mark and how brave and upbeat he is in light of the injury that changed his life — and how lucky we are to know him. And we talked about all those who give their lives so we can live in peace. I think we will be going back soon.

Mark and Nancy

Sneeze Guard Heiress Meets Iron Chef Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay and Barbara Kelley (a.k.a. the sneeze guard heiress) Photo by Cindy Dyer.

Some days are just great and this was right up there with the best of them! I got to meet my idol, Iron Chef Bobby Flay, at the Williams-Sonoma in Annapolis, Maryland. His new book Bar Americain is a real winner. While standing in line to meet Mr. Flay and have him sign our books, we were treated to samples of his recipes:

  • Pumpkin Soup with Cranberry-Maple Creme Fraiche with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Chives
  • Apple Chopped Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Blue Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
  • Hot Potato Chips with Blue Cheese Sauce
  • Red Velvet Cupcakes

All delish and all on my “to cook” list (starting this weekend)!  I can’t put this beautiful book book down. Really, I’m just too excited to blog, so for the “rest of the story” from my big day, go to Cindy Dyer’s blog — my friend, photographer, artist, and designer extraordinaire!

And why am I the sneeze guard heiress? It’s all tongue-in-cheek to provoke a grin and pique some interest; however, my dad, Johnny Garneau really did invent the sneeze guard.

Hospitality: Call of Duty

In the lobby at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda

Sometimes hospitality has to be delivered, in this case, right to the floor of the wounded warriors with traumatic brain injury, or “TBI” as the sign says in the hall of 7E, Building 10,  of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

A federal institution, the National Naval Medical Center or “Bethesda Naval” as it has been called for decades, is the hospital of the presidents. The National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) has been the flagship of the U.S. Navy’s medical centers. A few weeks ago, NNMC was merged with Walter Reed Army Medical Center to create the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center a modernized joint-forces central medical facility created by expanding the current NNMC facility.

A friend of ours from Knoxville, Tennessee, CPT Mark Brogan, U.S. Army, Ret., is at the National Naval Medical Center receiving care. So, off we went.

Mark (31) sustained a traumatic brain injury in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 when a suicide bomber blew up in front of him in a market in Ahnbar Province. He tells the story with intense honesty to our son (11) who wants to know how he earned his Purple Heart.

On April 11, 2006, Captain Brogan was approached from behind by a suicide bomber during his mission in Iraq. The bomb detonated and Mark was left for dead. Such is the custom of soldiers on the battlefield to stand silently over the dead and give them their final prayers and a send-off. They said goodbye to Captain Brogan. But to the surprise of the medics, Mark was still alive. To hear him tell it, it was okay with him to take the hit because the suicide bomber died and that would be one less person on this earth who could hurt people.

From left: my husband, MAJ Bill Kelley, USAR, JAG; CPT Mark Brogan; our son, Patrick

Mark still has nightmares. Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, his skull has been reconstructed (he shows us the photo of the model of his reconstructed skull as well as the scar that traverses his head), he has a hearing loss, and is now under care for continued seizures. Of the many medals he has earned, Mark tells us with a boyish grin that the Purple Heart is one he would rather not have earned.

Mark’s wife, Sunny, is staying at Fisher House, which is housing for the families of the military members who are hospitalized, while Mark undergoes a series of medication testing to control his seizures. Mark is getting the best care our county can give him and he deserves it.

Bringing Food and Comfort

Volunteer Ester Brooks brings hospitality to the wounded warriors.

Ester Brooks is a bubbly, pretty and charming mother of three, who lives in the Bethesda area. She is also a teacher and spends time weekly at the National Naval Medical Center. When I asked Ester what she does there, she said:

“I organize breakfast with coffee and bagels on Wednesdays on the wounded warrior floor for soldiers and their families. We just started another coffee on Tuesdays in ICU. I also do healing arts and yoga classes on 7W and on the traumatic brain injury section. Basically, I get to meet the wounded warriors and their families and try to help a little. I get especially close to the Hispanic families because I speak Spanish. It’s just such an honor to be with them and to be of a little help sometimes.”

Ester is one of many dedicated volunteers who carve out time from their overbooked lives to lend their talents to the men and women who serve our country. Thank you Ester for knowing that hospitality comes from the heart and goes anywhere you do.

Thank you Mark for your service to our country. You answered the call so we can live in peace.

Read more about the compelling story of Mark Brogan in my article from Hearing Loss Magazine

Click here to read: Call of Duty Part II – Steak and Cakes at Bethesda Naval

Bobby G. Creates “Almost Heaven”…in Raleigh, North Carolina

This is the first time we welcome a guest blogger to Kelley Hospitality. But he is not just any blogger, he is” Bobby G.” (Not to be confused with Bobby F[lay] who both Bobby G and I really like!)

Some of you might know I have an ongoing research study about whether or not hospitality is nature or nurture? Is there a hospitality gene? I have volumes of anecdotal evidence, but I will say this: my brother, Bobby Garneau, a.k.a. “Bobby G,” also inherited the gene.

Bobby Garneau and big sister Barbie Garneau Kelley. He is the brains and she is the flash!

So, without further adieu, I welcome my first guest blogger who just happens to be my brother. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I present: “Bobby G

Bobby’s Blog Entry

The seeds were planted last winter when my friend Todd Reider asked me if I could make him a great BBQ sauce for a chicken and pig roast that he was having. Todd has had some of my dishes but quite frankly he gives me more credit than I deserve. Todd is a great cook in his own right so I could not resist making him the best sauce that I could.

Now you have to know one thing. We live in North Carolina where barbecue is a noun (not a verb) and barbecue sauce is vinegar based…period. The sauce turned out great, in fact, so great that Todd started testing it with various people to see if they thought it was as good as he did.

Our discussions turned to how best to market this most excellent sauce and we agreed that we had to start to do some pig cookin’s and serve barbeque with our great sauce. We started researching pig cookers, talked to folks on Craig’s List, looked at others alongside the road, and visited various pig roasts to see what the different setups were.

We ended up finding a guy in Pikeville, North Carolina, which is about 10 miles outside of Goldsboro. Many would argue that the best barbecue in the world is in Goldsboro which is home to Wilber’s BBQ for more than 40 years. Wilbur cooks whole hogs on an oakwood fire, and serves true Eastern NC BBQ, using the whole pig and chopped…and it does not get any better than that. BBQ and pig cookers is a way of life in these parts, and we found a guy named James Ballance that has been custom building pig cookers for more than 10 years.

When we went to see James, he had about three cookers that were in various stages of “manufacturing.” He had steel drums of various sizes and shapes to choose from. We chose the biggest one he had—a five-foot long, by four-feet wide drum that was shaped like it was flattened out a bit (instead of round). We then chose to have the grill open to the side. We wanted two side burners spaced far enough apart so we could fit two big pots on them at the same time. We wanted room for two propane tanks, a smoke box the size of the smoke stacks under the grate, and a complete trailer lighting package and title so it could be licensed for travel.

Bobby G takes delivery on his custom-made cooker. Now he's a real North Carolinian!

We took delivery on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend 2011. The next day we put the word out for an impromptu pig pickins’ for that same Sunday evening. We could not wait to break in the cooker and start making some BBQ like real North Carolinians. With such short notice we did not try to cook a whole pig, but rather opted for pork shoulders (Boston Butt), country ribs, and chicken.

"With such short notice we did not try to cook a whole pig, but rather opted for pork shoulders (Boston Butt), country ribs, and chicken. "

BBQ Tip: We coated the shoulders in seasoning and brown sugar, wrapped them and let them sit in the fridge overnight, and cover the ribs and chicken with a generous coat of dry rub.

Now we were ready for the christening of the cooker. It was Sunday of Labor Day weekend. We went to church and rushed home to fire up the grill to a constant temperature of 250 degrees.

So just for the record, it does not get any better than that—God, a holiday weekend, a pig cooker, lots of meat, and beer…a glimpse of heaven, no doubt!

Along with the pork shoulder (BBQ), the country ribs, and the chicken, we made a pot of beans and potatoes and baked beans. For an appetizer, we served deviled eggs. Have you ever noticed that anytime deviled eggs are brought somewhere, they are the first to go? Everyone loves deviled eggs! (Recipe below.)

"We chose to have the grill open to the side. We wanted two side burners spaced far enough apart so we could fit two big pots on them at the same time."

The meal turned out terrific, and we definitely learned much stumbling our way through preparing dinner for 30 neighbors. Now, about that BBQ sauce…that was our excuse for purchasing the pig cooker, so I guess we need to start planning some pig pickins’…not sure I’m up for all that work, though!

Bobby G’s Deviled Eggs

  • 6 eggs—hard-boiled (TIP: the absolute key to having eggs that peel easy are to NOT use the freshest eggs. Let them sit until they are a week or two inside their expiration date. Cool eggs in ice water, peel, and slice in half. Scoop out cooked yolks)
  • ¼ cup mayo
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoons fresh chopped chives
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Key Ingredient: I take 1/2 lb of bacon and fry it up crisp (I cut the raw bacon before I cook it.) Make sure it is crisp and soak the fat off by pressing with paper towels…add the cooked bacon to the egg mixture!
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped olives

Mix cooked egg yolks with all ingredients and stuff back into egg haves. Place a piece of sliced olive on top of each egg, then sprinkle with paprika.

Editor’s Note: Read more about Bobby G and the family Thanksgiving he orchestrated and hosted. And, don’t believe what he said at the end of this blog about “not sure I’m up to all that work.” Another event will be right around the corner! What about that sauce?

(Photos provided by Bobby G.)

Burywood Boyz Second Annual Fantasy Football Draft (and it was Fan-Tasty!)

Stadium food, sort of...

It’s fall and it’s football season and a few of the boys in our neighborhood have a fantasy league. They hear about fantasy football everywhere, but these leagues can be a tad complicated and all-consuming for the little guys. Our league is composed of boys ages 12 to 15, plus three dads, and one mom (me!). We welcome girls too; we just haven’t found any yet.

Early in the morning, before anyone else is up, the commissioner is working on the Burywood Boyz Fantasy Football Draft.

The draft happens on Labor Day, two days after the final NFL team rosters are released, and three days before the first NFL game. It’s also the last day before school starts when we know the kids won’t have any homework. Our draft, paired with Labor Day, signifies the official last day of summer.

Thanks to the co-commissioners of the Burywood Boyz League (my husband Bill and our son Patrick), they keep the draft simple. Everyone drafts 11 offensive players and one team defense. The commissioners run the draft and keep it moving and organized with a white board. This year, each “coach” starts with the team he drafted last year. He then has the chance to release players and draft new ones. In the end, the boys felt they got their best picks. (For more explanation see Fantasy Football 101.)

The draft picks are displayed on a white board.

Each week during the regular football season, the teams submit to the commissioner their six-man roster which includes: one quarterback, one running back, two wide receivers (or tight end), one kicker, and one team defense. At the end of the football week (after Monday Night Football) the scores are tallied and whoever has the most points wins the week. At the end of the season, we have a playoff.

What’s in it for the Boys?

  • Fathers spending time with their sons on something they are both interested in.
  • Friendly competition.
  • Being a “coach” and researching players to draft.
  • Doing meaningful work by studying the stats each week in the sports section and deciding who plays the following week.
  • Learning how to manage an Excel spreadsheet.
  • Practicing math skills with scoring and stats.
  • Having fun!

What’s in it for Me?

I get to throw the party! Of course the food is secondary, but what would a football draft be without stadium food? And, since it is the last hoorah of summer, it could possibly be the last official picnic of the year. So the entire family attends the draft.

The Menu

  • Hot Maryland Cab Dip for appetizer
  • Spiced Burgers with Melted Colby Cheddar Cheese
  • Hot Dogs (I recommend Ballpark all-beef brand or Hebrew National, both taste-tested by me and both win!)
  • All the condiments: pickles, sliced sweet onions, tomatoes, lettuce, mustards, ketchup
  • Bagkelley’s Summer Veggies 
  • Chips
  • Desserts: food the kids can pick up and eat easily while they are drafting players. For today, Pale Summer Cookies. Live it up; it’s the last hurrah of summer.
  • Extras: Marion brought watermelon and Melanie brought a homemade peach-blueberry crisp with fresh whipped cream. “It’s healthy, it has oatmeal in the crisp part,” she says apologetically. (I say who cares, it’s delicious!)

The Table Settings

Keep it simple. It’s the day before school starts and you don’t need a lot of clean up. Use sturdy plastic and paper ware. Bring out all the football dishes you have. If you have time, get some team napkins. Decorate or not.

Everyone goes for the Hot Maryland Crab Dip

Main thing: the food should be good and everyone should have fun.

Footnote

I play because they needed an eighth team so the teams could be paired for an end-of season playoff game. The name of my team? “Reed’s Rowdy Gurlz” named for Washington Redskins Safety Reed Doughty —  the Kelley’s favorite player on our favorite team. Yes, Reed’s wife, Katie, knows about the name. She grinned (or grimaced, I couldn’t tell) when I told her.

Guess who won the Burywood Boyz Fantasy Football League playoffs last year? Who else? — Reed’s Rowdy Gurlz! Just because I’m throwing a party doesn’t mean I can’t draft a playoff contender team!

One of the Burywood Boyz and his sister, deliver their mother's Peach-Blueberry Crisp, still warm...

Recipes from the Burywood Boyz Second Annual Fantasy Football Draft

 Hot Maryland Crab Dip

Mix together:

  • 1 pound of cream cheese
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon of sherry
  • 1 tablespoon of confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard – use any kind, grainy or not, even spicy brown will work (whatever’s in the fridge)
  • ½ teaspoon garlic salt
  • ¼ cup sweet onion like Vidalia, minced fine, or use scallions, again, whatever you have
  • ½ pound of crabmeat – I prefer a local Baltimore brand, Phillips ™ (Maryland Blue Crab)
  • Mix well. Spray a pretty baking dish with oil, bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Serve hot with crackers. This also freezes nicely if you want to make it ahead.

Spiced Burgers

This time I used Williams-Sonoma burger seasoning mix with the ground beef, but you can easily season your own. (Use some garlic salt, Worcester sauce, pepper, cumin, whatever you like.)

TIP: The trick to a good burger is to use meat with a liberal amount of fat in it (like an 80-20 mix. Season it with some good spices and mince some onion in the meat (the kids will never know the onion is in there that way). The trick to grilling is to be patient. Don’t over-flip, in fact, flip only once when one side is done, and don’t flatten with the spatula and release the juices. Keep the grill lid open or the grease drippings could cause a fire.

Warm peach-blueberry crisp

Melanie’s Peach-Blueberry Crisp

Melanie says, “Personalize it, baby!”

  • 4 or 5 large peaches
  • 1- 2 cups blueberries
  • 2 tablespoon flour
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla or almond extract

Topping:

  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ c. flour (Melanie uses whole wheat pastry flour)
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • grated fresh nutmeg to taste
  • ¼ c. butter, cold

Preheat oven to 350. Peel and thinly slice peaches into a two-qt. baking dish. Add blueberries; mix gently.  Sprinkle 2. T. flour and 2 T. sugar over fruit and mix gently. Sprinkle vanilla or almond extract over the top.

Prepare topping: combine the oats, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cut in the butter until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. You can either do this with two knives, or with a food processor. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the fruit.

Bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes, until the topping is browned and crispy.  Let cool somewhat before serving.  Best served warm with vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Of course, you could make this with all peaches, or use any other fruit such as nectarines, apples, other berries, etc.  Personalize it, baby!

My Pale Summer Cookies get around...this time on a football platter.

 

Summer Vegetables That “Show Up” (Especially the First Week of School)

Summer brings fresh tomatoes and all sorts of herbs and goodies from the garden. There are still a few weeks left in some parts of the country for locally-grown tomatoes and basil.

Ratatouille is a popular summer dish because it uses garden fresh tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and can be made ahead, reheated, and even served at room temperature.

I created a new twist to ratatouille---you can't mess it up because all the vegetables "show up" for you.

This week, I played around with my own recipe—a new twist on an old standby (ratatouille). I simplified it a bit and omitted the peppers and used the delicious bruschetta seasoning that I found in Wilmington, North Carolina this summer at the Italian Gourmet Market. I also experimented with adding cheese, which typical ratatouille does not do.

There are still plenty of “deck days” left where we live in Virginia. This will be a good dinner this Friday evening with some French bread, grilled chicken, and some wine…all on the deck as we recover from the first week of school! I’ll make it ahead the night before so when I get home from work on Friday all I have to do is put it in the oven.

Bagkelley’s Late-Summer Veggies

First, the good things about this recipe:

Do you like bleu or feta cheeses? Add one for a different taste. This recipe goes with your mood and taste buds. I experimented separately with both feta and bleu with great results.

TIP: Peeling and salting the eggplant will give it a buttery and not bitter flavor. Typical ratatouille does not call for peeling the eggplant.

You’ll note that these are all approximate measurements. You simply cannot mess up this dish. The vegetables “show up” no matter what you do to them.

TIP: Don’t use a sweet onion like a Vidalia sort—the sweet ones lose their onion pungence-ness (is that a word?) when cooked. Save sweet onions for salads or on burgers.

This dish can perch on a buffet for several hours, not spoil, get to room temperature and still be delish!

This is light fare that can be eaten with French bread dipped in the olive oil.

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil, plenty of it
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 3 zucchini or yellow squash or both, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 3 large tomatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly.
  • Garlic, about a clove minced
  • Basil, about ½ cup, rolled and sliced (this is the way my brother Bobby advises cutting basil)
  • Bruschetta seasoning (or season to taste with salt, black pepper, chili powder, dried basil)
  • Panko breadcrumbs mixed with ½ cup parmesan cheese and ¼ cup olive oil
  • Cheese is optional, choose crumbled feta or bleu or mozzarella

Heat oven to 424 degrees.

Sautee onion, tomatoes, fresh garlic and fresh basil in a pan. Season to taste with the bruschetta seasoning or other recommended seasonings. Cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Set aside

Cover a foil-lined baking sheet with olive oil. Place the peeled and sliced eggplant on the sheet. Top with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast for 10 minutes.

Do the same with the zucchini and/or yellow squash, olive oil, but they don’t need much salt to make them tender and good.

Now, we are ready to assemble and bake:

Spray a baking dish with oil, about 9’ x 12”, or use round casserole, whatever you have on hand

Layer eggplant, then tomato mixture, then one type of cheese if you like, then zucchini/yellow squash, eggplant. End with tomato mixture and cheese.

Top with Panko breadcrumb/cheese/olive oil mixture

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Serve hot or room temp.