Easy Barbecue Sauce

Easy Barbecue Beans - 5 of 10

I’ve always loved the tang of barbecue sauce, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered how easily it can be made at home.  Barbecue sauce, it turns out, can be made using pantry staples — ketchup, molasses, vinegar and a mixture of several common spices — which means, of course, that making your own is almost as convenient as using a commercial brand.

The key is to figure out the proper proportions of ingredients to achieve your preferred balance among the four basic flavor profiles:  sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.  (A fifth flavor profile, umami, has recently been identified. Its name is derived from a Japanese word that describes a meaty or savory taste, and it is found in foods such as soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, and mushrooms.)

In my case, ketchup serves as the base of the sauce and provides the majority of its sweetness.  Molasses contributes additional sweetness and some bitterness, while vinegar is the primary sour component.  Salt is, well, salty. Read More


French-Style Deviled Eggs

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The Memorial Day weekend is upon us and what better time to enjoy that classic appetizer, deviled eggs? You know what I’m talking about. You take hard-cooked eggs that have been peeled and halved lengthwise, you remove the yolks and mash them together with some mayonnaise and other seasonings, and then you spoon the mixture back into the empty whites. Easy peasy, and for many, a delicious summertime treat.

This year I decided to try a different take on deviled eggs. The classic version is good but I thought it was time to mix things up a bit. As I was searching the internet for some ideas, I ran across a recipe on The Splendid Table that adds an intriguing French twist to both the ingredients and the technique. “Pan-Crisped Deviled Eggs on French Lettuces” starts out by tweaking the yolk mixture with the addition of some shallots and white wine vinegar and and substituting Dijon mustard for yellow. It then takes the imaginative next step of browning the eggs, filling side-down, in some extra virgin olive oil. The result is a yolk with a bit more caramelized flavor and texture than you find in the classic deviled egg recipe.

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Asparagus and Hard-Boiled Egg Salad

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Did you know that there is such a thing as a crayon with the name “asparagus”? I learned this surprising factoid while I was reading the section on asparagus in Deborah Madison’s absolutely wonderful Vegetable Literacy. Sure enough, when I looked it up on Crayola’s website, there it was, a member of the green hue family, introduced in 1993.

Then I ran across a different website, one that included a posting called “10 Worst Crayola Crayon Colors.” Guess which color was #6 on the list, sandwiched in between bittersweet and manatee? Yes, it was asparagus. Apparently, this color made the list because the author of the post thinks that kids don’t get excited about vegetables, especially one “that makes your pee smell funny.”

Au contraire! I beg to differ. I think that kids get excited about asparagus precisely because it makes your pee smell funny. I speak from experience. My younger daughter thinks this particular quality of asparagus is hysterical. Sometimes, when I serve it for dinner, it’s the first thing she comments on. And then she scarfs it down.

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Steam, Don’t Boil, Your Eggs

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Making hard-boiled eggs seems easy. After all, isn’t it pretty much the same as, uh, boiling water?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found making hard-boiled eggs to be harder than it looks. Are the eggs supposed to be cold or at room temperature when they go in to the water? When do I bring the water to a boil, before or after the eggs have gone in? What exactly does “boil” mean? Is it a gentle simmer in which a few bubbles slowly rise up from the bottom of the pan and break gently at the surface, or is it a rapid and audible churning of bubbly froth and foam? How long do I cook the eggs, and what happens if I fail to keep the water boiling during the requisite period of time? Perhaps most bafflingly, how do I keep the eggs’ shells from cracking and their yolks from turning green.

So many questions for which I’ve never found any consistent answers.

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Shredded Raw Beet Salad

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Quick! How many of you, dear readers, will admit to eating beets other than under duress? Not many, I’m guessing. And I know why. Beets have a reputation for being a particularly unappealing vegetable. While some praise their “earthy flavor,” many more find that same quality to be the culinary equivalent of eating dirt. It’s even been reported that the White House vegetable garden is a “no beet garden” on account of both POTUS’ and FLOTUS’ dislike of this lowly root vegetable.

Without question, for many people beets are a shunned vegetable. Growing up, I was firmly in that camp. Canned beets would occasionally appear on our family dinner table, and when that occurred, my instinct was to avoid them at all costs due in no small measure to their unnatural purple color, their gelatinous-looking texture, and the fact that they bled all over everything else on the plate. Their disagreeable taste was almost an afterthought.

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