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Picnic fare for the Fourth (part one). July 2, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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This weekend, we’re featuring some of our favorite Fourth of July recipes from past posts.

Silence Dogood here. With the Fourth of July almost upon us, it’s time to get serious about some easy, yummy summertime fare you can take along on picnics or serve at barbecues and deck or patio parties. Today’s recipes are all great with sandwiches, too (or in the case of the pimiento cheese spread, on sandwiches). Yum—just thinking about them is making me hungry!

Our friend Ben and I love pickles. We love big, garlicky Kosher pickles, tiny crunchy-sweet cornichons, bread-and-butter slices—you name it, we love it. After my father gave us a jar of hot-sweet pickles from a specialty food company in Nashville, we fell in love with them and I (of course) developed my own recipe for this fabulous treat. Hot-sweet pickles are still our favorites, but, thanks to my ingenious friend Delilah of Crock-Pot mac’n’cheese fame, I’ve developed a much easier way to make them.

Before we tasted Delilah’s refrigerator pickles, our experience with refrigerator pickles had been a total disappointment. Limp and flavorless, these so-called pickles tasted more like sliced salad cukes that had sat too long in the fridge. Yuck!!! But Delilah’s were crunchy and flavorful. I asked for her secret, then went home and worked out a sweet-hot recipe for refrigerator pickles that are bursting with flavor and crunch. Let me tell you, these sweet hotties are picklelicious!!!

If you can keep any around long enough, the flavor just gets better over time, and they stay crunchy for months. And there’s no standing over a hot stove with canning jars. We keep several large containers in our fridge all summer so we can enjoy them ourselves with sandwiches and appetizers, and have plenty on hand when guests come over or to take to the Friday Night Supper Club. (See my post “The Friday Night Supper Club” for more on this great idea.) Even if we set out a whole vat, there are never any survivors! Needless to say, a container of these makes a great gift, too.

              Silence’s Hot-Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

5-6 slender cukes, sliced (any kind will taste fine, but please, no waxed skins) 

1 cup sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons salt (any kind is fine, no need to get pickling salt)

1 tablespoon black mustardseed

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, or Candy type), or more to taste, diced

dash hot sauce, such as Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa

Combine vinegar and sugar and heat until sugar dissolves; add salt, spices, and hot sauce. Layer sliced cukes and onions in alternate layers in a glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. When the brine (the vinegar mix) is lukewarm, pour it over the cukes and onions, then close the lid and refrigerate. Shake container gently every day to make sure brine is saturating top layers. You can begin eating the pickles after 3 to 5 days; the flavor gets stronger over time. The pickled onions can be eaten as is, and they’re great as a sandwich relish and in salads, too. You can add more fresh cukes and onions as you eat the first batch, but make sure you put them at the bottom of the container with the older pickles on top. Check the brine to make sure it’s still flavorful, adding more salt, turmeric, and other spices as needed. I’ve found that the brine can be reused about three times before you need to pour it out and start over. (Note: This brine is cloudy, not clear like a canned pickle brine, which is why we use opaque plastic storage containers for our refrigerator pickles rather than glass.) So easy and so incredibly good!!! People can’t keep their hands off them. 

We prefer hot potato salads, but we were won over by this one when visiting family in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the family patriarch—a great chef at age 91—had whipped up a batch for us. Despite the huge quantity, it was gone after lunch the next day. Nobody seemed able to resist seconds, and some people (ahem) disappeared into the kitchen and returned with thirds. We think it will become your family’s new favorite, too. Mr. Hays makes it with baking potatoes, and interestingly, it works! 

              Mr. Hays’s “Baked Potato” Salad

3 pounds russet potatoes

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste (plus 1 teaspoon for cooking)

1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper, or to taste

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

4 large eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, and diced

1 cup diced red bell pepper

1 cup thinly sliced celery (about 1 large stalk)

1 cup diced sweet onion (WallaWalla, Vidalia, or Candy type, about 1 medium onion)

1/4 cup each diced sweet and dill pickles (try my hot-sweet refrigerator pickles for the sweet pickles for a real taste sensation!)

3/4 cup mayonnaise

Fill a large saucepan with cold water. Add the potatoes and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, about 25-30 minutes. Drain the potatoes and gently rub off the skins, using a paper towel, while still warm. (If using a thin-skinned potato such as ‘Yukon Gold’, we leave the skins on.) Chop the potatoes into 1-inch pieces and toss with the cider vinegar, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir in the red bell pepper, celery, onion, and pickles. Fold in the eggs and mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Mr. Hays says this recipe serves 10, but given the quantities that were disappearing in front of our eyes, I’d be a little skeptical about that!

My father’s girlfriend Alice has perfected pimiento cheese spread. I’d always avoided this particular food, having had some really horrific encounters with various forms of it as a child (ooh, it was bad, nasty stuff). But Father loves Alice’s pimiento spread, and not being raised by wolves, when it was presented during one of our visits, we of course tried it—and could see his point. This stuff is easy, and yes, it is good. On crackers, as a stuffing for celery or dip for veggies, on a sandwich with toasted multigrain bread, crunchy Romaine lettuce, and red bell pepper rings or a slice of beefsteak tomato, it is positively addictive. Try it and see for yourself!  

              Alice’s Primo Pimiento Cheese Spread

Large piece of sharp yellow Cheddar, grated (or equivalent pre-shredded)

Smaller piece of medium-sharp white Cheddar, grated (or equivalent pre-shredded)

Small jar chopped pimiento, half-drained

Hellman’s mayonnaise

3 drops Tabasco, or to taste

Ground cayenne, paprika, or black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon sour cream

Mix all ingredients in a food processor, adding enough Hellman’s mayonnaise to make a thick but spreadable dip or spread.

We, of course, use our favorite hot sauce, Pickapeppa, with a liberal hand, skip the additional pepper, add salt, and whisk it all together instead of processing it (we’re Luddites, after all; food processors scare us). This means you’d get a more textured spread or dip; Alice’s is smoother. But I’ll guarantee that whichever way you make it, you’re going to love it. It keeps well, covered, in the fridge, too.

Happy eating!

              ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

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