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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,



Perfect picnic fare. July 25, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s summer, and that means picnics. Our friend Ben and I were invited to a picnic last night, and we’ve received a few hints that our friend Fritzjambo is in the vicinity and may spring another picnic on us tonight. Obviously, you don’t want to show up at a picnic empty-handed, even if you don’t know it’s happening ’til the last minute. And if you’re like me, you don’t want to show up with some hastily-purchased bags of chips and dip, either (though that’s not the worst option now that more groceries are carrying fresh salsa). So what do you bring?  

In a case like this, I like to have plenty of options, especially since I’m a vegetarian and don’t want to be confronted with a grill full of burgers and hot dogs, baked beans with pork, and the like. (“Well, you could just eat a bun… “) But even if you know there’ll be plenty to eat, you can always add a few distinctive contributions to the celebration.

In summer, I love to make refrigerator pickles, which are easy, have a ton of crunch, and are spicy/sweet/salty, which is to say, perfect! I always have some in the fridge, so they’re ready to snack on or grab to take along to a picnic or other gathering.

                 Silence’s Refrigerator Pickles

3 large to 8 small slender cukes, sliced

1 cup sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon black mustardseeds

1 tablespoon gound turmeric

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 large sweet onion, or more to taste, diced

dash hot sauce, such as Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa, or more to taste

Combine vinegar and sugar and heat until sugar dissolves. Add salt, spices and hot sauce. Turn off heat and allow the brine to cool to lukewarm.

Meanwhile, slice cukes. Layer cukes and onions alternately in a glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Pour lukewarm brine over the cukes and onions, then attach the lid and refrigerate. Shake container every day to make sure brine is saturating pickles. The pickles will be ready to eat in three to five days, but the spiciness will increase over time, if you can resist eating them. The onions are great in sandwiches or on salads. 

I also like putting together a huge, gorgeous tossed salad with summer’s bounty, and taking it along with a dressing or two (such as Greek and honey mustard or ranch). Or a fabulous Caprese salad, which is quick to make and incredibly good.

Caprese salad: Layer a large platter two or three leaves deep with Romaine or butter (Boston) lettuce leaves. Slice several large vine-ripe tomatoes, then halve each slice. You’ll get the most fabulous presentation if you can alternate red, yellow, black, and/or green ripse tomatoes (such as ‘Zebra’), but it will still look and taste great if you just use red. Slice a ball or two of fresh mozzarella, then halve each slice. Make concentric circles on the platter of alternating half-slices of tomato, fresh mozzarella, and large whole fresh basil leaves, until the entire platter is covered. Chop two or three scallions (green onions) and sprinkle them over the platter. Drizzle on extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle on salt (we like Real Salt). Cut into pizza-style wedges and serve.  

Of course, no picnic’s complete without coleslaw. I gave you two unusual homemade coleslaw recipes in my earlier post, “Silence makes coleslaw,” but what if you’re rushed and don’t have time to make from-scratch slaw? No need to panic.

Quick coleslaw: Buy a bag of ready-made coleslaw (shredded cabbage and carrots, not a dressed slaw) and a bag of shredded carrots at the store. If your store sells pre-chopped sweet onion, get that as well. Stir half the bag of carrots into the slaw along with three tablespoons of the chopped onion. Then mix in 1/2 to  2/3 of a bottle of chunky blue cheese dressing. (If you hate blue cheese, you can use a pepper ranch or cheese ranch dressing instead.) Your goal is to coat the ingredients, not drown them, so start with 1/2 bottle and work up from there. Cover and chill until picnic time. People aways ask if they can take home what hasn’t been polished off!

Deviled eggs are also indispensable at picnics, at least as far as we’re concerned. This is one reason why I like to have a half-dozen hardboiled eggs in the fridge at all times; they’re instantly available for slicing on tossed salads, but they’re also there should a picnic and/or the concept of deviled eggs come up. I have my standard go-to recipe, which involves mashing the yolks with mayonnaise, mustard, and horseradish before stuffing them back in the halves and dusting them with paprika. But recently, I stumbled upon a marvelously different version. Of course, I had to modify it:

                   Deviled Blue Cheese Eggs

6 hardboiled eggs

3 tablespoons blue cheese (can use feta instead)

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons chutney (sweet or hot to taste) 

2 tablespoons chopped pecans

2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow, orange, or red bell pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla)

salt to taste

sweet or hot paprika (for blue cheese filling) or cinnamon or garam masala (for feta)

Mash yolks and add all other ingredients (except paprika, cinnamon, or garam masala), mixing well. Fill eggwhite halves with yolk mixture, then top with spice of your choice or top different halves with different spices, as you please. Chill and serve. You can multiply the proportions to match how much your gathering loves deviled eggs; we find that two whole eggs (four filled halves) per person is about right.

What else to bring? Our friend Ben and I always like to bring crusty baguettes with softened butter and one or more cheeses. Yum! A mix of marinated artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, and cubes of feta cheese is also incredibly delicious, with the bread and cheese or as a topping for a tossed salad. This also makes a great topping for tomato slices or quartered bell peppers, and a delicious filling for rolled radicchio or endive leaves.

If we know our hosts will have a grill going, we’ll bring portabella mushrooms and pesto. Corn on the cob with browned butter and salt is hard to beat, too, whether the corn is grilled or boiled. How about grilled cantaloupe or pineapple slices for dessert, with a splash of fresh-squeezed lime juice from your own greenhouse-grown fruits?

Okay, maybe I’m getting carried away. But none of this is impossible. And as OFB reminds me, those homegrown limes make a mean margarita, too.

            ‘Til next time,


Food for the Fourth July 4, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s the Fourth of July, and, like many of you, our friend Ben and I have a whole houseful of company coming over to our home, Hawk’s Haven, to celebrate. But we have a little problem. It’s black as pitch outside and weather.com assures us it’s going to rain all day. Bye-bye backyard picnic, grill, firepit, and sparklers. Hello, Margaritaville!

First, let me tell you what I would have made for a sunny celebration on the Fourth. No doubt I’d have celebrated our American food heritage with the Native American “Three Sisters”—corn, beans, and squash—done up right for the picnic with grilled corn on the cob, dilly beans or Silence’s Five-Bean Salad or a simple hot side of mixed green and wax beans with butter (no purple beans, it sounds like a beautiful third but they turn green when cooked, save them for the salad), and grilled yellow squash or, more likely, Silence’s Super Squash Casserole (see my earlier post, “Super summer squash recipes,” for the recipe). Continuing the native-to-the-Americas theme, I’d have served up a platter of thick slices of vine-ripened beefsteak tomatoes topped with fresh basil leaves, fresh mozzarella balls, a drizzle of green olive oil, and a sprinkling of Real Salt.

Of course, there’d be plenty of classic picnic fare for leisurely grazing: Silence’s Hot Sweet Refrigerator Pickles, crudites like organic celery and yellow baby carrots and slices of crusty baguette to slather with Alice’s Primo Pimiento Cheese Spread and Spring Radish Spread (since we’re still getting yummy radishes from our CSA). You’ll find the recipes for these in my earlier posts “Revolutionary radishes” and “Painless pickles, potato salad, and pimiento cheese spread.” Speaking of that potato salad, of course I’d have a huge bowl of Mr. Hays’s “Baked Potato” Salad on hand. And for the kid in all of us, a big crock of the world’s best mac’n’cheese, Delilah’s Crock-Pot Macaroni and Cheese (see my earlier post, “The ultimate mac’n’cheese,” for this incredible recipe).

That’s not all, folks. Given that it’s the Fourth of July, I’d make a big bowl of Silence’s Red, White and Blue Salad (see my earlier post, “Some celebratory salads,” for the recipe). I’d of course make deviled eggs—Silence’s Bedeviled Eggs (the recipe’s in my earlier post, “Some eggcellent picnic fare”). And I’d have huge pitchers of iced tea, pink lemonade, orangeade, water, and cranberry-grape punch for thirsty guests. Ben and our good friend and blog collaborator Richard Saunders might get busy at the grill and cook up some yummy grilled pizzas (See “Ben Picks Ten: Veggie Pizza Toppings”) and/or grilled sweet onion rings, red bell pepper strips, cheese-stuffed jalapenos, pesto-stuffed mushroom caps, and sweet potato slices, all drizzled with green olive oil and sprinkled with Real Salt, to go with those grilled summer squash slices and ears of corn. And of course we’d have cantaloupe and watermelon and a red-white-and-blue dessert of angelfood cake with Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream (the best), whipped cream, and fresh blueberries and raspberries for those for whom melons just don’t say dessert.

Maybe next year! For now, we’re stuck inside, and in the dark, cold, rainy weather, picnic fare just doesn’t appeal. So Margaritaville is in order. We’ve strung our chile pepper lights, put Jimmy Buffett’s “Live in Anguila” CD on, and set out the chile pepper placemats. I’ve put on my cayenne-red broomstick skirt and chile necklace, and Ben’s donned his chile-pepper-festooned Hawaiian shirt. Plutarch the Parrot and Marcus Hookbill are ready to play their “Parrotheads at the party” roles, and the pirate flag is flying out back. It’s party time!!!

To celebrate, I’m making a huge pitcher of Silence’s Sangria while our friend Ben concocts Ben’s Knock-Me-Down, Set-Me-Up Margaritas (we bought a bagful of Key limes just for the occasion). I still have a few cherished jars of Primo Peach Salsa a la Silence, and will make up a batch of Fresh Salsa a la Silence as well. We’ll set out a few interesting jarred salsas we bought at last year’s Bowers Chile Pepper Festival to give people plenty of snacking options.

We’ll set out tons of chips—we like Green Mountain Gringo tortilla chips for a natural selection, but our all-time favorite remains bite-size white corn Tostitos—and bowls of sour cream, sliced black olives, sliced jalapenos, diced tomatoes, diced multicolored bell peppers (purple, yellow, red, orange, and green), and sliced green onions (scallions), along with big bowls of shredded pepper jack and sharp white Cheddar cheeses and a selection of hot sauces to have with them.

Sometimes I’ll break down and buy a tub of fresh-made guacamole, which Ben and I both loathe, since we’re constantly being told that everyone loves it. But somehow nobody who comes over here ever eats it, so I’ve almost reached the why-bother point. I’ll also make up a quick Southwestern dip with our homemade yogurt cheese and the dip mix of our choice, or buy a fabulous farm-fresh Southwestern dip from our CSA. And of course I’ll put out bell pepper strips in all colors, snap peas, radish slices, yellow and orange baby carrots, broccoli florets, and celery sticks for folks who’d rather use veggies for dipping than tortilla chips.

Once everybody’s eaten their fill of chips and toppings and had a few glasses of sangria, margaritas, and/or some refreshing iced tea, we’re ready for a lighter, more leisurely dinner. I of course make a huge Dutch oven’s worth of Silence’s Top Secret Disappearing Refried Beans (see my earlier post, “Fiesta Time! It’s Cinco de Mayo!” for this recipe as well as the recipes for our sangria and margaritas and the salsas). I heat up some taco shells, make a lot of rice, and set out big bowls of toppings—salsas, sour cream, shredded cheeses, sliced black olives, green onions (scallions) and jalapenos, diced bell peppers and tomatoes, chopped lettuce and arugula, minced fresh cilantro and basil—and a variety of hot sauces and dried hot pepper mixes.

Ben adds to the options by grilling red, orange, and yellow bell pepper strips, sweet onion rings, halved jalapenos, corn (stripped off the cob) and potatoes (diced), portabella slices and whole button mushroom caps, and sliced plantains, so people can create their own fajitas by adding the grilled veggies to soft, warm flour tortillas, topping them with refried beans and/or a selection of toppings to taste, or simply helping themselves to grilled veggies over rice, perhaps with a sprinkling of fresh Key lime juice and salt or hot pepper sauce. Yum!!!

Dessert is the simplest possible—wedges of cantaloupe with key lime juice. (We like salt on ours, but our guests somehow have failed to try this culinary delight.) No sparklers inside, but lots of candlelight and chile lights, and perhaps a final toast with Silence’s Sangria before sending our friends home. Good times!

May each and every one of you have a wonderful, happy Fourth with family, good friends, and good food.

              ‘Til next time,


Some eggcellent picnic fare. May 25, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Memorial Day weekend kicks off picnic—or, at least, outdoor eating—season, and with a whole summer of outdoor fare ahead of us, it seemed only right to share a few picnic favorites from the Hawk’s Haven recipe archives.

Needless to say, with our six chickens laying eggs like no tomorrow (we give them a rest over winter so they can devote their energy to staying warm and healthy, and they always seem to try to make it up to us the rest of the year), we love recipes that use a lot of eggs. So I’ll kick off with one of my all-time faves, deviled eggs, and give you a few more egg-based treats as well. Just be sure to keep those egg- and mayo-rich dishes on ice in a cooler or in the fridge until it’s time to eat! In the case of the deviled eggs, I doubt you’ll have a problem, though—I can’t seem to keep them around long enough to even set out! (Ben and Richard, are you reading this?!!) So of course I call them…

           Silence’s Bedeviled Eggs 

6 hardboiled eggs (or as many as you need)

mayonnaise (Hellman’s—hmm, what an appropriate name!—or grapeseed, please)

mustard (we like Jim Beam bourbon-honey mustard)


hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa) or seasoning (such as Trocamare)


Hungarian paprika (sweet or hot)

Drain 1 teaspoon horseradish (the secret ingredient). Shell and halve hardboiled eggs, dropping yolks into a bowl. Mash yolks with a fork. Stir in mayonnaise, mustard, and horseradish, a teaspoon at a time, to bind yolks into a thick paste (you don’t want yolks that are either runny or crumbly). If yolk mix is too dry, add more mayonnaise first, then taste, and add more mustard and/or drained horseradish to adjust seasonings to taste. Once the yolks are the right consistency, add a dash of hot sauce or Trocamare and salt to taste, stirring well to blend. Mound yolk mix back into egg halves, top each with a sprinkling of paprika, and refrigerate to set up. You can dress these up with a bit of pimiento or a slice of black or green olive on top of each if you’d like (or if nobody, ahem, eats them first), but they’re luscious as is. Maybe my family and friends are more deviled-egg crazy than yours, but I count on two eggs (four halves) per person and never have leftovers.  

Your may recall our friend Delilah from her wonderful Crock-Pot mac’n’cheese recipe. (See my earlier post, “The ultimate mac’n’cheese,” if you missed this recipe; believe me, that’s one you don’t want to miss!) She’s a great cook and a great gardener, and she and Chaz have chickens as well as ducks, so using eggs is a priority at their house, too. Here’s another “eggcellent” egg recipe from Delilah:

           Delilah’s Egg Salad

6 hardboiled eggs

sweet pickle relish


mustard, preferably stone-ground

salt and pepper to taste

Drain a tablespoon of the pickle relish. Shell the hardboiled eggs and chop them fine in a bowl. Mix relish, mayo, and mustard into the chopped eggs, starting slowly and adding more until you have the taste and consistency you want. Add salt and pepper to taste, then cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve on toast, Melba toast, or Ritz crackers, or on celery. Or eat it the way we love to here: on a sandwich of toasted multigrain or whole-wheat bread with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Yum!!!!

Moving right along, let’s check out another favorite egg-based dish, quiche. An advantage of quiche as far as outdoor eating is concerned is that it tastes great at room temperature as well as hot (as long as you have enough salt!), so it’s fine picnic fare, especially when you make crustless quiche in muffin pans and serve everyone their own quiche “muffins”! This recipe, based on one from our CSA, Quiet Creek Farm, uses Swiss chard, which is coming in now here at Hawk’s Haven.

           Chard Quiche

1 pie crust (optional)

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk, cream, yogurt, or combo

1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste)

1 bunch chard, chopped (preferably ‘Rainbow Lights’, ‘Bright Lights’, ‘Pink Passion’, or other colorful types)

1/2 large sweet onion (‘WallaWalla’ or ‘Vidalia’ type), diced

1 cup Swiss or Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated

Steam chopped chard until tender; let cool. Place in colander and squeeze out excess liquid. Saute diced onion in butter until onion clarifies. Mix eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add onions, chard, and Swiss or Parmesan cheese. Fill crust or pour into greased muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes. (If using a muffin pan, the individual quiches may take less time to cook, so keep an eye on them.) Let stand for at least 15 minutes to set before serving.

Sugar Snap peas and new potatoes are more of our springtime favorites. Here’s a potato salad that uses both, from our friends at Pheasant Hill Farm in nearby Emmaus, Pennsylvania:

          Potato and Sugar Snap Salad

2 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-size chunks

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon finely minced onion

juice and grated zest from 1 lemon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

12 ounces Sugar Snap peas, blanched for 30 seconds in boiling water, then refreshed by plunging into very cold water

1/4 cup minced fresh chives

salt and pepper

Place potatoes in large pot and cover with cold water. Salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to large bowl. While potatoes are still warm, sprinkle vinegar over them, toss, and set aside to cool to room temperature. In a small bowl, whisk onion, lemon juice and zest, oil, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add snap peas and chives to potatoes. Pour dressing over and toss.  

           Veggies and Dips

Finally, let’s talk about veggies and dips. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we love varying the veggies we use for dipping by what’s ready to harvest. That way, we never get tired of crudites. Right now, we’re enjoying sliced radishes, rolled lettuce leaves, scallions, Sugar Snap (aka edible-podded) peas, and steamed asparagus. Of course, you can use sweet pepper slices, cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, broccoli and cauliflower florets, and carrot sticks or chips if you’d like. We say, what’s important is to eat your veggies!

Let’s not forget those all-important dips. We love dips as much as anybody, but we hate the idea of turning healthful raw veggies into an artery-clogging calorie fest. So rather than using mayonnaise or cream cheese as a base for dips, we use cottage cheese or (our favorite) yogurt cheese.

What’s yogurt cheese, you ask? It’s nothing but plain yogurt that’s been drained to form a thick, cream-cheese like paste. It is so easy to make at home, you simply must try it! And if you can’t stand the acidic tang of plain yogurt, rest assured, it seems to drain out with the yogurt whey (which our dog, cats, and chickens all love, and it’s so good for them, though you can also add it to soup stock). We really can’t tell the yogurt cheese from cream cheese.

Here’s all you do: Pour a large container of plain yogurt into a fine-meshed sieve and set it over a bowl or pan to drain. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator overnight (or longer, for even thicker yogurt cheese). Give the watery whey to your pets or use it in soup or pour it over your compost. Spoon out the yummy yogurt cheese and you’re ready to make your dip! (Taste it first to see for yourself how good it is. You’ll be amazed!) Confession: Since we really love yogurt cheese, I actually bought a special yogurt cheesemaker called The Wave, and that’s what I use to make mine. It’s nothing more than a Tupperware-like rectangular plastic container with an insert containing a fine mesh in a “M” pattern (thus the name “Wave”). I got it from Lehman’s Non-Electric Catalog; there’s a link on our blogroll at right to their blog, and you can get to the online store from there. But the sieve-and-bowl option will work just fine, as long as the sieve mesh is really fine. 

For a cottage cheese-based dip, I like to start with a drier cottage cheese and whisk it into a creamy mass, breaking up the curds (you could use a blender or food processor for this as well). Then I add shredded Swiss, white Cheddar, or Parmesan cheese, salt to taste, and a splash of hot sauce. Finely chopped black olives are great in this, too. (Our heat-loving friend Richard Saunders likes to add minced, drained jalapenos to his, but if you go that route, skip the black olives and go for a bolder cheese like Cheddar rather than Swiss.)

For a yogurt cheese dip, you can add anything you’d normally add to cream cheese and/or mayo, from ranch or other dressing mix to a fiery blend of Southwestern spices. But our all-time favorite yogurt-cheese dip mix is simply yogurt cheese with a bunch of very finely minced veggies (with salt or a blend like Herbamare or Trocamare to taste) blended in. We like to add scallions, carrots, radishes, and sweet red pepper, then refrigerate, covered, to give it time to “set” before serving with raw veggies and/or tortilla chips. Try it, you’ll love it! And please, enjoy this beautiful late spring, summer, and fall by sitting and eating outdoors as often as you can.

As always, if you have picnic or outdoor eating favorites you’d like to share, we would love to hear them!

           ‘Til next time,