Food is fun when it’s for family, friends

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 26, 2010

This past weekend, we had a reunion of several generations of family and friends. My husband’s sister, Kat, and her son and his wife, Bert and Margie, from Tennessee, and a very long time friend of Kat’s, the World War II buddy of her late husband, Shelton, 89, came with his daughter, Becky, and her daughter, Caroline, from Winn Parish, La. (Just a bit of trivia: Winn Parish is the home of the famous/infamous Longs, Huey and Russell.) Shelton and Kat’s husband, Jack, were best friends during World War II, and the friendship was cemented when unmarried Shelton volunteered to take Jack’s place going overseas as Jack’s first child had just been born.

We planned a picnic, but the oppressive heat kept the guests inside, so we had a noontime dinner served family style in the dining room. My husband barbecued the Boston butt, starting when he got up at 6 a.m. He also grilled the asparagus and the Texas toast. I did potato salad the day before. And on Saturday, we cooked a squash casserole, field peas, sliced tomatoes adding shredded mozzarella and basil, (the squash, field peas and tomatoes and basil were from the garden) and did deviled eggs. Interestingly enough, both sets of guests brought as house gifts pound cakes that they had made. Becky does cakes professionally, particularly for her sister-in-law’s café in Winfield, the Pea Patch. I added fresh picked blackberries and whipped cream. We all drank a lot of ice water, but there was iced sweet mint tea and lemonade as well.

The East Carolina style barbecue we have done several times before. The recipe is from John Egerton’s Southern Food. We have a large lawn and are frequently having to pick up sticks and limbs and logs that fall from the huge pecan trees. This leads to several “burn piles” around the place, and we lit one and used the coals to do the Boston butt in a homemade cooker of blocks and plywood.

East Carolina Barbecue

We used a 5-pound Boston butt, brought it to room temperature and rubbed it with salt and pepper. We made a mixture of half vinegar and half hot pepper and rubbed it into the butt before putting it on the fire. It takes about 40 minutes per pound to cook the meat.

Barbecue Sauce, East Carolina Style

In a large saucepan, combine the following: 2 cups cider vinegar (5 percent acidity), 1 tablespoon peppercorns, 1 teaspoon celery seed, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, 1onion chopped fine and 1 cup water.

Bring combined ingredients to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for about an hour. Then strain the sauce, if you like, to remove the peppercorns, and apply it generously to your meat – before, during and, if you like, after its cooking. Just put the sauce in a gravy boat and pass at the table.

I was short of time, but here is a quick way to have a fun picnic without looking up recipes and worrying about everything. Just cook from the heart!

Potato Salad

I did this potato salad from just things I had in the garden and fridge, and it was very simple but good.

Boil about 2 pounds of new red potatoes for about 20 minutes or until a knife will slice through them, but do not overcook. I added ½ cup celery, ½ cup chopped red onion, some fresh thyme leaves, 3 tablespoons parsley, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and about 2 tablespoons mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper.

Squash Casserole

My husband has some large squash, so I peeled them with a vegetable peeler to get thin slices. I used about two or three of them. Cook them in a pot of salted water for only 2 minutes. Drain and put in an ovenproof bowl. On top of the squash, I put a little mozzarella cheese, then added panko breadcrumbs with three to four dabs of butter. Season with salt and pepper and heat through in a 350-degree oven until the breadcrumbs are browned.

Tomatoes and Basil

Slice a few tomatoes and then add salt and pepper. Sprinkle about ½ cup fresh basil over the tomatoes. Add about ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.

Field Peas

I shelled about 4 cups of fresh peas. Cooked them in salted boiling water for about 5 minutes. Just before serving I added 1 tablespoon butter and heated the peas through.

They were so wonderful and so fresh.

Deviled Eggs

I boiled eight eggs. I added some chives, fresh thyme leaves, salt, pepper, a dab of Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon mayonnaise to the yolks. Stuffed them and added 1 caper berry to each egg. How simple!

Texas Toast

I bought that at Wal-Mart and grilled it along with the asparagus.

Grilled Asparagus

I had about 2 pounds of asparagus. I put salt and pepper and then olive oil on the asparagus. It was on the grill for about three minutes on each side.

Blackberries and Cream

What can I say? My husband got really hot picking the blackberries. But they were so wonderful with the pound cakes and whipped cream. All you have to do is whip up some “real cream” in the food processor and add some powdered sugar to have a grand dessert in no time.

Since Holly Grove is a destination (there are no restaurants around to entertain) I have to prepare way ahead for guests. On Friday night, when the guests arrived, I had a salad made of arugula (from our garden), barbecued shrimp and my favorite dessert Aurora Tart (from Frank Stitt’s book, of course). There is still some shrimp to be found in Baton Rouge, La., at Tony’s Seafood Market, but the place had a lot less seafood and less customers, which shows how these places are hurting from the oil spill. My husband’s sister thought my barbecued shrimp was way too hot for her and could not eat it. So I told her I had made lasagna (from Frank Stitt’s book Botegga Favorita called Spring Vegetable Lasagna), and she liked that. Little did she know I had spent five hours the day before working on that recipe. Never let your guests see you sweat!!

On the final evening, after the big barbecue, I did a salmon dish with an orzo salad. I have given this recipe before. It is also from Botega Favorita.

Our guests went away happy, I believe. They are planning a fall visit. All I can say is that at least I like these relatives! And the Winn Parish folks were lovely to the core.