Our Sargent crabapple, just outside our kitchen window, has finally burst into a glorious cloud of pink and white. The bees are ecstatic and so am I. Spring has finally arrived! It may be a couple of weeks late this year and suddenly feels like it is trending into summer, but the warmth is most welcome.
This weather needed a celebration. We easily assembled an impromptu picnic on our back patio. Even an old-fashioned picnic consisting of baked beans, hot dogs, and potato salad seems like a treat after a dreary winter and spring with no travel plans. To fit the special occasion, we got creative with the potato salad.
Tangy potato salad
Typically, potato salads are made with peeled potatoes. Now we have a variety of thin-skinned potatoes: white, red, yellow, even blue. All of these can be scrubbed and cut into pieces with the skin left in place. Nutritionists will tell you that many of the nutrients are found in the skin.
1. Select 2 or 3 large potatoes, scrub well, cut in quarters or sixths and place in a large pot of water. Add 1 tsp of salt, bring to boil, and cook for 15-16 minutes. Drain potatoes and let cool.
2. Boil 3 large eggs for 12 minutes and set aside.
3. In a small bowl blend the dressing: 2 tbsps of mayonnaise, 3 tbsps of sour cream, 2 tbsps of finely chopped onions or 2 large scallions, 2 tsps rice vinegar, 1 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp celery seed, 1/2 tsp dry mustard, 1/2 chopped large dill pickle.
4. When the potatoes are cool, cut in cubes about 1 inch in size and place in a large bowl. Add 1 chopped hard-boiled egg and gently mix with the dressing. Add the dressing mix to the bowl of potatoes.
5. Garnish the potato salad with the other two eggs cut into wedges and place a couple of black olives or a sprig of parsley in the center. Cover and chill for a couple of hours before serving.
Reminiscing about foods from the past sometimes leads to new discoveries. One evening my husband was musing about a favorite breakfast from his childhood. He fondly recalled his grandmother’s baked eggs with cheese, but because he is no cook, he offered no other pertinent details. This posed an interesting culinary challenge. A baked “toad in a hole” was familiar. When we have company, we sometimes have an elaborate breakfast bake with eggs, bacon, cheese, bread, tomatoes, and kalamata olives, but I doubted this was what he was describing. The following recipe was the result of canvasing our kitchen and some educated guesses. The dish was not his grandmother’s baked eggs, but it was nevertheless delicious and will be duplicated in my kitchen on future occasions.
Cheesy baked eggs
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter or use a buttery baking spray on two individual shallow gratin dishes.
2. In a small bowl mix: 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese, 1 tbsp flour, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 3 tablespoons half and half, 1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese.
3. Lightly toast 1 large slice soft white bread and cut in 1/2 inch cubes.
4. Divide the breadcrumbs between the two dishes, placing the crumbs at the ends.
5. Place a heaping tbsp of cheese mix between and spread. Drop small dabs of the remaining cheese mix on top of the breadcrumbs at the ends.
6. Break 2 eggs in each dish in the middle.
7. Place dishes on a pan and bake for 20 minutes, lightly covered with a piece of parchment. For softer eggs, bake for only 15 minutes, remove the parchment, and turn on the broiler for a minute to set the egg white on top.
8. Remove from oven, sprinkle with paprika and serve with additional buttered toast on the side.
A culinary challenge or an impromptu patio picnic can certainly make one appreciate days trending into summer and appreciate the joy in nature.
(I. Winicov Harrington lives in coastal Maine and is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)