June 25, 2014

Dear Friends:

Nuclear threats, oil-slicked rivers and second-hand bicycle aside, I had a charmed childhood. Every Sunday after church in the summer my parents, their friends and kids would pile into cars and head to a local pool or lake for a picnic and swimming. We’d practically take over a pavilion, if there was one, with the hampers filled with food for 20 or more people.

Our parents seldom lit a grill on those lazy summer days. We ate potato salad, baked beans, sandwiches, chips, homemade cakes…

I still love to swim and get together with friends, although my taste in picnic fare has changed. Instead of a cold ham sandwich, I’m more likely to tote spice-rubbed roast chicken to a picnic. If sandwiches are on the menu, they had better be something similar to the Flank Steak Picnic Sandwich below, one of the more incredible portable edibles I’ve encountered.

Strips of grilled flank steak are layered with artichoke hearts, goat cheese, Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers and arugula in a crusty, hollowed-out round loaf of bread. The whole thing is wrapped tightly and refrigerated, which firms up the layers. When cut into wedges, the filling is a gorgeous mosaic. It tastes awesome, too.

The sandwich was the brilliant idea of Maureen Schneider, caterer and owner of Moe’s Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls, who created it for a newspaper story of mine once. I have loved it ever since. When steak prices rise, I just substitute grilled top sirloin or flatiron. It would taste great with grilled chicken strips, too.

Wherever you picnic next week on the Fourth and whatever you eat, I wish you lots of friends to share the celebration.


  • 1 hollowed-out loaf of crusty bread, about 10 inches in diameter
  • 1 lb. flank steak
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 handfuls baby arugula that has been tossed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper
  • 1 cup drained, chopped artichoke hearts
  • 2 whole roasted red peppers, slivered
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped in food processor or by hand with 2 cloves garlic

To hollow out the bread, cut loaf in half horizontally and remove some of the interior with your fingers, leaving a 1-inch-thick shell of bread and crust.

Season steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill or broil for 3 minutes. Turn over and splash with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Grill for 3 minutes longer or until medium-rare. Turn and splash with remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar. Let stand while assembling remaining ingredients, then slice steak across the grain into 1/4-inch slices.

Arrange sliced steak in bottom half of bread loaf. Top with arugula mixture, then artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, goat cheese and olive mixture. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill. Unwrap and cut into 6 wedges before leaving for picnic. Wrap tightly and transport in a cooler. Makes 6 servings.


Need more inspiration for your July 4th picnic? I found it in a brief survey of some of my favorite cooking blogs. A grilled lemon whiskey sour is just one of the intriguing things fellow food writers are cooking or serving outdoors this summer. Here are the highlights of my search, with links to the recipes:

Grilled Lemon Whiskey Sour: Mike Vrobel of Copley interprets the current citrus-grilling trend as a luscious adult drink in his popular blog, Dad Cooks Dinner (www.dadcooksdinner.com/2014/06/grilled-lemon-whiskey-sour.html). Yeow.

Watermelon Gazpacho: Charlotte Observer food editor Kathi Purvis plunges into summer this month with this savory chilled soup in her blog, I’ll Bite (http://obsbite.blogspot.com/).  This is no sweet glug. In addition to watermelon, the gazpacho contains a couple of tomatoes and lime, basil, mint, ginger, onion, cucumber and hot chili pepper. Sounds refreshing and complex.

Quinoa with Blueberries, Toasted Walnuts and Mint: Although not technically a blog, Williams-Sonoma’s website feature, What’s In Season (http://www.williams-sonoma.com/pages/whats-in-season-now.html?cm_type=lnav), usually is good for an inspiration or two. This month it’s good for an in-season salad that will turn heads at a July 4 potluck. Potato salad again? Nope.

Cherry-Cornmeal Slump: The recipes of New York Times food guru Mark Bittman can be difficult to access unless you have a subscription to the newspaper (website visits are not free). But you can slip through the back door, so to speak, via Bittman’s website, www.markbittman.com, where his articles and recipes — including last week’s Cornmeal Slump recipe —  are just a click away. Scroll down to find the cherries entry.


From Bruce:
I have chokeberries in my yard. I purchased them from the county extension office. Had plenty last year. Birds will clean off a tree very quickly. I think the cold weather got them this year. Jelly and syrup are the only things I’ve made. I use the syrup to mix 1:1 with rum ala Euell Gibbons and his rum cherry liquor recipe.

Also, here’s something little known about spicebush. My father-in-law related to me that while growing up in rural West Virginia,  his mother added spicebush to every dish involving wild game. It works. Years ago while cooking venison roasts for a Thanksgiving program at West Branch I had a “secret ingredient” which was noticed and complimented about. It was spicebush. I dry small stems and grind them in my herb grinder.

Dear Bruce: You sound like my kind of guy. If anyone else has information about the wild edibles that can be harvested in our national park, please let us know.

From Jane Smith:
Regarding garlic allergies, my daughter is sensitive to all fructans, which includes anything in the allium family so no onions, garlic and many other things. She has found, however, that she can make garlic oil (cooked because of botulism risk) and use that for flavoring. It doesn’t bother her digestive system when she uses it.

Dear Jane: Thanks for the valuable advice. To clarify, the garlic is cooked before it is added to the oil to destroy any pathogens that could multiply in a dense, airless environment like oil.

From Amy Freels:
I found a few recipes for Betty C. that seem to fit to the description of the bubble bread:

From Dick G.:
For Betty C. – Split length-wise a loaf of good French bread or Italian loaf. Toast  under broiler until light brown. Brush with melted butter that has been seasoned with 1 to 2 cloves of mashed garlic.

In a small bowl mix together 1/4 to 1/3 cup mayo, a couple tablespoons crumbled blue cheese, fresh grated Parmesan and chopped onions or whatever.

Spread heavily on the French bread. Top with grated Provolone or more Parmesan. Put under broiler until toasty and bubbly.

Dear Amy and Dick: Bubble bread is usually made by layered balls of seasoned dough into a tube pan and baking to produce a pull-apart loaf. I was surprised to see that this bubble bread is more of a “bubbling topping” bread. Your recipes sound like the one Betty C. wants, though, so thank you both for your help.

From Sherri S.:
I like your idea about eating spring rolls for summer. I will be using quinoa for the protein. I make it on Sunday and use it as needed all week. Thanks for such a great newsletter.

Dear Sherri: Interesting idea. I think the nutty flavor of quinoa would work well in the rolls.

From Melanie:
Hi, Jane. Do you have any easy, maybe Crock Pot, recipes for baked beans using pinto beans? Those made with canned pork ‘n beans are so blah. Thanks.

Dear Melanie: How about Crock Pot pinto beans with garlic, jalapenos, oregano, cumin, cilantro and spicy chorizo sausage? This Tex-Mex version of baked beans comes from “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. The beans require a long soak in cold water, but very little hands-on prep is involved. If you’re in a hurry you can bring the dried beans to a boil on the stove and soak for just one hour instead.


  • 1 lb. dried pinto beans
  • 11 cups water
  • 1/2 lb. jalapenos, stems removed cooked chorizo Mexican sausage, crumbled
  • 4 strips bacon, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 to 3 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • For serving: Grated longhorn cheese (mild Cheddar), fresh tomato-onion salsa

Rinse beans under cold running water and discard damaged beans and small stones. Transfer to a large round slow cooker and cover by 3 inches with cold water. Let soak for 6 hours or overnight; drain. Or cover with cold water in a large saucepan, bring to a boil on the stove, boil for 2 minutes and let stand 1 hour, covered. Drain.

To the drained beans in the slow cooker, add the 11 cups water, jalapenos, chorizo, bacon, garlic and onion. Cover and cook on high setting for 3 1/2 to 5 hours. The beans must be covered with liquid at all times to cook properly. When done, they will be tender and hold their shape, rather than fall apart.

Towards the end of the cooking time, season with the salt and remove the chilies. Add the oregano, cumin and cilantro leaves. Let the beans simmer 1 hour more, uncovered, which will thicken them nicely.

Serve the beans in soup bowls, topped with grated cheese and salsa if desired. Makes 6 servings.

From “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.