Popular menus center on the grill

Marie’s Cole Slaw is sure to be a hit at a picnic. BY JACK CLEMONS
August 31, 2014

Writing this week’s column has been difficult, because whenever I tried, I found myself reminded of Matt Haley. His death was not only a terrible loss to the local restaurant community, but also to the greater community of compassion he had created here and around the world.

I eventually realized my only choice was to follow the example set by Matt and his colleagues: plan to continue. For me that notion felt a bit like the slogan made popular by the London rail system - keep calm and carry on. And so, this week’s column is about continuing the traditions we’ve built around breaking bread with family and friends, starting with Monday’s celebration of Labor Day.

Although it’s now considered a day to mark the end of the summer season, the intention for the first Labor Day parade (held in New York City Sept. 5, 1882) was to honor the range of skills and industries found in the trade and labor unions. Credit has been given to Matthew Maguire, then secretary of the Central Labor Union, for organizing the events of the unpaid day off, including a parade and picnic for the workers and their families.

By 1884, the Central Labor Union had designated the first Monday in September as the permanent date for Labor Day, encouraging other municipalities and industrial centers to do the same. By 1894, President Grover Cleveland converted the notion into a national holiday, perhaps as a conciliatory gesture after his previous harsh treatment of striking union workers.

Over the years, Labor Day became a public celebration of labor and industry, a chance for political candidates to give speeches to their constituents and a three-day weekend for friends and family to relax before returning their school and work obligations. The highlight of the weekend is typically a backyard or poolside picnic featuring simple summertime foods.

One of the most popular menus for Labor Day centers around a barbecue grill. We usually make burgers or hot dogs, grill corn on the cob or vegetable kebobs and finish with grilled peaches. Since everyone seems to have their favorite approach to grilling or boiling corn on the cob, I’ve included two ideas for flavored butters.

If you’re willing to invest time the day before, baked beans will add the flavors of a long-standing American culinary tradition to the table. Another familiar side dish (see photo) is even easier to assemble when you add commercial poppy-seed dressing, a trick I learned from my friend Marie. For the record, the deer in the background was eating watermelon, not the cole slaw.

Dessert could be fruit shortcake, following this recipe adapted from the August edition of Bon Appetit, which uses heavy cream instead of butter. The texture is rich with just a slight crumble - a perfect match for slices of grilled peaches.

Finally, please join me in remembering Matt Haley in whatever way works best for you: support the charity he founded or the causes he championed or your own community’s greatest need.

Tarragon Butter

1/2 C softened butter
2 T chopped tarragon leaves
1/2 t salt
pepper, to taste

Place ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine thoroughly. Place butter in a serving dish, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.

Garlic Chive Butter

1/2 C softened butter
1 T snipped chives
1 mashed garlic clove
1/4 t salt

Place ingredients in a small bowl, mixing until combined.

Baked Beans

1 lb navy beans
pinch baking soda
1 chopped onion
1/2 C molasses
2 T brown sugar
2 t dry mustard
2 t salt
1 t pepper
1/4 lb sliced salt pork

Place beans in a large pot and fill with water to a level 1 inch above the beans. Cover and set aside to soak overnight. Preheat oven to 275 F. Drain and rinse the beans and return them to the pot. Cover with fresh water and add a pinch of baking soda. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain off water and stir in onion, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, salt and pepper. Place half the salt pork on the bottom of a 2-quart Dutch oven or casserole. Add bean mixture and just enough water to cover the beans. Arrange remaining pork slices over the beans and cover with a lid or aluminum foil. Bake for 7 hours, adding more water, as needed to keep the beans covered in liquid. Remove cover and bake an additional 30 minutes.

Marie’s Cole Slaw

1/2 head green cabbage
1/2 head red cabbage
3 grated carrots
1 C Brianna’s Poppy Seed dressing
1 T red wine vinegar
salt & pepper, to taste

Cut cabbage into thin shreds, discarding the hard central core. Place in a large mixing bowl and stir in grated carrots. Add remaining ingredients and toss to thoroughly combine. Cover and chill until ready to serve.


4 T butter
1 sprig mint
1 C cake flour
1 T baking powder
1 t kosher salt
1 C all-purpose flour
2 t sugar
1 1/2 C heavy cream
sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Melt butter with mint in a small saucepan over medium low; set aside. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, salt, all-purpose flour and sugar in a large bowl. Drizzle chilled cream over flour mixture and stir gently until the dough holds together. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a shaggy ball, being careful not to overwork. Place dough onto prepared baking sheet and form into an 8-inch disk about 1/2 inch thick. Brush dough with some of the melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until shortcake edges are golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 F and bake until completely golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes more. Remove from oven and brush shortcake with remaining melted butter. Transfer to a wire rack and cool. To serve, cut shortcake into wedges, top with sliced fruit and whipped cream.

*Adapted from Bon Appetit.

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