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Adult Beverages. In the heat of the summer we've turned to beer instead of wine on most nights. For some reason, we're on a German kick and are rotating among our three current favorites, a black larger and two dunkels. I first bought Kostritzer black lager to use in a short rib recipe, and we were pleased to discover how much we liked the beer.
As for the German dunkels, we can't quite decide if we like the Warsteiner or Spaten better, but we bought the Spaten for our Fourth of July of party. Our beer distributor (don't ask, this is Pennsylvania and we have weird liquor laws) has encouraged us to try the Spaten Octoberfest, and I know we'll buy it before the end of the month.
A new wine we like is Coppola Diamond Red Blend, which one of our guests brought to the Fourth party It's fruity without being sweet and went very well with our traditional cookout menu. We haven't been drinking much white wine lately, but I think crisp, dry whites are wonderful in the summer.
Culinary Reading. I recently finished Blue Plate Special by Kate Christensen (Doubleday, 2013), in which the author explores her experiences with the intertwined connections among memory, emotion, and food. The autobiography deserves a full review, but I'm swamped with work, and I'm not sure when I'll get to it. In the style of M. F. K. Fisher, Laurie Colwin, and other great food writers from the last century, Christensen presents a startlingly frank look at her life, her search for love, her relationship with her mother and sisters, and her complex feelings about her father. Throughout it all, and despite a somewhat dismal beginning, she remembers the foods and meals that both comforted her and opened her horizons. Make room for her next to Elizabeth David, Ruth Reichl, and the rest, Christensen has (as I wrote for Bloggers Recommend) earned her place at their table.
What I've Been Cooking. The farmers' market and our CSA are both in full swing and our dinner table has been overflowing with fresh, wonderful veggies. We buy a full share, and even though there are only two of us, we manage to hold our own week after week. I tried two new recipes for our Fourth party; although neither uses those good CSA vegetables, each was a success.
Every year I make the same old baked beans and same old potato salad. Our guests like my classic versions, but I decided I needed to shake things up. So where to turn? Why America's Test Kitchen, of course. I looked through the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook and found their All-American Potato Salad, which was traditional enough to be a sure hit but included some ingredients I don't normally use. For once, I followed the recipe almost exactly. I loved that the salad was tangy and not mayo heavy. Our guests seemed to agree and helped themselves to seconds.
I knew I wanted to use my slow cooker for the beans, so I pulled out ATK's Slow Cooker Revolution and picked their Barbecued Beans. I did not follow their directions exactly, however. Here's what I did differently: I went ahead and fried the bacon and broke it into pieces. I didn't mind the extra pan and was happy not to have to fish out the limp bacon strips before serving. At the end of the recipe, I was generous with the mustard, and when I stirred it into the beans, I also added chipotle hot sauce and 1/4 cup of bourbon. Everyone loved this dish too.