Food Notes: Hooray for late spring … the season of strawberries, asparagus and Memorial Day picnics

Hooray for late spring, the season of strawberries, asparagus and Memorial Day picnics.

When the COVID-19 pandemic was at its worst, we longed for the carefree days when we could enjoy a gathering without wearing masks or worrying about getting sick. While the virus has not disappeared, it is relaxed enough to make an outdoor picnic less worrisome and more like the good old days.

Officially, Memorial Day is the day we mourn those who have been lost in wars with parades and speeches and solemn ceremonies that give them the honors they deserve. But somewhere along the line the last Monday of May was transformed into the unofficial start of summer and a three-day weekend to enjoy.

As part of its transformation Memorial Day has become a food holiday with traditions and favorites whether you are cooking burgers on the grill or dining on a boardwalk at the Jersey Shore.

For those having picnics at home, it’s a time for hot dogs, burgers, salads and strawberry-inspired desserts. Some folks will add chicken and sausages to the selection or even fish filets if they feel adventurous. But most of us rely on the basics with the family’s favorite pasta or macaroni salads, potato and green salads.

My grandmother made a layered gelatin salad that tasted more like dessert than a side dish. Others use fresh asparagus to make a salad or slices of carrot to make carrot coins, another salad. Fruit salad is always a winner, especially when you include local strawberries now in season.

Baked beans, deviled eggs, broccoli slaw, strawberry shortcake and smores also are Memorial Day fare.

Whether you eat Italian grilled dogs at the Shore with peppers and onions or set up a full bash of picnic foods at home, have a great holiday weekend.

Food festival

If you are in search of a food festival this weekend, the Jersey Shore Food Truck Festival is back at Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport.

From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 28 to 30, dozens of vendors will offer tastes of their favorite dishes. Parking is free and general admission is $6; children 12 and younger are admitted free. Go to seatgeek.com/Monmouth to purchase general admission tickets

Food tour

Bordentown is bringing back its food tour from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 28, with participants strolling down Farnsworth Avenue to sample the wares of food establishments.

See the website onthetownfoodtours.com/tours/bordentown-city-food-tours/ for more information.

What’s in season

You can localize your holiday fare with ingredients from your local farmer’s market. In addition to strawberries and asparagus, you can dress up a salad with local greens, radishes, spinach and greenhouse tomatoes.

Markets also will have some herbs, pea shoots, cabbages, carrots and produce from storage including potatoes, onions and apples. They also sell breads, meats, baked goods, honey and jams.

Grilled Chicken Marinade

Chicken offers a change from traditional burgers and hotdogs, and this recipe comes from thepioneerwoman.com.

For the marinade:

  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

For the grilled chicken:

  • 4 pounds bone-in chicken pieces, such as drumsticks, thighs, or leg quarters
  • 1 cup marinade
  • Oil, as needed

1. In a pint-sized mason jar, combine the olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, thyme, salt and black pepper. Cover and shake well to combine. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days before use.

2. Place the chicken in a zip-top gallon bag. Add all of the marinade, seal the bag and refrigerate for 30 minutes (or up to 4 hours).

3. Meanwhile, pre-heat one side of the grill to medium heat, around 350°, and leave the other side unlit. Oil the grill grates well.

4. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the remaining marinade. Place the chicken skin-side down over the lit side of the grill. Cover and cook until grill marks appear and the chicken easily releases, 6 to 8 minutes.

5. Flip the chicken and transfer it to the unlit side of the grill. Cover and cook until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees, 35 to 45 minutes more (depending on the size of your chicken pieces). Let rest for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Cobbler

When we think of cobblers, we often think of peaches, apples or blueberries. But this recipe from southernliving.com pays tribute to the queen of the spring harvest, the beloved strawberry.

  • ½ cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ pound fresh strawberries, hulled and halved (about 6 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Step 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place butter in a 13- x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Place in preheating oven until butter is melted, about 6 minutes. Remove from oven, and gently swirl until butter coats bottom of dish.

Step 2. Combine cream cheese and 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar in a medium bowl. Mix with a rubber spatula until smooth; set aside.

Step 3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1 cup granulated sugar in a large bowl. Gradually add milk and vanilla, whisking just until combined.

Step 4. Pour batter over melted butter in prepared baking dish. Do not stir butter into batter.

Step 5. Arrange strawberries in a single layer over batter.

Step 6. Scatter tablespoonfuls of cream cheese mixture over strawberries.

Step 7. Bake in preheated oven until top is golden and edges are bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes.

Step 8. Let cool on a wire rack, about 20 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar, and serve warm.

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