‘Tis the Season—For Strawberries and Corn, That is.

Recently we hosted Dr. David Greenspan—a coworker with Russ—and his lovely wife Lisa on our backyard patio. David had heard about the all-but-famous BBQ’d Baby Back Ribs that Russ often grills when the weather permits, and was eager to put them to the test. However, Lisa, a long-time vegetarian, had no designs on partaking of said ribs.

IMG_5250David and Lisa Greenspan smile for the camera.

The baby backs are a bit time consuming up front, but with an easy finish—perfect for an outdoor BBQ. The evening before the party, we rub a special spice mix all over the racks. The ribs then get covered and placed in the refrigerator to get happy over night. The morning of the party, we cook the meat set on racks on baking trays with water in a 300-325 degree oven for 2 1/2 hours. Afterward they cool down and the drippings are placed is a separator to remove any fat, with the remaining liquid cooked in a pot until heavily reduced. Stubbs Original BBQ Sauce is added to the sauce reduction and this is basted on the meat as they are grilled.

IMG_5233The ribs after cooking in the oven for 2 1/2 hours.

IMG_5242After grilling and basting the racks, they are moved to a platter and sliced into sections.

You know the saying “You can’t please everyone.” Well maybe you can, especially when feeding a group that includes meat-eaters, vegans, vegetarians and sweet-tooth cravers alike. Just need to do some planning ahead on what to serve. Knowing mid-June in the Mid-Atlantic area of the U.S., is prime time for fresh strawberries, they became the impetus for the Buttermilk Panna Cotta dessert topped with a strawberry glaze and sprig of fresh mint. Served with a side of Pepperidge Farm Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Milano’s that satisfied the sweet tooth…


Luckily, the custard set up properly because last time Russ made it, the base never solidified and we had to toss dessert. (Thank goodness for the local bakery.) But this time, it was the topping we had to chuck. It’s really important to keep a close eyeball on, while often stirring the strawberries as they cook down. Russ became preoccupied with some garden issue out on the patio, and ended up burning the sauce. Plan B. Luckily I had purchased extra strawberries and we had enough ingredients and time to make another batch from scratch. Crisis averted.

But I’m putting the cart (or dessert) before the horse here. The evening commenced with glasses of wine while enjoying a platter of cheeses, crackers, Marcona almonds and a sweet/spicy raspberry preserve that the Greenspans purchased at DiBruno Brothers, a pioneering specialty food retailer and importer. WOW, were they fabulous! Unfortunately, I was so involved with tasting the goods, that Yours Truly completely forgot to take a photo, mea culpa 😦 Among topics of conversation which included upcoming vacation plans, was my recent status as a Master Gardner apprentice, and discovering Lisa’s ambition to become one also, as soon as she retires.


Now about the dinner, in addition to our bone-sucking ribs, we also made a colorful Sautéed Corn with Black Beans and Red Bell Pepper side dish that even vegans can relish. Although it’s not quite height of the season for locally picked corn on the cob, the supermarkets carry some decent ears of sweet kernels. Lisa kept me company in the kitchen while I made the sauté, and since I prepped everything ahead of time, it went together very quickly and I didn’t have to concentrate too heavily on what I was doing, thus allowing me brain space to chat with Lisa.

At the same time, David was outside watching Russ make the “other” main dish: Rice with Vegetables and Saffron, or in Spanish “Arroz con Verduras y Azafrán.” It’s a vegan entrée we found in our cookbook, Spain: A Culinary Road Trip with Mario Batali and Gwynyeth Paltrow. The dish is kind of like risotto, in that it begins by combining the raw rice with vegetable stock without first sautéing it in olive oil. The oil only comes in at then end as an enriching and flavoring addition. Again, we prepped the ingredients ahead of time which streamlined the cooking process.

IMG_5236Russ readies the tray for the patio to cook the rice dish.

In the end, we were so thankful that the weather cooperated and we could dine al fresco because the forecasts had been predicting rain for days. The chances of any precip diminished drastically just hours beforehand. With several more outdoor picnics to host over the coming months, we’re hoping Mother Nature will be just as kind…

Rice with Vegetables and Saffron


Rice with vegetables and Saffron

  • Servings: 6-8 as a side
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print


  • 1 Tbsp. saffron threads
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 cups bomba rice (or Arborio)
  • 1/2 cup finely diced carrot
  • 1/2 cup finely diced peeled turnip
  • 1/2 cup finely diced scallions
  • 1/2 cup finely diced 1/2-inch-dice asparagus
  • 1/2 cup finely diced 1/2-inch-dice zucchini
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Fresh Thyme, a few sprigs, leaves only
  • Rosemary blossoms (optional)
  • Coarse sea salt


  1. Combine the saffron and 1 cup water in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer, and simmer for a few minutes to infuse the water.
  2. Heat the stock in a medium saucepan; keep warm over low heat.
  3. Pour the saffron water into a large sauté pan, add the rice and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, stirring until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid.
  4. Add a generous cup of the vegetable stock, the carrot, pepper and turnip and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat slightly and cook, stirring until most of the stock has been absorbed.
  5. Continue to cook, stirring and adding stock each the the previous addition has been absorbed, for about 18 minutes, or until the rice is barely al dente.
  6. Add the remaining vegetables and 1 cup more stock (you ay not need all of the stock) and cook, stirring until the vegetables are tender and the rice is perfectly cooked, about 5 minutes longer.
  7. Remove from the heat and stir in the olive oil. Spoon into deep bowls and sprinkle with the thyme, lavender, optional rosemary blossoms, and a generous pinch of salt.


Sautéed Corn with Black Beans and Red Bell Pepper

To create corn side dishes with rich, toasted flavor, we strip the corn from the cobs when they are raw and then cook the kernels in a nearly smoking skillet. It is important not to stir the corn for a few minutes to give it a chance to brown. Once the corn is cooked, we mix in plenty of salty, savory ingredients to balance the sweetness. Finally, an acidic component rounds out the dish.

Sautéed Corn with Black Beans and Red Bell Pepper

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ red onion, chopped fine
  • ½ red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
  • 3 ears corn, kernels cut from cobs (3 cups)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons lime juice (2 limes)


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, and jalapeño; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 4 to 6 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, cumin, and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Add beans and cook until warmed through, about 1 minute. Transfer black bean mixture to large bowl and wipe out skillet.
  4. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add corn and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, without stirring, until corn is browned on bottom and beginning to pop, about 3 minutes.
  5. Stir and continue to cook, stirring once or twice, until corn is spotty brown all over, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer corn to bowl with black bean mixture.
  6. Stir in cilantro and 2 tablespoons lime juice. Season with salt and remaining lime juice to taste. Serve.



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