- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

It isn’t clear who dreamed up the holiday we now call Labor Day. What is clear is that one of the first times Americans celebrated was in the late 1800s, when the New York Central Labor Union appointed a committee to plan a picnic.

That committee-run picnic was a tribute to the contributions workers made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of the country. Hip-hip-hooray and a wave of the flag to them.

By now, many of us picnic on Labor Day mostly to wave our flags as a goodbye to summer.

In many regions, the first Monday of September is the last chance to party in fair weather. It’s also the last lazy day to play before the children go back to school and retailers start decorating for the holiday season.

It’s time to bake the pie or cobbler that uses up the last of summer’s succulent sun-warmed tree fruit. I say celebrate them both — especially if the labor of the day can be accomplished by an appointed picnic committee.

For sure, I want all the help I can get packing up the picnic basket. Not everyone needs to cook.

I put someone in charge of games or a bit of labor-related history-telling or even a short speech or two. Don’t forget a custodian to clean up after the fun is done. Now there’s a worker who deserves glory.

The menu that follows will fuel both vegetarians and the carnivorous. Most of the recipes can be prepared a day ahead so your Labor Day doesn’t have to be labor-intensive.

It starts with eggs made more devilish (and easy) with jarred roasted red peppers. Sandwiches of grilled portobello mushrooms, pickled red onions and arugula can morph into a meat lover’s main dish if split grilled sausages or chicken breasts are tucked in.

A lively slaw inspired by Asian ingredients offers crunch to the meal.

For dessert, ask someone to head the ice cream cone committee and be sure the group includes a person with an old-fashioned crank machine.

Then put everyone to work churning up a recipe that uses what’s left of one of the summer’s fruit crops, whether it’s peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots or a melting pot of them all.

If you still have spare committee members, don’t forget to assign someone to bring plates and utensils, lemonade and beer.

It wouldn’t hurt if there were a couple of pies on the table, just in case someone has worked hard enough to earn the extra calories.

It’s a fine tribute to the hard work of putting together a tribute to hard work.

Each of the following recipes serves six, but each can easily be doubled or tripled.

A self-appointed committee chairperson could ask more than one person to prepare the same recipe and end up with enough for a crowd of 12, 18 or more. No hard labor required.

Red pepper deviled eggs

6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved

⅓ cup diced roasted red peppers

1 tablespoon capers

2 teaspoons minced shallot

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil

Remove yolks from egg halves. Place in bowl and mash with fork. Add roasted peppers, capers, shallot, mustard, mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon basil. Stir to combine.

Cut a very thin slice off the bottoms of egg-white halves to prevent from rolling around on serving plate. Fill pastry bag fitted with star tip with egg-yolk mixture. Pipe filling into egg whites.

Alternately, cut tip from one corner of resealable plastic bag and use to pipe mixture or use teaspoon to pile mixture into egg whites. Cover eggs with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve. Sprinkle with remaining basil. Makes 6 servings.

Grilled mushroom sandwiches with pickled onion and arugula

⅔ cup balsamic vinegar

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon minced rosemary

6 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed

Salt, freshly ground pepper

6 sandwich buns with seeds, split

Honey mustard

Arugula leaves

Pickled red onions (recipe follows)

In large shallow baking dish or casserole large enough to hold mushrooms, combine vinegar, oil, garlic and rosemary, whisking to blend. Add mushrooms and marinate about 1 hour, turning several times. Place mushrooms, gill sides down, over medium-hot coals. Grill 6 minutes.

Turn and grill 6 to 7 minutes longer or until softened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Mushrooms can be cooked 1 day ahead. Let come to room temperature before serving or reheat briefly in microwave.)

To make sandwiches, spread cut sides of buns with honey mustard to taste. Place one mushroom on bottom half of each bun. Top with handful of arugula leaves and a few slices pickled red onions. Cover with bun tops. Makes 6 servings.

PICKLED RED ONIONS:

3/4 cup white vinegar

3/4 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoons salt

1 bay leaf

3 black peppercorns

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

In small saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring to simmer. Add onion and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let onion stand in mixture until cool.

Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled. Makes about 1 cups.

East-West coleslaw

cup rice vinegar

⅓ cup sugar

2 shallots, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced

cup minced cilantro leaves

1 small head Napa cabbage, cored and shredded

1 cup grated carrot

In small saucepan, heat and stir vinegar and sugar over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Stir in shallots, ginger root, garlic, jalapenos and cilantro. Set aside.

In large bowl, toss cabbage with carrots. One hour before serving, add dressing and toss to combine. Makes 6 servings.

Summer fruit ice cream

1 pounds peaches, nectarines, plums or other stone fruit, peeled and sliced

1 cup sugar, divided

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup half-and-half

1 cup whipping cream

4 egg yolks

teaspoon vanilla

In medium saucepan, combine fruit, cup sugar and lemon juice. Stir over medium heat until fruit is heated through, about 4 minutes. Mash to coarse puree. Chill.

In clean saucepan, heat half-and-half with cream to simmer over medium-high. Reduce heat to very low and barely simmer 20 minutes.

In bowl, whisk egg yolks with remaining cup sugar. Gradually whisk hot cream mixture into yolks then return mixture in pan. Stir over medium-low heat until mixture thickens slightly, about 7 minutes. Strain into bowl, stir in vanilla and chill. When ready to make ice cream, transfer cream mixture to ice cream maker. Add fruit puree. Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Makes 6 servings.

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