Labor Day hurrah

A sumptuous summer's-end spread: Brownies, Potato Salads "Buttered" and Lemoned or Old-Fashioned, Cool Cucumber-Mint Salad With Sichuan Pepper, Hoisin-ful Spareribs.
A sumptuous summer's-end spread: Brownies, Potato Salads "Buttered" and Lemoned or Old-Fashioned, Cool Cucumber-Mint Salad With Sichuan Pepper, Hoisin-ful Spareribs.

The cooks at Lambertville’s Canal House set out summer favorites, with a final side of fireworks.

Posted: August 30, 2013

Labor Day weekend marks the last of our Friday night summer suppers for friends and family at Canal House, our cookbook publishing studio along the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Lambertville, N.J.

These suppers have become a tradition, thanks in part to Fireworks Friday, the spectacle launched from a barge anchored in the Delaware River south of the green iron New Hope-Lambertville bridge. The display is equal to any you'll see on a Fourth of July.

We're already licking our chops for this year's finale. We'll lacquer pork spareribs with our "hoisin-ful" sauce as the ribs cook in a slow oven - the sweet bourbon smell will fill the studio as the air conditioner cranks.

We'll serve our two favorite potato salads: an old-fashioned one layered with sliced warm potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and celery, topped with crisp bits of bacon; and one "buttered" with a mix of mayonnaise and sour cream, drizzled with good olive oil, studded with the salty deep flavor of preserved lemon, and garnished with lots of chives from our balcony planters.

We'll get crunchy coolness from our cucumber and mint salad. It wouldn't be right if there weren't corn on the cob painted with melted Irish butter, and platters of peeled, sliced Jersey tomatoes.

And we'll have to make extra trays of our chewy brownies with their shiny, tissue-paper-thin surface - they always go fast.

We welcome our guests with something sparkling and then we all sit down to eat.

As twilight turns to dusk, we see people on the path below hurrying toward the river. It's our cue to join them. We flow in a current, everyone walking down the middle of the street and along the sidewalk, to watch the last summer spectacle.

The show begins, the fireworks burst above us. We clap and cheer.

What a marvelous summer it has been.

Hoisin-ful Spareribs

Makes 4 to 6 servings

For the hoisin-ful sauce:

2 cups hoisin sauce

¾ cup bourbon

2 cloves garlic, smashed

For the ribs:

6 pounds pork spareribs

Salt and pepper

1. For the hoisin-ful sauce, mix the hoisin sauce, bourbon, and garlic together in a bowl. Set aside and allow the flavors to develop. Fish out the garlic cloves and discard.

2. For the ribs, remove the membrane on the underside of the ribs by loosening it first with a knife on one edge, then by pulling it off diagonally with a pair of pliers. It may come off in pieces, that's fine. (Or ask your butcher to do this for you.) Rub the ribs with lots of salt and pepper, then paint all over with some of the hoisin-ful sauce. Cover the ribs and let them marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 275. Put the ribs on a baking sheet lined with foil and cook until the meat is tender, 2 to 3 hours. Brush the ribs with sauce every now and then.

4. To finish the ribs in the oven, continue to cook them for 30 more minutes, brushing with the sauce every 5 minutes. The ribs will develop a lacquered glaze. To finish the ribs on the grill, preheat a grill. If using a charcoal grill, build a small charcoal fire to one side. If using a gas grill, fire up the "back burner" to a medium heat. You want heat and smoke but not direct flame, which can cause the sugary glaze on the ribs to burn. Put the ribs on the grill away from the fire. Cover with the lid. Stay near the grill to manage any flare-ups. Cook the ribs for 30 minutes, brushing them with sauce every 10 minutes. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes, then cut between the bones into ribs, and serve.

Note: Even though baby back or country-style ribs look meatier, we prefer pork spareribs for their succulent finger-lickin' goodness.

- From Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, of the Canal House

Per serving (based on 6): 647 calories; 38 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams sugar; 31 grams fat; 167 milligrams cholesterol; 1,965 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.

"Buttered" and Lemoned Potato Salad

Makes 6 servings

2–3 pounds potatoes, any variety will do


1 cup mayonnaise, or more

2–3 tablespoons sour cream

½ cup really good extra-virgin olive oil


Rind from 1 preserved lemon, chopped

Small handful chopped fresh chives or parsley leaves

1. Peel the potatoes if you use a thick-skinned variety or if you simply prefer peeled potatoes for this dish.

2. Put the potatoes in a large pot of generously salted cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until they are tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Drain and set aside until they are cool enough to handle.

4. Mix together the mayonnaise and sour cream in a small bowl. Slice the potatoes and arrange them on a serving platter, "buttering" one side of each potato slice with some of the mayonnaise mixture as you work.

5. Drizzle the potatoes with the olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, and scatter the preserved lemons and chives or parsley on top.

Note: Preserved lemons are a big part of our cooking. Every winter we take advantage of Meyer lemon season, buying them at our local market and receiving them from our friends in California, who pick them from the trees in their backyards and mail us boxes filled with these sweet lemons. We make big jarfuls of preserved lemons to last us throughout the year. During summer, we use the salty, supple rinds to add a rich, deep lemon flavor to everything from grilled fish to vinaigrettes to potato salads like this one.

- From Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, of the Canal House

Per serving: 411 calories; 3 grams protein; 34 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams sugar; 31 grams fat; 12 milligrams cholesterol; 340 milligrams sodium; 4 grams dietary fiber.

Cool Cucumber and Mint Salad With Sichuan Pepper

Makes 4–6 servings

1 large pinch Sichuan peppercorns

1 pinch of salt, plus more for seasoning

1 clove garlic, finely grated

1 small piece peeled fresh ginger, finely grated

1 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

6–8 mini or 1 large Asian cucumber, sliced

1 large handful fresh mint leaves, chopped

1 small bunch fresh chives, chopped

1. Toast Sichuan peppercorns in a small skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant, 1–2 minutes, then crush in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt. Set aside.

2. Stir together grated garlic and ginger in a medium bowl. Stir in sugar, the crushed Sichuan pepper, rice wine vinegar, then vegetable oil. Season with salt.

3. Add sliced cucumber, chopped mint, and chives to the bowl. Toss well.

4. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours before serving. Adjust the seasonings.

Note: Sichuan pepper doesn't add heat to this cool, crisp salad, but rather a mild lemony flavor, and it produces a tingly, numbing sensation on the tongue - it's a flavor we love. Look for the spice in Asian markets or through mail-order sources.

- From Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, of the Canal House

Per serving (based on 6): 86 calories; 1 gram protein; 5 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram sugar; 7 grams fat; no cholesterol; 54 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.

Thick and Chewy Brownies

Makes 16 brownies

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) butter, plus some for greasing the pan

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

2 cups sugar

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

¼ teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup chopped walnuts, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with 1 tablespoon butter, then dust it with flour, tapping out any excess.

3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar, stirring until it has the consistency of very soft slush and just begins to bubble around the edges, 1–2 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat, add both chocolates, the espresso, and the salt, stirring until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth.

5. Put the eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat with a mixer on medium speed. Gradually add the warm chocolate mixture, about ¼ cup at a time, beating constantly until smooth.

6. Stir in the vanilla. Add the flour and walnuts, if using, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the brownies until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45–60 minutes. Let the brownies cool in the pan on a rack, then cut into squares.

Note: Heating the butter and sugar together gives these brownies their distinctive taste and look - rich and fudgy, with a shiny, tissue-thin top crust. The perfect kind of brownie.

- From Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, of the Canal House

Per brownie (without walnuts): 273 calories; 3 grams protein; 37 grams carbohydrates; 29 grams sugar; 14 grams fat; 69 milligrams cholesterol; 116 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.

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