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Don’t stress over what to take to the Labor Day picnic |

Don’t stress over what to take to the Labor Day picnic

| Wednesday, August 27, 2003 12:00 a.m

It’s unclear who dreamed up 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, hurray, and a wave of the flag to them.

Today, most Americans picnic on Labor Day mostly to wave flags as a goodbye to summer. In many regions, the first Monday of September is the last chance to party in fair weather, sort of a farewell to the barbecue grill.

The menu that follows has a grilled vegetarian sandwich entree. It starts with eggs made more devilish (and easy) with jarred roasted red peppers. The sandwiches, which feature portobello mushrooms, pickled red onions and arugula, can satisfy meat lovers if split grilled sausages or chicken breasts are tucked in. A lively slaw inspired by Asian ingredients offers crunch to the meal.

You can’t go wrong with a chocolaty cake for dessert, particularly a Bundt cake that is easy to bake and tote. Chocolate Swirl Velvet Cake also is impressive — the interior is marbled with chocolate and sour cream batters.

The American Egg Board recommends preparing hard-cooked eggs this way:

Place the raw eggs in a single layer in a saucepan. Add enough cool tap water to sit 1 inch above the eggs. Cover the pan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, and remove the pan from the burner. Let the eggs stand for 12 to 15 minutes.

When the eggs are cooked, rinse them under cool water, crack and peel off the shells.

The cooling step is key, because if you overcook an egg, a green ring will form around the yolk. The ring comes from sulfur and iron reacting with heat at the surface of the yolk. Don’t cook the eggs too fast, because they will crack. Eggs can’t be hard-cooked in the microwave, because shells crack and they will explode.

Fresh eggs may be more difficult to peel. Refrigerate eggs for a week to 10 days before hard-cooking.

Red Pepper Deviled Eggs

  • 6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved
  • 1/3 cup diced roasted red peppers
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 2 teaspoons minced shallot
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil, divided

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

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

Alternately, cut a tip from one corner of a resealable plastic bag and use it to pipe the mixture, or use a teaspoon to pile the mixture into the egg whites.

Cover the filled eggs with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve. Sprinkle with the remaining basil.

Makes 6 servings.

Grilled Mushroom Sandwiches with Pickled Onion and Arugula

  • 2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced rosemary
  • 6 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed
  • Salt and black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
  • 6 sandwich buns with seeds, split
  • Honey mustard, to taste
  • Arugula or spinach leaves
  • Pickled Red Onions (recipe follows)

In a large shallow baking dish or casserole large enough to hold the mushrooms, combine the vinegar, oil, garlic and rosemary, whisking to blend. Add the mushrooms and marinate for about 1 hour, turning several times.

Prepare a grill for a medium-hot direct fire.

Place the mushrooms, gill sides down, over the fire. Grill for 6 minutes. Turn and grill for 6 to 7 minutes longer or until softened. Season with salt and pepper. (The mushrooms can be cooked 1 day ahead. Let come to room temperature before serving, or reheat briefly in the microwave.)

To make the sandwiches, spread the cut sides of the buns with honey mustard. Place one mushroom on the bottom half of each bun. Top with handful of arugula leaves and a few slices of Pickled Red Onions. Cover with the bun tops.

Makes 6 servings.

Pickled Red Onions

  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer. Add the onion and simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let the onion stand in the mixture until cool. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled.

Makes about 11/2 cups.

East-West Coleslaw

  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 cup minced cilantro leaves
  • 1 small head napa cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 cup grated carrot

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

In a large bowl, toss the cabbage with the carrots. One hour before serving, add the dressing and toss to combine.

Makes 6 servings.

This recipe is from Baker’s Joy, developed by baking expert and cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum. After the cake cools, wrap tightly in plastic wrap until serving time.

Chocolate Swirl Velvet Cake

  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces extra bittersweet or bittersweet chocolate
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 11/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Remove the butter from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before mixing the batter so that it still is cool but squishable.

Coat a 9-cup fluted tube pan with vegetable cooking spray (with flour), or grease and flour it.

In a double boiler (or a microwave oven in a microwave-safe bowl), melt the chocolate over hot (not simmering) water, stirring frequently. Remove the upper container from the water.

In a medium bowl, lightly combine the egg yolks, about one-fourth of the sour cream and the vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and remaining sour cream. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand-held mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes.

Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients. Scrape down the sides.

Remove 1 1/2 cups batter and stir the melted chocolate into it until uniform in color.

Pour one-third of the remaining batter into the prepared pan. Top with dollops of half of the chocolate batter. Spread it gently but evenly. Top with another third of the plain batter and then with dollops of the remaining chocolate batter. Spread it evenly and top with the remaining plain batter, spreading it evenly over the top.

Use a regular tablespoon to swirl the batter lightly by dipping it in — not touching the bottom — and lifting it up and over in a folding motion like the roll of a wave, about 8 times, going all around the pan. Smooth the surface evenly and bake in the middle of the oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the cake by jiggling the pan up and down until the cake moves slightly. Invert the pan onto a greased wire rack and let it cool completely.

Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

Makes 12 servings.

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