July 2009

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7.30.09 Jammed Up

Last summer I got it together to can a bunch of beautiful produce from the farmers’ market in Union Square. Among the best things I made was pickled okra and this addictively sweet-spicy tomato jam, which is unbelievably delicious. The nice thing is, if you are canning-phobic, you can make this recipe as written and just keep a pint in your fridge. It’s chunky, gooey and absolutely divine slathered on a cracker with goat cheese, alongside grilled meats and roast chicken or straight from the jar on a spoon. I multiplied the quantities by 10 for canning and would do so again—in a year when I am not otherwise occupied in packing to move house.
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drink it in

7.29.09 Mint Condition

I drank quite a few mojitos sitting at the bar of the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, while listening to a band of swoonworthy studs play my request of "Contigo en la Distancia" (one of my all-time favorite love songs), so I feel confident I can recognize what the authentic version of this classic cocktail tastes like. A muddler is a must for making it properly. This handy bar tool is used like a pestle to mash (aka muddle) fruits, herbs or spices in the bottom of a shaker or glass. This helps release and meld their flavors, the better to infuse your mojito (or caipirinha or mint julep). Knock one back this weekend in the company of your beloved and say hello—or ¡hola!—to summer.

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photo by george billard

7.27.09 Drinking Water

You should do more of it! I know, I know, it can be frightfully dull but a minimum of 8 glasses a day really does improve digestion and helps keep your skin radiant. Please stop buying those ridiculous plastic bottles of alleged spring water and either get a good filter or just drink tap water. I have Sigg aluminum bottles that I refill and they work great and last forever. We had our well-water tested (during the second coming of G's parasite invasion; thankfully, it tested negative for giardia) so we drink that knowing that it's not going to give us beaver fever (yes, we've already contracted that in India, thank you very much) or any other unwelcome visitors. To make your water a little more entertaining...
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7.25.09 Wascally Wabbit

There’s a ginger-colored rabbit that’s been wreaking havoc in the herb garden, snacking on the shiso, decimating the dill and chowing down on my angelica every time it tries to stage a modest comeback. Looks as though I’ll have to give up all hope of pressing this versatile plant into service (or else build a rabbit-proof fence). Angelica lends its delicately sweet, celery-like flavor to liqueurs like Chartreuse and its roots and seeds sometimes flavor gin. Paradoxically, the powdered root is said to cause disgust for liquor. (And thus will not be served in this house!) Angelica root contains vitamin B12, zinc, thiamin, sucrose, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, iron, fructose, glucose and many other trace minerals. It can be used as a medicinal gargle for sore throats and as a poultice for swellings, itching and rheumatism. Infusions made from angelica are good for the treatment of fevers, colds, coughs, flatulent colic and other stomach disorders. Should you be able to get your hands on some (thanks a lot, Br’er Rabbit!), try this recipe for angelica butter and serve it with grilled fish or atop any steamed summer vegetables.
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7.18.09 Have a Smashing Summer

Do you think it's borderline Stepford to offer a house cocktail when you’re entertaining? It's actually easier on the host because you can make it ahead of time and then you're not playing bartender. Plus it gives your guests an option beyond their usual white wine or beer or whatever. I invented this one for our July 4th party and it was quite a hit. (Especially with me. After downing several, I did my Edie Beale imitation, singing God Bless America a la Ethel Merman and waving a lit sparkler around the yard!) It's a bit like a jacked-up Pimm's cup. I dubbed this drink “Smashing Summer” because of the muddling required and for obvious reasons beyond that, and I think the ingredients add up to a coolly refreshing high-summer cocktail.
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7.10.09 The Incredible Lightness of Being

The first time I had a Pavlova was long ago at JoJo, Jean Georges Vongerichten’s jewel box of a restaurant in an Upper East Side townhouse. That might even have been the original source for his now-classic (and copied into ubiquity) molten chocolate cake. But it was the Pavolva in all its crunchy creaminess that captured my heart. This ethereal meringue dessert was allegedly created as a tribute to the ballerina Anna Pavlova on her 1926 tour to New Zealand and in fact it’s wonderfully light—and relatively low in calories. Balthazar does a nice one with mixed berries. A Pavlova is fancy enough to impress guests and quite easy to whip up. The version below, from Gourmet magazine, is served with lemon curd.
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photo by george billard

7.5.09 I Scream, You Scream

We own 4th of July. That means that friends know not to plan other events because they'll be coming to our house. We always serve pulled pork—if you clamor for it, I’ll post the recipe but otherwise just look it up in Cook’s Illustrated. I prefer the North Carolina style with a vinegar-&-hot-red-pepper sauce, and serve it with classic coleslaw, pickles and cheap white bread. One year I bought lovely brioche buns from Eli's and was informed by my friends from Charlotte that this is a no-no.For dessert? Nothing beats ice cream sandwiches. I’ve been known to make the ice cream myself but I like to offer lots of flavors, so now I usually order a FedEx delivery from Graeter’s, an old-timey place in Ohio that's been doing it right with fresh cream and egg custard since 1870. Mint chocolate chip is my favorite, but don’t miss the caramel or the coconut or the black raspberry. Bake the cookies yourself, though. You can make these in advance and freeze them in large Ziploc bags. And, if you’re lucky (or you make extra), you’ll still have ice cream sandwiches left after the 4th to eat while lollygagging in the hammock…