Journal entries from June 2013

How To Pit a Sour Cherry

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The best tool is an ordinary paperclip, opened out.  Works like a charm; simply insert and flip the pit out.
For a pie you'll need about 5 1/2 cups of cherries, with pits, which is about 2 pints.  (Or 4 cups of pitted cherries.) 


Ginger Ale Floats for a Hot Summer Day

It's a sweltering summer day. Friends are coming for dinner. And you're stumped about dessert. Baking? It's just too hot to turn on the oven. Home-made ice cream seems like far too much trouble.

You could, of course, settle for an icy slice of watermelon. A handful of cherries. You might buy a pie. Or a pint of exotic ice cream. On the other hand, there are these fantastically refreshing floats. Surprising. Fresh. And you get bragging rights for having created your very own ginger ale.

Homemade Ginger Ale Floats

Makes 4 floats

1 fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced

1 cup organic sugar

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups seltzer (or very bubbly soad water)

1 pint high quality vanilla bean ice cream (I like Three Twins' Madagascar Vanilla, but Hagen Daas will do the trick as well -- coffee is also surprisingly pleasant if you have that instead.)

Using a spoon gently scrape back the papery skin from your ginger root and slice it thing. Place the ginger, sugar, and water in a saucepan over low heat and allow to cook until the sugar dissolves and your simple syrup begins to simmer. Add the vanilla and set aside to cool completely. Strain.

For the float, add a few tablespoons of ginger syrup to the botto of your glass (the taller the better, but you'll need the spoons to match) and pour in your soda, leaving room at the top for the float to, well, float. In goes a scoop of ice cream and watch as the whole thing gently erupts. Drink slowly - or dive in with a spoon. 


Lemonade for Lemon Lovers

One of the great joys of summer in Paris is to sit in a cafe on one of the grandes avenues, watching beautiful people parading past with their even more beautiful dogs. In the evening you might want a Kir Royale or a glass of vin rose, but in the early afternoon what you want is a citron presse. Served with great ceremony, it  arrives on a silver tray: a carafe of water, a small pitcher of fresh lemon juice, another of simple syrup and a bucket of ice.  It makes the sweet lemonade you are too often served in America seem extremely dull.

Now that we’ve become a cocktail culture, I keep waiting for the return of great lemonade. With its lovely pale color and fresh, tangy aroma, it's the most refreshing drink on earth. It is also extremely good for you: in addition to containing lots of infection-fighting vitamin C, lemon juice is an antioxident and  very effective in times of gastric distress. I can’t think of a better drink on this hot summer day.

  1. The first important thing to know about lemons is that the best flavor is in the peel, which contains all that wonderful lemon oil. If you're going to take advantage of this, buy organic lemons or scrub your lemons well before using them. 
  2. But here’s the problem: just below the bright yellow zest is the evil pith, the spongey white part of the lemon which is bitter.  That’s the part you want to avoid; if you crush it into your lemonade within a few hours you will end up with an unpleasant drink. 
  3. Simple syrup is one of the secrets to great lemonade. It's nothing more than sugar dissolved in water, but it means that the sugar will sweeten the lemon juice rather than fluttering down to the bottom of the glass.  If you infuse the lemon zest into the syrup, you get all the complexity of the zest with none of the bitterness of the white. 
  4. You’ll need a lot of lemon juice, so you want to get as much juice out of each lemon as you can. If you’re lucky, you’ll get about a quarter of a cup of juice out of each lemon; if you’re stuck with unfortunate lemons you might need as many as six for a cup of juice.  Increase your chances by rolling the lemon around on the counter beneath your palm to break down the cells inside the fruit; it will give you more juice. 
  5. If the lemons seem hard and unforgiving, microwave them for 20 seconds.  This will shock them into relaxing, just a little. 
  6. Garnish lemonade with a sprig of mint.  It looks lovely - and it adds a very pleasant flavor note. 


Great Lemonade.

 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

4-6 lemons juice, enough to make a cup of lemon juice

2 cups water

With a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemons, being careful not to get any of the white pith. 

Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, throw in the lemon zest and allow to cool.  

Juice the lemons until you have a cup of fresh juice.

Strain the sugar syrup; it should be a lovely yellow. Add half to the lemon juice, along with the water, and keep more until it is sweetened to your taste.  (I prefer mine quite tart. The strained syrup will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator.) 

Pour over ice cubes and serve, garnished with a sprig of mint or a slice of lemon. 



Things I Love

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Had leftover cochinita pibil for lunch today, rolled into a tortilla. And as I was making a quick little salsa to serve with it - just chiles, tomatoes, onions and lime - it occurred to me that I couldn’t live without these tiny oval dishes  They’re just the right size for so many things: a dish of olives, a few nuts, a bit of jam for your bread or a dab of sour cream for your potato.  And when it comes time to put them away, they take up so much less space than bowls.  At $14 apiece, they also make perfect presents. 

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My Latest Obsession

Lemon Verbena!

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Who knew it was so simple?  Simply put the leaves in a pot, pour boiling water over the top and  steep for a few minutes. The result is remarkably refreshing: sweet and citric with a cool green complexity. Even better over ice. 


Dangerously Delicious Jam

Found the first local apricots at the farmers' market this weekend They're so lovely, and the scent they send into the air as they sit on the kitchen counter is endlessly seductive. But I bought too many, don't want to refrigerate them, so the ones we haven't eaten go into this quick, delicious jam.  


Fresh Apricot Jam

¼ cup water

1 ¼ cups sugar

2 pounds apricots, including skin, pulled apart, divided 

vanilla bean, optional

juice of half a lemon


Stir the sugar and water together in a small heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring until clear, 1-2 minutes. 

Pull apart the apricots, and add half of them to the syrup. Simmer until they disintegrate, stirring, for about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining apricots and vanilla bean, and stir for another 5-7 minutes, until the apricots soften. 

Remove the vanilla bean.  Slice it the long way, and run a knife along the inside edge to remove the seeds. Stir the seeds into the jam.

Add the lemon juice and cook for another 3 minutes.

This will keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks - but it's unlikely to last that long. 



Sour Cherry Lemonade

The joy of this drink is that you don’t have to engage in the tedious task of removing the pits from the cherries. You do, however, have to remove the stems from a quart (about 2 pounds) of sour cherries and toss them into a blender until they’ve turned into a rough mush. Some of the pits will be chopped too; that’s fine because you’re going to put them in a strainer and press hard, extracting as much puree as you can. Discard the solids.

Put the cherry puree into a pitcher and stir in the juice of four lemons, and about a half cup of sugar.  (If you like things really sour, you might want less; if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll want more.)

This will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator, but after that it becomes rather murky. When you’re ready to drink the lemonade, pour into glasses and add water (or sparkling water) to taste.  



A Bag for All Seasons


You know how you take your canvas bag to the farmers' market and always end up putting the peaches in your pocketbook so they don't get crushed beneath the potatoes? I always show up with lots of little bags, and still find myself balancing the eggs on top of my head.

Well, not anymore. I've just discovered this fantastically functional market bag designed by scientist and food blogger Darya Pino. The perfect little compartments provide pockets for stalks of this and bunches of that - even an outside pocket for a loaf of bread. Instead of canvas it's made of breathable nylon. Good idea: everything in its place. 

$25 from


A Boost for Caesar Salad!

Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce?  I have to admit I was skeptical.  How could anyone make decent Worcestershire sauce without anchovies, which contribute so much to the flavor? When I found this Bourbon Barrel Worcestershire
version I bought it out of simple curiosity . I brought it home and tasetd it against the classic Lea & Perrins that I always have in my pantry.  To my surprise, this new version blew the classic out of the water; its rich, round, warm flavor made the old one seem like a one-note wonder, and rather acrid to boot. The Bourbon Barrel Worcestershire is a little sweet, but very complex.  It's going to be wonderful in barbecue sauce, and it should do great things to Caesar Salad.  I can also imagine it sprinkled onto vegetables, tossed into stews, and I can't wait  to see what it does to a pot of black beans. 




Wonderful Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings

Stopped by a farmer's stand this morning and found such beautiful spinach I couldn't resist buying it. And, mostly because I was doing my best to avoid work, I decided to make a lovely little lunch.

What should I call these? Gnudi? Dumplings? Gnocchi?  Not quite sure.  What they are is delicate and very delicious.

 Spinach Gnocchi

a scant pound of spinach (14 ounces would be fine)

3 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of very finely chopped onion. 

1 heaping cup of ricotta - drained if watery

1 cup grated Parmesan

2 egg yolks

½ cup flour; you may need 2-4 more tablespoons

zest of one lemon

Grating of fresh nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste 

Wash the spinach well and remove thick stems. Blanch quickly in boiling salted water.  Drain; when the spinach is cool, squeeze it dry with your hands. Dry it again; you want as little liquid as possible in the spinach. Then chop it.

Put the butter in a large skillet and add the onion, cooking for about 5 minutes until it is fragrant and golden. Add the spinach and stir about, just to combine. Taste for seasoning and allow to cool.

Consider the ricotta; is it watery?  Drain it well.  Then add the Parmesan, egg yolks, lemon zest and nutmeg.  Fold in a half cup of flour; if it’s still loose, add up another quarter cup to firm up the batter.

 Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season generously with salt., and reduce heat to a rolling simmer. Use two spoons to form dumplings and drop into water.

Poach 8-9 dumplings at a time, for about 3 minutes or until they float to the surface of the water. 

You now have a couple of options.  You can scoop them out and serve them naked, with just a bit of melted butter on top.  You can serve them with a simple tomato sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Or you can take them one step farther, and make a gratin out of them in the following fashion:

Scoop the dumplings into a buttered baking dish and drizzle them with melted butter and a sprinkling of grated cheese.  Put them in preheated 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until they’re lightly browned and the cheese has melted.

This should make an extremely satisfying lunch (or supper) for four people. 




A Great American Vinegar - and a Great Mint Sauce

I've just fallen in love with an American vinegar, and I'm starting to put it into everything I cook. Shelburne Apple Company Cider vinegar makes just about everything taste better. I love it in salad dressings, where it's full, gentle flavor enhances every leaf of lettuce. But yesterday, as I was standing in the outdoor shower, where the fresh mint has taken over, I wondered what the vinegar would do to mint sauce. It was wonderful: served with lamb, it made the meat sing. 

Fresh Mint Sauce

Gather a cup of mint leaves, wash them and chop them coarsely, enjoying the lovely scent.  Toss the mint with a couple tablespoons of sugar and pour a half cup of boiling water over them.  Mix in a half cup of good cider vinegar and let it stand for a couple of hours to allow  the flavors to develop.

This will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. But in my house it doesn’t last that long. The leftovers makes great drinking vinegar; simply stir a couple of tablespoons into a glass of soda water for an incredibly refreshing drink.  


Are French Fries Old Hat?

Had dinner at Michael White’s new steakhouse, Costata the other night. The food was astonishingly good: lots of raw seafood to start (I was especially taken with the sardines), a revelatory spaghetti con vongole, and a gorgeously marbled rib eye with the longest bone I’ve ever seen.  

But what really blew me away were the potatoes: small whole ones that were smashed and then fried, making the whole notion of traditional French fries seem utterly old-fashioned. Crisp on the outside, they were creamy inside, with the wonderful tang of lemon.  I loved them. And today, to celebrate Father’s Day, I'm going to do my best to recreate them. Here's what I'm planning.

Crisp, Lemony Baby Potatoes

Preheat oven to 400. 

Put two pounds of baby potatoes (they use Red Bliss, but I used Yukon Golds) in a skillet or a pot, add three cups of chicken stock that contains the zest of one lemon and a couple cloves of garlic. (The stock may not cover the potatoes.) Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 8 minutes.  

Drain, reserving lemon zest.  

Put them on a sheet pan that is liberally covered with olive oil. Gently flatten each potato, using the back of a chef’s knife, a rolling pin or a small skillet. Drizzle with olive oil and the zest from the chicken stock  and roast for about forty minutes, until the potatoes are so crisp they crackle when you take a bite.

Sprinkle with sea salt, and if you really want to gild the lily, shower them with grated Parmesan cheese. 

Serves 4.



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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.