Journal entries from July 2013

What to do with Purslane

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A few random ideas....

Wash well and throw into salad.  They add a crisp, juicy, slightly lemony touch.

Use the leaves instead of lettuce to make sandwiches more interesting.

Make a Moroccan salad 

 Chop and steam the purslane for about 20 minutes until it's wilted and tender.  (If you throw a whole clove of garlic in for each cup of purslane, it will steam as well.) 

Drain the purslane, mash the garlic into the (much reduced) vegetable, and season it with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Stir in a bit of olive oil and serve with olives. If you have some preserved lemons, a bit of the chopped skin is a nice addition.


Make a Turkish Salad

Wash the purslane and pick off the leaves.

Mix enough yogurt to cover the leaves with a clove or two of minced garlic, some salt and maybe some urfa or maras pepper flakes. 


Make verdolagas with salsa verde tacos.

Begin by putting 4 tomatillos into a blender with 1 small green chile, half a small onion and a clove of garlic.  Whirl them into a thin liquid. 

Take a big heap of purslane, wash it well, chop it into 2 or 3 inch pieces and boil it for about 10 minutes. Drain.

Slick a skillet with oil and add the salsa verde. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down and add the purslane. Salt and pepper to taste. (Diana Kennedy adds cumin as well.) Cook it down until it’s thickened. 

Add some queso fresco if you have it.

Serve wrapped into warm tortillas.  

Or try this even easier version: Steam the purslane, drain it, then put it in an oil-slicked pan with minced garlic, a chopped onion, a chopped tomato and a chile pepper.  Stir in some crumbled queso fresco.  Now stir in a couple of beaten eggs and scramble them very loosely.  Fold into tortillas and eat. 

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Useful Tools

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As I experiment with new foods, I find myself using different tools. Lately I've become so dependent upon my spice grinder that I no longer put it away, but leave it sitting on the kitchen counter.

This is what I love about this grinder: it makes short work of grinding achiote for Mexican spice pastes, reducing the hard little grains to powder in mere seconds. It's great with the Sichuan peppercorns I use for Ma Po Tofu (and the handy plastic cover makes storing the excess easy). You can add liquids and whole cloves of garlic when making marinades. When it comes to grinding nuts for tortes, it manages the job in a flash. And then, of course, there are curries, for which it is absolutely essential.

Easy to clean (the cup goes right into the dishwasher), and easy to store (it comes apart so it fits into a drawer), I recommend this little grinder to anyone who's enamored of spices. 




Conquering the Blues

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The blueberries this year are so spectacular that I keep buying them. And well... they're getting ahead of me. Last night I realized that I had to either use the berries fast, or freeze them. So I threw together  slightly different tart.

Unlike the free-form tart I made a couple of weeks ago, this one has a cookie crust. I've never met a tart I didn't like, but I think  that when it comes to blueberries I prefer the crisp, grainy sweetness of this crust to a more conventional pie dough.  

Blueberry Tart in a Cookie Crust

Mix 6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Beat in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and a small egg. Add 1 1/4 cups flour and a pinch of salt and mix just until it comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for half an hour.

Roll out, between two sheets of plastic wrap, and put in a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Don’t worry if it breaks; this isn’t pie dough, it’s basically a cookie, and you can just patch it. Put into the freezer while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Toss 4 cups of blueberries with a quarter cup of sugar, 3 -4 tablespoons of flour, the zest of one lemon, a pinch of salt and a little squeeze of lemon juice. Pile into the tart shell and bake for about 50 minutes, until the crust is golden. 




Things I Love

I love to watch people pick up one of these baskets, surprised by its weight.  They look so much like the green paper containers you find at farmers' markets that their cool heft always comes as a shock.

Made of porcelain, these berry baskets are more than merely pretty; berries seem to last longer in them. And I've found they make wonderful gifts: fill one up with fresh-picked produce (apricots, garlic, fingerling potatoes) and suddenly you're the most welcome guest.




Useful, Meet Pretty


Here's the problem with graters: they're ungainly objects that take up way too much space in a drawer. And those sharp edges have a tendency to bite: reach blindly for one and it's likely to draw blood. 

This grater, however, is handsome enough to leave sitting out on the counter, there whenever you need a little flurry of cheese or an accent of onion. It has other attributes as well: it's made of recycled stainless steel and sustainably grown bamboo. On top of that, it's pretty cheap; when was the last time you found something this useful, pretty and durable for under fifteen bucks?



Things I Love

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When some food new crosses my path that I've never seen before, I can't help myself: I buy it. Sometimes it turns out well, sometimes it doesn't. 

When I saw these Harvest Song preserved fresh walnuts - shells and all! - they seemed so strange I couldn't resist. They looked like huge black olives in thick syrup, and I tried to imagine what I might do with them.  Put them over ice cream? Serve them with cheese? Pair them with pate?

Yes, to all of the above.  They turn out to taste exactly the way you'd expect infant walnuts to taste - fresh, nutty, full of promise. They're particulalry good with powerful blue cheeses - Stilton comes to mind, but they're also great with gorgonzola.  They make a very interesting topping for vanilla or coffee ice cream (and I imagine they'd be terrific swirled into home-made ice cream). They're wonderful with chunky pate.  And I'm thinking come fall, I'll dice them into an intriguing topping for thick butternut squash soup. 

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Peaches and Cream

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Fresh Peach Cobbler with Buttermilk Crust

This is summer, served warm on a plate. Just peeling the peaches, uncovering that color right beneath the skin, makes me happy. As does the scent of this simple cobbler as it bakes, filling the house with its golden aroma. It’s a bit like a biscuit, with warm, ready-made jam. 

Peel 4 large peaches, and slice them directly into a glass or ceramic pie plate, being sure to capture the juice. Squeeze half a lemon over the fruit and toss in a quarter to a half cup of sugar (depending on your sweet tooth). Stir in a tablespoon of cornstarch.

Mix a cup of flour with a teaspoon of baking powder, a quarter teaspoon of baking soda and a half teaspoon of salt. Cut in half a stick of butter and very gently mix in a third cup of buttermilk. Plop the dough onto the fruit and bake in a 400 degree oven for about half an hour.

Serve warm, with a pitcher of cream.

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The peaches, ready for the crust.


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Ready for the oven.


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Just out of the oven. 


Things I Love

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Why didn't I know about this earlier?

This artisanal syrup from Morris Kitchens is a leap forward for lemon.  It's not merely fresh and bright, but also complex, with a sneaky, slightly salty undertone and a mysterious flavor that turns out to be the prickly voice of pink peppercorns mingled with the soothing tones of cardamom.
Add a splash of iced fizzy water and you've got a cool refreshing drink. With hot water it turns into excellent tea. And I find it's very nice in marinades, in salad dressings - and it adds an interesting quality to Asian dips.  (Try it with soy sauce and ginger for summer rolls.)
Summer just got easier.  


Things I Love

When some Roman friends gave me this little jar of truffle salt I stuck it in my suitcase and forgot all about it. It seemed like one of those stupid gimmicks for people who have too much money. But one day I was curious enough to open the jar. The warm, truffly aroma that came spilling out was so seductive that I simply had to try it. And then.... well I was hooked.

Unlike most flavored salts I’ve tried, this one is undeniably useful. The earthy undertone gives softly scrambled eggs a gorgeous richness.  It’s perfect as a finish for fresh pasta. Shower it onto a tenderloin of beef as it goes in the oven, and watch it coax out flavors you didn’t know were there. And a few sprinkles turns popcorn - which is never less than wonderful - into a serious celebration.

The version my friends found in the Veneto is difficult to find here. But I’ve found another brand at Dean & Deluca, and it’s an entirely suitable substitute.



Summer Morning Muffins

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Fresh Corn Muffins

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 

Cut the kernels from an ear of corn (you should have between half a cup and a cup of kernels).

Whisk a half cup of stoneground cornmeal with a half cup of flour, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, and a healthy dash of salt. 

Measure a half cup of well-shaken buttermilk into a measuring cup, add an egg and stir well. Add half a stick of melted butter. Gently mix into the flour mixture, and then quickly stir in the corn kernels.

Spoon the batter into a very well-greased 6 muffin tin.  

Bake until the tops are golden and a cake tester comes out clean; this should be 20 to 25 minutes.

These are especially wonderful eaten warm, with butter just melting into the crevices. 


Summer’s Most Essential Condiment

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Salsa Verde

Clifton Fadiman once called cheese “milk’s leap to immortality.”  I think of salsa verde as parsley’s bid for lasting fame. Here the little sprig, rarely more than a disposable decoration, has its shining moment. Put this salsa on steak and watch it sing. Serve it with raw tomatoes, with grilled eggplant, or on a plate of scrambled eggs. A single spoonful has the kick and crunch to bring a summer meal together, and this time of year I always have some sitting in my fridge, ready to rescue a dull meal.

One important note: This is the time to use the finest olive oil in your cupboard, because ordinary oil will have a negative impact. I particularly like the bright flavor of virgin Tuscan oils here; their prickly bite adds an interesting note.

1 bunch flatleaf Italian parsley

2 shallots

red wine vinegar

¼ cup capers, rinsed and soaked

3 cloves of garlic

½ cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped

half a lemon

high quality extra-virgin olive oil 



Wash  your parsley and pick the leaves until you accumulate a small mountain on your cutting board. In the words of Fergus Henderson, “discipline” your parsley by running your knife repeatedly through the pile. You want a fine chop, but be careful not to mash. Set aside.

Peel and chop your shallots extremely fine and cover with red wine vinegar. Drain and chop your capers. Peel and mince the garlic. Cut your lemon in half. Mise-en-place complete: prepare to assemble!

Beginning with your parsley, add half of the shallots, half the capers, all the garlic and almonds, and toss. Taste the mixture for salt and acid, and continue to add shallots and capers accordingly, bearing in mind that the capers will significantly raise the salt-content.

Douse the entire salsa in olive oil, stirring it into a shimmering green pool, and adjust the seasoning with a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavors, salt and pepper if necessary. Some like it soupier - I prefer mine more rustic,

It's ready to eat now, but it will be even better tomorrow, when the the flavors have had a chance to get better acquainted. 

Makes approximately 1 cup.


The Last Sour Cherry Tart this Summer

Sour cherry season is coming to an end, but I've still got some in my refrigerator.  I want to make something spectacular with the final fruits, and it's going to be a tart.

Most sour cherry recipes are too sweet, which ruins the unique flavor of this elusive fruit. I've finally worked out a recipe that I think is pretty perfect.  Another bonus: unlike so many pastries, this one is better when it’s had a little time to itself, and it tastes better on day two (provided it actually lasts that long). 


Crostata Crust

 Working with pastry dough is difficult in the heat of summer. And this one, because it's so soft, is extremely challenging. But unlike regular pie dough, this cookie-like pastry is very forgiving, refusing to get tough, no matter how much you handle it. When it gets too soft, simply put it back in the refrigerator for five minutes to let it cool off. It will become much more accommodating. 

Mix a stick and a half of soft butter with a third cup of sugar in a stand mixer until fluffy.  

Break an egg into a small dish; reserve a bit to wash the pastry later, and add the rest of the egg to the butter. Toss in a teaspoon of vanilla.

Grate the rind of one lemon into 2 and a quarter cups of flour. Add a pinch of salt and slowly add to the butter/egg mixture until it just comes together.  Divide into two disks, wrap in wax paper, and put in the refrigerator to chill for half an hour.


Sour Cherry Filling

Meanwhile, make the cherry filling by removing the pits from 2 pints of fresh sour cherries; you should have 4 cups once the pits are removed.  (You could also use 4 cups of frozen pitted sour cherries; do not defrost before using.)

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet.  Add the cherries, a half cup of sugar and the juice of half a lemon and stir gently, just until the liquids come to a boil. Don’t cook them too long or the cherries will start to fall apart.

Make a slurry of 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of cold water and stir it into the boiling cherries. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, just until the mixture becomes clear and thick.  Allow to cool.


Putting it all Together

Preheat the oven to 375 and put a baking sheet on the middle shelf. 

Remove the pastry disks from the refrigerator.  Roll out the first one, between two sheets of plastic wrap, to a round about twelve inches in diameter.  This is the tricky part: invert it into a 9 inch fluted tart pan, preferably one with high sides.  It will probably tear; don’t worry, just patch it all up and put it back into the refrigerator.

Roll out the second disk in the same manner, put it onto a baking sheet (still on the plastic wrap), remove the top sheet of plastic and cut this into 8 or 10 strips, about an inch wide.  Put the baking sheet into the refrigerator to chill for a few minutes. 

Remove the tart shell and the strips from the refrigerator.  Pour the cherry filling into the tart shell. Now make a lattice of the strips on the top, criss-crossing them diagonally.  Don’t worry if they’re not perfect; no matter what you do, the tart’s going to look lovely when it emerges from the oven.  Brush the strips with the remaining beaten egg, sprinkle with sugar and put into the oven on the baking sheet.  (You need the sheet to keep cherry juices from spilling onto the oven floor.)  Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden.

Cool for an hour, on a rack, before removing the side of the tart pan. 

Eat gratefully, knowing that fresh sour cherries are a short-lived summer treat.

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Blues for a Summer Day

Blueberry Galette

It’s blueberry season here in the Berkshires, and the berries are fantastic this year. At first I just ate them by the handful, stopping to scoop up a few whenever I passed through the kitchen.

But once I’d gotten over my initial infatuation - local blueberries! - I began wanting to do something more impressive with this beautiful fruit.

My feeling about blueberries is that you don’t want to do too much. Blueberry muffins are swell. So are blueberry pies.  But my favorite blueberry confection is this simple galette: the easy crust makes a very fine frame for their wonderfully robust flavor. What you end up with is juicy berries in a crisp, buttery crust.

For the pastry:

 1 cup flour

a pinch of salt

a pinch of sugar

6 tablespoons butter, cold and chopped into cubes

4-5 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

2-3 cups blueberries, rinsed and stemmed

½ lemon juice & zest

3 teaspoons sugar

1 egg for the egg wash

Make the pastry by putting the flour into a bowl with the salt and sugar and cutting the butter in with a pastry cutter. (If you don’t have one, and you like to bake, I’d advise indulging in this simple tool. There’s something so satisfying about the way it works that you’ll wonder why you ever used two knives or your food processor.) Then add the ice water, tablespoon by tablespoon, stirring with a fork and taking care to not overwork the dough. It should just come together and not be too wet or sticky. Wrap in wax paper and transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile wash the blueberries and toss them with lemon juice, zest, and sugar.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface to approximately ¼ inch thickness and transfer to a baking sheet. You could put this back into the refrigerator for a brief cooling off period, but it’s not completely necessary.

When you’re ready to bake your galette, make a small mound of the mildly macerated blueberries at the center of the pastry, leaving enough of a border to fold the pastry over the edges. Like a crostata, perfection is not the goal here - the rougher the better. Paint the outer crust with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and the blueberries begin to break apart in the middle. Allow to cool to room temperature and serve with ice cream or yogurt.


A Surprising Little Tidbit

How to Stuff an Apricot

My friend Peter Biskind's book on Orson Welles has just been published, and we celebrated with a book party last night. Sixty people. It's been a while since I catered a cocktail party, and I'd forgotten how fussy and time consuming hors d’oeuvres can be.  I felt like a jeweler, as if I had spent days creating tiny little edible tidbits.

The pulled pork sliders on mini buns were a big hit. So were the BLT tomatoes, but then they always are.  You hollow out cherry tomatoes (a stupid lot of work, but fine if you have willing friends to help), and then fill them up with a mixture of mayonnaise, crisped bacon cut into little pieces and chopped romaine lettuce. They’re ridiculously addictive.  

Pickled shrimp were fresh, beautiful and very welcome since I made them a day ahead of time. I made the salmon rillettes a day ahead too. (I poached a large filet of wild sockeye salmon and mixed it with smoked salmon, capers, cognac, shallots, parsley and a bit of butter, then packed it all into a terrine to let the flavors marry.) Heaped onto croutons it was gorgeous. People gobbled up tiny sandwiches of rare cold beef tenderloin with horseradish cream. But the surprise of the night was something I haven't made in years: goat cheese and pistachio-stuffed apricots. They were beautiful. Astoundingly delicious. And very small.

I was so busy assembling food and getting it out of the kitchen that I forgot to take pictures. So you'll have to imagine how pretty the apricots were. But here’s how you make them.

Soak half a pound of dried California apricots in a small amount (about half a cup) of fresh orange juice for about half an hour, then drain on paper towels.

Let 6 to 8 ounces of fresh, soft goat cheese come to room temperature.  Meanwhile, shell enough pistachios to make about half a cup. Grind half of them very finely in a spice grinder and coarsely chop the other half. Mix the coarsely chopped nuts in with the goat cheese and spoon that into the apricot halves.  

Sprinkle each apricot with a lovely dusting of bright green ground pistachios. If you have any pistachios left over, put one on top of each little filled apricot. The result was so delicious I found it hard to keep from eating them all myself.

One caveat: if all you can find are Turkish apricots, don't bother. They are sadly lacking in flavor.





Another Wonderful Thing

Much as I love my local farmers’ market, every time I go to the Bay Area I’m consumed with farmers’ market envy. Out there it’s a year-round way of life. And sometimes, well, you just get too busy to make it there in time, and you arrive to discover that everything you wanted has already been snapped up. So I was thrilled to see that Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based start up has finally hit eastern shores. The online farmers’ market connects consumers and producers through their simple, inviting site.

You assemble your basket - the lovely photos are paired with charming stories of the farms and artisan producers - then make your way to a local outpost to pick it up. Best of all: they deliver. (So far New York deliveries are restricted to North Brooklyn, but I’m hoping they’ll expand their reach.) It’s a bit like a tailor-made CSA. Object of desire, at the moment: nettles from Blooming Hill farm. Nettle gnocchi are definitely in my future.


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Things I Love

Fennel Pollen

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I wish you could smell the fragrance of this gorgeous yelllow-green pollen, which is filling the air as I sit here.  This jar's not new - it's been sitting in my spice cupboard for more than a year - but the scent is so powerful and fresh I can easily imagine myself onto a Tuscan hillside, with fennel spilling down the mountainside around me.

Fennel pollen, with its warm anise aroma, is a wonderful addition to a spice cupboard; it has an untamed wildness that improves so many dishes. Dust it onto chicken as it goes into the oven, or onto lamb chops just before serving. Sprinkle it into a pasta sauce to make it brighter. Fennel pollen loves goat cheese, it goes gorgeously with a bit of orange zest, and it's a great addition to an olive oil pound cake. It tames broccoli rabe, too, adding a sweet sultry note to the bitter greens. 

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A Quick Fast Dinner for a Sultry Night

It's so hot tonight, and a friend just walked in with some green garlic she pulled from her garden. I love green garlic, love it's sweet, slightly sticky nature. Looking at the beautiful bulbs with their faint lavender hue, I suddenly remember that I have a small stash of wax-wrapped bottarga (dried mullet roe) hidden in the refrigerator. 

And suddenly the perfect meal materializes. 

Bottarga is a bit like uni, a rich burnt-orange roe with a seductive texture. But where uni is soft as custard, bottarga has a dense, chewy intensity. Shave it into little curls and it has one texture; grate it into crumbs it has another.  So why not both?

Spaghetti with Bottarga and Bread Crumbs

Boil a large pot of water for pasta.

While a pound of pasta cooks, gently saute a couple cloves of thinly sliced garlic and a fat pinch of crushed red peppers in about a half cup of good olive oil just until it becomes fragrant.

Take as much bottarga as you can afford (classic recipes call for 6 ounces for a pound of spaghetti, but bottarga’s so expensive, and so powerful, I tend to use about half that much) and shave half of it into thin, delicate curls. Grate the rest.

When the pasta is just al dente, drain and toss it with the olive oil mixture and some finely chopped Italian parsley.  Toss in the bottarga, along with the zest of one lemon and a good handful of homemade bread crumbs and serve. 

This is rich; it will serve, 6 as a smaller first course.



Wedding Menu Modern

Francis Lam and Chrisine Gaspar were married last night, in the most moving wedding ceremony I've ever attended.  We gathered on a New York rooftop for the vows, and their love for each other shone so brightly that I'm pretty sure the skyline grew momentarily blurred for all of us.

Afterward we trooped downstairs for a menu prepared by some of America's most celebrated chefs. The food was wonderful, but what really struck me was that looking back, say fifty years from now, this menu will speak volumes about how we were eating in 2013.

This dish, by Grant Achatz, Dave Beran and Eric Rivera, was the first to hit the table:

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It's grilled octopus with cauliflower. Doesn't look like much, but it danced joyfully about in the mouth, a little waltz of flavor and texture.

This was the second:

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Swiss Chard with chocolate and Chinese black bean, it was fresh and utterly surprising.  


Next came this:

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"Oyster salad" it featured salsify, which is sometimes known as "oyster plant" because the cream-colored root has a flavor so surprisingly saline you could be convinced that it came from the sea. 

We went on to braised seaweed with tofu and pumpkin, another little dance of textures, and broccoli rabe with dried tomato and lemon, a refreshingly bitter mouthful.  That was followed by quinoa with mushrooms and chickpeas, courtesy of Andrew Carmellini and Zach Dunham.

I imagine you're getting the theme: the food was walking along a vegetarian path, with a few deviations (extraordinary roast pigs and ducks from Yi Lee).

The menu offers a remarkable snapshot of the way America is eating at the moment. It's not just that the food reflects the differing backgrounds of the bride and groom - his Chinese ancestry, her Portuguese - but also how many of the guests eschew meat and worry about gluten. The result was a menu that was ethnically diverse, primarily plant based, borrowed from many cultures - and utterly original.

There was nothing traditional about the service either: it was done Chinese take-out style, a raft of little white boxes arriving on the tables with each course.  This dish, my favorite, was the exception: it came in little plastic tubs.

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Danny Bowien's pea shoots were in a pumpkin broth so deliciously intense that, despite the weather (it was 90 degrees outside),  I couldn't stop eating it. I also loved the schmaltz rice he and Angela Dimayuga made;  it looked innocent, but the rice was laced with chicken fat, sparked with lime and zinged with little rounds of radish.  

The wedding cake?  Surely you weren't expecting a multi-tiered white confection with a tiny bride and groom on top.  What we got were more little white cartons, each containing a salted chocolate buckwheat cookie (gluten-free) nestled beneath the perfect culinary marriage of China and Portugal: rich, flaky, utterly classic egg custard tarts, the dim sum that arrived in China via Macau, courtesy of the Portuguese.

Leaving we were each handed another little white take-out container.  This is what it held:

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Pimento cheese from Chef Ashley Christensen. It made a fantastic breakfast.

Merry marriage Francis and Christine: may your life together be as delicious as the wedding feast.




My Father the Designer

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       A show of my father's book designs opens at Columbia University on Monday, at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. During the last few years of his life Dad spent weekends going through his library, annotating the thousands of books he had designed (his career started in 1926 and he was still working on the day he died in 1980).  He put down everything he could remember about the design decisions, the author's reactions... anything that came to mind.  
       The cards have been digitized now, so you can read about Gertrude Stein's response when he put her photograph right on the cover of the book (not the jacket). I believe that was the first time photo offset printing was used in that way.  You can find out Kurt Vonnegut's reaction to Dad's design for Cat's Cradle (Dad loved that book),  and how he took litle scraps of notes from Marshall McLuhan's to design The Mechanical Bride. And, of course, there's Ulysses.
      Although Dad designed both the book and the jacket early in his career, it continues to be his most famous design.
      My father was a modest man; he revered authors and writing, and thought of himself as "a mere craftsman."  But I think he'd be very proud of this show.  Curator Martha Scotford has done a remarkable job.  Wandering through the books, I just kept thinking how much I miss him. 


Chocolate Covered Cherries

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I loved chocolate-covered cherries so much as a teenager that I had a secret pact with a friend; we sent them to each other every month. Today the candies strike me as cloyingly sweet, but the combination of chocolate and cherries continues to haunt me. This morning in the market I was loading my basket with armfuls of Bing cherries, and suddenly saw them in a whole new light. I had a quick taste memory of chocolate cherries - and then I wondered why I'd never tried making my own.

Everyone dips fresh strawberries into chocolate, but cherries are better in every way. The texture is so much more appealing, the flavors are more compatible, and they even come equipped with a convenient dipping handle. I suppose it's fear of pits that's kept chocolate-covered fresh cherries from becoming a summer standard.

Once you’ve tasted these, that might change. They’re wonderful. And easy. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the Fourth.

Chocolate Covered Cherries

¼ lb 70% dark chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger’s bittersweet bar)

a handful of Bing cherries, (I am sure you can use Rainiers, but I love the deep flavor of Bings)

Wash the cherries and carefully dry them, storing them in the freezer until you’re ready to dip.

Slowly melt the chocolate (in a metal or ovensafe dish), over simmering water, stirring lazily and  infrequently so you don't streak it. Once the chocolate has completely melted, give it a little time to relax and cool down.

When the chocolate is just comfortably warm, remove your cherries from the cold and dip them in, one by one. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment and transfer to the refrigerator until you're ready to indulge. 

Eat happily, being careful of the pits.


An All American Dessert

The Great Hot Fudge Sundae

Quick. What’s the best food pairing you can think of?  If you didn’t immediately answer hot fudge and vanilla ice cream, we may have to revoke your passport.  There are hundreds of perfect pairings - bacon and eggs, peanut butter and jelly, rice and beans - but none is as wonderful as the pure black and white simplicity of hot fudge and vanilla ice cream. 

Hot and cold. Black and white. Sticky and smooth. But best of all is the way hot fudge makes vanilla ice cream taste more like vanilla, and vanilla ice cream makes the densest hot fudge reveal new aspects of its personality. 

If you’ve been buying banal bottled hot fudge and bland vanilla ice cream, this may be news to you. But hot fudge is easy: nothing you can do in the kitchen offers bigger rewards for so little effort.  As for ice cream, there are many excellent brands out there, but ice cream is always at its best when it is freshly made and eaten right out of the churn.

A few hints:

1.Use the best, deepest, densest, chocolatiest chocolate you can find.  In this case, better really is better.

2. Corn syrup has a bad reputation, but you really do need it to give your hot fudge body and shine.  Why?  Because corn syrup is an invert sugar, which means that it prevents sugar crystals from forming without adding too much sweetness.

3. You need cocoa powder for the fudgey flavor, and chocolate for the fudgey texture.

4. And you need a little bit of instant espresso.  Coffee has the magical ability to make chocolate taste more like chocolate.  A little pinch of instant espresso powder makes the chocolate flavor leap right to the forefront (and you will never taste the coffee)..

Hot Fudge

2/3 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

pinch of salt

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon instant coffee powder

1 teaspoon vanilla 

Mix the cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, salt and cocoa powder together in a small (1-2 quart) heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add half the chocolate and stir, over medium heat, until the chocolate is melted.

Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until it’s smooth. 

Add the butter, remaining chocolate, vanilla and coffee and keep stirring, off the heat, until it is smooth and shiny. 

Pour it over vanilla ice cream and revel in the flavor.

The sauce will keep, in covered jar in the refrigerator, for a couple of weeks.  


Vanilla Ice Cream (adapted from David Leibovitz)

 1 cup whole milk

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 cups whipping cream

5 large egg yolks

Stir the sugar and salt into the milk in a small saucepan over low heat. With a small knife, slit the vanilla bean open and scrape the seeds into the milk mixture.  Throw in the bean pod as well. When it is warm, cover the pan, take it off the heat, and let it sit for an hour so that the milk soaks up all the vanilla flavor.

Put a small (2-quart bowl) inside a large one that is filled, about half way, with an ice and water mixture.  Put the cream into the small bowl to keep it cold. 

Separate the eggs, and save the whites for another use.  Gently stir the yolks in a small bowl.  Reheat the milk, very gently, pour a bit of the warm into the yolks, whisking constantly, and then pour the now warm yolks into the milk in the pan.  Cook, over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat a spatula.

Put a strainer over the bowl of chilled cream and slowly strain the yolk/milk custard into the cream.  Stir over the ice until it is cold, and put in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, until it is completely cold. Longer is better.

Take the vanilla bean out of the mixture and freeze the ice cream in an ice cream maker. 

Makes about 1 quart







The Most Refreshing Summer Drink



How to Make a Great Mojito

Wash and dry a handful of fresh mint leaves, plucking the leaves from the stalk and placing in a pile. Set aside a few leaves for garnish. 

Make a simple syrup by combining a cup of water with a cup of sugar in small saucepan and heating slowly, watching the sugar dissolve.  Set it aside to cool. 

Lightly muddle the mint leaves with a few tablespoons of sugar.  The best tool for this is a mortar and pestle, but if you don’t have one you can put them into a heavy bowl and pound the mixture with a spoon until it begins to disintegrate. 

Divide the mint into two glasses, add a few tablespoons of the simple syrup, a couple shots of light rum, and the juice of half a lime to each glass.  Add ice cubes, and fill the glasses to the brim with soda water. Garnish with a few leaves of mint. 




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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.