Pimms Cups

June 30, 2012

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Heavens, its almost July already and not a single post for 2012. This says something about my state of mind, unfortunately. Cooking has been happening and photos have been taken but sadly nothing has been posted. However it is a sweltering hot day and getting hotter and I am thinking of tall, cool, refreshing summer drinks.

Dear Ms Stewart has an excellent recipe for for Pimms Cups in her Martha Steward Hors D’oeuvres Handbook. (So funny, I remember coming across the word “hors d’oeuvres” when I was a young teenager and was baffled by how it could possibly be pronounced. I very much liked the concept of “hors d’oeuvres” so I gamely set about using the word in conversation, pronouncing it more or less “whores devours” or even “whores divorce” if you layer on a slight Nigerian accent. Years later I finally learned some French and the proper pronunciation but I still find my old pronunciation more fun.)

Pimms Cups

2-3 small Persian cucumbers, skin on, cut into 1/4″ by 2-1/2″ long sticks (or one regular cucumber but I like the Persian ones better)

1 orange cut into 1/4″ rounds

About a dozen strawberries, stems removed and sliced in halves or quarters.

1 bottle (750 ml) of Pimm’s #1

1 bottle (750ml) of ginger ale (you can also use apple cider but I find it too sweet)

Ice

Place all the fruit into a 2-quart pitcher. Add the remaining ingredients and stir once to combine. Ladle into glasses, sharing the fruit in the glasses. Add ice and serve.

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You can find Pimms liquors at most decent sized liquor stores although I had no luck with our stores in Crown Heights. The whole beverage is like eating a fruit salad– it can be dangerous because you forget that there is liquor involved.

Diary of a Hurricane

September 11, 2011


When I find myself cooped up inside my apartment in the city during a disaster, perceived or real, my first inclination is to cook. I still vividly remember the evening of September 11, 2001, when my best friend and I hunkered down at our kitchen table in our apartment in Bay Ridge, and methodically chopped and minced our way through several giant bunches of basil, making an exceedingly fine pesto, not speaking at all over the voices emanating from the radio. Trying to figure out what to do with our hands, our minds, our thoughts, ourselves while despair and sadness settled in over the city. I have never been able to make pesto without thinking of that night. Cooking soothes my nerves and allows me to make things beautiful and pleasing even when the world seems to be crumbling around us.

Last night I remade a clam chowder that I first made two weekends ago on the eve of Hurricane Irene’s presumed landing in New York City. Though the city ended up being spared the flooding that hit other parts of the Northeast, with all the precautions advised by the city government, my roommate E and I  stayed home and in our case cooked our way through the entire weekend with clam chowder, mushroom risotto, herbed scrambled eggs and cinnamon milk bread all making appearances in the kitchen.

I really like this particular clam chowder recipe. Its more of a clam-corn chowder and surprisingly hearty without being too thick or rich. The final dish results in a light, thinish cream broth with a pleasant “sludge” of potatoes and corn in every spoonful. I didn’t have clam juice so I used some mushroom broth instead which gave a nice earthy flavour.

The next time I make this soup I think I’ll save a bit of bacon and fry it crisp to sprinkle over the bowls of soup with some freshly chopped chives.

Clam and Corn Chowder (from Gourmet, Aug 2007)
Serves 4 . About 40 minutes start to finish.

3 bacon slices, cut crosswise into thin strips
1 bunch scallions (5 or 6)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 cups corn (from about 4 ears)
1 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups mushroom broth or 16 oz of clam juice
1/2 cup water (you could omit this I think)
2 pounds small hard-shelled clams, well scrubbed
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

Cook bacon in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring, until slightly browned but not crisp. Chop white and pale green parts of scallions (reserve greens) and add to bacon along with 1 tablespoon butter. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in corn, potatoes, clam juice/ mushroom broth, water, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and bring to a rolling boil, uncovered. Add clams and return to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until clams are just opened wide, 5 to 8 minutes (discard any clams that remain unopened after 8 minutes).
Chop 1/2 cup scallion greens and add to chowder along with milk, cream, and remaining tablespoon butter. Cook, stirring, until heated through (do not let boil). Season with salt and pepper.

Garden Notes: Basil Pesto

August 20, 2011

I have noticed that there is a large, not very sociable locust (or grasshopper?) that fumbles about in my basil plants every time I go to pick veggies out of my community garden plot. He does leave appreciative nibbles all throughout the basil patch, so I can’t really be annoyed with someone who is obviously enjoying himself so much and who is so tidy about his munching. In the long run there is plenty of basil for both of us.

In the summer months, particularly in August when tomatoes, basil and summer squash are in abundance, I tend to make a lot of pasta dishes, tossing warm noodles with barely sauteed vegetables and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. My favourite noodles are cappelini, corkscrews (for warm pasta salad) and a new discovery: pappardelle (especially tasty with a hearty meat sauce).

Last night I made up a batch of pesto with basil from the garden which I tossed up with fresh peas and pappardelle for my supper. (I was overly generous with the garlic– used five large cloves, which I would say is excessive– so the following recipe (adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook with the yellow cover) is more correct. But if you like garlic and don’t mind walking around smelling of it for the next few days, then by all means add more.

For supper tonight, a wedge of toasted foccacia with fresh mozzarella, a generous slather of pesto, and slices of tomato has me rolling around on the kitchen floor in raptures.

Basil Pesto

3 garlic loves
1/2 cup pine nuts OR lightly toasted walnuts (can do in a dry fry pan over medium heat)
1 tsp salt (can cut salt to 1/2 tsp but the saltiness means you don’t need extra in your pasta)
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2/3 cup coarsely grated Parmigiana-Reggiano
3 cups packed fresh basil leaves (with or without a little stem)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil.

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Have ready a big bowl of ice water. Turn the water off and drop all the basil in (to blanch it) then quickly transfer the leaves to the ice bath to stop them cooking. Spread leaves out onto some paper towels and roll them up to dry them. The blanching keeps the leaves and the resulting pesto nice and green. If you don’t care about the colour or are planning to eat the whole batch at once, you could always skip the blanching process. In a food processor or blender (if blender, rough chop the ingredients ahead of time), chop the garlic finely. Stop motor then add nuts, cheese, salt, pepper and basil. Process until finely chopped. (if you want to freeze, keep the cheese out although I always just blend it in anyway.). With motor running, add oil in a steady stream, blending until incorporated by not completely smooth.

Makes about a cup. Keeps in fridge for 1+ week. Store with surface covered with plastic wrap.

When adding to pasta, for every two parts pesto, whisk in one part of hot pasta cooking water into the pesto you are about to use and then add to your pasta. But you probably already know that. :)

I sadly did not make it out to Capetown this summer for my nephew’s eighth birthday. But thought I’d share this accomplished, “blog worthy” vegan and wheat free cake. My sister in law is a genius…

Postcard from Paris

April 16, 2011

(And like a real postcard, gets to you weeks after you were actually there…)

I adore the French cafe culture. Why miss any opportunity to crowd around a little table and drink tea or coffee or have a sandwich or a cigarette? All while taking in the view of the bustling street.

Odds and Ends

February 1, 2011

Friends sometimes ask me what sort of things I find handy to have in the cupboards. Here’s a surprising one: toasted sesame seeds. They can be found cheaply at any Asian grocery store and probably other ethnic food stores or decent sized groceries, though I haven’t looked since I am so spoiled with variety here in New York City. I find a jar full lasts for months and can be brought out and shaken over sauteed greens,  mixed salads and chicken curries. This evening I was craving a quick, fresh bite of salad to go with my supper (a tasty if a little dry mushroom omelette… I need some omelette making coaching) and I wasn’t in the mood to sort and wash lettuce leaves so I put together this carrot salad in about 4 minutes flat. Especially in the winter, a good crunchy bite of veg helps round out a meal nicely.

Carrot and Sesame Seed Salad for One or Two People

2 decent sized, preferably organic carrots

1 healthy drizzle of olive oil (1/2 T or 1 T?)

1 healthy drizzle of rice vinegar (1-2tsps?)

A few healthy shakes of toasted sesame seeds (1/2 or 1 T?)

A large pinch of salt and a few turns of fresh ground pepper.

Scrub the carrots and chop off the ends. Grate the carrots on the largest grater setting. With a fork, toss in a bowl with olive oil and vinegar. Shake in the sesame seeds, toss some more. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

(If you want to get fancy, you can add shredded red cabbage for colour. A pinch of cumin or dried coriander probably wouldn’t hurt either.)

Pumpkin Curry

January 30, 2011

Lest you think that all I do is stew up large vats of meat, might I share with you a most delightful recipe for pumpkin curry that I just discovered a couple of weeks ago. I had clipped the recipe from (believe it or not) an old issue of Bon Apetit and had been thinking of making it for over a year. The perfect opportunity came up when I went up to spend a cozy weekend at my friend M’s place in Connecticut, the weekend after our second to last snow storm. The snow was piled 28″ high in the woods behind her house– clean, fluffy, white, snow cone worthy snow– and the atmosphere was begging for a nice, slow cooked stewy dish for lunch. After a pleasant morning of  snow shoeing,  we lit a fire in her little pella stove, made mugs of tea and tucked into platefuls of this  luscious curry served with buttered brown rice. The curry is 100% vegan and is so hearty and rich, you will barely have space for seconds. I revamped the recipe the very next weekend, cutting the coconut cream to half a cup which I think makes it a little less rich but also helps to limit the risk of heartburn after your second plateful…

Pumpkin and Cashew Curry

(adapted from Bon Appetit, Oct 2009)

2 T vegetable oil, divided

4 1/2 cups 3/4-inch cubes peeled mix of pumpkin and butternut squash

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

8 curry leaves (I used dried)

2 small red onions, sliced thin (or one red and one yellow onion)

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 T finely grated peeled fresh ginger

3 dried chiles (the long, thin red ones from Indian or Mexican stores)

3/4 cup unsalted roasted cashews

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1 15 oz can of unsweetened coconut milk

1/2 cup creamed coconut

1 15 oz can of chick peas, drained

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro plus additional for garnish

Juice from  half a lime

2 tsp (or to your taste) of Kosher salt

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add pumpkin and cook until golden, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to same skillet. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves; cook until seeds pop and leaves sizzle, 30 seconds. Add onions, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until onions are golden, 4 minutes. Add chiles, cashews, turmeric, and cumin; stir-fry 1 minute. Add coconut milk and coconut cream. Increase heat to medium high. Boil until thickened, 2 minutes. Return pumpkin to pan and add chick peas; reduce heat to medium. Simmer until pumpkin is tender, 4 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup cilantro and lime juice. Sprinkle in the Kosher salt and a turn or two of fresh ground pepper.

Spoon over rice; garnish with additional cilantro. (I like to toss a pat of butter into the hot rice and mix in the cilantro as well as some salt and pepper. Looks pretty and makes the rice SO delicious. )

I sit here at my computer completely mortified as it has been so long since I posted and what I am about to post is from a dinner party ONE whole year ago. The text was written all the way back then, but here I am posting it now a year later. Since then, of the couples involved in the dinner party, one set has gotten married and two others have had babies! Things are moving fast, my dears, only goodness knows what is coming next.

The Beef Eaters Club


Several weeks ago, the Beef Eaters Club met for our quarterly beef dinner at my house. The beef eaters club is me and a group of friends from graduate school who decided earlier on this year that it was necessary to meet periodically to indulge in the consumption of beef. Since about half of us are unemployed or part time architects and the other half are employed architects (which isn’t saying much in terms of salary, if you get my drift), a quarterly meeting to indulge in steak and red wine is about all we can afford, and just about all we need, red meat and wine being items to be enjoyed in moderation. The kick off Beef Eaters Club in July was a small but delightful gathering of four of us at Les Halles in midtown. Our October club meeting came shortly after myself, Nancy, and Amanda had seen “Julia and Julie” (yes, you know where this is going) and coincided with a particularly broke moment for most club members.
We decided to stay in…


The result was a ten quart creuset pot brimming to the top with the most delectable braised beef dish that I am yet to encounter. Julia Child’s boeuf bourgignonne” is magnificent.

I’ll admit, much as I love “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” I have found some of Julia Child’s recipes a bit fussy in the past. Generally I do quite well with pastry recipes, but past experiences with her pâte sucre (sweet pastry) and her tarte tatin (upside down apple tart) have been less than desirable, with ponderous, heavy pastries as the result. That said, Nancy’s heart was set on boeuf bourgignonne, and having seen the reverence paid this dish by all the characters in the movie, we determined to enter this bliss ourselves.
Boeuf bourgignonne is bliss. We doubled the recipe and used three different cuts of meat and good slab bacon (lardons).

Jason and Nancy came over a few hours early to help prepare the dish, and… We followed the recipe almost verbatim (yes Julia, we braised the white onions separately in butter and wine… yes, the mushrooms sautéed in their own pan too… these are the extra steps I tend to cut out , but for this dish, you must keep the onions and mushrooms separate until that final combining just before serving. The result is a uniqueness in each flavour, which mysteriously blend into one beautiful composition at the end. Julia is brilliant…) The two steps I cut out: we did not soak or boil the bacon before sautéing it. I figured that 4 hours in the oven would be sufficient to break down the rind. The other thing we did not do is strain the stew after it came out of the oven. I mean, really.


By 6.30 when everyone was arriving, the aroma had traveled all the way downstairs to the front lobby of my apartment building. Beefeaters arrived, noses twitching appreciatively even before they stepped into the building. We started with my favourite goat cheese with thyme and olives as an appetizer, moved on to a refreshing winter salad with gorgonzola, pears and pecans, and then had the beef with herbed sweet potato and potato gratin, and sautéed swiss chard with pine nuts and golden currents. Dessert was a plum galette with hazelnut gelato.

By midnight, all the men had gravitated to the floor of the living room (I suppose lying prone allows more flexibility to rub your tummy appreciatively).

Says Nancy:

“It was a wonderfully warm night of cooking, collaboration and conversation. Sure, it was an involved recipe, requiring numerous pans and even more hands, but it was relaxing to chop and chat that afternoon in your big, beautiful kitchen. Over the course of the day, I enjoyed the simmering smells and watching the crowd of friends grow. And then, in a truly cinematic moment, we revealed the Bourgignon to a collective gasp and applause. After all the preparation and presentation, tasting the dish surpassed my expectations: the meat was succulent and so full of flavor; the tender vegetables maintained their integrity in the midst of that savory sauce. My only regret is that there weren’t leftovers.”

And bless their hearts, the boys washed all the dishes.

Sage and Tomatoes

June 12, 2010

Summer cooking is such a pleasure. Vegetables virtually beg to be eaten raw or just barely cooked, and after a long day at work, you can easily come home and make yourself an attractive plate of food in less than 20 minutes.

This was a quick pasta sauce I made after discovering a cheese and garlic sausage at Faicco’s Italian Specialties on Bleeker Street. Just a 1/4- 1/2 pound of this tasty sausage makes up a plate for two– the meat is full of flavour, a bit salty and rich so you barely need to add any salt and you can scrimp on the oil. Set a pot of salted water to boil and when its boiling, cook up about a 1/2 lb (or less) of whole wheat corkscrew pasta. Meanwhile, slice up about a 1/2 pint of grape tomatoes. Slice up a large sprig of sage into thin strips and a sprig of oregano if you some. In about a tsp of olive oil, saute up the sausage (remove from its casing or chop into small bits) with a grated garlic clove, and a quarter of a white onion, sliced in rings for about 5 minutes till meat is just done and onions are softened. Toss in the tomatoes, saute another few  minutes, toss in the sage and oregano, saute another few minutes until tomatoes start to release their juices. I’d add a tablespoon of water or stock and cook another few minutes (I just started freezing homemade chicken stock in ice cube trays. I throw a cube or two into everything.)
Toss in the cooked pasta and a bit of pasta cooking water, mix and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh grated parmesan.

Cupcake Season

April 19, 2010

Is upon us at last…

Here is one reason why I love NPR: they did a special on why the supermarkets have been flooded with strawberries the past couple weeks: apparently the Florida crop was late so it is overlapping with the California crop, hence strawberries literally falling over themselves to be eaten.

( http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125845773)

I have single handedly been putting away about a pint of berries a day– so easy to eat, so fresh, so affordable, so yum!

In any case, after a long winter hiatus of travel, working at my day job, freelancing, house guests, and the like, I feel as though I’m coming out of a fog and into a glorious spring, with baking and cooking  projects luring me back into the kitchen.

I made a batch of these lovely sunny cakes last weekend for my lovely neighbor E.L. who ordered them for a dinner party. The cakes are a light vanilla sourcream (ridiculously easy to make, no butter involved but you make up for that in the frosting), filled with strawberry preserves, swathed in delectable swiss meringue frosting  and topped with fresh strawberries.

Bliss.

(ps. Can’t share this recipe, its a company secret– tthpppttt– but apparently I now have a Facebook account for Brownstone Baking.  If I can just figure out how to actually use it…)

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