Saturday, May 30, 2009


SO, I like the idea of cocktails. They seem sort of neat, and perhaps sophisticated, and at least a little more interesting than than my usual whiskey straight or, as previously mentioned, the occasional gin and tonic. But, you need stuff to make them. More precisely, you need little bits of stuff-- dashes and eighths of teaspoons for instance. I'm pretty sure that's why I generally avoid them; they seem like a nuisance. Like Gnats or fruit flies or lint.
Therefore, I'm perpetually secretly seeking an arsenal of mixed drink recipes-- ones that simply require pouring pours and mixing with ice via the lone sundae spoon that always ends up underneath the silverware tray some how.
And that, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, is how I ended up with a bottle of Campari. I would request conspiracy charges however, for the guy who wrote the "lazy bartender" blurb in last month's Bon Appetit that described Campari as the perfect summer cocktail when mixed simply with club soda.
Given such a glowing review, you can imagine my surprise when I wandered over to the Campari website and they described it as "the ultimate acquired taste"... should they be trying to sell the stuff? Honestly, how bad could it really be?
The reverse psychology worked. We ran out and bought a bottle.
Campari is neutral grain alcohol flavored with a secret blend of herbs and barks and bug shells (for color) that tastes approximately like the peel of a grapefruit: a lovely light citrus that is quickly replaced by the purest bitter imaginable, the sort of pureness that lands metals and gasses on the periodic table.
And people drink it. For fun. People like me, apparently, since Jason and I are now proud owners of a whole fifth of it.
Now, least Jason call me on it, I am being a bit hyperbolic. Or at least, he would think so, because he likes the stuff, cold, mixed with a little club soda.
I do not. There's a cocktail made out of this stuff, called a negroni, which adds sweet vermouth and gin, which I find palatable, but the best way I've discovered to drink it is in a light white wine, like cheap Vhino Verde, which is down right delicious.
And while the fifth was nearly $30, and near everyone I have handed it to thus far has made a face like a cat in the bathtub upon first sip, I'd say it's worth buying for a party if you never have. Just make sure you have a little sweeter white wine around, or even orange juice, and you just may acquire the taste.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dominoes and Gin

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm back. I apologize for my extended absence, it wasn't all fun and games-- its was mostly papers and research (if you have a hankering to read 10 pages of analysis about Success For All Schools, or The Workshop in the Classroom, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I could hook that up) with occasional fits of cooking and evenings running.

I tried my hand at blender-soup, for example, in my absence. You can see how well that went. It was a birthday present for my mother; broccoli with a lemon sour cream, and she liked what was left after I threw it all over my poor coffee pot.
I have been the family farm twice; once to soak in the late march sun with the last of the hay bales, and once to plants rows of root vegetables, which, as my mom pointed out, need the same amount of love, but less watering.
I've only had dinner on the deck three times, but I intend on changing that soon. And buying more charcoal.
I've had two evenings of gin and tonics and have gotten much better at dominoes, as well as BS, which everyone agrees reminds them of summer camp or middle school.

I understand that its out of season right now-- (along with white pumps, snow shovels and corn) but-- I've been hoarding.
Recipes, that is.
A dinner party, more specifically. I've slowly collected a mental dinner party for you.
I, of course, did not have a dinner party; I had finals. So, fair warning, I think this sounds great theoretically, but it could turn out to be like communism-- great on paper.
Anyhow, at the very least, I can vouch for deliciousness and simplicity separately, and highly recommend all of the following for any occasion.

Fried Chickpeas
Cured things: garlic stuffed olives, salami, prosciutto, etc.
Carbohydrate: crackers, or toasty baguette pieces
A cheese you like; I like Gouda.
Fruit, as it is *almost* fruit season.

Salad, with baby greens and beets and feta and pecans and vinagrette

Baked Orzo with Shirmp

Rhubarb Custard Pie

So, chickpeas. In case you missed, I loooove chickpeas. This, however, is my favorite way to love chickpeas-- its more of a formula than a recipe though. Your going to need a can or two of chickpeas, one if its for you, two if its for sharing. Rise the chickpeas, in a colander or in the can, and then dry them out on paper towel.
In a good sized heavy pan, heat up a large glug of olive oil. Remember, your frying not sauteeing-- you want enough to make 'em greasy, but not so much that they're swimming.
Once the oil is hot, add your garbanzos. Ideally, you want them to brown and crust a little, and get sort of creamy on the inside. When you feel confident that this is happening (sneak one out of the pan if you need tangible proof), add about a teaspoon or so of smoked paprika, which come in a tin like this and can be found at Morgan and York, if I recall correctly, and generous salt and pepper. I recommend adding a little Aleppo pepper, which is an oily Syrian flake-- leave it out you have hot smoked paprika, though.
If you have no smoked paprika, you really really should get some, but regular ol' paprika will do in a pinch.
Ok, well, that's it. You're done. Put 'em in a pretty bowl with a spoon, and watch them disappear.

The rest of the appetizers and salad I think you can figure out on your own.
On to the largest Pyrex you own.

You're going to need it for the baked orzo. I followed the recipe pretty exactly (which I have shamelessly stolen from Gourmet), but would make a few changes next time-- I used a pound of jumbos, which was not enough; two would have been great. The recipe has you mix in the shrimp with the pasta, which makes them hard to find, and thus, hard to serve evenly. Next time I would fish 'em out of the sauce before mixing with the orzo and spread them over the top, under the cheese, before baking. I could also see grilling the shrimp and then throwing 'em on there, instead of cooking them in the sauce.
I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures, I should have as I had plenty of time-- Jason and I ate it for three days straight.

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (28- to 32-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 lb large shrimp (about 36), shelled and deveined
  • 1 lb orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 lb feta, patted dry and crumbled (3 cups)


Preheat oven to 425°F.

Cook onion, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes in 1 tablespoon oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring, until onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Add wine and boil until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and salt, then reduce heat and simmer briskly, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. Stir shrimp into sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through, about 3 minutes.

While sauce and shrimp are cooking, cook orzo in a 6-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain orzo in a sieve. Return orzo to pot and toss with remaining tablespoon oil. Stir in sauce with shrimp and reserved cooking water, then add olives and salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon half of pasta into an oiled 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish, then sprinkle with half of feta. Top with remaining pasta and feta, then bake in middle of oven, uncovered, until cheese is slightly melted and pasta is heated through, 10 to 15 minutes.

Rhubarb Custard Pie was not my idea. It was something my mom whipped up last Sunday after spending the day planting potatoes, and it was already in the fridge by the time I arrived for dinner. I must admit, when she first put my little slice in front of me, I was skeptical-- it was this funny pale green color that reminded me of a faded and yellowed fifties photograph. It turns out thats a fair assessment of this pie-- pale and calm and markedly old fashioned, except that it tastes a thousand times better than I could imagine anything else that color tasting. It's sweet and rhubarb-sour and thick, all in the right places.

4 cups medium diced rhubarb
1 ¾ cup sugar ( or even a little less)
¼ c flour
2 tbsp water
½ tsp salt

2 egg beaten
3 tbsp milk

grated nutmeg to tatse—teaspoon or so
1 tbsp butter

Top and bottom pie crust, prepared from the recipe of your choice


In a pot big enough to hold it all, combine the first four ingredients and cook down over medium-ish heat for about 15 minutes.

meanwhile, make your crusts.

If you have time, let the rhubarb mixture cool. If you don't we'll go over that in a minute.

In a large bowl, combine the milk and eggs. If you cooled your rhubarb, whisk it all in. If you didn't, add the rhubarb a cup or so at a time so the dairy doesn't curdle. Add the nutmeg.

Arrange the bottom crust in a pie plate, and spoon your filling in. Cut off little chunks of the butter, and spread them evenly atop the filling. Roll out your top crust and affix it to the bottom one. Don't forget to cut steam holes and give it a little egg wash so it browns up nice.

Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes, depending on your oven.