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HOT BUTTERED RUM

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New England is still getting pounded by one heck of a blizzard, but New Yorkers are experiencing their own DeflateGate: Although conditions are serious out on Long Island, a measly five and a half inches or so of snow was measured in Central Park.

What a bust. A couple of respected computer models certainly looked dire, with predictions of more than 30 inches of snow for Manhattan, but what meteorologists and newscasters neglected to hammer home was that the storm was a complicated one, and the forecast should have been more obviously presented as a range of possibilities.

Even if that had happened, you can’t mess with Mother Nature—or human nature, for that matter. Speaking as someone who grew up thinking “hurricane season” was an official division of the year that came between summer and fall, I laid in supplies with a zeal my mother would’ve recognized. While taking inventory of a pantry shelf or two, I discovered a dusty bottle of dark rum that had escaped being corralled with the rest of the booze, and knew we were ready for whatever the “Blizzard of 2015″ could throw at us. Or not.

Most recipes for Hot Buttered Rum say to make a compound butter with the spices, then stir a pat of the butter into each mug of rum and hot water until it melts. The method below calls for simmering everything except the rum together for ten minutes, which gives the spices the chance to lose their rawness and release their flavors and aromas, making for a more mellow, well-rounded drink. Cradle a mug in your hands, inhale, and you will feel very après-ski, even if your aching muscles and glow of accomplishment come from nothing more glamorous than shoveling the sidewalk.

Hot Buttered Rum

From Gourmet Today: More Than 1000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

Makes 4 drinks

2 cups water

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon coarse salt

5 1/3 ounces (2/3 cup) dark rum such as Myer’s

Combine water, butter, brown sugar, spices, and salt in a 1- to 2-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes to blend flavors. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in rum. Pour into mugs.

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TRUE BLUE: COLSTON BASSETT STILTON

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January is typically devoted to fresh starts. We all know people who have vowed this month to exercise more, eat or drink less, and otherwise curtail the excesses that began at Thanksgiving.

Good for them! I’d be more inclined to join in if I hadn’t discovered that my favorite Stilton—from Colston Basset Dairy (estab. 1913), in Nottingham, England—is carried by one of my favorite specialty foods purveyors, Salamanders, in Greenport, on the North Fork of Long Island. (It’s closing this coming Sunday until March 1, but you can also find Colston Bassett at murrayscheese.com and formaggiokitchen, both of which ship nationwide.)

If I had to settle on a single blue cheese for life, it would be that from Colston Bassett, one of England’s smallest Stilton producers. Made from local cows’ milk—the farms are all within 1½ miles of the dairy—the cheese is simultaneously creamy and crumbly, with veins of deepening rich color and lingering, mellow flavor that isn’t marred by harsh acidity or overwhelming saltiness.

It is lovely creamed with a fork and served with celery sticks or silky endive leaves for an hors d’oeuvre, or crumbled over an watercress and pear salad for a first course. Made into Stilton Sauce (recipe below) and spooned over slices of beef tenderloin, it vaults a dinner party into the stratosphere. But it’s at its most assured at the end of a meal, with a glass of Tawny Port or a good red wine, and a firm-ripe pear or two. That’s when I renew my January vow, which is the same every year because I always fail miserably: Be kind, be kind, be kind.

Stilton Sauce

From The Gourmet Cookbook: More Than 1000 Recipes (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004)

This is also delicious served over cauliflower, instead of Mornay sauce.

½ pound Stilton, softened

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1½ cups dry white wine

1 cup heavy cream

4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. Stir together cheese and butter in a bowl until smooth.

2. Boil wine in a 1-quart saucepan until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Add cream and boil until liquid is reduced by about half, about 8 minutes.

3. Reduce heat to moderately low and whisk in cheese mixture a little at a time, then whisk in parsley. The sauce, without the parsley, can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, covered with wax paper, then refrigerate, tightly covered. Reheat over moderately high heat, whisking constantly. Whisk in parsley. 

TIME FLIES!

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And how. It’s been way too long since I last posted—I was typing as fast as I could for folks who pay for it—but here’s hoping in the meantime you’ve made Chicken Marbella at least once, and are contemplating your journey into the new year.

Here at the Lears, we have a delicious few days ahead. There is Beef with Tomato Sauce and Garlic braising in the oven as I write this—just the ticket for a bitterly cold night, and the leftovers will come in handy over the weekend.

New Year’s Eve will find us at home, sitting down to Sweetheart Oysters or “Mama Macie’s Oyster Stew,” courtesy of Damon Lee Fowler. Either way, our richness of oysters, as my father was fond of saying, will be local, from Peconic Bay. As for the main course, we’re keeping it ultrasimple: confit duck legs from Hudson Valley Duck Farm, cooked until brown and crisp, then served bistro-style, with a watercress salad à la my former Gourmet colleague Paul Grimes. I have a feeling juicy pomegranate seeds will find their way into the mix—nice with the walnuts and orange slices called for in the recipe, no? And since dessert is Sam’s department, that frees me up to organize things for the following day.

That’s January 1, of course, and for us, that means Hoppin’ John, traditionally eaten for good luck in the American South, especially in the lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. It’s a very plain dish of field peas (today, the most common type used is the black-eyed pea) cooked in ham-hock broth and served with rice and collard greens, which symbolize “folding green” money. Why tempt fate?

Hoppin’ John

With thanks to The Gourmet Cookbook—as well as a few centuries of southern home cooks.

Serves about 8

As far as the traditional accompaniments go, they can be fraught for many. If cooking rice gives you the wobblies, try this tried-and-true Gourmet recipe; it’s called “foolproof” for a reason. And if you don’t have the time or inclination to cook your greens long and slow until they become supple, then cook them quickly, in the Brazilian style; they’re just as delicious, but in a different way, and you can easily substitute olive oil for the bacon and drippings if desired. Lastly, what will really put things over the top is some really good cornbread. My go-to recipe is from the Cornbread Goddess, Ronni Lundy.

A 16-ounce bag black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed

1 large meaty ham hock (or 2 small ones)

9 cups water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small dried hot-but-not-searing chile or ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Accompaniment: cooked long-grain rice

1. Soak the black-eyed peas: You can do this the slow way, by putting them in cold water to cover by about 2 inches, then soaking them for 8 hours, but quick-soaking works, too. Put them in a pan and cover with 2 inches of water, then bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the beans soak in their water, covered, 1 hour. After either method, drain the black-eyes in a colander and rinse.

2. Make the ham-hock broth: Combine the hock and 9 cups water in a deep pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, until the meat is tender, 1½ to 2 hours. Fish the hock out of the broth with tongs and let cool on a cutting board. Meanwhile, measure the broth: If you have more than 6 cups, boil until reduced to 6 cups; if you have less than 6 cups, add enough water to make up the difference. When the hock is cool enough to handle, remove the meat, discarding skin and bones, and chop.

3. Put ‘em together: Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over moderately low heat. Add the onion and season with salt. Cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chile or red-pepper flakes, drained black-eyes, broth, and ham; bring to a simmer and simmer, partially covered, until black-eyes are tender but not falling apart, 20 minutes or so. Discard chile, if using, and season with salt and pepper. The cooked black-eyes can be made a day or so ahead of time, cooled completely in the broth, and refrigerated. Reheat gently, adding a little water to thin.

4. To serve: Spoon the black-eyed peas over the rice and serve the extra black-eyes in their pot liquor on the side to provide more moisture. And Happy New Year!

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CHICKEN MARBELLA: WELCOME TO THE CLUB

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In 1978, the year I moved to New York, the Upper West Side was still gritty and rough around the edges. Except, that is, for The Silver Palate, a valiant little shop that had opened the previous year on Columbus Avenue, at 73rd Street. Its concept—elegant yet accessible take-home food for dinner parties, picnics for concerts in Central Park, and every occasion in between—was as bright and shiny as its inviting storefront. It was the genius child of Julee Rosso, an advertising executive who loved good food, and Sheila Lukins, a Cordon Bleu cook who ran a catering operation out of her apartment at the Dakota. Called The Other Woman Catering Company (“So discreet, so delicious, and I deliver”), it aimed to snaffle proto-Yuppy bachelors, who were expected to entertain graciously at home without the benefit of a wife in the kitchen.

The Silver Palate was a terrific source for basics, such as baked ham and potato salad, and gift-worthy preserves and pickles, but it was also where I first tasted a triple-crème cheese and chicken liver pâté with green peppercorns. It was where I was first exposed to a different style of entertaining, one that skipped over formal “company” dishes in favor of things that were altogether more intriguing: Greek mezes, Spanish gazpacho, Moroccan chicken pies wrapped in a paper-thin, fabulously flaky pastry crust, and, most famously, Chicken Marbella, with its heady mix of prunes, olives, capers, and garlic.

I can’t imagine what Lukins went through to source her ingredients; the New York City Greenmarket was a fledgling operation back then, and simply getting a steady supply of good-quality olive oil or red-wine vinegar must have taken dogged work. Fast forward to 2014, and the abundance of riches available at Eataly, say, or Gotham West Market—let alone the Greenmarket, which has expanded into a large, flourishing network and operates year-round—really puts things into perspective.

The Silver Palate went national in 1982, with the publication of The Silver Palate Cookbook. It made publishing history, with something like 870,000 copies in print after three years, and it made culinary history, too, changing the way many Americans cooked, ate, and thought about food. I think an entire generation of young women must have given or received it at a bridal shower. And chicken Marbella (pronounced “mar-BAY-ya,” after the Andalusian resort town frequented by European aristocrats and deeply tanned film stars) became the default dinner-party dish of the 1980s.

In large part, I think this was because it was just so damn liberating. Because the chicken had to marinate for a day—and was also very good if made ahead and reheated—it bent to your schedule, not the other way around. What this meant, practically speaking, in New York in the ’80s, was that you could throw the thing together on a Friday morning, before climbing into uniform (pantyhose, floppy foulard silk tie, and “women’s suit,” which involved a skirt, not pants, from Brooks or Gorsart), and go gallivanting off to work and then, possibly, the Odeon. Even if you stayed out far too late, you could still pull it together for a dinner party Saturday evening and make it look easy. That’s my theory, at any rate.

Chicken Marbella eventually ran its course, of course, and became a period piece, mentioned among well-versed home cooks of a certain age with a snicker that wasn’t at all unkind, but knowing. It was as good as a secret handshake.

And it still is. A few weeks ago, I found myself in a cookbooks-we’ve-known-and-loved conversation with the wise and wonderful Janet McCracken, the former deputy food editor at Bon Appetit and now the test kitchen director at EveryDay With Rachel Ray magazine. “Remember Silver Palate?” she asked, leaning back in her chair. Our eyes met. “Chicken Marbella!” we exclaimed in unison. “For some reason, I’ve been craving it,” I admitted. “Well, it’s the perfect fall dish,” Janet said, and she wasn’t just humoring me, she was right. “They really knew how to use vinegar,” she added. “It’s a more complex acid than citrus. And there’s something about the vinegar and brown sugar together ….” Yes. And plain-old supermarket capers, packed in a vinegar brine, or what Lukins and Rosso call “juice,” work to great advantage here, as well.

The combination of prunes, olives, capers, and garlic isn’t novel any more, but Chicken Marbella is still delicious and accommodating to a hectic schedule. It also handles improvisations—a little preserved lemon, for instance, or dried apricots instead of prunes—with aplomb. It’s good hot, with rice pilaf, couscous, or barley, or at room temperature, sliced and put over arugula or other salad greens. Be sure to whisk some of the pan juices into the vinaigrette.

My next month is packed with work and travel, so I’ll be posting sketchily, if at all. But, hey—you can’t miss me if I’m never gone! In the meantime, plan a dinner party and raise a glass to …

Chicken Marbella

Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, 1982)

Serves 6

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup red-wine vinegar

1 cup pitted prunes

½ cup pitted Spanish green olives

½ cup capers with a bit of juice

6 bay leaves

1 head of garlic, peeled and finely puréed, or finely chopped, sprinkled with salt, and worked into a paste with a flat side of a knife

½ cup fresh oregano, chopped, or ¼ cup dried oregano

2 chickens (3½ to 4 pounds each), quartered, or cut into smaller serving pieces

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup dry white wine

¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

1. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, garlic, and oregano. Add the chicken, generously season with salt and pepper, and turn the chicken to coat. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in 1 or 2 shallow roasting pans, and spoon the marinade, prunes, olives, capers, and bay leaves over it evenly. Sprinkle the chicken with brown sugar and pour the wine around (not over, thus washing off the sugar) it.

3. Bake the chicken 50 to 60 minutes, basting a few times with the pan juices (again, try to avoid washing off the sugar) once it begins to brown. The chicken is done when the thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juices.

4. Transfer the chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter; discard the bay leaves. You can either moisten the chicken with a few spoonfuls of the pan juices, or, for a little more finesse, put the roasting pan on the stove top and bring the pan juices to a boil; reduce slightly and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. Pour over the chicken and sprinkle with parsley.

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ZUCCHINI: THE RAW & THE COOKED

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Zucchini has quite the reputation. The plants are prolific as hell, and with the effortless pick-up of a sports car, their offspring zooms from the cute, almost-ready-to-pick stage to the size of a cricket bat (see above) in no time. Garrison Keillor, chronicler of the small, fictional town of Lake Wobegon on A Prairie Home Companion, has a perennial joke/universal truth about having to lock the car in the summer, or else someone will leave zucchini inside.

Like many cooks, I’ve long been prejudiced against overgrown zucchini. Generally speaking, the skin can be a bit tough, and the flesh more starchy than succulent. But the outsize bounty from our neighbor’s garden has changed my mind. It could be the particular variety, or the soil, or the utter freshness, I don’t know. But Sam and I have been happily sharing in the largesse because it’s been absolutely wonderful—tender, juicy, and living proof that the words mild and bland are not synonymous.

Our neighbor never means to let the zucchini get out of control, of course, but she’s not there every day to keep a close eye on it. And anyway, zucchini has a mischievous streak: It lurks under the cover of big, floppy leaves, seeing what it can get away with and provoking startled outbursts (“Good God, I never even knew that one was there“) from home and market gardeners alike.

All squashes originated in the New World, by the way, and were taken to the Old during the Columbian Exchange. What we think of today as zucchini is a product of selective breeding that made its debut circa 1901, as the cultivar ‘Zucca Quarantina Vera Nana,’ in Milan. “It is likely that the first Zucchini grown in America was imported by Italian immigrants to California,” wrote Amy Goldman in The Compleat Squash (Artisan, 2004). “By the time the Germain Seed and Plant Company and Aggler and Musser of Los Angeles introduced it commercially in 1918 as Italian Squash, local market gardeners who made a specialty of it were already raking in the bucks.”

In 1920, an entire page in the Germain catalog was devoted to zucchini, complete with both interior and exterior photos of Café Marcell, in Los Angeles, “where Zucchini Had Its Birth,” and recipes from the chef. Marcell’s “Florentine” involved dipping diced zucchini first in flour, then egg; frying in olive oil; and serving with drawn butter. “Mornay”? Cubed zucchini boiled for one minute, drained, and baked under a luxurious mantle of cream sauce, Parmesan, and butter. And “Julienne” entailed cutting zucchini into matchstick slices “much like French fried potatoes,” dipping in milk, then flour, and frying “in very hot grease.”

The novelty may have worn off, but zucchini can still be a go-to restaurant signature dish. I can’t eat at The Red Cat, in Chelsea, for instance, without ordering the “quick sauté of zucchini,” with almonds and pecorino. One of the world’s easiest waste-not-want-not vegetables, zucchini requires nothing but a good rinse and minimum trimming. It adds lightness to ratatouille, and cut lengthwise into thickish slices and tossed with olive oil, it is well-mannered on the grill. Personally, I’ve become very fond of it raw. One of this summer’s discoveries is that if it’s garden-fresh, bigger is better. The rounded flavor is miles away from the slightly bitter, unripe taste of an immature specimen.

The recipe directly below is a great favorite. I made it just the other day for a Slow Food potluck, and not only did it survive a few hours in the way back of a car, it got betterAnd now that the weather is cooling off, I’ll be spending more time behind the stove. Forget dicing, cubing, or cutting into matchsticks: An abundance of zucchini is much less intimidating if grated, left to drain, and then sautéed. Any leftovers are delicious in an omelet or frittata.

Zucchini Carpaccio

Serves 4 to 6

This recipe is from Francesca Cianci, a Florentine who once cooked at Mezzaluna, a trattoria on the Upper East Side. It was first published in Red, White & Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables (Morrow, 1996), by Faith Willinger, an authority on all things Italian and a longtime contributor at Gourmet. If you want to go in a different direction, flavor-wise, substitute a mix of fresh mint and marjoram for the arugula, and feta for the Parmigiano. For cutting the zucchini, you’ll need a mandoline or a (far less scary) handheld adjustable-blade slicer; my brand of choice is Benriner, available at J.B. Prince for about $25.

¾ pound zucchini (preferably 2 medium, but don’t be afraid; 1 very fresh large one works fine, too)

1/3 cup coarsely chopped arugula

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic or sherry vinegar

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Freshly ground pepper

¼ pound piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, for shaving

1. With the slicer, cut zucchini into paper-thin slices. (If the zucchini is too wide for the slicer, cut it in half lengthwise first.)

2. Arrange the slices, overlapping them slightly, in one or two layers on a large platter and scatter with the arugula. Drizzle with oil and vinegar, then season with salt and pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, shave curls of Parm on top.

 

Sautéed Grated Zucchini 

Serves about 4

This simple sautés delicious on its own, but you can give it finesse by topping it with a handful of pine nuts, toasted in olive oil and butter on the stovetop. Or you can channel The Red Cat and shower it with toasted almonds and pecorino. Hard to go wrong, really.

1½ pounds zucchini

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil and/or unsalted butter

About 1 tablespoon minced shallot

1. Grate the zucchini however you like—by hand or in a food processor. Toss it in a colander with about 1½ teaspoons salt. Set the colander over a bowl and let drain 20 to 30 minutes. Squeeze the zucchini dry by handfuls in a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth).

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the shallot until softened. Add the zucchini and cook, tossing, over high heat for a few minutes, just until tender. Season with salt and pepper.

TOMATOES, BASIL, PASTA

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In a few weeks, I’ll get around to turning the season’s abundance into late-season tomato sauce and slow-roasted tomatoes, as well as pesto, but right now, I still want supper to taste like the garden. That’s why you’ll find scalloped tomatoes in my current culinary rotation, as well as the pasta below, a keeper from my days at Gourmet. It’s based on a recipe from the Antica Fattoria del Colle, an agriturismo near Deruta, in Umbria. Sam and I have been spending lots of time rusticating in an old farmhouse on the North Fork of Long Island, and the simplicity of the dish suits life there to a T. We carry our pasta bowls out to a rickety little table on the porch, where we sit and watch the sun settle itself for the night.

One of the great pleasures of the recipe, by the way, is that depending on the type and mix of tomatoes you use, it always tastes different; this is a real boon if you eat it all the time, like we’ve been doing.

A note on peeling tomatoes: With a sharp paring knife, cut an X just through the skin in the bottom of each tomato (don’t cut deeply into the flesh). Working with a few tomatoes at a time, you can blanch them about 10 seconds in a pot of boiling water, then transfer them with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to cool. Or you can do as I do and simply pour boiling water from the kettle over them and let them sit for the requisite amount of time. Either way, with a little help from your knife, the skins should come right off.

A note on the pasta: The very thin dried egg fettuccine made by DeCecco is especially good here; it’s available at most supermarkets. A more luxurious option is Cipriani tagliarelle, which you’ll find at fancy food shops and online sources, including Cipriani and Amazon.

Pasta with Tomato and Basil

From The Gourmet Cookbook: More Than 1000 Recipes (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

Makes about 5 cups

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2½ pounds ripe tomatoes (5 medium) peeled and coarsely chopped

2 large basic branches, plus 1 1/3 cups packed fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

¾ pound good dried egg fettuccine or other long pasta

Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat oil in a 6-quart pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, basil branches, salt, and pepper to taste, bring to a simmer, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook fettuccine in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente; drain.

Remove the basil branches from sauce and stir in chopped basil. Toss fettuccine with sauce in a bowl. Serve with grated cheese.

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BLUEBERRIES IN GIN SYRUP

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Labor Day weekend came and went, and guess what? It’s still summer! Gardens everywhere are galloping at full tilt, and even in our own little patch, something is ripening, ready for the picking, each minute. That doesn’t stop me, though, from braking at practically every farm stand I pass—especially when I catch sight of the blaze of sapphire that means local blueberries. I can’t not buy some. Okay, lots.

Blueberries are an important element in a jumbleberry pie, and they make a deep-flavored cobbler or buckle, as well. But over the holiday weekend, I found a bottle of juniper berries lurking in the pantry, and I recollected a good use for them and some of my blueberries in Gourmet Today: More Than 1000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen, the “big green book” that came out in 2009, shortly before Conde Nast folded the magazine. (I know, I know! What were they thinking?)

Anywho, I’d forgotten just how sophisticated yet staggeringly simple the recipe is. It can be made a day ahead of time, and there’s no need to turn on the oven. In other words, what is not to love? Just spoon the berries and syrup over ice cream, or serve with a plate of sugar cookies. Happy September!

Blueberries in Gin Syrup

From Gourmet Today: More Than 1000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

Serves 6

Gin adds an herbaceous, amplifying quality all its own, but you can omit it if desired, and this dessert will still be delicious.

1 cup water

¾ cup sugar

15 juniper berries, crushed

1 (4-inch) rosemary sprig

pinch of coarse salt

2 pints blueberries, picked over

¼ cup dry gin

mint sprigs, for garnish

1. Combine water, sugar, juniper berries, rosemary, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil syrup, without stirring, until reduced to about ¾ cup, 10 to 12 minutes.

2. Put blueberries in a heatproof bowl. Pour syrup through a sieve onto berries. Stir in gin. Let stand until completely cooled, about 30 minutes. (Once cooled, the blueberries in gin syrup may be refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day.) Serve berries garnished with mint.

HOT BISCUITS & BLACKBERRY BUTTER

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Compound butters—butter creamed with different flavorings—may be old-fashioned, but they are versatile as all get outthink of them as instant sauces that add finesse and another layer of flavor to very simple food. A classic French maître d’hôtel butter (softened butter mashed with chopped parsley and a little lemon juice and zest) ennobles just about anything, especially a grilled steak or steamed vegetables. Deep-flavored anchovy butter, with garlic and a couple of mashed anchovy fillets, adds resonance to fish, lamb chops, or broiled chicken. An herby-vervy butter, with chopped cilantro, parsley, and a pinch of cayenne or chile powder forestalls any “corn on the cob again?” ennui at the dinner table.

Below is a compound butter that swings more sweet than savory. Its provenance was a happy accident: After we made a jumbleberry pie the other day, I realized we had a half pint of blackberries left over. Cooking brings out the soulfulness, the winey depth of blackberries, and first I’d thought to make a compote to spoon over pancakes or ice cream, or eat alongside a well-seared pork chop. But then I got to thinking about biscuits, hot biscuits, and well, that pushed me in a butter direction.

Speaking of biscuits, I swear by Scott Peacock’s recipe. He’s a chef in constant pursuit of perfection, and so is constantly tweaking it; the version below is an annotated amalgam of that from the pages of Martha Stewart Living (April 2013) and the one that appeared in The Gift of Southern Cooking (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), which he wrote with his longtime companion, Miss Edna Lewis, one of America’s most evocative chefs and food writers. Scott is no slouch himself.

Blackberry Butter

½ pint blackberries

1½ to 2 tablespoons sugar, depending on how tart the berries are

A squeeze of fresh lemon juice

1 stick unsalted butter, softened until very malleable

1. Put the berries, sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, smashing most of the berries against the side of the pan to break them down, until the mixture is of a syrupy thickness and smells intoxicating. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool completely.

2. Put the butter in a bowl and mash with a fork until it’s light and creamy. Gently work the berry mixture into the butter, then pack it into a ramekin. Refrigerate for an hour or more to let it firm up and the flavors mingle. Serve with hot biscuits, pancakes, waffles, or toast. It would probably be good in oatmeal, too.

 

Scott Peacock’s Perfect Biscuits

Makes 12 biscuits

5 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour (measure the flour after sifting, not before), plus more for working

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Homemade Baking Powder (see below) or store-bought

1 tablespoon kosher salt

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons packed very cold lard or unsalted butter, cut into cubes

2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 500º with the rack in the upper third. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the lard or butter, coating it well with flour. Working quickly, rub it between your fingertips until approximately half is finely blended and the other half remains in large flat pieces, about ½ inch in size.

2. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the buttermilk all at once. Stir quickly with a wooden spoon just until the dough is blended and begins to mass. It will look like a sticky, shaggy, unpromising mess and will not form a ball. (Do not panic, but keep calm and carry on.)

3. Generously flour a work surface and immediately turn out the dough onto it. With floured hands briskly knead 8 to 10 times, until it becomes cohesive. Gently flatten the dough with your hands into a disk of even thickness. Using a floured rolling pin, roll it out to a thickness of ¾ inch. Flour the rolling pin as needed, but don’t flour the dough; otherwise, the tops of the finished biscuits will be dusty.

4. Using a dinner fork dipped in flour, piece the dough completely through at ½-inch intervals. Flour a 2½ to 3-inch cutter and stamp out rounds without twisting the cutter in the dough. (Twisting the cutter pinches the edges together, which will inhibit the rising.) Cut the biscuits as close together as you can, for maximum yield. Transfer them to a parchment-lined heavy baking sheet, placing them about ½ inch apart. (Placing the biscuits close together ensures that the sides don’t set early, another rise-inhibiter.) Don’t reroll the scraps. Just arrange them around the edge of the sheet and bake them off as is—cook’s treat. Bake the biscuits until crusty and a rich golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. (“Don’t be afraid of brown biscuits!” Scott always says. That crusty brown exterior provides contrast to the light, tender interior.) Remove from the oven and brush the tops with melted butter. Serve hot. (To reheat any leftover biscuits—you wish!—put them on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and warm them in a 350º oven about 5 minutes.)

 

Homemade Baking Powder

In The Gift of Southern Cooking, Scott explains that, “Distressed by the chemical additives and aftertaste of commercial ‘double-acting’ powders, Miss Lewis years ago started making her own baking powder—a traditional mixture of cream of tarter and baking soda.” He started using her formula, and soon came to appreciate the difference. I’m a believer, too—there’s no metallic aftertaste like there is with powders that include aluminum sulfate.

¼ cup cream of tartar

2 tablespoons baking soda

Sift the ingredients together 3 times and transfer to a clean, tight-sealing jar. Store at room temperature, away from sunlight, for up to 6 weeks.

ICEBERG LETTUCE

blog-iceberg

For years, iceberg lettuce was the red-headed stepchild of the salad family, disdained by the food-obsessed for being watery, devoid of flavor and nutrition, and hopelessly common. Now, of course, it’s retro-chic, embraced by chefs who think nothing of charging top dollar (irony isn’t cheap) for a pale wedge wearing a mantle of (artisanal) blue-cheese dressing and crumbled bacon. I don’t know which position irks me more.

What I do know is that just looking at iceberg makes me feel cooler. And among home gardeners, who have grown this American heirloom since the 19th century (not to mention steakhouse devotees and the country club set), it has never gone out of fashion. “It’s one of our finest and most reliable summer lettuces,” wrote Will Weaver in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. “Its early American progenitor was Ice, which began appearing in seed lists in the 1820s.” Iceberg’s developer remains unknown, but odds are he’d be aghast at how commercial producers strip his cultivar of the outer leaves that form a wavy, sometimes fringed ruffle around the compact white, almost translucent heart. The growers who sell at farmers markets know how alluring this party girl can look, though (there is now a red iceberg type that’s even showier), and this time of year, I’ll happily take Iceberg, with its clean, neutral flavor, over an indiscriminate mix of murky-tasting mesclun leaves.

What makes Iceberg so refreshing is that it’s crisp and juicy all at the same time, like a cucumber. It’s also durable in the fridge or tote bag—a boon if you are a peripatetic sort of person. I’m not a fan of serving fat wedges of the lettuce; I like it broken into enjoyable chunks. You can better appreciate the whorls and curls inside the lettuce heart that way, and capture every last drop of dressing. Blue cheese, of course, is traditional, and that combination is especially delicious if you toss the Iceberg with a more assertive green, such as arugula or watercress. On its own, though, I’m partial to something a bit sleeker—sauce rèmoulade, for instance, or Thousand Island. On a hot August night, that’s all I want for supper.

Thousand Island Dressing

From The Gourmet Cookbook (Houghton-Mifflin, 2004)

Makes about 1½ cups

2/3 cup mayonnaise

4 teaspoons ketchup-style chili sauce [such as Heinz]

2 tablespoons chopped shallots

1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ treaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

½ vegetable oil [safflower or canola]

Combine all the ingredients except oil in a blender and blend until smooth. With the motor running [at slow speed], add oil in a slow stream and blend until well blended.

BARBECUE SHRIMP

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For years, I’ve avoided buying jumbo shrimp (one of my favorite oxymorons), because I’ve never known how to bring out their best. My default method—a few minutes in a small amount of simmering water—is more suited to small or medium shrimp. In my hands, jumbos handled this way become simultaneously tough and mushy on the outside before cooking all the way through. I know plenty of people who can pull this off, but I just don’t have the knack for it.

What changed my perspective on jumbo shrimp (just typing those two words together is really fun) was a closer read of Mom’s Classic Recipes, a privately printed spiral-bound compilation of Sharon Logan’s go-to recipes by her eldest daughter, Lynn. Sharon’s name may ring a bell; she’s a wonderful home cook whose pecan pie and cheesy-sausage english muffins are in my culinary repertoire for life.

I’ve enjoyed that little cookbook no end, but recently I noticed a recipe that specifically called for jumbo shrimp. Titled “Mr B’s Barbecue Shrimp,” it called for baking the shrimp—along with Worcestershire sauce, Creole seasoning, and lots of butter—in the oven just until it turns pink, which takes all of 10 minutes—just enough time to set the table and pour the wine.

Mr. B’s Bistro, on Royal Street, in New Orleans, isn’t on par with Galatoire’s, say, but it’s a place where local people go for local food, and Sharon ate there on her inaugural trip to the city. “I was on a plane to New Orleans for the very first time,” she said. “And a man got up from his seat and asked if he could sit with me. ‘I’m surrounded by children,’ he explained by way of introduction. ‘And I looked over here and saw you reading.’ ”

“Well, we must have talked all the way to New Orleans,” she continued. “One of the restaurants he said I had to go to was Mr. B’s, for the barbecue shrimp.” She paused for effect. “They put a bib around your neck.”

Barbecued shrimp New Orleans style isn’t grilled but cooked in a butter sauce spiked with Worcestershire and Creole seasoning. Sharon came across the below rendition of Mr. B’s barbecue shrimp in a cookbook she saw at an Atlanta bookstore some years later. Today, the version that appears on the Mr. B’s Bistro website calls for sautéing the shrimp in a large skillet and the butter (way more than what’s called for here) is added gradually.

I’m not sure it matters. In Creole Feast: 15 Master Chefs of New Orleans, Larry Williamson cooks his on the stovetop, while in the great River Road Recipes, published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge (since 1959), the shrimp is either broiled over a charcoal fire or baked. And in the big-hearted Cooking Up a Storm, a collection of New Orleans recipes culled from the archives of the Times-Picayune as well as readers and chefs after Hurricane Katrina, Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker write that the dish originated at Pascal’s Manale, and there are almost as many versions as there are cooks. In their recipe, sent in by Maria Vicknair of LaPlace, the shrimp is broiled. “Head-on shrimp are always used in southeast Louisiana,” they note. “The fat in the heads melts and becomes the secret ingredient in the sauce.” Next time.

BARBECUE SHRIMP

Serves 2 generously as a main course (turn any leftovers into shrimp salad)

All you need with this is a baguette or other crusty bread and a big green salad to follow. Serving it in shallow, wide soup plates makes it easy to mop up every last bit of sauce.

16 unpeeled jumbo shrimp (about 1¼ pounds, or 1½ pounds with heads)

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into slices

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Creole seasoning

1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

Lemon wedges, for serving

Crusty bread, for serving

Preheat oven to 425°. Put the shrimp, butter, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, Creole seasoning, and pepper in a large ovenproof skillet or shallow baking dish and stir to combine. Bake until shrimp just turn pink, about 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and bread.