Name two under-appreciated spirits in the American home bar. Did you say Campari and sweet vermouth? You get a gold star.
Sure, everyone’s got the sweet vermouth banging around somewhere, because we all need a Manhattan now and then. But chances are it gathers cobwebs while you’re off drinking other things. Enter Campari.
Let’s talk about Campari for a hot minute.
To the unaccustomed palate, it tastes primarily of cough syrup and ire. But after acclimation, the subtleties creep up. Bitterness and complexity. Orange. Grapefruit. Herbal notes. Suggestions of berries and stone fruit.
Once you develop a taste for it, you’ll never be without a bottle. You’ll be surprised how often you reach for it, too. As a digestif, there’s nothing like a Campari and soda to set you right.
[Edit: YES I know Campari is technically an aperitif and technically so are Campari-based cocktails but y’all it’s just a drink and I like it very much as a digestif.]
Lately, I’ve been mixing one of these two drinks almost exclusively: the Negroni and the Boulevardier. They’re pretty much the same thing, with one difference:
Campari + sweet vermouth + gin = Negroni
Campari + sweet vermouth + Bourbon = Boulevardier
They are, naturally, rather similar in taste. The Negroni is more crisp and cool. The Boulevardier is warmer and richer. Both are sophisticated and well-balanced when made well. It tastes like being an adult.
You can use rye instead of Bourbon in the Boulevardier, which is also nice. It makes the drink a touch less sweet. (N.B.: Lest you think all this talk of “sweet” things implicates that it is a saccharine drink here, remember that Campari is as bitter as my cold, dead heart. These are never a sweet drink.)
If you are actually insane and not a fan of gin, Bourbon, or rye, feel free to mix either of the unfortunately-named variations: Agavoni (with tequila) or Negronski (with vodka). I have never tried these and have no plans to. Proceed at your own risk.
Classically, the Negroni is mixed with equal parts of everything. But so is the Martini, and only sadists make them that way. I prefer a more booze-forward approach here: 1 part Campari + 1 part sweet vermouth + 2 parts gin (or 1.5 parts, depending on mood).
I strongly suggest measuring carefully. Proportions are important. Mix the drink with too much Campari once, and you’ll never try it again. I happen to own a lovely little shot glass with handy jigger-based measurements on the side. I love this shot glass. Making cocktails is so easy with it.
I reckon you’re supposed to make drinks like this in a shaker, then strain out the half-melted ice. But I never do that. If you stir everything up in the glass you drink it from, that’s one less thing to clean. I’m looking out for you.
Besides, I like the half-melted ice. It makes a satisfying noise in the glass.
I’ve taken to adding a splash of sparkling water at the end, just before drinking. It lightens the drink and opens the flavors. Makes things not so boozy.
As for garnish, I usually skip it. One is supposed to add an orange twist, but I never keep oranges around. A lemon twist is weird and unnecessary in this instance.
One word to the wise: cap your bottles when you’re done pouring. Cap. Your. Bottles. About five seconds after taking the above picture, my living room rug was being soaked in a waterfall of sweet vermouth, Campari, gin, and Bourbon (the Woodford, too!) after the backdrop I was using knocked them all over. Lamentations were wailed.
The type of glass is important here, as it usually is with cocktails. This is a no-bullshit cocktail, and it requires a no-bullshit glass. The ideal glass is something with a thin lip and a heavy bottom. Wide and short is better than tall and thin. Something solid and masculine.
Unless you have some darling little coupes, and then you should use those.
2 parts gin (1 jigger, or 1.5 ounces)
1 part sweet vermouth (1/2 jigger, or 3/4 ounce)
1 part Campari (1/2 jigger, or 3/4 ounce)
1. Pour the gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari into a heavy-bottomed glass.
2. Add a handful of ice, enough to almost fill the glass, but not crowd the booze or stick up above it.
3. Stir for at least 30 seconds. Count it out or watch the clock. Patience is a virtue. The ice should mostly melt.
4. Top off the drink with a quick pour of sparkling water.
5. Drink slowly over the course of an hour or so, ideally after dinner.
Use Bourbon or rye whiskey instead of the gin. Proceed as directed.
Two recent dinners: linguine and smoked salmon in an ersatz alla vodka sauce. I didn’t have onions or fish stock, but I did have the dregs left over from a huge batch of Pickled Shrimp. That, reduced with some tomatoes, a heavy pour of vodka, and a splash of cream, made an incredible sauce.
Then, a simple sautéed shrimp coated in some homemade glace, with gochugaru Brussels sprouts. Simple and lovely.
Man, I freakin’ love seafood. I could eat my weight in seafood.
Have you been made to feel guilty about your lack of freshly-planted, home-grown herbs yet?
Please. Allow me.
Look at my beautiful herbs. Just look at them.
These herbs are why I am better than you. This is why my food will be better than yours all summer long. I’ll be writing recipes on this very site that use these four weird herbs, and yooooou won’t be able to cook them exactly as written. You’re going to have to make substituuuutions.
Real talk: I think everyone who gives half a damn about cooking well should grow their own herbs. It’ll take an hour of your time to plant them, probably much less if you have a pot ready to go or a nice little spot in a garden.
If I’m honest, it took me a few years to get on the “grow your own” bus. But after I realized that you can buy all sorts of really unusual varietals — stuff you’ll never find in a grocery store — I jumped onboard faster than you can say “Siam Queen Thai basil”.
If you have all the yard space in the world, I agree that you should grow as many different types as possible. But if you’re like me, with only as much soil to grow in as number of pots you have, you should pick a few oddballs. Why spend the effort growing common mint when you can just buy it whenever you want? Grow something weird. Chocolate mint is incredible, and surprisingly versatile.
These odd varietals are one more reason to support your favorite local plant store, rather than the big box home supply store that happens to also sell herbs (right behind where the washing machines are, just past the light bulbs and the paint). You’re almost guaranteed to find something you’ve never heard of before. The local store might be pricier, but I guarantee it’s money well spent when you’re reveling in a wealth of lemon thyme that didn’t die after two weeks.
Sure, you can grow from seeds. But I much prefer the instant gratification of buying actual plants. Also, for some reason, the seedlings I grow tend to mature into scraggly, anemic plants that just look sad until they die. I have much more success with plants that have a head start under the watchful eye of real plant experts.
So you’re convinced? You’re going to plant some herbs this weekend? Lovely! Just don’t come to me for growing tips. I’m as lost as you.
It’s perfectly fine to treat asparagus like a delicate flower, seasoning with just a splash of olive oil and lemon juice and maybe some herbs – but just a skosh. It’s lovely. I do it often.
But man, asparagus can stand up to some flavor.
It reminds me of that other Spring delicacy, crawfish. The French treat them with care, preserving the mild flavor by cooking with care and saucing gently. The Cajuns, on the other hand, boil the crap out of them with spice measured in cups and gallons, not teaspoons. I’m from New Orleans. It’s clear what crawfish camp I’m in. Of course I’m going to use the same spice-theory with asparagus.
Don’t be afraid to get a little saucy with your asparagus. Stir-fry it with tofu, garlic, scallions, and fish sauce. Char it. Pitch in some exotic red pepper. Punch your refined palate in its little face.
If you miss the more subdued flavor of lightly-handled asparagus, I assure you there is a restaurant nearby serving a perfectly lovely side of roasted asparagus. Me? I’m going for the stir-fry.
For tofu that will soak up more flavorful sauce, try freezing it solid before thawing and using as directed. The water in the tofu will expand as it freezes, creating an open structure in the texture of the tofu. When thawed, the tofu will act like a sponge, soaking up more liquid than it would otherwise. It will also have a "meatier" texture. Science!
You can substitute 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more) for the gochugaru, which I understand not everyone has sitting around.
2 tablespoons neutral-flavored high-heat oil, such as safflower
1/2 pound firm tofu, cut into domino-sized pieces and dried well
2 teaspoons fish sauce, divided
1 bunch asparagus, bottoms trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces, whites and greens separated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean chile flakes), or more to taste
1-2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, to taste
1/4 cup minced cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime
1. Prepare all ingredients before starting. I mean it.
2. In a wok or large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over high or medium-high heat. Add the tofu and toss to coat with the oil. Cook until browned, tossing as needed to brown evenly. Add 1 teaspoon fish sauce, stir, and cook just until liquid evaporates. Remove tofu from pan and set aside.
3. Heat another tablespoon oil in the same pan. Add the asparagus, toss, and cook undisturbed until beginning to brown. Toss in the scallion whites, and continue cooking until vegetables are softened and lightly charred.
4. Remove pan from the heat, add garlic, gochugaru, remaining teaspoon fish sauce, and a splash of sherry vinegar. The residual heat should be enough to lightly cook the garlic and reduce the liquid.
5. Add the tofu, cilantro, scallion greens, and a generous squeeze of lime juice. Taste, and correct the seasoning with additional lime juice, vinegar, gochugaru, salt, and/or pepper as needed. It should taste a little earthy, but with a bright acidity and spice.
6. Serve at once, with extra lime wedges if you like.
Spicy Wheatberries and Lentils with Beet Greens, Olives, and Hazelnuts
Yield: 4 servings
Please forgive me for using a list of ingredients that are all pre-cooked. I know it adds about ten hours of prep time if you want to make it from scratch exactly as written. I'm terrible like that.
But that's the beauty of such dishes, right? You don't really need to follow the recipe to the letter. It's a mélange de frigo. Use what you got.
The olives I used were from a large gourmet grocery (cough cough whole foods cough), and were pre-pitted and marinated with red chilies. I minced and used all three chilies that I picked up along with the olives, and I dearly loved the level of spice. Use less chili (or none) if you're a wuss.
Greens from 2 bunches of beets, washed well
2 tablespoons olive oil (or bacon fat, if you're fancy)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup cooked lentils du Puy
1 cup cooked wheatberries
1/2 cup green and black olives marinated in chilies (or olives and your preferred red chile or hot sauce)
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted
2 cups baby spinach
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Salt and black pepper, as needed
1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, roughly chop the beet greens into 1/2 inch lengths. Add the olive oil to the pan, followed by the chopped stems of the beet greens. Salt lightly, toss to combine, and cook for 2-4 minutes to soften the stems.
2. Add the remaining bits of beet greens, along with a splash of water (or stock, if you have it), about 1/4 cup or less, and cook until wilted and the liquid has mostly evaporated.
3. While the greens cook, mince the garlic. Add to the pan, and cook about 1 minute.
4. Add the lentils and wheatberries. Cook another minute or so, until warmed through.
5. Meanwhile, chop the olives and hazelnuts roughly, and mince any chile that may be included in the olives. Add to the pan, and remove from heat. Stir in the spinach at once, so the heat can wilt it. Squeeze a little lemon juice over everything.
6. Taste, and correct the seasoning as needed with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and additional olive oil. Serve warm, or at room temperature.
This was originally intended to be a proper post, with a recipe and errything.
But turns out I don’t remember what the hell I put in this dish. It’s clear there’s tofu, shiitake mushrooms, celery, and soba noodles. Kinda looks like cabbage too. Probably sesame oil and fish sauce. Other than that, I haven’t a clue, and I didn’t write it down because of course I didn’t.
I do remember that everything was mised before starting to cook, then each was quickly sautéed one item at a time (maybe in the wok, even), and dumped into a big ol’ bowl before getting tossed together.
It was quite good, for what it’s worth. Have fun reverse-engineering.
Until about a month ago, my experience in the kitchen has had a gap. Not a huge gap, or one that had ever come up until earlier this year. Most of my clients would never know, but I was exposed. And I’m not one to let a chance for self-improvement slip away.
I’d never actually prepared foie gras before. I’d had no exposure to it whatsoever, aside from on the end of a fork. Turns out Baking and Pastry students don’t get much training in offal.
Clearly, my career demanded an attempt. So the next time I was at the restaurant supply store, I picked up one of the football-sized livers. I got the smallest one, and it was still a pound and a half.
Once you devein the liver — which is somehow easier and harder than it sounds — it’s just soak, wrap, poach, wrap, hang, slice, nom. Easy peasy. No searing, no smoke, no “oh my god I just burned and/or melted fifty dollars worth of foie gras”.
Which is nice.
I served this very simply, with just a sprinkle of fleur de sel, and tiny pools of balsamic vinegar. Bread, of course. Halfway through eating it, I remembered the Boat Street Pickled Figs in the fridge, and oh my god you should always serve foie gras with figs. That, or the Mango Butter from Trader Joe’s.
Oh, and yes I know one is supposed to trim away the dark edges and make things all perfectly round and pristine. But let’s be honest, I was going to eat the scraps anyway. I figured I’d do it with class, instead of licking them off the round cutter.
Seriously, if you feel confident in a kitchen, you can do this with no problem. Yes, it's harder than making toast. Yes, it's expensive. Yes, it takes several days. But you will be rewarded with so much freakin' foie gras au torchon you might have to give it away.
FYI: I made this at what ended up being a very busy time. So my foie ended up marinating in the fridge for 5 to 6 days before I ever got around to poaching it. It was still lovely.
It’s one that requires no stove, oven, microwave, or any other sort of heating device. It doesn’t require any special equipment or power tools. All you need is a can opener, a knife, a cutting board, and a big ol’ mixing bowl. I guess most people would want a spoon, but in a pinch you can just use your hands to mix.
It’s a very zen thing, making this salad. It comes together as fast as you choose to chop. There’s no worry about over-cooking or under-cooking. No pressure at all.
A main feature of this salad is the harissa. You can tell because it is the first word in the title. I know, I just know someone out there is wondering what can be used instead of harissa because who on god’s green earth has harissa sitting around and where can you get it and what is it even.
If you can’t find harissa (or can’t be bothered, and girl I feel you), remember that it is red and spicy. Use something else red and spicy and understand that it won’t be the same but this is not always bad.
Taste your harissa. If it tastes good, congratulations! You’re well on your way to a delicious salad. If it tastes musty or weird or off, you might want to consider a different brand next time. Or try cutting it with sriracha, which fixes any number of ills.