Articles in Drinking w/recipe

Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

You love summer but not when it is uncomfortably hot. For relief, you could jump into the pool. Or, you could cut a thick slice of watermelon and let the sweet juices cool you down. Even better, you could fill a tall glass with a watermelon cocktail made with watermelon ice cubes and straight-from-the-freezer vodka and settle into the chaise lounge. You stir the ice cubes. Bits of watermelon juice break free. The crystal clear vodka turns pink. You sip, stir and eat a watermelon ice cube and suddenly you are not overheated any longer.  Now, you are cool and happy.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

August is a good month for watermelon. They grow quickly in the heat of the sun, producing fat, heavy fruit loaded with sweetness.

At the farmers market I was always told to use a hand to thump on the melon. When the sound was deep and resonant, the melon was ripe, ready to eat. If there is a farmer you frequent at your neighborhood market, ask for advice about a good melon that’s ready to eat.

Prices for watermelon vary greatly. At Asian and Latin markets, watermelon can sell for as little as 10 cents a pound. At upscale supermarkets and farmers markets, the prices can be significantly higher.

A melon is delicious at room temperature or ice cold. I like to chill the melon overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, the easiest way to eat watermelon is to use a sharp knife to cut out a thick slice.

But when I was in Zurich recently I met Olivier Rais, a talented chef who runs the bistro Rive Gauche in the iconic hotel Baur au Lac across the street from Lake Geneva. He had just returned from working with Tal Ronnen, the celebrated chef who created Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant devoted to vegan cuisine.

Rais made several vegan dishes for me to taste, one of which was a watermelon-gazpacho served in a glass.

I love watermelon but had never thought of extracting the juice. When I replicated his gazpacho at home, I had watermelon juice left over. Deciding to experiment, I reduced the juice in a sauce pan over a low flame. Once the juice cooled, I poured it into a mini-ice cube tray.

Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

That night I added the ice cubes to vodka that we keep in the freezer. I dropped in an espresso spoon, settled into a chair and stirred my drink. After a few sips, I realized that I had stumbled onto an easy-to-make, deliciously refreshing cocktail. Summer’s perfect drink.

Serve the cocktail with an espresso or small spoon. One of the pleasures of the drink is stirring the ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, the watermelon juice infuses the vodka. The mellow sweetness takes the edge off the vodka.

As you stir, the ice cubes crater and reduce by half. Use the spoon to scoop up the icy bits. In an effervescent moment, the softened ice cubes dissolve like pop rocks in your mouth.

Watermelon Surprise

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Use any size plastic ice cube tray. The mini-trays that make 1” square ice cubes work well because the ice cubes melt easily. Use only unflavored premium vodka, and for non-alcoholic drinks, add the ice cubes to glasses of carbonated water or lemonade.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Freezer time: 1 hour or overnight depending on the temperature of the freezer

Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes or overnight and 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 (3-pound) watermelon, washed

8 ounces unflavored premium vodka

Directions

1. Place the vodka bottle in the freezer the night before serving.

2. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind from the watermelon. Discard.

3. Cut the melon into chunks, removing any seeds.

4. Place a food mill or a fine mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl.

5. Press the watermelon chunks through the food mill or strainer, capturing all the juice in the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds.

6. Pour the juice into a sauce pan over low heat. Reduce volume by 30%. Remove from stove. Allow to cool.

7. Pour the reduced juice into the ice cube tray.

8. Place into freezer.

9. Just before serving, pour 1½ ounces ice cold vodka into each glass. Place 5 to 6 ice cubes into each glass.

10. Serve with an espresso or small spoon.

Main photo: Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

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Main photo: Joanne Weir serves up fresh, seasonal food at Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito, California. Credit: Credit: Copyright Chuck Miller

It all began (or shall I say culminated?) on a boat with a friendly competition between friends. We were cruising along the coast of southern Mexico on the Mindy, Larry Mindel’s beautiful yacht, when my friend and famed restaurateur challenged me to a margarita competition.

kitchengypsy

"Kitchen Gypsy: Recipes and Stories from a Lifelong Romance with Food"

By Joanne Weir,

Oxmoor House, 2015 288 pages

» Click here to buy the book

I measured my ingredients carefully into a cocktail shaker and loaded it with ice. After shaking so vigorously my hands turned numb and frost coated the metal cup, I strained the magical elixir into a chilled glass garnished with a lime wheel and handed it to Larry. In my clear-as-day memory, he took one sip and declared, “This is the best margarita I’ve ever had.” Larry tells a different tale, one in which his cocktail was the victor, but we all know tequila has a tendency to do that to people.

Regardless of the details, my way with tequila inspired Larry to propose opening a restaurant together. Though I’d never told anyone, opening my own restaurant had always topped my bucket list, but only if I had the right partner. With a résumé as long as my arm, including nearly 100 successful restaurants like Chianti in Los Angeles, Prego in San Francisco and the Il Fornaio restaurants all over the West Coast, Larry Mindel was certainly the perfect partner. He was also smart, worldly and dashingly handsome. I was thrilled and terrified, but mainly I was worried it was just the tequila talking. I desperately hoped something would actually come of Larry’s proposal.

A culinary journey

Joanne Weir's new cookbook features a rhubarb crostata with chestnut honey ice cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

Joanne Weir’s new cookbook features a rhubarb crostata with chestnut honey ice cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

My lifelong love affair with food began on my grandparents’ farms (yes, plural — both my maternal and paternal grandparents ran farms in New England), infusing me with a passion for seasonal, homemade, homegrown and artisanal food. I had forged a successful career in the food industry without working in a restaurant since my days as a cook at Chez Panisse in the mid-1980s. And yet I always suspected owning a restaurant was something I was destined to do.

Each step in my winding culinary journey through the world laid the foundation for restaurant ownership. During a rigorous year with Madeleine Kamman earning my Master Chef degree, I learned that loving food meant knowing it inside and out: the origin, history and science behind a dish. Madeleine taught me to sample and truly taste the nuances of individual ingredients and dishes as a whole. She was tough and didn’t take any crap, another lesson that’s served me well in the food world, and life in general.

I followed up my studies with Madeleine at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, my culinary mecca. At the time, Chez Panisse was at the epicenter of the California food revolution, and I was lucky enough to experience everything firsthand. Committed to serving seasonal, local, organic and sustainable food, the restaurant let California’s abundant ingredients speak for themselves without masking their flavor, a philosophy that inspires my cooking to this day. Chez Panisse confirmed what I’d intuited on the farm: highest-quality, fresh ingredients are paramount to good cuisine.

Inspired by seasonal ingredients

Goat Cheese Salad

Copita’s menu is seasonal, changing regularly based on inspiration and availability of fresh ingredients. Here, goat cheese tops a salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

As I’ve traveled the world teaching cooking classes in some of the most picturesque locations, I continue to reaffirm that the quality of your ingredients will make or break a meal. Many of my favorite travel memories include trips to the local market — whether shopping the Rialto in Venice, the souk in Marrakech, or the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in my adopted hometown of San Francisco, the market truly is my happy place.

Surrounded by beautiful, fresh, seasonal ingredients, I am inspired. I always take ideas home with me from my journeys — from markets, local restaurants, purveyors and friends I encounter along the way. I am literally bursting with ideas … ideas that desperately need a restaurant menu as an outlet. I’d done everything else, and the idea of a restaurant was still gnawing at my heart. I wanted to put everything I’d learned along the way from my grandfather, my mother and my travels to work all in one place and see a restaurant come to fruition. It would be fun, creative and truly the challenge I was looking for.

So when, a few months after that fated cruise and margarita competition, I found myself looking at restaurant spaces with Larry, I decided it was finally time to reach my destiny. Thirty years after my first stint in the kitchens of Chez Panisse, I’m back in the exhilarating environment of a restaurant, this time at the helm of Copita Tequileria y Comida in beautiful Sausalito, California. Our menu is seasonal, changing regularly based on inspiration and availability of fresh ingredients. I know for a fact my grandparents would be proud.

It feels like this kitchen gypsy’s culinary journey has finally landed her home. Thank goodness for friends. With boats. And margaritas.

Copita Margarita

The Copita Margarita which began Joanne Weir's path to restaurant owning. Credit: Courtesy of Copita

The Copita Margarita, which began Joanne Weir’s path to restaurant ownership. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

Yield: Serves 1

Ingredients

2 ounces blanco tequila, 100% agave

1/2 ounce agave nectar

3/4 ounce water

1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

1 ice cube, 1 3/4-inch square

1 lime wheel, thinly sliced

Directions

Place the tequila, agave nectar, water, lime juice and plenty of ice in a cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously for 5 seconds or until you see the frost on the outside of the shaker.  Place 1 ice cube in a glass. Strain the margarita into the glass and garnish with a lime wheel.

Main photo: Joanne Weir serves up fresh, seasonal food at Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito, California. Credit: Copyright Chuck Miller

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Gin Cocktail with fresh lime and burnt orange peel at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

With fall approaching and colder months on the horizon, it’s time to switch from ice cold bottles of beer, glasses of crisp chardonnay, salt-rimmed margaritas and minty mojitos. On a recent trip to the Finger Lakes Region in upstate New York, James Ouderkirk, general manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge introduced me to a cocktail he thought perfect to celebrate the change of seasons: a gin cocktail flavored with apricot preserves and burnt orange peel.

Like many cities in the Northeast that prospered during the early part of the 20th century, Syracuse suffered when heavy industries declined in the 1970s. Now enjoying a resurgence, a revitalized downtown centered on Armory Square is home to new restaurants, bars and shops. One of those is Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge.

A trip back in time

The long bar at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The long bar at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The bar’s storefront has served many masters. Once a beauty school and then a cigar store, as Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge the space was transformed into the kind of bar my grandfather would have visited in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The walls are painted bordello red or built out of weathered bricks. Besides the front area, there are several rooms, one filled with overstuffed upholstered sofas and chairs. Another has a pool table. Yet another is filled with arcade style video machines.

With a large plate glass window facing South Clinton Street and a two-story-high ceiling, the main room is focused on a 35-foot wooden bar behind which the floor-to-ceiling shelves are filled with an encyclopedic collection of spirits curated locally and from around the world.

A custom cocktail to suit your mood

James Ouderkirk, General Manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

James Ouderkirk, General Manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Unlike many bars serving craft cocktails, Al’s does not have a cocktail menu. According to Ouderkirk, the philosophy of the bar is that patrons should describe how they are feeling and which spirits they enjoy, then the bartender will make a drink that will make them feel better.

On the night we met, I was tired. I very much needed a cocktail that would improve my mood. I wasn’t certain what I wanted to drink. I had one specific request: I wanted him to use a local product.

Discovering hard cider in the Finger Lakes

Oak barrels used to age hard apple cider into 2-year aged Apple Jack at Apple Country Spirits, Williamson, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Oak barrels used to age hard apple cider into 2-year aged Apple Jack at Apple Country Spirits, Williamson, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

For the past several days I had been traveling through the Finger Lakes region, visiting orchards that distilled their apples, pears, peaches and plums into spirits.

On the trip, I tasted hard apple ciders with an effervescence as light as champagne at Embark Craft Ciderworks in Williamson and at the Finger Lakes Cider House in Interlaken. At Apple Country Spirits, I sampled brandies made from apples, pears, peaches and plums as good as any eau-de-vie I enjoyed in France and Switzerland. The biggest news for me on the trip was the fact that in the region apples were being used to create premium vodkas and gins.

Local sourcing for gin and other spirits

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards/1911 Distillery, LaFayette, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards/1911 Distillery, LaFayette, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Tree Vodka is produced from apples grown in the Apple Country Spirits orchards in Wayne County close to Lake Ontario. 1911 Vodka and 1911 Gin are produced from apples grown at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in LaFayette. Different from vodka and gin flavored with apples, these distillations are mellow with a clean flavor.

Ouderkirk suggested he make a cocktail using 1911 Gin. With a portion of St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, a splash of soda water and a hint of freshly squeezed lime juice, he quickly mixed the drink. After he placed a piece of burnt orange peel on top, I gave it a taste. The cocktail had a light summer freshness. The aromatic gin anchored the flavors while the apricot preserves and burnt orange peel hinted at the fall.

To accompany the cocktail, Ouderkirk platted a selection of local cheeses and charcuterie. Sitting in the darkened room, sipping my cocktail, half listening to conversations at the bar and sampling Camembert, goat cheeses, cheddar and salami, I forgot entirely how tired I had been after my very long road trip.

1911 Gin, Apricot, Lime and Burnt Orange Peel Cocktail

As with all cocktails, the best and freshest ingredients will yield better results. Use a quality gin, apricot preserve and farmers market citrus.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

1 3/4 ounce 1911 Gin (or a gin of your choice)

3/4 ounce St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Dash of freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon apricot preserve

Splash unflavored soda water

2-inch-by-1-inch orange peel, unblemished, washed

Directions

1. Mix together all the ingredients except the orange peel. Shake well with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.

2. Hold the orange peel against the flame of a lighter or a gas stove burner until the peel lightly burns but does not blacken.

3. Place the burnt orange peel atop the cocktail and serve icy cold.

Main photo: Gin Cocktail with fresh lime and burnt orange peel at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Give your summer cocktails a summer kick with basil, rosemary, thyme and other herbs. Credit: Copyright Josh Wand

The best summer cocktails are light and refreshing and reflect the flavors of the season. Across the United States, bartenders are turning to summer herbs to add bright, fresh flavors to their drinks. Here are 10 easy ways to add your favorite herbs to your own cocktails.

More from Zester Daily:

»  10 ways to take summer herbs beyond garnish

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»  Preserve herb flavors with compound butter

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Main photo: Give your summer cocktails a summer kick with basil, rosemary, thyme and other herbs. Credit: Copyright Josh Wand

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Fruit Salad Cocktails with espresso spoons. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Walk the farmers markets and enjoy a grand show of summer’s bountiful harvest. Leafy greens have reappeared along with all manner of beans and peas. Stone fruit, including peaches, nectarines, cherries, plums and pluots, are available in abundance. They are perfect to make fruit salad cocktails, a delicious way to celebrate summer’s bounty.

Sun-loving Spaniards created sangria, probably the best-known alcoholic-fruit beverage. The inspired combination of wine (tart), fruit (sweet and acidic) and spirit (sharp) creates an umami of flavors that delivers a satisfying punch.

Getting creative with fruit infusion

Bing and Rainier Cherries at the Sunday farmers market in  Pacific Palisades, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Bing and Rainier Cherries at the Sunday farmers market in Pacific Palisades, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Infusing spirits is another way to complement the heady flavors of vodka, gin, tequila, scotch and bourbon. Taking a familiar spirit, say vodka, and layering on fresh-from-the-farm ingredients adds unexpected brightness.

Some enjoy an edgier infusion, using vegetables, herbs and greens such as cucumbers, rosemary, basil and lavender, and those are all good. But my palate prefers sweet to savory when it comes to cocktails.

Walking past farmers stalls and seeing mounds of Valencia oranges, pink grapefruit, tangerines, Blenheim apricots, doughnut peaches, Santa Rosa plums, white and yellow nectarines, and Bing cherries, I begin thinking about throwing a party and inviting friends to have my favorite cocktail that celebrates the season.

Choosing fruit flavors and textures for cocktails

Peaches and yellow nectarines at the Sunday farmers market in  Pacific Palisades, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Peaches and yellow nectarines at the Sunday farmers market in Pacific Palisades, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Use any fruit you enjoy. The goal is to create a flavor-texture contrast that combines acidity with sweetness and soft with crunchy as in a mix of grapefruit, cherries, apples and peaches. Experiment and be bold when you choose fruit for your cocktail. Mangos, papayas, pineapples, guavas and persimmons are also good.

Adding a pinch of cayenne gives the cocktail an appetizing heat.

Peel and section all citrus, removing the peel, pith and membranes to create what are called suprêmes.

Stone fruit should be firm but ripe enough to eat. Do not use overly ripe fruit. Cut and discard any brown or damaged areas.

Getting the most flavor into your fruit salad cocktails

Sections of a grapefruit for Fruit Salad Cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Sections of a grapefruit for Fruit Salad Cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Stone fruit should be pitted, except for cherries. With peaches and nectarines, using a pairing knife, cut away the dark areas around the pit and discard.

Peeling the fruit is a matter of taste. Personally I prefer to peel apples, peaches, apricots and nectarines to maximize the flavor transmitted from the flesh of the fruit to the wine or spirit.

Cut all fruit into dime-sized pieces.

Because the fruit flavors dominate the cocktail, there is no need to use premium wines or spirits.

Using just the right timing and sweetener

Fruit Salad Cocktail in a large blue pitcher. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Fruit Salad Cocktail in a large blue pitcher. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Using sugar is a mater of taste. If the fruit is especially sweet, sugar may not be needed. Artificial sweeteners should not be used. Taste and decide at the end if the cocktail needs the added sweetness of sugar.

Red wine is preferred, but white wine can be used. Because the fruit adds sweetness, use a dry wine.

Add the fruit one hour before serving. Any longer and the fruit will turn unpleasantly soft.

Put an espresso spoon or other small spoon into the glass when serving the cocktail so the fruit can be eaten before, during or after consuming the wine or spirit.

Summer Fruit Salad Cocktails

Prep time: 30 minutes

Infusion time: 60 minutes

Total time: 90 minutes

Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients

1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine (or white)

1/2 cup brandy or vodka

Juice of one lemon or two limes

Pinch cayenne (optional)

2 tangerines, washed

3 oranges, preferably Valencia, washed

1 large grapefruit (pink or white), washed

2 Fuji apples, washed, peeled, cut into quarter-sized cubes

2 nectarines or peaches, washed, pitted, peeled, cut into quarter sized cubes

12 Bing cherries, washed, stems and pits removed, quartered

1/4 cup white granulated sugar (optional)

Directions

1. In a large pitcher, mix together the wine, brandy, lemon juice and cayenne (optional). Cover and refrigerate.

2. Using a sharp knife, peel the tangerines, oranges and grapefruit, removing and discarding the peel and rind. Cut the sections free from the membrane. Hold the peeled citrus over a bowl to catch the juice. When all the sections have been removed, squeeze the membrane to capture the last bit of juice. Discard the membrane.

3. An hour before serving, cut up and add the orange and grapefruit suprêmes, citrus juices, apples, nectarines and cherries to the wine and spirit mixture. Stir well.

4. Taste and add sugar (optional) if needed. If sugar is added, stir well to dissolve.

5. Refrigerate and serve ice cold.

6. Use a ladle to fill glasses with a good amount of the fruit. Top off with the wine and spirit mixture. Place an espresso or small spoon in each glass.

Main photo: Fruit Salad Cocktails with espresso spoons. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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A bowl of fresh cherries. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

American life is full of references to cherries, from George Washington chopping down a tree of them (Why did he do that?) to the popular song “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” sung by Ethel Merman in 1931. But the actual fruit itself, beloved by most, is a sweet, juicy reminder that spring is almost over and summer is just around the corner.

Here in California, our local cherry season lasts just a bit longer, while the Pacific Northwest and Midwestern harvests are still weeks away, guaranteeing that the cherished cherry will be in good supply until the end of July.

Pitting cherries

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A pitter is a handy tool for both cherries and olives. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Many varieties of cherries are on the market these days. Some of my favorites are the sweet Brooks variety, the meaty Bing, the orange-red Queen Anne and the pink and yellow Rainier. Generally, the lighter-colored varieties are more fragile and need to be used up quickly.

Virtually any recipe using cherries begins with pitting them. The easiest way is with a pitter hand tool, which also works nicely on olives.

Sweet sauces

A brownie sundae topped with cherry sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

A brownie sundae topped with cherry sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Cherries lend themselves quite well to both savory and sweet sauces. For a dessert sauce, combine 2 cups of pitted cherries with 1 cup of water and half a cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved with 2 tablespoons of water, and 1 tablespoon each of amaretto and fresh lemon juice. Continue cooking at a low simmer until mixture thickens. Serve over ice cream with brownies or as a topping for chocolate or sponge cakes with whipped cream.

Savory sauces

Sliced pork tenderloin topped with cherry sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Sliced pork tenderloin topped with cherry sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

For an easy pan sauce for pork tenderloin, brown a 1- to 2-pound tenderloin in 1 teaspoon of olive oil in an oven-proof skillet until golden on all sides. Put the skillet in a 350 F oven until pork is done to your liking, (165 F internal temperature), about 20 to 25 minutes, depending on thickness. Pull the skillet out, move the tenderloin to a plate and tent with foil. Over medium-high heat, brown 2 tablespoons of finely chopped onion in the pan juices then deglaze with 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Cook down until liquid is reduced by half. Add 1 1/2 cups of pitted, halved cherries and sauté until they are tender and release their juice, about 7 minutes. Finish the sauce with 1 heaping tablespoon of crème fraiche. Slice the pork and fan out on plates, then top with the sauce. The sauce is also delicious with roast or grilled duck, chicken or turkey.

Salads

Salads topped with cherries. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Salads topped with cherries. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Tender spring greens pair perfectly with cherries in salads. Use 4 packed cups of mixed baby greens or baby spinach leaves with 1 cup of pitted and halved Queen Ann or Rainier cherries, 1/2 cup of crumbled blue cheese and 1/4 cup of toasted hazelnuts. Make a dressing using 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (I like O brand) and 3 tablespoons hazelnut oil, whisking together until an emulsified dressing forms. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then toss with the salad and serve.

You can switch out the hazelnuts for toasted walnuts and use walnut oil in the dressing, and you can also substitute goat cheese for the blue cheese.

Dessert

A cherry-blueberry tart. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

A cherry-blueberry tart. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Cherries are a dessert baker’s dream and work just as well in pies and tarts as they do in crumbles and cobblers. They pair well with apricots, peaches and berries of all kinds.

For a different take on pie, mix 3 cups pitted, stemmed and halved cherries (a red variety works best) with 3 cups blueberries, 2 ounces of butter and 4 1/2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the blueberries release their juice and the cherries become slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3/4  cup white sugar and 3/4 cup brown sugar; cook until mixture thickens, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add flour by 1/4 teaspoons if mixture doesn’t develop heavy syrup consistency. Remove from heat and cool. Fold in 3 cups of fresh blueberries and pour into a baked pie shell and chill until set. Serve with whipped cream.

To make the volume of filling for the pictured tart, reduce the quantities of all ingredients by two-thirds.

Cocktails and drinks

Cherries can add a taste of summer to your favorite cocktails. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Cherries can add a taste of summer to your favorite cocktails. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

Whether you’re muddling, blending or slushing, cherries add a burst of flavor to warm-weather cocktails. Purée pitted cherries in a blender with lime juice, agave syrup and ice and then add tequila and triple sec for a spin on the traditional margarita. Or try a cherry julep: Muddle fresh cherries and mint with superfine sugar in a little water in the bottom of a highball glass, then fill the glass with crushed ice and pour in bourbon. Give it a stir, garnish with a mint sprig and gallop away.

For a sweet cherry take on the mojito, combine ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, 3 ounces rum, 1 1/2 ounces agave syrup, 1/2 ounce lime juice, 6 pitted cherries and 2 ice cubes in a blender jar. Blend on high speed until the mixture is slushy. Pour into glasses and garnish with 1 fresh cherry and a mint sprig.

How to buy and store cherries

When buying cherries, look for plump, firm fruit free of wrinkles and mold. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

When buying cherries, look for plump, firm fruit free of wrinkles and mold. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

If you can get cherries at your local farmers market, then taste your way through the vendors to find your favorite varieties. At grocery stores, try to taste before buying, if possible, to make sure cherries are sweet and ripe. Look for ones that are plump without wrinkles or mold and are firm to the touch.

Store cherries in the refrigerator for longer shelf life and wash just before using.

Given the fleeting nature of cherry season and the fruit’s amazing versatility, life can just be a bowl of cherries, at least until the end of July.

Main photo: A bowl of fresh cherries. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson

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Bing cherry infused vodka in quart jars. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Infusing vodka with fruit is perfect for summer and holiday entertaining. Colorful and easy to make, all you do is place the washed fruit into a clean glass jar, pour in the unflavored vodka, cover and store until the fruit has transferred its flavors to the vodka. The resulting infused spirit can be sipped by itself or used in a deliciously refreshing cocktail. That’s it. Wash, pour, cover, wait and enjoy.

Flavored vs. infused

Umeshu after one year. Credit: Copyright David Latt

Umeshu, after one year. Credit: Copyright David Latt

All the popular spirits — bourbon, tequila, gin, brandy and rum — can be infused with savory or sweet flavors. Vodka is the easiest because it is more neutral than the others.

You may have seen vodkas labeled as infused with lemons, oranges, cranberries, pomegranates and raspberries. In point of fact, they are actually flavored artificially. The taste of those vodkas ranges from passable to medicinal.

Creating your own flavors allows you to control the quality and the strength of the infusion. Using a farmers-market-fresh approach will bring a farm-to-table excellence to your cocktails.

How long to infuse?

Ume or green at Marukai Market (West Los Angeles, CA), sold to make umeshu. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Ume or green plums at Marukai Market in West Los Angeles. They’re used to make umeshu. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Generally speaking, soft fruit needs less time to transfer its flavors. Strawberries for instance need only a few hours or a day at most. With quick infusions, taste frequently and strain out the fruit when you have the flavor you want. When the fruit is removed, the infusion stops.

With a firmer fruit such as cherries, infusion can take longer. To make the Italian liqueur limoncello, lemon peels remain in the vodka for several months. When making umeshu, Japanese plum wine made with green plums called ume, the plums take a year to complete the infusion process.

When making infusions, no need to use premium vodkas. The fruit so dominates the flavor, buying affordable vodka is definitely the way to go.

Infused vodkas can be used as the basis of any number of cocktails. Personally, I enjoy them over ice, neat or with a mix of soda water. Simpler is better. The result is deliciously refreshing, especially on a warm summer day.

Cherry-Infused Vodka

Bing cherries being washed in a colander. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Bing cherries are best for vodka infusions. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Buy good quality, unblemished cherries, preferably Bing cherries because they are fat and sweet. The cherries can be pitted, in which case they will give up their flavor more quickly. But over time the cherries will become less firm. I prefer to keep them whole so they can be served as an adult dessert.

Use glass jars, any size you have on hand. Wash the jars and tops in hot, soapy water and rinse well. Quart juice or canning jars work very well. Use the cherries separately as a dessert by themselves, with plain yogurt or as a topping on ice cream.

The infused vodka can be served cold as a shooter with a cherry as garnish or in a mixed cocktail of your choice. Leave the cherry whole or finely chop when using as a garnish.

Add more vodka when needed to keep the cherries covered. Keep refrigerated.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Infusion time: a week to a month

Yield: two quarts

Ingredients

3 pounds fresh cherries, preferably Bing, washed, pat dried, stems removed

1 quart unflavored vodka

Directions

1. Examine each cherry. Reserve for another use any that are blemished or over ripe.

2. Remove and discard any stems.

3. Place the whole cherries into the jars.

4. Fill with unflavored vodka.

5. Cap and place in the back of the refrigerator.

6. Serve cold. Pour the infused vodka into small glasses garnished with cherries (whole or finely chopped) from the jar.

7. Add vodka to keep the cherries covered. Refrigerate.

Umeshu or Japanese Plum Wine

Ume or green plums, Japanese rock sugar, unflavored vodka in a glass jar to make umeshu. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Mix ume or green plums, Japanese rock sugar, unflavored vodka in a glass jar to make umeshu. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Although frequently called plum wine, ume is actually more of a apricot and umeshu is a liqueur. Available in Japanese and Korean markets, ume are also sold in Middle Eastern grocery stores. Armenians and Iranians eat the unripened plums raw but do not use them to prepare a liquor. In Asia, ume are also eaten preserved in salt and called umebsoshi in Japan.

Sold at a premium price because of the short growing season in the spring, only use green, unripe fruit. Ripe ume should not be used.

Mention umeshu to someone from Japan and invariably they will smile

Umeshu shooters with chopped macerated ume (Japanese green plums). Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Umeshu shooters with chopped macerated ume (Japanese green plums). Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Traditionally umeshu is made by grandmothers. In the spring when the plums appear in the markets, dull green and hard as rocks, the grandmothers buy up all they can find, place them in a large jar, add rock sugar and shōchū (similar in taste to vodka). The jar is placed under the sink and everyone waits a year until the plums soften and the shōchū has mellowed.

After a year in their sweetened, alcoholic bath, the ume can be eaten. I like to include them in the cocktail, either whole or cut off the pit, chopped up and added as a flavor garnish that can be eaten with a small spoon.

Only use unblemished, unripe fruit.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Infusion time: one year

Yield: 2 quarts umeshu, 2 quarts macerated umeIngredients

2 pounds ume or green plums, washed, stems removed

1 pound Japanese rock sugar

1.75 ml unflavored vodka

Directions

1. Wash well a gallon glass jar.

2. Place the ume into the jar.

3. Add the rock sugar.

4. Pour in the vodka. Stir well.

5. Cover.

6. Place in a dark, cool area where the jar will be undisturbed for a year.

7. Serve ice cold with macerated ume whole or chopped up as garnish.

 Top photo: Bing cherry-infused vodka in quart jars. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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A smattering of food on a summer picnic.

You’re standing on a rooftop in Portland, Ore., Aperol spritz in hand. The bubbly orange cocktail matches the summer sky at sunset. Prosciutto-wrapped grissini — long, crispy breadsticks enveloped in buttery ham — appear as if by magic for snacking. City lights sparkle below and bridges reach across the Willamette River as you dine on a salad of juicy peaches, creamy burrata and fresh basil, followed by succulent roast pork with green garlic sauce. Dessert is zabaglione with ripe berries. When the sun goes down, all eyes turn to the crisp white sheet taped to the wall, where a projector beams Stanley Tucci’s “Big Night,” a film about two brothers from Italy who open a restaurant in New Jersey. You sigh contentedly as you munch on a bowl of Pecorino popcorn.

This may sound like a delicious culinary dream, but it was the Portland Picnic Society’s La Dolce Vita gathering last summer. This group of 20 ladies meets monthly in the spring and summer to throw fabulous fetes. With summer on the horizon, we’re anxious to steal some of their picnic pointers. But don’t fret if an Italian-themed al fresco gathering seems like too much to plan. “Picnics are so flexible: You can dress them up with involved recipes and elegant touches, or you can head to your favorite market and throw together a pop-up party in a matter of minutes,” says Jen Stevenson, a founding member of the Portland Picnic Society, co-author of “The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket,” and the gastronomical genius behind the food blog Under the Table With Jen. Get inspired for your own gathering with these ideas.

Rethink deviled eggs

Deviled eggs for a summer picnic

Making deviled eggs for a picnic? Mix it up with some different fillings. Credit: Copyright Jen Stevenson

The classic recipe always pleases, but it’s fun to take a crack at a new version. Here, two that Stevenson loves:

Try a BLT: Mix minced cooked bacon into the filling; garnish with ½ cherry tomato and a piece of baby arugula.

Perk it up with pesto: Mix in a bit of store-bought pesto to the filling, then top with tiny fresh basil leaves.

Make a daring dip

Dips for picnics

Turn your usual dips into something spectacular with color. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Reamer

 

Crudité and dip are an easy appetizer, but it’s fun to wow your guests with a shock of color.

“Hummus doesn’t have to be boring,” says Stevenson. “Add roasted red beets to turn the dip a gorgeous shade of magenta, or blend in a handful of parsley for a fresh flavor and a pretty green hue.”

Prep individual desserts

Desserts in individual containers

Don’t use out-of-the-box desserts. Instead, make your own in individual containers. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Reamer

 

What’s cuter than a mini mason jar? A sweet treat for one inside that itty-bitty container. Serve lemon curd topped with whipped cream, chocolate pudding with fresh strawberries, or a fruit and yogurt parfait. Or bake a crumble (like the Portland Picnic Society’s drool-worthy Blueberry Cardamom Crumble, pictured here) right in the jar.

“Most crumble recipes can be baked in jars or ramekins; just be careful not to overfill since they tend to bubble up while cooking,” recommends Stevenson.

Forget tired sandwiches

No ham and cheese sandwiches here. Instead, make a classic pan bagnat based on salade Nicoise. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker

No ham and cheese sandwiches here. Instead, make a classic pan bagnat based on salade Nicoise. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker

Turkey or tuna salad on whole wheat screams “school lunch,” not glam outdoor gathering. One of the most colorful and delicious sandwiches to bring is the classic pan bagnat, which is based on salade Nicoise.

It’s easy: Split a fresh baguette from your favorite bakery, then layer it with high-quality canned tuna, sliced hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, olives, sliced fresh tomatoes and lettuce. This is a seriously picnic-proof sandwich; the hardy crust protects the gourmet goods you stuff inside. It’s a cinch to transport if you wait and slice on-site (bring toothpicks to secure each individual sammy).

Get creative with props

Forget the plastic knives and forks. Glam up your picnic with jam jars and everyday kitchenware. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker

Forget the plastic knives and forks. Glam up your picnic with jam jars and everyday kitchenware. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker

 

Sometimes the most picturesque spots lack a picnic table, but a basket with a flat, hard top can serve as a miniature table once it’s unpacked. You can also incorporate everyday kitchenware into your spread for easier serving. Bring cutting boards and platters to set food on.

“We like to fill a Le Creuset Dutch oven with ice, then keep our wine and bottled cocktails in it,” says Stevenson. “Eight-ounce jam jars make the perfect glasses, because they’re easy to nestle into the grass.”

Another idea: Schlep goodies from the car to the picnic site in an old-school red wagon, then use the wagon as a table. If someone asks you to pass the three-bean salad, you can just give the wagon a push in her direction.

Sip in style

Skip the lemonade and try a classic Pimm's Cup with a twist. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker

Skip the lemonade and try a classic Pimm’s Cup with a twist. Credit: Copyright Andrea Slonecker

 

With all those delicious snacks, don’t forget about drinks. The Pimm’s Cup, a classic gin-based English cocktail, is refreshing but not too sweet. With this version, from “The Picnic,” each guest gets his or her own mason-jar cocktail for easy transport.

Elderflower Pimm’s Cup

Yield: 1 serving

Excerpted from “The Picnic” by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker and Jen Stevenson (Artisan). Copyright 2015. Photographs by David Reamer.

Ingredients

Lemon Simple Syrup:

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

1 small lemon, zested with a peeler into ½-inch strips

Pimm’s Cup:

2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1 Cup

1 ounce St. Germain liqueur

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Lemon Simple Syrup

1 strawberry, hulled and quartered

1 thin slice orange, quartered

3 thin slices cucumber

Club soda

1 mint sprig

1 1/2 strips lemon peel, from Lemon Simple Syrup

Mint sprigs

Paper straws

Ice

Club soda

Directions

Before the picnic:

1. Make Lemon Simple Syrup by bringing sugar and water to a gentle simmer in a small pot. Stir frequently until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is clear. Remove from heat and add the lemon peel. Let the syrup steep for one hour. Strain the syrup into a jar. Reserve the lemon peel for garnish.

2. Combine the booze, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a Mason jar. Add the strawberry, orange, and cucumber. Replace the lid and pack in a cooler filled with ice.

At the picnic:

3. Add ice, top with club soda, garnish with a mint sprig and lemon peel strip, add a straw, and serve.

Pick a theme

Rather than just throwing food together, give your picnic a theme. Credit: Copyright Jen Stevenson

Rather than just throwing food together, give your picnic a theme. Credit: Copyright Jen Stevenson

 

Instead of just throwing food in your basket willynilly, pick a theme to tie everything together. Make it meze madness (meze are small plates, dips and salads common throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East) with feta-topped figs, bunches of fresh grapes, hummus and pita, kalamata olives, and dolma (grape leaves stuffed with rice).

Host a Southern soiree with deviled eggs, macaroni salad, fried chicken and sweet tea. Plan a Parisian party with roast chicken; Lyonnaise potato salad; crusty baguette with brie, Camembert and chevre; rainbow-hued macarons; and plenty of rosé.

Main photo: Turn your picnic into a feast with a few simple twists. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Reamer, from “The Picnic” by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker and Jen Stevenson (Artisan).

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