Sour cherry mojitos by the pitcher

Good-quality white rum, 3½ cups
Sour cherries, pitted, ½ pint
Juice of 10 limes
Sugar, ¾ cup
Water, 1½ cups
Mint leaves, torn, ½ cup
Soda water, 1¼ cups

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in water to make a simple syrup. Add syrup to pitcher.
2. Macerate cherries in syrup at the bottom of the pitcher. Always do this step before the others to allow the cherries to marinate in the syrup and release their juices. 
3. Juice limes with a juicer. Alternatively, if you are juicing by hand: Warm each fruit for 20-30 seconds in a microwave. Roll on cutting board before cutting each in half. Poke each half thoroughly with a fork, then use the fork to use apply pressure and get more juice out. Add juice to pitcher and stir.
4. Add mint leaves and muddle. 
5. Chill until ready to serve. Add soda water and stir briefly immediately prior to serving.
6. Pour through a strainer into tall glasses, spooning some cherries into each glass. I recommend leaving out the mint leaves, or spooning just one or two into each glass, since the soda water makes them float. The cherries, however, sink, and are extraordinarily delicious.

Serves: 8-10

The story:
My sister and my cousin Liz during our family reunion
Outer Banks, North Carolina, July 2012
I love tart, sour fruit, and the sour cherries were freshly picked at the farmer's market on Thursday morning (where I, in all sincerity, briefly welled up with joy at the lush, humid verdancy of my native East Coast and the array of fruits and vegetables my native climate, well, produces). Originally, I planned to make jam for the crostini in this recipe, but we have a lot of family in town for my cousin's upcoming wedding, and I was reminded of the fresh mojitos I mixed during our family reunion in the Outer Banks last summer...and instead, came up with this cocktail, a twist on the black cherry caipirinha (possibly my favorite cocktail anywhere) at Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia, one of my favorite bars and restaurants, with its gorgeous, evocative dark wooden floors and paneling. Like the black cherry caipirinha, this mojito also produces succulent pops of cherries at the finish of your drink. 

Tonight, I'm sitting on my deck with a mojito, watching dusky periwinkle clouds glide across a perfect blue sky - after a spectacular day hiking (reveling in things like MUD(!), and fallen trees covered with velvety moss, and tiny, perfect frogs), and eating moules-frites (while my son dipped his fingers in one his favorite things, truffle aïoli) and drinking Three Philosophers (one of my favorite things) at Ommegang Brewery - and it is perfect.

Update: I had a lot of amazingly delicious rum-soaked sour cherries after serving these mojitos, so I added another half pint of sour cherries to the remaining liquid, let them soak overnight, and then reduced them to a syrup over low heat (barely a tablespoon of liquid was left). Then we made a vanilla bean ice cream and poured in the cherries at the end. Try it!


Stuffed chicken with rice and mango salsa

Chicken stuffed with fontina and broccoli
Chicken breasts, pounded thinly, 10 or 3-4 lb
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Garlic salt
Broccoli, 1 head or enough for 10 florets (~1 floret per breast)
Fontina, coarsely grated, 6 oz
Olive oil
Flour, seasoned with salt, garlic salt and pepper
Egg, 1, beaten
Italian breadcrumbs

Brown butter rice
Jasmine rice
Onion, chopped, 3-4 tbsp
Olive oil

Mango salsa
Mango, finely chopped
Nectarine, finely chopped
Avocado, finely chopped
Flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1. Steam broccoli, then season with salt and pepper and sauté with garlic and olive oil.
2. On each piece of chicken, place cheese and broccoli florets; roll up.
3. Dip breast into seasoned flour, then egg, then Italian breadcrumbs. 
4. Drizzle baking dish with olive oil.
5. Place chicken breasts in dish and drizzle with more olive oil 
6. Bake for 45-60 minutes at 350˚F.

1. Sauté onion in olive oil until softened.
2. Add rice and sauté until lightly browned.
3. Place in water (follow directions for appropriate quantity, usually 1:1) and bring to boil.
4. Reduce and simmer over low-medium heat, about 20 minutes.
5. Add 2-3 tbsp butter and stir through.

1. Mix nectarine, mango, avocado and parsley. Serve alongside rice and chicken. 

Serves: 10

Toddler rating: A reasonable success. My son happily ate bites of mango, avocado, and chicken, but rice only if it was mixed/disguised with something else. He managed to detect the broccoli even hidden in a chicken bite; he extricated the broccoli and then returned the chicken to his mouth. After about 20 minutes, he lost interest in eating, wandered off to play, and threw a spectacular tantrum complete with fake (tear-free) crying when he realized everyone else had stayed seated at the dinner table.

Toddler dining in action
July 2013


Palomas by the pitcher

Good silver tequila, 2½-3½ cups
Grand Marnier, 1-1¼ cup
Pink grapefruit, ~8 or enough for 3½-4 cups of fresh juice and 2-3 tbsp of crushed pulp
Persian limes, ~8 or enough for 1 cup of fresh juice 
Water, 1 cup
Sugar, ½ cup
Fresh basil, torn, ~½ cup, divided
Soda water, 1 cup
Ice cubes
Coarse sea salt for rimming glasses, if desired

Serves: ~10 drinks

1. Bring water, sugar, and ¼ cup basil leaves to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 10 minutes to make a basil infused simple syrup. 
2. Juice grapefruit and limes with a juicer. Alternatively, if you are juicing by hand: Warm each fruit for 20-30 seconds in a microwave. Roll on cutting board before cutting each in half. Poke each half thoroughly with a fork, then use the fork to use apply pressure and get more juice out. Save a few slices of lime for coating rim of glasses.
3. Set aside 2-3 tablespoons of crushed grapefruit pulp.
4. Strain juice to remove any seeds and pour into container with secure lid.
5. Strain basil leaves and add simple syrup to juice. 
6. Add tequila and Grand Marnier; shake well, then chill until ready to serve. Within the suggested range, adjust the quantities to the strength desired. 
7. Add soda water immediately prior to serving. 
8. Moisten rims of old-fashioned glasses with slices of limes and dip into sea salt. 
9. Fill glasses with ice and a few basil leaves; pour over.   

The story:
a Paloma ~ grapefruit margarita with fresh basil
(apologies...still new to this "food photography" thing)
While I've definitely thrown parties where I lovingly mixed each cocktail by hand (and enjoyed catching up with each guest individually as I played bartender), there are also times when I wanted to sit down and relax with friends and family...or when impatient friends and family weren't willing to wait 20 minutes for their drink. However, it's hard to find really good cocktail recipes designed for pitchers, and the proportions don't always scale up easily. Shaking or muddling 10 cups of liquid is very different than one or two cups.

The Paloma was originally a Mexican cocktail made with grapefruit soda and tequila. For a quick, after-work version for two, try 12 oz of San Pellegrino Pompelmo soda with 4 oz of tequila, 1 oz of orange liqueur (optional) and a few basil leaves, divided in two glasses. I first tried one at a tiny taquería; I improvised this version, oh, about 12 hours ago, when I proposed making margaritas with fresh lime juice and my sister requested a grapefruit margarita. She put hers in the blender, which I consider an absolute travesty, the desecration of a beautiful cocktail...but she said it was delicious.
My sister, beautiful girl
July 2013
As I wrote this out, I thought, gee, I hope that in 20 years, my son's reaction to trying this recipe is akin to the way I feel about a good Corpse Reviver No. 2...not screwdrivers and Mudslides. 

Some thoughts on the suggested ingredients...
1. Simple syrup vs. agave nectar: I used to use agave nectar in all my cocktails; recently, I switched back to simple syrup. For an interesting consideration of whether agave nectar is actually healthier, see this article from the New York Times.
2. Persian vs. Key limes: Many margarita recipes suggest using Key or Mexican limes because they are sweeter; however, common Persian limes are larger, significantly easier to juice and more readily available, and the proportion of simple syrup in this recipe is based on using Persian limes.

This beautiful cutting board was made from sections of the butcher block in our kitchen growing up, cut and sanded to nestle into the sink. I love it.


Risotto alla milanese e risotto all'estate

Onion, medium, very finely chopped (I use a mini food processor)
Butter, 8 tbsp
Arborio (short-grain Italian) rice, 2 cups
Chicken broth, kept hot, 6 cups
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Alla milanese
Dry white wine, 1/2 cup
Saffron threads, 1/2 tsp
Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated, 1 cup

Dry rosé wine, 1/2 cup
Asiago, finely grated, 1 cup
Heavy or double cream, 1/2 cup

Vegetable medley
Olive oil, 2 tbsp
Butter, 1 tbsp
Garlic, 2-3 cloves, crushed and finely chopped
Shallot, finely chopped, 2 tbsp
Fresh basil, 1/2 cup, coarsely chopped
Hot red pepper flakes, 1/4 tsp
Zucchini, small, 1, diced into 1 cm pieces
Summer (yellow) squash, small, 1, diced into 1 cm pieces
Red bell pepper, 1/2, diced
Orange bell pepper, 1/2, diced
Yellow bell pepper, 1/2, diced
Spring onion, 1-2, chopped into 1 cm pieces

Optional: Sliced crimini mushrooms, sliced asparagus "coins", crumbled guanciale or bacon, chopped fresh tomatoes

1. In a heavy saucepan that's large enough to hold the rice with plenty of room left over, cook onion in 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat until translucent and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
2. Stir in the rice and cook it over medium heat for about three minutes.
3. Add the wine (white for classic milanese, rosé for the estate variation), 2 cups of broth, and saffron (for milanese; it gets overwhelmed by the extra ingredients otherwise).
4. Turn the heat to high until the broth comes to a simmer and then adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer.
5. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, stirring every 2 minutes. If you are making risotto all'estate and haven't started the vegetable medley yet, start now.
6. Add another cup of broth and keep cooking, stirring, and adding broth until the rice is cooked through but al dente.
7. Stir in the butter, cheese (parmigiano for milanese; asiago for all'estate) and cream for all'estate.
8. Season with salt and pepper.
9. Stir in the vegetable medley if desired (see below).

Vegetable medley for all'estate
5a. Before starting the risotto or while cooking it (if you're fairly experienced), heat 2 tbsp of olive oil with 1 tbsp of butter over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan.
6a. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened and fragrant.
7a. Add the zucchini and squash, followed by the chopped peppers (and mushrooms or asparagus, if desired).
8a. Season with salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes, and sauté until just tender but still firm to the bite, about 7 minutes.
9a. Add basil and spring onion, sautéing for another 3 minutes.
10a. Add more salt and pepper if needed, to taste.
11a. Add a splash of rosé and simmer until alcohol has evaporated.
12a. Turn off heat and add crispy guanciale, bacon or fresh tomatoes, if desired.
13a. Stir into risotto, as above, or set aside for other recipes (see suggestions below).

The story:
My grandmother made her rice dishes in a deep skillet with chicken broth and tomato sauce, or sometimes with browned onions...but never butter. (Basic fact: Butter is much more frequently found in Northern Italian cooking, with its French and German influences, than Southern Italian cooking, which relies heavily on olive oil and shares more similarities with Spanish and Greek cuisine.) Risotto alla milanese is a classic northern Italian dish (and I am of Southern Italian descent), but it's near and dear to my heart. Several years ago, I moved into my very first apartment of my own, without roommates, and it was the first dish I cooked for myself. I had just broken up with a boyfriend, and although I knew he and several of my friends were also home alone that night, I steeled myself not to call anyone. My risotto simmered away, saffron lingering in my kitchen like a long-lost memory. I grilled scallops in lemon butter to complement the risotto, and as the scallops cooked, I kept thinking, I should share this with someone. Good food should always be shared. 

In general, that's still my philosophy - I'd always rather cook for someone other than myself. But on that long ago Friday night, I knew I needed to learn a lesson about enjoying my own company, so I poured myself a glass of white wine, sat down at my dining table (which, at the time, seated eight people comfortably), and enjoyed every last bite of risotto...alone. 

The all'estate variation is based on a summer vegetable pasta dish with an asiago cream sauce that my sister invented/discovered eight or nine years ago...to make that dish, you simply add all the wine at the end of the vegetable medley, instead of to the arborio, reduce it, and then stir in the cream and asiago before tossing with gemelli or other pasta. I've never managed to get the quantities of vegetables quite right, so I'll often sauté many more veggies than I need and freeze portions for later. They make easy filling for omelettes and frittate, and also toss well with quinoa for a side dish or a light lunch.

Toddler rating: Total rejection. Spit out risotto, refused to open mouth for zucchini or squash (despite eating zucchini in the past), pretended to want red bell pepper but only because he had mistaken it for tomato (and he loves to feel tomatoes squish between his fingers).

Risotto all'estate