Friday, June 28, 2013

Smoky-Sweet Braised Dandelion Greens

Braised Dandelion Greens

As a kid, I loved dandelions because when they went to seed you could blow on them and make a wish. And my mother (and I imagine most other adult gardeners), basically considered them a weed. Which they were, albeit a pretty one.

And edible too. Although I wouldn't necessarily suggest eating the dandelion greens from your garden, so long as you haven't sprayed them with anything toxic, you probably could. They have a great flavor - sharp and bitter. They take well to braising, since the liquid mellows them out and allows you to build in some other flavors. In this dish, I went with a combination of slightly sweet (agave), sour (lemon zest), spicy (red pepper flakes) and smoky.

Smoky-Sweet Braised Dandelion Greens

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small (or 1/2 large) sweet onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Seasoned salt (or salt), to taste
1 punch (about 1 lb.) dandelion greens, tough ends removed
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 to 2 tsp. agave nectar
1 tsp. liquid smoke flavor

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, reduce the heat a bit and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and seasoned salt and cook another 5 minutes until the garlic is fragrant and the onions are quite soft and lightly browned (heading toward caramelized but not quite there). Increase heat to medium-high, add dandelion greens and chicken broth, cover and cook for about 2 minutes.

Remove lid and reduce heat to medium. Add lemon zest, agave nectar and liquid smoke, and continue cooking another 5 minutes or more until the greens are tender. Remove the greens from the pan. Increase heat to medium-high and continue cooking onions and liquid until the liquid has reduced by about half. In shallow bowls, plate the reduced liquid first then the greens on top.

Note: when I made this, I served it mixed with some leftover mushroom-orzo risotto on a broiled salmon fillet on top.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pea, Spinach, Mint and Garlic Scape Soup

Pea, Spinach, Mint and Garlic Scape Soup

Earlier this week, I featured a recipe with green garlic, which are immature garlic plants that resemble scallions. Garlic scapes, in contrast, are the tops of larger garlic plants. The long ropes have a "greener" garlic flavor that, while milder than a raw garlic clove, can still add noticeable garlic flavor to a dish.

Garlic scapes
Garlic scapes

Some people like to use garlic scapes raw in salads or pesto. I find they're a little too potent for that (and this from a self-avowed garlic lover), so I like to cook them to mellow their flavor a bit. Last year, I roasted them for pesto, this year I sautéed them for this soup with peas, spinach and mint.

I adapted this recipe from the Dinner with Julie blog by Canadian food writer Julie Van Rosendaal. I modified Julie's recipe a bit by omitting the cream and adding a little fresh mint.

Pea, Spinach, Mint and Garlic Scape Soup
Adapted from a recipe by Dinner with Julie

Serves 4

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 sweet onion, diced
4 garlic scapes, chopped
Salt, to taste
1 bag frozen peas
3 cups packed fresh baby spinach
4 cups chicken broth (may use vegetable broth)
2 tbsp. chopped chives, plus more for garnish
2 tbsp. chopped mint, plus a few sprigs for garnish
Fresh-ground white pepper

1. Heat olive oil and butter in a Dutch oven or deep-sided saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic scapes, season with salt and continue cooking a few more minutes until the scapes are also softened.

2. Add the peas and spinach and cook until the spinach wilts. Add the broth, chives and mint, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

3. Puree soup with an immersion blender until smooth (alternatively, transfer in batches to a blender). Season with fresh-ground white pepper. Ladle soup into shallow bowls and garnish with chives and a mint sprig.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Feed: June 26, 2013

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

Foreign Policy: “The Cookbook Theory of Economics,” by Tyler Cowen.
In this engaging essay, Cowen argues that the availability of cookbooks from other countries is a good indicator of their economic development—Italian, French and Mexican cookbooks are easy to find in the U.S., but try to find a book on the cuisine of Chad. He also discusses how cookbooks from different countries reveal a lot about the cultural expectations for the cooks they are written for. He discusses how ethnic cookbooks intended for a Western audience, even if written to be authentic, must still translate recipes in ways that wouldn’t be needed in the cuisine’s original country. An Indian food writer, for example, will detail steps for Westerners that it written for Indian cooks would be assumed they would already know how to do (like squeezing water from Indian cheese). Recipes may also substitute ingredients that just aren’t available (or available fresh) elsewhere.

New York Times: “A Culinary Birthplace in Dispute,” by Julia Moskin.
Many words have been written this week about the downfall of television food celebrity Paula Deen, who it seemed had barely recovered from the bad publicity connecting her battle with diabetes and her fatty cooking. Putting a more meaningful spin on this than what the tabloids are giving, Moskin interviews Southern cooks for their views on Deen, the implications of what she's done and what Deen's story reveals about the racism, sexism and other “isms” that plague some parts of the food industry. It also touches on thoughts about who gets to "represent" Southern cooking.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook: "Salmon with Avocado Salsa," by Hank Shaw.
Hank Shaw's James Beard Award-wining blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook is known for its use of unusual ingredients Shaw has foraged or hunted/caught. While that makes it a fascinating read, it also puts most of his recipes beyond the reach of urban cooks like me. Here then is a recipe that's a bit unusual for Shaw because it contains no unusual ingredients: a pan-fried salmon fillet with a side of chunky fresh guacamole. All of the ingredients are available at your typical grocery store; however, in keeping with the blog's theme, I imagine you get bonus points for catching the salmon yourself.

Washington Post: “Napa cabs’ balancing act,” by Dave McIntyre.
When it comes to boldly styled popular wines, Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is clearly king. It’s one of my favorite varietals and, if you drink enough of it, you’ll find quite a bit of variation between different wineries. To former Stag’s Leap winemaker Warren Winiarski’s taste, however, too many cabs these days are going for bold at the expense of balance. While makers of shiraz and pinot noir have embraced restraint and nuance, big big big still dominates cabernet. But there are exceptions: along with the article, McIntyre includes recommendations for six old-style Napa cabs, including the comparatively affordable Oberon 2011 cab (which is excellent and you can get it at Safeway), Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar’s 2010 Artemis cab, which I haven’t tried, and Chateau Montelena’s 2010 cab (I have a 2006 bottle I should probably drink soon). (Note: Montelena, along with Stag’s Leap, were the two American wineries that famously bested their French competition in a 1976 international wine competition, as depicted in the film Bottle Shock.)

The Guardian: "Wine-tasting: It's junk science," by David Derbyshire.
Speaking of the complexity of good California wine... Robert Hodgson, a California winemaker, noticing how his wines were inconsistently honored in state contests, proposed an experiment were judges were sometimes served multiple glasses of the same wine without being told to see whether they would notice. Interestingly, very few did, awarding different scores (and average of plus-or-minus 4 points) for different glasses of the same wine poured from the same bottle. Derbyshire does a good job discussing how the flavor complexity of wine is a reason it is so hard for human palates to accurately and reliably discern its nuance.

New York Times: “French Class Is in Session,” review of Lafayette restaurant by Pete Wells.
Lafayette is the new NoHo French restaurant from restaurateur-chef Andrew Carmellini, just a block away from his Library at the Public, which opened last year (and I reviewed, positively). Unfortunately, Wells is disappointed in Lafayette, which he says has much that will please but little that will impress. The service sounds particularly disappointing, although he names the baked goods—both the bread and desserts—as delicious standouts. But it still only earns 1 star.

Wired: "How Silicon Valley Perfected Ice Cream," by Michael V. Copeland.
In an area known for churning out tech start-ups, Stanford business school alum Robyn Sue Fisher is instead churning a sweeter business proposition: a San Francisco ice cream shop called Smitten. Using a liquid nitrogen-based device she created, she makes quick-frozen made-to-order ice cream. Sounds delicious.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pasta with Broiled Tomato and Green Garlic Sauce

Roasted tomato sauce made with seasonal fresh tomatoes paired with pasta and basil is one of our favorite summer dishes (I made it several times last year, see here and here). The kitchen always smells really great too after tomatoes have been roasting in it all afternoon.

That, however, is the catch of roasted tomato sauce: it takes a long time, 2 hours minimum and really more like 3 for optimal flavor. It's great for a weekend meal with a free afternoon, not so much for a midweek dinner.

So I decided to experiment with the broiler: using higher heat, could I achieve something almost as delicious as slow-roasted tomato sauce if I also added some additional flavor? Enter green garlic: the early summer farmers market staple that looks like a scallion but with mild garlicky flavor. Along with my tomatoes, I roasted several green garlic bulbs with their greens.

The resulting pasta sauce was quite delicious, perhaps not with quite the depth of tomato flavor from slow-roasting, but the added green garlic gave it enough punch to be interesting. And, for a midweek meal, you can't argue with the significantly reduced cooking time.

Pasta with Broiled Tomato and Green Garlic Sauce

1 lb. dried fettuccine pasta
4-5 large tomatoes (may substitute about 8 plum tomatoes), roughly chopped into pieces about 1/2 inch thick, 1 inch wide
4 green garlic bulbs with light green parts (tough outer green parts trimmed off), finely chopped
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the onions
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 dashes of ground nutmeg
1 tsp. honey
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 sweet onion, slivered
Seasoned salt, to taste
10-12 fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons
Grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, drain pasta, add half the water to the noodles and set aside until ready to use.

2. Preheat oven broiler with oven rack 8 inches from broiler. In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, green garlic, 2 tbsp. olive oil and kosher salt, stirring to evening coat ingredients. Spread tomato mixture on a baking sheet and broil for about 25-30 minutes until the tomatoes are shriveled looking and browned on the edges. Remove from oven and  allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor, add nutmeg and honey and pulse 4 or 5 times (1 second pulses) to make a chunky sauce.

3. Raise oven rack to about 4 inches from broiler. Spread onion slivers on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil and seasoned salt. Broil until edges are browned, about 2-3 minutes (watch carefully to prevent burning).

4. Combine tomato sauce with cooked pasta, adding additional reserved pasta cooking water until saucy. Serve pasta in bowls topped with broiled onions, basil and grated parmigiano-reggiano.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Roasted Beet and Cottage Cheese Salad

Enough of the cocktails. Back to cooking.

My neighborhood farmer's market, New Morning Farm, reopened recently for the season (they take the spring off). As usual, they have lots of delicious seasonal fruits and vegetables. When I visit early Saturday morning, I'm never quite sure what I'll find, and my meals for the week begin to take shape as I'm examining their weekly offering.

This time of year, they always have beets. The purple kind, of course, but sometimes other colors too.

For this salad, I roasted the beets simply, sliced them, and paired them with raw, spinach, carrots and radishes. The dressing is pretty simple too: Olive oil, white wine vinegar, lemon juice and a touch of honey.

The addition of the generous dollop of cottage cheese was inspired by Buck's Fishing and Camping, whose former chef, Vickie Reh, used to serve amazing homemade cottage cheese with a salad of beets and carrots. Her cottage cheese had large chewy curds and was mixed with cream, chives and black pepper. I didn't make this cottage cheese, but I did spring for something that's better quality than your typical watery supermarket variety, a cultured version at Whole Foods. It didn't quite match up to homemade, but it had more body and flavor than a store brand (if you're unwilling to spring for higher quality cottage cheese or make your own for this dish, I'd recommend just omitting the cottage cheese or substituting something else like chèvre. I think low-quality cottage cheese would not be good in this dish and would end up making a pink puddle).

I recommend serving this with some crusty bread to mop up any remaining dressing and cottage cheese.

Roasted Beet and Cottage Cheese Salad
Inspired by Buck's Fishing and Camping

Makes 2 dinner salad portions

4 medium-size purple beats
2 big handful of baby spinach
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into thin julienne (such as with a julienne peeler)
6 radishes, sliced
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. honey
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
2/3 cup good quality cottage cheese (i.e. not the standard watery supermarket variety)
2 tbsp. fresh-snipped chives

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Wrap beets together in a sealed aluminum foil packet, place on a baking sheet and roast until the beets are tender when pierced with a fork, about 50-60 minutes. Set aside to cool, then peel with your hands (the skins should rub off pretty easily).

2. Portion out the spinach, carrots and radishes into large, shallow bowls.

3. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper. Drizzle dressing over salads.

4. Add the cottage cheese to a small bowl, add about half the chives and a few good sprinkles of fresh-ground black pepper and stir to combine. Place a dollop of the cottage cheese mixture on each salad. Sprinkle each salad with the remaining chives.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Summer Cocktails Week: Wrap Up

Summer Cocktails Week

It's been a lot of fun this week sharing ideas for great summer cocktails. Here's a wrap-up of everything I covered. Let's start with the drinks:

  • Amaretto Sour. A maligned classic gets a second wind when made from better ingredients, as inspired by Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler.
  • Teagroni. A twist on the classic Negroni made with oversteeped Earl Grey tea from Kevin Liu's book (see below).
  • Bitter Boulevardier. My own twist on a classic cocktail with tea, this time the bourbon-based Boulevardier.
  • Smoky Pear Mojito. A twist on the minty classic made with mezcal, agave and pear brandy.
  • Jacko's End. A smoky mezcal cocktail from New York's East Village Mexican restaurant Mayahuel, featuring apple brandy and Benedictine liqueur.
  • Smoked Palomino. Another Mayahuel mezcal cocktail, made with sherry and citrus.
  • The Vesper Martini. The James Bond classic gin and vodka drink made with the bitter Italian aperitivo Cocchi Americano.
  • Summer Cosmopolitan. A brighter take on the Sex-and-the-City classic made with gin, fresh juices and bitter orange syrup.
  • Corpse Reviver #2. A tart gin cocktail that also features Cocchi Americano.

There was also my post from last Sunday featuring 25 more summer-appropriate cocktails previously featured on the site.

I reviewed the recent book Craft Cocktails at Home by Kevin Liu, a fabulous resource for inspiring creative home mixology.

I turned my favorite cocktail into a cake (Gin & Tonic Cake), courtesy of a recipe from Nosh Berkeleyside.

I shared some favorite resources (i.e. books and websites) where you can find other great cocktail recipes and tips.

What are you drinking this summer? What cocktails are interested in trying? If you make any of these drinks, please share with me what you think.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Summer Cocktails Week: Resources

Before wrapping up Summer Cocktails Week, I wanted to share some of my favorite resources for recipes, tips, techniques and inspiration.


The Bartender's Bible by Gary Regan. This is the first stop for many home cocktail aficionados. Regan's book is not at all flashy--there are no pictures and drinks lack individual introductions--but this book is useful to have on hand for its sheer volume of 1,001 drinks

The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan. Meehan, the bartender at New York's speakeasy Please Don't Tell (PDT), has written one of the most celebrated cocktail collections in recent years. He details the sources and inspiration behind each drink, with a healthy mix of classic, updated and creative drinks.

Imbibe! by David Wondrich. "Classic" cocktails--those originating sometime before 1920 or so--have been all the rage lately, and Wondrich's book is a wonderful resource for recipes from that time as well as history, focused around the biography of Jerry Thomas, a bartender credited as publishing the first bartender's guide in 1862.

Craft Cocktails at Home by Kevin Liu. This is the book I reviewed Monday. If you want to go beyond recipes to get a better understand of the techniques and science of mixology to help guide your creativity, this is an excellent read.


Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Morgenthaler is the bartender of Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, and his cocktails blog, which has been around for years, is a treasure trove of authentic recipes embellished by his entertaining writing. Sadly, he hasn't added a post since August of last year, but there's still a lot of great archived content here.

Alcademics. This blog is the product of celebrated cocktail writer Camper English and it features excellent recipes, tips and techniques.

Drinking in America. This blog isn't just about cocktails, as it covers the whole range of alcoholic beverages. In addition to cocktail recipes, it's a great place to find out about new and up-and-coming products.

The Boys Club. With beautiful photos, delicious recipes and interesting "101-style" history posts, The Boys Club, which goes beyond just cocktails, is a good site to get ideas.

Your bartender

Cannot end this list without mentioning that one of the best resources is the local talent. Frequenting bars known for making delicious, quality cocktails is one of the best ways to get inspiration and learn more about what works. Taste something you really like? Why not ask the bartender how he or she did it.

I'm lucky that I live in a city blessed with a great number of amazing bars and restaurants with notable bars. Some of my favorites include Jaleo, Range, Ripple, Palena, Poste, Fiola, The Passenger and Jack Rose. A few that I haven't tried but would really like to are Buffalo & Bergen (in Union Market), The Gin Joint (New Heights), Columbia Room (behind The Passenger), PX (in Alexandria), Estadio and Churchkey (upstairs from Birch & Barley). And there are many, many more.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Gin & Tonic Cake

At the beginning of the week, I promised there would be a cocktail-themed dessert, and this is it: a cake inspired by a gin & tonic.

Both the cake and its glaze include gin: I used Bombay Sapphire.

This recipe appeared on the Nosh section of the Berkeleyside news site by Moriah VanVleet. It's rather inventive: in addition to containing gin and tonic water, the cake amps up select flavors of the drink by adding lime zest and ground juniper berries. There's a definite bitterness to this dessert, just like the cocktail, but it's still an enjoyable sweet treat.

Gin & Tonic Cake
Adapted from a recipe by Moriah VanVleet for Berkeleyside

3 limes
About 45 juniper berries (approximately 1 tablespoon)
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2/3 cup gin, divided (I used Bombay Sapphire)
¾ cup tonic water (I used the Whole Foods brand)
2 cups powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8-inch cake with butter, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and lightly grease the paper.

2. Finely zest limes (I used a mircoplane).  Juice limes and measure out 1/4 cup of juice and, separately, 1 tablespoon of juice.. Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, mash 30 of the juniper berries until small flakes are formed.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla until smooth.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and add to egg mixture, mixing together on low speed. Gradually add the 1/4 cup of lime juice and 1/3 cup of gin. Beat until smooth. Add the lime zest and crushed juniper berries, mixing until evenly disbursed. With a spatula, gently fold in the tonic water and quickly pour the combined mixture into the prepared  cake pan. Bake  for about 40-45 minutes, checking center with a wooden skewer or toothpick at the 35 or 40 minute mark; cake is done when golden, domed and no wet batter appears.

4. Remove cake from oven and let cool in pan at least 20-30 minutes. Loosen sides of cake with a butter knife, and carefully transfer cake to a wire rack placed over a baking sheet.

5. While the cake cools, place the powdered sugar, remaining tablespoon of lime juice and remaining 1/3 cup gin in a saucepan. Whisk over medium-low heat until just bubbling. Let bubble for about 20-30 seconds, then remove from heat and keep stirring. Working quickly, pour half of the glaze over the cake; it will harden quickly. Immediately repeat with the second half of the glaze, letting it drip down the sides of the cake. Reserve a bit of glaze in pan, tossing the remaining 15 juniper berries in it.  If glaze in pan is already too hard, place pan over low heat momentarily. Quickly place glazed juniper berries evenly around the top of the cake.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cocktail: Corpse Reviver #2

Perhaps you bought a bottle of Cocchi Americano to make The Vesper, and now you're wondering what else you can do with it? While I think the aperitif is ripe for experimentation, another classic is the Corpse Reviver #2.

The Corpse Revivers are a family of "hangover cure" cocktails (says Wikipedia). I wouldn't put much stock in that though, given the amount of booze in this drink.

Corpse Reviver #2

3/4 oz. gin
3/4 oz. Cocchi Americano aperitif
3/4 oz. Cointreau
3/4 oz. Fresh lemon juice
Dash of absinthe (about 1/8 of a teaspoon if you want to be precise)
Lemon twist (optional garnish)

Shake ingredients in a mixer with ice until cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Cocktail: Summer Cosmopolitan

A traditional cosmopolitan is a vodka drink with triple sec (specifically Cointreau), cranberry juice and lime. This fruity take ditches the triple sec for homemade bitter orange syrup and replaces vodka with the more botanical gin. I used Dry Fly gin, a small-batch gin distilled in Washington state. The resulting cocktail is a lovely mellow shade of pink.

Summer Cosmopolitan

1.5 oz. gin
1.5 oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. bitter orange syrup (recipe below)
1 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 lime, juiced

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and pour into martini glass.

Addendum: I realized after posting this that I neglected to explain how to make the bitter orange syrup. My apologies. Here it is:

Bitter Orange Syrup

1 orange
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

Remove orange peel with a vegetable peeler (eat the orange, you only need the peel). Add peel, water and sugar to a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until mixture simmers, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to steep for about 1/2 hour. Strain out the orange peel and store in refrigerator (should keep for a couple weeks).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Vesper Martini

  [James] Bond...looked carefully at the barman.
   'A dry martini,' he said. 'One. In a deep champagne goblet.'
   'Oui, monsieur.'
   'Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?'
   'Certainly, monsieur.' The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
   'Gosh, that's certainly a drink,' said [Felix] Leiter.
   Bond laughed. 'When I',' he explained, 'I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name.'
   He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip.
   'Excellent,' he said to the barman, 'but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.'

[Later, with a woman he'd just met]

   'I would love a glass of vodka,' she said simply, and went back to her study of the menu.
   'A small carafe of vodka, very cold,' ordered Bond. He said to her abruptly: 'I can't drink the health of your new frock without knowing your Christian name.'
   'Vesper,' she said. 'Vesper Lynd.'
   Bond gave her a look of inquiry.
   'It's rather a bore always having to explain, but I was born in the evening, on a very stormy evening according to my parents. Apparently they wanted to remember it.' She smiled. 'Some people like it, others don't. I'm just used to it.'
   'I think it's a fine name,' said Bond. An idea struck him. 'Can I borrow it?' He explained about the special martini he had invented and his search for a name for it. 'The Vesper,' he said. 'It sounds perfect and it's very appropriate to the violet hour when my cocktail will now be drunk all over the world. Can I have it?'
   'So long as I can try one first,' she promised. 'It sounds a drink to be proud of.'

- Excerpts from "Casino Royale" by Ian Fleming, published 1953.

In celebration of National Dry Martini Day today, I'm presenting one of the most iconic drinks of literature and film: The Vesper. It's not to be mistaken for the far simpler usual order of Mr. Bond, the vodka martini, shaken not stirred, although it has some similarities: it includes vodka, although more gin and, notably, it is also shaken.

Lillet Blanc and Cocchi Americano
Intriguingly, it's a drink that's actually impossible to make faithfully. As written, The Vesper is made with the French aperitif Kina Lillet. However, the Lillet company reformulated Kina Lillet in 1986 as Lillet Blanc, a less bitter, fruitier aperitif. Thus making a Vesper with Lillet Blanc will deny the drink it's original bitterness.

Instead of Lillet Blanc, there are many that stand by Italian aperitif Cocchi Americano as a better substitute, since it contains quinine, the bitter compound in tonic water that makes gin & tonic so distinctive. Tasting the two side-by-side, they are clearly very different: Lillet Blanc is tasty but unassuming like a fairly sweet wine wine. Cocchi Americano, on the other hand, has the distinctive bitterness of quinine, which the original drink with Kina Lillet would've had as well. It's up to you which to use, but I went with Cocchi Americano.

Another aspect of this drink that's up for debate is whether to shake it. Sure, it's classic that Bond shakes his martinis, but most cocktail pros suggest that's a no-no. Shaking is for drinks with ingredients that are hard to combine like syrups and fruit juices, but a drink like this that's just spirits should really be stirred. Leo Robitschek, beverage director for The NoMad, is certainly someone who knows what he's doing behind a bar. In this video, he suggests stirring The Vesper, and I'm not going to argue with him.

The Vesper Martini

2 oz. dry gin (I used Plymouth)
1 oz. vodka (I used the somewhat unusual choice of Dry Fly, an American grain vodka)
1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano aperitivo
Lemon twist

Combine gin, vodka and Cocchi Americano in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until combined and cold and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with the lemon twist. Drink while listening to a classic John Barry Bond score.

The Feed: June 19, 2013

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

Washington Post: “Spirits: Pimping Dad’s gin & tonic,” by M. Carrie Allan.
The Post welcomes a new Spirits columnist today, M. Carrie Allan, whose introductory column is all about my favorite cocktail: Gin & Tonic! Allan lovingly recounts her father’s infatuation with the drink—and his depression-era habit of making it with cheap ingredients (including limes “harvested during the Bush administration”). With advice from bartenders Adam Bernbach (Estadio) and Nicole Hassoun (The New Heights Gin Joint), Allan gathers ideas for “pimping” her dad’s G&T with better gins, homemade tonics and aromatic touches like herbs and citrus peel.

New York Times: “Making Pizza with Mario Batali and Sons,” by Julia Moskin
Introducing Recipe Lab, which this month focuses on teaching children to cook, Moskin writes about making pizza with Mario Batali and his sons Benno and Leo from a recipe from the sons’ new cookbook, The Batali Brothers Cookbook. The recipe calls for cooking the crust on the stove and finishing the pizza under a broiler to cook the toppings. No oven needed, which is a great idea for summer time when heating your oven as hot as possible to make pizza is so unappealing.

The Little Ferraro Kitchen: “Roasted Caprese with Basil Oil,” by Samantha Ferraro
Roasted tomatoes are amazing. Caprese salad is amazing. Put the two together and, well, I don’t want to say it’s amazing again, but it is. Such a fabulous idea. Blogger Samantha Ferraro, who writes The Little Ferraro Kitchen, describes this as her favorite dish. It’s inspired by the classic Capreses salad of fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, only this time the tomatoes are roasted along with some garlic cloves and mini bell peppers (not sure where one would find those, but I bet quartered bell peppers would substitute just fine). I think this would also be great as a panzanella, especially if you could grill the bread.

Associated Press: “Food companies work to make it look natural,” by Candice Choi.
Choi explores how food processors, alert to consumers’ growing interest in whole foods, are making their processed foods appear less processed through a variety of tricks. 

James Beard Foundation: “Recipe: Crespelle with Red Wine Strawberries and Ricotta,” by JBF Editors.
The James Beard folks share this summery recipe for Crespelle, which is basically an Italian crêpe, stuffed with wine-macerated strawberries and ricotta.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mayahuel Mezcal Cocktails

Epicurious named mezcal the spirit to watch in their article on 2013 food trends. I became enamored with the smoky Mexican liquor last year and used it in several drinks, including two from my Dallas-themed series (John Ross and Elena); Light My Fire, a spicy drink with Aperol; and the Smoky Ginger Cocktail, which paired mezcal with ginger liqueur.

These two mezcal cocktails are both adapted from recipes that come from Mayahuel, a Mexican cocktail lounge in New York's East Village that takes seriously the business of making cocktails from agave-based spirits, namely tequila and its lesser known (but apparently trendy) cousin mezcal. It takes its name from a goddess associated with the maguey plant, also known as the agave americana, from which mezcal is derived.

Both of these cocktails are pretty strong, especially Jacko's End, which is served up. I reduced the proportion of alcohol to non-alcohol ingredients in the Smoked Palomino just because I didn't want a drink with 4 oz. of booze (although sherry, as a fortified wine, does have a lower alcohol content). I used Del Maguey Vida mezcal for both of these drinks.

Jacko's End
From Jacko's End by Mayahuel

1 oz. mezcal
1 oz. apple brandy (I used Laird's Straight Apple Brandy)
1/2 oz. benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Stir ingredients together and serve in a martini or coupe glass (I shook the ingredients with ice to cool it off and dilute it a bit).

Smoked Palomino
Adapted from a recipe in the Washington Post adapted from Mayahuel

1 1/2 oz. amontillado sherry
1 1/2 oz. mezcal
3/4 oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup (see note)
2 oz. club soda

Fill a shaker halfway with ice. Add the sherry, mezcal, juices and simple syrup. Shake well, then strain into a collins or highball glass with ice. Top with the club soda.

Note: to make simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water and either microwave in a glass bowl or heat on the stove in small saucepan until boiling. Allow to cool.

Cocktail: Smoky Pear Mojito

I had some mint I wanted to use up and mojitos seemed like a logical means to that end. But I also had mezcal on the mind, so I decided to use that instead of rum, along with a dash of pear brandy for some fruit flavor.

Smoky Pear Mojito

8-10 mint leaves
1/2 oz. agave nectar
Juice from 1 lime
1 oz. mezcal
1/2 oz. pear brandy
Club soda

Add mint and agave nectar to glass and muddle. Add ice, lime juice, mezcal, pear brandy and club soda. Lightly shake by pouring into a shaker cup and then back into the glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Book Review: Craft Cocktails at Home by Kevin Liu

For anyone who wants to mix a cocktail, there are plenty of recipe books. For someone who wants to actually create a cocktail, there are few resources as informative as Kevin Liu's Craft Cocktails at Home.

The seemingly comprehensive work will appeal to the science-minded: if you want to get behind the "how" and "why" of mixology, this is a great place to start. Liu covers a broad range of subjects from the principles of flavor to enlisting unusual hardware for making cocktail ingredients. Take the cream whipper for example, which is ostensibly a single-purpose device for making whipped cream by infusing it with N2O. In Liu's hands, the device is suddenly much more useful, repurposed for creating a variety of foams and "extreme carbonation" (delightfully without the need for a soda siphon). I'd actually been looking for tips on using my own ISI Cream Whipper for such tasks, so this was perfect.

His discussion of balancing basic flavors (i.e. sweet, sour, salty and bitter) is a particularly useful way to approach creating cocktails. For example, It's helpful to know that limes are 1.5 times more sour than lemons, owing to their higher ratio of acid-to-sugar. Thus, if you want to add a sour note to a drink, a little lime juice will give you more bang for your buck than lemon (a trick I used in last week's Boozy Mint Lemonade). He also discusses how sour flavor may be created with acids besides just citrus, a discussion which segues nicely into an overview of shrubs, the vinegar-preserved fruit juices that have come back into vogue lately.

Liu definitely tests the bounds of "at home" with a few tricks, such as the DIY cold smoker, which sounds really cool, but is way beyond my means as an apartment-dweller (I'm of the mind to experiment with liquid hickory smoke in drinks, which I've had much success with in dishes). Nevertheless, for the truly adventurous, he explains such techniques with thoughtful instructions and illustrative photos.

Recipes are provided throughout the book for trying the presented techniques. Some are fairly complex but others are simple enough to be made with common kitchen items you probably already have, like the Teagroni, a riff on the classic Negroni made with oversteeped Earl Grey tea. Other recipes that have tempted me include the Simple Gin and Tonic, made with homemade tonic syrup inspired by bartender-extraordinaire Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the Smoked Apple-Cinnamon Old Fashioned (made with a smoldering cinnamon stick), and the Oliveto, a gin cocktail made with olive oil (specifically California Olive Ranch, one of my favorites).

So stuffed is this book with useful knowledge that I feel like I probably absorbed only a fraction of it during my cover-to-cover read. Although I generally buy my food-related lit in paper form, I'm tempted to also purchase the e-book version of this for easy searching and annotation.

What you won't find in this book: beautiful color photos of cocktails in stunning glassware with interesting garnishes. Instead, what you'll find is far more useful--the raw knowledge to up your mixology game that pays as close attention to modernist technique as it does to "classic" cocktails. If you like what Liu has to say, he has more content on his blog.

Tea Cocktails

Teagroni Cocktail

Oversteeped Earl Grey tea is what makes Kevin Liu's Teagroni (a riff on the classic Negroni, pictured above) special. The technique is simple enough: steep two tea bags in a small quantity of water for a long time. This steeps the tea and concentrates flavor as you let about half the water evaporate. Below is his recipe for a Negroni and my own creation with bourbon and lemon.

From Craft Cocktails at Home by Kevin Liu

1 oz. gin (he suggests Bombay Sapphire; I used Plymouth)
1 oz. sweet vermouth (he suggests Noilly Prat, I used Martini & Rossi)
1 oz. oversteeped tea (recipe below)
1 barspoon (1/8 oz.) Honey (1/8 ounce of honey is a little less than a teaspoon)
Heat the honey and tea extract in the microwave ahead of time to dissolve the honey. Stir all ingredients with ice. Garnish with orange twist or spritz of orange extract.

Bitter Boulevardier Cocktail

Bitter Boulevardier

A Boulevardier is a classic Negroni twist made with bourbon (or rye) instead of gin. Here, I also use the oversteeped tea and honey from the Teagroni. A Boulevardier is often served up but I did it on the rocks.

1 oz. oversteeped tea
1/8 oz. honey
1 oz. bourbon
1 oz. Aperol
1/2 oz. lemon
lemon twist

Heat the tea and honey ahead of time in the microwave to dissolve the honey, stir and allow to cool. Combine ingredients (except the twist) in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until cold and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with lemon twist.

Oversteeped Tea
From Craft Cocktails at Home by Kevin Liu

This recipe makes about 4 oz. of tea, which is enough to make four of the above cocktails. Liu says the technique works with any tea, including green tea, but suggests Earl Grey for the Teagroni, which is what I used for both of the above drinks.

2 filterbags of tea (or about 2 tsp. loose-leaf tea)
8 oz. water

Simmer the tea in the water until the liquid reduces by half, approximately 10 minutes. Make sure to squeeze the filter bags of their remaining goodness. Store in the refrigerator (Liu suggests it should keep for a long time due to the antioxidant properties of tea).

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Amaretto Sour

One of my favorite cocktails blogs is by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the bartender at Portland's Clyde Common who began a cocktail blog years ago before there were many such things. He has a particular knack for well made classic cocktails, as well as a healthy disdain for imposters (his takedown of a bad mint julep is classic).

This amaretto sour is inspired by Morgenthaler's recipe for "the best amaretto sour in the world," which I made while reading Craft Cocktails at Home (author Kevin Liu has a sidebar interview with Morgenthaler in which they discuss the drink, among other things). In the book, Morgenthaler says that Amaretto Sour is an easy drink; the trick is to use fresh ingredients (i.e. no sour mix). I made it without the egg white, since I didn't have any eggs at the time, and added maraschino liqueur, which Liu describes as having a slight smoky quality, which I thought would be interesting here. I also substituted lime juice for half the lemon juice to make it a little more sour.

Amaretto Sour

1 1/4 oz. amaretto
1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz. rye whiskey (Knob Creek)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. lime juice
1/4 oz. simple syrup
Lemon wheel (garnish)

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until cold and strain into an old fashioned glass with ice. Garnish with lemon wheel.

Summer Cocktails Week

Summer is here (well, technically just about), the time of year when refreshing cocktails taste best to cool down on a hot day and share with friends.

All this week my blog will have a cocktail focus. Tomorrow, I'll review the book Craft Cocktails at Home and share some drinks from and inspired by Kevin Liu's informative book. I'll share some of my favorite cocktail resources. I even have a cocktail-inspired dessert. Plus, there will be lots of recipes throughout the week for classic, contemporary and original drinks.

In addition to the new content starting tomorrow, here are 25 previously featured drinks to get you started featuring some of my favorite summer cocktail ingredients:

Gin. No drink says "summer" to me more than a Gin & Tonic (or the upscale Spanish version, Gin Tonic). Other summery gin drinks include The Cloister, which includes yellow chartreuse and citrus flavors; self-explanatory Boozy Mint Lemonade; Happy Endings inspired the Whore's Bath (my most popular drink); and the refreshing Spring Breeze with cucumber, mint and lemon. For D.C. locals, you shouldn't let summer go by without having a Rickey, the city's official cocktail. The Nice Rickey by former Washington Post spirits reporter Jason Wilson is one of my favorites. For something spicy, I love the ginger-peppercorn kick of Kickin' Cucumber Collins.

Aperol. Of the many Italian aperitifs that have been popular lately, Aperol is my favorite. It's most classic cocktail is the Spritz, made with prosecco and orange juice. For a summer barbecue, I recommend the smoky-spicy Light My Fire made with mezcal and jalapeño. For something evocative of a summer sunset, try the August Sunset made with gin, St. Germain and lemon. Or mix it with gin, dry vermouth and lemon in Everybody Loves a Gin Blossom.

Tequila and mezcal. Is there a spirit more closely associated (sadly, sometimes badly) with summer parties? Tequila and its smoky cousin mezcal shine during the warm season. Go simple and crowd-pleasing with a Classic Margarita (fresh ingredients really elevate a margarita above your low-brow cantina version). For an interesting twist, try a Ginger Margarita. For a marg with some kick, I suggest the Margarita on Fire with mezcal and habanero shrub. Tequila isn't just for margaritas either, and makes an interesting partner to scotch in the Tartan Mula and absinthe and ginger beer in The Silver Linings Playbook. For mezcal lovers, I recommend two of my Dallas Drinks: the tart and refreshing Elena and the spicy bourbon drink, The John Ross. There's also the Smoky Ginger Cocktail with ginger beer.

Mint. My favorite herb is perfect for cocktails with a cool, refreshing quality. Fresh berries flavor Blackberry Mint Fizz, while ginger and jalapeño give Spicy Ginger-Mint Fizz its kick. A classic Mint Julep is a great choices, or my fiery irreverent version inspired by the recent hit film, the Django Unchained. Or for something all-around refreshing, try the Spring in a Glass (made with gin and fennel liqueur).

Need more suggestions? Check out the cocktail index (which I just updated) with links to all my cocktail recipes organized by spirits, flavors and other themes.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Strawberry Shortcake with Lemon-Pepper Syrup

Strawberry Shortcake

Today, June 14, is National Strawberry Shortcake Day! And there's no better way to conclude a late spring dinner when strawberries are at their seasonal best. This particular recipe is by New York Times food writer Melissa Clark, whose accompanying article debated the merits of classic dessert as made with a biscuit or spongecake. Clark's layer cake recipe leans toward the latter and it's absolutely delicious. I love how the lemon-pepper syrup adds additional notes of sour and spice, giving this better depth of flavor than just being sweet.

Strawberry Shortcake with Lemon-Pepper Syrup
Adapted (only very slightly) from a recipe by Melissa Clark for The New York Times

2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
2 quarts strawberries (about 2 lbs.)
2 tbsp. plus 330 grams sugar (about 1 3/4 cups)
1 lemon, zested
155 grams all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg white
1/3 cup whole milk (warmed)
2 tsp. plus 1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
2 cups heavy whipping cream

Makes 1 9-inch cake, about 8 servings

1. Heat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter, line the bottom with parchment and grease the parchment.

2. Cut off the tops of the strawberries and thinly slice half of them, leaving remaining berries whole. Mix sliced strawberries with the 2 tbsp. of sugar and half the lemon zest. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip eggs and egg white on high speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Gradually pour in the 230 grams (1 1/4 cups) of granulated sugar and whip on high speed until the mixture is a pale yellow and has thickened enough to mound onto itself when beater is lifted, 1 to 3 minutes (note: in my experience, the mixture didn't really "mound," but after whipping it this long, it seemed fine once it was baked).

4. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold flour mixture into egg mixture. Fold in milk, 2 tsp. vanilla and 2 tbsp. melted butter until completely combined.

5. Gently pour batter into prepared pan and bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Invert cake onto a cooling rack and peel off parchment. Let cool completely.

6. While the cake bakes, heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water and pepper and whisk together. Simmer until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture reduces by half, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining lemon zest. (Note: don't do this step too far in advance as the mixture tends to easily recrystallize).

7. Whip heavy cream with 1 tsp. vanilla until soft peaks form. (Note: I considered making the whipped cream in my ISI cream whipper, but decided it might not have enough body to hold up the cake).

8. Using a serrated knife (like a bread knife), horizontally slice cake in half. Generously brush each cut side with lemon-pepper syrup. Transfer the bottom half to a cake plate, cut side up, and spoon sliced strawberries and any juices over it. Spread half the whipped cream over sliced strawberries and gently place the other cake half on top. Spread remaining whipped cream over top and sides of cake (or mound it all on the top). Position whole berries all over the top of the whipped cream.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Green" Salad

This ingredients in this salad have a unifying theme: their color. Everything in this salad is green, making it not just a green salad but a "green" salad.

"Green" Salad

3 cups loosely packed baby arugula
1 cucumber, peeled, quartered, seeded and sliced
2/3 cup green grapes, seedless, halved
1/2 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
Fresh mint, about 15-20 leaves, roughly torn
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. honey
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Combine arugula, cucumber, grapes, pistachios and mint in a large salad bowl. Whisk together oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine.

Boozy Mint Lemonade

I didn't actually serve this for my dinner party, but I think it would have gone nicely as a cocktail to have before the meal. For a simpler drink, you could just combine mint, gin and lemonade, but I added the other ingredients to augment certain flavors: lime for sour (limes are more sour than lemons), celery shrub for something bitter and yellow chartreuse to give the drink some additional herbal sweetness.

Boozy Mint Lemonade

10-12 mint leaves
1 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1 1/4 oz. gin
1/2 oz. yellow chartreuse
2 oz. fresh lemonade
1 dash Bittermens celery shrub
Lime wheel and mint sprig (garnish)

Muddle mint leaves in lime juice and simple syrup in the cup of a Boston shaker. Fill shaker with ice and add gin, yellow chartreuse, lemonade and celery shrub. Shake until cold. Strain into collins glass with ice. Garnish with lime wheel and mint sprig.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Feed: June 12, 2013

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

The Washington Post: “The Runcible Spoon: Washington’s little food zine with a big sense of humor,” by Becky Krystal.
After reading this profile in the Post, I’m looking forward to reading my first issue of The Runcible Spoon, an irreverent D.C.-based self-published food magazine. (I just ordered issue #10, which focuses on breakfast!) Looking at the pictures on the pub’s site, it looks like a sort of DIY version of Lucky Peach. Importantly, it looks like a lot of fun, bringing the whimsy back into the kitchen in an era where everyone is oh-so-serious about the pedigree of their heirloom, free-range this-and-that.

Food & Wine: “Dashi: The Ultimate Flavor Boost,” by Daniel Duane.
I’ve been rather taken lately with the idea of making dashi, the simple Japanese broth that’s loaded with umami. I already bought my bonita flakes and kombu, but haven’t yet taken the plunge—mostly because I’m not sure what to do with it besides make ramen. Duane’s piece is a nice overview of the seemingly magical liquid, including a fun description of how challenging it is to make the really good dashi (and why you’ll probably settle for the merely adequate dashi). Although I wish he'd have included some recipes (in the print version, he references one that appears later in the magazine from David Chang).

Berkeleyside: “Gin and tonic cake: A cocktail turned confection,” by Moriah VanVleet.
Ms. VanVleet may deserve an award for this: she’s taken my favorite cocktail and turned it into a dessert. What an amazingly awesome idea! I have to make this soon.

The Washington Post: “Herb dilemmas solved, by the bunch,” by Bonnie S. Benwick and various guest writers.
Here’s a very useful thing: an informative piece on ways to use the abundance of fresh herbs available this time of year, covering mint, chervil, chives and more. Perfectly “thymed” for the return of my neighborhood farmers market.

The Atlantic: “Pecan, Caramel, Crawfish: Food Dialect Maps,” by James Hamblin.
I find the study of the English language to be particularly fascinating, and dialect maps like this one by Hamblin are an engaging way to illustrate language differences within the United States. The map shows how various regions pronounce common food words differently, and it’s fun to see whether the way you say it fits where you live or perhaps where you’re from. (Grocery, for example—is it “grow-shir-ee” or “grow-sir-ee”?) Since my husband and I are from different parts of the country, I enjoy compare how we say things (mostly similar, but there are some fun exceptions).

The Wall Street Journal: “Return of the Cocktail Culture,” by Steve Dollar.
To mark the release of documentary filmmaker Douglas Tirola’s Hey Bartender, a work that celebrates the modern bartending renaissance, Dollar presents this thoughtful timeline of the “rise, fall and return” of the cocktail.

Slate: “Food Explainer: Why Does Microwaving Water Result in Such Lousy Tea?,” by Nadia Arumugam.
I once listened very skeptically while a coworker told me that tea made from microwaved water didn’t taste good because the microwave somehow “changed” the water in a bad way. I thought it was a bunch of bologna; however, turns out she may have been on to something, although not for the reason she was relaying. It’s more about temperature, as explained by Arumugam’s article.

The New York Times: “Tip 15, 20 or 25 Percent? Here, They Strongly Suggest Zero,” by Patrick McGeehan.
If trying to figure what percent tip to leave stresses you out (what’s appropriate? what’s standard? what was the service worth?), Manhattan’s Sushi Yasuda is the place for you. The service charge is already included in the bill, and tipping is not just not encouraged, it’s not allowed.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Beet Gnocchi with Walnut-Sage Butter

Beet Gnocchi with Walnut-Sage Butter

Gnocchi are traditionally made with starchy potatoes, but other vegetables, often in combination with potatoes, can be used too, to give the pillowy Italian dumplings different color and flavor. Mark Bittman's "Gnocchi of a Different Color" piece from the New York Times in February illustrated the concept well, starting with a base recipe that moves on to offer a variety of color/flavor options (beet, spinach or carrot) and sauces. Rather than use one of his sauces, I went with the walnut-sage butter from the April 2013 Food & Wine.

Shredded striped beets

This dish was delicious, but didn't quite go as I'd planned. First, I was expecting to make boldly purple gnocchi, but instead ended up with the nutty brown ones pictures above. Not unappealing at all, but I think the reason for this was: 1) without knowing it, I bought striped beets instead of the purple ones. I thought the resulting product might actually be sort of pink, but then there's: 2) I think I sautéed the shredded beets at too high a temperature and they browned a bit in the pan. If color is really important to you, be sure to carefully select the beets you use and cook them at a lower temperature. Alternatively, you could roast them along with the potatoes and then puree them in the food processor. Regardless of the lack of visual, the gnocchi did have a nice beet flavor.

Gnocchi ropes

The other issue I had was structural: some of the gnocchi lost their shape while boiling. Mark Bittman's recipe suggested test-boiling a little piece of the dough and, if it doesn't hold together, adding more flour. I should have trusted Mr. Bittman, but I neglected to do this.

Shaped beet gnocchi

Flour is the tricky element of gnocchi: add too much and they can become dense; add too little and you get soggy gnocchi. In the end, to give yourself more leeway, I think it's helpful to add an egg to act as a binding agent. Although some suggest this can also make the gnocchi heavy, when I've made it before with egg (here and here), I thought the results were perfect. To address the problem in this dish, I sautéed the cooked gnocchi in butter, which firms their exterior a bit.

Walnut-sage butter

Beet Gnocchi with Walnut-Sage Butter
Adapted from recipes by Food & Wine and New York Times

Serves 4

1 lb. starchy potatoes (such as russet)
1/2 lb. beets, scrubbed and peeled (any color)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
4-6 tbsp. unsalted butter and/or extra-virgin olive oil
16 or so fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Grated parmigiano-reggiano, served at table

1. Heat the oven to 400 F. Bake potatoes until tender, about an hour. Cut the potatoes in half to release steam. When cooled enough to handle, press potatoes through a potato ricer (when using a potato ricer, it's not necessary to peel the potatoes - place the potatoes cut-side down in the ricer and, after squeezing, the peel stays in the device).

2. While the potatoes bake, peel and grate the beets (I shredded them in a food processor). Put the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, add the beets, season to taste, and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft, 25 to 35 minutes (note: watch the beets carefully if you don't want them to brown, which will affect the color of the finished gnocchi). Transfer beets to a food processor and purée until smooth.

3. Combine potatoes and beets in a large bowl. Transfer to a clean counter surface (I use a pastry mat). Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of flour and knead the flour into the dough, sprinkling in the remaining 1/2 cup of flour until the dough just comes together. (Note: the original recipe recommends pinching off a piece of flour and boiling it to test whether the dough holds together and, if it doesn't, says to add more flour. I should have done this, given that I had trouble with some of the gnocchi not holding their shape, although I did significantly more flour in forming the gnocchi anyway.)

4. Divide the dough into smaller pieces and roll into ropes about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the ropes into 1/2-inch pieces. (Note: if desired, score each piece the times of the a fork. This gives gnocchi their traditional ribbed look, but it is not necessary). Transfer formed gnocchi to a baking sheet lined with parchment.

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the gnocchi to the boiling water a few at a time, gently stir and cook until the gnocchi rise to the surface (it doesn't take long). Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon or mesh strainer.

6. In a small frying pan, toast the chopped walnuts over medium-low heat, tossing frequently, until lightly browned and fragrant.

7. In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. of butter over medium heat (you may substitute olive oil or a mix of both). Add sage, and cook for about 20-30 seconds. Add cooked gnocchi and sauté until the gnocchi lightly brown, about 2 minutes (stir to brown evenly). If frying gnocchi in batches, add additional butter and/or olive oil to the skillet. Stir in the walnuts and lemon juice, season as desired with salt and pepper and add back any gnocchi previously cooked in an earlier batch, stirring gently to combine all the ingredients. Serve in bowls with grated parmesan for topping.