fresh whiskey sours

i do believe we are heading toward longer days. we’ve gotten over the darkest nights of winter and are heading closer now to evenings still graced with that last little bit of daylight. happy hours, indeed.


whiskey sours are perhaps not the most refined of cocktail hour drinks, but they do the trick. ream a few lemon and lime halves and stir the fresh juice around with some sugar syrup and caramel-colored whiskey, and you’ve got yourself something refreshing and sweet and strong, with smoky vanilla undertones. all-around delicious – even if you don’t happen to be a whiskey kind of girl (which i’m not, it turns out).

have one to smooth out the rough ends of the day, or share a pitcherful around a table of friends before hitting the town – the night’ll be a good one.


Fresh Whiskey Sours
adapted from Barefoot Contessa
Makes 4 cocktails

½ cup sugar
½ cup water
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 Meyer lemons, more if you are using regular lemons)
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 5 limes)
ice cubes
about 1 cup whiskey (I used Maker’s Mark bourbon)

  1. Make simple syrup: bring sugar and water to a boil, and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow to cool before using.
  2. Make sour mix: combine the lemon juice, lime juice, and 2/3 cup simple syrup.
  3. Fill each glass halfway with ice. Pour in about 2 parts whiskey and 3 parts sour mix (or to taste). Swirl and drink.
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herb-roasted onions

i like onions. i didn’t always; in fact, when i was a kid, i’d gingerly pick them out of everything from sandwiches to my mom’s fried rice. but now i love them in all sorts of ways: caramelized and strewn over pizza, sliced thin and added to salads or stacked in burgers, pickled and tossed in with potato salad.

here, the onions are the star of the show. they are cut into thick wedges and coated in a lemony garlic and thyme dressing and then sent off to the oven for the kind of roasting that produces browned edges and a house that smells surely of dinnertime. they are the ideal side dish for a fall meal of chicken and potatoes and something warm to drink.

yeah, fall. i was pretty sure i didn’t want it to come – not quite yet. but yesterday, the sky clouded over and autumn seemed to come down all at once. the windows let in pale gray light all day and the air outside is cool and still. and, surprising myself even, i have been loving it.

already, i’ve spent an afternoon sitting in a warm, quiet café with a friend, carving into a cup of peppermint ice cream and half-reading a book. today, i pulled on my softest sweatshirt and indulged in a chick flick or two. and walking out into the backyard in the near-middle of the night to find the lightest of mists falling – i couldn’t help but smile.

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Herb-Roasted Onions
adapted (barely) from a recipe by Ina Garten
Serves 3 to 4

2 red onions
1 yellow onion
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup good olive oil
handful or two of cherry tomatoes, halved

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Remove the stem end of each onion and carefully slice off the brown part of the root end, leaving the root intact. Peel the onion. Stand each onion root end up on a cutting board and cut the onion in wedges through the root. Place the wedges in a bowl.
  3. For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the onions and toss well.
  4. With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a sheet pan, reserving the vinaigrette that remains in the bowl. Bake the onions for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender and browned. Using tongs, flip the onion wedges over once during cooking. Remove from the oven, and drizzle with the reserved dressing. Toss with tomatoes, and serve warm or at room temperature.

late summer squeeze

i returned from a quick weekend out of town to find that the weather at home had changed. for weeks it seems, the air conditioning in our house would get flipped on scarce moments after i woke up because the rooms quickly became too hot to bear. but now the windows are open all day long because the breeze is a fresh rush of air instead of the hot breath it used to be; it carries the faintest whisper of the cool fall days to come.


like a kid, i take these hottest months as a time to go outside and play. even if you have somewhere to be soon, something to do next, the sun shines and the days stretch such that you can trick yourself into believing you’ve got all the time in the world – for a few crucial moments at least. so you dangle your feet in the pool, drink everything on ice, sit in the shade and daydream awhile. seeing as it’s september already, though, i suppose our thoughts should turn towards more serious pursuits: brisk walks and wearing sensible clothing and not having dessert in the middle of the afternoon. but the weatherman says the city is set to warm right back up again, so before autumn arrives for certain and it’s time to come inside, i am setting off for the store in search of some popsicle molds so i can make these:

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blueberry and lavender pops

{photo from the los angeles times}

or these:

creamy pistachio pops
(made of sweet milk scented with earl grey and cardamom)

{photo from food network}

or maybe both. there’s a lot of summer to squeeze in before the seasons change.

 

mustard-roasted fish

this recipe is a triple threat: easy, fast, and good. and on these late summer days, that is exactly what i want: less time in the kitchen, more time to be out in the backyard lingering and lunching under the patio table umbrella, for as long as the shade will stay.

the hardest thing about preparing this dish is chopping the shallots. everything else gets spooned out and stirred together and poured over slender fillets of fresh white fish.

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slide the pan into the oven, check your watch every ten minutes or so, and pretty soon you have something elegant and effortless: tender fish, cloaked in a creamy sauce, browned just around the edges of the pan, little kicks of salt in the capers, and just simply delicious.


Mustard-Roasted Fish
recipe by Ina Garten
Serves 4 to 6

4 (8-ounce) fish fillets such as red snapper {I used mahi-mahi the first time – though I had the best results with a type of fish called swai, which was not only inexpensive but also had a faintly sweet taste that i liked}
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces crème fraîche
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons drained capers

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. (You can also use an ovenproof baking dish.) Place the fish fillets skin side down on the sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Combine the crème fraîche, 2 mustards, shallots, capers, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Spoon the sauce evenly over the fish fillets, making sure the fish is completely covered. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until it’s barely done. (The fish will flake easily at the thickest part when it’s done.) Be sure not to overcook it! Serve hot or at room temperature with the sauce from the pan spooned over the top.

cheddar-dill scones

my little grocery basket yesterday evening grew heavy with an unprecedented number of dairy products: neapolitan ice cream to combat this summer heat, a can of condensed milk for my morning tea, a pack of string cheese for my inner child, and a half-pint of cream and some cheddar cheese for these scones.

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i saw ina garten make them on her show barefoot contessa, and – along with that house in the hamptons of hers – they just seemed beautiful. delicate, fresh dill flecked through dough that had pockets of melted cheese, they would be a perfect counterpart to something light and simple, like a bowl of sweet tomato soup. to be eaten perhaps at a weathered picnic table on a breezy day. maybe atop a grassy hill, with a view of the sea – gray and calm.

one can dream.

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Cheddar-Dill Scones
a hybrid of two recipes: one by Ina Garten and another (originally for lemon-glazed blueberry scones) by Tyler Florence
Makes 16 scones

4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt {I would reduce this just a smidge next time – maybe to 1 ½ tsp.}
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 pound extra-sharp yellow Cheddar, small-diced
1 cup minced fresh dill {2 1-ounce packs}
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk, for egg wash

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
  2. Combine 4 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Using a pastry blender or two knives in a criss-crossing motion, cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Mix the eggs and heavy cream and quickly add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Use a fork to lightly combine, until just blended. Toss together the Cheddar, dill, and 1 tablespoon of flour and add them to the dough. Mix until they are mostly incorporated; some flour will be visible. Take care not to overmix.
  3. Using a standard (6-ounce) ice cream scoop, scoop dough onto prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops of each mound with egg wash. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outside is crusty and the inside is fully baked.

lemon-mint cake

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who else is really excited about daylight saving time?  long ago, in another life it seems, this time of the year meant that, no matter how dark the work day left my soul (we’re being dramatic today), i could step out of the office and into the evening to find there was still light in the sky – still hope in life.  …or if not hope, then at least possibility. the day wasn’t over yet; the world had saved one last little slice of it for me.

these days… with my new job… (not gonna complain not gonna complain not gonna complain…) well, let’s just say i have better chances of getting a good slice of cake.


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i’ve never made one quite like this before. i saw giada de laurentiis make it on one of her shows on the food network, and when her fork sunk into it like it was a marshmallow, i was sold.

the texture is some sort of (lovely) hybrid between an angel food cake’s light-as-air fluff and a classic butter cake’s moist, tightly-packed crumb – it slices beautifully.  what’s more is the top crust of the cake after it’s all baked up: like a thin lid of meringue, it cracks and splits apart in shards to reveal the cottony plush underneath.


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the lemon flavor is just the right amount of brightness here, and the mint is subtle. the original recipe includes a simple syrup flavored with lemon (to which i added more mint) that you can drizzle around too, but it’s more for looks than anything else, if you ask me. as it is, the cake is an elegant study of sweet and tart, soft and crisp.

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this is the kind of thing you’d set out as dessert for one of those effortlessly graceful alfresco lunches, underneath some great big tree, dappled sunlight all over the place.

…or you could sneak a slice of it from the kitchen, at midnight, in your pajamas, when you are up late dreaming of brighter days.

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Lemon-Mint Cake
adapted (barely) from this recipe by Giada De Laurentiis

Butter, for greasing
Flour, for dusting
3 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, divided
¼ cup vegetable oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
fresh mint leaves, chopped to equal about 2 Tbsp.
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 cup all-purpose flour
lemon-mint syrup, optional (recipe follows)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.
  2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Add ½ cup sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
  3. In a separate large bowl, beat the vegetable oil, the remaining ½ cup sugar, and salt. Add the egg yolks 1 at a time. Add the chopped mint, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Set aside.
  4. Slowly add ½ of the egg white mixture into the oil mixture. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold in the remaining egg white mixture. Spread the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a cutting board and allow to cool before slicing.

{Lemon-Mint Syrup}
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
fresh mint leaves, chopped to equal about 2 Tbsp.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, and lemon zest over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool, about 20 minutes. Stir in chopped mint.

To serve: Spoon some of the syrup onto each small plate or shallow bowl and lay a slice of cake on top. Drizzle the cake with additional syrup and garnish with a small sprig of mint.