Food for pleasure, and not just nourishment, is best cooked in one's own kitchen and eaten with the feet under one's own table.
-Nicolas Freeling (The Kitchen Book)
While the meal I'm about to share was not prepared in my own kitchen, I think it's safe to say that Mr. Freeling would nevertheless have approved of how I spent last Saturday night. The Greek and I, you see, were invited to a friend's for dinner. But keep in mind that it wasn't just dinner; it was an evening of communal cooking. Blossom Dearie played in the background, while we chatted and munched on olives and bread slathered with Tzatziki, which the Greek had made in advance... In my oh so humble opinion, this is pretty much one of the best ways to spend a Saturday (or really, any) evening.
We all had a role to play. In one corner of the kitchen, the Greek and the hostess were chopping vegetables for a delicious Chicken Couscous recipe from Dorie Greenspan's beautiful new book. Turnips, chicken, zucchini, onions, saffron and harissa...believe me when I say that it tasted every bit as good as it looks! Everybody should find time to cook (or bake) with Dorie. Looking at the cookbook, I wanted to jump into it, buy the lifestyle and never look back. Clearly, I am capitalism's dream child.
Meanwhile, in the other corner of the kitchen, I was mixing up creme fraiche, cream cheese and goat cheese to reproduce a velvety cheesecake (yes, the recipe description had me at velvety) that was featured in one of Melissa Clark's recent columns. Best of all was that, rather than spend $6+ on overpriced creme fraiche, I decided to take matters into my own hands and "make" my own. Amazingly, it's really quite simple: 2 cups heavy cream + 1/4 cup buttermilk left sitting by a window or in a hot spot for 24 hours and, suddenly, the taste of the French countryside is yours...Well, kind of yours. I'm not convinced that the mild California summer can produce the same results as summer in Provence, but it tasted both good and authentic to me.
And it created quite the cheesecake as well. Granted, I was a bit disappointed that the cheesecake cracked (and so dramatically; we couldn't quite decide if it was a star--my secret hope--or, as the hostess suggested, a turtle...?), but I feel that, despite all the eggs it required, it was ultimately a very delicate recipe. There's a part of me that thinks that maybe the creme fraiche should have been thicker, or perhaps I should have monitored the oven temperature more closely, but, regardless of all these factors, it still tasted pretty darn good. Good enough to want to make it again, although I think that refrigerating the cheesecake before eating it vastly improves the texture.
Last but not least, there was a cocktail! Before I describe said cocktail, I would just like to say that I'm deeply ashamed as, according to my New Year's resolutions for the blog, I was supposed to do a weekly/bi-weekly post on fun things to drink. Things started off right with the Hot Nun
and there were also a few other goodies along the way, but, somehow, this resolution fell to the wayside. It's fair to blame the dissertation and the need for clear thinking, although, on the other hand, one might think that a dissertation would be a reason to keep the cocktails coming. In any case, I have rediscovered both my New Year's resolutions and writing schedule in these past weeks, which means only good things for you. The night of cooking seemed the perfect thing to celebrate with a cocktail.
I should also mention that I had spent the morning of this lovely day talking to my good friend and fellow blogger in Maine, which made me think of blueberries. Back when I visited Portland a few years ago, there had been talk of an island cruise to a place where they make Blueberry Martinis (we didn't make it to the blueberries, although we did manage to go on lovely cruise)...and then, a few weeks ago in the NYTimes, an article about traveling to Maine and blueberry beer. Blueberries, one of my favorite fruits, was very much on my mind.
And armed with some stored knowledge from a GOOP newsletter, I suggested Blueberry Jam Gin cocktails...Clearly, these adorable matryoshka glasses--in mama bear, papa bear and baby bear sizes--were not only thematically appropriate, but photographically fun.
Maybe it's cheesy to say that we toasted "за дружбу" (to friendship), but that's exactly what we did. Say what you will, but cheese tastes good. And it's a healthy part of any diet.
Blueberry Jam Gin Cocktail
Makes one sweet and tangy cocktail
From GOOP, courtesy of Madam Geneva NYC
2 oz Beefeater Gin
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup (I used an orange sugar syrup--a birthday gift from a friend--that was left over from one of her many delicious chocolate-covered orange peel undertakings)
Spoonful of blueberry jam
-In a shaker, add jam, gin, lemon juice, simple (orange) syrup and several ice cubes.
-Shake briskly, and strain into a rocks glass half-filled with crushed ice.
-Float a spoonful of jam on top of the ice, and gradually stir it in to taste.