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Tuesday, July 9, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Trader Vic's Mai Tai

I was tearing through Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series when I first visited the Bay Area. The fantastic story of a group of friends loose in 1970s San Francisco evokes a sexy, thrilling era that must have seemed like a dream even while living it—and the great city certainly came alive for me during my trip as I ventured through its vibrant neighborhoods on the lookout for each beloved character I was reading about.

One of the tales concerns stodgy businessman Edgar Halcyon and the difficult relationship with his wife, Frannie—and her penchant for Mai Tais. Early on, Edgar confronts Frannie at eleven-fifteen in the morning. “She was perched on the sofa on the sun porch. Her legs were curled up under her Thai silk muumuu. Her wig was askew. She smelled of rum and Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Mix.”

Poor old Frannie, resigned to swilling some godawful mix. Surely we can do better than that! Here’s a recipe for the real deal that was originally invented at Trader Vic’s in 1944.

Trader Vic’s Mai Tai
Adapted from
Serves 1

1 cup crushed ice
1 lime
2 oz. Jamaican rum
½ oz. orgeat (almond syrup)
½ oz. orange curaçao liqueur
¼ oz. simple syrup
1 cup ice
1 sprig fresh mint

Fill a rocks glass with 1 cup crushed ice. Set aside in the freezer.
Cut lime in half. Juice both halves into a cocktail shaker. Set one rind aside for serving; discard the other.
Add rum, orgeat, curaçao, and simple syrup to the cocktail shaker. Add 1 cup ice, cover, and shake until chilled.
Place the reserved lime rind into the chilled rocks glass. Strain Mai Tai in a glass and float the mint sprig on the edge.

But why stop there? Serve the following delicious Polynesian deee-lites along with Mai Tais at your next cocktail party!

Chinese Spareribs from Tyler Florence. While the ribs cook, the aromas fill the kitchen and beyond, all gently spicy and warm like Christmas.

Chinese Roast Pork Probably my favorite of these three recipes—it’s actually red food coloring that turns the meat pink!

Coconut Shrimp Try frying with Panko bread crumbs added into the mix.

Do enjoy. Thanks to for the Mai Tai photo!

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Roasted Leg of Lamb

I was having a bar conversation with an old school pal when grappa (a grape-based pomace brandy) came up, or rather a memory of us drinking it one night in Manhattan. He said fondly, “Ah yes, our My House in Umbria days.” He was referring to our obsession over the HBO movie starring Maggie Smith, in which her character (the unreliable narrator Mrs. Delahunty) drinks tons of grappa and continually forces it upon her guests, with dubious results. 

But they do eat too, in the movie as well as in the stirring novella of the same name by the brilliant William Trevor. To wit: 

“Rosa Crevelli brought us lasagna, and lamb with rosemary, and the Vino Nobile of Montepulciano, and peaches. A stranger would have been surprised to see us...the walking wounded at table.”

Usually when I think of lamb, Easter comes to mind...but how about serving a roasted leg of lamb to your guests on a sultry summer evening, dreaming of an Italian garden surrounded by olive trees and rosemary bushes? Grappa optional. 

Roast Leg of Lamb 
Adapted from
Serves Six

4 1⁄2 lbs leg of lamb
2 garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon oil
fresh ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
With a small, sharp knife cut slits all over the lamb (top and bottom).
Insert the slivers of garlic, and the rosemary sprigs.
Brush the lamb with the oil and season with salt and pepper.
Place on a wire rack in a baking tin and pour in 3/4 cup of water.
Roast for about 2 hours basting often with the pan juices.
Remove from oven and cover loosely with foil.
Allow to rest for about 15 minutes before carving.

Enjoy with roasted vegetables, peas...and of course, mint jelly! 


Tuesday, June 25, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Coffee and Fudge Ice Cream Cake

Happy Gay Pride!

Barbra and I have become rather close over the last few months. At least it’s felt that way as I’ve been listening to her intimate 966-page autobiography My Name is Barbra on Audible. The legend herself reads to me while I’m folding my laundry. She speaks very slowly, so I recommend adjusting your settings to 1.2x speed (like mid-90s Touring Barbra, but don’t rev it up any furtherat 1.3x, you get Woody Allen). 

If you are a Barbra fan (I certainly am, the lady and her music have scored many of my memories), the Audible version with musical clips and ad libs is the way to go: it’s like sitting next to her during an episode of Coffee Talk with Linda Richman as she tells you frankly about her career and love lifeas well as what she wore and perhaps most importantly, what she ate. Now speaking of coffee... 

Let Barbra tell you about it herself, from My Name is Barbra:

“There’s nothing like a big, fresh scoop of McConnell’s Brazilian Coffee packed into a crisp cone and handed to you at their store in Santa Barbara. Maybe it’s the intensity of the flavor, made with real coffee beans, the smooth, rich texture…”

Music to my ears. 

In honor of Barbra and coffee ice cream (my personal favorite), I am including this outrageous recipe for Coffee and Fudge Ice Cream Cake with the suggestion that you try making it with McConnell’s ice cream! You can use fudge sauce from a jar, of course, for time’s sake or convenience. The rest is more a matter of assembly than the baking and precision required of other cakes. 

And scroll down for BONUS MATERIALBarbra’s homemade coffee ice cream. It’s like...buttah! 


Coffee and Fudge Ice Cream Cake
Adapted from
Serves 10 

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) salted buttah
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pint chocolate ice cream
1 pint coffee chip ice cream
1 pint vanilla ice cream
18-20 sheets graham crackers
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1. To make the fudge sauce: Combine the cocoa powder, cream, honey, sugar, and buttah in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes, or until the buttah and chocolate are melted and the sauce is smooth. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Let cool for 10 minutes.
2. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
3. Press the chocolate ice cream into the bottom of the pan, top with a layer of graham crackers, then about 1/3 cup of fudge sauce. Freeze 15 to 30 minutes. Remove from the freezer, add the coffee ice cream, another layer of graham crackers, and then 1/3 cup fudge sauce. Freeze 15 to 30 minutes. Remove from the freezer, add the vanilla ice cream, and then the final layer of graham crackers. Cover and freeze for 6 hours or overnight.
4. Keep the remaining fudge sauce in the fridge.
5. When ready to serve, warm the fudge sauce for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen, then invert the cake onto a platter and remove the paper. Pour the fudge sauce over cake and freeze 5 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, whip the cream and sugar with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Dollop the cream over the cake. If desired dust with cocoa powder. Slice and serve immediately.

This recipe is excerpted from Roberta Ashley’s 1967 cookbook Singers & Swingers in the Kitchen-The Scene Makers Cook Book.

Barbra Streisand’s Homemade Ice Cream Recipe
for the ice cream
1 cup whole milk
24 marshmallows
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 cup heavy cream

Turn your refrigerator to the coldest point. Pour milk into a saucepan, heat, and gradually add the marshmallows. Mix until the mixture is smooth; add the instant coffee. Let it cool a bit. Whip the cream until stiff.; mix cream and marshmallow mix together and pour into an empty ice tray. Freeze.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Blueberry Cobbler


Happy Juneteenth! As I was plotting out a small tribute here to Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, NYT Cooking sent out an email for a Blueberry Cobbler recipe. I remembered the scene from Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, where sweet, tragic Pecola Breedlove encounters a cobbler bubbling with “blackish blueberries” and suddenly I had an idea for this post.

“On the counter near the stove in a silvery pan was a deep-dish berry cobbler. The purple juice bursting here and there through crust.”

I was completely bowled over by Morrison when I discovered Beloved  in 1992. Something always seems to be simmering stovetop in her novels—and certainly in her vivid, extraordinary prose. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy this summery cobbler!

Chez Panisse’s Blueberry Cobbler
Recipe from Lindsey Remolif Shere 
Adapted by Molly O'Neill

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

4½ cups fresh blueberries
⅓ cup sugar
1tablespoon all-purpose flour

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ tablespoons sugar
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
¾ cup heavy cream, plus additional for serving, if desired

Step 1
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. To prepare the berries, place in a bowl and toss with the sugar and flour. Set aside.
Step 2
To make the dough, mix the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and mix lightly, just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
Step 3
Put the blueberries in a 1½-quart gratin or baking dish. Make patties out of the dough, 2 to 2½ inches in diameter and ½-inch thick. Arrange them over the top of the berries. Bake until the topping is brown and the juices bubble thickly around it, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Step 4
Let cool slightly. Serve warm, with cream to pour on top, if desired.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Salmon Mousse

The Sinclairs in E. Lockhart’s remarkable young-adult novel We Were Liars are good at two things: lying (as you might have guessed) and partying at the Sinclair family manse, christened Clairmont. Without giving away too much of this beautiful, harrowing story, below is a peek into how the Sinclairs get the party started with a recipe for salmon mousse. You’ll love We Were Liars and this mousse—honest.

“Clairmont cocktail hour...began...when people wandered up the hill to the big house. The cook was fixing supper and had set out salmon mousse with little floury crackers.”

I have long relied on The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins for many dishes and once again it provided a great (and fairly simple) recipe, this time for a salmon mousse. I pulled out an antique copper, tin-lined mold fashioned into the shape of a salmon I’d found on eBay and set to work.

Behold the mold! I plated my mousse with slightly salty orbs of salmon mousse roe, mache rosettes for the greenery, and half-moons of Kirby cucumber slices around the periphery of the mold (you could use these for scales as well). A pimiento-stuffed olive slice served as the observant eye.

As the recipe suggests, refrigerate the mousse for at least four hours. If you use a decorative mold, as I did, invert it afterward onto your serving plate and let it rest at room temperature, about 15 minutes. When you see it start to ease out of the mold all by itself, carefully lift the mold off and adorn as you will. Serve with toasty bagels for a late breakfast or perhaps as a starter course for dinner. When serving at a cocktail party, try some kettle crisps for dipping—and party on!

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

BOOK/A TABLE - Vodka Blush

Usually the hubs and I wait until Halloween to watch Rosemary’s Baby, along with Ghost Story and Die! Die! My Darling! (starring Tallulah Bankhead) as well as the original versions of 80s horror classics, and of course, Halloween.

Sometimes we can’t wait that long. We tuned into Rosemary’s Baby the other night and I realized I had forgotten all about the Vodka Blush that Roman Castevet serves to Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse. The cocktail is in the book too, but seeing the vaguely crimson concoction on the big screen, one has to wonder what gives it that oddly suspicious, faintly ominous hue...? 

“Mr. Castevet came in, holding in both hands a small tray on which four cocktail glasses ran over with clear pink liquid. ‘Mr. Woodhouse? A Vodka Blush. Have you ever tasted one?’”

And although the once popular drink fell out of favor back in the 70s, surely it’s time to reconsider the Vodka Blush, a delightful refresher anytime. Call it a predecessor to the Cosmo, if you will! 

Satanic ritual garnish not required. 

Vodka Blush
Adapted from ForkYourConsideration

2.5 ounces of your preferred vodka
3/4 ounce Fresh Squeezed Lime
A dash of Grenadine for taste and color

Mix in a cocktail shaker with ice.
Pour into a drinking vessel of your liking, or add a straw and sip straight from the shaker.

And go ahead, stick in a sprig of rosemary should the spirit of cocktailing compel you!

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Mad Libs Cake

I knew you were ­_____, so I baked a _____.

A friend was coming over sort of last minute, so I thought I might make a cake. Thinking of the half-gallon of orange juice just sitting in my refrigerator, I took to the internet. I found this Orange Cake, but besides the orange juice, I didn’t quite have all the other ingredients the recipe required.

Kind of like a game of Mad Libs, I filled in the blanks with suitable substitutions I had on hand. I ended up using a box of Dolly Parton’s Banana Cake, vanilla pudding mix, and Fiori di Sicilia flavoring (a combination of citrus and vanilla) from King Arthur to step in for lemon extract.

What do you know? I baked a pretty tasty Mad Libs Cake!

Here’s the original recipeplay with it as you will.

Orange Cake
Adapted from

1 (15.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3 ounce) package instant lemon pudding mix
¾ cup orange juice
½ cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract

2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease a 10-inch Bundt pan.
Make the cake: Stir cake mix and pudding mix together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in orange juice, oil, eggs, and lemon extract. Beat on low speed with an electric mixer until blended. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium speed for 4 minutes. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely, about 20 more minutes.
When the cake has cooled, make the glaze: Cook sugar, orange juice, and butter in a saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes.
Transfer cake to a serving platter and drizzle glaze over top.