Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Tony Blair: a pink drink

How do you reckon the accomplishments in your life? It is really difficult. Some people will do this as part of an annual heshbon nefesh, the accounting of the soul, that is done as during the Yamim Noraim (Jewish High Holidays). But for most people who do it, the accounting is more of an individual version of collective self criticism.

Sometimes I try and think of what my accomplishments are and usually come up with two. The first was having Columbia's Contemporary Civilization Course switch the assigned edition of Augustine's City of God. Until the mid 1980s they had been using the translation by Doubleday, which was Catholic and very abridged. I argued for the Penguin, which was complete and included all the naughty bits which the Catholic printing eliminated and which I maintained were essential to understand the connection between sin, lust and political power. (They also make for a more fun read. Undergraduates don't mind being assigned more reading if it is sufficiently salacious.) My other great accomplishment was a Moroccan meal I prepared at Susan Paris' house in Brookline on New Year's Eve 1989-90. We had 6 salads, bisteeya, a  fish with charmoula, chicken with preserved lemons and olives, and a sweet lamb tagine. 

I think that I now have another accomplishment to be proud of: spreading the appreciation of Campari among the students of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. If the increased demand for Campari leads a local store to carry it, I will be prouder still. 

To explain: I originally posted this in June when I was experimenting with cocktails for our summer vacation and called it Gin-or-gin, because it was made with gin, a bitter orange aperitif, and ginger beer.  Gin-orange-ginger -> Gin-or-gin.  Lame, I admit but the drink itself proved particularly popular with my son Harry's friends who came to visit, especially Steve Smith, who has turned out to be this particular cocktail's biggest fan. Harry made it at a party to mark block break (don't ask) at Cornell. Although it is impossible to obtain Campari in Mount Vernon IA, an enthusiastic mixologist in the student body apparently had a bottle of his own. The drink was a hit, which has helped to elevate the level of sophistication of the Cornell student body. The increase in demand may even entice local stores to stock it.  But, if you go to visit, I would bring along a bottle just in case.

Though they all loved the drink, they thought the name was "meh," and suggested calling it the Tony Blair. Why? Because he was a world leader who didn't have a cocktail named for him.(I am not that familiar with the world of world leader cocktails, and can't imagine what a Bibi Netanyahu or Angela Merkel might be, though one could think of some interesting combinations.) However, I thought that this name sort of fit: slightly pink, but leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. So try it.

ORIGINAL POST: Even though I have mostly been posting about cocktails recently, please don't get the wrong idea. However, the vacation at the Cape is rapidly approaching and I need to come up with things to serve on the dock. My alcohol consumption has actually declined (except while in Austin.)

This is a rough adaptation and mashup of some cocktails which were written about in the NY Times cocktail issue a few weeks ago. I don't love the name (something like Pink Lady might work better and describes the color if not the taste) but this is a terrific and refreshing combination of the flavors of ginger, gin, bitter orange (from the Campari), and mint, if you so wish it. Given the current Spanish obsession with gin and tonics and related cocktails, this would go nicely with a tapas spread. A tortilla, some fish salad, some cheeses, maybe some mushrooms sauteed in garlic. Who needs dinner?

The Tony Blair

  • Lots of ice
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 2 ounces gin (less if you like a less strong drink)
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup (optional, but I like it)
  • Ginger beer to fill glass, about 4 ounces
  • Fresh mint (spearmint, not peppermint please) or lime wedges to garnish
  1. Fill an 8 to 12 ounce glass with ice. The larger glass has more room for ginger beer and means a weaker drink. 
  2. Add the Campari, gin, lime juice and simple syrup and stir for about 20 seconds.
  3. Top off with ginger beer and garnish with lime or mint. (If you want a stronger mint flavor, muddle a few leaves in the glass, but I prefer it just as a garnish.)
  4. Increase the ingredients proportionately to make for a crowd. Mix the Campari, gin, juice and syrup in a shaker or pitcher. Pour over ice in individual glasses and top with the ginger beer.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Red beans with sour plum chutney -- Lobio Tkemali

Many (okay, three) devoted readers of this blog have noted that I have not posted in the past several months.  This is because our kitchen is being renovated.  I won't go into this here because it has been much of my life for the past three months and blogging is an escape from it all.  Needless to say, our home cooking has been limited and rather uninteresting.  However, I have made a few things which can be done without an stove, oven or much prep work, so I thought I would share them here.  One of my favorite is a Georgian red bean salad with a dressing of sour plum sauce called Lobio tkemali.  Although better with home-cooked beans, it can be made with canned beans as well.  The sauce can be made in a microwave. If you have the sauce on hand, it takes a few minutes to pull it all together.

Lobio tkemali


  • 1 large can small red beans (red kidney beans are an acceptable substitute, home-cooked beans a significant improvement
  • 1 cup tkemali sauce (about 1/2 of the recipe below)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped coriander
  • salt to taste


  1. Rinse the beans well to remove all of the gross liquid in the can. Drain well and put into a serving bowl.
  2. Mix in the tkemali sauce.
  3. Peel the onion and cut a few thin slices from the center for garnish.  Chop the rest fine.
  4. Mix the chopped onion and 1/4 cup of the coriander.
  5. Spread the remaining coriander on top of the beans, and garnish with onion rings.
  6. Serves 6 as a side dish or appetizer.

I give a double recipe for the plum sauce because it is almost as easy to make in a double as it is in a single recipe and it is very versatile.  It goes well with the George Foreman grilled boneless chicken breast or thigh with spice rubs that have been a mainstay of our kitchen-less diet as well as with shashlik and other kebabs properly cooked over charcoal.   It is the classic accompaniment to kachapuri, the Georgian cheese-stuffed bread.

Tkemali is the name of a Georgian sour plum and a sauce from which it is made.  The great Darra Goldstein recommends using slightly underripe Santa Rosa plums.  I don't know if I have ever even seen this variety, so I make the sauce with Italian prune plums, which are nice and tart and in season in September and October.  If you can 't find these plums, you can make it with empress or any other black plum,  underripe preferred.  Taste the sauce toward the end of cooking, and if it is sweet rather than sour, add some balsamic vinegar or tamarind paste,  bit at a time, until it is nice and sour.  The seasoning is really to taste, but I find that the proportions below make a delicious, sour, garlic, slightly spicy sauce.  The time is also approximate, and will depend on such variables at the power of your microwave, shape of the container, etc.

Microwave Tkemali

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (sunflower is more widely used in the former Soviet Union, I use canola
  • 15-20 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 hot fresh chili peppers, red or green  (a variety like serrano, cayenne or bird chili is fine, keep the seeds in if you want the heat), slice 
  • 2 pounds fresh prune plums, quartered lengthwise and pitted
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or more to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
  1. Heat oil is a 2 quart or larger microwave-safe casserole on high for two minutes.
  2. Add garlic and chili, stir, and zap two minutes more.
  3. Add plums and salt, stir, cover with a piece of paper towel, and zap for 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in half the coriander, and cook for 5 minutes more.
  5. Remove from oven, and taste for texture and sourness.  If too thin, return to the microwave for a few minutes until the texture of a thick compote.  The plums will lose more than 2/3 of their volume.  If it is not sour enough, add a bit of tamarind or balsamic vinegar until it is.  Return to the overn for a few minutes to blend flavors.
  6. When cool, and just before serving, stir in the rest of the coriander. (The sauce will keep longer if you hold back on mixing in raw ingredients until just before serving.)
  7. Makes about 2 cups of sauce.