There's Always Room for P-I-M-M-S

Brace yourself. Things are about to get real. And by real, I mean real weird. And by weird, I mean gelatin. But I can't help it, I love it during the summer. Having access to backyard mint and a steady supply of cool, crunchy cucumbers doesn’t hurt during the warmer months, either.

Nor does knowing how to make a Pimm's Cup cocktail. (Do you see where I'm going with this?) So what better way to combine these summertime items than by suspending them in gelatin.

But first: the Pimm's cup. I could talk rather poetically about how I first came to love the cocktail. I was with one of my oldest friends. You know the kind. The kind whose signature is in the majority of your yearbooks. And could probably blackmail you if she wanted.

We were in one of the oldest bars in Boston. In the company of tiny black and white tiles; antique-stained mirrors; and an attentive bartender, sipping a bright iced tea-looking liquid from Collins glasses. This makes us sound quite ladylike. I assure you, we were not. In fact, we probably—more accurately—were gulping instead of sipping, sucking them down until our glasses were dry, our slurping straws screeching for another round.

At the time we were at the Marliave, which originally opened in the 19th century and is tragically underrated in Boston. They have a great croque madame, very politely named the Mrs. Marliave. Don’t let her fool you. She is not a dainty sandwich and I’m pretty sure she caused some hushed cursing—and perhaps pants unbuttoning—that night. Yes, the Marliave makes a great ham and cheese sandwich. And an even better Pimm's Cup.

I won’t go into the details of making a Pimm's cup. Suffice to say that it’s often made with ginger beer. Or lemonade and club soda. Or some combination thereof. It’s frequently finished with cucumber slices and a sprig of mint. Molly from Orangette has a great take on the cocktail. Regardless of your version, it’s light and refreshing and takes very kindly to ham and cheese topped off with an over easy egg. It also works quite well when gelled and cut into cubes.

So, for the second year in a row, I make a boozy nod to Bill Cosby and the nostalgia of Jell-O jigglers. As refreshing as cold gelatin is in the summer, it’s heightened by the light, refreshing quality of a Pimm's cup cocktail. It also gets added crunch from the mint and the cucumber, which I assure you won’t disappoint: especially this time of year, when petite pickling cucumbers are abundant in farmers’ markets. It may not be refined, but it won’t necessitate any unbuttoning of pants. And it's a breeze to make.

Most importantly, it’s fun. Which often flies directly in the face of refinement. And that’s fine by me. Because today we are here to celebrate a different way to down a Pimm's cup: with our bare hands. Yes, Bill, they are a handful of fun.

Pimm's Cup Cocktail Cubes


24 oz ginger brew or ginger ale, divided (for a total of 2 cans or bottles)
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
4 packages of gelatin (I used Knox)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup Pimm's No.1
Pinch of cumin
1 small pickling cucumber, cut into thin slices
Few sprigs of mint


Heat 12 oz (1 can or bottle) of ginger soda with the sugar and salt in a saucepan until just boiling. Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine gelatin with the remaining 12 oz (or remaining can or bottle) to soften for a few minutes (about 3-5 minutes or so). Stir the lemon juice and Pimm's into the gelatin and then add in the boiling ginger mixture. Add a pinch of cumin and stir until gelatin is dissolved. At this point, you could taste the mixture and adjust the flavor as needed. (The sweetness may vary slightly depending on the ginger soda you use and your preference.)

Add in the cucumber slices and a few mint leaves off the sprigs. Pour into a rectangular baking dish (mine is 11 x 7). Refrigerate until firm, ideally overnight.

Makes about 15 cubes

-I am loving Maine Root's ginger brew this summer. I used one bottle of that plus one of GuS extra dry ginger ale, which is also some kind of wonderful.

-The pinch of cumin is there to compliment the spicy undertones of Pimm's No.1, which has always reminded me slightly of curry.

-While we are on the topic of busting buttons on pants, I should let you know Nick and Theo will be hosting The Boston Pie Experiment at the Middle East in Cambridge on Sunday, July 31st. Anyone can compete. Anyone can attend. Everyone should wear elastic-waisted pants.


Yogurt-Marinated Grilled Chicken for Your Inner Manly Man

I think I have a problem. I may be morphing into some weird version of a stereotypical manly man. I’ve always had tendencies, but this is getting ridiculous. Stay with me.

I hate doing my nails. I’ve perfected the art of tuning people out, as necessary. If you offer me a beer, I’ll take Guinness over Mich Ultra any day. And if you don’t have Guinness, a little bourbon or some brandy neat will do just fine.

I don’t own a hairdryer. I don’t really like Madonna. And given the choice, I’d pick Shark Week over a What Not to Wear marathon. Every time. (Though I realize this comparison is a bit of a stretch: both species can be pretty ruthless.)

So the aforementioned evidence, plus my burgeoning—borderline unhealthy—relationship with my grill has elicited slight concern. (Take away my tongs and I may throw you into a headlock.) I figure while I deal with these Y chromosome traits, I might as well enjoy some grilled chicken. And as part of my new Sunday summer night grilling series, the chicken this week did not disappoint. It was extraordinary.

I should also mention that I spent some time on Saturday with said chicken, breaking it down into legs, thighs, wings and breasts. After letting it hang out in a spiced yogurt marinade overnight, it charred to juicy perfection on the grill. While you could certainly buy the bone-in pieces, the inner guy in me was looking for a task to conquer.

It was worth it. This chicken was like nothing I’ve tasted in a very, very long time. Said in a bad Barry White impersonation: baby, you’ll love this chicken. So go ahead, make the chicken. And maybe smash a beer can over your head. No, you are probably too smart for a cheap party trick like that. But on the off chance that you aren’t, come over: we can bond over beer and flame-grilled chicken.

Yogurt Marinated Spiced Grilled Chicken
Adapted from David Lebovitz

1 cup low fat Greek yogurt
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1/4-1/2 tsp ground ginger (depends on your preference)
5 cardamom pods, seeds ground and pod shells discarded
Ground pepper (about 10 turns with the peppermill)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp saffron threads
1 whole chicken*, cut into 8 pieces (2 thigh, 2 wings, 2 legs and 2 breasts)

Combine the first 14 ingredients (all ingredients up to the saffron threads) in a large bowl. Heat 1 tbsp of water in the microwave for about 15-20 seconds and add saffron to water; let saffron sit for a few minutes and then add to yogurt spice mixture.

Meanwhile, break down a whole chicken into 8 pieces, discarding the backbone (or saving it for chicken stock). (Alternatively you could just buy a total of 8 chicken pieces, e.g. breasts, thighs, etc. Cook's choice: see note below.) Add chicken to yogurt marinade and chill in the fridge overnight.

Cook chicken on a medium-hot grill until done. (Internal temp should be 165 degrees.)

Yields 2 each of thighs, breasts, legs and wings

-* You could easily buy already cut up chicken pieces; Lebovitz used 4 thighs and 4 legs. Regardless, buy skin-on chicken if you can. It keeps the chicken unbelievably moist on the grill: even the breast pieces.

-The leftovers of this have been insane: I've been feeding myself spiced chicken all week. Sometimes, multiple times per day.

-I'm thinking this would be perfect with a deep Lagrein rosé or the Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon rosé from South Africa that's chilling in my fridge. (This may be the only redeeming feminine note of my post.)


You Don’t Mess Around with Stacked Portobellos and Sundays

Picture it’s Sunday night. 85 degrees. Too steamy to cook indoors. Too perfect a summer evening not to eat well.

An opportunity to work on this year’s summer resolution emerges: master the grill. Note: I have not fared so well with this in the past, though it did inspire a good life lesson: keep calm and carry rum.

Sunday it was me alone. With charcoal. A chimney starter. A few newspaper sheets. Fresh peaches. Rosemary-marinated portobellos. Some leftover garlic scapes. Poblanos. A flame-resistant oven mitt. And the Cat Stevens Pandora radio station, rooting me along.

I used to despise Sunday, its presence signaling the workweek ahead. But Sunday has become a favorite of mine. A day of no obligations. A day for sitting poolside and visiting antique shops. Or for an evening of cocktails on the patio, paired with slightly charred edibles. This is a day, my friends, not to be messed with.

So there I was, dark and stormy cocktail in one hand, tongs in the other: standing over a flaming grill. Cat Stevens had just finished singing about the very young. “You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while” he noted. Up next: Jim Croce, warning “You don’t mess around with Jim.” Life doesn’t get much better.

Taking heed from Cat and Jim, I've decided this summer the grill is mine. And getting a good handle on it is pretty satisfying, especially when it produces one of the best burgers I have ever had. Let me repeat, have ever had.

Now, I’m not a vegetarian. When the mood strikes, I love a good burger, but I'm going to be hard pressed to find a better summer sandwich. This little portobello number, with all its smoky fixings, is where it’s at. It was inspired by a fantastic blog filled with vegetarian recipes: Green Kitchen Stories. Vegetarians and meat eaters unite: this is the perfect burger for a balmy Sunday.

And Sundays are most definitely not to be messed. (Nor is an evening topped off with oldies music and washed down with Gosling’s Black Seal rum, for that matter.) As for the grill? If I could borrow from our pal, Jim:

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger.

And you don’t mess around with the grill.

Stacked Portbello, Peach and Avocado Burgers

6-8 portobello mushrooms, dirt brushed off with a paper towel and stems removed
~1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
~5 tbsp olive oil, divided
4-5 rosemary sprigs
2 sweet onions, peel removed and sliced in half (so that rings remain intact)
2 poblano peppers, halved, stem and seeds removed
A few garlic scapes
~1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 lemon, halved
2-3 peaches, cut in half with pit removed
Salt and pepper
1 avocado
Pinch of red pepper flakes
~2-3 ounces blue cheese
A few basil leaves
4 hamburger buns

Makes about 4 burgers

In a large bowl, place mushrooms, balsamic vinegar and ~2 tbsp of olive oil. (Add more olive oil and balsamic as needed.) Remove rosemary leaves and add to mushrooms; season generously with salt and pepper. Toss gently with hands and set aside.

In another large bowl, place peppers, onions, paprika, juice of 1/2 a lemon and ~2 tbsp olive oil; season generously with salt and pepper. Toss gently and set aside.

In a smaller bowl, season peaches with salt and pepper; add remaining olive oil and a little squeeze lemon juice (leaving the remaining juice for the avocado). Toss and set aside.

In another small bowl, scoop out the flesh of the avocado and mash it. Season with salt, pepper and red chili flakes.

Prepare a charcoal grill to medium-high heat (at this temperature you can hold your hand about 5 inches above the grill for 3-5 seconds. (This should take about 15-20 minutes with a chimney starter.) Grill mushrooms, onions, peppers, scapes, and peaches for 15-20 minutes, or until slightly charred, turning once. Towards the end of the cooking, place about 1 tbsp blue cheese on each mushroom to melt.

Spread about 1 tbsp of the mashed avocado on the bottom of the bun and then assemble the grilled vegetables, peaches and basil leaves on top, as you see fit. (You may want to leave the mushroom with the blue cheese for the very top to help adhere to the top bun.)

-I made sesame buns for the 4th of July and had some leftover. While they were tasty, they were harder rolls and would have been better for a studier sandwich. (Which just made things a bit messy.) Brioche would probably be perfect to smoosh and squeeze the burger and its stacked contents.

-Make extras. If you're going to spark up the grill you might as well make your efforts last during the week. (Did somebody say "grilled peach Tuesdays?!")


Perfect Pickled Bing Cherries

Ah cherries. Occasionally, in your call for bing-related bliss, you deceive. For starters, life is not always a bowl full of you. No, we've been sorely misinformed. Sometimes life feels more like a rectangular Pyrex dish full of vinegar.

Now, I'm not a pessimist. I am neither a realist nor a dreamer. I like to think of myself as an optimistic cynic. (I've never looked good in rose-colored glasses, but I'm fairly certain a black beret would look just as ridiculous.)

Which is why I'm so in love with these pickled cherries at the moment. If you soak a bowl full of cherries in vinegar you get what I might call "life," in real time. Sweet and sour.

Sometimes life is rosey. Sometimes life makes your face pucker. Sometimes the glass is half full. Sometimes it's half empty. And sometimes, you mix yourself a perfect manhattan—the one with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth—and then proceed to slug it: in which case, whatever was in that glass is gone, baby gone.

Just like these cherries will be, when you determine they can hang with pretty much anything, from your salad course straight through till dessert. They'd even be a fine stand-in for the maraschino cherry in [throat clear] a manhattan. They are the perfect cherry-on-top kind of cherry, if it's not feeling like an ice cream sundae kind of summer. (Perhaps it's feeling more like manhattan swilling season?)

And if you are anything like me, things oscillate somewhere in the middle. So between the sundaes and stiff drinks, try to squeeze in some pickled cherries every now and again. They are the perfect neutralizer for a less-than-perfect life.

Pickled Bing Cherries

1.5 cups vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
4 cardamom pods, smashed
5 cloves
10 pink peppercorns
1 tsp grains of paradise
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Pinch of mace
Peel of 1 orange, pith removed
1 serrano pepper, split lengthwise and then cut into small chunks
About 2 cups cherries, pitted

Combine first 9 ingredients in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. While mixture is coming to a boil, place the cherries and the serrano pepper in a heatproof bowl. Pour the boiling vinegar mixture over the cherries and peppers and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate.

Makes about 2 cups of pickled cherries (plus cherry vinegar!)

-If you don't have grains of paradise you can substitute a few black peppercorns.

-It's best to let this sit a day or two before fully enjoying the, ahem, fruits of your labor.

-For my money (and oddly for my pleasure) I've found the best way to pit cherries is with a large paperclip. A trick passed down to me by my grandmother. She's made a few cherry pies in her day ...

-This recipe was adapted from this one.