Rosemary Lemon-Ginger Vodka Spritzers

A beachside refresher

Our vacation got off to a tremulous start – what with the 5.2 earthquake and all – but we managed to get everyone safely in the car and on the road to Rosemary Beach, our almost impossibly lovely destination on the Florida Panhandle.

This place is one of those scarily-proportioned planned “towns” that seem to spring up out of the swamp land as if by magic. What I mean by scary is just the absolute perfectness about it all; it’s so self-contained and pristinely designed that it just doesn’t seem real.

And, in keeping with the Mediterranean theme of the architecture, there are rosemary bushes springing up everywhere. I don’t think that rosemary would grow here as a native plant, but it does seem to thrive in this climate, because the plants seem to grow into large hedgerows.

Rosemary might just be my favorite herb and every spring I put out numerous small plants in my garden. I always hope that one or two of them will make it through the winter, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Seeing them casually growing here to the size of happy Great Danes kind of overwhelms me. I’m starting to feel like cooking something. Or maybe I’m just thirsty.

We came up with this refreshing cocktail recipe while lounging on the beach yesterday. It’s pretty good. Might be just about time for another!

Rosemary Lemon-Ginger Vodka Spritzers

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup peeled, chopped fresh ginger
2 large springs rosemary, plus more to garnish
Pinch of fine sea salt (seems weird, but it really makes the syrup pop with flavor)
Fresh lemons, halved
Ice cold vodka
Chilled sparkling water

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the ginger, rosemary and salt; remove from the heat and let steep for about 10 minutes. Strain the syrup and chill.

To make a drink, squeeze fresh lemon juice to taste into a glass filled with ice. Pour in 2 ounces vodka and about 1 tablespoon syrup. Top off with the sparkling water. Take a sip, and add more syrup if you like. Add a rosemary spring for garnish. Cheers!

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Copyright (c) 2008 FamilyStyle Food

Homemade Rosemary Potato Gnocchi

Leave the gun, take the gnocchi
We have just a few traditions in our house that we abide by with comforting regularity, and one of them is spending the holidays during the last few weeks of the year with my sister-in-law L, otherwise known as YaYa, and her husband S, The Old Man.

Because they teach at a university, they have the benefit of a long vacation break between semesters. Because we have a few children, we make them fly out of Logan Airport at holiday time to visit us. It’s a win-win situation, really.

When I tell people that we have relatives moving in for a few weeks over the holidays, they usually groan in sympathy. I know they’re probably imagining a scene out of a John Candy movie, where crazy Uncle Jack overstays his visit, starts drinking beer at lunch, terrorizes the children and stops up the toilet.

While we definitely start drinking lots more alcohol and we have actually called upon the services of Roto Rooter at least once this past month, to say that we look forward to the visit is putting it mildly. We live for it.

Who wouldn’t? For us, it’s all about celebrating and feasting; for two whole weeks we feel like we’re on vacation. By unplugging ourselves from our usual routine we can really get into the spirit of things. We cook together just about every night. We make multiple trips to the wine store to restock, and depending on our mood, stay up too late listening to music, talking or playing our favorite obscure board game, Who Killed Dr. Lucky.

We manage to keep up a fun spirit of camaraderie in the kitchen; everyone gravitates toward a job, depending on the menu. T and The Old Man team up for things like crabcakes and their famous pumpkin ravioli, while YaYa is mistress of salads and table setting. She also helps me plan our list of menus, because somebody needs to be in charge.

Although, this year, because I just finished reading Phoebe Damrosch’s book Service Included, we took to calling each other “chef” – with the just the right tone of irony, of course – because Thomas Keller runs his kitchen with a sense of democracy, that’s how all the employees at Per Se are instructed to communicate, apparently.

This was our Year of the Gnocchi. We used a recipe from chef Charlie Palmer’s cool waterproof book, the Practical Guide to the New American Kitchen. We all agreed that these were as light, tasty and fluffy as potato dumplings could be. I think that baking the potatoes (rather than boiling them) makes for lighter gnocchi; they don’t absorb all that water and can just merge gracefully with the flour and egg.

The lost art of gnocchi rolling

If you don’t have a neat ridged gnocchi board, you can use a fork to make distinctive grooves in each dumpling. However, you will miss out on the pleasure of feeling just like an Italian mama.

Potato Rosemary Gnocchi

Serves 6, generously
Adapted from a recipe by Charlie Palmer

3 large baking potatoes, about 2 pounds total
2 egg yolks
2 – 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil (if sauteeing)

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Poke the potatoes a few times with a fork and place directly on the oven rack. Bake 25 –30 minutes, until fork-tender. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and push them through a food mill or ricer into a large bowl.

Add the salt and egg yolk, and 2 cups of flour and mix together. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed, until a soft (but not sticky), smooth dough forms.

Divide the dough into portions the size of your hand, and roll each into a rope about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into 1-inch lengths. If you’re inclined, roll each gnocchi firmly over a gnocchi board or the concave side of a fork. Arrange the gnocchi on a floured baking sheet as you go.

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil; drop the gnocchi in batches into the water and boil until they bob to the surface, about 3 minutes.

At this point, you can sauce them up as you please, or lay them out on a tray and freeze them (transfer them to zippered bags when they’re solid) so that you have an emergency late-night gnocchi stash on hand .
If you want to sauté the gnocchi, set up an ice bath with a colander set into a large bowl of ice water. Remove the gnocchi from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and immediately drop them into the colander. Drain and toss with the olive oil.

Just before serving, sauté the gnocchi in melted butter, garlic and some spinach or dandelion greens. Pass the grated Parmesan.

Gnocchi getting a toss in the pan

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Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food

Popcorn, Plain and Fancy

Rosemary Parmesan Popcorn

A few months ago, I bought some organic bulk popcorn and popped a batch the way it was done in ancient times; in a saucepan on the stove top. I shared the bowl with the kids while we watched a movie, and A noticed right away that there was something different – like – hey, crunch – this is really good!

It was good, a revelation, even. I think I’d become so used to mediocre, oversalted popcorn that I forgot how good it can be. I started making popcorn to serve with cocktails, with some chopped fresh rosemary, sea salt and Parmesan cheese grated over the top. It’s even better with some cold champagne. Yum.

Now I can’t go back to the packaged microwave popcorn habit – it just doesn’t compare in flavor, plus I can skip the extra fat, sodium and artificial ingredients.

The only hard thing is that when the kids have been trained to get their popcorn exactly three and a half minutes after they ask for it, waiting for the stovetop stuff can be excruciating.

I was happy to find a brown bag microwave method in Whole Grains by Lorna Sass. Now the kids and the grown-ups share the popcorn love.

Rosemary Parmesan Popcorn
makes 12 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add popcorn kernels and cover pan. Cook, shaking pan back and forth occasionally, until popping stops; about 5 minutes. Transfer popcorn to a large serving bowl.

Add the butter, rosemary, pepper and salt to the popcorn and toss gently. Top with cheese and toss once more to blend.

Perfect wine pairing with a crisp, herbal Pinot Gris from Oregon or Argentina; or a chilled sparkling wine like Prosecco.

Microwave Brown Bag Popcorn
thanks to Janelle at Brown Bag Blues for the inspiration

1/4 cup popcorn kernels, organic if possible
2 teaspoons canola or peanut oil
Kosher salt, to taste

Toss the kernels with the oil in a small bowl. Pour into a plain brown paper bag and place on a paper towel on the microwave turntable. Cook on high for exactly 1 1/2 minutes. Or, depending on your microwave, listen carefully and stop the microwave as soon as the popping slows; not more than 2 minutes total.

Carefully open the bag and sprinkle with salt.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food