For the Girls Who Weren't Afraid To Shake Cocktails late into the Night and Feed 150 without knowing how
When I think of the perfect evening of cocktails, wine and company, I automatically think cheese and charcuterie. What could possibly be better than an assortment of cured, salty meats and creamy, crumbly (preferably stinky) cheeses? Well, I'll tell you what - a friend who comes bearing Campari and the better part of 10 years worth of memories.
The delightfully bitter notes of this bright, orange-tinted spirit, cut through the fatty richness of really good cheese and complement the sweet comfort that only exists after years of digging through the trenches with someone.
Many moons ago, two girls met at a restaurant that was only just opening. No, they were not there to dine, they were there to work. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, one spent her days toiling away in the kitchen, shucking her very first oysters on nights when everyone seemed to want oysters, and pulling desserts out of thin air for customers who were actually paying, and not family members who were biologically obligated to enjoy everything she made. The other, found herself behind the bar, just barely old enough to order what she was making, and serving up classics with a confidence that could only have been born out of a sheer will to succeed. As the tickets poured in, salads were plated, cocktails were shaken (salty, fat tears were most certainly shed) and two young but ambitious blondes pushed through the unfamiliar madness, even when restaurant life bordered on the ridiculous.
We had absolutely no idea what we were doing, but we certainly weren't prepared to let anyone else know that.
Over the years, we've kept each other's spirits lifted, both in the form of cocktails and comfort food, and have continued to recognize in each other a drive that pushes forward, regardless of how often we find ourselves feeling completely and utterly out of our depths.
We realize that we've come far since those days. Just last week, I found myself on set, melting cheese with an industrial heat gun for the perfect 'melt shot', while I could practically hear the clinking of ice from my dear friend shaking things up in the land of liquid fun. And though we find ourselves miles apart most of the time, every now and again, we manage to pair cocktails and food around the same table.
One such time, was yesterday - yesterday, we came together over a silly amount of cheese, meat and Campari. (Although, let's be honest, can you ever really have too much cheese, meat and Campari? Umm, no - no, you can't.)
She stirred, infused, measured and mixed while I curled, sliced, plated and paired. She balanced sweet, bitter, syrupy and bubbly, I married salty, creamy, briny and crumbly, and what we were left with....was enough goodness for a healthy party of 10! (Why make a cheese board for two, when a cheese board for 10 looks so much better? Am I right?)
It was perfect.
Knowing that Campari was making its way to my kitchen, I had to bring my 'A game'.
For the perfect cheese and charcuterie plate, it's all about balance. I bought a variety of cheeses, from mild to sharp and hard to soft, and found a beautiful balance between goat, cow and sheep's milks.
When it came to the meats, I wanted salty, peppery and fatty in equal measure, A toothsome, chewy salami and a soft, delicate prosciutto were musts, along with anything else I could get my hands on.
Marcona almonds, tossed in olive oil, sea salt and rosemary made their way into all the nooks and crannies between the star players, along with dried fruit, vibrantly green Castelvetrano olives (my absolute favorite!), and fruit-and-nut-studded crackers.
I also love adding a big, speckled kale flower (sometimes referred to as a cabbage flower) into the mix, just for good measure.
I mean, does a weekend get any better than that?
It does if you add a cocktail, or two! Ladies and gentlemen, break out the Campari!
Cara Cara Sbagliato
Effervescent and refreshing with the perfect balance of sweet and bitter, this cocktail is a beautiful start to an evening.
In a tall glass with ice combine Campari, sweet vermouth and orange juice. Stir to mix.
Top with Prosecco to fill the glass and garnish with a slice or two of orange.
Sweet strawberries pair wonderfully with bitter orange notes and a fragrant juniper background - ideal with a rich triple cream and briny olives.
In a rocks glass with ice, combine Campari, gin and sweet vermouth and stir.to mix.
Garnish with strawberries and a generous orange twist.
I cherish my bold, talented and tenacious girlfriends with all my heart - we need each other, because we are our own worst critics,. We constantly find ourselves questioning how we got where we are, and whether we really can hack it, the way everyone seems to think we can. We need sounding boards that remind us of how capable we are and how far we've come.
Preferably, those sounding boards make a mean cocktail and pair it with cheese...a lot of cheese.
*Cara Cara is a type of orange we love - if you can't find it, by all means substitute with what you can.
**Fill a jar with sliced strawberries and pour over Campari, to cover. Refrigerate overnight, or longer if you like, for a beautifully infused flavor.
It's what Lazy Saturdays and Sundays are Made for
Two things were certain when I was a child - if dad did the grocery shopping instead of mom, cream-filled and chocolate-covered eclairs would mysteriously appear in the refrigerator, and if we were home on a Saturday evening, we were having roast chicken for dinner. More specifically, we were having 'chicken, chips and peas, please!' This tradition of a weekly bird roast, was one that began in my mother's childhood, and was continued as a welcome constant in the ever-evolving, frustratingly unpredictable and hormonally charged day-to-day of my sister and I, whose lives would regularly turn on a teenage dime.
Our mother made a lot of deliciously complicated dishes while we were growing up - she had a love of new challenges, being inspired and slaving over creative dishes for a small, but captive, audience of three. Dinner was always homemade, interesting and, above all else, yummy. Dinner was also always enjoyed together, around the table. (For anyone who has teenagers, or remembers what they were like as a teenager, you know how much of a feat that is, and that it's more enjoyable at some times than others!)
If you were lucky enough to dine in my mother's kitchen, weekdays were inventive, unpredictable and full of experimentation.
Saturdays, however, were not.
On Saturdays, after a week of dealing with moods, carpool and 'all things Tess and Alexandra', mom put on her 'comfy pants', poured herself a glass of wine, popped a chicken in the oven and served it up with peas and potato chips. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in a family where junk food was not on the menu and lunch boxes were devoid of anything made by a Debbie, little or otherwise, chips were a legitimate side dish on Saturdays. (They were, of course, the fancy, skin-on, kettle-cooked variety, because there were standards to be upheld.) And I'm telling you now, if I ever opened a restaurant, that trio would be on the menu. It was, quite simply, the best, because it was exactly that - simple.
To this day, it is still one of my favorite family meals, and it is one I look forward to serving to my own one day.
These days, when I roast a chicken, I start by essentially steaming it. By roasting it covered for the first hour, all the moisture remains where you want it, and the flavors of garlic, white wine, thyme and lemon truly permeate the meat. Also, when you create an elevated bed for the bird to rest on, it doesn't spend an hour and a half boiling in liquid, which means crispy skin all around - yes, please!
Optional: New or fingerling potatoes
Set the oven to 375*F.
Grease a roasting pan with butter or oil.
Peel your onion, slice off the root end and the opposite end, and slice it in half. so that you have two fat discs of onion for the chicken to lie on top of. Then, slice the pointy ends off of two lemons, and slice them in half, so that you have four fat discs of lemon, as well.
Place the onion and lemon discs in the center of the roasting pan, to create a raised bed for the chicken to lie on.
Pat the chicken dry, and be sure to remove any giblets from the cavity. Lightly oil the chicken with olive oil, then season both the inside and outside with a generous amount of salt and pepper. (Remember to season both sides of the chicken.) Pull the leaves off of two thyme sprigs and scatter them onto the chicken.
Stuff the cavity with the remaining thyme (about 10 sprigs) and the remaining lemon, sliced in half.
Scatter the smashed garlic cloves around the chicken, and, as an option, spread your potatoes around the chicken, in the pan.
Drizzle the potatoes with a little olive oil and season them with salt and pepper.
Finally, add the wine to the pan.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and seal the edges, then roast the chicken, covered, for an hour.
Remove the chicken from the oven, pull off the foil and baste the bird with some of the pan drippings. Increase the oven temperature to 450*F.
Roast the chicken, uncovered for a further 35 minutes, until browned and cooked through.
Serve it with the potatoes and white wine drippings from the pan.
Chips and peas are optional, but I'm telling you, it's pretty magical. Comfy pants, however, are not - comfy pants are a prerequisite.
*Note: If you can find a brined chicken, by all means, buy it! The meat is packed with flavor, and the end result is far juicer. Trader Joe's sells brined, organic chickens, if you're not sure where to find them, you can brine your own. It's really simple!