Weekend Cocktail: Vodka Watermelon Cooler

I will be forever indebted to Layla Pujol of Laylita for her vodka mint limeade recipe, which has been the drink of choice at more than one gathering this summer. It’s great to throw a minimum amount of ingredients in a blender to make a big pitcher of drinks for a crowd. Moreover, it’s a lot cheaper than buying enough Whispering Angel to serve 20 people for an afternoon – at least if those people are my friends.

This drink has proved so popular, though, that I found myself running out of ingredients on more than one occasion and had to make substitutions. When I was trying to get rid of a lot of leftover watermelon I threw in some watermelon chunks. The result that time was a winner, so here’s the recipe, as perfected by me and Jeff Nesmith of the new vegan lifestyle blog Java Street Project. (Much tasting was involved.)

Vodka Watermelon Cooler

1/4 of an average-size (about 10-lb.) watermelon
2 limes, plus more for garnish
1/2 c. mint leaves, plus more for garnish
2 handfuls ice
1/2 c. sugar
2 c. vodka
2 1/2 c. seltzer

Cut the rind of the watermelon and cut the flesh into large chunks. You should have about 1 1/2 lb. watermelon without the rind. Quarter the limes. Add limes, mint, ice, sugar and watermelon to a large high-speed blender (the Ninja one is awesome) or Vitamix. You may have to pulse the mixture a couple of times to get all the watermelon to fit in.

Blend on high speed for a full 3 minutes. Strain the watermelon mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, stirring with a spoon to push the liquid through. Discard the solids.

Pour the watermelon juice into a large pitcher and stir in vodka and seltzer. (Leave out the vodka for a virgin cocktail.) Chill for 15 minutes to let the mint settle. Serve over ice, garnished with lime wheels and mint leaves.

Makes 8-10 cocktails.

Variations: swap out the watermelon, mint and lime for:
– 4 limes, 1/2 c. mint and 2 c. water
– 4 lemons, 1/2 c. basil and 2 c. water

You can also add gin instead of vodka, or add a combination of vodka and limoncello. Try it with all sorts of different fruit and herbs – your guests will not complain.

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Recipe: Blistered Shishito Peppers

Blistered shishito peppers, which seem to be on every menu these days, are really easy to make on the grill. All you need is a grill basket – and the actual peppers, usually available in farmer’s markets by August. They’re a great way to distract guests as they wait for dinner – and keep them from hovering over the grill while you make the rest of the meal.

Blistered Shishito Peppers

1 pint shishito peppers
olive oil
nonstick cooking spray
wedge of lemon
Maldon sea salt flakes

Toss the peppers with a little olive oil, just enough to make them slippery. Coat the inside of a grilling basket with nonstick cooking spray and place it on a very hot grill (400+ degrees), cover it, and wait a couple minutes for it to preheat. Pour the peppers in the basket and stir fry them with tongs, letting them rest occasionally until they blister. When blistered on all sides, carefully remove the grill basket and pour the peppers onto a platter.

Squeeze the lemon over the peppers and sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt flakes. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 – 4

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Recipe: Pasta with Prosciutto and Peas

You know you’re old when you’ve been making a recipe for literally 20 years, but that’s when this recipe dates from – the ’90s heyday of the Silver Palate cookbooks. It’s so simple, so fast and so good, and I always return to it in spring. As with all Italian recipes, the quality of the ingredients is key. It’s important to get the best quality prosciutto you can find, prosciutto di Parma or prosciutto San Daniele. Same with the cream, butter and pasta. The original recipe calls for capellini (or “angel hair pasta” in ’90s speak), but I found that pasta to be too fine for the rich sauce, so I use spaghetti. Other variations from the original Silver Palate recipe: I leave out the flour, which can make the sauce gummy, and sneak in a smashed garlic clove for extra depth. (more…)

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Recipe: Gram’s Ginger Cookies

One from the archives – something I make nearly every year at this time.  

For the holidays, an old recipe – my grandmother’s. Not quite gingerbread, not quite ginger snaps, these cookies are ultra thin, crisp and addictive. She used to make them out of the bridge-party heart, club, diamond, and spade cookie cutters even at Christmas, but if this mystifies you as it does me, use a traditional gingerbread man cookie cutter.

The molasses give these an especially old-fashioned taste. I’ve seen no evidence of Brer Rabbit molasses around NYC, but other brands will do just as well.  (more…)

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Milk & Hops

Exterior, Milk & Hops

Wedged between a Starbucks and a Chase Bank is an unlikely interloper among the chain stores on lower Broadway: Milk & Hops, a sliver of a market and bar dedicated to all things cheese and beer.

This space has bottled beer and packaged food for sale on one side and a long marble bar running down the other. Here you can order up various spins on grilled cheese sandwiches, plus a selection of seasonally rotating cheese and beer. On a recent visit, there were some trusty cheese standbys like Bayley Hazen Blue and Kunik, but also a few rarities like Red Dragon, a Welsh cow’s milk cheese made with ale and studded with mustard seeds. (more…)

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Cocktail Recipe: Tequila ‘n’ Tears

Tequila n Tears Cocktail, Gastro Chic

wise man once said that we are only allowed to mope about the election until Thanksgiving. So make the most of the last few hours of moping – or steel yourself for right wing encounters – with this cocktail, which I originally developed as an election night “mazel tov cocktail” but have since renamed “tequila ‘n’ tears.” It involves a hefty amount of Mexican-made tequila, tropical fruit juices, lime for sourness, plenty of bitters, a salty rim and an edge of fiery spice.  (more…)

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Prolific restauranteur Stephen Starr has created many restaurants that loom large in our collective New York memory, but most are not memorable for the food. If you ever had a girlfriend who wanted a “Sex and the City” type experience when visiting New York, all you had to do was book a table at the latest Stephen Starr place. They were all consistently glitzy, sleek and populated with pretty young things. But now Starr has made an interesting match with chef Justin Smillie, who’s just as serious about food as Starr is about setting the scene.  (more…)

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Taco Food Truck, Chilo's

This sunny corner spot by the owners of Mayfield, also in Bed Stuy, opened just in time for outdoor dining season. The main attraction is the back patio, which in Hot Bird fashion holds several picnic tables and a food truck. It’s not quite as large a space, so you may find yourself jockeying for position during peak hours, but think of it as an excuse to make friends with your neighbors.  (more…)

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The Map Is Back! Gastro Chic Restaurants and Bars

gastro chic restaurant map

The map is back! All the restaurants and bars reviewed on this site, all in one place. Click through here to find it on Google Maps, or look for it anytime in the right sidebar of the homepage of Gastro Chic.

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Maille Mustard Store, Upper West Side

Maille Mustard Store UWS

So apparently there’s this neighborhood in New York called the “Upper West Side.” Who knew? As a downtowner I rarely go above 23rd Street, but much to my surprise a whole crop of fancy stores has opened up on Columbus Avenue near the 72nd Street 2/3 express stop. Stroll past Maje, Theory and Reiss and you’ll find the newish Maille mustard store, a little slice of Paris in New York.  (more…)

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Chefs Club by Food & Wine

Open Kitchen view 2, Chefs Club

There’s something to be said for good bones. Restaurant decor can go a long way in transforming an odd space into a good one – see Claudette, for example – but when you start with something as architecturally impressive as the interior of the Puck Building, you have more leeway in what you can hang on the walls – and put on the menu. It’s an unusual concept to open a restaurant that’s not the vision of any one particular chef or restauranteur but a magazine. Fortunately Chefs Club by Food & Wine Magazine gets a certain gravitas from the surroundings, whereas otherwise it might seem utterly newfangled. (more…)

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Exterior, Claudette NYC

So a new French bistro opened in the neighborhood. This wouldn’t be so remarkable if it weren’t for the closing of so many bistros in Greenwich Village and the East Village over the last decade – often to become a TD Bank – but Claudette, started by the guys who brought you perennially popular Rosemary’s, was big news from the start. “It’s right around the corner from your apartment,” my mom said when we dined here on a random Monday night, months after it opened. “You should make it your neighborhood place.”

“We haven’t been able to get in until now!” This was sadly true. (more…)

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Trattoria La Griglia

Grilled Branzino, Trattoria La Griglia

Milan might not be the place that springs to mind when you think of great seafood, but there are some surprisingly good fish restaurants in this city. One of them, and one of the best values, is Trattoria La Griglia on Viale Premuda.


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Distilled Sign, Distilled NY

A popular, relatively new place on the main drag of Tribeca, Distilled fills up on a weekday night with people who seem to have made it their neighborhood canteen. Indeed, Distilled’s motto is “redefining the public house.” With its soaring ceilings, big glossy dining room set with casual four-tops and a bar that runs along the entire side wall, it has the feel of a modern day dining hall. But this isn’t just the place to load up on drinks and grub on your way to somewhere else. Distilled has the kind of food that merits a special visit.  (more…)

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Santaella, San Juan, PR

Dining Room, Santaella

On our second trip to Puerto Rico, we stayed in San Juan, where you have not just the beautiful beaches of Isla Verde but also the sophisticated restaurants that are part and parcel of a life in a big city. San Juan, founded by the Spanish in 1521, is a rambling mash up of old and new. In the Santurce neighborhood surrounding La Placita, a crowd comes out to drink and dance salsa on a Friday night, spilling out of the Taburna Los Vazquez and onto the streets, where you can go buy a mojito or a greyhound made with freshly squeezed grapefruit and stroll through the plaza.  (more…)

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