11th Plague Bloody Marys, Revisited

I initially drew up this recipe back in 2006 in efforts to accomplish two things:
1. To have something else to drink besides kosher wine and 2. Find another excuse to use my mother’s killer homemade horseradish (enjoying it solely atop gefilte fish was not going to suffice).

I was a fresh college grad at the time of the recipe’s inception and let’s just say my tastes were a little well, juvenile. I thought brunch was the greatest invention of all time (clearly this was before I had ever worked a brunch shift). And somehow the idea of waiting in line for $15 eggs was a non-issue. Why? Because we were in line for one reason: Bloody Marys. The bigger, the stronger, the taller the garnish the better. It wasn’t just a sorry excuse to drink your breakfast and salvage whatever buzz was still lingering from the night before, it was ART. Hungover drunk salty ART.

I decided to experiment with a batch for Passover cocktail hour. And as I began sketching out the proportions I realized how many seder plate items actually go into the drink. The homemade horseradish is your bitter herb (the texture also very similar to charoset), a celery or parsley garnish stands in for the karpas and savory worcestershire sauce hints at the robust flavor of a lamb shank.

I didn’t set out to make anything new or profound for my seder when I posted the recipe nearly 10 years ago. All I did (probably while hungover) was take the tastiest and saltiest parts of the Passover ritual, buzz them in a blender and call it a day. But then my mother re-posted it. Which doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal but she is also the ringleader of 7 siblings and works her days in a synagogue…so you can imagine the domino effect that soon followed.

Mixed up the day before and stirred over ice with a celery stick and a quick crack of black pepper, they have become as much a ritual as the dipping of parsley in salt water or even (gasp) a hot bowl of matzoh ball soup. No longer a salty, boozy beverage to chug, they are now my personal ode to spring. The drinks are a nod to the longer hours of the day, as the sun has yet to set when we break out the cocktail shaker. And I like the way my hands smell after handling the fresh herbs and wringing out ripe lemons. It is then that I start to day dream about my fire escape garden that will soon bring big aromatic shocks of green to my Brooklyn window. And let’s be real: nobody gets excited about passing carafes of Manischewitz down the dinner table line.



11th Plague Bloody Marys, 2015 edition.
Pared down for the adult who doesn’t have time to source out ridiculous and
hard-to-find brand name sauces and spices.

Yield: appx. 8 6-oz. cocktails

1 large bottle plain tomato or veggie juice
1/4 cup pickle brine (I use McClure’s but any brand will work)
1 1/2 tb. Worcestershire, soy or fish sauce (if using the latter, go slow)
1-2 tb. homemade horseradish
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
Hot chili sauce of choice
Dash of Old Bay or fish rub
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish with celery or any fresh herb like dill or parsley
Optional next level garnish: deviled beitzah (egg)!

1. Juice and strain your citrus.
2. Combine all your ingredients. Shake the hell out of it. Allow to chill over night.
3. Strain well, adjust seasoning and add vodka to desired strength (I figure 1.5 oz. per drink/serving). Keep cold until ready to serve.


Successful FEASTing.

This past Friday commenced the first night of FEAST, a combination seasonal dinner and writing workshop curated by myself and writer Jenn Mattson.  

I am happy to report that despite threatening bouts of thunder, torrential rains, a full moon, a date of Friday the 13th and probably something in retrograde, we boasted a packed table, high spirits, empty bottles and full notebooks.

Below I’ve posted the final menu, some pictures and a recipe too!  If you attended the dinner, please submit your snapshots in the comments or send ’em to me and I’m happy to post them.  Cheers!

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Before I get to the post: I want to make sure credit is given where credit is due. Shout outs to our stylist Michelle Bablo, who loyally stood in the pouring rain to hand pick rosemary branches in Manhattan’s flower district at 8am.  To Lily Henderson, who very bravely allowed Michelle, Jenn and I to take over apartment, re-arrange all her furniture and stuff everything that didn’t “fit with the theme of the dinner” into her tiny bedroom.  And to dear Lonnie Solaway, who managed to wash every dish and every wine glass while watching the entire World Cup on his chrome book without missing a beat.  Photo credits go to Clay Williams who so graciously showed up at the last minute and banged out a roll of shots in under 20 minutes.

And lastly, if anyone is interested in attending or collaborating, please do not hesitate to contact me!  And be sure to check out Jenn’s website for more of her super rad and motivating writing workshops.
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Conti Tour des Grendres Berger Blanc
Hautes Noelles Heho VOP Loire Rouge

House Spruce Soda

NY Top Necks, Dill Aioli,

Shaved Radish, Mexican Mint Marigold


White Shrimp Ragout,

Flowering Thyme, Chive Blossoms


Blistered LI Cherry Tomatoes,

Anchovy Bread Crumbs, BK Grange Pea Shoots, Sbrinz


Spring Dug Vegetables, Gigante Beans

Ramp Leaf Salsa Verde, Baby Mustard

Baby Kale, Red Amaranth,

Arugula & Mustard Flowers


Brioche, Milk Jam,

Marcona Almonds, Lavender Salt


some notes on the menu.
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All the herbs used tonight came from Meyer’s Produce, a one-woman foraging company and wholesale distributor based in Vermont. Owner Annie Meyer visits small organic farms all over VT and across New England for the best quality herbs and vegetables. She brings down the goods to NYC herself and sells them to some of the best restaurants in the city.

Salad greens were grown by Brooklyn Grange, a massive 65,000 sq. foot roof top garden towering twelve stories over the East River in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.



_MG_4437 - Version 2Ingredients
4 cups whole milk
1.5 cups granulated white sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp coffee extract


Whisk dry ingredients together.

Bring milk and dry mix to a boil on medium heat, stir until dissolved.
The baking soda will make the milk foam and rise quickly. Continue to whisk while adjusting the heat as needed to avoid boiling over.

Bring the mixture to 225F and lower to a bare simmer. Reduce for at least 45 minutes or up to 2 hours until the mixture is thick and caramel colored.

Whisk every 5-10 min. to prevent sticking. Cool and store in a refrigerated glass jar. Bring to room temp for serving. Or eat straight from the jar! Will keep for about a month.
_MG_4502 - Version 2

A Spring Dinner Gathering

Welcome to the event page for FEAST: A Literary Dinner Party. It takes place on what should be a blissful balmy June evening in a stunning and spacious loft and rooftop in Bushwick. Read on for how (we think) you should spend an (almost) summer night in Brooklyn.

A Literary Dinner Party

What is it: FEAST is an informal gathering for writers and eaters. It is for writers who like to eat and for eaters who like to write.
What else is it? A spring themed evening, FEAST offers an intimate farm table for you (and just 15 others) to re-grease your writing wheels and re-fill your glasses. There will be a (very) locally sourced 4-course plated dinner while published author Jenn Mattson curates a light workshop as well as some literary discussions and readings.


WHERE: Jefferson L-train stop, Brooklyn
WHEN: Friday, June 13th
HOW: Eventbrite Tickets for FEAST



Pickled Ramp Old Tom Gin,
Spruce Syrup, St. Germain

Dill Aioli, Fennel Pollen, Chive Blossoms

Prawns, Lemon Foam, Flowering Mint

Blistered Sun Gold Tomatoes, Farm Egg,
Anchovy Bread Crumbs, Bianco Sardo


Chanterelles, Ramp Salsa Verde, Farro, Castelrosso

Arugula, Nasturtium, Violet & Mustard Flowers


Brioche, Milk Jam, Lavender Salt

The Fine Print! Proposed menu is subject to change due to market availability. Food allergies may be accommodated. Please inquire prior to purchasing tickets.

DRINKS: 1 house cocktail will be provided. Diners are welcome and encouraged to bring additional beverages for themselves or to share! We say the more, the merrier.  We are happy to accomodate anything that needs to be chilled or decanted.

Note on Activities: Detailed evening itinerary and location will be released 1 week prior to event.

LILA DOBBS is a writer and a cook. She currently works as a cheesemonger at Stinky Bkyln and as a cook and kitchen manager at Ripper’s- a surf shack outpost from the owners of Roberta’s and The Meat Hook in Rockaway beach. And while she really loves cheese and flipping burgers, she really just wants to cook fresh food for cool people.

JENNIFER MATTSON is a writer and journalist. She leads writing workshops in New York and around the country. This is her attempt to do her two favorite things at once (eat & write).

Spruce Tips Part Two: Ice Cream Sandwiches

spruce_merengue Spruce took its next turn in a pretty rad batch of ice cream.  For this dessert I approached the spruce tips in the same way I would have used any other fresh herb.  I infused, strained and churned.  The result?  So weird.  So good!  Dense and creamy (even still a week later), the custard proved big, herbal and woodsy with strong notes of juniper and strawberry.  Boasting such a strong and unique flavor I knew it needed a partner.
And so came the spruce ice cream sandwich.  Meringues were a natural choice because a) what else am I going to do with 5 extra egg whites? and b) they make a perfect bite sized vessel.  I do love making meringues anyway and this time of year makes it a breeze since humidity is pretty much a non-issue.
Added orange zest heightened the natural fruitiness of the spruce and the textural contrast was just right. The meringue cookie provided a light and crispy shell with a warm marshmallowy chew- a perfect foil for the bracingly cold and creamy center.    spruce_ice_cream

Spruce Tip Ice Cream
Yield: 1 generous pint

2 c. heavy cream (500 ml.)
1 c. whole milk (150 ml.)
3/4 c. sugar (150 g.), 2 Tb. reserved
5 egg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp balsamic vinegar reduction (or to taste)

1. Combine heavy cream and milk in a saucepan. Add spruce tip and bring to a bare simmer. Turn off heat and allow to steep 1-2 hours.
2. Strain spruce through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula.
3. Add sugar and salt to cream mixture and warm all the way through, whisking until sugar and salt dissolve. Mixture should very warm, almost hot. Be careful not to scald the milk.
4. Crack eggs into a separate bowl with the reserved sugar. Whisk to break up yolks.
5. Temper eggs yolks by gradually adding up to a 1/4 cup of the hot milk to the eggs, whisking continually. When the yolks are warmed through, add them to your saucepan. Heat custard until it coats the back of a spoon or reaches 175F.
6. Chill at least 2 hours or overnight.
7. Whisk in vanilla and balsamic. Adjust salt level if needed.

Orange Meringue Cookies
Yield: 40 1 1/2″ cookies

egg whites
1 1/4 c. granulated or superfine sugar
A pinch of salt or cream of tartar
Zest of 1 orange

1. Preheat oven between 175F and 200F. In a food processor, combine sugar and orange zest. Buzz until zest is powdered.
2. Put the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Starting on the highest speed, beat the whites for about 3 minutes, until they increase in volume and form medium-soft peaks that hold their shape. With the mixer running, gradually add 3/4 cup of the sugar and continue to beat on high speed for 5 minutes, at which the peaks will be stiff. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat 2 to 3 minutes more. When the meringue is perfectly beaten, the whites will be firm and shiny. When you remove the bowl from the mixer, dip the whisk attachment into the meringue and lift it straight up-the meringue that adheres to the whisk should a firm peak if you turn the whisk upside down. The meringue is now ready to pipe!

Tip: To fill your pastry bag, I find it easiest to have the bag sitting inside a pint glass with the edges folded over. Use any pastry tip you like. A “star tip” is classic.

For ice cream sandwiches, I like to make one sheet pan of “tops” and one sheet pan of “bottoms.”  The only difference is that once the bottoms are piped, I smooth them out with the back of a spoon. That way I don’t have to cut the already baked cookies open (which is what I did for the picture because I was in a rush and hungry!)

Use a silpat or cut parchment paper sheets to fit two large sheet pans. If using parchment, dab a little meringue under each corner to secure the paper. You can pipe the cookies close to one another as they don’t really spread.
4. Bake the cookies for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The finished meringues should be dry and crisp but still white. If you notice the meringues start to brown, crack or split, turn the temperature down or off, as your oven may be too hot.

Another Tip: Shorten the baking time to ensure a slightly toothsome center which better anchors the ice cream filling.

If you are not planning on piping your meringue immediately, if you can leave the mixer on the lowest speed. If you abandon your batter, they will deflate! spruce_meringue_3

Spruce Tips Part Three: Pickles


Why pickle a spruce tip? I don’t know, why not? After making a pint of ice cream, 3 quarts of syrup (and all the cocktails that followed suit), I still had a lot of buds left over. I thought about making a spruce sugar for curing or a spruce salt for finishing but I knew there was no way I would go through that much of any one spice before it would get stale. So when in doubt, pickle! I’ve read that these guys should be left to ‘cure’ for at least a month before trying. After which I figure they’ll be great on eggs, smoked salmon or to brine a martini. I’ll let you know as soon as I crack a jar.

Pickled Spruce Tips

2 c. cider vinegar (500 ml.)
2 c. water (500 ml.)
1/4 c. kosher salt
1/2 c. + 2 Tb. granulated sugar
1 Tb. juniper berries
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2-3 fresh bay leaves

1. Bring all ingredients to a boil. Return to a simmer and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Keep very warm as you prepare your canning station.
2. Pack your jars with spruce tips about 3/4 full.
3. Ladle pickling brine into each jar, making sure to wipe off any liquid on the mouth of the jar.
4. Run a (sterilized) utensil (I like a chopstick), around the inside perimeter of the jar, pressing on the spruce buds, releasing any air bubbles.
5. If you are canning, replace jar lids but do not screw the bands all the way tight.
6. Process in a hot water bath canner, about 10 min. per batch.

In Season: Spruce Tips

  “Foraging for fir is possibly one of the hippest endeavors a chef can undertake, short of moving to Brooklyn, curling your mustache, strapping on suspenders, and donning a knit cap.” – a dumb website once said. But what that lame website also failed to explain is that my house smells like a Nordic spa right now and no one is complaining.


I recently had a conversation with Katy McNulty, a co-worker (and former sous-chef at Blue Hill) about seasonality and the rewards that come from waiting.   We agreed that chefs want to be the first to have spring greens on their menu because it’s New York.  But they also want to be the first to have spring greens because just like everyone else, they’re sick and tired of beets and potatoes and after a winter as long and dreary as ours, geography matters little.  (This explains why you saw a sugar snap pea cocktail on March 21st.) “I get it,” Katy said, “but there’s nothing more satisfying than when you take that first drive home from the farmer’s market and your trunk is filled with baby greens and spring onions and tiny radishes and you get to have this moment to yourself where you inhale really deep and then roll down the windows because your whole car smells like dirt.  And it’s wonderful.  I would rather wait for that moment than burn myself out on produce that will naturally come around here in 2 months time.  The rewards are much greater.”

Basically what we’re saying is that if you want to see some of the meanest cut-throat competition in NYC, go to the Union Square farmer’s market in April and watch grown men have a temper tantrum over a bag of pea shoots. And if spring is off to a sluggish start, walk into any kitchen and you will see there is often little hesitation to buy from California. 

So when I stumbled onto two 1/2-gallon ziplock bags of spruce tips in my freezer a few days later, I had a thought.  Spruce tips, the tender beginning buds of the spruce tree, are a nice reminder of an important seasonal transition and the benefits to come.  They are piney little wonders that still smell of fresh clean snow but also remind of us longer warmer days, melting ice and new mossy growth. spruce_bag These foraged tips came from a small New Jersey based produce distributor that specializes in organic produce and dairy sourced from small sustainable farms in Jersey cow country. I came to work with them when I was a buyer because I knew one of the drivers (who later left the company to get hitched and start his own permaculture and biodynamic farming start-up, Fields Without Fences).  That was about a year ago and the bright green buds have been hibernating in my freezer ever since. ‘Turns out there’s an awful lot you can do with spruce tips.  So this post will be broken down into three parts: Spruce Syrup Cocktail, Ice Cream and Pickles (not pregnant here, I promise.)


Nénuphar Cocktail spruce_cocktail
The first project was to make a spruce simple syrup, which in and of itself has endless uses: cocktails, sodas, sorbet, reductions and sauces.  But it’s nearly spring and I’m thirsty for a drink that doesn’t involve apple cider or scotch.  A cocktail, it is!  

For this new seasonal quaff I chose Hayman’s Old Tom Gin. Dutch style gins tend to be very herbal and juniper heavy, a natural complement to the woodsy and herbal notes of the spruce syrup.  Finishing the cocktail was some St. Germain, an elderflower based liqueur and a garnish of lavender bitters from Scrappy’s and Bitterman’s Boston bitters, a bright blend of citrus and chamomile.  I promise that once shaken and poured, you will be transplanted to a far away mossy patch or at the very least, your fire escape herb garden.

Fr. translation: white water lily

2. oz. Dutch style gin, such as Hayman’s or Ransom
.75 oz. lemon juice
.5 oz. St. Germain
.75 oz spruce simple syrup
Several dashes Bitterman’s Boston Bitters
Several more dashes Scrappy’s lavender bitters
Rosemary branch for garnish

Combine gin, lemon juice, St. Germain and syrup in a boston shaker full of ice. Shake vigorously until ice is crushed. Strain into a chilled rocks glass, ice optional. Finish with bitters and rosemary.

Nerd Tip: if you bruise the rosemary between your hands by “clapping”, it will make the drink even more aromatic.

Spruce Tip Syrup spruce_syrup2

Simple syrup is always handy to have and is incredibly easy to make. It dissolves easily into cold drinks like cocktails and iced coffee.  Infusing the syrup is easy and makes for a great blank canvas to flavor seltzer, tea, shaved ice or to glaze any number of desserts.

I used equal parts of each ingredient.  The result was a beautiful and rich honey colored sweetener with big woodsy and herbal notes.
For a thicker syrup you can decrease the water and/or increase the sugar.

Spruce Syrup
yield: 3 qts.

7 cups water
7 cups sugar
7 cups spruce tips, lightly packed (500g., appx)

Bring all ingredients to a boil and turn down to a bare simmer for 30 min. Remove from heat and allow to steep at least 2 hours or overnight.

In Season: Key Limes


Key Lime Pie Ice Cream

The term “seasonal” takes a bit of a leap here. Not only are there are no key lime trees in any Brooklyn backyard (that I know of) but key lime trees tend to bear the most fruit and flowers between the months of May and September- a bit of an anomaly in the citrus world. But here we are in citrus season nonetheless and when I saw small mesh bags of those impossibly cute golf ball sized key limes in Chelsea Market, I snatched ’em. Key lime pie ice cream it was to be!

After a little bit of research for this recipe, it seems that many folks forgo the use of eggs and sugar, using sweetened condensed milk instead to emulate actual key lime pie filling and then freezing it right away.  I’m sure it’s delicious and soft and creamy but HEY, that’s not really ice cream.  Also, I had already bought eggs.

IMG_2214I am really happy with how this came out.  What started as a dramatic yellow custard finished a lovely and creamy shade of barely there pastel green. It was sweet and tart and rich with a perfectly soft (but not soggy) graham cracker swirl.  The base did get very thick, very fast.  Not even two minutes went by before I was able to stand a spoon completely upright.  I don’t know if it was because I used 6 egg yolks or because key lime juice naturally sets the custard in key lime pie (fact!). If this happens to you, don’t freak out and continue heating and whisking your custard until a thermometer reads 170-175F.


Key Lime Pie Ice Cream

3/4 cup sugar, with 2 Tb. set aside (150 g.)
2-3 Tb. key lime zest
3 Tb. fresh key lime juice
1 cup whole milk (250 ml.)
2 cups heavy cream (300 ml.)
6 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 ready-made graham cracker pie crust*, crumbled and set aside.

A tip: I would recommend adding a lil’ bit of booze to counteract the use of extra water (the lime juice).  I only had weird tasting digestifs in my house so I used an extra egg yolk to balance out any iciness and to contribute to key lime pie’s classic custard texture.

*Don’t mock my ready-made pie crust. For $1.99, I had the exact amount of graham cracker crumbles vs. $4.99 for a huge box of graham crackers that I would never go through. (Or would go through, way too fast).


1. Combine zest and sugar in a blender or food processor. Buzz ’till well combined and zest is powdered. This will prevent having weird frozen strands of fruit zest in your finished product.

2. Heat milk, salt and zesty sugar in a saucepan. Warm all the way through, until sugar dissolves and the milk slightly thickens.

3. Crack eggs into a separate bowl with the reserved sugar. Whisk.

4. Temper eggs yolks by gradually adding up to a 1/4 cup of the hot milk to the eggs, whisking continually. When the yolks are warmed through, add them to your saucepan. Heat custard until it coats the back of a spoon or until 175F.

5. Chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

6. Whisk in cream, vanilla and key lime juice. Adjust salt level if needed. Churn away! Add in graham cracker crumbles when custard begins to look like soft serve.

In Season: Not Much. Answer: A Pickle

I work for a small company called Hudson Valley Harvest. We represent about 20 or so small family owned farms that grow sustainable organic veg and raise pastured, grass fed cattle and pigs. When I approach chefs and retail shop buyers, they look at my list and say, “Looks great! Call me in April.” I don’t blame them. My list starts with beets and ends with potatoes. Spring cannot come soon enough! Screw summer tomatoes, I would be happy eating a friggin’ spring onion sandwich at this point.

So this post on pickling is not necessarily a call to “preserve the season” so much as it is to resuscitate it.


Now, you could call this a quickle (a “quick pickle” also known as a “refrigerator pickle.”) I’ve made this recipe before and these carrots, 4 months later are still sittin pretty in a half-gallon mason jar, always available for a salad, a sandwich or a bright pick-me-up snack. But since I was fairly hungover yesterday and had lots of time on my hands, I decided to properly can them so I could add them to my library of jam. But once they’ve been processed (12-15 min. in the canning pot), I guess they’re no longer a quickle. But that doesn’t stop me from saying the word quickle. Because why would you want to?

This recipe is super simple and very adaptable. You could swap out the fennel seeds for dill seed, the black mustard for juniper berries and on and on. I’ve been enjoying them in a kale and fennel salad with parsley and loads of bright goat’s milk feta. Saltie uses them in their clean slate sandwich along with pickled beets, yogurt and bulgur, all rolled up in some grilled perfectly flaky na’an.


(from my brain with a little help from Saltie)

6 medium carrots, peeled
1-1/2 large red onions
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tb. coriander seeds
1 tb. fennel seeds
1/2 tb. black peppercorns
1/2 tb. black or brown mustard seed
4-5 dried arbol chilies

Makes 2 quarts

Slice the carrots as thinly as possible. I’ve done this with matchsticks, rounds and ribbons.  Any of these shapes work well.

Slice the red onion into half moons. Don’t slice them too thin or they will start to fall apart in the hot pickling liquid. You want your pickles to have some nice crunch.* Set aside your veggies in a large mixing bowl.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, spices and chilies. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour the pickling liquid over the veggies.

For a quickle:
Allow to cool to room temperature and store them in a glass jar.

For a pickle:
Have all of your canning tools ready and sanitized. I like having my canning mise layed out over a tea towel on my kitchen table. Have your jars clean and your (new) lids in a sauce pan of barely simmering water on the side.

With a slotted spoon or tongs, portion out your carrots and onions into each jar, about 3/4 of the way full. Using a canning funnel helps prevent a hot mess.

Ladle remaining pickling liquid (which should still be hot or very warm) into each jar, leaving about 1/4-1/2″ of headspace. Replace the lids, leaving the bands somewhat loose.

Process in a hot water bath 12-15 min. Remove and allow to cool. Test lids. If sealed properly, screw the bands tight and shelve!

*Speaking of crunch, keeping you veggies in an ice bath while preparing your canning station will help preserve their toothsome crunch.