Heat Wave Survival Pack

Oh yeah, it’s hot. Going out the door is like walking smack into the middle of a feather mattress with a molten marshmallow centre. If you’re in the same boat, here are a few ideas for keeping cool, nourished, and happy.

Survival Pack Component 1: Iced Coffee

Take 6 oz of coarsely ground coffee, put it in a pitcher or bowl, and slowly add 1 litre of cool water, stirring to moisten the grinds. Set it aside, covered with a lint-free cloth, for 18 hours. Meanwhile, if you like your coffee sweetened, prep some simple syrup ahead of time. In a small pan, combine 1/4 cup white sugar with 1/4 cup of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Set it aside to cool, then cover and refrigerate.

To finish the coffee concentrate, strain it twice into clean vessels: first through a fine sieve, and then through cheesecloth. Now, get yourself a frosty cup, add 2 oz or so of the coffee concentrate, a couple of ice cubes, the milk or milk substitute of your choice, and a teaspoon of the simple syrup. Happy, happy, happy. This recipe makes about 3 cups of concentrate, and it lasts in the fridge for a good few days.

Survival Kit Component 2: Peachsicles

Peaches are in season around these parts, and they are spectacular this year. Buy more than you plan on eating fresh, and make some freezy treats. Start by blanching as many very ripe peaches as you’ll need (around one per peachsicle) for 30 seconds. (Yes, I know, boiling water, heat… trust me.) Plunge them into ice water, and slide their skins off. With your impeccably clean hands (as Julia used to say), hold a peach over a bowl, and smush it between your fingers. Discard the pits, unless you have really strong teeth and a taste for cyanide.

In a blender, combine the peach flesh with (for every 6 peaches) the juice of a lemon, and 1/3 cup of simple syrup. If you want to make the pops more grown-up, reduce the amount of syrup and add a little vodka, schnapps or eau de vie. (Adding the booze without reducing the sugar risks giving you slush instead of ice). Blend until smooth, and freeze in popsicle molds like these little sailboat ones:

Shortly after this photo was taken, this sailboat met Jaws. My jaws. Snork.

Survival Kit Component 3: Godzpacho

I literally can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to posting about this recipe. I live for it. Heck, half the time in the summer, I live on it. If it’s not so hot, I deliberately go outside and run around just so I can cool off eating it. It’s Thomas Keller’s Sun Gold Tomato Gazpacho. AKA, Godzpacho. This is my adaptation (not so much an adaptation as a license to use different varieties of tomato…)

A few notes, first. This recipe is scaled for a 64-oz (2 litre) blender jug. Using a smaller jug will add a non-trivial amount of work to your day. Secondly… I am sheepish about owning a Vitamix, but in this case, it makes an enormous difference to the work involved, and to the yield you get from your ingredients. The Vitamix more or less obliterates 90% of the tomato skin and seeds that you would otherwise need to strain out of the soup to make it silky smooth. Finally: I can’t pretend this is the easiest gazpacho in the world, but I think it’s worth the work, particularly since it provides 2 people with the foundation of at least a couple of lunches and a light dinner. It keeps very well for a few days.

On with the show. Take 2lb of the ripest, sweetest tomatoes you can find. Sungolds are the best, but you can definitely get away with a mix of other cherry and larger tomatoes. Today, I used a mix of Sungold, Clear Pink and Beefsteak, topped up with a few nice, vine-ripened red cherry tomatoes from the store.

To round out the veggies, you’ll need 12oz (300 gr) of small, pickling style cucumbers (about 3), 1/4 cup red onion, one large clove of garlic (try to find local or California garlic – this has less bite and a fresher taste than most imported types), and a red, yellow or orange bell pepper.

Depending on your blender, you may need to chop things up into smaller chunks than this:

Other elements of the mise en place: 3/4 cup of good, extra-virgin olive oil, 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar or other full-bodied wine vinegar, and 1/2 tsp of the magical piment d’Espelette, a hideously expensive but oh-so-fruity and resinous mildly spicy chili powder from the Basque country. If you don’t have it, try a little tiny pinch of cayenne.

Throw the veggies and 1 C cold water into the blender. Hold off on the other ingredients.

Just fits!

Starting the blender on low and ramping it up to high, blend for about 2 minutes (in a Vitamix) or up to 4 minutes in a standard blender (don’t blame me if your machine blows up!)

Once it’s nice and smoothish, get yourself a large bowl and a fine sieve, e.g. the tamis pictured below.

Dump the puree into the tamis and, using a flat-bottomed spoon-type-device…

…push the mixture back and forth, scraping along the surface of the tamis, until you a) tire of this activity, or b) end up with just a few tablespoons of recalcitrant seeds and skins.

Rinse your blender jug, pour the puree carefully back into it, and add the vinegar, piment d’Espelette, and maybe 1/2 tsp of kosher salt. With the blender running on medium-high, slowly dribble the olive oil into the mix, as though you’re making mayonnaise. Once it’s incorporated, you should have a very velvety soup with the density and spoon-coating characteristics of heavy cream.

Refrigerate this for a couple of hours to allow the flavours to blend, and the soup to chill. Just before serving, if you’re feeling ambitious, make some tiny dice of cucumber and chunk up a few cherry tomatoes. When you’re ready to serve, taste the soup for salt and brightness, adding salt and/or more vinegar as necessary.

One last note: Godzpacho will separate slightly over the hours, so give it a good shake or whiz it in the blender for a second before serving.

Survival Pack Component 4: Beer

If all or any of the above are too taxing – or as a reward for undertaking them – there’s always beer.

Change-up

Just to remind you that it’s only haute cuisine a few times a year at the Nomnivores’ house, here’s tonight’s dinner. It’s -15’C outside, but we’re still feeling louche and gluttonous, post-holiday feast. Time for something paradoxical: light but filling, warm but bright, smooth but spiky.

Hot and sour soup fits that bill. It also has the advantages of being healthy, cheap, easy, and – as Nigel Slater might say – “delightfully moreish.” In other words: you always want just one more spoonful.

Uncharacteristically, Epicurious (channeling the dearly-departed but undead Gourmet) comes to the rescue with the best recipe we’ve found for this often-abused classic. We present tonight’s version, with our own ingredient adaptations. For the cooking instructions, refer to the recipe.

5 ounces boneless pork loin, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips (2/3 cup) Tonight, that was 3 tiny, organic pork loin chops
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
4 small Chinese dried black mushrooms We had dried shiitakes on hand
12 small dried tree ear mushrooms We had this in the form of “dried black fungus” – well worth the trip to Chinatown for a $1.99 bag that’ll last you a year – this is essential to achieve that slippery crunchiness you find in all good hot and sour soups
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar Chinese black vinegar is better, if you have it
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons peanut oil Or grapeseed, or canola
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth We used half leftover roasted pork-rib stock, and half, frozen, organic chicken stock – it ended up being almost too rich
3 to 4 oz firm tofu (about a quarter of a block), rinsed and drained, then cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper The single most important flavouring
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion greens We had chives in the fridge, so in they went
2 tablespoons fresh whole cilantro leaves