"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Friday, December 28, 2007

Fig Pudding with Rum Butter

Suet.

If you bake, you've run across recipes that call for this clean, gravely, beef fat. The usual suspects are mincemeat pie and plum pudding. And people tend to fall into two camps when it comes to suet--the "no way" camp, and the "I'd try it if only I could find it" camp. I'm not sure why it seems so repulsive to use this animal by-product in sweet food--after all, we certainly use butter and eggs, and if you think about what those actually are...well, better perhaps not to think too hard.

To use suet you have to have access to a butcher, and not the one at your local Shaw's. I mean a real butcher, where they get whole sides of beef to break down because suet is found around the kidneys and loins.

Now, at this point you might be thinking to yourself, "what's the big deal about suet?" Well, according to my research, it has a higher melting point than butter. This is useful at least for Christmas puddings because the other ingredients have time to set before the suet theoretically melts away, leaving a light, airy cake product behind.

Notice I said "theoretically".

This is because for the the past two years I've followed the plum pudding recipe in the Joy of Cooking...

Wait a second, let me back up.

At my job, there are two major holidays where the family gathers. The first is fourth of July, the second is Christmas. They are grand affairs with long-standing traditions, and one of the traditions at Christmas goes like this: after the big Christmas feast, the lights go out in the dining room and the cook (that's me) appears with a platter of flaming Christmas pudding and everybody sings "We wish you a Merry Christmas" (you know... "now bring us some figgy pudding..."). Then I promenade this now sputtering spectacle across the room and take a bow while everybody claps.

So on this, my third Christmas, I went out on a limb and changed the recipe, from the above-mentioned Plum Pudding, to Fig Pudding with Rum Butter--which brings me back to the point I was making above. The point is that the two times I made the Plum Pudding, the suet never melted, and so the pudding was extremely dense and rich. I finally figured out that it would melt if I heated it up in the microwave and had determined to do that this year (steam the pudding in advance and microwave the heck out of it just before serving) when I came across the Fig Pudding recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook.

It still calls for suet, but it's treated differently--whipped with sugar instead of grated and left in small chunks. Not surprisingly, this allowed the suet to melt away beautifully, and the result was a light, moist, figgy cake (or pudding, if you insist) that got great reviews.

I did have some trepidation about changing the recipe, but realized that as long as it's in the same basic shape (I used the same pudding mold), is accompanied by hard sauce (which is what the Rum Butter is), and is on fire when it comes out, the specifics of the innards don't matter much.

NOW---my next problem to work out with this dish is how to get the darn thing to remain alight during its journey across the dining room. I've tried heating the metal platter, the pudding and the rum, I've tried putting little sugar cubes to "anchor" the alcohol (what Mrs. S. used to do)--the only other thing I can think of is to buy some seriously high octane booze next year and try that out.

Any pyros out there feel free to chime in on this cooking quandary.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jellied Cranberry Sauce

Jellied Cranberry Sauce is one of those recipes that asks you to push cooked solids through a fine mesh sieve--in this case, four bags of boiled cranberries. After about the fifth scoop of cranberry mashing, I was asking myself why the canned stuff was really so bad, and I'm still not sure I can give you the answer to that. I love chunky homemade cranberry sauce, especially with stuff like orange zest or dried cherries added in, but this recipe is meant to replicate that Jell-O look and mouth-feel. It's just straight, slightly sweetened, very thick cranberry juice that has added gelatin and is set in a mold.

Anyway, I pressed on (no pun intended), mixed in my gelatin, poured it in a ring mold (with some left over in a bowl) and let it sit overnight. Oh, by the way--this was the day before Christmas, to be served with the Christmas feast for twenty-two people at work.

Here's the exciting part.

Now, when you unmold cranberry sauce, you dip the mold in hot water for five seconds and then turn it over onto a plate. Easy, right? Epicurious certainly makes it look easy--here's a picture by Sang An of Jellied Cranberry Sauce that doesn't resemble mine in the slightest.



Mine didn't look like that because I dipped it in hot water (really hot water) and when I unmolded it, the melted jellied cranberry sauce puddled all over the plate around the now much diminished and undignified looking remnants of the ring mold.

Clearly this unmolding business is a learned skill.

Plan B: scoop it all up and put it in a pretty bowl. Tastes the same, takes up less space anyway.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Old Plymouth Indian Meal Pudding



Gentle Readers, this is the time of year when I can scarcely draw a breath for all of the cooking, shopping, and rushing around that I do. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention Old Plymouth Indian Meal Pudding, which I made for my book group earlier this month.

The above photo only resembles mine in color of pudding and addition of vanilla ice cream. Otherwise it was quite a different creature because this is a dessert that you bake (according to the recipe in the book) for two hours.

That's right. Two hours.

Why, you might be asking, does a pudding have to bake for that long?

I have a theory, and it goes something like this. Did you ever hear the story about the family who always served their Christmas roast with the ends cut off? It was an old family tradition--the grandmother had always made it that way, and so did the mother, and the daughters honored the tradition by likewise making it in the traditional family manner. But one day, a husband spoke up at dinner. "Why," he asked plaintively, "do the ends get cut off? That's the best part!"

So the daughters determined to get to the bottom of the tradition, and they called their grandmother who had retired to sunny Costa Rica. "Grandma," they asked, "how did that family tradition get started--cutting the ends off the Christmas Roast?"

"Oh that!" said the Grandma. "You silly girls--that was so the roast would fit in the pan!"

What does this have to do with baking a pudding for two hours? Well, my idea is that somebody left their pudding in the oven for and hour and a half, and when they realized their mistake, they poured milk on top in hopes of re-adding moisture and baked it for another half hour. The result was not bad, kind of half crusty and half chewy, and somehow it got passed down for generations and ended up in The Gourmet Cookbook.

So that sums up Old Plymouth Indian Meal Pudding. Not bad, kind of half crusty and half chewy. Not surprisingly (at least to me), this recipe is not to be found on Epicurious, so if you're just dying to make it let me know and I will post it here.

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Good news!! I've just received a digital camera for Christmas! If I had more time I would find a photo and show you what it looks like but it's a Sony and it's pink. So now I can be stylish AND clever. Well, the clever part will come after I figure out how to use it. Until then I'll just have to be stylish.

Good luck with your Christmas preparations!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Curried Lentil Soup recipe for Elizabeth

Long overdue--sorry I made you wait!

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 1/2 cups (20 ounces) chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium broth
2 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup chopped drained canned tomatoes
2 cups coarsely chopped spinach
fresh lemon juice to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add curry powder and cumin and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add lentils, stock, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and spinach and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Lobster Newburg and Lemon Meringue Pie

Readers, if you have The Gourmet Cookbook and you also frequent Epicurious, you'll notice that the recipe for Lobster Newburg on the Epicurious site is slightly different from the one in the cookbook.

Go with the one on Epicurious.

I don't know what they were thinking when they modified this recipe (which they say has stood the test of time?!) (which is exactly what they say in the head note to the Epicurious recipe!)

The problem with the recipe in the book is that the sauce is too thin. You end up basically with lobstery cream coating your lobster and mushrooms. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if you know how it's supposed to be, it's a disappointment. I never did serve this again as Newburg--I drained the cream the next day and made lobster salad for sandwiches, and the day after that I took the remaining lobster salad and added it to haddock chowder. That's recycling, folks.

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I'm going to make a confession. Another one. Souffles don't scare me. Flambes don't scare me (anymore). You want to know what scares me, culinarily speaking? Lemon meringue pie.



Lemon meringue pies are notoriously tricky to bake. All kinds of things can go wrong with them, but the most common causes for tears are beading on the top of the meringue, and weeping underneath it. I've only made one once before, when I was the head chef at As You Like It. I used the recipe from Joy of Cooking, and as I recall it came out pretty well, though I was a nervous wreck about it.

So when I offered Dr. and Mrs. S. their choice of a few desserts and Dr. S. picked Lemon Meringue Pie I was ready to take on the challenge in spite of the possibility of disaster.

Now, if you're getting nervous because I used the word "disaster", I'll just tell you up front that the pie tasted great.

But if you're wondering why I might have used the word "disaster", it's because of this: I drained enough liquid off of that pie, after it was baked, to almost fill a cup measure. Fortunately, somehow and for some reason, the pie crust stayed crispy. This is some kind of miracle that I can only attribute to my earnestness and hard work in the kitchen.

There are two aspects to baking these pies that you have to watch out for. The first is the temperature thing--everything has to be hot when you spread the meringue on top. The crust needs to be just out of the oven (or re-warmed), the lemon filling ideally should be piping hot--and that way the meringue is cooking somewhat on the bottom as it's cooking on the top.

The second aspect to watch out for is the meringue itself. The sugar has to be thoroughly beaten in, and the whites can't be too dry (or too wet). Stiff peaks is what you're after, and actually mine never did form even though I beat the heck out of those egg whites. Maybe that's where I went wrong, or maybe it's because the filling was merely warm instead of hot.

So my meringue pie was lemony with a soft meringue on top, good but I can't help thinking there's a better one in me somewhere.

Watch this space--I'll circle back around to this sometime.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Date Walnut Rugelach and Gratineed Chicken and Vegetables in Cream Sauce

If I had had a balloon over my head showing my inner thoughts while I was in the process of making Date Walnut Rugelach, it would have looked like this:



If I had had a balloon showing my inner thoughts while I was in the process of tasting the rugelach after they had cooled, it would have looked like this:



Clearly, this is a recipe that is to be made only once a year.

And it is, actually, a traditional Hanukkah recipe, which is why I made it even though nobody at work celebrates that particular holiday except M.'s husband E. (who won't be around til Christmas anyway). They rank on the pain-in-the-ass scale up there with Peanut Butter Bon Bons (my family's traditional Christmas goody).

Here is why Date Walnut Rugelach will make you emit hearts too: the dates melt somewhat during the baking, and in the little spots where they leak out of the dough wrapper, they caramelize and become chewy. Mmmm, heaven.

Production note: the book directs you to brush the pastry rounds with melted apricot jam before rolling them up--the recipe on Epicurious doesn't. Also, in searching for an image of rugelach to put here, I notice that hardly anybody tucks the outer ends of the roll under--this would make production slightly easier. Anyway, here's a lovely photo from Milk and Cookies\.



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Gratineed Chicken in Cream Sauce is a very tasty, comforting fall/winter dish for chicken. My only problem with this dish was that I didn't read it all the way through and so was expecting a casserole.

It isn't--it's pan-seared chicken parts with vegetables in a cream sauce--the pan is sprinkled heavily with Gruyere at the end and finished under a broiler until it's all melted and bubbly.

If you love classic French food, you will really love this and should give it a whirl. If you are not a sauce person (incredible, but they're out there) or are watching your fat intake then steer clear.

This photo by Romulo Yanes doesn't really show all the lovely cheese and sauce to its best advantage, but it will give you an idea...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fricos and Sole Goujonettes with Paprika Salt

"Huh?" I hear you say..."What the heck is a goujonette?"

This, my dear friends, is a fine example of how menu writers get you to pay more money when you go out to eat. I bet you wouldn't consider $28 excessive for "sole goujonettes", but would you pay that amount for "fish sticks"? Because that's basically what these are.

The Gourmet Cookbook explains to us that goujon is French for "gudgeon", which is a slender little fish found in Europe somewhere. This word has been appropriated to describe any strip of fish that is deep-fried. It would be as if we called fish sticks "anchovyettes", or "sardinettes".

OK, now granted sole IS an expensive fish. So if you were eating fried sole strips you could expect to pay more than if you were eating something slightly less expensive, like pollack (which is the fish you're eating at McDonald's and in the cafeteria.)

All this aside, Sole Goujonettes with Paprika Salt is fine way to fry fish--it's not too far actually from the Italian Fried Salt Cod posted below except that you use seltzer to mix up the batter. The one thing I don't understand is why on earth anybody would put salt on the side for "dipping". There is salt in the batter already, and you are directed to salt the fried fish once they come out of the oil--why would you want more if it's properly seasoned? This is where you want contrasting flavor-- malt vinegar, lemons or tarter sauce, or even ketchup if you must.

The recipe on Epicurious mentions only paprika for the salt--sweet paprika I mean, but the book suggests smoked paprika, and I did use that. I wasn't sure about it--it seemed an overwhelming flavor but when it was all said and done I actually didn't detect the smokiness in the fish. So don't go out of your way to get smoked paprika for this dish, is my point.

Here's another nice picture by Romulo Yanes:



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Fricos are one of those ridiculously easy recipes that make you look good. It's just grated parm, flour and pepper, baked on a sil-pat for ten minutes. If you don't have a sil-pat pan liner, ask Santa for a couple--they can be found at places like Bed, Bath and Beyond. They are amazingly handy when it comes to stuff like this--actually, there are some recipes that can be baked successfully ONLY on sil-pats.

Here's a picture:



I had a moment of confusion when I was baking these, because I remembered making them at Yanks and draping them over a rolling pin to get a nice shape. These did not drape--they were very stiff. I also remembered the sous at the Emerson just sprinkling grated parm in a non-stick frying pan to make these...yes, there are two ways to make them. If you want stiff crackers, go with the cheese + flour recipe. If you want to make a curvy shape or a cone, or a cup to put some kind of filling in, just sprinkle grated parm in a pan and let it melt and turn golden.

Here's a picture of that:



This is a great technique that should be part of any foodie's repertoire. Try one of these on top of a caesar salad and you'll get oohs and aahs. I promise.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Chicken Tetrazzini and Pecan Tart

Actually, I mean Turkey Tetrazzini. Yes, like most of you, I was trying to figure out what the heck to do with all that leftover turkey, aside from the obligatory soup and sandwiches.

The first time I had turkey tetrazzini was at Yanks, when the sous chef was trying to figure out the same thing. We used to have staff meals (so civilized!) and he baked a gigantic hotel pan of the stuff, which is basically a noodle casserole held together with a cheesy white sauce, with turkey (or chicken), and veg of your choice thrown in. He used peas, as I recall. Ah, comfort food!

I knew Dr. and Mrs. S. would go for the idea if I put it like this: "a casserole with some pasta and a sherry cream sauce with mushrooms". They love anything that involves sherry, so it was a green light.

When you look at the recipe on Epicurious you'll see that there's a lot of stock making etc.--you can do all that but if you are dealing with leftovers you really just need the poultry meat and stock from some source. If you can make it, fine, if not nobody will notice if you use canned. All you need it for is the cream sauce and there's a lot of other stuff going on there.

The thing that was the most fun about this dish was the way they have you assemble it. You're supposed to toss half the sauce with the pasta, and put it in a casserole dish. Then make a well in the pasta, and put the rest of your sauce + the poultry in the middle. Sprinkle the whole thing with parm reg and bake in the oven until golden. I don't know why that tickles me so much, but it does--kind of like making Toad in the Hole for breakfast.

Dr. S. really loved this dish but Mrs. S. picked out the turkey and the mushrooms and left the pasta behind. I enjoyed it very much, partly because it was unexpectedly peppery--the recipe calls for 1 tsp. of pepper which really livens it up.

Note: Epicurious provides three recipes for tretrazzini--the one I gave you the link to above is the closest to what is in the book. But there are some differences--no truffle butter, a lot more pepper, more parm, and slightly more sherry.

Here is a nice picture taken by Romulo Yanes. Mine definitely looked more "baked", but this will give you an idea.



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I have come to the conclusion that I have to get a tape measure for the kitchen at work. I am just really lousy at estimating length and width. And who can remember how wide things are? I ordered a bunch of tart pans and when I bake I always just use the biggest one.

Why am I kvetching about this? It will come clear in a moment.

The Pecan Tart recipe is a winner, because it eliminates the thing I dislike about pecan pies--namely, the gooey, overly sweet filling the pecans are suspended in. So the tart recipe basically flattens it out, and you get crispness everywhere--in the tart shell, in the toasted crunchy pecans, and it's all bound just ever so slightly by caramelized filling.

Here's where my measurement problems come into play--the recipe calls for a 10-inch tart pan, so I pull out my biggest one. Which only holds half the filling. Hmmm, I'm thinking to myself, this must not be quite ten inches, and I remember that my springform pan is. Which is much bigger. And if I had been really thinking I would have made the tart in the springform pan instead.

So we have a lovely tart at work and I had to throw half the filling away (actually I drank some of it with some pecans thrown in, can you believe it? I do the same thing with pumpkin pie filling.) All I can say is it's probably a good thing I'm not a carpenter or a seamstress.

Oh, and here is yet another recipe that calls for caramel making. If there is a food theme that runs through this book, it's freshly made caramel, and every recipe seems to approach it from a different angle. This one is the dry-stirring technique, which I've had trouble with before, but this time I was smart and let some of the sugar melt before I got involved stirring it all around, which makes big, messy clumps that stick to your fork.

Here's a photo of somebody else's pecan tart, but it looks pretty close. Mine might have been even a little thinner. Doesn't it look tasty?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Italian Fried Salt Cod and Creamy Vinaigrette



Salt cod is so mysterious, isn't it? In New England it's in those wooden boxes you sometimes find, stacked close to the smoked salmon and the fake crab. What do you do with it?

I am embarrassed to tell you, readers, that the first time I encountered salt cod, early in my twenties (and well before I had embarked on any adventuresome cooking) my husband and I figured that salt cod was something akin to beef jerky or pemmican. So we bought a box and commenced to nibbling on it.

If you've ever worked with salt cod you are gagging by now. Gregg and I concluded that it was just too salty (after a few game bites) and tossed it out, mighty puzzled. Don't forget, this was when the internet was in its earliest stages--no instant clarification possible. And it never occurred to me to actually ask anybody!

But salt cod is a huge part of many cuisines all over the world, because in the old days that's how fish was shipped. Fish yards would spread fish out over wooden, slatted tables called "stages" and salt them heavily, and they would turn as tough as old boot leather. Then we shipped it everywhere, but especially down to the islands that were raising sugar cane. Why? Because they used slave labor, and slaves needed protein to work well, and salt cod was the cheapest form of protein there was. If you want to know what happened next, the sugar cane went to make molasses, which went to make rum, and voila--you've got the Triangle Trade.

How do I know all this? I used to own a walking tour business. I also like to drink rum, but that's beside the point.

The internet is well entrenched, we've got tons of cookbooks available, so you would think that recipes for salt cod would abound, right?

Not so much. You're pretty much going to find brandade, which is cod mashed potatoes, cod-tomato casseroles, and fish cakes.

Fortunately, The Gourmet Cookbook has another recipe that I found appealing: Italian Fried Salt Cod.

Here's a picture that a Mr. Jung took:



Mine looked just like this, without the nice wine glass.

I was interested in the batter--most batters that go in hot oil are some variation of flour, egg wash and flour again (or bread crumbs). This was kind of like a tempura batter, and it puffed up really nicely. Amazingly, I had to salt the fried fish sticks to get the right taste--I oversoaked my cod a bit and had to bring it up to speed.

This, by the way, is another good piece of advice I got from this recipe--taste your cod throughout the soaking process. You want it to be "pleasantly salty" and that takes anywhere from one to three days. Of course I read that after I had soaked the cod.

And here's a tip from me: if you're cooking for small numbers, don't feel like you have to soak the whole box of cod. Just take a piece out and leave the rest--it will keep almost forever. I foolishly and enthusiastically soaked all the cod and ended up throwing some away because I just couldn't use it quickly enough.

Dr. and Mrs. S. loved this dish. I gave it to them for lunch along with some squash soup--a nice flavor balance to the fish. I loved it too--I did plenty of "quality control" tasting, believe me.

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Every time I make salad dressing, I am amazed at how much better it is than the bottled stuff. So I'll diligently make salad dressing for a few months...but then it gets busy, and I'll go back to Ken's, or Annie's, or whatever.

I'm just coming off a "bottled" phase, and I picked Creamy Vinaigrette as my next dressing. Epicurious does not carry this recipe, but if you've ever made your own mayonnaise it's the same idea--egg yolk in the blender along with some vinegar, mustard and shallot, then olive oil in a slow, steady stream.

The result is a thick, tangy dressing that would make a brilliant substitute for Broccoli Sauce (new readers, this is the mayo/lemon juice sauce my mom used to use to get us kids to eat broccoli) except that Broccoli Sauce is a million times easier to make. Still, if you're feeling even somewhat ambitious and are about to serve any kind of salad or green vegetable to a crowd, try this one out. The bottled stuff can't even begin to compare.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Carmelized Oranges and Bulgur and Lentil Salad with Tarragon and Walnuts

Carmelized Oranges does not appear on Epicurious, and I'll tell you why. Because somebody thought of it in the middle of the night, wrote it out, thought it sounded good, and stuck it in the cookbook.

That's the only conclusion I can come up with, because this recipe makes no sense whatsoever.

Sauteeing orange slices in butter "until they turn golden brown"? Adding half a cup of orange juice to a quarter cup freshly cooked caramel to make a sauce?

First, when heat is applied to oranges, they fall apart. The only way you're going to get them golden brown is by dipping them in batter and deep frying them.

Second, I wouldn't exactly call orange juice a "sauce", no matter how much caramel flavor you've got in there.

This is not to say it didn't taste good. Dr. S. LOVED it with vanilla ice cream, and I poured some of that orange juice in my ginger tea and thought it tasted mighty fine.

But come on, Editors of Gourmet Cookbook!! Didn't anybody screen these recipes?

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What do you cook for your family after a week of feasting and merrymaking? Bulgur and Lentil Salad with Tarragon and Walnuts, of course!

This is not to say I wasn't a little apprehensive about this recipe. In spite (or perhaps because) of my twelve years as a vegetarian, I'm a little spooky when it comes to recipes that call for things like bulgur.

I was worried for nothing. This recipe is a winner and our Sea Meadow vegetarians will be enjoying too it at some point--maybe at Christmas, maybe next summer. What makes it great is the vinegar and the walnuts--they add a layer of refinement that takes it beyond those slodgy, chewy, whole grain salads of yesteryear.

I must confess I didn't make it exactly as printed, since tarragon for some reason was nowhere to be found the day after Thanksgiving. I used sage, sliced it into ribbons and mixed it in with the bulgur while it was cooking to get the raw off.

I still gained a pound and a half this week, so watch this space for more recipes that will have a hopefully slimming effect.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Inside-Out German Chocolate Cake and Pumpkin Cheesecake with Bourbon Sour Cream Topping

Want to impress a crowd? Bring them Inside-Out German Chocolate Cake.



This has to be the most spectacular cake I've ever made, and people just flipped over it. For chocolate lovers, it's heaven on earth. Even my son, who says he disdains coconut, adored this cake, and I'll tell you why--the coconut is toasted, which really changes both the flavor and the texture. Or maybe he was just overwhelmed by all the chocolate and it could have been covering gravel for all he cared.

It's a bit complicated to make and requires a lot of attendance, what with the toasting of coconut and pecans, the three cake layers, the baked sweetened condensed milk...but if you've got a half a day to spare it's an extremely rewarding baking project.

One tip I picked up from the Epicurious site on the reader review page--instead of baking the milk in the oven in a water bath, boil an unopened can in a pot on the stove for two hours and you'll get the same effect (which is dulce de leche). I would suggest going that route since the other way is a bit of a pain.

My other Thanksgiving dessert contribution was Pumpkin Cheesecake with Bourbon Sour Cream Topping. I made this cheesecake Wednesday morning, and readers, I'm embarrassed to say that I submitted to diet fear-thinking and substitued light dairy products for this whole dessert. Usually when I'm trying a Gourmet Cookbook recipe for the first time I make it as written so I can honestly evaluate it. Now note that I didn't say I used fat-free. You might as well just bring some carrot and celery sticks than do that.

Anyway, this cheesecake was the particular favorite of a few guests who aren't chocolate fiends, and O'Malley claims he liked this better than the German Chocolate Cake too (even though he swore loudly and vociferously that he hated pumpkin on Tuesday).

My sole difficulty with the cheesecake was plating it--we have no cake-sized platters in our house and when I tried to get it on a dinner plate I made a crater-shaped cheesecake. I ended up transfering it back to the base of the spring-form pan so it could be nice and flat.

Here is a photo of the two desserts before their voyage to the party. I have to confess I've become addicted to the food-styled photos I've been posting from Epicurious and other places on the web so this one seems very plain-spun! We'll work on our celebrity food shots soon.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Garlic Bread, Tomato Sauce and Black Forest Cake



People, this Garlic Bread rocks the house. There is nothing, and I mean nothing that compares with biting into greasy, soft, garlicky bread that is hot out of the oven. The only modification the book had over this recipe on Epicurious is the addition of a little salt, which you grind up the garlic with. You know how you do that, right? By smooshing the salt and garlic together with the flat of your chef's knife? The salt helps to break down the garlic so you get a nice paste and no unpleasant chunks to get stuck between your teeth.



And it's just the thing, of course, to to with Tomato Sauce. The Gourmet Cookbook offers a number of sauce recipes; this one is a winter sauce that uses canned whole tomatoes, onions, garlic and dried oregano. Simple, and really tasty.

Why the Italian meal? I hear you ask. Not my typical MO. Well, when I was discussing with Dr. and Mrs. S. what might be an appropriate pre-Thanksgiving day dinner, I said I thought something light might be good, to make a little room for the feasting.

"How about spaghetti?" Dr. S. asked? God love him.

I rearranged the menu and gave them spaghetti (capellini, actually), garlic bread and salad for lunch, and mushroom soup for dinner.

Now folks, I am not really so much of a pasta cook. So when I went to boil the capellini, I figured for six people, two pounds of pasta should do, right? I mean, I used to work with this kid Patrick who used to work in an Italian restaurant, and their portion sizes were one pound of pasta PER PERSON. Yes, you read that correctly.

Can I just tell you that two pounds of capellini makes an ENORMOUS amount of pasta? It filled a three foot long oval platter. I don't understand the physics behind this, at all. If somebody can explain it to me, help me out with it. But my six or seven cups of sauce were kind of lost in the middle so the moral of the story is a) if you're cooking capellini, good luck, and b) if you're making tomato sauce, don't put it on too much pasta.

Dr. S., by the way, had two helpings. They all loved it, and there had to be at least half a platter left over. Amazing.

What do you follow a meal like this with?



Some yummy Black Forest Cake!

This is a spectacular creation, both to look at, and to eat. Dr. S. was completely on board with the idea of this cake once I gave him the parameters: chocolate, kirsch, and cherries.

It's even better the next day, once the cake has had a chance to soak up some of the liquid from the sour cherry jam and the kirsch syrup. And this is no wimpy Betty Crocker cake either--it has backbone from ground almonds in the mix. Epicurious doesn't list this recipe (at least not in the format the book uses) so if you want the recipe just let me know.

Now get away from this computer and go walk off some of those Thanksgiving calories!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pita Toasts, Cheese Straws and Thanksgiving!

Reader, in a perfect world there would be a little kitchen elf who would magically make hors d'oeurves appear while I'm putting the finishing touches on dinner. My mind just doesn't naturally wander in that direction when I'm thinking about food--you're much more likely to find me musing about the perfect dessert, or about the balance of flavors, textures and colors on the dinner plate.

And appetizers can, if done with too much flourish, actually dull the appetites of diners, and nothing makes a chef crankier than someone who picks at their dinner because they've eaten too much clam dip. I am guilty of this--a) I love clam dip and b) when I'm starving I eat what's in front of me until I'm full, regardless of course. I guess what I'm saying is that if I were my own guest, I would find myself very irritating! Good thing quantum physics doesn't allow that yet.

Anyway, all this is to explain why I haven't delved into the "Hors D'Oeurves and First Courses" chapter of this book too much, although at work it's de rigueur, especially when family comes. Usually it's a nice cheese with some crackers and grapes, but eventually I'll work my way through this chapter and somebody, somewhere, will get to try things like Fresh Corn Madeleines with Sour Cream and Caviar.

But not today.

Today I'm going to tell you about Pita Toasts and Cheese Straws.

Actually, I served the Pita Toasts as an accompaniment to lentil soup for my writing group, and I would make these again, any day. Here's why: easy, fast, and adjustable. (Oh, and delicious.)

To make the process more efficient, do this--instead of cutting the pitas in half, then into wedges, then brushing with oil--cut them in half, brush the rounds with oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, stack the rounds, and cut the stack into wedges.

My only mistake with this recipe was mixing white pitas with thinner, whole wheat ones--the thinner ones browned much more quickly and were on the edge of too done.

Dieters--you can make this a friendly snack by using those great high fiber pitas and spraying them lightly with cooking spray (preferably something without silicone).

You can also jazz these up by mixing a spice like cumin or chili powder into your oil.

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I wasn't as happy with the Cheese Straws, and part of this was my literal brain. Don't you think something called a "straw" should be long and thin? And that's what the headnotes say too--thin and elegant, and that's how you feel when you're nibbling them. I followed the directions precisely (except what kind of cheese I used--I subbed dill havarti for cheddar) and my straws were kind of stumpy. They were more like sticks. But I guess Cheese Sticks doesn't sound quite as appealing, does it?



These aren't mine, but this is what they looked like. And I wasn't crazy about them, truthfully. Maybe it's because they're made with puff pastry, and I find puff pastry to be kind of bland and greasy. But my folks liked them, so maybe I'm just being cranky and persnickety.

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Hey readers! What are you doing for Thanksgiving? Talk about a holiday where the focus is on the food! So tell me, where are you going, who's doing the cooking, and are you bringing anything? An old family recipe, or are you experimenting on your unsuspecting co-diners? (I am.) This is a fun time of year, so share the foodie bliss with us!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Apple Puffed Pancake and Curried Lentil Soup with Tomato and Spinach

Readers, I'm sorry to say that Epicurious does not carry either of these recipes, which means that they were never published in Gourmet Magazine. It's been interesting to note which recipes are family favorites of the cookbook staff (like Ruth R.'s mother's pancake recipe), which ones were culled from other cookbooks (a lot of the ethnic ones) and which ones are from their archives.

Anyway, these were both great recipes so if you don't have the book and you absolutely must cook one or the other or both let me know and I'll include the particulars.

I made Apple Puffed Pancake for breakfast on Saturday morning for a special treat. I am generally a cereal/oatmeal girl, and even when I go out for breakfast I tend towards egg dishes. But O'Malley was with us and I thought it would be fun to do. I had something like this long ago visiting my friend Moira when she lived in Cambridge--her apartment-mate whipped it up for breakfast and I remember being quite amazed at the chemistry of it.

If you've ever made popovers or Yorkshire pudding the concept is exactly the same except you're adding apples that have been sauteed in butter, a lot of sugar, and spices. Think apple pie filling and you've got it. You use the same skillet on the stovetop and in the oven, and the filling puffs up gorgeously, then settles into itself within a minute or two of being out on the counter top. Dust with confectioner's sugar, and you've got a breakfast treat with hardly any redeeming nutritive features...but it's wildly tasty, so who cares? O'Malley loved this dish and ate most of it, I'm happy to say (which means I'm glad that I didn't eat most of it.)

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I made the Curried Lentil Soup with Tomato and Spinach at work when D. and his daughter H. were visiting. H. is a vege-fisha-tarian, and this was something I was able to produce with what I had on hand in the pantry.

Anybody who is or has been a vegetarian has probably had umpteen versions of lentil soup--I know I have. So what elevates this dish are two things--curry powder and lemon juice. The curry powder goes in at the beginning, and the lemon juice goes in at the end. A fantastic dish for a fall day!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Shrimp de Jonghe and Broccoli with Mustard Seeds and Horseradish

Anybody who has ever eaten or worked at a traditional New England restaurant will recognize Shrimp de Jonghe because it's a standard "baked, stuffed" seafood dish. But I am happy to say that this one has a few extra touches that make it stand out--namely, medium-dry sherry and toasted almonds. The sherry is worked into the breadcrumb butter mixture, and the almonds are sprinkled on top. Both flavors work beautifully with the shrimp.

If you go ahead with the recipe (and it's so easy, why not?) please note that it is damn near impossible to mix softened butter with sherry as the recipe directs. Just dump the breadcrumbs right in and it will come together in seconds. I don't know what they were thinking with that one.

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I have to confess that as an adult I'm kind of on the fence about broccoli. As a kid I loved it because my mom provided large bowls of what we called "broccoli sauce", made with Hellman's and lemon juice. Pretty sneaky lady, my mom. I would have eaten old sneakers if they had enough broccoli sauce on top.

But now that I'm grown up I wonder what it was about that sauce that perked broccoli up so much, and for sure it was the tart/creamy combo. Broccoli tossed with butter and vinegar will give you (kind of) the same kick, and of course hollandaise would do it if it's properly made. Cheese sauce or a gratin works for me--anything but plain steamed salted broccoli or raw on a crudite platter.

Broccoli with Mustard Seeds and Horseradish does it too, I'm happy to report. Epicurious does not have this recipe so I'll just fill you in--you saute mustard seeds in butter until they pop and then stir in lemon juice and horseradish--the prepared kind, not the sauce. A little salt and pepper, toss with previously steamed broccoli and you've got an unusual, extremely satisfying way to serve and eat broccoli. Dr. and Mrs. S., not usually big broccoli fans, really enjoyed this and I did too.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Key Lime Cheesecake with Mango Ribbons, and Crispy Oven-Fried Cod



Oh, this cheesecake. You are really going to love it, and here's why:

*it's relatively light
*and it tastes phenomenal

I only have one teensy weensy little complaint, and that is that mango is not so easy to slice, and when you're slicing this beauty up into pieces to serve, the mango gets dragged down with the knife. If you're really going for maximum wow, you might want to slice first, then decorate. Also, my mangoes were REALLY ripe and didn't curl up as pretty as that nice Epicurious photo up there--they were juicy and floppy and I had to drape them decoratively. It still looked beautiful, though.

And I am serious about it being relatively light. It only calls for two packages of cream cheese, and just a few eggs. I've seen some recipes that call for not only three packages, but a stick of butter too!! I'm not saying this is diet cheesecake, only that if you just eat a little bit it won't ruin your caloric day.

But can anybody ever stop at just a little bit? THAT is the question.

Oh, and believe it or not, I used lime juice from a plastic squeeze bottle. Nothing fancy. Loved it.

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I have to confess to feeling a minor sense of triumph with Crispy Oven-Fried Cod.

Every once in a while I get a phone call from my friend Pat, who is a dedicated recreational deep sea fisherman. He will tell me he's got a lot of cod/flounder/hake/or something, and do I want any? He has a super heavy duty cooler in the back of his truck and he keeps the fish on ice, and I always go and meet him someplace--the parking lot at his job, the parking lot after book group, the parking lot by his house--and bring a box of zip lock bags. He loads me up because he knows I freeze it. I LOVE this. Free fresh fish in a world where even in a major fishing port seafood is extraordinarily expensive.

And I go home and immediately sort out the fish, roll it up and bag it individually, and put it all in the freezer.

The last time I did this, for one reason or another, Don absolutely refused to eat it. He just didn't like the looks of it or something. So I've had this fish in my freezer for about half a year, trying to figure out when I can serve it--could I bring it to my book group, or make a fish stew for my writing group? Did I mention that I have a lot of it?

This past Thursday, when Don was at an evening class, I decided to try this recipe out with O'Malley. He was enthusiastic about the idea, and so I thawed out two cod fillets and went at it.

I loved it, O'Malley didn't, and surprise of all surprises, when Don came home he loved it too. He kept saying that he didn't understand it because usually he didn't like cod. It is possible, of course, that anything tastes good when it's battered and fried (like Oreo cookies) but I'm not going to delve into the whys and wherefores. OK, I'm going to delve a little bit. I really pressed as much moisture as I could out of the fish, because it seemed like they had absorbed a lot. I'm beginning to conclude that cod doesn't actually freeze that well, or at least not the way I'm doing it. O'Malley's complaint was that the fish was dry, but I think that's why Don liked it.

If you, dear reader, would like to duplicate exactly what I have done here, I welcome you to my freezer--otherwise I think you'll find this a great way to prepare any kind of white-fleshed fish that you find at your market.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Hunan-Style Tea-Smoked Chicken and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

The whole time I was eating Hunan-Style Tea-Smoked Chicken I was thinking that I had missed something.

Smoking is an art, I thought to myself, and there are cooks in the south that dedicate their lives to it. What did I miss, what did I do wrong, what could I have done differently?

The reason why I was thinking those things is because to me, this chicken tasted like I had pulled it out of a house fire.

Now, the table was split on this one. My dad agreed with me. My mom and Don thought it was pretty good--actually Don thought it was more than pretty good. He pointed out that it's hard to do something different with chicken and this dish succeeds really well in doing that.

But to me it just tasted acrid. Was it the tea? Did I have the heat on too high, or leave it in too long? It makes me want to research smoking further. Maybe I just don't like smoked food, although I certainly can polish off a plate of lox and bagels without any trouble.

Technical criticism--the recipe says to steam your 3 lb. chicken for 20-25 minutes. I have never steamed a whole chicken and so was willing to suspend my belief, thinking that maybe steaming cooks chicken faster than in an oven but it doesn't. My chicken was slightly over 3 lbs and it took a good 45 minutes. The recipe also asks you to turn your chicken over while you're smoking it. It's hard to do this without marring the skin and breaking up the body. Another reviewer on Epicurious noted that you don't have to turn it--it comes out fine. Also, they all seemed to love this dish so maybe it is my taste buds after all.



This is not my chicken. It was smoked by people who obviously know what they're doing.

If you've never smoked anything before, you'll note that the recipe asks you to line the bottom of the pot and the lid with tin foil. Take heed and do the same (maybe line the whole pot), and I'll tell you why. Because smoke + chicken fat should be marketed as a permanent, indelible substance. Forget those wussy markers and labels. This stuff will never come off (of the inside of my pot).

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Dark Chocolate Shortbread is the perfect cookie for minimalists. Thin, crisp, buttery and elegant--that's what it's got goin' on.

However, if you're not a minimalist, you might find yourself wishing for something more--visually, or in the texture department.

It's hard to resist doing that--throwing in some nuts or candied ginger, or drizzling chocolate over that tempting dark chocolate disc. Restrain yourself and let it be what it is. There are enough cookies out there that contain everything but the kitchen sink.

Technical note: make sure you let these sit in the fridge for 30 minutes as the recipe asks (even longer if you can wait). Otherwise the dough will spread out into an unmanageable ultra-thin disc, edible by nobody but you as you dump the brittle shards in the trash can.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Rosemary Walnuts and Chocolate Souffle

Here's what I loved about Rosemary Walnuts: the combination of rosemary and walnut. Here's what I didn't love: that they were tossed in butter and baked.

Don't get me wrong; I love butter. But when it's coating something, and that something has cooled down to room temperature, that lovely glossy coat cools and congeals. You know what I'm talking about.

So if you're going to try this recipe (and why not, to expand your repertoire of hors d'oeurves?) toss the walnuts in olive oil.

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I wish, I wish, I wish I could tell you that this Chocolate Souffle tastes as good as it looks. Of course, sometimes chocolate in any form is better than no chocolate whatsoever. If you're in that kind of mood, bake away.

The headnotes in The Gourmet Cookbook (but not on Epicurious, though it is of course the same recipe) say that the quality of chocolate makes all the difference here. They suggest Valrhona. I used Nestle Chocolatier 65%, since The Fruitful Basket is closed on Sunday and that's where I get my Valrhona, and sometimes I'm just too stubborn to actually believe what people tell me and have to see for myself.

This recipe IS significantly lower in fat than some other souffle recipes out there--no butter appears in this dessert (I've seen some souffle recipes that call for two sticks) and half the egg yolks are discarded. So dieters, take note!

The overall effect the next day, when it's compressed, is kind of like a lite brownie.

Technical criticism. The recipe asks you to lighten the chocolate by folding some whipped egg whites in, and then folding the lightened chocolate into the remaining egg whites. This is impossible--the chocolate is still far too heavy to fold. You will just have to fold in the egg whites bit by bit--otherwise you'll get clumps of chocolate in your egg whites that will never break up.

The next time I get my hands on some Valrhona I might try this again, because I to dismiss recipes like this, especially in a cookbook that has been so amazingly reliable. So stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Asparagus Soup with Parmesan Custards

Dear readers, I have so very much to tell you about...tea-smoked chicken, dark chocolate shortbread, rosemary walnuts...but all of that will have to wait because I must tell you, today, about Asparagus Soup with Parmesan Custards. M. said yesterday that she thought it was the best thing she'd ever had in her life and I think I have to agree with her. It is, at the very least, in my top ten.

Here's a photo by Miki Duisterhof:



Mine looked a little more haphazardly garnished and without all the fancy table linen, but the idea is the same--a silky, salty, nutty hot custard in the middle of a creamy smooth soup with perfectly steamed asparagus tips here and there.

If you'll allow me to digress a little bit into why this is such a brilliant dish, I think it's because you get three distinct textures and flavors--salt, sweet and neutral for flavor and custard, liquid, and soft crunch for texture.

But you know how it feels in your stomach when something hot and soothing has just gotten down there and you feel like you have a little pocket warmer right under your ribcage? It's a great feeling on a cold fall day.

Anyway, you must try this dish. I insist. Use a blender for your soup (be careful) and let it run for a long time to get the best, smoothest texture. And don't bother fishing the asparagus out of the pot and cutting off the tips--just cut them off ahead of time and microwave them for three minutes--they'll be perfect.

If you want to be truly organized, do what I did and make the milk/egg mixture the day before--you can even prepare the ramekins. Then just pop them into the oven in a hot water bath and let them cook while you make the soup.

And please use real parm-reg!! No plastic supermarket parmesan--it's not the same, and the five bucks you save isn't worth it.

I'm already thinking of other soup-custard combos---maybe a cream of mushroom soup with seared mushrooms as a garnish? Or maybe that French Pea Soup with a few lightly steamed peas... Or, if you wanted to go with an Asian flavor profile, you could add some shrimp or scallop to the custard, go with a miso broth and fresh scallions with a dark sesame oil drizzle...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Writer, Heed Thyself

Here's the other thing not to do when you've got sugar on the stove: wander around on the computer using my latest favorite time waster, StumbleUpon. Yes I, your faithful correspondent, only an hour after giving you a little mini-lecture on how not to make caramel, found myself gazing enraptured at this:



...which was part of an article entitled The Most Curious Canned Good Found Online from Wired Magazine. By the way, those are canned silkworm pupae.

Seconds later, every smoke alarm in the house was going off (and we have three floors of them), Don was rushing down the stairs to make sure I hadn't set myself on fire, and I was gazing into a pot of smoking molten black sugar.

What was I making? The sugar syrup for Babas au Rhum, Don's requested birthday dessert.

And can you believe I'm typing this while the next batch of syrup is boiling away on the stove? Yes, well THIS TIME I put a timer on it.

But stay tuned, because I've decided to make Hunan-Style Tea-Smoked Chicken for dinner. Maybe I can get the smoke alarms to go off again, just to make life exciting.

Spice-Rubbed Quail and Turtle Brownies

Yes, quail again! Not everybody comes across quail when they're rummaging in the freezer, but I had an extra package from Pan-Fried Quail Night. I wanted to make something fun for J. on his last night so this was it.

If you are longing to make these quail dishes but don't have a shotgun or the extra folding money to order from D'Artagnan, try Middle Eastern or Asian markets--I read online that you can find quail there for a very reasonable price.

Anyway, here it is: Spice-Rubbed Quail:



If I could make a small suggestion--this spice rub calls for 1/2 tsp. of cayenne, so if you have sensitive mouths/digestive systems at your table you might want to ease back on that. I added just a pinch. I think the allspice adds great flavor, but really the star of this show is the molasses/lime sauce. People who will never ever search out quail might want to try this preparation with chicken--it's easy and a nice change of pace.

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Turtle Brownies are a perfect trifecta of chewy chocolate, gooey caramel, and crunchy pecan. You really cannot ask for much more than that when it comes to a sugar hit.

Like so many recipes in this book, this one calls for homemade caramel and this, my friends, is where common sense and a watchful eye take precedent over following directions. When you make caramel you watch the sugar boil itself into an amber gold and then you take it off the stove--you cannot fret over whether or not 14 minutes has elapsed. Too light and you just have syrup--too dark and you either have hard candy or a burned mass of sugar. Every stove is different so just stand by your pot and keep an eye on it--don't go move the laundry from the washer to the dryer or decide to water the houseplants thinking that the timer will call you back when it's just right.

I personally took my sugar off a little bit too early this time so my caramel is a bit runny, but really that just adds to the finger-lickin' fun, right?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Raspberry Jam Tart with Almond Crumble, and Snow Eggs with Pistachio Cream and Chocolate Drizzle

Now what, you may be rightly asking, are "snow eggs"?

Before I came to this job I would have been asking the exact same question. But during my job interview I happened to ask Dr. and Mrs. S. what some of their favorite foods were, and Dr. S. wistfully noted that he loved snow pudding but hadn't had it in years.

Of course I got busy with the research right away.

If anybody ever tells YOU that they love snow pudding, I'll tell you that basically it's lemon Jell-O folded into whipped egg whites, set in a mold. This is later unmolded into a plate of custard--your basic creme anglaise. And yes of course I made it and he loved it and it's been mutual admiration ever since.

So I was not surprised to see that Snow Eggs with Pistachio Cream and Chocolate Drizzle is a sophisticated version of snow pudding. The French have a name for it (oeufs a la niege), the Italians have a name for it (scuimmette)but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that neither of their versions involve jello.

Anyway, this dessert is fun to make--a real adventure--and pastry chefs take note! All of these components can be produced separately during the day to be assembled by your wildly competent non-English speaking guest-working dessert station person during the dinner service.

What was new for me about this dish was poaching the meringue "eggs" in sweet milk. Wow, they were so cute! And they puffed up, bumping against each other in the pan. The custard is a gorgeous green thanks to the ground pistachios, and the chocolate makes for dramatic visual contrast.

Here's what it looks like. This photo is from Epicurious but mine looked exactly the same:



Oh, and it tasted fabulous. J. remarked that it was surprisingly filling for something that has such a light mouth-feel. (don't forget that J. is also a chef and that's one of the reasons I made this dish--fun stuff to talk about!)

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I wish I could be as wildly enthusiastic about the Raspberry Jam Tart with Almond Crumble.



Pretty, isn't it? But essentially what you've got is a big sugar cookie with a thin layer of jam. OK, if you like that sort of thing, but I found it to be cloyingly sweet. The Gourmet Cookbook notes that it's a fun recipe to make with kids, and I suspect that they're the only ones who will go for this whole-heartedly--well maybe also the demographic that goes in for sugary cocktails. If you want my opinion don't waste your time.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Cheese Fondue and Fresh Orange Slices with Candied Zest and Pistachios

Now, when was the last time you had Cheese Fondue?

For me, it was one of those palate-defining moments. I was 13, and on a youth group skiing trip to Switzerland. We were in a lodge with long wooden tables and benches, and starving from a long day of trying to ski on the springtime ice fields of the Alps. The cheese fondue--gooey dripping cheese, chunky crusty bread-- seemed like a miracle, and even more amazing was that we were all given a small glass of white wine "so the cheese wouldn't make a big lump" in our stomachs. I haven't had it since (cheese fondue that is, not wine), but I have never forgotten it.

So last Christmas, when grandson J. roamed around the house, poking into cupboards, looking forlornly for a fondue pot, it started me off on a mission. OK, so it took 10 months to come to fruition, but at least I'm persistent in my goals. Really what I was looking for was the proper alignment of events, weather, people and equipment. You need colder weather for cheese fondue. Nobody wants to eat gooey hot cheese and bread when it's 90 degrees outside. You need enough people to make it merry but not too many. Last night I had seven adults and one four year old, perfect because there are eight fondue forks. You need to be able to sit them at a round table (there is only one, and it's in the kitchen), so it needs to be somewhat informal, and it needs to have been a day when it's all right to have a "light" meal for dinner. Yesterday there was a big birthday celebration for Dr. S. (89 years!) at the Essex Club and the lunch there was rather heavy.

Perfect.

Perfect, that is, until math came into the equation. Can I just have a little rant here about our measuring and weighing system? Why on earth do our cookbooks call for ounces when markets weigh things out in tenths of a pound? So say for example you need 8 oz. each of Gruyere and Emmenthaler. At the market they are in little bricks of 0.4 lbs. each. So you buy two of each. Now say you are cooking and you decided to not double the recipe, but one and a half it. So you need 12 oz. of each. So 0.4 of a pound is 6 oz., right? Because if you split 8 oz. by five units, 4 oz. would be .25 lb. and 6 oz. would be roughly 0.4 lbs, or a little less. So theoretically two 0.4 lb. blocks of should give you exactly what you're looking for.

Oh, and if you're one and a halfing 1 1/2 cups of wine, you add an additional 3/4 cup. Right?

Can I just tell you right now that I had to drop accounting in college because I was getting a D and I didn't want to screw up my GPA? I should have stuck with it.

Anyway, the result of all of this mental strain is that I was terribly anxious while I was watching that cheese melt in what seemed like a LOT of wine. It seemed like too much liquid to the cheese, and I didn't remember it having that consistency (from all those decades ago). I added the cornstarch/kirsch slurry with high hopes, only to have it clump on the bottom of the pot, and so I had to take a whisk and beat the bejeezus out of it. Then I started to doubt my math and rummaged around in the cheese drawer for more cheese to add. I ripped up four slices of deli swiss and was ready to start grating some cheddar in there when it finally simmered itself into a consistency that I was happy enough with.

Friends, this dinner was a success. There was much laughing and general merriment at the table, and I think my favorite moment was when I heard Dr. S. say, "I feel absolutely, perfectly contented right now."

Now, after the fact I have looked on Epicurious to give you the link (and a nice photo) and I see some suggestions that I wish I had seen ahead of time. One is to toss the cheese with the cornstarch, another is to increase the amount of cornstarch. A third is to provide other dipping options: apples and pears, boiled potatoes, etc.

Food for thought for next time, because there will definitely be a next time!



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Here's a mental exercise for you, as if you needed another one. Say you're serving cheese fondue for dinner on a night that has followed at least three nights of heavy eating (including desserts)? You need a dessert. There's nothing leftover to appropriate, except a little angelfood cake with ganache frosting. There's no ice cream worth mentioning. You don't want to go shopping, and you don't want to make anything heavy to follow all that cheese. Hmmm.....

Fruit of some kind seemed like an obvious choice to me, but not just any old fruit. The Gourmet Cookbook to the rescue once again--this book seems to have a solution for just about any cooking quandry I have. I had all the ingredients for Fresh Orange Slices with Candied Zest and Pistachios
and embarked upon it with much faith and enthusiasm. Really, it is quite amazing how much faith I have in these recipes because I make them for the first time on the job almost every day. That's some testimony right there.

And I wasn't disappointed, at least not with the recipe. The only thing that stressed me out about this dish was the oranges--I wasn't using navels as the recipe asks, I was using Florida oranges, which are great for juice but have seeds and are kind of membrane-y. So getting the seeds out was a little time consuming and also scraping the pith off the rind. Helpful hint: it's easier to get off AFTER you boil the rinds for 10 minutes--scrapes right off with a spoon. Then cut the rind into matchsticks. I also had the foresight to try a little sample plate and realized that the membrane holding it all together was a little tough and would make for difficulties if the slices were left in perfect circles so I cut them all in half (this was after they were all plated, mind you).

And then my final worry (do you think I worry too much?) was that the Grand Marnier in this dish would just be too much booze after the wine and the kirsch of the fondue.

I can't tell you how this dish was received, because by the time it was being eaten I was at home watching the Red Sox kick some Colorado butt. OK, slow butt-kicking, but who cares? Go Sox!!



Saturday, October 27, 2007

Congee and Panfried Quail with Creamed Corn and Bacon

When I'm cooking at home, there are a few factors I have to consider. The first is whether or not I think O'Malley will eat it. He can be vexingly finicky. The second is if it will fit into Don's diet. He is trying to maintain an Atkins/South Beach style eating plan that involves no carbs. It also has to fit in with MY eating plan, which is not too much fat (although I am the weakest link in this bunch, I'll readily admit).

But yesterday, I had some kind of low-level bug--achy, nauseous, exhausted--and here my needs trumped everybody else's.

I wanted to cook, and I wanted to cook something that would make me feel better. And Congee is what I came up with. Congee (also known as jook) is the Chinese version of homemade chicken noodle soup. I am a big believer in the curative powers of fresh chicken stock, so I trotted off to the IGA and got a little chicken to put in the pot.

This recipe couldn't be simpler. You cook a chicken for two or three hours with scallions and ginger. Save out the breast meat (fish it out before it overcooks), make the liquid equal eight cups, add a cup of long grain white rice, and let it cook for another hour or so until you've got porridge. Garnish with shredded breast meat, chopped scallions, minced fresh ginger (good for nausea, btw) and dark sesame oil and you've got comfort in a bowl.

The bonus was that O'Malley was extremely enthusiastic about eating this dish. Why? Because one of his favorite characters on his favorite tv show (Iroh on Avatar: The Last Airbender) cooks it for his nephew when he's sick.



I don't question these things, I take them as moments of grace. Anyway, he loved it. And Don did too. I went to bed at 7:30 and now I feel much, much better.

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If you are a regular reader you know that I like to have fun (culinarily speaking) when the family comes to visit Dr. and Mrs. S. I particularly enjoy cooking for K. and L. So when I was flipping through, looking for a nice recipe to cook, I was intrigued by Panfried Quail with Creamed Corn and Bacon. Seasonal, suitably exotic, and it has a flavor profile that everybody loves. The one thing of course is where the heck do you get quail? I'm not much of a hunter, and it's hardly an item that Shaw's stocks.

The Fruitful Basket to the rescue! Bobby can get me practically anything I want with enough advance notice, and he happened to be placing a D'Artagnan order that very day. Now, I've never worked with quail and so I was kind of surprised to see their plucked and packaged little selves. Some wizard cut out their backbones without cutting the skin, and the bodies were on a v-shaped metal rack kind of thing. The recipe asks you to cut the quail into quarters, but I thought that would make them far too tiny so I cut the birds in half and ended up with something kind of the size of a chicken drumstick.

This is really a standard fried chicken recipe--dip in milk, roll in seasoned flour, fry. The creamed corn with bacon is nothing new either. What was new to me was the suggestion to squeeze lemon over the fried quail, and friend, that was tasty. The whole thing was tasty. Mrs. S. loved it (Dr. S., alas, was prepping for a procedure and was eating jello). What did K. and L. think? They arrived late and had covered plates so I won't know until Sunday.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mushroom Barley Soup and Cranberry, Shallot & Dried Cherry Compote


Mushroom Barley Soup is a very serviceable soup for chilly fall weather, and fits the bill perfectly for a family gathering that includes vegetarians. I know some cooks who don't disclose the presence of chicken stock when they're making a "vegetarian" soup, but trust me I can tell you from personal experience that a vegetarian knows what chicken stock tastes like. If you're not making this for a crowd that includes vegetarians, I think beef stock would taste better than chicken, but it's totally a matter of personal preference.

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Cranberry, Shallot and Dried Cherry Compote is so tasty that I had to wrap it up and put it away to keep it away from me! I'm a sucker for cherries anyway, and something about this combination just made it irresistible. The only thing that seemed a little odd was leaving the shallots whole...I almost picked the biggest ones out, but then thought better of it. People do like onions, at least in this crowd. I can't tell you how anybody likes this stuff because I made it all in advance for Miranda to serve when the house gets full of people (on my days off). She's still a fledgling so I do what I can to make it easier for her.

But I liked it, so if you're looking for an alternative to jellied cranberry sauce for the Thanksgiving table, give this one a try.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Creamless Creamy Squash Soup and Potato Latkes



Creamless Creamy Squash Soup has a really awesome flavor thing going on, but you'll only get it if you actually have the nerve to put crumbled cookies on top of your soup.

Come on, don't be a sissy! Just think of Anthony Bourdain and all of the weird things he's put in HIS mouth. A few amaretto cookies won't kill you.

Actually, the cookies bring up the sweetness of the squash, which is well masked by the sea salt in the soup (you might want to tone it down to 1 tsp if you're sensitive). The texture is delightful and the color is lovely, and of course, there are the cookies. Best of all you don't have to count them as dessert, you can say you HAD to eat them because they were part of the recipe. See how I make your life easier?

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Is there anybody who doesn't like Potato Latkes? I can understand not eating them because you shouldn't, or not liking the ones you're eating because they were poorly cooked (soggy, greasy, raw), but done well latkes have got to be one of the world's perfect dishes.

And it's not hard to do well. You just have to have the oil hot enough and the pancakes thin enough and don't forget the salt. This recipe makes a suggestion I was glad to see, which is to hold them in a 250 oven on a cookie rack set in a pan (new for me) which does away with any steaming effect you might get otherwise. This keeps them nice and hot and crisp. Damn, even writing about them is making me hungry.

For those of you who are into potatoes in their various guises, The Gourmet Cookbook has about three recipes that seem to be variations on a theme (the theme being some form of fried shredded potato). One is Potato Latkes, another is Pommes Paillasson, the French version of that (which means of course it's cooked in butter, takes up the whole skillet and takes longer to cook) and the third is Rosti, a Swiss variation which uses cold cooked potatoes rather than raw ones.

I'll be trying all three because I seem to be in a potato mood. Watch this spot.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Spicy Beef and Red Bean Chili and Babas au Rhum



You want to know just how spicy Spicy Beef and Red Bean Chili is? My first sentence after the first bite was, "Woo, this is going to burn on the other end!"

OK, that's vulgar I know, especially when you're discussing dinner but there's a reason why specialty hot sauces have crazy names like "Ass In The Tub" "Ass Reaper" and "Baboon Ass Gone Rabid". It's also possible they were all named by 14 year old boys, but not likely.

So if you, gentle reader, have never eaten anything that gave you pause about tomorrow's toileting experience, shame on you! You need to live a little more daringly.

And Spicy Beef and Red Bean Chili as a marvelous way to do it. This is a superb chili recipe--rich and complex. I have to note that if you try the epicurious link, take out the pork shoulder and add 1 oz of bittersweet chocolate with the beans at the end--otherwise it's the exact same recipe. And you must use the garnishes--all of them. I've never squeezed lime on chili, but I will do it forevermore.

Will you end up with your ass in tub? Only time will tell.

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Babas au Rhum was a baking first for me. These are essentially little rum cakes, but the dough is like a loose sweet brioche dough and has to rise twice like all breads. Then they are soaked in a sugar syrup jacked up with a lot of dark rum, and brushed with an apricot glaze that has even more rum. Not boozy enough for you? The whipped cream topping has rum in it too.

Family members at the S. household could accurately predict that Dr. S. LOVED this dessert.


These are called "babas" because supposedly the first time the cakes were made (long ago in some eastern European country) they had been baked in a mold that looked like Ali Baba's hat.

We are supposed to use these too, but really, how many baking dishes can a cupboard hold? I used a cake mold that looked more like this:



These are all technicalities. You could make these in muffin tins if you were so inclined.

If you try this recipe, make this modification--simmer your sugar syrup a little longer than 10 minutes--try 15, until you actually get a syrup. I was worried that mine was too watery. It was, but that's where the bread structure vs. cake structure of the dessert comes to the rescue.

Also--it says this is only good the day you soak the cakes--that's baloney. I served them the next day to great effect--M. asked for the recipe, even.