"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".

Monday, April 30, 2007

a technical note

Some of you regular readers may have noticed that there's a tiny little ad on the right hand side of this page that has some kind of cooking theme. If you click on it (and it has to be you, not me) I get a tiny little amount of money. If you click on it a thousand times, I'd get even more.

I'm not supposed to be telling you this, so shhhh. And thanks for clicking.

Lemon Broth with Green Pea Ravioli

If you are going to make Lemon Broth with Green Pea Ravioli, here is my suggestion.

Make it for a foodie friend (or group of friends).

Here's why: this dish is subtle. A facsimile of it could be made with store-bought chicken broth and fresh pasta raviolis (though good luck finding pea ravioli), and it takes a discerning palate to detect...homemade stock. Pea filling, which is associated with spring. The delightful contrast of the lemon.

And the reason you want this dish to be fully appreciated is because it is a pain in the ass to make.

Homemade raviolis are a labor of love. This particular ravioli had extra labor in it because of the darn peas. The ancient food mill we have at work didn't work and made me feel like an idiot (how can you get something like that wrong?), and I ended up pushing the peas through a sieve to get the tender insides apart from the outsides. Next time (if there is a next time) it goes in the food processor, and skins be damned.

Aha! moment...tasting the chicken broth with the lemon zest in it. Really good. Really really good. Perfect in fact for a chilly spring day when another cup of herbal tea just is not going to comfort you.

So if you're sitting at your computer cranky and chilly with cold feet and hands, and you have some chicken broth, a lemon and some garlic hanging about, try this. Hot chicken broth, lemon zest, slightly crushed garlic clove. Let the clove sit a the bottom like a tea bag.

See? I bet you feel better already.

Salmon-Wrapped Poached Eggs

If you want to impress the heck out of somebody at breakfast, try this dish.

Salmon-Wrapped Poached Eggs has many virtues, and I'll list them here:

-it's colorful
-it is slightly less bad for you than egg dishes with hollandaise
-you could even make a case for it being GOOD for you because of the "smart fats"--avocado, omega-3s, and olive oil
-if you've ever cursed the heavens after your hollandaise sauce broke (or scrambled) you will love this sauce, which is sour cream mixed with lemon juice, herbs and some olive oil
-it tastes INCREDIBLE (assuming you like smoked salmon, avocado and eggs).

I didn't follow the recipe exactly--I didn't have brioche to use on the bottom, so I used sourdough for the S.s and rye at home for dinner for us. I also didn't have sorrel or arugula--I used spinach.

A new trick I learned--putting poached eggs on paper towels to drain. You would think, after the countless eggs Benedict variations I've made and served to the general public, that I'd have picked that one up, but I hadn't.

If you make this dish (and I think you should) don't bother trying to wrap the salmon around the poached egg. It's silly, a waste of time, and you risk breaking the egg. Just drape it across the top--it looks better and is more stable anyway.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Shitake-Bok Choy Soup with Noodles

A rainy, raw day yesterday. I figured a soup or stew was in order, and since we've trying to practice a little moderation, perhaps something vegetarian. I wanted to skip anything with beans because we've been eating all week off of a gigantic pot of vegetarian chili Elizabeth made while she was here and I've been putt-putting around the North Shore ever since.

Shitake-Bok Choy Soup with Noodles seemed like just the thing--pretty quick to make, flavors I like, and best of all I could use some things that have been kicking around in my cupboard for almost two years--bonito flakes and soba noodles.

And although I was thrilled to actually eat the soup because by that time I was freezing (you know how you get that way at the end of a raw day? Chilled to the bone?) I was vaguely disappointed by the blandness of it. I was raised, so to speak, in the Moosewood Era of vegetarian cooking, and almost every Japanese soup I've ever made has not only a bonito stock, but mirin, soy sauce, and a float of dark sesame oil. My instincts were to jump right up and add those things, but I wanted to honor the recipe as it was and see if there was any inherent culinary virtue that I might be missing. I did end up adding quite a bit of salt, and did some musing to Don about the subtlety of the flavors of the shitake and the bok choy, but next time it gets the sesame oil treatment.

And although it was filling with the soba noodles and everything, by the end of the jazz concert we went to later we were famished.

Toast, cream cheese, and watermelon rind chutney to the rescue. Yum.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Penne with Broccoli Rabe

Can you believe this is the first recipe I've cooked out of the "Pasta, Noodles and Dumplings" chapter? We're not big pasta eaters in our house. When we cook pasta, the first thing I do is check the box for bugs because it's been sitting around for so long. Dr. and Mrs. S don't care that much for pasta either, so I was thinking that about three years from now, when I've cooked my way through this cookbook, I'd be left with a long list of pasta dishes to finish the project off.

But yesterday afternoon when I asked my husband what he wanted for dinner, he said "comfort food". And for Don, half Italian and half Jewish by birth, one hundred percent Italian by upbringing, comfort food means pasta. It also, inexplicably, means broccoli rabe, a vegetable I've never really made friends with. This man comes home with two bunches of it (that's two pounds, folks), sautes it with at least two pounds of minced garlic and red chili flakes, and eats it. All of it. He swears that if it weren't such hard work to cook he would eat it every single day. He is a strange man, my husband.

So how wonderful that the Gourmet Cookbook has a recipe entitled "Penne with Broccoli Rabe"! Perfect. Epicurious does not provide this recipe, but it's not rocket science. Cook the pasta in salted water, cook the chopped rabe in salted water (I used the same pot with a strainer divider), then saute the cooked rabe in XVO with previously sauteed garlic and red pepper flakes. Toss with pasta.

I liked it. Don loved it. I think what made me like it more than I thought was the extra step of boiling the rabe (which must draw some bitterness out) and then sauteing it. I also used a Trader Joe's penne that was basil and garlic flavored. All in all, not a bad way to step into the "pasta, noodles and dumplings" world.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Matzo Brei

I knew even before embarking upon this recipe that Matzo Brei is an intensely personal experience. I witnessed this a few years ago when we met a branch of my husband's Long Island family for brunch at Zaftig's, a famous Jewish deli in Brookline. Don's cousin Jamie ordered the matzo brei with great anticipation, but when it came, she looked at it and the waiter like he had served her something unmentionable.

"It's supposed to be sort of scrambled," she said, making a mixing motion with her hands. "Kind of dry."

So the waiter took it back, and the chef tried again. Again, Jamie looked at her plate, this time with a mixture of dismay and resignation. Too polite to send it back a second time, she pushed the matzo brei around her plate a bit, took a few bites, and gave up. It wasn't right, she said. Not like her mother's at all.

Fortunately I don't have the baggage of a Jewish culinary upbringing to weigh down my feelings about matzo brei--I was simply worried that soggy matzo crackers in scrambled eggs was just plain weird and couldn't possibly be worth wasting time on. But could thousands of years of Jewish tradition be wrong? Well, look at gefilte fish.

Don't worry, soothes the recipe. Editor Ruth Reichl's secret (which she learned from her mother, of course) is lots of butter. All right, I'm on board.

The end result was pretty edible, if rather plain. It was kind of like...buttered popcorn. That kind of experience. But less crunchy. So sort of like rather soggy well buttered popcorn with cooked eggs in it, which can be just the thing if you're in the right mood. One thing I liked about it was that I was able to flip it in my pan (like those chefs you see on tv) because there was so much butter in it that it slid around beautifully once the egg was cooked. I kept hoping for the matzo to crisp up (as the recipe suggested it would start to do) but I would have had to let it sit and I was having too much fun flipping it.

I see on Epicurious that at least one reader out there adds grated onions and parsley, and I think that would be an improvement. And if you make this (and why not? Maybe to eat while you're watching a movie) I would suggest a beverage that's astringent (black tea, dry champagne, gin on the rocks) to help that butter dissolve.

I'd like to give a shout-out to my new friend Kasha, who came over to take some poetry books off our hands, shared the matzo brei with me, and came bearing a gift of the most amazing chocolate creation I've ever eaten (excluding anything from Maison du Chocolat) which is dark chocolate and chipotle pepper bark from Turtle Alley. GOD!!!! Is it good. Thanks Kasha!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Honeydew in Rosemary Syrup

Every once in a while a recipe comes along that offers expanded horizons for your taste buds and your brain cells.

Honeydew in Rosemary Syrup is one of them.

I think it's mostly the idea of using components in a sweet dish that are normally associated with savory, which in this case are rosemary and black peppercorns. I don't know about you, but lamb or chicken as a partner comes to mind most immediately, certainly not honeydew melon.

Honeydew in Rosemary Syrup is simple (melon balls floating in syrup) but the flavor makes you cock your head and hum with the pleasure of tasting something delicious that you've never ever had before. If you're a foodie who delights in interesting, unusual food combinations, give this recipe a try. It's well worth the minimal time it takes to create, and the bonus is that you'll have syrup leftover to use again as you please. I restrained myself from simply drinking it, and am sending it home with M., who certainly qualifies as a foodie. If she can restrain herself from drinking it on the way home, I know she'll put it to good use. :-)

Catfish Fillets with Pecan Butter Sauce and Poached Leeks with Warm Vinaigrette

The Catfish Fillets with Pecan Butter Sauce is a great way to prepare catfish, or any other kind of fish, most likely. It has all the components of deliciousness--something that's floured and fried, topped with butter, lemon and nuts. How can you go wrong? My only complaint about this dish is that I personally don't really like catfish. There's some flavor there that is off-putting to me--local shrimp have the same thing going on. I have hypothesized in the past that it's iodine, but I am most likely making that up.

However, Dr. and Mrs. S. seemed quite keen about it, so that makes it a success in my book. Mrs. S. in particular likes pecans (and butter) so I figured it would go over well.

The Poached Leeks with Warm Vinaigrette (no link, sorry) almost qualify as comfort food. The leeks are poached until they're soft (the book calls for--laughably--veal stock as a poaching liquid, but allows that water will work just fine. I used home made vegetable stock.)and topped with a warm, mustardy vinaigrette. The leeks are prepared using one of my all-time favorite methods, which is throw it in the oven and forget about it. The vinaigrette can also be made in advance and heated at the last minute, so if you've got a million other things going on stove-top, this recipe is a boon.

How did they go over? Dr. S., who apprehensively poked at it on first sight, cleaned his plate. I'd say that's a pretty good recommendation.

Watercress and Apple Salad with Peanut Dressing and Watermelon Gazpacho

In New England, we know how to celebrate warm weather when we're blessed with it. For me, that means salads and cold soups. It's so fleeting, though! I'm looking at hearty stews for later in the week. Oh well. We take what we get.

For lunch on our 80 degree day yesterday I had gazpacho in mind, and specifically Watermelon Gazpacho.
To tell you the truth, when I skimmed this recipe I mistook it for another that I made last summer, a watermelon and tomato gazpacho. My husband got that one out of the Boston Globe--it's a popular summer soup at a place on the Vineyard. When I read my cookbook more closely, I was somewhat apprehensive...the recipe calls for some things I don't normally associate with gazpacho, like white sandwich bread, and ice cubes. And not a tomato in sight.

Undaunted, I pressed on. I didn't have whole almonds, so I used skinned ones, but that was pretty much the only substitution I made. The end result is a beautiful pale pink soup that has body (thanks to the bread and almonds) and a wonderful savory flavor that's hard to pin down (thanks to the watermelon, vinegar, garlic and almonds). If you are sensitive to garlic (or smelling like garlic) you might want to decrease from three cloves to two. Or one.

I always know I have a hit when I get quizzed about exactly what's in a particular dish. In this case I was actually hailed from the sun room to the terrace and asked to come out and explain.

A production note: I made this in a food processor, in spite of being directed to make it in a blender. But if you have both on hand I'd go with the blender--it filled my food processor to the brim and I had pretty little pink gazpacho rivulets all over the base...and the counter.

I don't often follow salad recipes. It seems so silly! I mean, how difficult is it to throw a salad together?

This recipe is an excellent example of why salad recipes can be a good thing.

Now, I have to confess that I didn't go flipping through the book and settle on this as a cooking goal. Sometimes I do things the other way around, which is that I will have an ingredient on hand and will look for a recipe to fit it. In this case, the S.'s daughter M. was visiting, and she had (as she often does) bags full of produce that she was transporting from one place to another. Yesterday she had, inexplicably, close to five pounds of watercress. She always tells me to use whatever I want, and thus...Watercress and Apple Salad with Peanut Dressing.

Note to would-be salad makers--watercress often contains sand. Unless you want cranky salad eaters, let your cress float around in a bowl full of cold water for a while so it can drop to the bottom, then get out that salad spinner that you never use.

I lacked only one ingredient for this recipe, and that was plain yogurt, for which I substituted low fat sour cream. I missed it though...plain yogurt has a clean tartness that sour cream lacks, and I think it would counterbalance the heaviness of the peanut butter. Oh, and another thing--I used natural peanut butter, which contains no sugar. The recipe doesn't specifically call for that (just smooth pb)but next time I might throw in a dash of sugar.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Whole Grain Pancakes and Watermelon Rind Chutney

No, I didn't serve these together, they were separated by hours of time. If you hadn't noticed already, I cooked a heck of a lot of food yesterday--Sundays are my long shift, from 8am to 8pm. And I'm only telling you about the food that's in the cookbook!

After Ruth's Pancakes last week, I was pretty keen to try out the Whole Grain Pancakes. (no link, sorry.) I made the variation with blueberries. The element I was most pleased with was their suggestion to add a little lemon juice to the maple syrup if it's too intense, and that's the best suggestion I've heard all year, practically. The pancakes themselves were very pleasant and if you're trying to fit whole grains into your diet it would fit the bill nicely since it also includes corn meal.

The Watermelon Rind Chutney...I like it, but I have some issues with it. The first one is personal, which is that I think it's way too spicy for Dr. and Mrs. S., so I'm wondering what the heck I'm going to do with all that chutney. The second is that when I did serve it, I had to mince it up so it would fit well on top of a cracker with cream cheese. The recipe directs you to cut the rind into half inch cubes, but I think 1/4 inch would be more like it for crackers, sandwiches, whatever. If I were to do it again I would probably pulse the rind in batches in the food processor. If you are a fan of hot pepper jelly you will love this recipe so give it a try--you can regulate the temp by maybe not putting BOTH of the two green hot peppers.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread and Pickled Carrot Sticks

If you are looking for a winner of a recipe, look no further than Pickled Carrot Sticks. They're easy, they keep forever, they are DELICIOUS, and best of all, for people who are constantly looking for help with their diets, they are no-fat and practically no-calorie.

The only problem you might run into is finding dill seed, which for some reason seems to be elusive in the spice aisle, at least where I am. But persevere. You'll thank me.

The Whole Wheat Pita Breads were a new experience for me--not the dough part, or risings or all that jazz, but the way they're baked, which is for three short minutes directly on the oven rack in a 500 oven. I was so surprised by those directions that I went back and read them twice to make sure I was getting it right.

How did it go? Well, one of them stuck and broke half off onto the electric element below, where it started a small fire, but other than that it was ok. I didn't quite trust the cooking times for the first batch and so they were a little crispy, but I stuck exactly to the recipe for the second batch. I served these with lunch, with a salad and quiche. When I sampled my own I tried to open it up to make a pocket and was not entirely successful, but I still ate it with butter and it was very agreeable. I think the trick to opening them in pockets is serving them warm. I'm not sure I'd make this every day, or even every month, but I'm glad I tried it at least once.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce and Fried Artichokes

You heard me right. Fried artichokes. This is one of the recipes that has intrigued me ever since I got the cookbook. Who has ever heard of such a thing? The Italians, apparently, where they serve them fried whole and flattened in the shape of a chrysanthemum.

Although the recipe takes you through some elaborate cutting and trimming, I threw caution to the wind and decided to fry mine whole too. I happened to have some baby purple (!) artichokes and liked the idea of the flower shape. I figured the smaller artichokes would do better in that regard.

Well, they came out looking more like pine cones than chrysanthemums (and sadly the purple color was lost). I wasn't at all sure I was going to serve them--the outside was a little too crispy/burnt, the insides a little too overdone (the heart)...I tasted one whole, then another trimmed, and then I gave one to L., the S.'s visiting granddaughter. She flipped over it, so I served the rest up with dinner, where they were enthusiastically consumed.

I'd like to try this recipe again "the right way" just to see if the results are dramatically different. Anybody who does likewise let me know what you think.

The Meatballs in Tomato Sauce were nothing surprising but a great meal nevertheless. I can think of a few refinements, like adding an egg to the meat mixture, which was a tad loose. Part of that was also my fault because although I only had 1.17 lbs of meatloaf mix I used the full complement of milk-soaked bread crumbs.

I don't think I've ever made Italian food for the S.s--for one I know they don't like pasta, but I think it's also a reflex from cooking for my parents. My dad can't tolerate tomato sauce because it's too acidic. I served these meatballs over leftover mashed potatoes from Miranda's shift, and Dr. S. and his son-in-law E. were especially pleased with the result. It's nice to know the left-overs will be well received at some point!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tandoori-Spiced Chicken Thighs

This recipe sports a long list of ingredients, but don't be scared. If you have an even moderately well-stocked spice cabinet you probably have most if not all of these spices on hand. Epicurious doesn't have the exact recipe, but the whole idea with any tandoori marinade as far as I can tell is that it uses plain yogurt as a base and you want to marinate the chicken for at least 8 hours or even over night.

So this one calls for onion, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, salt, turmeric, cumin, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, cinnamon, and coriander. See what I mean? Long, not exotic.

This recipe was only slightly aggravating for me because it calls for boneless, skinless thighs (which do exist in the world, but not at the Rockport IGA), so I boned and skinned 8 of them. That was just enough for six diners.

The nice thing about this recipe (besides the fact that it tastes great) is that it's a lovely yellow color, so if you're a person who likes color on the plate, this recipe is for you. I served it with broccoli, salad, rice and my mom's carrot souffle--so it was a very pretty plate! If my mom is nice she will post the recipe for the souffle in a follow-up to this post. The sweetness complemented the tandoori chicken perfectly, but I hesitate to report what was in it and will let her do that. I can only tell you it's from Southern Living, so if you've ever cooked from them you know what you're in for.

(If you haven't, I can sum it up in one word. Butter.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Grilled Shrimp Remoulade

Here's a small tip if you cook Grilled Shrimp Remoulade. Clue in your fellow diners that the shrimps still have the shells on. Don and O'Malley noticed belatedly that I was peeling mine, looked at each other, and said, "Oh, no wonder the shrimp seemed a little crunchy!"

The reason you don't notice the shrimp are still in their shells is because they are tossed with a fine remoulade. I used to think remoulade was fancy tartar sauce, but this version is more like a thick and spicy mustard vinaigrette with some chopped dill pickle thrown in. Man oh man, is it good, and is this ever a messy dish. It's a bring-the-roll-of-paper-towels-to-the-table dish, and you still have to suck all ten of your fingers.

I happen to think grilling is one of the best ways to prepare shrimp, and I did go to the trouble of skewering the little buggers for ease of turning. Grilled shrimp somehow transcends itself. It's fabulous.

My friend Elizabeth and I had a moment of hesitation while making the remoulade--it calls for a teaspoon and a half of cayenne.We hedged our bets a little bit and just put in a teaspoon, and for me that was the perfect amount of heat.

We ate the shrimp with jasmine rice, salad and baked sweet potatoes--my only regret is that I cut the recipe in half to serve four instead of eight which means, sadly, no leftovers for lunch!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Meyer Lemon Marmalade and Artichoke Bottoms Braised in Olive Oil and Mint

Wow, these were two spectacular successes.

The Meyer Lemon Marmalade was a big adventure for me on a couple of fronts. The first was using Meyer lemons--a new fruit to me. The second was the process of canning, which I think I have done maybe twice in my life, possibly in high school. I remember it being a tremendous pain in the ass, fraught with peril.

I remembered correctly.

There is the boiling of the jars and the lids (actually don't boil the lids, just heat them. Oh, and the lids have to be NEW--no re-using.) And then after you fill the jars you have to boil them again. I was quite surprised and dismayed to have the bottom fall off my biggest jar of marmalade--the glass cracked and the marmalade seeped into the boiling water. That's when I went back and read the directions CAREFULLY and saw that the jars were not supposed to have direct contact with heat, thus a rack or some dish towels in the bottom of your pot. Yeesh.

I still came out with two and a half jars of beautiful, yellow marmalade (which tastes mighty fine with butter on toast made out of Portuguese Cornmeal Bread.) And the process yielded a fun, amazing and previously-unknown-to-me fact about lemon seeds, which is that they naturally contain pectin. Instead of buying a pouch of the stuff, you gather all the seeds from the sliced lemons and put them in a cheesecloth pouch (I put them in a tea ball) and cook them with the lemons. Isn't that cool?

And if you've never seen or heard of Meyer lemons--they are a cross between an orange and a lemon--so they're tart, but they smell amazing. The Fruitful Basket sells them in Beverly Farms, but other than that good luck finding them in normal stores. I'm sure you could find them online.

The artichoke bottoms had spectacular flavor, and Dr. and Mrs. S. were tremendously impressed with them. I had a hard time parting with all those leaves (the prep involves snapping them off) since I was raised to pay loving gustatory attention to all parts of the artichoke. I would never have thought to put these three ingredients together (artichokes, mint, garlic) but it works. Do yourself a favor and try this sometime.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Roasted Celery Root and Minted Peas and Onions

The most notable thing about the recipe for Roasted Celery Root is the funny text, which describes the root's "hauntingly mild celery flavor". I'm sorry, I just have never been haunted by celery flavor, and doubt I ever will be. This preparation results in a side dish that is underwhelming--Dr. and Mrs. S. thought so too. If you have a lot of celery root for some reason, and it's Thanksgiving, it might be nice to throw in with a lot of other veg side dishes but there has to be a better way.

And that better might be what I plan on making for lunch today, which is Celery Root Bisque with Duck Confit. I'll check back in with you about it tomorrow.

The Minted Peas and Onions provide a pleasant way to eat peas, and I suppose they would be a great accompaniment to lamb. Peas are never on the top of my list to eat, but Dr. and Mrs. S. like them very much so there you go.

Epicurious doesn't have either of these recipes, but if you're perishing to try them and you don't have The Gourmet Cookbook yet, here's the gist of it:

Peel celery root, toss with oil and salt and roast in a 400 oven for 30 minutes.

Saute some onion in butter til soft, then add thawed frozen peas, a little fresh chopped mint, salt and pepper and cook til peas are hot.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Portuguese White Cornmeal Bread

I baked this bread at work yesterday while the storm whipped itself up into a frenzy--there is nothing quite so grounding and calming as kneading bread dough and shepherding it though its risings.

This bread is really fantastic--the cornmeal (I used yellow, not white) gives it a nice crunch at the crust, and it slices beautifully. I've come up with a new way to form loaves (new for me, that is) that eliminates some of the trouble I've had with bread in the past, which is that the middle of the slice was somehow unstable and tended to drop or crumble away.

Somewhere I read a description of a way to form loaves that involved kind of a constant "tucking under" of the dough--sort of pulling from the top and sides and pushing up underneath...then sealing by pinching. Although the person describing this technique spoke with authority, I had this crumbling problem, and it finally occurred to me that the bread in the middle was directionless. If you've ever worked with clay, you might know what I'm talking about--wedging clay means you get the silica cells to all go in the same direction.

I also looked at commercially baked bread, and on the cheap stuff, like Wonder Bread, you can actually see a swirl in the middle. Now that's direction.

So with this Portuguese White Cornmeal Bread I flattened out the dough and rolled it up--first in one direction, and then again in another to get some semblance of a round shape. It seemed to work--both loaves allowed thin slices. The real test will come today, when I use it for sandwiches!

Ruth's Pancakes

I am breathing a deep sigh of contentment just remembering these pancakes. And since they are not on the Epicurious website, and because I love you, I'm going to give you the recipe right here and now so you can sigh with contentment too.

1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
3 tbsp plus 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
1 cup flour
4 tsp. baking powder
4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Whisk together milk, eggs and t tbsp. vegetable oil in medium bowl, then whisk in butter. Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in another medium bowl. Whisk in egg mixture until just combined.

There's another whole paragraph on how to cook them, but can I assume that if you're an adult, you know how to cook pancakes? Heat pan and a little oil, pour in batter, flip when bubbles appear on surface.

OK, here's what's amazing about these pancakes. You know how when you make regular pancakes from a mix, or you go out to eat, and the pancake basically acts as a sponge for maple syrup? So you end up eating soggy pancake that's so sweet you are practically in insulin shock by the time it's over, and the coffee you drink to balance out the flavor just makes your heart race even more? This is why I stick to eggs. With THESE pancakes, the butter acts as a foil--both in flavor and somehow biochemically. So you get a mouthful of both sweet and salty that's somehow a little crispy too.

God, my mouth is watering just writing about them--I know you have this stuff in your pantry, so what are you waiting for? A Nor-easter is a good excuse for a decadent breakfast, so go for it. Do it for those poor marathoners who could probably use a good pancake right about now.

P.S. The Ruth is question is of course Ruth Reichl, Gourmet's editor-in-chief.

Individual Molten Chocolate Cakes

These are very pleasant and easy-to-make cakes that impressed the heck out of the cake-eaters--my friends Leigh, Spleen and Elizabeth, and my son O'Malley.

"These are amazing," said Spleen, "like something you'd get at a wedding! Do you get desserts like this all the time?" he asked O'Malley.

"No!" O'Malley said emphatically, and a little unfairly I think, since I do bake every week for the little ingrate. True, it's never been molten, and true, it hasn't involved coffee creme anglais, but still.

If you have eaten at a high-end restaurant at any point over the last fifteen years you will have seen this cake or something like it on the menu. At Yanks, Alec Maxon, the pastry chef, used to put chocolate ganache in the middle (an improvement, I think)--and at the Emerson we used to buy these frozen and cook them in the microwave to order. (You might be rolling your eyes at that but believe it or not it was our most popular dessert and a respectable fall-back for a place that didn't have the cash to hire a pastry chef.)

The coffee creme anglais is a nice counterpoint (if you have followed the link to epicurious you will notice they call it coffee custard sauce) but I would like to inform all you NYC chefs that instant espresso powder does not appear to exist outside of your city limits, and writing dessert recipes with this ingredient is a cruel taunt--we have to make do with Nescafe out here in the boonies. Actually, I just followed the link to the coffee custard sauce and it is nothing like the recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook--please don't follow it as I can't recommend anything that utilizes ground coffee beans. (except coffee.)

A baking note. Space out your ramekins on a tray or they'll take up to twenty minutes to bake. I had mine packed into a casserole dish and at 12 minutes they were still completely raw.

I left the coffee creme anglais with Leigh and Spleen, who were wondering if they could bathe in it.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Carrot Puree, Savory Pureed Lima Beans, Parsnip and Apple Puree, Mashed Potatoes with Six Variations

What is going on, you may be asking? Did somebody lose their dentures?

No, somebody got a cross-palate bar put in at the orthodontists. This barbaric-looking piece of wiring can be compared, O'Malley says, to a bit for a horse. Would that it were so.

And actually my reasons were two-fold, since I could have just mixed the boy up a protein shake. I have been logging my diet and exercise as suggested by Dr. Pamela Peake in her program Body for Life for Women (see sidebar link), and I realized that I don't really eat a lot of vegetables. Some days, I don't eat any. I eat plenty of protein, fruit, dairy, I drink lots of water, and god knows I eat enough cookies.

So I've been on a private little campaign recently to embrace vegetables. Salads seem like an obvious answer, except that I ate salads for lunch for about a year and a half and just can't get excited about "lawn trimmings" (as a friend recently put it) at the moment.

Cooked vegetables are the answer, because I certainly do like them. One day for lunch I took a raw sweet potato and baked it, the next day I brought in half a butternut squash. And this Braces Event seemed like the perfect time to make a pureed vegetable extravaganza, even though I knew that O'Malley would probably balk at the "sweet" vegetables, like carrots and the apple/parsnip combo.

Here they are in order of easiest to most irritating: Mashed Potatoes; Carrot Puree; Savory Pureed Limas; Parsnip and Apple Puree. Mashed Potatoes win because they don't involve a food processor.

Here they are in order in the order that I liked them: Parsnip and Apple Puree; Carrot Puree, Savory Pureed Limas, and Mashed Potatoes. O'Malley would disagree with me.

(a technical note: Epicurious doesn't have these recipes, so no links: sorry.)

The Parsnip and Apple Puree has an even texture and wonderful flavor--you sautee the apples with onions and add sour cream and allspice in the food processor. It would be a winner with any meat but especially pork.

The Carrot Puree also has great flavor thanks to the heavy cream and freshly grated nutmeg, which lifts it up out of the banal (a realm cooked carrots are mostly in, in my opinion). This is the second time I've cooked this recipe though, and it should be noted that I needed more than the 5 tablespoons of cream it calls for to get a nice texture. I suppose one could put in some of the carrot cooking water instead (these low-fat variations never occur to me at the moment.)

The Savory Pureed Limas were very good but I was distracted by the lima bean skins, which didn't really get ground up in the food processor. If I were more fastidious I would have put them through a ricer or food mill or something (neither of which I have actually). The color is GORGEOUS and it would complement any fish beautifully.

I have a gripe with the Mashed Potatoes. This recipe calls for peeling the potatoes, cutting them into two-inch hunks, and cooking them til done. The problem with cooking potatoes this way (and I speak from years and hundreds of pounds of potatoes worth of experience)is that it dries the potatoes out--the water leaches the moisture out of the potato flesh.

Here's how I make mashed potatoes: I cook unpeeled potatoes until they're fork-tender, and let them drain briefly (not forever, you don't want them to dry out). Next add the butter and mash--you want to coat the potato as much as possible, and THEN add your heated milk or buttermilk or sour cream or whatever, until you get the desired texture, keeping in mind that mashed potatoes "set up" so if you are holding them for a while you want them to be on the loose side. Also don't forget the salt and pepper, and taste to make sure you're seasoning correctly. I read somewhere that it's almost impossible to over-salt potatoes, and there's some merit to that statement. Salting the cooking water helps a lot in that department.

I would like to thank our house guest, Elizabeth, for sitting down to the above meal and proclaiming it delicious. She's a good friend, and a diplomatic one too.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Liptauer Cheese: Take Two and Deviled Eggs

I finally got around to trying the Liptauer Cheese again, this time with minced anchovy fillets instead of anchovy paste, and you know what? The darn stuff needed salt.

To be fair (to the recipe, not to me) two minced anchovy fillets is the equivalent in volume to about a teaspoon of anchovy paste, and I squirted in about TWO teaspoons last time (possibly even more). OK--my bad.

I'll really get a feel for the finished product when I get back after my days off--it needs a while to set and let those caraway seeds get soft.

When I decided to make Deviled Eggs yesterday it seemed like a ridiculously simple recipe to have in a cookbook, and besides, how could they possibly be better than my mother's deviled eggs?

Well, this is a simple recipe (although they invite you to "make it your own" by adding herbs of your choice, or putting in half mayo, half plain yogurt) and you know what? I think my mom must have gotten her recipe from Gourmet. They looked pretty (because I piped them in with a faux pastry bag, which is a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off)and tasted great, but my greatest reward was the absolute delight with which they were greeted by Dr. S., who said, "My favorite!" The two of them acted as if I had set down manna from heaven but restrained themselves to eating three out of the six (two for him, one for her).

"That's OK," I said, "Miranda can convert them into egg salad tomorrow" (as if egg salad has less cholesterol). "Please don't," said Dr. S.--"they're perfect just the way they are!" You can't get a better recommendation than that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Pecans, Dried Apricots, and Dried Sour Cherries, Part Two

I had a chance to taste these yesterday, and they are as good in their baked state as they are in their dough state. They are so packed with dried fruit and nuts, that you can even talk yourself into thinking that they are dietarily virtuous.

Don't kid yourself. They're not. But if you're cheating, they're worth every bite.

Citrus Chiffon Cake and Swedish Rye Bread

Tell me if your day goes anything like this:

Yesterday I had to be at work at noon, and I had a chiropractor's appt. at 11:15. I also had to shop, and I wanted to bake a cake. I also wanted to work out, and was in fact in my work out clothes.

So, this is how you figure it. I have to leave Gloucester at 10:58 to be on time to appt. I need at least 45 minutes in the store, so I need to arrive there at or around 10:15. It takes about 15 minutes to drive there so I need to leave the house no later than 10. The cake takes 50 mins to an hour to bake, so it has to go in the oven no later than 9.

The time? 8am. Perfect. Anybody can put cake batter together in an hour, right? And if I hustle I can get a little time in on the elliptical.

I'm telling you people, I was shaving it pretty close. Citrus Chiffon Cake has some fussy preparation. Buttering and flouring a Bundt pan is tedious (all those little ridges!) Sifting the cake flour is time consuming (and messy) Grating four teaspoons each of orange and lemon zest: likewise. Producing 3/4 cup of fresh orange juice...you get the picture.

When I put it in the oven, I said screw the elliptical and jumped right in the shower. What a fragrance that cake produced! Really heavenly. I took the components for the Citrus Syrup to work and made it there, and we had it for dessert last night at home.

My thoughts on the cake--delicious...but the syrup somehow took away from the lovely spongy texture. (although, it should be noted, not enough that I stopped eating my slice of cake.) I think it would be best highlighted by whipped cream and fresh berries or citrus fruit. Any book groupies reading this--that's what I'm bringing for dessert tonight.

Now, speaking of heavenly fragrances, can anything beat the smell of baking bread? I wax and wane enthusiastic about bread baking, and right now I'm just in love with it. This recipe for Swedish Rye Bread is a winner, and if you can believe it I think that butter actually detracts from the flavor.

Yes! Amazing coming from me, who sees bread mostly as a vehicle for getting butter (or olive oil)into my mouth.

The bread is a little sweet from the molasses, and has complex flavor and fragrance, thanks to the orange zest (there it is again, twice in one day!) anise seeds and caraway seeds.

So, if not a vehicle for butter, what is this bread good for? I think it would be superlative toast (as a vehicle for jam) and for a sandwich...oh, a nice chicken or turkey sandwich made with real (not deli) meat...maybe a little cranberry sauce...hmmm, is it lunchtime yet?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Pecans, Dried Apricots and Dried Sour Cherries

How can you go wrong with ingredients like these? You can't. I haven't even baked them yet, I just mixed up the dough and left it for Miranda (the other cook) to bake tomorrow, but as a long-time connoisseur of cookie dough this stands high in the ranks.

What is more on my mind is that I would like to dedicate these cookies, this entry, the whole enterprise of baking with love to our friend and neighbor Marjorie Johnson, who passed away early this morning. A difficult, stubborn and at times infuriating woman, she nevertheless had a soft spot for small creatures, beauty, and people who treated her with kindness. She also admired Martha Stewart and would lend me stacks of her magazines (as long as I gave them back). She was intensely interested in my cooking career, and gave me a few things she thought I could use--an old Julia Child cookbook, and a lovely rolling pin that I do use frequently.

She would never accept food from us--she had all kinds of self-imposed dietary restrictions--but I think she would have loved the idea of these cookies and would have thought them very fancy and impressive.

Marjorie, I'm glad your suffering is finally at an end. Rest in Peace.

Bacon, Arugula, Tomato and Egg Sandwiches

After I made the tomato chutney this week, I was delighted to find this recipe, which is essentially a BLT fancied up a bit. The idea is that you're replacing the tomato with tomato chutney, the lettuce with arugula, and you're adding some substance with a little scrambled egg. Dr. S. LOVES BLTs, and they both adore sourdough. This is how it went:

Dr. S., after taking a bite: "Now what is it we're eating here in this sandwich?"
Me: "Well, it's kind of like a BLT, except tomato chutney instead of tomatoes."
Dr. S.: "And there's egg in it."
Me: "Yeah, to give it a little more..." (I gesture vaguely)
Dr. S.: "And there are raisins in it."
Me: "Yeah, those are in the tomato chutney. And it's on sourdough."
Mrs. S., chiming in: "I like sourdough."
Dr. S., after taking another bite: "I like it!"
Mrs. S.: "I do too."

God bless 'em. They're good sports.

I made one for myself, and here's what I think. The tomato chutney overpowers practically everything. The egg might as well not be there--I'm not sure why it is unless you were going for a fancy breakfast sandwich. I couldn't really even taste the arugula. If I were making another one, I would actually use thick-cut bacon (as the recipe directs) to stand up to the chutney (I used the bacon we had in the house), and I would spread the chutney on one side of the sandwich only--the other with mayo.

I did, of course, eat the whole thing, and so did the S.s.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Robiola Pizza

I'm not sure I can talk about this pizza without veering off into the most ridiculous hyperbole.

I was inspired to get out the pizza stone by the S.'s daughter M., who visited after spending a week in California taking a workshop where she learned how to cook in a brick oven. She got us the pizza stone last year sometime, and I have used it on a few occasions, but pizza isn't the first thing that comes to my mind when I'm thinking about what to cook for dinner for Dr. and Mrs. S.--it's not really even in the top ten (at home is a different story, except that it's usually take-out pizza).

So--inspired to cook pizza, I looked in the book, and found a recipe for Robiola Pizza, which was serendipitous because we happened to have a nice square of Robiola cheese in the fridge. It also called for Portobello mushrooms (I had sliced Baby Bellas), and zucchini (I had two zucchini at home that needed to be used). I even had chives. The only thing I didn't have was white truffle oil, and I was a little apprehensive about it--when I was at the Emerson one of the chefs got a bottle from Sid Wainer (a specialty gourmet food wholesaler) and it was wildly expensive.

Don't worry, says the recipe, extra-virgin will be just fine, but that white truffle oil will put it over the top.

I figured I could get the oil at The Fruitful Basket, but I thought I'd have a look in Shaw's--you never know. And there it was, right next to the hazelnut oil, with a relatively low price tag of ten dollars. (New Low Price! said the tag underneath.) Score.

I kneaded the dough by hand--very satisfyingly tactile--and preheated the stone in a 500 oven, which promptly filled the entire downstairs with faint, unpleasant smoke. ("What's that smell? asked Dr. S. after tea. "It smells like something is burning." "I'll open some doors," said I.)

The recipe on Epicurious is a little odd, so if you don't have the book, I'll just tell you what the basic ingredient list is. On your pizza you put, in this order: 1/2 lb. Robiola cheese, spread or crumbled; and a mix of: 1 cup chopped mushrooms, 1 cup chopped zucchini, 3 tbsp. minced chives, salt and pepper. When it comes out of the oven, drizzle 1 tbsp. white truffle oil (or extra virgin olive) on top--I also took a pastry brush and sort of spread it around onto the crust and so on.

Dr. and Mrs. S. LOVED it (and asked for seconds--a rare thing). I loved it too--the taste and smell is simply intoxicating.

By the way, if Robiola is new to you--it's sort of like Brie with a bit of a pong--it's made in Italy. If you have a specialty cheese shop near you they would surely have it, or even a very well-stocked supermarket. You could certainly substitute Brie or Camembert, but you would lose some of that unique flavor.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Tomato Chutney and Fromage Fort

The biggest problem with this Tomato Chutney was that my grandmother didn't make it.

Take a beloved childhood food that was made by a beloved person...can any other version possibly measure up?

So this recipe, while fine, really, just fine...was too chunky, and had mustard seeds. It was also somehow too sweet. Not right at all! But Dr. and Mrs. S. never knew my Grandma Hruby or her Tomato Chutney, so they thought it was just terrific, and although they don't know it yet, they're going to see it again today at lunch on a Bacon, Arugala, Tomato and Egg Sandwich.

Sigh. I miss my grandma.

I had never heard of Fromage Fort, and technically, it's not a recipe in this book--it's a sidebar technique.

Here's how it goes. When your cheese drawer is just bursting with odd and aging bits of cheese, weigh out a pound (here's something to do with that kitchen scale, oh ye unrepentant ex-dieters) grate the hard cheeses and cut the soft ones into 1 inch cubes. Throw it all into the food processor with 6 tablespoons of soft butter and 3 tablespoons of dry white wine. Process until smooth, and now you've got a cheese spread that is very tasty indeed. If you're feeling frisky you could throw in some herbs, or minced shallots...I could even see roasted red pepper in there.

How did my version come out? Well, if it didn't have that darn hickory smoked cheddar that the S.'s got as a Christmas gift it would have been better, but it will suffice and that certainly didn't stop me from sampling it, on a cracker. With tomato chutney on top, of course!

Grilled Stuffed Flank Steak, Grilled Asparagus, and Sweet Potato Chips

If I have had one culinary revelation this week, it was the Grilled Stuffed Flank Steak.

I chose it because I wanted to have a pre-theater dinner that could be prepared, and preferably even cooked mostly ahead of our guest's arrival. The recipe felt like a bit of a risk because a) I had never stuffed flank steak and b) I don't particularly care for flank steak. But I am nothing if not willing to try something new.

The short story is that the dish was a complete success, and even my somewhat fastidious son liked it so much that he polished off the leftovers after his play.

Here's why it works: it's pretty, because what you see is green spinach and orange carrot disks in a spiral of meat. It's tender, because you cut those long fibers cross-wise.

Cutting the flank steak so that it opened up like a book was a bit of a challenge; its a very thin cut of meat to begin with and I went through to the bottom more than once. Fortunately the rolling and tying part allows you to cinch those gaps up, and I didn't lose any stuffing to the grill (although I did lose a few asparagus spears).

Yes, there's a recipe for Grilled Asparagus in this book! To me that's about as funny as having a recipe for toast. I paid for my nonchalance though--the recipe asks you to make little asparagus rafts with wooden skewers so as not to lose any to the flames and I couldn't be bothered. If you follow the link to the recipe on Epicurious you'll see a reviewer similarly dismisses raft-making and suggests a grill basket instead. Maybe I'll find one of those sometime.

The Sweet Potato Chips with Lime Salt were fun, and the Lime Salt put them firmly into the I-Can't-Stop-Eating-These category. (an editing note--I see that the Epicurious recipe calls for 4 limes for some reason--you certainly don't need that many to get a half teaspoon of zest. The book doubles the recipe, presumably so you can have some to serve your guests too.) The only problem we had with this recipe was that nobody timed them, we just sort of watched them fry and pulled them out when they looked good. So some were on the brown side, some were a little tiny bit soggy but a very pretty orange--most were just right.