"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".

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fresh Corn Soup

I was watching Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmare not too long ago and heard chef Gordon Ramsay make a suggestion to some poor beleaguered fellow that never ever would have occurred to me.

The situation was thus: the guy was making food that was costing too much, and Ramsay decided to stage a Broccoli-Soup-Making Competition to prove a point. They both made what they thought would be the best broccoli soup. The chef/owner made a soup pretty similar to what I would have made--he used broccoli, shallots, stock, cream, maybe some other stuff. He might even have thrown in some cheese.

Ramsay's soup beat the pants off this other fellow's. It was a really flavorful broccoli soup, and the other guy wanted to know what his secret was. The ingredients? Broccoli, water, and salt.

That's it. OF COURSE it tasted more like broccoli than the first one, and cost tons less money too. I was amazed by the concept, and resolved to try it out some day.

So when I came across the recipe for Fresh Corn Soup in the cookbook, I got very excited. The ingredients? Corn, water and salt. Garnish with chopped chives.

It will surprise you how flavorful and nice-to-eat this soup is. My diners simply could not believe that it was just corn. You can make this with any amount of fresh corn, just use 3/4 that amount salted water to cook it in. Puree, press through a sieve, and you've got lunch.

Ramsay, you're a genius.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Creme Citron

It is tragic that Epicurious doesn't have this recipe for you to look at--this one is a keeper in my opinion and if you want it too let me know and I'll type it in.

The idea is a lemon-white wine custard base--you know, one you have to cook up to 170--cooled and folded in with lemon zest and whipped heavy cream. Then it's layered with raspberries, parfait style.

The result is lemony, not-too-sweet, and light (though not calorically, of course, with the eggs and h. cream) and the white wine adds a nice complexity to the flavor. I know some folks don't like booze in their food, but I'm not one of them.

Hey people, summer is pretty much at an end, so if you haven't done SOMETHING yet with stone fruits or berries, for heaven's sake put some in the freezer while you can still get them cheap (and ripe). You'll thank me in February.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream and Cherry Almond Pie

It only took me two and a half years, but I finally figured out what makes the S.'s son J. hum.

The guy's got a sweet tooth.

You would think this would be easy to discern. But J. is so amiable and easygoing that any conversation about likes/dislikes, what he wants from the store etc. always ends in: I'll eat anything.

And he does. But I got wise to his ways earlier this week when I made a pineapple upside-down cake and four of them polished it off after dinner.

The next night, I offered ice cream with homemade caramel sauce--gone within seconds.

Two nights ago, I made the Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream. It was gone by tea time yesterday.

Last night, I made the Cherry Almond Pie, and I can only hope there's some tonight for Miranda to serve!

And why do I slave away like this, producing spectacular homemade desserts every single day? One, because I'm paid good money to do it, but two, because J. gets such a beatific smile on his face when he's about to tuck in to his dessert, or when he's just finished it. I don't know about you, but I love a good audience more than anything, and he's it.

I had an unexpected glitch while making the Berry Tart. The recipe asks you to whip the mascarpone (does anybody else besides me pronounce this "marscapone"?) with with sugar and heavy cream to stiff peaks, which I did. It very quickly turned yellow, and started oozing liquid, and if you've ever shaken cream in a jar you'll know that I made sweet butter. Hmmm.

Fortunately, the Fruitful Basket had mascarpone, so 10 minutes later I tried it again, with a different brand and a different carton of heavy cream. Success!

I don't know what made the difference, except that the first mascarpone sat on the counter for an hour or so and the second, different brand was very cold. Also the cream in the first batch was older. Ah, the mystery of baking.

If you try this recipe, here's a tip that will save you some time--don't bother rolling out the crust for the tart--it's unnecessarily fussy and will make you crazy. When I made it I thought it seemed an awful lot like the crust recipe for the Blueberry Tart (see two posts below) which you'll recall I liked very much. So I just patted the dough into the pan and it was fine. Better than fine--the tart was truly delicious--gorgeous to look at and a fine contrast between the juicy berries and the smooth, sweet mascarpone.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Cherry Almond Pie, alas, will probably get eaten up before I return, although J. and E. do leave today for the Vineyard. I had to make some educated adjustments to this recipe, and I was sweating it because about two weeks ago I made a lattice-top peach pie from the orchard peaches on the property and they were VERY juicy...the juice screwed up the crust baking and the pie, while it was a thing of beauty, was doughy inside and disappointed the enthusiastic diners.

So when I thawed out my 2 lbs. of sour cherries (I'll tell you sometime about the day I spent pitting a case of sour cherries) I realized that there was TONS of liquid, again. The recipe suggests that you grind 2 tablespoons of quick-cooking tapioca and mix it with the fruit, letting it sit for 15 minutes. Well, after 30 minutes it still looked very liquidy and I jumped out on a limb and ground another 2 tbsp. This, after more sitting, looked promising.

This pie has an unusual lattice-top--it is made with egg yolk, almond paste, a little butter, and lemon zest. This is piped onto the top of the pie. I was nervous about this too, because piping takes a little time, and while you're doing it the filling is sitting on that bottom crust, wreaking havoc.

If you're an experienced baker, you've already looked at the ingredients for the lattice and realized all that sugar means trouble--early browning and eventual burning. You're right--I had to keep a sharp eye on it and cover it with foil, though not before the edges of the lattice had blackened.

Experienced toast makers, though, will know that burnt stuff can be scraped off! No harm done.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rustic Garlic Soup and Passover Chocolate Nut Cake

Rustic Garlic Soup, the cookbook says, is literally making something from nothing. In Italy, it's known as aquacotta, or "cooked water".

Here is another recipe where the quality of your ingredients makes all the difference in the world. Don't use old garlic or plastic parmesan. One of the things I liked about this soup was using eggs to thicken. If you've ever had avgolemono (and I hope you do someday, it's delicious) you'll recognize that this garlic soup is on the same branch of the family tree.

The one aspect of the soup that was a little odd for my diners was the torn up bread in the bowl. I had to laugh at Dr. S.--usually when I bring soup to the table he says, enthusiastically, "That looks DELICIOUS!" This time, when I brought the soup over with these chunks of bread floating around, I got a "That looks....." and then unsure silence.

They cleaned their bowls and pronounced it might tasty, but I think I'll have the bread on the side next time.

* * * * * *

O'Malley's birthday has come and gone, and I'm now the proud and somewhat wary mother of a 14 year old boy. We have a tradition in our family--on your day, you get to pick your birthday dinner and cake, and usually the events of the day too.

O'Malley rebelled a few years ago against my mother's beloved Birthday Cake, (otherwise known as White Trash Cake) and claimed (as gracefully as a prepubescent can) that it made him gag. So I took over the cake making this year, and offered him his choice of any cake out of The Gourmet Cookbook (except the Lemon Blueberry Wedding Cake).

He chose the Passover Chocolate Nut Cake. If you're unfamiliar with cooking parameters for Passover, the rules are no flour and no leavening. This cake uses ground nuts and beaten egg whites for substitutes. The recipe says it serves 8-10, and I knew I was going to be feeding about twice that, so I doubled the cake, but had to think long and hard about exactly how to construct it.

Should I bake it in a sheet pan and cut it like brownies? No, not fancy enough.
Should I bake it in a sheet pan and stack a smaller rectangle on top of a big one? No, I don't have a rectangular platter.
Should I use my springform twice and stack them like a layer cake? That's the ticket.

I felt very organized doubling this recipe, efficiently grinding 8 cups of nuts at once (instead of replicating my efforts) etc. The tricky part is the egg whites--you don't want to whip them all and leave half standing for an hour while the first cake bakes or they'll deflate.

The other issue I had was: how to fancy this up? It's just a plain cake--no frosting or nuthin'. I consulted with O'Malley and we decided on fresh raspberries and whipped cream to separate the layers. "Real whipped cream or from a can?" I asked. "Real whipped cream," he said. "It tastes better, don't you think?" Yes, I do.

And it was HAND whipped too, thank you. We passed the bowl around. Our friend Mark Kurlansky, task-oriented, insisted on whipping it to my specifications before he even took a sip of his first drink.

I have to say, the cake looked spectacular--dark chocolate layered with bright red raspberries and snowy mounds of whipped cream, both in the middle and on top. It tasted great too, though it was more of an adult cake--a little drier than Betty Crocker, and more complex in flavor. Some of the little kids couldn't make their way through two layers, but the adults sure did.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Grilled Mackerel with Spicy Tomato Jam and Blueberry Tart

Is there anything sadder than one person faced with four whole grilled mackerel and nobody to share them with?

Yes. When the recipe sucks.

Grilled Mackerel with Spicy Tomato Jam actually has potential. I thought the fish were great--I just kept thinking, "there has to be a better accompaniment than this!" The spicy tomato jam would have been better if it was more complicated, more like a chutney. But still, I think what I really longed for was something involving mustard, or horseradish, or even a curry mayonnaise. I'm new to the world of mackerel-eating, so I don't know what flavors people choose to spice it up. But next time, for me, it will NOT be Spicy Tomato Jam! Yuck.


On the other hand, the Blueberry Tart was a real delight. This tart has a butter-cookie crust, and is filled with a combination of fresh blueberries folded into cooked ones. The cooked ones have a shot of unflavored gelatin to help them stiffen up, and a slice of this tart, cold out of the fridge, is satisfyingly "meaty" (sorry, I can't think of a better way to describe it)--it's solid, juicy, and you really feel like you're eating something substantial, which is not normally how you feel eating a fruit dessert. I think it's the combination of the crust (which does not crumble or flake away) with the berry mix which stays in one place thanks to the gelatin. Epicurious does not have this recipe listed so if you want it, ask, and I'll type it in.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Squash, Tomatoes and Corn with Jack Cheese, or a recipe for Linda

For those of you new to my blog, I should explain that The Gourmet Cookbook, Gourmet Magazine and Epicurious are all run (printed?) by the same folks. This makes my life easy, because many, most of the recipes in The Gourmet Cookbook can be found on Epicurious so I can provide a link that will take you right there.

Every once in a while I won't be able to find a particular recipe on Epicurious, and then you'll see it highlighted in bold, but not linked to anything. Since I'm never really truly sure that anybody except my mother (and Ruth, and Eve) are reading, I default to my lazy writer's mode and don't type in the recipe, but I certainly am happy to do so!

Therefore, I give you Squash, Tomatoes and Corn with Jack Cheese, for Linda, who asked.

Serves 6-8

3 tbsp. veg oil
1 med onion, chopped
2 small garlic cloves, minced
2 lg. tomates, halved, seeded and chopped
2 lbs. yellow summer squash or zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups corn kernels (from 3 ears)
2 cups coarsely grated Monteray Jack cheese (about 6 oz)
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, squash, and corn, increase heat to moderate, and cook, stirring, until squash is tender, 10-12 minutes.

Reduce heat to low, stir in cheese, salt, and pepper, and simmer, covered, just until cheese is melted, about 30 seconds.

I'm not sure this can measure up to the fabulous food Ira cooked during my lovely visit with him and Linda, but it should hit the spot, or at least one of them. Bon appetit!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bacon-Wrapped Trout with Rosemary

Although I live in a seaside town and theoretically all fish for sale here should be the best fish on the planet, for some reason I am somewhat dubious when I buy fish at Shaw's. Without any evidence to support this I assume that for REALLY fresh fish I should go a half mile down the street to an independent fish monger and that THAT will be the best fish. Ever.

The problem, of course, is one of convenience--I buy almost all my work groceries at Shaw's, and when I shop for home it's just the store on the way. The other problem is that my favorite fish place takes cash only and has limited hours.

But every once in a while I see fish there that is so gorgeously fresh that it looks like it just jumped out of the water into the fish case. And last night I found myself the proud owner of whole croaker, even though I had never seen one before and had no idea what to do with it.

I sort of vaguely remembered a recipe in the book for whole trout that involved bacon and rosemary, so I procured those items and went home to try my luck.

All I can say is: thank you Aunt Florence and Uncle Eldon for teaching me how to gut and scale a fish when I was seven years old because once I took Mr. Croaker out of his paper wrapper I realized he needed both. This is an activity that is so visceral that once you do it, will never forget how, and 34 years later it was no problem at all.

My friend Elizabeth was over having a cocktail with us, and this activity (aside from providing much merriment watching scales fly everywhere) brought a cascade of memories from her of her childhood off the Georgia coast seine- and cast-net fishing, gutting and scaling fish on her neighbor's wooden table and eating what was the children's favorite out of all this business: fried skate wing nuggets.

The recipe for Bacon-Wrapped Trout with Rosemary worked brilliantly with the croaker and my only regret is that I didn't buy two--the fillets made a scanty meal for Don and me though I bolstered it up with corn, salad and roasted kohlrabi.

There was another gorgeous fish in that case: mackerel. And tonight I'll be trying Grilled Mackerel with Spicy Tomato Jam. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Buffalo Prime Rib with Orange Balsamic Glaze

OK now, do you really think I cooked Buffalo Prime Rib? Unless you live next to a buffalo farm, your chances of getting anything more than ground buffalo burger in New England are very slim indeed.

Epicurious at least provides the contact info for some buffalo purveyors, which the cookbook doesn't, leaving you free to make the butcher laugh when you ask if they carry such a product. I'll save you some embarrassment by printing it here:

Wild Idea Buffalo Company 866-658-6137
Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company 800-543-6328
Arrowhead Buffalo Meats 877-283-2969
D'Artagnan 800-327-8246

Butchers do, however, carry beef standing rib roast (which the recipe allows can be substituted) and my butcher kindly cut the ribs out and rolled them in with the meat--the idea being that when the whole thing is cooked you just unroll them and voila! the meat is ready to be sliced without the bother of wrestling with the ribs.Which leads one to wonder why the heck you need the ribs in the first place, but maybe it has something to do with temp control, or fat, or something. I don't know. I do know people like to EAT the ribs, so maybe it's along the same lines as cooking a whole turkey so you can use the carcass.

Anyway, the prime rib was a big hit, delicious everyone called it. I wasn't too keen on the orange balsamic glaze, but I'm not a fan of sweet in my savory--the diners didn't seem to have a problem with it at all.

I also made Forty Naked Women Corn, which was wildly popular with everyone except Dr. S., who said that not only would he leave it for forty naked women, he would leave it for even just corn with butter and salt.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

recipe flurry and 40 naked women vs. 1 naked man

I do beg your forgiveness, dear readers, for keeping you in suspense for almost a week. I have not been making Campbell's soup, I assure you.

Here's what's doin', as my father-in-law would say:
Chilled Pea Soup with Lemon Cream
Panzanella (Bread and Tomato Salad)
Chicken Piccata
Salt-Fried Rib-Eye Steak
Squash, Tomatoes and Corn with Jack Cheese
Coconut and Macadamia Banana Bread
Mustard and Cheese Crackers
Sour Cherry Crostata

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Phew! Well, I cooked more than that, but those are just the new ones.

I obviously don't have the time or space to talk about each one individually but the veggies with jack cheese were surprisingly good, and so was the naan. I mean, they were ALL fantastic, but some were more fantastic than others, know what I mean?

Some of you may remember that my husband imagined he would not relinquish a certain ear of corn I made, not even for a room full of forty naked women.

My mother decided to make this dish, which she now calls "40 Naked Women Corn", when Don's parent's came to visit. She was disappointed. She said to me, later, that she would have left it for even just one naked man. What went wrong? she asked.

1. The corn was starchy, not sweet. This could have been because it was old, or had been left out in the heat. Corn starts converting sugar to starch the second it's picked--cold stops the process, heat speeds it up.
2. The corn soaked too long. The recipe calls for 10 minutes in the water--this corn soaked for at least two hours. It was waterlogged on the grill and never roasted.
3. The mayonnaise was too spicy! My mom had some high-test stuff, and used the full amount on my advice (mine was not so spicy)--this was ok for some, distracting for others.
4. My mom used a combination of non-fat feta and store-bought shredded parmesan. Neither of these have any flavor and the parm is distressingly plastic-like.

Should YOU, dear reader, attempt the same, remember these things--look for corn with a clean-looking, white break at the base--that's been picked the same day. Don't leave it out on the counter or in your car. Ten minutes soaking--that's it. Start modestly with the spice levels and adjust the mayo to your taste. And drop the diet for a moment, would you? Go for the full-fat feta. It won't kill you for one ear of corn.