"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".

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.

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