"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".

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Shrimp in Adobo Sauce

Shrimp in Adobo Sauce reminded me of one of the only times I've ever had authentic Mexican food--in XYZ Restaurant in Southwest Harbor, Maine about fourteen years ago. XYZ stands for Xalapa, Yucatan, and Zacatecas, and it was a far cry from the Three Burrito Combo I was used to in Mexican joints. I'm sorry to say that my dining experience was marred that night by my other discovery, which was the use of fine tequila as a sipping liquor. The owners were friends of my sister-in-law and her husband and when the four of us came for dinner everything flowed freely. Let's just say I've steered clear of tequila ever since that night, and 'nuff said.

HOWEVER. Before the tequila fogged me up I was quite amazed by the food--meats and seafood sauced and rubbed with rich, spicy pepper purees. Authentic Mexican cuisine makes good use of smoked, dried peppers, and this is where you'll find a use for those mysterious creatures called pasilla negras, chipotles, anchos and poblanos.

I had dried ancho chilies in the cupboard and O'Malley helped me with the rest--toasting the chilies in a hot pan, then stripping them of seeds and stems, ripping into small pieces and soaking for 30 minutes. These were pureed with chopped onion, garlic and oregano and enough warm water to make a paste, which was then sauteed for five minutes. We added wine, vinegar and salt then, and eventually the shrimp. On the plate we garnished with chopped cilantro and diced avocado.

O'Malley is anxious to tell you what he thought of this dish, so here he is, in his own words.

Word of warning: WASH YOUR HANDS after making this, else you'll have the unpleasant smell of garlic following you around forever.

I liked it, mainly because I think that chili peppers are punk rock, and because garlic keeps away the mosquitoes, flies, vampires, evil sandmen, and Freddy Krueger. While I was cooking the sauce, I took one big whiff of it a few seconds before it was done--it clears the sinuses.

After the sauce was done, my Mom told me to taste it and see how it was. I took a tiny fraction of it off of the pan, licked it, and yelled so loud that I think I scarred the cat for life! I calmed down in a bit, being more surprised than anything.

Well, it ended up tasting wicked good with shrimp and avocado, though I didn't eat all of it because it's very filling--Don ended up eating most of it. I recommend keeping a glass of milk handy (or tequila!) in case it's too intense.

Final word before my mom starts writing again: Never eat this on a date if you don't want to frighten the poor girl (or guy)off with your garlic breath. Bye!

Suffice it to say our house last night was free from mosquitoes, flies, bogeymen, and people looking for dates.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wild Boar Bolognese, or Melissa Gets Experimental

It's been a long time since I've been hunting, and a REALLY long time since I hunted boar. But last weekend in Newport I just couldn't resist.

I'm just kidding. There are bores in Newport, but you can't kill them (unfortunately).

Actually I was at the Fruitful Basket and saw a little packaged roast that said "Wild Boar". How could any chef resist? Bobby said the cut is basically like pork shoulder, responds well to "low and slow", and tastes fab with Bolognese sauce.

So I trotted back to work with my little boar roast, and readers, not only did I think to experiment with a new meat, I thought I'd top it off by trying a new cooking technique too.

Fans of Top Chef will have noticed that Hung, one of the final three contestants this season, makes frequent use of a cooking technique called sous vide. From what I could tell (from watching it on tv), it involved vacuum-sealing ingredients in a bag and cooking them in a pot of water. We happen to have a Food Saver at work--it's one of my favorite new kitchen gadgets. And so, friends, I decided to put the boar and the ingredients for Bolognese Sauce in a vacuum sealed bag, and then I boiled that sucker for about three hours.

Today I see from my research that sous vide is actually this:

Sous-vide (IPA pronunciation: [suː viːd]), French for "under vacuum", is a method of cooking that is intended to maintain the integrity of ingredients by heating them for an extended period of time at relatively low temperatures. Food is cooked for a long time, sometimes well over 24 hours. But unlike a slow cooker, sous-vide cooking uses airtight plastic bags placed in hot water well below boiling point (Usually around 60°C = 140°F).

The method was developed by Georges Pralus in the mid-1970s for the Restaurant Troisgros (of Pierre and Michel Troigros) in Roanne, France. He discovered that when cooking foie gras in this manner, it kept its original appearance, did not lose excess amounts of fat and even improved the texture. The method is used in a number of top-end restaurants under Thomas Keller, Paul Bocuse, Joel Robuchon and Charlie Trotter and other chefs. Non-professional cooks are also beginning to use vacuum cooking.

Deadly botulinum bacteria can grow in food in the absence of oxygen: sous vide cooking must be performed under carefully controlled conditions to avoid botulism poisoning. To help with food safety and taste, relatively expensive water-bath machines are used to circulate precisely heated water; differences of even one degree can affect the finished product.

Thanks, Wikipedia. Especially about that last part.

My husband asked me, when I called him in the afternoon, if I had a Plan B if this meal didn't work out. I was very nonchalant--oh I suppose, I said, but I'm sure it will be just fine.

I did have the foresight to open the bag around 6pm, an hour before dinner. I wanted to reduce the Bolognese, and I figured I would keep the meat warm and add it at the end. I cut open the netting that surrounded the meat, expecting it to fall apart like pork shoulder, but all it did was sit there like a sullen grey lump. So I started slicing. And tasting.

Uh oh.

Dry, dry, dry, and not all that tasty. Certainly not falling apart. In fact, there was hardly any fat on that meat at all, or in it--just a few veins of gristle. (Der, I'm thinking to myself, it's GAME, not a grain-fed stockyard prisoner.)

I did the only thing I could do (besides ordering pizza), I minced the heck out of it and threw it in with the sauce. And I added about three tablespoons of butter to the sauce to make up for the lack of fat in the meat.

Then I presented it with a flourish to Dr. and Mrs. S, who hardly ever eat Italian. In fact, I think I've served them pasta twice, this being the second. Dr. S. devoured it (once he got over his initial reservations)--Mrs. S. picked at hers.

My backroom audience (the nursing assistants) went cuckoo over it--Peggy said she could eat it every night all fall and winter.

So I would recommend the Bolognese sauce if you like that sort of thing. And since The Gourmet Cookbook makes no mention of either boar or sous vide, you can safely follow that recipe to a happy end, and leave the experimental cooking to me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Parsley-Leaf Potatoes and Green Beans with Almonds

Parsley-Leaf Potatoes are so darn cute I can't believe that
a) I can't find a picture of them and
b) I burned the ones I cooked last night and so couldn't show them off in all their cute glory because I had to trim off the parsley part
and c) that every caterer on the planet hasn't appropriated this dish.

Talk about great effect for very little work! The idea is you cut a potato in half, press on a parsley leaf (or whatever flat herb you can find) and bake it cut side down on a buttered pan. Voila, decoupaged potatoes.

Me burning the potatoes is another story and has more to do with not setting a timer and then getting into a rare argument with a co-worker. But as my friend Zoritsa says, "In my country ve haf saying, that man who eat burn bread all his life vill never get hit by thunder."

I don't exactly understand what that means but it did make me feel better, especially since she ate all the burned potato disks hanging around the kitchen and rhapsodized about my cooking at the same time, which makes me think that either she really adores me or has very low standards.


I don't know what it is about Green Beans with Almonds--the combination, not the recipe per se. They just taste great together, and if you like this combination too, try it this way and see what you think. You grind the almonds ahead of time and saute them with garlic in butter, then toss them with lightly steamed green beans. I used the roasted garlic butter from the potato skins the night before. As "a cook from Denver" says on epicurious...

"it freaking rocks and rolls man"

What more do you need than that?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Garlic-Roasted Potato Skins

Garlic-Roasted Potato Skins look like they have everything going for them, namely potatoes, garlic, butter and salt.

Why, then, was I disappointed?

I think I can lay the blame squarely at the feet of all those restaurants that FRY their potato skins and then bring them to you loaded with melted cheese, scallions and sour cream. Not to mention some of our local breakfast places who have put them on the menu, so you can get some scrambled eggs somewhere amongst the cheese, scallions and sour cream.

That's a lot for one poor little oven-baked potato skin recipe to live up to.

Here is a photo by Mary Ellen Bartley, who didn't bake her skins nearly as long as I did, and so didn't burn the bottoms of some of them in an attempt to get them really crispy.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tuna Fillets with Pecan Butter Sauce and Red Wine-Poached Pear and Custard Tart

OK, technically this recipe is called Catfish Fillets with Pecan Butter Sauce, but tuna is one of the fish the list as a substitute and that's what I had in the freezer. I have made it with catfish, and my major complaint about it was that the catfish tasted terrible. I don't know why it suffers from its trip north, but the catfish I've purchased here in New England always tastes like mud to me, which is how I just thought it tasted until a real Georgia woman (my friend Elizabeth's mother)complained bitterly that the catfish up here tasted terrible.

So ok, eat catfish only when you're down south. Otherwise, substitute, substitute, substitute.

I wasn't sure at all that tuna would take to this flouring and egg-dipping process (being a fan of sashimi and all that) but it did just fine, cut into slender fillets. The best, though, was the browned butter and pecan sauce, which was brightened by lemon juice. Dr. S. gobbled his up, Zoritsa (the CNA) followed suite and licked her fingers and the plate with great dramatic flair. I'm sorry to say Mrs. S. has had a diminished appetite lately and so ate very little, but that makes me worry more about her than whether or not the food is spot-on.


After years and years of making pie crust there are a few things I've picked up. One is that when you're using a food processor, go slow with adding the ice water--pulse the machine, and give the water a chance to ball the dough up. You can even leave it a little on the dry side and turn it out on the counter to finish up with the heel of your hand.

Did I take advantage of all this wisdom yesterday? No I didn't. I threw caution to the wind and dumped three tablespoons of water right into the makings for a single crust shell. The result? A very wet, well blended ball of dough that kind of resembled blond clay or some kind of putty you might use for glazing your windows.

Will it be too tough? was my main concern, but since it was a thin tart shell I figured I'd give it a try.

The best thing about this tart was the red wine syrup (ha--I finally found a use for that Concord Grape Wine kicking around the house) and the toasted almonds. The crust was indeed a bit leathery and since it shrank a bit, the custard was almost a non-issue--I did have lots left over. The pears shone through, and if you love pears (especially poached pears) you'll love this tart.

Here is a picture of a poached pear tart that I didn't make, but it sure looks pretty--somebody at Bon Appetit put it together. Next time I make this I'll cut the pears like this--aren't they gorgeous?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Grilled Porterhouse Steak

Well, I tried to talk O'Malley into Clam Pizza for dinner, but this 14 year-old was having none of it.

"What do you want then?" I asked.
"Steak," was his reply.

I looked through The Gourmet Cookbook to see what they might have in the steak arena, and they have a lovely, simple recipe for Grilled Porterhouse Steak. I've never actually purchased that cut for myself, but I've made it dozens of times at work--it's the favorite cut of some of the kids.

The lovely, simple recipe calls for three things--four if you count the grill: steak, mixed peppercorns, and kosher salt.

Reader, this gave me pause.

I am one of those folks in restaurants who waves away the pepper-grinder. For some reason, freshly-ground pepper makes me cough. Back in my dating days, this tended to break the mood during romantic dinners.

So you know where this is going, right? The recipe calls for crushed peppercorns and kosher salt. Three tablespoons of crushed pepper, to be exact, all of which is to be rubbed and pressed into the steak.

This was a moment where I put my faith in the higher wisdom of Ms. Reichl and countless other gourmands who have safely combined steak and peppercorns throughout the ages. Reader, I prepared and grilled those steaks just as suggested, and I am happy to report that not only was there no coughing, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how well those two ingredients really do go together. I can see why it's a steakhouse standard, and I'm embarrassed that I never tried it before.

As for the rest of the meal, my son wanted only artichokes. With real hollandaise sauce. Yes, of course I made it, with much pointing out of how awesome a mother I am.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Haven-Style Clam Pizza and Concord Grape Jelly

No, not together, silly!! I just made them on the same day, that's all.

Now, let me just say, OH MY GOD...if you've never tried clam pizza, PLEASE try this recipe, or get yourself to New Haven and order some. My life may never be the same again.

A few small details will make the difference between so-so and outrageous. First, use fresh clams like they suggest, and don't forget to spoon some of the clam liquor onto the pizza--I used about 3 tablespoons. Also please use real parm-reg. The full three cloves of garlic in olive oil will make you reek the next day but will be oh-so-worth it, and don't forget the dried oregano. Also--thin crust, on a hot pizza stone. I could eat this pizza every day for the next ten years. A nice side salad and you've got a winner of a dinner.


The Concord Grape Jelly was kind of a pain to make. Why? Well, first you have to slip off the skins (that's at least an hour right there) and then whiz them in a processor with some sugar. Then boil with the grape innards and press through a food mill.

OK, I did have teeny tiny little Concord Grapes, but I cut the recipe in half and was thankful for it. Also I don't have a food mill but was happy to see that pressing it through a fine sieve worked just the same. And I got grape jelly all over the kitchen because when it boils it POPs up and splatters all over the place.

Still, the end result was delicioso, and I did not bother to can this stuff--I just parceled it out to people who wanted some after making sure the house jelly jars were well filled.

Happy, happy jelly eaters--folks who love grape jelly are a really dedicated bunch.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pudding

I can't find quite the right recipe to give you a link, so I'll just describe this to you--it's pretty easy and doesn't even require a candy thermometer (although admittedly it's not quite as easy as ripping open a box of Jell-O chocolate pudding...HOWEVER...it's MUCH MUCH tastier. :-)

Here's the idea. Mix sugar, cocoa powder and cornstarch in a saucepan. Pour in cold whole milk (or whatever your diet will allow you). Boil til thick.

In another bowl, you've whisked an egg, and you pour the hot pudding mix in SLOWLY, whisking, and then you throw in 4 oz. of bittersweet chocolate chips. Whisk til smooth. That's it, baby.

If you can restrain yourself from eating it hot, put it in ramekins and cover with plastic wrap or wax paper. And then love the decadence---really, is there anything more amazingly comforting than chocolate pudding?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Malaysian Chicken Curry

With its long list of exotic ingredients, this looks like a promising dish. Star anise. Cinnamon stick. Coconut milk. Jalapeno pepper. Ginger. Garlic.

Which is why I was so disappointed at the dinner table. Malaysian Chicken Curry was surprisingly bland to me, and I'm trying to figure out why.

One possibility is that I used light coconut milk instead of regular. We all know (or at least if you're in this business you know) that fat=flavor, so maybe I shot myself in the foot there.

Another is that I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts even though the recipe suggests using skin-on (for the flavor). OK.

But the rest of it should have shone through! Instead it was a somewhat thin sauce that to me was overwhelmed by the bland chicken (can you tell I'm not a fan of white meat?)

If I were doing a take-two of this dish, I would alter it like so: I would probably use thigh meat (skinless) and cut the chicken into smaller pieces. If forced to use breast meat I would do the same thing. I would also add something to the sauce to give it some body--I can see a potato/tomato/pea combination that would enhance the sauce ingredients nicely.

The other reason why this dish was frustrating is because I cooked it at home especially for my heat-loving son and husband. Recipes like this don't fly at work--I don't care HOW bland I think something is--I can guarantee you my 80-something employers would find it intolerable.

So--parents of teenagers groan along with me--when O'Malley walked into the kitchen and grimaced, saying, "What's that smell?" I bristled, and when he tasted it and said, "No.", I sent him to his room to eat grapes for dinner instead. I don't spend an hour in front of a stove for that kind of attitude.

And Don and I had a nice (quiet) dinner by candlelight on the deck. Hey, the curry might not have been the best, but the rum--and the companionship--was tops.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Dacquoise and Pecan Pie Bars

What, you may be asking, is a dacquoise? Elementary, my dear!

dac·quoise (d-kwz)
1. A cake made with layers of nut meringue and whipped cream or buttercream.
2. One of the layers of meringue used in this cake.

Here are some photos of dacquoise I did not bake so you can get an idea of what they look like.

Now, I know what you're thinking: No way, Jose. Too complicated. But really that's because you don't know yet how easy it is!

If you've ever whipped eggs whites and made ANYTHING meringue, this is familiar territory. Ditto for making homemade frosting/custard/whipped cream of any sort. You just slap the two together and you've got heaven on earth.

I cannot describe the sensation of biting into a nutty meringue that is layered with rich, coffee buttercream (except thinking, OMG, I wonder how many calories I just consumed?, followed by, f*ck it, I think I'll have some more.)

I need hardly say that this particular dessert was dispatched by five people in less than 24 hours (with a tiny little bit of help from me).


Pecan Pie Bars are a great way to get into the fall mindset. Ever so slowly I'm moving away from berries and stone fruits, and starting to think about fall ingredients: squash, nuts, apples, pears... Tomatoes and corn are still going strong (as are zucchini), but with these chilly nights and crisp-clear days suddenly soups and stews are taking center stage.

So get in the mood with these babies:

The best thing about them is that they DON'T have the goopy-ness that pecan pie does--just the nuts, bound with caramel, on top of shortbread. I wonder if I could get away with these at Thanksgiving?