"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, October 29, 2007

Cheese Fondue and Fresh Orange Slices with Candied Zest and Pistachios

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Congee and Panfried Quail with Creamed Corn and Bacon

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mushroom Barley Soup and Cranberry, Shallot & Dried Cherry Compote

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


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

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Creamless Creamy Squash Soup and Potato Latkes

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Spicy Beef and Red Bean Chili and Babas au Rhum

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pfeffernusse and Tarragon-Shallot Egg Salad

Tip from me: try to curb your enthusiasm if you're making egg salad with a food processor.

Why? Well, because you've got those eggs into just the right size chunks, and then you add the mayo, and...well, you have to mix it up, don't you?

The next thing you know, you've got egg paste.

You would never ever guess that I've made at least a hundred pounds of egg salad using a processor judging from my behavior, but you have to excuse me because I was really excited about making this salad.

Because I'm not the biggest fan of egg salad. The way I REALLY like it is Portuguese style, which is to say with bacon, which makes every thing better. Alas, vegetarians don't quite view the world the same way, so M. gets to try Tarragon-Shallot Egg Salad (and so do I).

This is not my egg salad. I told you, I made egg paste. This is a photo I borrowed from Epicurious, but it really is on their Tarragon-Shallot Egg Salad recipe page, not some picture I found on the WWW.

MY sandwiches looked better, because a) I used home-made hot dog rolls that I sauteed in butter and b) I spread them with my Tarragon-Shallot Egg Paste and topped them with chunks of luscious organic tomato.

If you're not a fan of: licorice, anise, tarragon, pernod, anisette--this recipe is not for you, though you could always just add a little bit, just to try it out.

The only thing I would change about this recipe is to cut back on the mayo a little bit--it was too loose, especially with the addition of the vinegar.


I've made, hmmm, about five versions of Pfeffernusse, and I was kind of surprised that this one was a little shy as far as variety of spices goes. Not even any pfeffer! I've made versions with cardamom, brandy, cinnamon--all kinds of things. This one has only nutmeg, cloves, and a whopping 1 1/2 tsp. of anise seeds. And of course molasses. Very important to have molasses.

I wasn't completely sold on them until they were all the way through their various incarnations of cookie-dom. I know that sounds mysterious, but consider that you make the dough, let it stand overnight in the fridge, bake them, cool them, dip them in sugar syrup, let them dry a little, then shake them in powdered sugar. Yes, a little bit of a pain in the ass.

All of that activity gave the anise time to mellow, or maybe it was that I had sampled so many that I didn't really taste it as sharply (could be...) but whatever, the end result is soft, compact, chewy and sweet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

If you're ever in Portland...

...please have at least one meal in The Front Room. Don and I ate there for a second time this past Saturday after going to the a matinee performance at Good Theater (more on them in a moment). We dashed across the street around 5:15 and within half an hour there was a line out the door. Why is this place so busy? Amazing, creative food is the answer. We had Celery Root Soup (a bisque, really), Fried Anchovies and Grilled Sardines with Mushroom Tapenade Crostini (these were from the specials menu which took our waitress almost five minutes to recite). We followed up with Braised Beef Shortrib and even though we were both full I had to honor the fact that they actually had a pastry chef who had created something I'd never heard of, a Chocolate Chamomille Tart. So we ordered it. It was amazing. I am in the process of harassing their pastry chef for the recipe.

Here's a picture of Chef Harding, who was not cooking that night (it's an open-air kitchen so you can see EVERYTHING) unless he has shaved his head because some tall, bald guy was cooking when we were there.

The real reason we were there was to see Ruthless! the musical, put on by Good Theater.My dear friend Steve Underwood is the co-founder of this company, and his tall and lanky performance in drag was the highlight of this very funny show for me. Good Theater consistently puts on shows that either makes their audience laugh or just makes them feel good--they are well worth the trip (two hours each way for us) if you want an excuse to get to Portland for the day or the weekend. And don't forget to eat at the Front Room, which is right across the street!

Potato Pizza with Bacon & Rosemary, and Pecan Sables

There are many things that Potato Pizza with Bacon and Rosemary has going for it--homemade, crispy crust, bacon, rosemary, olive oil, good parm-reg...but the one thing I just couldn't cozy up to was the star of the show, potatoes. They were sliced thin and perfectly well cooked thanks to the 500 oven, but they just seemed...wrong. On pizza. The editors say in their recipe note that the pizza is Roman in inspiration, but I think I'll wait 'til I'm in Rome to do as the Romans do.


On the other hand, the Pecan Sables are an alluring combination of some of my all-time favorite ingredients: toasted pecans, butter, and just the right amount of salt to bring out the flavor. I actually must confess that I liked the sables in dough form better than cooked because of the extra pleasure hit you get from a creamy texture, but the baked version is really beautiful and of course you can't go around serving people little balls of cookie dough now, can you? Unless you're Ben & Jerry's and have the brilliant idea of putting it in ice cream. This dough would make excellent ice cream! Hmmm.......

Here's a picture of some Pecan Sables I didn't make (by the way in case you're wondering it's pronounced saab-LAYS...thanks to an accent over the "e" that I don't know how to make appear)--my sables are diamond shaped and much prettier (she said humbly).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pork Chops with Mustard Crumbs and Steamed Broccoli with Caper Brown Butter

Don't like making pork chops because you're afraid they'll be dry? Pork Chops with Mustard Crumbs is a great way to forestall that problem, so common with this lean meat. This recipe is quick, seals in moisture when you're baking (because of the mustard/crumb layer), and is seasonal because of the lovely minced sage. I got a special kick out of making it because I used my homemade rye bread for the crumbs. M.and E. were visiting when I made this, and again, E. was just through the roof about these chops.


Steamed Broccoli with Caper Brown Butter is the second recipe in this book that utilizes fried capers, and I had the same problem with both recipes, which is that when I followed the directions exactly I ended up with crispy, burned capers. It's a great idea, just poorly executed because by the time the butter is browned the capers are overdone. I had to make the sauce twice, which only irritates me. But the second time around it was quite tasty--butter, lightly fried capers, lemon juice, salt and pepper, which really could be tossed with anything (I'm thinking pan-fried sole/flounder/trout would be pretty nice). Unfortunately the subtle joy of this sauce was lost on Dr. and Mrs. S. because broccoli is not one of their favorite vegetables, but they both still ate it--good troopers both of them.


Every time I post I wish I had a digital camera to upload my own photos--hopefully Santa will bring me one for Christmas. In the meantime, I'll continue to search for photos online that come close to what I'm talking about. And if you have a spare digital camera just kicking around unused and unloved, toss it my way!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quick Hot Borscht and French Pea Soup

If I want to make something with beets at work, I really have to bide my time. Dr. S. dislikes them in the extreme, but every so often he goes off for a few days and we can have a beet extravaganza with Mrs. S., who loves them.

My moment came last week when Dr. S. flew down to D.C. for a meeting at the Academy of Engineers and I decided to make Quick Hot Borscht for lunch for Mrs. S, her daughter M., her husband E. Bonus points because E. is Jewish and I like to cook food that I think will please him especially (not that all Jews love borscht, but he was raised in a traditional household and I figured it would remind him of his childhood). But minus bonus points because M. is a vegetarian so I had to divide the recipe into two pots--one with beef broth and the other with vegetable. Making it slightly less quick.

I've had various types of borscht here and there, and I think that it really has to be made with a nice beef broth--it provides an excellent counterpoint to the sweetness of the beets. Anyway, the basic ingredient list is: boiling potatoes (cooked separately and added at the end) carrots, celery, onion, beef broth, and a jar of sliced pickled beets. Sour cream and fresh dill are the garnish.

The payoff--E. sitting at the table, pointing with his spoon to the bowl, saying, eyebrows raised, "This is really good borscht." Yeah.


I never thought I was going to have a chance to make French Pea Soup because my co-worker, Miranda, makes it all the time. She loves this stuff. And it is fast--lettuce, frozen peas, chicken broth, mint, leeks--just cook it together and puree it. My problem with what I had tasted at work was that I felt it was too chunky, and I would end up taking Miranda's soup and straining it.

When I made it at home for my writing group I decided to really go for the smooth texture and I blended the heck out of that stuff--just left it in there for about five minutes while I emptied the dishwasher and wiped down the counters.

It really was beautifully smooth, and I have to say out of all of the meals I've produced, this is one of the most striking with the green against my blue bowls and a drizzle of white cream. (My writing group got a big kick out of the drizzles, thinking they looked like symbols or letters of some kind, and really what else could you expect out of folks who work with language?) Here's a photo of somebody else's soup, but it's the same idea. Isn't it pretty?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cranberry Fool, Hamburger Buns, and Sauteed Potato Balls

Here's yet another way to date yourself. When you see a recipe titled "Cranberry Fool", do you think of: Mr. T?

Fool on the Hill?

or Fools falling in Love?

I'm firmly in the "I pity the fool" generation, but that didn't stop me from humming 'Fool on the Hill' the whole time I was making this dessert.

I was un-wowed by Cranberry Fool, although I like cranberries. It was pretty--beautiful actually--with striations of darker cranberry puree in the lighter pink whipped cream--but the texture was too light and the flavor too one-dimensional. I would make this only if I were looking for variations for a Thanksgiving Buffet and wanted to offer something seasonal but lighter than pie.


The Hamburger Buns were actually Hot Dog Buns, thanks to a mini-loaf pan I used to cut out some rectangles. This recipe was fun--the dough is very reminiscent of Parker House Rolls. I wanted hot dog buns that you could saute in butter, New England Style, so I laid my dough out close together so they'd connect in the baking. I found the texture to be a little coarse, but they worked well enough with the hot dogs and Dr. and Mrs. S. loved them.


God help the perfectionist who tries to make Sauteed Potato Balls. The recipe says to use a melon baller to get little potato spheres, which is fine except that unless you've got a very large potato (or a very small one) you're not going to get a perfect sphere, which will have you trimming your so-called potato balls to get the ridges off and to round the flat planes. THEN, since you don't have real roundness, when you go to saute these things, they don't really roll around in the pan--you have to flip them by hand individually or just trust to luck that you don't burn the ones that you're too lazy to turn when you just shake the pan instead.

The butter gives them a nice brown color, but whose ideas was it to use Russets for this recipe? Utterly stupid--they are a baking potato and the texture is all wrong. Take my advice and use a boiling potato instead, and since you're going to be applying a knife anyway, skip the melon baller and just cut the darn things into hexagons or whatever shape they use at the Four Seasons. Here, I'll give you a picture of what I'm talking about:

It's a pain, especially if you're making a lot, but at least you have control with the knife from start to finish.

Of course, you can skip the fancy shapes and just par-boil, cut into cubes, season and fry in butter, and then you'll have (that's right) home fries!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Apple Galette and Bar Harbor

We had the most spectacular holiday weekend on Mount Desert Island--here I am with O'Malley on top of Champlain after climbing the Precipice Trail, the park's most challenging climb. If you can imagine basically climbing up and skirting a cliff face (to the height of about 1200 feet) using iron ladders and rungs you've got the idea. Oddly, I really loved this climb. I felt strong and confident, as long as I kept looking up and only took brief glances at the sheer drops below. There's a life lesson here somewhere.

Of course I must report on fabulous meals, and by far our best meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner, was had at 2 Cats Cafe in Bar Harbor, where Don and I had breakfast on our last morning. I had a smoked salmon,cream cheese and caper omelet (served with spicy homefries, a beautiful biscuit and strawberry butter), and Don had an omelet with apple, cheddar and walnuts.

This is their logo, taken from their website (their homepage, obviously). Eating there brought me back to my Maine hippie days, when I too wore tie-dye and birkenstocks and had a fabulous herb garden and doctored all my family with homeopathic remedies. Also when Liam, our waiter, brought our food he referred to me as "my lady", which earned him a 30% tip.

Best entertainment--ImprovAcadia, where we laughed so hard we were practically weeping. If you're a fan of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", you will be right at home in this audience. Their final skit was a dream sequence based on O'Malley's recounting of his day and somehow they got "neural transmitters", "background check", "sharp pointy things" (from the local weapons shop) and "Warrior Cats" (among other events) to cohere into a storyline that actually had a beginning and an end. It made O'Malley's weekend and possibly his year.

But even better than all that was reconnecting with some old friends. Lilea, Corinne, Spenser, Alexandra, Andy, Lyle--you made us feel like we were back home again. Especially you, Lilea. Big hugs from Rockport!

I can see I won't have time to tell you about the fabulous apple galette I made for book group last week, but that post will be coming soon. My hairdresser will be cranky if I make him wait and you don't want to make somebody cranky when they've got sharp scissors that they're about to apply to your head.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Apple and Calvados Galette

By now you must know there is almost nothing I won't do for my book group, so it won't surprise you to know that I baked this Apple and Calvados Galette yesterday morning and drove around with it all day in my passenger seat so I could bring it to book group last night straight from work. I didn't make this galette, Miki Duisterhof did (and I couldn't drive around with a bowl of whipped cream in my front seat anyway) but I wanted to show you what it looks like:

You couldn't ask for a prettier driving companion and the smell drove me nearly crazy.

Two things make this tart superlative: the layer of Calvados applesauce, and the all-butter pastry. I've made applesauce before, but always the super-natural, unsweetened version, so this one, with sugar and spice and just the right amount of booze, was a pleasant surprise because of the pretty glaze it gave the apples.

The pastry--folks, they tell you in the book that it's easy to work with but take it from me--all-butter pastry is NEVER easy to work with. It's tricky, and a pain in the butt. So I used my failsafe pastry-rolling technique, which is that I rolled it out between two sheets of plastic wrap so that sticky stuff never touched my counters or my rolling pin. The advantage to rolling pastry this way is that you're also not screwing around with the proportion of flour-to-fat so it tastes just the way it should. I also used a tape measure and was pretty surprised that 16 inches was as wide as all that. If I had been guessing, I would have stopped at 12 inches. Should I make a joke here about the difference between 6 and 10 inches? Probably not.

Now--shaping it is fun--kind of a free-form pie experience. If you've ever been intimidated by crimping crust you'll love making a galette.

As far as the finished product goes, YUM!! The applesauce under the apples was a great texture-taste combination, and as much of a pain that all-butter crust is, it is heaven to eat. The Calvados whipped cream is gilding the lily but is oh-so-good. If you're a baker, add this to your list--it is well worth the time spent.