"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".

Friday, December 28, 2007

Fig Pudding with Rum Butter


If you bake, you've run across recipes that call for this clean, gravely, beef fat. The usual suspects are mincemeat pie and plum pudding. And people tend to fall into two camps when it comes to suet--the "no way" camp, and the "I'd try it if only I could find it" camp. I'm not sure why it seems so repulsive to use this animal by-product in sweet food--after all, we certainly use butter and eggs, and if you think about what those actually are...well, better perhaps not to think too hard.

To use suet you have to have access to a butcher, and not the one at your local Shaw's. I mean a real butcher, where they get whole sides of beef to break down because suet is found around the kidneys and loins.

Now, at this point you might be thinking to yourself, "what's the big deal about suet?" Well, according to my research, it has a higher melting point than butter. This is useful at least for Christmas puddings because the other ingredients have time to set before the suet theoretically melts away, leaving a light, airy cake product behind.

Notice I said "theoretically".

This is because for the the past two years I've followed the plum pudding recipe in the Joy of Cooking...

Wait a second, let me back up.

At my job, there are two major holidays where the family gathers. The first is fourth of July, the second is Christmas. They are grand affairs with long-standing traditions, and one of the traditions at Christmas goes like this: after the big Christmas feast, the lights go out in the dining room and the cook (that's me) appears with a platter of flaming Christmas pudding and everybody sings "We wish you a Merry Christmas" (you know... "now bring us some figgy pudding..."). Then I promenade this now sputtering spectacle across the room and take a bow while everybody claps.

So on this, my third Christmas, I went out on a limb and changed the recipe, from the above-mentioned Plum Pudding, to Fig Pudding with Rum Butter--which brings me back to the point I was making above. The point is that the two times I made the Plum Pudding, the suet never melted, and so the pudding was extremely dense and rich. I finally figured out that it would melt if I heated it up in the microwave and had determined to do that this year (steam the pudding in advance and microwave the heck out of it just before serving) when I came across the Fig Pudding recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook.

It still calls for suet, but it's treated differently--whipped with sugar instead of grated and left in small chunks. Not surprisingly, this allowed the suet to melt away beautifully, and the result was a light, moist, figgy cake (or pudding, if you insist) that got great reviews.

I did have some trepidation about changing the recipe, but realized that as long as it's in the same basic shape (I used the same pudding mold), is accompanied by hard sauce (which is what the Rum Butter is), and is on fire when it comes out, the specifics of the innards don't matter much.

NOW---my next problem to work out with this dish is how to get the darn thing to remain alight during its journey across the dining room. I've tried heating the metal platter, the pudding and the rum, I've tried putting little sugar cubes to "anchor" the alcohol (what Mrs. S. used to do)--the only other thing I can think of is to buy some seriously high octane booze next year and try that out.

Any pyros out there feel free to chime in on this cooking quandary.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jellied Cranberry Sauce

Jellied Cranberry Sauce is one of those recipes that asks you to push cooked solids through a fine mesh sieve--in this case, four bags of boiled cranberries. After about the fifth scoop of cranberry mashing, I was asking myself why the canned stuff was really so bad, and I'm still not sure I can give you the answer to that. I love chunky homemade cranberry sauce, especially with stuff like orange zest or dried cherries added in, but this recipe is meant to replicate that Jell-O look and mouth-feel. It's just straight, slightly sweetened, very thick cranberry juice that has added gelatin and is set in a mold.

Anyway, I pressed on (no pun intended), mixed in my gelatin, poured it in a ring mold (with some left over in a bowl) and let it sit overnight. Oh, by the way--this was the day before Christmas, to be served with the Christmas feast for twenty-two people at work.

Here's the exciting part.

Now, when you unmold cranberry sauce, you dip the mold in hot water for five seconds and then turn it over onto a plate. Easy, right? Epicurious certainly makes it look easy--here's a picture by Sang An of Jellied Cranberry Sauce that doesn't resemble mine in the slightest.

Mine didn't look like that because I dipped it in hot water (really hot water) and when I unmolded it, the melted jellied cranberry sauce puddled all over the plate around the now much diminished and undignified looking remnants of the ring mold.

Clearly this unmolding business is a learned skill.

Plan B: scoop it all up and put it in a pretty bowl. Tastes the same, takes up less space anyway.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Old Plymouth Indian Meal Pudding

Gentle Readers, this is the time of year when I can scarcely draw a breath for all of the cooking, shopping, and rushing around that I do. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention Old Plymouth Indian Meal Pudding, which I made for my book group earlier this month.

The above photo only resembles mine in color of pudding and addition of vanilla ice cream. Otherwise it was quite a different creature because this is a dessert that you bake (according to the recipe in the book) for two hours.

That's right. Two hours.

Why, you might be asking, does a pudding have to bake for that long?

I have a theory, and it goes something like this. Did you ever hear the story about the family who always served their Christmas roast with the ends cut off? It was an old family tradition--the grandmother had always made it that way, and so did the mother, and the daughters honored the tradition by likewise making it in the traditional family manner. But one day, a husband spoke up at dinner. "Why," he asked plaintively, "do the ends get cut off? That's the best part!"

So the daughters determined to get to the bottom of the tradition, and they called their grandmother who had retired to sunny Costa Rica. "Grandma," they asked, "how did that family tradition get started--cutting the ends off the Christmas Roast?"

"Oh that!" said the Grandma. "You silly girls--that was so the roast would fit in the pan!"

What does this have to do with baking a pudding for two hours? Well, my idea is that somebody left their pudding in the oven for and hour and a half, and when they realized their mistake, they poured milk on top in hopes of re-adding moisture and baked it for another half hour. The result was not bad, kind of half crusty and half chewy, and somehow it got passed down for generations and ended up in The Gourmet Cookbook.

So that sums up Old Plymouth Indian Meal Pudding. Not bad, kind of half crusty and half chewy. Not surprisingly (at least to me), this recipe is not to be found on Epicurious, so if you're just dying to make it let me know and I will post it here.


Good news!! I've just received a digital camera for Christmas! If I had more time I would find a photo and show you what it looks like but it's a Sony and it's pink. So now I can be stylish AND clever. Well, the clever part will come after I figure out how to use it. Until then I'll just have to be stylish.

Good luck with your Christmas preparations!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Curried Lentil Soup recipe for Elizabeth

Long overdue--sorry I made you wait!

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 1/2 cups (20 ounces) chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium broth
2 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup chopped drained canned tomatoes
2 cups coarsely chopped spinach
fresh lemon juice to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add curry powder and cumin and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add lentils, stock, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and spinach and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Lobster Newburg and Lemon Meringue Pie

Readers, if you have The Gourmet Cookbook and you also frequent Epicurious, you'll notice that the recipe for Lobster Newburg on the Epicurious site is slightly different from the one in the cookbook.

Go with the one on Epicurious.

I don't know what they were thinking when they modified this recipe (which they say has stood the test of time?!) (which is exactly what they say in the head note to the Epicurious recipe!)

The problem with the recipe in the book is that the sauce is too thin. You end up basically with lobstery cream coating your lobster and mushrooms. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if you know how it's supposed to be, it's a disappointment. I never did serve this again as Newburg--I drained the cream the next day and made lobster salad for sandwiches, and the day after that I took the remaining lobster salad and added it to haddock chowder. That's recycling, folks.


I'm going to make a confession. Another one. Souffles don't scare me. Flambes don't scare me (anymore). You want to know what scares me, culinarily speaking? Lemon meringue pie.

Lemon meringue pies are notoriously tricky to bake. All kinds of things can go wrong with them, but the most common causes for tears are beading on the top of the meringue, and weeping underneath it. I've only made one once before, when I was the head chef at As You Like It. I used the recipe from Joy of Cooking, and as I recall it came out pretty well, though I was a nervous wreck about it.

So when I offered Dr. and Mrs. S. their choice of a few desserts and Dr. S. picked Lemon Meringue Pie I was ready to take on the challenge in spite of the possibility of disaster.

Now, if you're getting nervous because I used the word "disaster", I'll just tell you up front that the pie tasted great.

But if you're wondering why I might have used the word "disaster", it's because of this: I drained enough liquid off of that pie, after it was baked, to almost fill a cup measure. Fortunately, somehow and for some reason, the pie crust stayed crispy. This is some kind of miracle that I can only attribute to my earnestness and hard work in the kitchen.

There are two aspects to baking these pies that you have to watch out for. The first is the temperature thing--everything has to be hot when you spread the meringue on top. The crust needs to be just out of the oven (or re-warmed), the lemon filling ideally should be piping hot--and that way the meringue is cooking somewhat on the bottom as it's cooking on the top.

The second aspect to watch out for is the meringue itself. The sugar has to be thoroughly beaten in, and the whites can't be too dry (or too wet). Stiff peaks is what you're after, and actually mine never did form even though I beat the heck out of those egg whites. Maybe that's where I went wrong, or maybe it's because the filling was merely warm instead of hot.

So my meringue pie was lemony with a soft meringue on top, good but I can't help thinking there's a better one in me somewhere.

Watch this space--I'll circle back around to this sometime.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Date Walnut Rugelach and Gratineed Chicken and Vegetables in Cream Sauce

If I had had a balloon over my head showing my inner thoughts while I was in the process of making Date Walnut Rugelach, it would have looked like this:

If I had had a balloon showing my inner thoughts while I was in the process of tasting the rugelach after they had cooled, it would have looked like this:

Clearly, this is a recipe that is to be made only once a year.

And it is, actually, a traditional Hanukkah recipe, which is why I made it even though nobody at work celebrates that particular holiday except M.'s husband E. (who won't be around til Christmas anyway). They rank on the pain-in-the-ass scale up there with Peanut Butter Bon Bons (my family's traditional Christmas goody).

Here is why Date Walnut Rugelach will make you emit hearts too: the dates melt somewhat during the baking, and in the little spots where they leak out of the dough wrapper, they caramelize and become chewy. Mmmm, heaven.

Production note: the book directs you to brush the pastry rounds with melted apricot jam before rolling them up--the recipe on Epicurious doesn't. Also, in searching for an image of rugelach to put here, I notice that hardly anybody tucks the outer ends of the roll under--this would make production slightly easier. Anyway, here's a lovely photo from Milk and Cookies\.


Gratineed Chicken in Cream Sauce is a very tasty, comforting fall/winter dish for chicken. My only problem with this dish was that I didn't read it all the way through and so was expecting a casserole.

It isn't--it's pan-seared chicken parts with vegetables in a cream sauce--the pan is sprinkled heavily with Gruyere at the end and finished under a broiler until it's all melted and bubbly.

If you love classic French food, you will really love this and should give it a whirl. If you are not a sauce person (incredible, but they're out there) or are watching your fat intake then steer clear.

This photo by Romulo Yanes doesn't really show all the lovely cheese and sauce to its best advantage, but it will give you an idea...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fricos and Sole Goujonettes with Paprika Salt

"Huh?" I hear you say..."What the heck is a goujonette?"

This, my dear friends, is a fine example of how menu writers get you to pay more money when you go out to eat. I bet you wouldn't consider $28 excessive for "sole goujonettes", but would you pay that amount for "fish sticks"? Because that's basically what these are.

The Gourmet Cookbook explains to us that goujon is French for "gudgeon", which is a slender little fish found in Europe somewhere. This word has been appropriated to describe any strip of fish that is deep-fried. It would be as if we called fish sticks "anchovyettes", or "sardinettes".

OK, now granted sole IS an expensive fish. So if you were eating fried sole strips you could expect to pay more than if you were eating something slightly less expensive, like pollack (which is the fish you're eating at McDonald's and in the cafeteria.)

All this aside, Sole Goujonettes with Paprika Salt is fine way to fry fish--it's not too far actually from the Italian Fried Salt Cod posted below except that you use seltzer to mix up the batter. The one thing I don't understand is why on earth anybody would put salt on the side for "dipping". There is salt in the batter already, and you are directed to salt the fried fish once they come out of the oil--why would you want more if it's properly seasoned? This is where you want contrasting flavor-- malt vinegar, lemons or tarter sauce, or even ketchup if you must.

The recipe on Epicurious mentions only paprika for the salt--sweet paprika I mean, but the book suggests smoked paprika, and I did use that. I wasn't sure about it--it seemed an overwhelming flavor but when it was all said and done I actually didn't detect the smokiness in the fish. So don't go out of your way to get smoked paprika for this dish, is my point.

Here's another nice picture by Romulo Yanes:


Fricos are one of those ridiculously easy recipes that make you look good. It's just grated parm, flour and pepper, baked on a sil-pat for ten minutes. If you don't have a sil-pat pan liner, ask Santa for a couple--they can be found at places like Bed, Bath and Beyond. They are amazingly handy when it comes to stuff like this--actually, there are some recipes that can be baked successfully ONLY on sil-pats.

Here's a picture:

I had a moment of confusion when I was baking these, because I remembered making them at Yanks and draping them over a rolling pin to get a nice shape. These did not drape--they were very stiff. I also remembered the sous at the Emerson just sprinkling grated parm in a non-stick frying pan to make these...yes, there are two ways to make them. If you want stiff crackers, go with the cheese + flour recipe. If you want to make a curvy shape or a cone, or a cup to put some kind of filling in, just sprinkle grated parm in a pan and let it melt and turn golden.

Here's a picture of that:

This is a great technique that should be part of any foodie's repertoire. Try one of these on top of a caesar salad and you'll get oohs and aahs. I promise.