"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, January 31, 2008

Moroccan Chickpea Stew with Tomato and Lemon

Got a vegetarian in the crowd? Are they expecting the same old cheese pizza from you? Why not surprise the heck out of them with Moroccan Chickpea Stew with Tomato and Lemon?

Like so many stew/bean/pan sautee recipes, this one is elevated by citrus, and not just any old citrus--preserved lemon. OK, I'll admit that preserved lemon isn't exactly a pantry staple for some, but it's so darn easy to make, it should be. Really, it's just cut up lemons in lemony brine. At work I have a bunch floating around in an old plastic nut jar.

Now, fair warning to people who don't like sweet in their savory--this does have currants in it so it's more in that curry-with-chutney flavor world than a southern European chickpea stew. And the recipe suggests serving it on cous-cous, but it isn't necessary at all, unless you just need a little extra starch in your life.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Blackberry Cobbler

What? Blackberry Cobbler in the middle of winter?

I know, I know--macrobiotic squeamishness aside, isn't it nice to be able to buy ripe berries in January? I don't know where they come from, and lord knows how much of a carbon footprint they have, but: I used a cloth bag to carry them home, so there.

Actually not home, work. Dr. and Mrs. S. have fruit salad every morning for breakfast, and they like their berries--so berries it is, year round, regardless of the price. So it's just a short hop from buying a half pint of blackberries to getting six half pints for cobbler. Right? Just don't look at my receipts.

This is one of those cobblers you bake right in the frying pan--you cook the cornstarch/sugar/water mix with the berries, sling the dough on top, and throw the whole shootin' match in a 400 oven. The dough is sweet-biscuity.

Now--although Dixie (the aide) and I thought this was delicious, Dr. and Mrs. S. pushed those beautiful biscuits aside and just ate the berries. In her case I think it's a hangover from those dieting days--in his case, he's got a weird thing about texture. No bread pudding for this fellow. I guess the biscuits didn't make the crispy cut, or maybe he was just full. Sometimes I over-analyze.

Gourmet doesn't have this specific recipe, but it couldn't be easier--in fact, if you're a baker you already have this one imprinted in your memory and could figure it out in a snap. Well actually, the biscuit part did use one technique I've never used before--it's the standard flour/baking powder/sugar/salt + cold butter--but then you add a little boiling water to make it come together. So why cold butter? I don't know, but it came out great so who am I to question?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Chocolate Cake with Orange Buttercream

"You're making your own birthday cake?" my mother-in-law, Maddi, asked incredulously.

"I think I'm the best qualified," said I.

That's hubris on my part, readers, but if you're talking about a three-layer cake with chocolate orange ganache and an egg-white meringue buttercream that takes six and a half sticks of butter...well, in this case it's true, at least as far as our household goes. Nobody else would be crazy enough to stand around chunking soft butter tablespoon by tablespoon into a standing mixer bowl for forty-five minutes.

It was a production. Not the cake layers, which were straightforward enough. Here they are on our fabulous stacking racks:

Making the ganache was easy enough, and so was assembling the cake.

The buttercream, as you may have discerned from my remarks above, was a pain in the ass. But ooh, how pretty!

OK, here's where I ran into problems, if you can really run into problems at this point. After all, nothing's left but the shouting...er, eating, right?

Well, you're supposed to refrigerate it for six hours, and then let it stand at room temp for 2-3. I kind of forgot about it in the midst of the merry-making and didn't take it out of the fridge soon enough, so it probably got only about, oh, forty-five minutes of warming time. Anybody who's eaten fine flavored chocolate knows that cold temps dull the flavor.

So to MY taste buds, it was pretty good, but not spectacular. Part of that was the temp, part was that the cake layers were kind of dry and unimpressive. I tried it again 24 hours later, after it had been sitting out (well covered) and felt the same way.

Now--Epicurious bills this as a wedding cake, and wedding cakes have to be sturdy. But THIS recipe, in the book, only says you could use it for that, or for any small, fancy party. If I were going to tinker with it, I'd brush the cake with a simple syrup flavored with the same Grand Marnier that went in the ganache. Moisture + flavor = much better.

However--my guests were pleasantly ga-ga over this cake. Mark, to his wife Elizabeth: "This is a big piece of cake. And I'm going to eat the whole thing." Ruth, who linged over her cake long after everybody else had finished: "Melissa, I just can't stop eating this cake!"

One final comment--for the frosting you're supposed to use six and a half sticks of unsalted butter. In spite of my good planning, I somehow ended up with not enough unsalted and ended up using at least four sticks of salted butter. This made for interesting buttercream frosting--I actually enjoy being able to taste a little salt in sweet things (like salted caramels and pecan sables) and so I wasn't put off by the flavor, but still I wonder how the buttercream would have tasted with straight unsalted...(but not curious enough to make another whole cake.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

Oh reader, you think you're so smart, don't you? You think this is that recipe for roasted chicken that involves putting 40 cloves of garlic in the cavity, maybe along with some rosemary and lemon, that recipe where the skin gets nice and crispy and the garlic gets soft and mellow.

But you're wrong. This recipe for Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic is much more cumbersome, fattening, and idiotic.

It asks you to put a cup of oil in a pot (a cup!!! For those of you in denial about the caloric effects of oil, that's 1000 calories.), brown the whole chicken in this oil (that's the cumbersome part, flipping the dang thing), take the chicken out (more cumbersomeness)put in your 40 cloves, put the chicken on top of the garlic, cover, and throw it in the oven. The idiotic part is that the skin sticks to the bottom of the pot so you have a flayed chicken, and then you can't use what they call the "sauce" because, well, there's a cup of freakin' oil in it. Also they underestimate the time it takes to cook.

I only have one positive thing to say about this recipe and that is that by some miracle the breast meat was incredibly tender and juicy, but that's because in the time they allot the dark meat is undercooked.

Harrumph. If you really must explore this recipe, go to epicurious using the link above and check out the reader reviews--they almost always have variations on the recipe that make it work better if it needs tweaking.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mocha Eclairs and Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

How can you not like something named "chimichurri"? It's so fun to say!


If I didn't know it was an awesome sauce I would think it was the sound a train makes when it goes up a hill.

Chimichurri sauce is one of those easy herb/garlic/oil/vinegar sauces that should be a part of your kitchen repertoire, just like pesto. And Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce is a fine way to use it up. This recipe was so darn easy--all you need is a food processor and a broiler--it's done in under 20 minutes. And if you can't find flank steak (I couldn't, at our local IGA) any beef will do. I happened to find a slab of "steak tip", which was not cut into steak tips and that worked brilliantly.


I made eclairs!!

There is something thrilling about that to me, I'm not sure why. Probably because it's one of those pastry case items that looks like it would be impossible to make at home.

Actually the separate components are pretty easy to make--the casing is profiterole dough, which is made, no lie, like this: boil water and butter, dump in flour, stir, then beat in a few eggs. It's the least fussy thing I've ever done. Then you pipe it onto a buttered baking sheet (I always use zip-lock bags with the corner snipped off) and bake for somewhere around 25 minutes. Voila! You've got a hollow casing for your eclair filling.

The fussiest thing is probably the filling, but cornstarch makes that pretty easy, and the only thing left is the chocolate glaze (ch. chips + heavy cream). All in all, it's a lot of bang for the buck.

And here is my inaugural photo from my new digital camera:!

Thank you Maddi and Don, for such a wonderful gift--next time you're up I'll make you eclairs. :-)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Roast Pork with Apricot and Shallot Stuffing

Serving a crowd of carnivores?

Roast Pork with Apricot and Shallot Stuffing will make you look good, because it's unusual (unless you live in the North End and buy them at your butcher's every Sunday), pretty, and best of all, tastes great.

Oh, and did I mention it's fairly easy? Bonus.

Here's a photo by Rita Maas:

The other item that will make this a no-sweat affair for you as a cook is this:

Remote oven thermometers have got to be the greatest invention since fire. You can actually cart this thing around the house, up to 100 feet away, and it will tell you exactly what temperature the interior of your roast is while it's in the oven.

I used to have one of these, long ago, but the temp probe cr*pped out and I never got around to replacing it. But I bought one at work because Miranda, my counterpart, was experiencing undue stress over things like leg of lamb. Really, nothing is more awful than thinking you should give meat ten more minutes in the oven and finding out you've blown it and it's overcooked.

So this little gadget has been a wonderful addition and is the reason why the Christmas beef tenderloin was cooked to medium-rare perfection, and why this roast pork was whisked out of the oven at the precise moment that the center of the stuffing reached 150 degrees.

Too late to ask Santa for one--just hie thee to Bed, Bath & Beyond and get one for yourself.