"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".

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chocolate Roll with Cognac Cream

For people who have ever been mystified by Buche de Noel, or what a jelly roll pan might be for, Chocolate Roll with Cognac Cream is a delicious, easy way to get an introduction to those things.

I don't know why these cakes have fallen out of favor with the public. You never see them anywhere, and they are so easy to make.

OK, when I say easy, I mean easy if you feel comfortable beating egg whites until they're stiff. That kind of easy. Not Betty Crocker easy.

Basically this is cake baked flat in a sheet pan. When it's cool, you spread flavored whipped cream on it and roll it up.

That's it.

The trick to rolled cake is you have to have the right size pan, and it's not your standard cookie sheet size. This calls for what's known as a jelly roll pan, and it's 15X10 inches, with kind of high sides--1/2 to 1 inch. Don't panic--I"m sure you've walked by these pans in the kitchen department of Bed, Bath and Beyond--you just didn't know what good they'd be.

The other nice thing about these cakes is that it absolutely doesn't matter if you f*ck them up. If they break, crack--don't stress, because you can just roll it up so those things are on the inside. And the outside is expected to crack, giving you the log-like appearance for your Buche de Noel. See how brilliant this is?

The recipe in the book is actually Chocolate Roll with Cappuccino Cream, but the end notes give you some options--Cognac Cream is one of them. And since we're big fans of booze at work, I opted for this one rather than the one that might keep my employers up all night.

How does it taste? The cake is remarkably fudgy tasting for something so light, and in my opinion you really can't go wrong with real whipped cream of any flavor. It's a winner.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fried Eggs over Warm Lentil Salad

One of the things I like about having my writing group so early (9:30 every other Thursday) is that when it's my turn to host I get to dip into my not-very-often used chapter of The Gourmet Cookbook, which is 'Breakfast and Brunch'.

And here's something I love about my writing group--they are game for just about anything I bring to the table.

So Fried Eggs over Warm Lentil Salad seemed like a fun, unusual thing to try, and the good news for people who like to do things ahead is that you really can do 90% of this earlier and just fry the eggs at the last minute. The lentil salad holds beautifully in a low oven.

I love warm lentils, and vinegar and bacon make a perfect marriage in this dish. Fried eggs round it out, make it smoother, and we had a calendar-marking day as well--this dish was the first time that Ruth had eaten a fried egg. She's had them hard-boiled and poached but never fried.

There is something uniquely thrilling about being the author of somebody's culinary "first". I'm glad I had something so tasty to put under that first fried egg!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Two Cakes

I really do make other things besides cakes, people. Honest. But I think that they're so showy that somehow they appeal to that part of me that holds a BFA in sculpture and misses the studio. Cakes are so three-dimensional.

Devil's Food Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream is a pretty straightforward chocolate cake, though I must admit I was expecting some kind of chemical magic after reading the head notes for this recipe--a description of how the reaction of baking soda and something else makes a red color (not food dye). But no, this looked pretty chocolatey to me. I made sure to cut the cooking time down so I wouldn't overbake the cake layers (see my first post on Chocolate Orange Cake below) but still this managed to be a cake that the kids left large hunks of on the plate since it's dense and creamy, not Betty Crocker-ish light and crumbly.

But the adults....aaaahhhh....just sat around the table with small smiles of inner contentment on their faces. I love that look.


I've been waiting for my chance to make Coconut Cake with Lime Curd. Regular readers will know that my two main venues for experimenting with food (work and book group) have some serious coconut-haters in the crowd. The result is that I've got a little backlog of dessert recipes that use coconut.

But Easter seemed like the perfect time for this cake--they just seem like spring flavors somehow. So even though there were only going to be four of us for Easter dinner, I whipped up this cake.

And let me emphasize the word "whipped". It's a mystery to me why the meringue in the frosting had to be whipped over a pot of boiling water (it never did get stiff peaks), but this is what happened while I was embarking on that little adventure.

I was using our deceased neighbor's handheld electric beater for this operation. Marjorie was a great chef in her own mind and had all kinds of kitchen gadgets that she bequeathed unto us. One of them, a mini-cuisinart, has such a tiny motor that it overheats and makes a bad smell if you use it for more than, say, 20 seconds.

So I'm using this electric beater and I'm getting a bad smell, and I think, damn these cheap little appliances--I should just pitch them in the trash. Then I look down and no, it's not the poor little beater, it's the cord that has fallen against the burner and is melting.

Right. Well, fortunately the smell didn't get in the food and the house didn't burn down (I didn't even get the smoke alarms this time) but I did get cramps in my triceps trying to hold the beater and the cord just so. What a pain!

The result of the not-getting-stiff-peaks part is the the frosting was kind of schlumpy and kept drifting downward. I had to keep putting the cake in the fridge, hoping it would stiffen up.

But it really was a beauty.

"It looks like an Easter hat!" my mother declared. I hadn't thought of it that way, but with all the carnations it really did look like a frilly Easter bonnet. Nice and sweet. :-)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Beef Tenderloin with Cornichon Tarragon Sauce

The thing I love about huge chunks of meat that you put in the oven is that people are somehow more impressed with them than individual bits that you fuss over on a grill/over the stovetop/in a fryer.

And the thing I love especially about beef tenderloin is that I can put it on a buffet and diners carve it themselves. You can't really do that with, say, a turkey.

So when it came around to planning the menu for Mrs. S.'s 86th, I went for the easy, impressive Beef Tenderloin with Cornichon Tarragon Sauce.

OK, people who are keeping track, yes, this is another recipe that I decided to cook for a fancy important occasion that I've NEVER USED BEFORE. That's how good this cookbook is. I have utter faith that it will all come out just fine.

But this didn't keep me from worrying about having enough sauce...and should I have beef gravy too? Fortunately the place where I get specialty cuts of meat (Henry's Market) makes an excellent homemade beef gravy so I got a quart and a half when I picked up the beef.

And then I needn't have worried about not enough sauce--this recipe makes a generous three cups or so--plenty. Folks who love wine-based sauces, this one's for you--it calls for a full bottle of wine that you cook down with the shallots and tarragon. Wow, packed with flavor. I've used the leftover cold sauce as a sandwich spread.

Another thing that makes this recipe worry-free (and I've mentioned them before here) a remote digital oven thermometer. If you cook stuff like this for crowds, get one, I beseech you--it takes the guesswork out and will let you breath easy. I can't help you if your roast is done an hour and half before dinner, but at least it won't be cooked to gray.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Green Tomato Pickles

No, I haven't been time traveling, or even traveling to warmer climes where they might be far enough along in the growing season to have green tomatoes

Last summer I put up six quart of green tomatoes at work (where there were a lot of green tomatoes) and after six months of setting I decided to open up a jar and check them out.

I have to confess I'm a little fussy in the pickle department. I don't like sweet, or bread and butter pickles. I don't like pickles that are dilled, but just salty. I like vinegary dill pickles.

This recipe for Green Tomato Pickles lacks vinegar, or at least enough for my taste. But fortunately, this is an easy thing to tinker with--after tasting them (and don't forget, I have six quarts) I poured off half the brine and poured in white and brown rice vinegar. We'll give them a week and see if the flavor changes enough (for me). In the meantime, family who might be reading, if salty, dilly things are YOUR favorites, step right up. I've got five more jars looking for homes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I take it all back

Readers, you may remember that I was somewhat dismissive of Chocolate Cake with Orange Buttercream. I thought the cake layers were somewhat dry, and I had all kinds of ideas about how to make it moister and more interesting.

Well, as is so often the case when we criticize something, the fault lies within US, not the external.

Which is to say, when I made that cake for me, I overbaked the cake, and that's why it was dry. How do I know this? Because I made it again for Mrs. S.'s birthday, and it was to die for.

Rich, fudgy cake with smooth chocolate orange ganache and orange buttercream. Heaven on earth.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Creamed Leeks and Roasted Celery Root

C'mon, admit it. You are bored silly with not only your vegetable options, but how you cook them. It's early March and it seems like summer and the farmer's market will NEVER ARRIVE!

Let me offer you two easy little spins to liven up your days. Don't panic, they're not complicated.

Creamed Leeks is as simple as putting chopped leeks in a skillet with half a cup each of cream and chicken stock. Cook for an hour, and you've got silky, oniony goodness that's a perfect side to chicken or steak.

Celery root might be a little harder to locate, but if you've got a good supermarket you'll see these weird looking things over by the jicama.

Roasted Celery Root is a snap. Peel, toss with vegetable oil and salt, and throw in the oven, bake 'til tender. Something like a cross between celery and french fries.

So c'mon, break out of your self-imposed culinary box. What else is there to do on a cold late winter day?