"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, May 31, 2008

Grilled Jerk Chicken with Papaya Pineapple Salsa

Friends, I have to tell you that secretly, two things intimidate me.

1. Grilling. We only got our grill two years ago and I was so bad at it that I ran out and bought a gigantic Weber cookbook to see what I was doing wrong. Grilling open-air in a restaurant kitchen is totally different from having a grill with a lid. The potential for disaster is magnified exponentially (believe me).

2. Hot peppers. Both my son and husband will gobble pickled jalapeno peppers out of the jar. Not this bunny. And the more rarefied peppers, the scotch bonnets and bird's eye's? Woo boy. Forget it.

But here I was, looking at the chicken recipes, and believe it or not I've cooked almost all of them. The only ones left were Grilled Jerk Chicken, Persian-Style Chicken with Walnut, Onion and Pomegranate Sauce; Chicken with Cornmeal Dumplings, Individual B'stillas (you're just gonna hafta wait) and Asian Chicken and Water Chestnut Patties. Oops, I lie. One more: Cold Poached Chicken in Ginger Scallion Oil.

For some reason, looking at this bunch, Grilled Jerk Chicken seemed like the best idea. Maybe because the ingredients are this: Chicken, Jerk Marinade (p. 998), Papaya Pineapple Salsa (p. 964). It looked so easy!! Ha.

OK, enough disclaimer. I marinated the chicken for 24 hours. And did I use 4 bone-in breasts and 2-3 lbs thighs and drumsticks? No, I just bought a darn chicken and cut it up.

The jerk marinade took awhile--you have to dump all kinds of chopped things in a blender like onions and garlic and habanero peppers (be brave, Melissa!) and, well, chopping things can take awhile. I've never had jerk anything so was encouraged by some of the other ingredients going in, like brown sugar and lime juice.

The next day I made the Papaya Pineapple Salsa. I would like you to admire my perfect 1/4 inch cubes.

You have to be in a Zen frame of mind to do that, by the way. I was listening to old Beatles tunes while I diced, singing along with "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". That helps.

Then...the grilling.

The instructions for gas grill were to sear the pieces with the lid open over moderate heat for 15-20 minutes. So far so good. Then close the lid and cook on low for another 20-25 minutes. This was where I started to worry, because when I checked at 12 minutes, some of the chicken had that distinct "burnt offering" look. Here's the plate once 24 minutes were up:

I was still apprehensive, thinking to myself, why didn't I skin that damn chicken? But the good thing is that you can take the burnt skin OFF easily. Ha ha. Also, you'll notice (if you peer closely enough) that the pieces burnt beyond eating are the wings, which just might be why they're not on the list of ingredients.

The final test--dinner.

I could eat it!! The heat was not overwhelming--it was perfect, in fact. The breast meat was too done for me (but not my husband), and the thigh I had was juicy, succulent, in fact just typing this is making my stomach growl and it's only 7:42 in the morning. Grilled jerk chicken for breakfast, anyone?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sultan's Delight (or, Braised Lamb over Silky Egglplant Puree)

Lamb is not my go-to meat when I'm thinking about what to make for dinner, but for some reason yesterday I just had to have it. Maybe it's that whole springtime thing. I haven't cooked many of the lamb recipes in the book (although a notable exception is the Hibiscus Marinated Lamb, which was excellent) and truthfully cost is a deterrent, at least for the rib chops.

I was kind of leaning in the stew direction, but ended up with Sultan's Delight, which called for fewer ingredients and has the virtue of being unattended for most of the cooking time.

I was unprepared for the lamb selection at Stop-n-Shop. First, I was surprised they had lamb shanks (I might have gone in that direction instead) and then vexed that they didn't have boneless shoulder. Why? Because they don't cut their own anymore--it's all contracted out. So I bought six bone-in shoulder chops--a little over three pounds thinking that I'd get the two pounds I needed for the braise.

Do you know how much freakin' bone is in bone-in shoulder chops? I might have gotten maybe a little more than a pound of meat, and I cut away tons of fat too. Phooey on Stop-n-Shop.

I was surprised by how incredibly rich the final product was, though considering that you mix your grilled mashed eggplant into a roux thinned with whole milk I guess I shouldn't have been. I had intended for it to be a meal O'Malley and I could eat before karate class, but this meal makes you want to go like this:

with a glass of red wine, not this:

Oh well, life is all about readjusting, and I'll tell you it was GREAT after karate with gin and lime on the rocks while we watched the season finale of Lost.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake

Yes--OK, another cheesecake. But you know what? They're so quick to make! So when my husband came home and said, "It's Jim's birthday at work and I'd like to make him a cake--what do you suggest?"--I suggested cheesecake because I had just made one.

And, reader--this is where I suddenly understood (while he and I were in the process of making this cheesecake together) what it means to have years of experience tucked under your belt.

There are things you get to understand about making cheesecake that come from experience (well, bad experience, if you get my drift). If you don't scrape down the bowl after you add each egg, you will wind up with little clumps of cream cheese in the final product. If you're too enthusiastic with the beaters, you'll whip air into the mix and get tunnels. If you don't run a knife around the edge of the cake when it comes out of the oven, the sides of the cake will stick to the springform and the middle will crack.

Anything that can possibly go wrong with a cheesecake, I've done it. So it was easy for me to stand in a little corner by the stove making the caramel (yes, another recipe with caramel) and facilitate Don's cheesecake production so that it was smooth and quick.

(I'd just also like to add a side-note that by the time I'm done with this book I will be an expert on making caramel. Already it's practically second nature.)

The Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake was a huge success. The gals at work got a good laugh because when one of them (in all innocence) asked what bakery my husband had gotten the cheesecake at, he got very indignant. Ah, they said--now they knew how to get him riled.

And he, good man, fought them off to save me a little teeny slice so I could taste it. Reader, it's delicious.


Wall Street Journal readers, welcome!! I hope you'll visit often, or better yet--buy this marvelous cookbook and cook along with Kevin, Teena and me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Three Cities of Spain Classic Cheesecake

The whole time I was making this cheesecake, I was thinking why the heck is it called the Three Cities of Spain Classic Cheesecake? Is there something Spanish about cheesecake? Is it derivative of the styles of three particular cities in Spain? I've never been to Spain, maybe cheesecake is a big thing there, what do I know?

But when I looked up the recipe on Epicurious, all my questions were answered. Three Cities of Spain was a coffeehouse (now closed) in Santa Fe. Oooohhhh.

Now, I have to make a confession. I'm kind of ambivalent about cheesecake. It always seems just a little too rich for me, and so I did make some alterations to the recipe which I try not to do on the first pass, but I was making this one for my bookgroup and I wanted it to be perfect.

So instead of using full fat cream cheese and sour cream, I used light sour cream for the topping and subbed 1 light cream cheese(out of 3) for the cream cheese.

It really was the perfect balance.

This isn't my photo, but it looks just like the one I made. I used Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers for the crust, and Bonne Maman cherry preserves for the topping.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Jelly Doughnuts

What do you do with a 14-year old during a rainy spring break? Make Jelly Doughnuts, of course!

I've had my eye on this recipe from the beginning. HOMEMADE JELLY DOUGHNUTS--could anything possibly be more hedonistic? And I figured O'Malley, who is kind of, sort of interested in cooking every once in a while would really just love to try this recipe out.

If you're wondering just what goes into making a jelly doughnut, the idea is this--bread dough (you could even buy pizza dough from the store) rolled out and cut into rounds. A little bit of jelly in the middle, a dough round on top, crimp the edges and seal with a biscuit cutter. Pop that baby in the fryer and you've got heaven in a dough ball.

Now be forewarned, nation of Dunkin' Donuts eaters--this is not the airy, open dough of DD jelly donuts. It's dense and bready, so it's not unlike eating, say...a mini jelly calzone. With powdered sugar on top.

Production tip: make sure the jelly stays in the middle and doesn't ooze out to the side--your edges won't seal if there's jelly in between the two dough discs.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rhubarb Charlotte

This is one of those recipes I've been dying to try, because not only have I never tasted or seen a charlotte, I've never even heard of one. But The Gourmet Cookbook offers two or three charlotte recipes, so with rhubarb season here at last I decided to give Rhubarb Charlotte a go.

Folks, a charlotte is cake, deconstructed. Instead of layers of cake on the inside, you line your mold with ladyfingers, bottom and sides. Instead of putting fruit and whipped cream on the outside of your cake, you layer it on the inside, with a layer of ladyfingers to separate.

Then you fold the plastic wrap that you've lined the mold with over the top, put a 2 lb. weighted plate on the whole thing and leave it in the fridge for 24 hours.

It's a pretty little thing, when it comes out. My biggest complaint was that the mold I put it in was a souffle mold with a crown on the bottom so the souffle will rise high in the middle. But it gave my charlotte the distinct look of a cake that had had a bowling ball resting on top.

The taste is lovely, though be forewarned if you're not a bread pudding type of person (as in: no soggy bread-type things) the texture might be a turn-off. But I found it very soothing--it would be a great thing to eat on a balmy spring day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Shad Roe with Lemon Butter

Shad Roe with Lemon Butter is one of those recipes that I just knew I was going to have to vet alone, before I served it to anybody. Why? Because it looks like this:

That's before it's cooked, of course. But it's considered a spring delicacy, right up there with ramps and fava beans, and when I spotted it at Connelly's Seafood I got a lobe to try out. It's cheap, people--$2.69/lb.

The directions are a little worrisome. The book directs you to pay close attention while you're cooking, so it's neither too firm nor mushy. Mushy? What is this stuff anyway?

Well, since you ask, it's the egg-filled ovary of the shad.


Now, come on. I bet you eat caviar without blinking.

So here's why it can be mushy--all those little eggs make for a grainy texture unless they're cooked just right. And basically what you're going for is sort of medium-well which you can feel if you are used to poking your hamburgers with your finger to see how done they are. I undercooked mine but 20 seconds in the microwave made it perfect.

The lemon butter is key. Salt is even more key. With these simple additions it's a fabulous, rich-tasting dish.

Honest! Still, I'll reserve this one for my husband, who is game for food like this (well, anything but calf liver).