"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".

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Walnut Spice Cake and Melissa Gets Clever

One of the great pleasures of this summer, for me, has been the company of granddaughter E. (new readers, this is not MY granddaughter, but the granddaughter of Dr. and Mrs. S.). She is on summer break from her MDiv schooling, and at least once or twice a week she's been coming over to Seameadow in the afternoons to help me bake.

At first, not knowing exactly how much she wanted to do or really what her skill set was, I would split up the duties for baking projects. She would do the dry ingredients and I would take care of the wet ones in the Kitchen Aide.

But one especially hectic week I dumped two big projects right in her lap while I worked on the main meals. E. baked the cake layers and made the buttercream for Devil's Food Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream, and the very same week she made the Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake for a Seameadow employee who was leaving for Italy. (Well, I made the caramel, because I'm an expert at that, remember?) Both creations were showstoppers, and E. was thrilled with herself.

So in the days following her Pa's death, E. was feeling especially bereft and useless. All the adults have been making big decisions, and even the smallest thing she could do for her Grammy--make tea just the way she likes it--was getting co-opted by the rapidly expanding set of family members in the house.

I know how to fix that. I took her shopping with me and set her to baking Walnut Spice Cake with Lemon Glaze.

I picked this recipe because we've been on chocolate overload at Seameadow. There may be some of you who say that one can never have too much chocolate, but I think you have to have something to contrast it with, or it loses its divine nature. Walnut Spice Cake seemed the perfect foil.

E. learned a lot of things baking this cake. She learned that I'm inflexible on spice measurements, and that, lacking a half teaspoon of ground allspice, an extra half teaspoon of nutmeg or cinnamon wouldn't do. I had her grind whole allspice to make up for the lack.

She learned my trick for answering the question: "are these egg whites stiff enough?" The answer can be found by resting an egg on the surface. If it doesn't sink more than 1/4", they're perfect.

And how was the cake? Well, there's none of it left, so that's one answer. The family loved it, especially with the contrasting lemon glaze. Another is that it seems a little out-of-season for summer--the spices sing out for fall and apple cider. E. was a little put out with me at first when I shrugged and said it was good, it was OK--but that's only because if I had to list the top ten ingredients I'd use for a cake, neither walnuts nor spice would be on it. What would be ingredient number one? Chocolate, of course.

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Melissa Gets Clever

Readers, by now you've discerned that Seameadow is filled with people. A lot of them. My normal audience of two has expanded to fourteen, and it will be sixteen when I get there next. And when you're putting out meals for that many people, you just put your head down and cook, cook, cook.

And you think large. Big salads. Big pans of cornbread. Huge piles of French fries and fried chicken.

So yesterday in the morning I decided to make lasagne--a big sheet for the meat eaters and a smaller one for the vegetarians. Frozen garlic bread and a big salad would make a good dinner.

But one of the frustrating things about making lasagne in the past (in a home kitchen, that is, not a restaurant) is that those little 9X13 pans aren't deep enough to really layer. So I purchased two 4" deep foil pans while I was at the supermarket, and when I got to work, after putting out lunch, I went to town making these lasagnas.

It's surprisingly time consuming to make large amounts of lasagne, because each component has to be perfectly seasoned. And there's a lot of stuff--four pounds of ricotta, three pounds of meat, all kinds of veggies to be roasted and chopped.

But finally I had them assembled, large and slightly smaller. And I get to looking at that large pan filled with meat lasagne, and I think, geez, that looks like a big pan. I'd better just check and make sure it fits in the oven. Because the ovens at Seameadow (we have four of them) are not the standard size--they're a little more compact.

Readers, it didn't fit.

Now, with four ovens you'd think that there would be options, but the ovens in the kitchen are the biggest ones.

After swearing loudly and alarming nearby family members, I called the housekeeper who lives next door. Her oven was smaller than the ones at Seameadow. I thought about E.'s house, a few miles away, but they have at least ten people staying there and I was sure the ovens would be in use.

Did I mention dinnertime was about two hours away? And that there would be 14 for dinner?

I thought about a family friend at the top of the road but we couldn't remember her last name to call her.

Could I bend the pan up, and stuff it in? K. wondered. Or could I take it to a nearby restaurant, where I have connections from my previous restaurant work life in Beverly Farms?

I was mulling all this over when I had an epiphany.

In The Gourmet Cookbook, there's a recipe for Grilled Turkey. Not grilled like drumsticks-and-turkey-breasts-on-the-barbie, but grilled. Whole. Like this:



The trick is putting a protective layer under the turkey, and using indirect heat--turning off the middle burner and maintaining a grill temp of about 350. I'm not sure how Lonnie up there in the photo did it, since he's clearly using a charcoal grill, but that turkey looks pretty good to me.

The big question--would the pan fit on the grill? YES!!!!

So I commenced to cooking what is probably the world's first grilled lasagne.

I put a cookie sheet under the pan, and checked the temp every ten minutes or so to goose it to 350. The setting I ultimately used was (should you ever find yourself in a similar situation): middle burner on low, front and back burners on medium-high.

Readers, it was perfect. And I never would have thought of it if I hadn't read the grilled turkey recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook. Who needs the Boy Scouts Manual for survival? I've got Gourmet on my side.

1 comment:

georgia said...

Melissa, the veggie lasagna was delicious!

Sadly the walnut cake with lemon glaze that made it to E.'s house was eaten before I could try it. E. has promised to make one for me if I procure all the ingredients (esp. the allspice) and the equipment.