"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, August 28, 2008

Swiss Chard with Chickpeas

There are several Swiss chard recipes in the book and they all look good, but this one was the quickest so it won. I made it to serve with the previously mentioned Jerusalem artichokes and hamburgers as another side dish.

But you know what? This is no side dish, Swiss Chard with Chickpeas is a meal.

There's something about chickpeas that makes you take them seriously if they're in a dish. They're big enough that they require a commitment in the chewing department. And they're filling--packed with fiber, as any diligent dieter will tell you.

So I erred in making this a side dish--it should have been the main event, maybe with some rice or a nice, crusty loaf of bread and of course a little white wine.

Vegetarians, take note--this is a simple dish to add to your repertoire if you don't have it already.

Teena, I borrowed your photo. Thanks.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mashed Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are one of those mysterious brown tubers in the supermarket that go largely ignored. We don't know what they are, where they come from, or what to do with them!

They look like ginger.

But they come from a member of the sunflower family.

If you were so inclined, you could have a backyard full of these and eat Jerusalem artichokes every single night.

And you might want to, after you try Mashed Jerusalem Artichokes.

I'll tell you the truth--that I wasn't overly optimistic about this dish when I was making it (and I didn't make the full complement--I only had a pint of Jerusalem artichokes). They didn't LOOK promising.

You boil them with a few potatoes in salted milk until tender, then mash with a little butter. That's it.

But man, the flavor! I served these with hamburgers, and even O'Malley (declared mashed potato hater, prepared to push these away at the slightest provocation) really enjoyed them.

(Don't ask me why my son hates mashed potatoes. Next week, he'll probably love them.)

The Jerusalem artichokes were part of last week's organic produce box from the Fruitful Basket. Slowly but surely, I'm working my way through all these veggies! The program ends mid-September, and I'll have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it's a lot of pressure to truly honor these excellent vegetables the way they deserve. But what an exciting ride this has been--kind of like Christmas every Friday! And it would have taken me much longer to get around to THIS dish, had those tubers not been tucked in amongst the organic radish sprouts and goat cheese.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Think you know everything there is to know about potatoes?

Think again.

Rösti is a Swiss potato pancake, and what's different about it is that you use cooked potatoes, not raw.

So this dish requires a little bit of forethought--you want cold, boiled potatoes as your base. At the very least, what you avoid is the unpleasant experience of raw-in-the-middle of a too-thick pancake. At the very best, you have a little bit of heaven on earth--crispy, buttery fried potato on the outside, smooth and fluffy potato on the inside.

Now, according to my research there is a vast difference of opinion on just what additions make the perfect rösti. Cheese, bacon, herbs of all kinds, onion, garlic, sweet potato--once you get going there's no stopping the possible variations. So use this recipe as a base and keep experimenting until you discover Your Favorite.

A few things to think about:

--use salted water when you boil your potatoes. As with pasta, this simple step makes a world of difference.

--don't overboil your potatoes. You want them cooked but firm so you can grate them. Overdone, mushy potatoes will fall apart.

Here's my rösti in the pan...I was using a variety of potatoes, including purple ones! Psychedelic, man.

The flipping part was a little tricky, but if you've ever moved a cake layer around by using a plate to turn it upside down you've got the skilz. Following the directions in the book, I slid this, crispy side down, onto a plate, used another plate to flip it, then slid it back into the pan after I had melted more butter.

You wouldn't believe how fast the three of us ate this side dish. O'Malley ate his so quickly that I never even saw it on his plate--I looked up and it was gone, and then I had to chide him for helping himself to the remainder without offering some to the two of us. Did you know fifteen year old boys will growl over food they are slavering over, if you get your hands too close?

When I cook this again, I'll cook it a little bit longer. I used more than the recommended one pound of potatoes, and the rösti was the tiniest bit cool in the middle.

And I'll definitely be making it again. Boiling potatoes, water, butter/oil and salt. That's all you need, folks, and you've got a side dish worth growling over.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Spicy Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic

Oh, how my husband loves broccoli rabe! To me it tastes overwhelmingly bitter, but he could just eat this stuff three meals a day, every day. He likes it as a side dish. He puts it on salad. He loves it on a sandwich, with the cooking juices poured onto the bread.

His mother never cooked it--it was his Italian grandmother, Josephine, who made it for him.

So we've had broccoli rabe in our house a lot, and Don always pretty much cooks it the same way--and it's not too different from this recipe (which is not on epicurious). His tactic is basically to saute it, chopped, with fifty tons of garlic until it's mushy.

What I like about THIS recipe is that it gets around the mushy part--you parboil and shock the rabe so it stays a nice pretty green, and then you saute it with moderate amounts of garlic and red pepper flakes (and a little chicken broth to help finish it off).

It's well balanced, the rabe is tender but not overcooked, and all in all, it's not bad for rabe. I didn't love it. But my husband did.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Proscuitto and Parmesan-Stuffed Mushrooms

Oh, people.

These mushrooms are so good.

One of the things I try to do a little bit when the family is in the house is to switch up hors d'oeuvres. It's easy enough (and very quick) to serve cheese, fruit and crackers every night and practically criminal NOT to, since the Fruitful Basket carries such divine cheese. Also, truthfully, I focus far more on the main event, which is dessert, of course.

No, I'm kidding. But dessert is tied for first place with priorities, and hors d'oeuvres are usually an afterthought for me. This should be pretty clear by how many recipes I haven't cooked out of this chapter!

Well, I'm trying to mend my ways, and this was a good place to start. The recipe isn't online, but it's easy enough to grasp--saute the mushroom stems with onion and garlic, then toss with chopped proscuitto, parmesan, parsley and some olive oil. Stuff and bake.

One of my main objections to stuffed mushrooms--too bland--is resolved brilliantly by the proscuitto.

My other one--mushrooms so big you can't eat them gracefully as finger food--I resolved myself by buying normal sized mushrooms instead of large ones as the recipe directs.

Call me a rebel. I don't care. These mushrooms are fantastic. I could make a meal of them. You won't have any leftovers, I promise.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mortadella-Stuffed Pork Loin with Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

One of the things I like about the family visiting at work is that I get to explore the "big" recipes in the book--the ones that serve 8 or more. And when K. and L.'s side of the family comes, I especially enjoy looking for recipes that are a little more unusual or extravagant--grandson J. is a trained chef himself, owns a wine storage business and does some part-time catering.

And so I settled on Mortadella-Stuffed Pork Loin with Rosemary Roasted Potatoes for one of their dinners.

This recipe employs a few techniques and ingredients new to me. For technique, I've never butterflied a center-cut pork loin, and it's a method called a "spiral cut". Imagine your pork loin is actually a rolled-up rug, and your knife is helping it lie flat. That's what you do, working carefully to get an even thickness.

I've also never stuffed a pork loin before, though once you get it flat the concept is easy enough to grasp.

For ingredients--black truffle butter and mortadella were the exotics. I knew I'd be able to find both at the Fruitful Basket, since they've recently added meats to their excellent cheese case.

So imagine my dismay when I made my last shopping stop there and found the truffle butter...but no mortadella!

This is where I got my mortadella education. It went something like this:

You have no mortadella???????

(deeply apologetic) No, we just don't carry it.
Is there any substitute? What is it anyway? Would salami...
It's essentially ground-up ham. Like bologna.
(I make a face) It tastes like bologna???
No, like ham. With cubes of fat in it.
(I make another face)
It looks artisan. Sometimes it has pistachios.
(I look dubious) So what would be a good substitute?
What else is going in it?
Black truffle butter.
I would say ham would be ok.

(the cashier, mother-in-law of owner) I ADORE mortadella. Thank god we don't carry it, I'd eat all of it.
You like mortadella?
It's so bad for you. But you HAVE to get imported. Domestic mortadella tastes like bologna.
(I make a face. Can you tell I hate bologna?)

Here's a picture of mortadella:

I'm still not convinced.

But convincing will have to wait for another day because with ham and black truffle butter in hand, I went onward to make my stuffed pork loin.

Another new technique for me (kind of): grinding whole peppercorns + salt then garlic with a mortar and pestle. This was the rub that was to go on the outside of the rolled up roast. But first, the layering...

This was easy--just spreading out some deli meat and spreading butter on top. Then more meat, then more butter.

Then I rolled it up, and rubbed the pepper/salt/garlic paste all over the outside. By the way, I had two of these, for feeding 9 adults and 2 kids.

Into the oven it went until the internal temp reached 150 degrees, then out it came to rest while I made the pan sauce. Oh yeah, the potatoes. They're standard roasted potatoes--you roll them around in the fat from the meat (after previously tossing them with olive oil and rosemary) and roast the bejeezus out of them until they're nice and soft.

The pan sauce surprised me with how metallic it tasted, but I've always felt that way about lean pork--that it has kind of a metallic taste. So I wasn't in love with the pan sauce, but that was just my own taste buds.

Here it is, sliced and plattered:

Pretty nice looking, eh? If I do say so myself.

So here's my two cents about this dish. The black truffles pretty nearly get overwhelmed by the pepper/garlic rub on the outside of this roast. Pepper is the dominant flavor by far, and I personally don't think the expense of imported mortadella (or even imported ham) and black truffle butter is justified. (How expensive, you ask? Four ounces of truffle butter = $7.95) So if you REALLY want to go for the expensive stuffing, I'd ease way back on the rub. Or, if you love pepper and garlic, then pick a less expensive stuffing--bread crumbs, bacon and cheese of some kind would be pretty luscious and half the price.

Wine drinkers--Pinot Noir is my choice for this dish.

By the way, I felt bad about not somehow incorporating pistachios in the pork roast so I served a grapefruit/pistachio salad with the roast. Big hit.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Grilled Cornish Game Hen with Basil Butter

Friends, I have an ambivalent relationship with grills. Out of all the ways you can cook something, they seem to me to be the least predictable. They may not be the most fraught with danger (you can burn your house down just as easily with a stove), but they sure can be an accessory to ruining dinner if you don't keep a vigilant eye on things.

I have especially mixed feelings about poultry and grills. Why? Because fat catches on fire.

No, this is not my chicken-on-a-beer-can, but I can relate.

When I read over the recipe for Grilled Cornish Game Hen with Basil Butter, I was filled with optimistic misgivings. Optimistic because I LOVE the Gourmet Cookbook and love trying new recipes and I love basil AND butter. And game hens. Filled with misgivings because I have caught a lot of chicken on fire, and these hens not only have their skin on, they have butter under the skin AND slathered on top. To me, that seemed like a recipe for a bonfire.

But I'm willing to try anything, even with a house full of expectant diners. I had 9 adults and 2 kids to cook for, so I got five game hens and doubled the compound butter recipe.

I don't know why I don't make compound butters more often. They sure are good. And what a great time to use basil--it smells like heaven.

This recipe (not on epicurious, by the way) asks you to flatten, or spatchcock the birds. You do this by backing over them slowly and gently with your car...just kidding. You do this by cutting out the backbone and opening the bird up like a book. Cut small slits to tuck in the tips of the wings and drumsticks. This technique allows you to cook the bird evenly, and I've used it to great effect in a frying pan. Here's a photo of somebody's smoked, spatchcocked bird so you can get an idea:

The recipe asks you to preheat the grill on high, turn it to moderate, and grill the birds for ten minutes so they can get brown and crispy--then cook them with indirect heat by turning off one or more burners or moving them off the charcoal.

I took a deep, trusting breath and threw those suckers on the grill. I hovered for a little bit, then went inside for about one second.

When I came back out, sure enough... that telltale gray smoke was billowing out from under the grill hood. When I opened it up I was relieved that it wasn't the drip pan or grease trap that was on fire (previous grilling mishaps) but the butter + the chicken fat was creating serious flammable havoc on the hot drip rods under the grill rack, and the birds were covered with gray soot.

I flipped them over. I moved them around. No matter what I did, the fat burst into flame, and so I finally just moved on to part two, and turned off the front two burners so they could cook with indirect heat, hopefully without charring.

They did cook. But when I deemed them ready to pull off the grill I was disappointed in the flabby, sooty skin so I put them on a sheet pan and threw them under the broiler for about five minutes where they crisped and browned up nicely.

Here's my final platter, ready for dinner:

Dinner was fine. The people liked it. But the whole time I was cooking these birds on the grill I was thinking that they would have been superb in the oven, with maybe a little pan gravy made from those drippings instead of having them go up in smoke.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chicken Satay with Peanut Curry Sauce

When my mom asked me to bring an appetizer or dessert to their neighborhood potluck last Friday night, my strategy for choosing a recipe was to skim the hors d'oeuvres chapter and look for one that had a relatively short "active time".

By the way, Gourmet people, have I told you how much I LOVE that feature of the cookbook? Whoever insisted on that format is a genius and should get a raise.

It makes life so much easier to have a ballpark figure for how long it's going to take to cook whatever delectable recipe you've embarked on. I'll never forget the day I was making injera out of Sundays at Moosewood for a dinner party that night, and got to the part of the recipe that says, "let the batter rest for 24 hours." Kind of throws a monkey wrench in, doesn't it?

If you don't have The Gourmet Cookbook (and why don't you? What's wrong with you?) each recipe is formatted something like this:

Chicken Satay with
Peanut Curry Sauce

Makes about 10 hors d'oeuvres
active time: 25 minutes / start to finish: 1 1/2 hours

SO much easier than skimming the recipe, looking for the time indicators and then guessing how long the prep work will take. So thank you, thank you, thank you genius Gourmet people. You make my life easier.

If you don't know what satay is, you've most likely encountered this or something like it at a wedding or other catered party--thin strips of chicken on a bamboo skewer, with a spicy peanut dipping sauce. Satay is essentially an Indonesian dish and of course we westerners have taken a broad category of food and encapsulated it into what we think is the definitive version. And naturally, it's the most tame. Don't believe me? Consider this, from Wikipedia:

Sate Burung Ayam-ayaman (Bird Satay)

The satay made from gizzard, liver, and intestines of “Burung Ayam-ayaman” (a migrating sea bird). After being seasoned with mild spices and stuck on a skewer, this bird’s internal organs aren’t grilled, but are deep fried in cooking oil instead.

Or this:

Sate Torpedo (Testicles Satay)
Satay made from goat testicles (Sweetmeat) marinated in soy sauce and grilled. It is eaten with peanut sauce, pickles, and hot white rice.

I can guarantee you won't see that at your next wedding.

Here's a photo of my nice, tame Chicken Satay:

The people loved it. I did too.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I don't know what I did to my camera. It was taking such great photos! But whatever I accidentally adjusted to allow me to take this:

(the view from a sunset cruise on the Schooner Appledore last Saturday evening)

produced a really AWFUL photo when I tried to document my baklava:

And that was the best of the bunch.

Let me see if I can find a better one.

Which brings me to my next point. Do you see any whole clove in the middle of that yummy looking piece of baklava? No, you do not. And if you go online and look for photos, you won't see any either. My co-worker Katie, of Armenian ancestry, says she has never seen whole cloves in baklava--in fact she got sort of agitated when she saw mine and offered to help me take them out because when she makes meatloaf she sticks whole cloves in the top to flavor it but invariable misses one and ends up with THAT piece--a mouthful of whole clove + meatloaf.

We can talk some other time about the judiciousness of whole cloves + meatloaf, and it's also a bit of a mystery to me why this baklava recipe asks you to use them.

Yes, they pin down the top layer. Yes, cloves complement honey, cinnamon and walnuts. Yes, they are decorative.

But they aren't edible. I know this because one time when I was in, oh, the eighth grade or so, I thought I'd make a batch of spice muffins, which called for clove and coriander. All my mom had was WHOLE clove and coriander, and although I was dubious about putting them in the mix, I thought maybe some sort of softening magic occurred in the oven. Even then, I had faith in the mysterious powers of cooking.

When I proudly offered my muffins around to the army wives in our little military base cul-de-sac, one kind lady gamely worked her way through a muffin (saying only, "Mmm, kind of...crunchy!") and I realized that whole spices do not in fact dissolve in the oven. Unfortunately.

So I was with Katie on the removing-the-cloves business. It would be one thing if I could oversee the eating of the baklava, but I couldn't be sure that some unwitting guest at work wouldn't just pop the whole thing in their mouth, trusting that whatever I put out there must be edible in its entirety.

If you've never made baklava (with or without cloves), the process is a little on the laborious side. You make a filling of finely chopped walnuts, sugar and cinnamon, and sandwich it between layers and layers and layers and layers and layers and layers and layers and layers of buttered phyllo dough. Add twelve more layers and you get the idea.

The laborious part is buttering the phyllo. It's so delicate that it either tears, or lifts up and sticks to your pastry brush--it's a pain in the ass. I've made a lighter version of baklava that asks you to spray the phyllo with cooking spray (horrifying, I know--but when you've got dieters around it's amazing what sort of corners you cut) and trust me, I was tempted.

But I soldiered on and finally got it into the oven and out again--heavenly smell--and poured on the honey-lemon syrup.

Friends, I can't tell you how it tasted. I'm sure it tastes fabulous--how can you go wrong with butter, honey and walnuts? But the recipe asks you to let it sit for twelve hours and I really made it for Miranda, who will be cooking for the next cascade of family at work, and they can pop it (clove-free) into their mouths with impunity.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Strawberry Shortcake

Is there any dessert more quintessentially "summer" than Strawberry Shortcake?

I fall in love with it every time I eat it. How did I forget about strawberry shortcake? I'll ask myself. But I do, lured away by the charms of pies, tarts and cakes.

Strawberry shortcake is one of those desserts where the sum of the whole is greater than the parts. None of the elements--the cream biscuits, the macerated berries, the lightly sweetened whipped sour + heavy cream--can stand on their own. Together, it's summer on the tongue.

Not having made strawberry shortcake in, like, a decade, I was a little worried about the biscuits, which have not one jot of sugar in them. I was equally worried about the whipped sour + heavy cream, which has mere 1 1/2 tablespoons of confectioners sugar.

But the macerated berries more than make up for that lack--they balance each other out, and really, it's just perfect.

Could I be more fulsome? Probably not. Oh, wait. They're the ideal size--three inches in diameter. Not too huge, which sometimes you'll see with the biscuits in other recipes. Who wants biscuits the size of your face? Only diners in certain chain restaurants that shall remain unnamed.

Any other praises I can sing? I think I covered them all. No wait--one more. It's easy, people. The whole thing takes about half an hour, and you've got delicious dessert for a small crowd.

Minor technical note: the recipe on epicurious takes you to a buttermilk biscuit page, but in the book it's a very simple cream biscuit (flour, baking powder, salt, cream). You do what you want, but the cream biscuit is super easy and it gets my vote.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Osso Bucco and Chilled Sour Cherry Soup

I don't know about for you, but for me Osso Bucco is one of those legendary meals that looms large in my culinary imagination--right up there with Baked Alaska and the three-days-in-preparation Cassoulet.

I'm not sure I even knew exactly what it was, but I knew that it was in the Gourmet Cookbook, and that I'd be making it someday.

Yesterday was the day.

I didn't really plan on it. But last night was K. and L.'s final night before their departure today and as I like to do with them (beautiful hedonists that they are) I put some special thought into their dinner and thought I would make a veal dish with a good wine.

Being the smart lass that I am, I figured I'd CALL Stop and Shop before I got there, so I could see what they had, and mull over the cookbook accordingly in the house.

They had:
rib chops
flank chops
osso bucco

"What does that mean, Osso Bucco?" I asked.

"It means the shanks FOR Osso Bucco," explained the guy.

OK! Now, if you look at the head notes for this recipe, you'll see words like "velvet" and "buttery", and you'll also see that it's one of those slow-cooking low-oven recipes.

Sign me up.

I had a moment of consternation when I was actually standing in front of the meat case, because the book tells you to get eight 12 to 16 oz shanks.

What they had on display were four packages of shanks that had been cross-cut.

Oh well. I bought all they had and ended up with about half (in weight) of what the recipe called for. I was cooking for three, after all, not eight.

In retrospect, I'm glad the cross-cut shanks were what I used--I think whole shanks would have been too unwieldy, especially for Mrs. S.

The preparation is classic French technique--dredge the meat in flour and brown in pan, then deglaze with wine. Make a mirepoix of finely chopped onions, celery, carrots and garlic, and saute. Add a bouquet garni, the browned shanks, chopped tomatoes (I used canned), and beef broth. Cook in a low oven until you can't resist the smell anymore, then take it out and EAT IT.

No, actually there are a few more steps. Take the pot out and remove the shanks, then strain the broth from the vegetables. Then reduce the sauce a bit--this will be your mopping liquid, because the shanks go back in the oven, uncovered, and you baste them with the broth.

I've never had veal shanks before, and I was blown away by how tender the meat was. I've also never eaten marrow before (though I've heard people talk swooningly about it) and I tried some of that...eh. I could take it or leave it. Frankly, all I could think was--is this really where stem cells come from? The marrow? Not such an appetizing train of thought.

What surprised me was the collagen. That's the sort of rubbery stuff that that holds the meat together, and when it's cooked for a long time it gets very soft, though it retains its shape. They were sort of like meat-flavored egg noodles.

Oh, people. This is a dish for the ages. I can see why it's so famous.

K. and L. were transported. I was especially happy with the meal because K. informed me that many people do osso bucco "not so well". I can't imagine how you could screw this meal up--it seems so straightforward--but I suppose anything is possible.

This is obviously not my photo (thanks, paperblog.fr)--I wasn't quite organized enough to get a final plate shot last night.

One final note--the gremolata (minced parley and garlic + lemon zest) was a take-it or leave-it for me. It was good with the meat, but the meal would not have been incomplete without it. It does look pretty, though.


Readers with long memories will recall that last summer I bought a case of sour cherries and spent the day pitting them by hand, then bagging and freezing them according to recipe requirements.

For example, I might have a bag in the freezer that said "Cherry Tortoni--1 lb." Actually, believe it or not, Teena did the exact same thing, and when we had coffee together earlier this summer we had a laugh over how geeky that is, and that we had both done it.

So I had one last bag of cherries kicking around from last summer that I wanted to use (the above-mentioned Cherry Tortoni bag), and since I wasn't up to making Cherry Tortoni (which would have required a trip to the store which may or may not have had the cookies I needed) I looked for another cherry recipe that required 1 lb. of sour cherries.

Chilled Sour Cherry Soup was what I settled on. We had a small dinner party going on at work, and although I had some chocolate cream pie to offer, I thought I'd add this to the dessert roster as an alternative.

This recipe isn't on epicurious, but the head notes say that it's adapted from a classic Hungarian dessert. The basic idea is cherries, sugar, water, cinnamon and lemon zest, thickened a bit with cornstarch, then chilled. A sour cream + cream combo is drizzed on top right before serving.

I was a little worried that this would be glorified pie filling, but it never got that thick. The flavor was really yummy--perfect for summer--and the sour cream on top was a great complement. My only complaint about that was that it wasn't thin enough to "drizzle" as the recipe directs--more of a "plop".

Here's a photo of what it's supposed to look like--I'll try to get a photo today at work so I'm not using somebody else's pic.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Guacamole and Benne Seed Pita Toasts

Can you believe I've never made guacamole?

It's true. I just never have. The issue is the avocados--I never think to buy them in the quantities I need to get them all ripe at once, and the thought of actually planning that far in advance--to think, oh, I need to make guacamole for the weekend, so I'll BUY the avocados on Monday so they'll be ripe enough to use...I'm not that organized, folks.

But at work yesterday there were three big fat perfectly ripe (almost over-ripe) avocados and we had a small dinner party on the calendar. The guacamole planets aligned.

This is the simplest of recipes--it's really a base recipe, since the book lists several variations afterward. It's so simple, it's not even on epicurious. Basically, it's avocados, salt, lime juice, chopped white onion, and serrano chilies.

The only place where I deviated a tiny little bit was with the serranos. When you're making food for a table full of senior citizens in New England, it's best to err on the side of caution when it comes to the hot stuff. I added a quarter of a banana pepper (the mildest of the hots).

For my maiden guacamole voyage, it was a great success. I was a little worried about browning, but the lime juice kept it nice and bright.

To go with the guac, I made Benne Seed Pita Toasts. If you're wondering what the heck benne seeds are, they are nothing more than sesame seeds--"benne" is what the Bantu folk of West Africa call them, and it's the name they still use in Charleston, South Carolina, where benne seed wafers and candy are a local specialty.

These pita toasts were buttery and crisp. I got smart and put them in a zip-lock the second they cooled so they wouldn't soak up the humidity in the air. About a third of the sesame seeds fell off, but that's ok--there were plenty left. They were a perfect accompaniment to the guacamole, and together they were a fantastic summer hors d'oeuvres.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Yup, I'm on a roll--it's all sauces, all the time here in the Palladino house this week!

I had thought to make Avgolemono alongside the ill-fated Quick Aioli two nights ago, but as you can read below, the aoili took up all of my time that night. So last night I finally turned my attention to this recipe, and we decided to have it with grilled vegetables and cold, cooked shrimp.

The avgolemono puzzled me more than anything else. The taste is great (it was brilliant with the shrimp) but when it comes right down to it, it's a base for soup, not a sauce. And saying that it's a sauce is kind of like making the base for clam chowder, and saying it would be great poured over fish. Well, it would be, but why not just put the fish in a bowl, pour the base over it, and call it what it is--chowder?

So that's basically what I ended up doing last night--after dipping the shrimp into the avgolemono for a thin coating, I finally just peeled them all, dumped them into my little sauce cup, and ate it like soup. Then I drank the rest of the sauce, (like soup).

It's a great flavor combo, by the way. If you've never had avgolemono, the traditional method is a base of this alleged sauce (chicken stock thickened with eggs and lemon juice) combined with rice and shredded chicken meat. It's DELICIOUS.

Now, having said all that, when I was browsing around for a photo to put up here I came across scads of photos showing avgolemono SAUCE on things like lamb fricasee and linguini. So what do I know? I guess I'm a traditionalist when it comes to sauces.

P.S. for Gourmet Editors Who Will Someday Be Putting Out Another Edition of This Book--Technical note--the recipe has you whisking the broth/egg/lemon mix over simmering water until it thickens slightly, for about 8-10 minutes. Now, I know that the goal temp range for this is between 170 and 175 degrees from my years of making egg-thickened things, but the average home cook might not--and might have their mind eased by the inclusion of this very definitive measure of "doneness" in the recipe directions.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Quick Aioli

While I was hanging out in the Sauces and Salsas section of the book making Tartar Sauce, I got to looking around, and wondered why I hadn't made more of the recipes back there. I love sauces, and in fact when I was working in the restaurants fancied myself something of a saucier, since I could whip up a beautiful batch of Hollandaise or an orange beurre blanc with my eyes closed.

A lot of the sauces in this section are perfect for beef, chicken or fish, but some of them are just brilliant with vegetables. Aioli is one of those sauces. It's all about the garlic, and I've made a blender version of it many times before--back in my early vegetarian days (and before I figured out what garlic does to your body odor). I made those aiolis following a recipe from one of the many Moosewood Cookbooks I had in my arsenal--Sundays at Moosewood, as I recall.

So I figured this recipe for Quick Aioli would be a piece of cake, and that it would be just the thing for the veggies I was determined to use before I got my next box of organic produce today:

Please note that the recipe on line calls for twice what the book does (actually it asks you to make two batches). So the idea is 1/4 cup of chopped garlic in a blender with 1 tsp. salt and 2 tbsp. of olive oil. You grind that up for two minutes, add your egg or two yolks, then start pouring the rest of your oil in slowly from the top. This is where the emulsification is supposed to happen, and the recipe says that this will produce something akin to mayonnaise.

Easy, right?


It didn't emulsify in the slightest, in fact it was broken, as you can see on the blender walls.

At this point I was thinking maybe I could fix it. Sauces will often break if there is too much fat in the mix, and you can sometimes save them if you whisk in a little warm water. So I did that, to no avail. Then I thought--well, I put in a whole egg instead of two yolks, and whenever I've made blender mayo I've always used just yolks--so maybe I should put in another yolk.

No help.

So here I decided that I must have screwed something up. Sometimes I eyeball measurements--I didn't actually fill a 1/4 cup measure with chopped garlic--I threw in what looked right. Were my eggs at exactly room temp? Maybe not quite. And maybe I didn't pour in the oil slowly enough.

So I poured Aoili #1 down the drain (goodbye, 1 cup of beautiful green extra virgin olive oil!) and determined to do it again, and do it right this time.

With Aioli #2, I followed the letter of the law, precisely. I measured out exactly 1/4 cup of chopped garlic (and was chagrined to see that it was about three times more than what I had estimated to be 1/4 cup earlier on). To blend the garlic, salt, and oil, I set the timer for exactly two minutes. My eggs were perfectly room temperature, and I only used the yolks. I measured out exactly 3/4 cup olive oil plus two tablespoons. And I poured that oil through the hole in the blender lid with excruciating slowness.

Readers, it was worse.

Look at that garbage in the blender. Look at it! Grrrr.

At this point (late in the evening, with two other diners waiting for me to finish my saucy experimentation) we decided that it would still taste garlicky, and who cares about appearances. I poured the aioli over both my grilled veggies and my hunk of toasted boule, and was satisfied that I would be able to terrorize my fellow karate students the next day with my fierce kicks AND my pungent aroma.

I still don't know what went wrong with this recipe, and I don't know whether to classify it under "cooking disasters" or "stupid recipes" (the former being disasters of MY making, the latter just being stupid recipes) so I think I'll put it under both.