"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".

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ras el Hanout (Moroccan Spice Blend)

What do you do on a rainy Sunday 12-hour shift, when you're getting paid to cook but there's not much actual cooking to do?

OK, I'm sure you can think of a lot of things, like reading the New York Times or watching a movie on tv. Or maybe even something totally radical, like dusting.

But what if you want to create something? Check out the Basics chapter, that's what you do.

Stocks, marinades, spice rubs, it's chock-full of things to make that will last for awhile in a freezer or a cupboard. They are fun to do, and make the house smell good.

Ras el Hanout is an exotic blend of spices. A lot of them.

These are mostly whole spices that you grind in a coffee grinder, with a few pre-ground ones added at the end (like ginger and mace). Sesame seeds add body and nuttiness to the mix.

The most exciting part of this recipe, for me, was that it calls for grinding up a cinnamon stick along with the peppercorns and whatnot.

If you look at a cinnamon stick

it just doesn't look like something that will grind up easily. In fact, it looks like something that will jam the blades and burn out the motor. I was extremely apprehensive.

But--it ground up like a dream--in fact, it didn't even linger as large chunks that needed extra grinding, like I was expecting. Here's the finished product:

I wish this were scratch-and-sniff! The aroma is incredible.

This spice mix, says the book, is great on chicken, lamb or beef, or stirred into couscous or rice. I'll be using it for one of the remaining recipes in the Poultry chapter, Individual B'stillas. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Creamy Parmesan Polenta

I don't know why I don't make polenta more often. I always love it when I eat it--in fact, I love anything that's made with cornmeal, pretty much. I guess since my husband is always going for the low-carb diet plan, I don't purposefully seek out recipes that involve them. Regular readers are no doubt laughing and thinking of all my posts on desserts but that's for work, you smart-asses! :-)

But every once in a while Teena over at the Gourmet Project moons over "Hot, mushy carbohydrates" and the recipes that feature them (for example, this one) and I think about how derelict I've been in my duty towards the Grains and Beans chapter.

So to go with last night's beef stew I decided to make Creamy Parmesan Polenta.

The only trouble I had with this dish is that it asks you to pour the cornmeal into the boiling water in a thin stream. Well, even with a measuring cup with a lip, my experience went something like this: ssssssssssss(thin stream)glump!(massive cornmeal dump)ssssssssssssss(thin stream)glump! glump! (there goes the rest of it)

When cornmeal enters the water en masse it kind of makes a dumpling of itself--a lot of dry cornmeal on the inside, trapped there by an outer seal of wet cornmeal.

Out came the whisk, and I beat the bejeezus out of it, which I'm sure greatly decreased the life-span of the nonstick surface on that pot.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you don't have to stand there and stir it for an hour--just every ten minutes for an hour. And it stays covered, so you don't get polenta spattered all over the kitchen.

Now--people--a cup of parmesan cheese is going to make anything taste awesome, and this side dish was no exception.

Here it is, solo on the plate:

and here it is with the beef stew:

What a combination. By the way--although the beef stew recipe was not in The Gourmet Cookbook, it was from Epicurious, so if you want to reproduce this meal, here it is.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thin Apple Tarts

Thin Apple Tarts in an interesting little recipe, and I can't quite decide if I like it or not.

It's gratifyingly simple, if you happen to have puff pastry in the freezer (and if you're a devotee of The Gourmet Cookbook, you might as well, since it comes up more than once). Thinly slice apples, toss with syrup, lay out on puff pastry rounds, bake, brush with reduced syrup.

You can see that exposed apple bits got somewhat charred, since they bake at 450.

So here's why I'm on the fence. At first bite, it was kind of like eating apple slices on toast. Not much in the way of a binder. Also, the puff pastry makes for a nice stiff platform for the apples, but that makes it kind of difficult to cut into with a knife and fork, if you tend to eat that way. I found the easiest way to eat them was like a cookie.

I departed from the recipe slightly by making smaller rounds (4" instead of 6") to make these a more individualized dessert option. I used Macs instead of Granny Smith. And once I realized that it had a kind of apples-on-toast thing going on, I brushed them over and over again with the reduced syrup to give it a third, binding element.

Now, having said all that, visiting daughter M. loved hers so much that she asked me to photocopy the recipe.

For those of you who are bored with the standard apple desserts like pies and crisps--this might be just the thing to pique your interest. The other thing that's nice about it is that it feels like a light dessert--just a little mouthful of something sweet enough, but not too much.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Quick. Mounds or Almond Joy?

If you said Mounds, you're gonna love Snowballs.

An unnamed food editor at Gourmet took a childhood devotion to Mounds bars and applied it to a coconut macaroon by hiding a little nugget of bittersweet chocolate inside. Mounds bar, inside-out!

This recipe is pretty easy to make if you have a food processor, although you do have to procure some unsweetened, flaked coconut which is not generally found in a supermarket. I went to our local health food store where they bag their own from bulk.

Essential to the final product is the quality of chocolate you use. I had some Valrhona chocolate hanging around so I cut that into chunks. Can't go wrong with Valrhona.

It is a tiny bit fussy to measure exact tablespoons and shape the coconut around the chocolate, and you can't do much with your hands while you're shaping the cookies (like answer the phone or mute the television) because your hands get all sticky from the coconut.

I ate so many of these yesterday (quality control) that I'll have to make more today just to have a reasonable supply on hand.

By the way, obviously I was a Mounds girl. The only thing I just couldn't understand as a candy bar-eating youngster was why they couldn't make the best of both worlds and put an almond in the middle of the Mounds bar.

Hey, that gives me an idea....

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mint Jelly

Could there be anything more gorgeous?

One of my co-workers has a patch of turbo-charged mint. I don't know exactly what kind it is, but it smells like heaven and is the secret, critical component in the totally awesome homemade iced tea I make all summer.

When Cindi brought in another armful last week, it was too chilly for iced tea. But I just couldn't let it go to waste so off I went to the supermarket for liquid pectin so I could make Mint Jelly.

And lest you think that mint jelly is a curiosity that no one ever eats, I'll tell you this story:

When I arrived at my current job three and a half years ago, one of the refrigerators was filled with homemade mint jelly. Eight or nine jars, some quite large, put up by the former cook. I was a little flummoxed, since mint jelly isn't anything I ever really ate.

It wasn't long before I discovered that lamb was a favorite in the house, and mint jelly was the preferred accompaniment to it.

Three and a half years later, not only are those jars long gone, we've moved on to store-bought. So I have every confidence that this mint jelly will find a happy home on many dinner plates.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Molasses Sponge Candy and Brown Sugar Fudge

One of the things I've inherited from my father is his devil-may-care attitude in the face of inclement weather.

Snowstorm predicted, but you need to drive into Boston? No problem. He's fearless on the road.

Raining? He loves to run in the rain.

When I started my walking tour business, I used to tell my prospective customers, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing."

I'll run in both the rain AND snow and only a few bad skids have tempered my carelessness about driving in snowstorms.

So is it any wonder that I looked at the the recipe for Molasses Sponge Candy while the rain was drumming on the roof, and said, "I'll just try it anyway"?

For those of you who don't know, humidity + candy-making = bad idea.

Why? For the same reason that your book covers curl and your cookies get soft and soggy. Water in the air gets absorbed. By everything that can possibly absorb it.

This is a pretty straightforward candy recipe up until the "add baking soda" part, after which the molasses syrup bubbles dramatically and then you pour it tout suite into a buttered foil-lined cake pan. Where it hardens up. Theoretically.

Actually, mine seemed like it might harden up--it seemed pretty firm and as if it was on the right track. At one point I put it in the oven, hoping to protect it from the humidity. But when I tried to break it up, it was still kind of warm and bendy. Please note I did not turn the oven on, though I considered it for a very brief second--wondering if dry, slightly warm oven air might have a beneficial effect. Doesn't this look somewhat promising?

At the end of my shift I just put it on the counter in the cold room, expecting it to have recovered from any ill-effects from the humidity by the next day, which was supposed to be drier.

When I came in the next day, this is what I found--a surface goopy enough to write on:

I couldn't think of any way to salvage it. This did not prevent me from tasting it, and I have two things to say--1) great flavor, especially if you love molasses and 2) be careful, it's a filling-yanker.

The baking soda makes little bubbles in the candy. They look kind of cool. I probably would have had thicker candy if I had been faster pouring it out of the pot.

I pitched it in the trash. I had to. If I had been surrounded by hordes of teenagers they probably would have eaten it, but I wasn't. Too bad!


Making Brown Sugar Fudge was a happier experience.

And, guess what? This was the first time that I've ever made fudge!

Now if when you hear fudge you're thinking, mmmmmmm.....chocolate....., think again. There is not one speck of chocolate in this recipe--it's technically penuche, which I always thought had something to do with peanuts, but is instead a mispronunciation of the Mexican sugar panocha.

If you too have never made fudge, it's like making candy but with milk instead of water and then you whip confectioner's sugar in at the end. You can also stir in nuts.

As always with making candy (or anything that requires a precise temperature reading), I love love love my remote thermometer with the alarm setting. It means that I can actually turn away from the stove.

Actually, see that gray unit on the very end? I can cart that all over the house if I want and it will show me exactly what temperature the candy is by mysterious remote...air waves (or something). Of course, I have to run like a maniac when the alarm goes off. So I don't wander far.

It cools in a mere 30 minutes in the fridge, then you cut it up into cute little squares, which seem too small but are just right because it's so sweet and rich:

How does it taste? Well, it's not chocolate, but it's awesome because it's the first fudge I ever made and also it tastes great.

By the way, fudge seems to be one of those infinitely flexible recipes. At one of our local stores, The Fudgery, here are the year-round flavors they offer. Just the year-round ones! Seasonal ones available too!

Chocolate Nut
Triple Chocolate
Triple Chocolate Almond
Peanut Butter
Chocolate Peanut Butter
Rocky Road
Maple Walnut
Chocolate Chip
Penuche Nut
Vanilla Nut

Jeez, makes me hungry. I wonder what Rocky Road Fudge tastes like?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chilled Lemongrass Tomato Soup

Somewhere in the world, for somebody, Chilled Lemongrass Tomato Soup has an Active Time of 30 minutes and a Start to Finish Time of 16 1/2 hours (including making and chilling the tomato water).

Not for me.

This recipe took me almost a week to make. Why, you might ask?

Well, there was the draining of the tomatoes aspect. Then the cold weather that made chilled soup unpalatable.

But mostly, it was procuring the darn lemongrass.

Three supermarkets didn't have it, including the usually-reliable-for-unusual-produce Market Basket in Danvers. I finally ended up ordering it from Bobby at the Fruitful Basket.

But let me back up to the beginning of this recipe. Chilled Lemongrass Tomato Soup asks you to make something a little unusual--Tomato Water. What is this, you're wondering?

Well, you puree 5 lbs. of tomatoes, pour the puree into cheesecloth-lined colander, gather up the cheesecloth and tie the ends around the shaft of a wooden spoon, and suspend this over a nonreactive pot. The "water" will drain out overnight.

At least, that's the idea. I didn't have cheesecloth, so I tried paper towels:

Obviously you can't tie paper towels to a wooden spoon, so I left them in the colander and hoped for the best.

Two days later, although there was some tomato water in the pot, I decided to get some cheesecloth and do it right, for the full effect.

I did this by laying the cheesecloth out on the counter, dumping the puree on top (with the soggy papertowels), and then simultaneously trying to gather up the ends (to keep the puree from oozing over), getting the paper towels out, and avoiding the tomato water that was now gushing out from the puree-filled cheesecloth across the counter and onto my feet. Can you tell I didn't quite think it through? Don and O'Malley were less than helpful; Don saying, "Isn't that the stuff you're trying to save?" and O'Malley saying, "It looks like you're squeezing a giant, bloody heart!"

Anyway, I managed to get it all cinched up, and with a little bit of difficulty, tied to a wooden spoon, to hang suspended over the pot (for another two days).

When I finally got my hands on some lemongrass, I followed the next stage--chop 3 stalks and boil with one cup of tomato water...stir in unflavored gelatin and reunite with the rest of the tomato water.

You know how some smells are really place-specific? This is where boiling lemongrass transports me:

When I was in college I dated a guy who got a job managing the King's Alley Hotel (the bar/restaurant part) in St. Croix. For two years I flew down there for vacations--even summer vacation, from Waterville, Maine all the way to St. Croix via Puerto Rico.

So what's the connection with lemongrass? The locals had a homemade concoction that was said to cure everything from hangovers to baldness. There were lots of variations, but they all involved aloe vera peeled in whizzed in a blender. The second most popular ingredient was an infusion of lemongrass, made by boiling it up into a tea.

So I smell boiling lemongrass, and suddenly I'm sitting at an open-air bar in St. Croix at 9 am...blue sky, rustling palms...listening to Face tell me why this drink is so healthful (and how it's going to cure my hangover. Hair, I got plenty of).

Not a bad little mind-trip for a few minutes worth of cooking.

Here's the final product, eons later:

It was pretty good! I happen to love tomatoes and watermelon together (the book also has a tomato-watermelon salad) and they reunite happily here, though I could have done with even more watermelon. The chives seemed superfluous. By the time I actually served this soup the weather had turned hot, so it was deliciously refreshing--very light.

Don's comment was that it would be a great soup to break a fast--not breakfast, mind you, but if you happen to fall into that unusual category of people who refrain from eating from time to time (psst...I'm not one of them)

Was the end product worth the backflips? Mmm...if only for the experience of cooking and writing about it, and presumably next time I'd be more organized so it wouldn't be such a project.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Beets with Lime Butter & Mashed Potatoes (Goat Cheese Variation)

Beets are one of those vegetables that seem sort of limited in their prospects. You can boil them. You can roast them. You can shred them. (oh, and you can make a blender drink out of them, which a Brazilian co-worker did for me once at Yanks, as a health drink, and let me testify right now to the purgative qualities of raw, blenderized beets. Good lord.)

But with all of these options the beets themselves retain their essential beet-y flavor--sweet and mild.

Beets with Lime Butter changes that. It's a simple dish--takes all of 15 minutes--but it completely transforms the flavor of beets.

OK, not completely. But the acid from the lime juice (1 tablespoon) and zest (1/4 teaspoon), and the indescribable goodness of butter (three tablespoons) combine to lift shredded, sauteed beets into a different, more interesting realm.

If you love, or even just like beets, give this one a try.


The Gourmet Cookbook offers not one version of mashed potatoes, but six. It would be silly not to, since there are so many awesome ways to make mashed potatoes.

This particular variation called for goat cheese, and since I rarely make mashed potatoes (we tend towards low-carb eating at home) and since I rarely have goat cheese hanging around (but recieved some as part of a gift) I decided to get decadent and go for Mashed Potatoes with Goat Cheese.

Oh, people. Especially people who love mashed potatoes. The best mashed potatoes have so much fat in them that you really just don't want to know about it. These were no exception. Butter (lots), milk (lots, though in my case it was half and half + soy milk), goat cheese. Just close your eyes, open your mouth, and resolve to exercise tomorrow.

They were so good.

I have to mention the debate amongst professional mashed potato makers (chefs) about the order in which you add the ingredients. Actually, everybody has a big, fat opinion about the entire process. Cold water starts. Cooking the potatoes in their jackets vs. without. How long you let them dry out in the colander. Some people swear you MUST add the butter first, to coat the potatoes, before you add the milk. How much milk to add, to keep them loose enough for dinner service. Not to even get into WHAT you add, whether or not to mash them with the skins, whether or not to whip them or keep them chunky.

I was happy to see that Gourmet didn't even dive into this debate. Peel the potatoes, they say, boil them in well-salted water, drain, and mash with butter, milk, salt and pepper that you've previously heated. (if you want to avoid dirtying two pans, just melt the butter and heat the milk in the pot the potatoes were just in, while the potatoes are draining in the sink.)

It's good stuff, people. If you make them now, you can start getting into that Thanksgiving mindset...

Friday, September 12, 2008

All-Occasion Yellow Cake and Plum Tart

Sometimes the recipes in The Gourmet Cookbook are very specific, but sometimes they are a "foundation" recipe--meant to be a starting point for whatever you want or need to do.

All-Occasion Yellow Cake is meant to be a starting point.

Developed to illustrate the vast difference between box mixes and almost-as-easy scratch batter, this recipe can morph into whatever you need--a layer cake, a sheet cake--even cupcakes.

Here's what I used it for.

At work we have three peach trees that decided to bear fruit like crazy this year. We were swimming in peaches--I was giving them away to co-workers, baking them whole to serve with meats, slicing them into fruit salad...Miranda made a crisp, and I decided to make a peach cake using this recipe as a base.

Easy stuff. I peeled and sliced the peaches into the bottom of a greased sheet pan, then poured the cake batter on top.

My one error was baking until the cake looked browned on top, which the recipe (had I bothered to pay attention to that part) says specifically NOT to do--that it should be pale yellow when done. So to me, the cake part felt a little tough, but with all those juicy peaches underneath it wasn't an issue.

With lots of family in the house, this cake was gone in no time at all. And now the peaches are gone too, alas. Can't wait for next year!


One of the things that really gets me excited as a chef is seeing truly seasonal produce in the markets. There really isn't a lot these days that you can't get year round, but some items remain elusive. Fiddleheads and ramps have a short season, and some fruits show up only from time to time, like kumquats, figs and quince.

Italian prune plums fall into that category too. Smaller than your typical plum, and egg-shaped instead of round, these plums have a nice, firm body that make them ideal for baking because they hold their shape. I don't know why they're so rare in the markets--some years I don't see them at all. When I do, I grab them.

Plum Tart shows them off in all their glory. Nothing fancy here...no pastry cream underneath--just macerated plums baked on top of a rich tart crust.

This crust is slightly unusual because it calls for egg yolks instead of ice water to bind. That makes it not only a pretty yellow color, but adds to the fat content. I happened to use a high-fat butter as well, so this definitely isn't a dessert for dieters.

Lemon zest in the crust complements the plums beautifully. Here's my version:

Pretty. Delicious. And relatively easy, for a dessert. If you see prune plums in your local store, grab about 2 lbs. and give this recipe a try.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Roasted Squash and Green Beans with Sherry Soy Butter

I have to apologize. I don't usually pile on the posts like this, but I just have to tell you about this dish because it's so freakin' good.

OH MY GOD!!!! You must make Roasted Squash and Green Beans with Sherry Soy Butter tonight. You'll never look at butternut squash in the same way again.

This is not my photo. I was too busy eating to take a photo. Some nice person put this on Epicurious. Wait, let me see if I can find a name...no name.

Mine looked much more...tossed. This is very organized and looks kind of boring and in no way indicates the serious deliciousness of the dish:

Why, you may ask, is this so amazing that you've lost your mind with enthusiasm?

Well, the squash is roasted so much that it actually caramelizes on the outside, and it's super soft on the inside.

The beans are roasted, which intensifies their flavor.

But the REAL awesomeness comes from the stick of butter melted and whisked with 1 1/2 tablespoons each of sherry vinegar and soy sauce. That's what you toss with the veggies. It's so good that I could just drink it, and I know that's gross but hey, you're talking to the girl who was putting tomatoes and sugar on her cereal last week so you can just expect the unexpected with me.

(Don't make that face. It's delicious and I dare you to try it. Aren't you sick of tomato salad by now?)

Iceburg and Watercress Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing & Pork Chops with Onion Marmalade

Like salad? In a salad rut?

Iceburg and Watercress Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing is quick and easy and just different enough with the peppery watercress to make you feel like you've been adventuresome.

The salad components are simple (iceburg, watercress, celery), and the dressing components, with a little luck, are things you have kicking around in your fridge (mayo, sour cream, blue cheese, lemon, milk) or have growing on your doorstep (chives).

This version actually ended up being a reduced fat dressing, since all I had for milk was skim, and I chose a low fat Hellman's over Cain's (nothing is better than regular Hellman's so I had to choose the lesser of two evils).

Folks, you really can't go wrong with blue cheese. It makes anything taste great, and blue cheese dressing is a natural with iceburg lettuce.

My one and only word of warning is: be careful with the watercress. For whatever reason, it's grown in sandy soil, and you'll most likely need to wash it--in fact, I'd recommend doing what you do with leeks--put it in a bowl of water and swish it around--let the sand fall to the bottom.

Even if you think it's clean...I didn't think I needed to wash my watercress but when I was digging in to this salad I got more than one mouthful with the slightest amount of grit. Edible, but irritating.


When family members dine with Mrs. S., I take their personal appetites into consideration. M. is a vegetarian. J. loves desserts. K. & L. are gourmands.

But T. and S. are the polar opposites of gourmands, especially T. Basically, he's a meat and potatoes kind of guy, so when I thought about what I would fix for them I tried to keep it simple.

I knew T. loved the Roast Pork Cubano I made last week, so I figured I'd try pork again. Rosti was a big hit at our house, so I thought that might be a fun way to present potatoes. And steamed spinach with butter--what's not to love?

So I settled on Pork Chops with Onion Marmalade. The marmalade might be pushing the envelope, but I figured I'd take a chance.

Readers, this is an easy dish that smells AMAZING and tastes delicious. What is it about onions and vinegar on the stove? Everybody who passed through the kitchen swooned.

Don't get freaked out by the word marmalade. If you've ever caramelized onions you can do this with no problem because all you do is add a little balsamic vinegar and red currant jelly during your slow cooking process, then throw in your browned pork chops at the end to finish them off.

Easy and delicious. If you like pork, give it a try!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Anzac Biscuits

This is one of the remaining cookie recipes that uses coconut, but that's not the only reason why I dragged my feet about making these cookies.

The head notes state that these are cookies that Australian mothers and wives would bake up to send to their guys on the front during the war. (I'm thinking, sturdy = dry) Also, eggs were scarce, so Lyle's Golden Syrup was used as a binder instead. (I'm thinking, no eggs = even more dry)

So imagine my extreme surprise when Anzac Biscuits turned out to be nothing I was thinking.

Except for the no eggs, it's a pretty straightforward dough:

The recipe asks you to drop packed tablespoons about two inches apart on a tray. What I wasn't expecting was how much they would spread. Look how thin they are!

They remind me very much of another recipe in this chapter--Oat Thins. The major difference is that these babies are durable, thanks to the syrup (they're even kind of bendy when they're recently out of the oven) and the coconut.

Lucky, lucky ANZAC soldiers!

(by the way, if you're wondering...ANZAC = Australian and New Zealand Army Corp)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Viennese Vanilla Crescents

I don't have a lot of recipes left in the cookie chapter...or rather, the remaining recipes require things like spritz presses or madeleine pans or they're ornaments for the Christmas tree.

Or they have coconut. Regular readers will recall that Dr. S. hated coconut, so I have a backlog of coconut cookie recipes to work through.

Viennese Vanilla Crescents don't have coconut, and they don't require a mold, but they do have a fussy step that had prevented me from baking them in the past. Not complicated, actually, just something requiring forethought--24 hours, to be precise. You're supposed to cut up a vanilla bean and put it in 2 cups of confectioner's sugar, and let that rest for a day. This sugar is what you'll dust the baked cookies with.

The dough is pretty straightforward in a shortbread kind of a way--grind toasted hazelnuts with flour and a little confectioner's sugar (and baking powder and salt), then pulse in three sticks of butter. The recipe suggests you do this in the food processor, but I had a little problem:

It didn't really fit.

Which is not to say I didn't try. I pulsed it and ran it and tried to poke that butter down towards the blades with a spoon (NOT while it was running, I learned my lesson on that with blenders) but it was just too full.

So I switched the whole operation over to the KitchenAid, where it mixed up beautifully.

The dough has to sit in the fridge for a while...kind of tedious for instant gratification folks...but then comes the shaping, the baking and the dusting.

These cookies just melt in the the mouth. They are so tender, so fragile--you'd never be able to ship them anywhere, or hardly even send a plate to a next-door neighbor. The hazelnut flavor is deliciously prominent, but I'm sorry to say I didn't discern a noticeable vanilla flavor in the confectioner's sugar.

And they aren't overly sweet, even with all that powdered sugar clinging to the sides, thanks to very little sugar (1/4 cup) in the actual dough.

A nice cookie to round out your repertoire. Just skip the food processor step and you'll be fine.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Roast Pork Shoulder Cubano

Some of the recipes in the Gourmet Cookbook call for cuts of meat that aren't commonly found in the supermarket, and Roast Pork Shoulder Cubano is one of them. It calls for an 8 lb. bone-in fresh pork arm picnic shoulder with skin. See that often?

Didn't think so.

In fact, I've never seen it, and was thinking I'd have to go further afield or special order, until one day I was browsing in the meat department at Stop n Shop and saw one. Not was I was looking for at the moment, but I snatched it up and stuck it in the freezer for later use.

I wasn't sure exactly how this recipe would proceed. Was it a braised meat recipe, in a covered dish or oven bag? Was it a roast?

Turns out it's a little of both.

One thing you do is create a rub out of garlic, oregano, salt and cumin, and not only do you rub it on the meat, you make slices in the skin/fat and create little flavor pouches.

You would not believe how tough pig skin is. I had to REALLY sharpen my knife, and even then had to use force that made me feel like a serial killer.

Your basting liquid is both lime juice and watered vinegar, and part of the time the roast cooks, covered, with that in the pan.

After a while you take off the foil and baste, baste, baste--even peeling back the now-crispy skin to baste underneath.

It cooks for about four hours, total.

When I went to carve this I peeled off the skin, and lay cuts of meat about 1/2 inch thick on the platter, while I reduced the juices a bit. The edges of the skin were crispy, but the middle wasn't, so I cut the crispy bits off with scissors and put the rest back in the oven to crisp up some more.

Hey, guess what? Crispy, salty, vinegary pig skin is really really good. I could eat way more of it than is good for me. I did, in fact. And the weird thing about it is that it's kind of gummy, somehow--I mean the fat, underneath. Don't you think it's odd that fat from, say, a chicken, a cow and a pig would be so different? Fat is theoretically fat. But it's different.

If I think too deeply about this I'll probably go back to being a vegetarian, so I'm going to stop now.

(but it's good. you should try it!)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Stuffed Peppers

It's rare that I come across a recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook that I just...hate.

I'm sorry to say this is one of them.

It's not that it's inedible. And it's true I substituted green peppers for the red/yellow/orange peppers the recipe called for.

It's just that it's bland. There's nothing about the filling--texture or flavor, to recommend it.

Now, there are a million ways one could enhance this recipe, and if you look at the reviews online you'll see lots of suggestions...ground beef or lamb, olives, tomato sauce, goat cheese, etc. Including any of those would have been a vast improvement.

But as it is...sorry, Gourmet. This one's a dog. Leave it out of the next edition.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach with Toasted Almond Dressing

The head notes for Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach with Toasted Almond Dressing say "with just five basic ingredients, this dish has amazing complexity."

I'm going to go a little further and say "with just five basic ingredients, this dish kicks ass."

It is SO GOOD! Don says it's comfort food, and people, usually vegetables do not = comfort food.

Here's the basic idea. You roast squash (it doesn't have to be butternut squash--I actually used acorn squash), and let it cool. Saute a lot of chopped almonds in olive oil, and drain the oil. Add a little lemon juice, salt and pepper to the oil, then toss with raw spinach, squash and almonds. I was a little worried that it would be too spinach-y (I find raw spinach awkward to eat) but the oil, lemon juice and salt do a great job of wilting the spinach to manageable proportions.

Some of the dishes that I make in the gourmet cookbook are one-time-only events. But this one is destined to be a regular in our kitchen.