"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".

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie with Gingersnap Crust; & Sweet Potato and Parsnip Puree

When my sister-in-law asked me to make dessert for Thanksgiving, she noted that we were going to be a small group. Eight adults.

"One dessert should be more than enough, don't you think?" she asked.

Readers, you can imagine how difficult it is to contemplate just ONE dessert for Thanksgiving. With the variety of traditional pies out there--apple, pecan, pumpkin, sweet potato--how does one choose? And what if the one dessert you make turns out to be not so popular? There are strong opinions out there about pies, in case you haven't noticed.

The Gourmet Cookbook offers a plethora of desserts that would be appropriate for the season. I narrowed it down by shutting my eyes and pointing. Pumpkin Chiffon Pie it is! And if some of our eaters didn't like pumpkin...well, c'est la turkey.

I must confess to a certain apprehension about plain old pumpkin pie. It always feels a little...slimy to me. I mean, I can polish off a piece without any problem (it would take more than a texture issue to deter me) but it's not my go-to ingredient when I'm thinking about pies.

So this recipe was a leap of faith for me but I was encouraged by the head notes, which state that the texture of THIS pie was lighter than air thanks to the chiffon-y nature of it. And if you're wondering what chiffon involves, it means getting out that Kitchen Aide mixer and using it a LOT, because you fold sweetened whipped egg whites and THEN stiff heavy cream into your pumpkin/sugar/egg/brandy/gelatin base.

It all looked pretty promising when I poured this filling on top of the gingersnap crust. I was expecting people to like it well enough.

What I wasn't expecting was that my family LOVED this dessert. I mean, the sort of love where they would just stop eating to say Oh. My. God.

I was bowled over, and very pleased.

If you make this, be sure to use the suggested garnish of chopped crystallized ginger. I think that's what put it over the top. That and the homemade whipped cream that I made everybody at the table take a turn at beating.


My other meal assignment was "potatoes". I was going to make mashed potatoes, but then I got to thinking about color on the plate and decided orange was prettier than white.

Gourmet to the rescue again, with Sweet Potato and Parsnip Puree.

I doubled the recipe, and then decided to put all of those nice cooked veggies in my trusty Kitchen Aide since the bowl was bigger than my food processor.

Don't bother.

The Kitchen Aide will mash them, but you really want a silky texture here and you just can't get that in anything but a food processor. I transferred the vegetables in two batches and pureed the heck out of them with the butter, milk etc.

It's simple, but man is it good. The perfect complement to Thanksgiving food.

Hope your day was as yummy as ours!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Barley Risotto and Creamed Spinach--Take Two

Pre-Thanksgiving seems the perfect time to focus on potential side dishes, don't you think? Well here are two, and I'll give you a rundown on them.

I had high hopes for Barley Risotto. One of the chefs I used to work with at the Emerson loved the fall season--he would brine pork chops in cider and herbs, slow roast lamb shanks, and make a heavenly barley risotto.

This version? Not so heavenly. Don't get me wrong--it's ok, and it's a great alternative to rice. I just thought it could go further in the flavor department, and with any risotto that seems to involve using wine at some point. I served it with roasted chicken, and then I took the leftovers and made a barley soup.

On the other hand, Creamed Spinach was a revelation. It's the simplest of recipes but it's the kitchen magic that makes it fun (and useful).

Because here's the thing. Spinach has all this water, right? So you either have to squeeze the dickens out of it or just live with a puddle of green water at the bottom of your serving dish.

THIS recipe makes good use of a flour-based roux to solve that little problem. It's easy-peasy...one tablespoon of butter, one tablespoon of flour, and let that fry for a little while in your pan. Add 2/3 c. heavy cream and let that simmer up into a nice thick sauce. Add your cooked chopped spinach, and you've got creamed spinach. The water from the spinach just thins the cream sauce out a bit. No weeping! (You or the spinach.)

This is a plain Jane recipe and can be dolled up however you like with onions etc. It's the technique that's so totally useful.

So if you're in charge of a green side for Thanksgiving and your family likes food on the basic side, give this one a whirl.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Barley Risotto and Creamed Spinach

Dear readers, I offer you profound apologies. It's not that I haven't been cooking, it's that I haven't been blogging about it. Oh for Teena's discipline! I'd like a large helping of that with my turkey, please.

In the weeks since I last wrote, here's a sample of what's been gracing our tables:

Chinese Beef Noodle Soup (the broth: heaven, and finally a cut of beef (short ribs) that doesn't shrink and toughen up like stew beef)

Kale and White Bean Soup (my biggest gripe with this was using dry beans, which sometimes just never fully soften up. Grrr.)

Shrimp, Crab, and Oyster Gumbo (Amazing, and expensive. Make this only if you are wealthy, or somebody wealthy is footing the bill, or you live in shrimp/crab/oyster country. Measurement note: Gourmet says 24 oysters = half a cup, but not in this part of the world. More like two cups, and have fun shucking those oysters.)

Beef and Sausage Lasagne (Meat lover's lasagne--mmmmm. My major complaint is that 13X9 baking dishes just aren't deep enough to really hold lasagne.)

Slow Roasted Salmon with Mustard and Parsley Glaze (pretty good and would have been better if I hadn't started with salmon that was still ever-so-slightly frozen in the middle)

Old-Fashioned Gingerbread (words cannot adequately describe how much I loved this cake. And please note that in spite of the instructions, I DID use blackstrap molasses, and thought it was better for it.)

Hungarian Chocolate Mousse Cake Bars (technically challenging, this recipe gave my Kitchen Aide a workout. The cake: swoony.)

Russian Tea Room Cheesecake (a cross between a lemon souffle and a cheesecake, another Kitchen Aide exerciser, and a perfect complement to the above-mentioned Hungarian Chocolate Mousse Cake Bars)

Coffee Bourbon Barbeque Sauce (the flavor is fine, but it's so thin!! Perhaps it would be better as a marinade?)

Well! Now that I've told you all about the food I was too busy to tell you about, I don't have time to write about Barley Risotto and Creamed Spinach. So until next time....

Friday, November 7, 2008

Carmelized Upside-Down Pear Tart

Every once in a while, when I get to work I'll encounter something like this:

In the cold room,

In the fridge,

What to do? Make Caramelized Upside-Down Pear Tart, that's what.

This recipe is a spin on the classic apple tart-tatin, and is pretty easy to make. But if you're the type of person who can screw up a recipe no matter what, here's a list of how you can screw up this one. I'm not saying I did these things, but I might have in the past. They say a sign of intelligence is being able to learn from your mistakes.

1. If you have a cheap pan with hot spots, you will burn the sugar in some areas before it can carmelize in others.

2. If you put the heat on too high, you will just burn all of the sugar, period.

3. If you suck at making pie crust, you're in trouble because that's a major component of this recipe.

4. I can almost guarantee you that you won't be able to get the tart out of the pan in one piece, so get used to the idea of a broken tart that isn't presentation perfect.

5. If you have an extremely heavy cast iron skillet and you're working alone and you've got a nice dessert plate, you must be very, very delicate with your flipping unless you want to shovel the whole thing in the trash. I've never done this personally but I have nightmares about it.

My issues around this tart as I made it were that I didn't make the pie crust and as you might have discerned by now, I'm sort of fussy in that area. This one that Miranda left me was OK but a little tough.

Also, there's not much to it. It's pie crust, and glazed pears. You'll definitely want ice cream or something to add a little juice. And eat it right away--it doesn't hold all that well. I wasn't nuts about it, but I'd be willing to try it again if the circumstances were right.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Parisian Passover Coconut Macaroons and a Shameless Plug for Another Cookbook

Are you even slightly compulsive? Got a sweet tooth? Like coconut?

Then whatever you do, don't make these cookies.

They are utterly irresistible. And they're simple enough--syrup-sweetened meringue folded with unsweetened coconut and baked until just firm, which yields you a cookie that is both crispy and chewy. God, are they good.

OK, this is not the perfect recipe. The seriously un-perfect part of it is the silly direction to shape the meringues into pyramids with wet fingertips. A waste of time, and for the perfectionists in the crowd (that would be me) trying to create a pyramid out of something that refuses straight lines or angles is a maddening venture best abandoned. I settled for pulling the tops up into kind of a twisted pointy top. A far easier solution would be to put the stuff in a pastry bag--quicker too.

You might also be thrown off by the direction to dust the baking pans with matzo cake meal. I just sprayed my sheets with Baking Pam (I have a growing affection for that stuff) but you could also use sil-pat liners or parchment paper if you'd like to dispense with fat/flour altogether.


Shameless Plug for Another Cookbook:

I've been hearing about this book for years and finally bought it.

If you're a baker and you're trying to get whole grains into the picture, run don't walk to the nearest bookstore and get this book.

OK, I've only made three cookie recipes so far, but fans on the Gourmet staff of Katherine Hepburn's Brownies, I'm sorry, the Double Fudge Brownies made with 100% whole wheat has you beaten hands down.

Seriously, they are the best brownies I've ever made or eaten, and that's saying something.

Now, please note that I'm not suggesting that this book could ever replace my one and only true love, The Gourmet Cookbook. I am suggesting cookbook polyamory. And if I had no day job, family or life I would start a second cook-through blog with this book as my subject.

One of the things I am most gratified about is that baking with whole grains has been mysterious territory for me. Baked goods made with whole wheat flour have been, in my experience, dense, sort of metallic tasting, and kind of grainy. (please don't get me started on whole wheat pasta, either)

Here are some of the things I've learned in three recipes:

1. Letting cookie dough made with WW flour rest overnight in the fridge makes that metallic taste disappear somehow.

2. Letting brownies made with WW flour rest overnight before cutting allows the bran? germ? whatever that gritty stuff is absorb moisture, which makes for a smoooooooth texture.

3. You can grind oats in a food processor for 30 seconds to make oat flour for cookies.

4. New experience!!! I sprinkled oat-cashew cookies with SALT before baking. Mmmmm.

This is not whole-grain baking from the 70's, folks. Grab it and bake along with me.