"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, March 31, 2009

Profiterloles, Burnt Orange Ice Cream & Hot Fudge Sauce

This recipe has special significance for me because it's the last special occasion dessert I created for my estate job as a private chef. Mrs. S.'s birthday luncheon! Yay, Happy Birthday! One of the things I think I did very well during my four-year stint at her house was holiday/special occasion cooking, especially desserts, and I am pretty proud of this one.

Why? Because when emailing back and forth with one of the daughters, the conversation went something like this:

K: ...for dessert, something easy to eat and serve, maybe custard-filled rolls?
M: (thinking, always thinking about what I can cook from the book) How about profiteroles with burnt orange ice cream and hot fudge sauce?
K: yes--coned and candled?

When K. saw the platter of profiteroles she actually jumped up and down and clapped with delight. It was exactly what she had envisioned, and THAT is one of my greatest pleasures, as a chef. Getting it right.

So here's how I did it.

First, the ice cream. I've made this ice cream before and knew it was a winner with chocolate. What I didn't have last time that I did have this time was the Kitchen Aide ice cream maker attachment, and while it's not a perfect thing it's better than what I have at home, which requires a lot of elbow grease and a sturdy wooden spoon. I made the ice cream a week ahead of time. It doesn't hurt to plan ahead!

The profiteroles were as easy as I remembered them being when I made them at the Emerson for some reason (probably a Rotary dessert). It's almost impossible to screw them up. If you've never made them, here's how you do it:

Bring to a boil butter, water and salt. Dump in the flour all at once, and beat the dickens out of it until it forms a ball, which takes about 30 seconds. Take off heat and go pour yourself a cup of coffee. When you come back, beat in three eggs one at a time with a hand mixer. Gloop it into pastry bags (or my variant, zip lock bags with the corner snipped off), squeeze little mounds onto a baking sheet and bake for about 20-25 minutes.

That's it.

Once they're cool (and you can store them for a day, just re-crisp before filling), you cut them in half and put in your filling, which in our case was the burnt orange ice cream.

I had to go back and forth between crisping the profiteroles (because I had made them the day before), letting them cool, filling them, and getting the filled ones in the freezer--all without letting the ice cream melt.

Now, the Hot Fudge Sauce. Can I just stop right now and swoon with the memory of how much I love this hot fudge sauce? For some reason I've made a lot of the sauces in the Frozen Desserts chapter and this is the best one, bar none. They say in the head notes that you can scoop it, cooled, right out of the bowl (to eat) and I can attest to that.

I know corn syrup is something of a food villain to some, but I think it's the 1/2 cup of light corn syrup that gives this sauce its delightful texture. The incredible flavor is thanks to the dark brown sugar and bittersweet chocolate.

I had to do a little problem solving with this dessert, which is that K. wanted it coned (no problem), and candled. I was worried that the hot fudge sauce would sort of loosen things up too much for candles to stay erect so my solution, after piling the profiteroles high and drizzling them with hot fudge sauce, was to put the whole platter back in the freezer while everyone was eating. I figured that would unify the dessert enough to let me stick candles in it, and it did. Somewhere somebody took some photos of the dessert with the candles lit--hopefully they'll send them to me so I can share them with you.

Readers, this dessert is a showstopper, as Gourmet promises. Since you can do it in components at your convenience, it's a pretty big payoff for the time and energy spent.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Guest Blogger: O'Malley bakes Apple Brown Betty and Hamantaschen

Folks, I'd like you to give a warm welcome to my son O'Malley, who has been following along with this project with a great deal of interest and enthusiasm. Well, sometimes he's more enthusiastic about the idea of what I'm cooking than the finished product but for sure his favorite part is when I write about it. It's possible O'Malley is one of my biggest fans.

He came home this week with a container of hamantaschen (beautiful AND delicious) that he had baked at his dad's, and reports of an Apple Brown Betty he had baked for Li's (his girlfriend) family. Now, neither of these recipes come from The Gourmet Cookbook--they came from Sundays at Moosewood--a book that opened my horizons during my vegetarian years. But O'Malley was so enthusiastic about blogging about them that I decided to give him the floor anyway.

So without further ado, I present O'Malley Bach, a ninth grader at Rockport High School.

So, what to do on a lazy Saturday when the rest of the family is out of the house? Reading? Already read all my books. TV? Please. Go outside? Get the hell out of my office. Saturdays, in my opinion, are meant to be spent either doing absolutely nothing or doing something really exciting, preferably a trip into Boston with a significant other.

I sat at the table in the kitchen, wondering precisely what I should do with my time. Should I spend hours on the phone with Li, should I go for a quick bike ride, should I feed the cat because he's meowing and clawing the heck out of my right leg? Well, I did do that last one, but after that, I had a pretty awesome revelation.

"THAT'S IT! I'll put hours of labor into a dish that I'll eventually burn both of my hands on and will never taste, all for my girlfriend's parents who don't even like me anyway!"

Or something like that.

I found the Sundays At Moosewood cookbook in a hidden alcove ("hidden", here means "in plain sight") and began leafing through the book to find a nice recipe that didn't require ingredients unique to four different continents. Of course, this eliminated about 82 percent of the recipes in that book, so I perused the remaining eighteen percent to find a recipe for Apple Brown Betty, an Irish dessert that I'd never heard of and wasn't sure exactly what it should look like.

"'Kay, I'll do that one."

It turned out that we really did have most of the ingredients in the house already. It was pretty simple, and you can find the recipe here if you're inclined to try it.

The biggest problem I ran into while I was making this dish was my inexperience with exactly how finely shredded the bread crumbs should have been. I didn't really finely shred the bread, so I just tore it, really, and that was a mistake. I didn't have enough crumbs to cover even 1/2 of the area the crumbs were supposed to.

It's supposed to look like this:

It didn't.

Looking back, I believe the mistake I made was not cooking it long enough and not putting enough filling in between the apple slices (granny smith apples work best for this, by the way). I eventually came out with a decent dish, but I'm not sure it was true to the spirit of what it should have been. Maybe I need to move to Ireland.

Start time: 12:00 PM. End time: 2:00 PM.

Li and her mother picked me up that night at 5:30 to go and see Watchmen. Readers, I have to tell you, that movie was really great. It may seem like a superhero movie, but don't be fooled. The "heroes" in that movie are depressed at best and psychopathic at worst. Don't see it with the kids. Truly, though, the movie raises some serious philosophical questions; the most prominent one being about whether the end justifies the means.

Also, Ozymandias looks totally cool.


Hamantaschen. Say that 20 times quickly. Delicious, too!

For anyone who doesn't know, Hamantaschen is a type of Jewish pastry that looks a little like this:

Looks good! Unfortunately, I misread the directions a little bit and folded the seams a different way. This resulted in cookies that looked more like those big three-pointed hats that the British used to wear.

But never mind that.

The original recipe (also from Sundays at Moosewood) called for prunes and prune butter, along with raisins, all completely mashed up and obliterated, to be the filling. I decided to ignore that part of the recipe for the express reasons of:

1.) We didn't have any of the above ingredients,
2.) I friggin' hate prunes.

Satisfied in my little act of rebellion against the authority of the book, I made the filling with honey and poppy seeds instead. This, I've been told, is how they're actually supposed to be made. Hey, maybe I have a little Jewish part of me in the culinary section of my heart.

The next real mess-up came when I was making the dough. I had the wet mix in one bowl and the dry mix in the other bowl, and decided to save some time by pouring it all together at once, instead of gradually adding in the dry mix to the wet mix. Big mistake. I had to add about 3X as much water as I normally needed just to locate the wet mix under all that flour. I couldn't have sworn, in a court of law, that the wet mix still existed.

After that fiasco was over, I managed to roll out the dough onto a flowered surface and begin the painstaking process of cutting out the cookie shapes. They need to be perfectly round so that they can be folded correctly. As I've already said, I totally messed up on that part, so I'll skip that part.

After the cookies, however they look, are shaped, they need to be put in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. the full recipe can be found here.

These, actually, turned out really well. They were a big hit with Li and her family, and they went over well at my house too. On Sunday I went over to Li's house for the day, and we were served my own Apple Brown Betty when dessert time rolled around.

There's no greater feeling than that.

I'd like to thank my mom for letting me use this blog to post these cooking experiences. Thanks for making all the cool food, mom. You're the best cook in town.

Blackberry Jam Cake with Caramel Icing

I've had my eye on this cake from Day One. Something about the homey nature of the anecdote in the headnotes ("Every year for twenty years, Gourmet's production director baked this cake for our mailroom manager on his birthday, so it has clearly stood the test of time") made me want to bake the cake too, and share in the family love.

The title of the recipe is a little misleading, I think--it calls to mind a cake that's sandwiched with jam, and if that's what you're jonesing for you'll be disappointed because this is really a spice cake with blackberry jam providing some flavor.

This is a pretty straightforward cake recipe--no surprises. I was a little puzzled by the direction to line the pan with parchment paper, since that means you're going to turn it out onto a platter to frost it--but my plan was to bring this to my book group and that extra step would have disqualified it from the "excellent dessert to bring to a potluck or casual dinner party" because it would have meant extra fussiness. So no parchment paper for me.

My only mishap making the cake was after I had taken the cake out of the oven I stood there looking at my new container of organic golden raisins, thinking to myself 'weren't raisins in this recipe somewhere?' Yes they were, they were supposed to go in the batter, and it was way too late to add them in. I just skipped right over them, and I really hate it when I do that!

I was determined to get them in there somehow, and I mulled over adding them into the caramel icing but decided that would be weird and opted for this instead:

OK, it's not the most elegant solution. But I didn't get any complaints from my bookgroup--they were wildly enthusiastic about it and happily took home the leftovers as well. Actually, the feature that really got the swoony response was the icing, which is (as the headnotes state) grainy before it melts on the tongue. I'm not used to icing like that and found it a little sweet for my taste, but as I said it got a very favorable reception with my fellow book groupies.

Would I make this again? Yes--it's a sturdy, flavor-packed cake that makes enough for a crowd. If I were trying to fancy it up a little bit I'd make it in rounds for a two-layer cake (as they suggest for an option)--it would be an ideal birthday cake for somebody who doesn't like the usual suspects (like chocolate).

Friday, March 27, 2009

Stained Glass Teardrops & Melissa Gets Wounded in the Line of Duty

OK, so they're more like circles, not teardrops, but aren't those hearts pretty? I baked these on the same day that I baked the below-mentioned Swedish Ginger Thins, and if you're thinking I was doing a lot of rolling, cutting and baking for a single 12-hour shift, you're right. But I'm almost at the end of the cookies chapter, and I get kind of task-oriented in these moments. I'm just trying to figure out how on earth I can justify baking Gingerbread Snowflakes this time of year. Can I? I don't think so.

Stained Glass Teardrops are basically a sugar cookie with crushed candy sprinkled in the middle, which melts during the baking process. If you're a gingerbread house baker, you will recognize this technique--I've used it for the past three years with lemon drops to create windows with a warm glow (if you put a light inside your gingerbread house).

How does they taste? Well, like a sugar cookie + hard, fruit-flavored candy, but that's not the point. The point is that they're purty, and will make people ooh and aah. Isn't that all you need sometimes?


Think this cooking business is all fun and games, do you? All nibbling on cookies, eating challah slathered with butter, and licking out the batter bowl?

Well, it is, but cooking has its hazards too--you've got hot things, and sharp things, and you work with all this stuff on a daily basis.

So last Sunday (early in the morning) I was making French Pea Soup, and wrestling with the very sturdily packaged Cascadian Farms Frozen Organic Peas and when I tried to slice the bag open I damn near sliced off the tip of my finger.

I only mention this because it's such a pain in the tukus to TYPE and I've been making a gazillion spelling errors because I'm typing with only four fingers on my left hand. See how much I love you? I'd like my Martyr Badge now.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Oat Lace Cookies & Swedish Ginger Thins

Oat Lace Cookies are another cookie that my counterpart at work would make from time to time, that didn't turn out so well from my point of view. When Miranda made them they seemed excessively brittle, and very sticky--impossible to serve on a humid day or with any cookies that contained moisture.

So it took me awhile to get around to them, because they just didn't seem that appealing.

It was only after I made them that I had my Aha! troubleshooting moment.

This recipe calls, very specifically, for quick-cooking rolled oats. But Miranda must have thought they weren't healthy, or maybe high-toned enough, and she substituted old-fashioned rolled oats. What she didn't realize is that quick-cooking oats (which are merely oats that have been roughed up a bit in a grinder) have a much greater binding capacity, and in this very thin cookie are the only thing that can help it maintain its integrity without falling apart. And because the oats have absorbed the moisture they're supposed to, the cookie also doesn't get sticky. Hooray for quick-cooking rolled oats!

This is one of those cookies that spreads out a lot.

A silpat pan liner is a necessity. And just to be on the safe side for the stickiness factor, I sandwiched these between little squares of wax paper.


Got time to kill? Want to make a thousand or so cookies? Swedish Ginger Thins are the cookies for you.

And folks, I'm almost done (2 more recipes left!) with the Cookies chapter, and I've made a lot of cookies in my life aside from this little venture, and I'm here to tell you this recipe surprised me.

Why? Because you beat heavy cream until it has stiff peaks, and then beat the whipped cream gently into your butter/sugar along with some corn syrup.


I have NO IDEA what this accomplishes, since then you beat in the flour, baking soda and spices, form the whole thing into a disc, and stick it in the fridge for two hours. Obviously there's no mousse-like activity going on here--nothing fluffy about it. The only thing I can come up with is that some Swedish grandma wanted to keep her grandkids out of trouble and made them beat the cream until it was whipped, which takes a long time by hand, and thus a tradition was born.

So you roll out the dough and use cookie cutters to make shapes, and if you like press a little almond in the middle.

The cookies get baked in a 400 oven for about six minutes. Don't forget to set the timer--they burn faster than you can say "where's MY bonus?".

This is more of what you're going for:

And I seriously was not exaggerating when I said this recipe makes a thousand or so cookies--I was rolling and cutting and rolling and cutting and saying MY GOD WILL THIS NEVER END? Not even counting the cookies I (accidentally) burned this is how many I came up with:

And still, I had more dough--about a fist-sized lump! I threw it in the trash. Shhhhhh.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cinnamon Chocolate Cigarettes

Before I launch into Cinnamon Chocolate Cigarettes, I have to show you a picture of my kitchen windowsill.

Isn't that pretty? I've been spending a lot of time cooking for private clients out of my own kitchen lately, and it's so lovely, listening to Paris Combo or Pearl Django, and looking at these beautiful flowers. Good for the soul.

Anyway, this recipe has beckoned to me since Day One, but alas, my counterpart at work was equally enamoured and made these cookies week after week after week. So it's taken me two and a half years to finally get around to it, and one of the challenges I had set for myself was to see if I could make them better because whenever Miranda made them they seemed strangely (and offputtingly) spongy.

It's possible I have a gustatory memory of some boxed cookies of the same general parameters from my teen years in Belgium (very possible) and these just weren't living up to what I thought should be their crispiness.

Beginner bakers take note: this is probably not the recipe for you. Not to be discouraging, but it requires the type of heat-desensitivity on the fingertips that comes from years of handling hot stuff, since you have to get these suckers up off the sil-pat and roll them while they are essentially still 350 degrees.

Not daunted? OK, let's go.

The batter, which is made of egg whites, confectioner's sugar, flour, melted butter, salt and cinnamon is very, very loose.

You only want to do a few at a time, since you have to roll them while they're hot. I found four per pan about right.

The ones on the right have been spread out with a spoon, which you do to get the cookies as thin as possible.

After they bake (and it takes a few batches to find the perfect balance between done and too done, you roll them up. They harden unbelievably quickly.

This was where I ran into trouble. Easy to roll = spongy. Crispy = impossible to roll. What to do?

My solution: I rolled them and put them back into the oven to bake until I deemed them sufficiently crispy. As you might be guessing, after all of this testing of crispiness, I didn't exactly have an overflowing batch of cookies. But I had enough to make a pretty good showing. Here are some just after the chocolate dipping stage:

I'm happy with my final technique, so I hope you'll benefit (Adam, I'm looking at you) from my experimentation. It took maybe another 10 minutes back in the oven in their rolled state. My only other thought is that, to my taste, not enough cinnamon! I love cinnamon and chocolate, and the 1/4 teaspoon here could have been bumped way up. Next time.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hot Cross Buns

Until I made this recipe, I had never had Hot Cross Buns. Can you believe that? Wrong part of the country, wrong religion, I don't know, but not only had I never had them, I had never even SEEN them until I moved to New England. And then, because I saw them at the grocery store bakery I assumed they were no good, and I know that's snobby but there it is.

So I was a Hot Cross virgin until recently, and oh my god, that's making me think of a song. Hang on...YouTube help me out here...

If you've never seen Moulin Rouge, this cover of Madonna's "Like a Virgin", done by Jim Broadbent, is hysterically funny. He's trying to cover for his top showgirl by saying she's at confession.

Anyway, I digress.

So I had no idea what was involved with Hot Cross Buns, but was delighted to see that they have all kinds of goodies inside--allspice, cinnamon, lemon zest, orange zest, golden raisins and currants. It's a standard bread-baking procedure, with yeast, and risings, and all that jazz, and proceed I did until I came to some instructions that stopped me cold.

And these were:

On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin roll out pastry dough into a 20- by 6-inch rectangle (about 1/8 inch thick). With a sharp knife cut rectangle crosswise into 1/8-inch- wide strips.

Brush buns with egg glaze and arrange 2 pastry strips over center of each bun to form a cross. Trim ends of pastry strips flush with bottoms of buns.

Pastry dough?!?!

In the headnotes they take the time to say that in the early days these buns were docked to make a cross, then they evolved to cross-shaped icing. So I was expecting some kind of icing finale and was completely baffled by this direction. And YES, I should read recipes carefully, all the way through, before I embark upon them but being a flawed individual sometimes I don't.

I just can't reconcile pastry dough with bread dough! Pastry dough is meant to be flaky, to shatter in the mouth--how does that go with springy, spicy bread? If you take one bite will the rest fall off? It just seemed totally bizarre, and after giving it some thought I decided to ignore this direction and instead try two routes--just straight baked buns, and buns that had been docked (cut) on top in the shape of a cross. I used kitchen shears to do that rather than a knife.

Here's how they turned out:

Regular buns:

Docked buns:

I liked the looks of the regular ones, but there were others who thought the docked buns looked more "rustic", which I sometimes suspect is a synonym for "amateurish". But they both tasted just the way you'd expect, which is irresistible.

I was curious to get on epicurious and see a) if the recipe was there and if so b) if reviewers had tried the pastry crosses. It is, and they didn't--every one of the 19 reviewers who mentioned crosses said that they subbed icing.

So it's still a mystery to me. I might try it sometime, just out of a mad desire to see WHY (there must be a reason!) but for now suffice it to say that if you're into sweet yeast breads you will LOVE this recipe.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tomato Gratin with Parmesan Crumbs & Salt and Pepper Grissini

One of my small side jobs is cooking and delivering lunch and dinner for an elderly gent every other day. This has been an interesting job (it's temporary, alas--) because he's just one person, and my challenge to myself has been to take an ingredient (carrots, tomatoes, potatoes etc.) and make it as many different ways as possible so he doesn't feel like he's getting the same meal over and over. The other challenge is to find recipes that don't take extraordinary amounts of time, since I get paid a flat rate for each meal.

The Gourmet Cookbook has been incredibly valuable in this department. For each vegetable you can possibly name, they offer at least one if not more possibilities (and if you're cooking potatoes, you're in luck--a whopping 17 recipes for them, with 6 mashed potato variations to boot.)

This is how I came to Tomato Gratin with Parmesan Crumbs. The only cooking you have to do is saute a little garlic, then mix it with bread crumbs, grated parm, salt and pepper. Sprinkle that over sliced tomatoes and basil, throw in a 500 oven for 15 minutes, and you've got a nice little side dish that goes especially well with fish.

This beautiful photo is not mine, I got it from Eating Well.


The Breads and Crackers chapter is filled with some interesting stuff--talk about a huge subject that must have been hard to narrow down. It's one of the smaller chapters, though, with only a couple of recipes for each subcategory but they go the distance--biscuits, sweetbreads, scones, yeasted breads, rolls, doughnuts, crackers, breadsticks.

I decided to try Salt and Pepper Grissini for a small luncheon at work, and one of the diners used to live in the South--where, she had once told me, the women would vie over who could make the longest, thinnest, crispiest breadsticks.

I think these could be contenders. They are VERY easy to make (just whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a bowl and add buttermilk and melted butter)--the only fiddly part is rolling little pieces into the long, thin dough logs. But take heart, if you were a playdough champion in pre-school this will be relative easy for you.

It was at this point where I wondered where the pepper came in, since it wasn't in the dough, then I went back and read more carefully--you brush the breadsticks with egg white and then you sprinkle with kosher salt and a lot of black pepper.

Bake for 20 minutes in a 350 oven and you've got a great accompaniment to soup and salad. And this IS my beautiful photo--you can tell because of all the junk on the counter in the background.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Curried Greens with Golden Onions and Cashews, or Melissa Gets Eastern

Hey, it's spring, folks. And if you're lucky, the weather has been getting warmer and warmer, and you're taking off a few layers, and possibly you're looking in the mirror at your body when you step out of the shower and saying GAH!!!!

Melissa can help.

And I'm going to float something here that so far I've left out of the conversation, which is an Ayurvedic approach to eating.

Now, stick with me, this isn't going to hurt.

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian approach to considering the body and how you treat it. And here's the basic idea, as it applies to diet.

We like to say there are three body types, more or less--right? Ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph.

Well, in Ayurveda,


But in Ayurveda, it's not just your muscles and bones that gets considered. It's your skin, your digestion, your emotional state. Do you hold grudges forever? That's Kapha. Does your head pop off with road rage? That's Pitta. Are you a scatterbrain? That's Vata.

An Ayurvedic practitioner looks at your whole mental, physical and emotional state and figures out what your type is. If you're curious, take an online quiz and assess yourself!

What's Your Dosha, Baby?
Deepak Chopra's Dosha Questionnaire
Holistic Online

It's not all or nothing. Most likely you'll get an answer that says your primary type (or dosha) is Pitta, secondary Kapha--or something like that.

So what does all of this have to do with Curried Greens with Golden Onions and Cashews? Hang on, I'm getting to it!

Ayurveda also teaches us that certain seasons can aggravate certain doshas. For example, say you're primarily a Pitta. You're Donald Trump, baby, and you want that multi-billion dollar bonus because you deserve it, taxpayers be damned. You're Type A, you think that everybody needs what you're selling (a swift kick in the butt), you'd love to drive if everybody would just get OUT OF YOUR FREAKING WAY.

Summer is not a good time for you, Pitta. Heat inflames irritation, turning it to rage. Stick that hot head in a lake or something.

Likewise, windy fall is a vulnerable time for Vatas (oh, those cold hands and feet!), and winter is a vulnerable time for Kaphas (just leave me alone and let me eat this gigantic fresh-baked loaf of bread with butter while I watch a Star Wars movie marathon, ok?)

But spring...spring is the time when ALL types want to, need to shed the toxins that are stored in the fat, the fat you've been storing up all winter. So when you look at your body and say GAH!, according to ayurveda, certain types of food can help.

Kapha-reducing foods (that's what we want) fire up the metabolism. Spicy food is GREAT. Bitter greens are too. Low-fat dairy, low-glycemic fruits. Vegetable broths, yum.

So FINALLY I'm getting to Curried Greens with Golden Onions and Cashews. It's got loads of spices AND bitter greens--it's really the perfect spring dish. If your primary type is Kapha you might want to skip or reduce the cashews (and cut down on the oil a little bit), but leave them in if you're a Vata. Otherwise, have at it and enjoy the spring!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Honey-Glazed Wax Beans & Bok Choy with Soy Sauce and Butter

I've said it before, but it bears repeating--one of the things I most appreciate about The Gourmet Cookbook is the Vegetables chapter. It's so easy to get into a rut with vegetables, and all too often the solution offered by well-meaning newspaper articles or magazines is to print elaborate recipes that more often intimidate than invite.

Not this cookbook. Yes, there are some exotic veggie recipes here (I'm looking at you, Creamed Chayote with Chives) but the bulk of them take the exact same amount of time you would ordinarily take with something and invite you in at a slightly different angle.

So it is with Honey-Glazed Wax Beans, which simply asks you to toss your steamed beans (and they can be green beans as well) with honey, lemon zest, and salt.

That's it.

And you've completely transformed them. Try it.


When my friend Elizabeth joined me for dinner recently, she wanted to bring an offering from her refrigerator, and because of her involvement with a farm share program happened to have a lot of baby bok choy.

I was excited, because in my never-ending quest to find excuses to cook a new recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook I found Bok Choy with Soy Sauce and Butter.

Soy sauce and butter. Mmmmmm. Back when I didn't give a hoot about either carbs OR fat (or sodium), I used to toss spaghetti with soy sauce and butter, and if I were gilding the lily I'd throw in a little parmesan. I can't tell you what a satisfying mid-afternoon snack that makes.

So I had high hopes for this recipe, even when I saw it also involved oyster sauce, a product I'm not all that crazy about.

This recipe isn't online so I'll just tell you how it goes--stir together equal amounts soy and oyster sauce in a bowl, and add water to thin. Heat a pan, throw in your chopped bok choy and some salt, stir for a bit, then add the soy/oyster sauce + a little butter and stir for a little more til it looks done.

Truth? I thought the finished product was a little watery. It could have been I wasn't using a hot enough pan to evaporate the water, but if I were doing it again I wouldn't use as much (or maybe not any) water in the sauce.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans

Are you pissed off that it's still winter? Comfort yourself with this dish, and feel good that you're using a traditional spring ingredient in a classic winter preparation.

Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans and a glass or two of shiraz will get you through the butt end of this dreadful winter (unless you're a reader from a southern clime, in which case I say Curse You! (just kidding, what I really say is, Can I Come Live With You?))

If your only contact with lamb is lamb stew, or maybe the occasional lamb chop, go out on a limb and try this more unusual cut of meat. Yes, lamb shanks look like those big-ass smoked turkey drumstick things they sell at water parks. No, you do not eat them like that.

Lamb shanks require long, slow cooking, after which they agreeably become soft, and just fall away from the bone at the touch of a fork. Since the weather isn't agreeable, isn't nice to have food that is?

This particular recipe has four components--the lamb, the beans, the gremolata (that's Italian for ha ha, we have fancy garnish and you don't) and the finishing sauce. Don't get alarmed about the finishing sauce, it's not as complicated as it sounds.

In fact, the only thing about this recipe that might cause you pain is using an entire bottle of red wine to cook the lamb shanks, to which I say it's a worthy sacrifice and it doesn't have to be fancy.

And if you want to make this recipe go even faster (since it requires a lot of chopped onion, carrot, celery and garlic) you might pull out your trusty food processor and pulse these things to a small dice--this will bring cut your active time so you can relax and give that shiraz a test run while the lamb and beans are cooking and you're watching your tivoed John Stewart.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Asian Chicken and Water Chestnut Patties

Although I've got plenty of turkey, duck and rabbit recipes left in the Poultry chapter (and I know rabbit isn't a bird, ok?) I don't have very many chicken ones left. In fact, now that I've cooked Asian Chicken and Water Chestnut Patties, I only have two left! I know it's not a whole chapter completed, but it feels like an accomplishment anyway.

I was apprehensive about this recipe because of the unsatisfying experience I had with the salmon burgers
, which is to say that they wouldn't hold together. I was expecting more of the same with these chicken patties.

But right away I could see the difference in cook-friendliness--this recipe lets you use a food processor for both the chicken and the water chestnuts/scallions/jalapenos, and then you just mix them all together with chopped cilantro and salt.

It must be noted here that I either forgot to get a jalapeno at the store or couldn't find one (both scenarios are equally likely) but fortunately I DID have:

which eased my authenticity pangs.

The one part of the recipe I was SURE wouldn't work was the threading-of-patties-onto-a-bamboo-skewer part (three to a skewer), "to facilitate turning". No way, I thought, would those patties adhere enough to hold together during transfer, or turning during cooking.

I was absolutely delighted to be proven wrong. I was careful when I put them in the pan, but the turning proved to be a snap:

Let's hear it for protein shrinkage! One of the only things I remember from Shirley Corriher's magnificent book Cookwise is her explanation of how proteins de-nature during cooking, which is somehow linked to shrinkage, at least in chicken and fish. OK, obviously I don't remember much, just enough to throw around the word "de-nature" which is useful at cocktail parties with biochemists, and yes I've actually been to some of those.

Anyway, my apprehensions were all for naught, and the Asian Chicken Patties were an unqualified success. Dieters take note: this recipe is extremely lean, so if you're trying to think of something imaginative to do with that chicken breast, try this one out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Red Bean and Bacon Soup & Pan-Roasted Mahi-Mahi with Butter and Lime

Red Bean and Bacon Soup is an incredibly satisfying supper, but it brings up the life-long anxiety I've had about beans.

No, not this one:

Beans, beans--good for your heart
the more you eat, the more you...well, you know.

It's this one:


I've soaked dried beans overnight, I've done the "quick-soak" thing, I've used canned...and when ever I used canned I feel like somehow I'm cheating. Like the finished produce will somehow be shoddy.

But baby, it sure is fast. Canned, that is.

I threw expedience to the wind with this recipe, though, and used dried red beans, using the above-mentioned quick-soak, which is (if you don't know) bringing your beans and water to a boil, then covering them and letting them sit somewhere for an hour or two.

OK, now that we've got my neuroses out of the way, right up front, I'll go on to say that this recipe is kind of a pain in the ass but if you've got a little time it's worth it for the end result.

Bacon, of course, adds its deliciousness to the whole thing, in the form of the grease that you cook the soup veggies in at the front, to the crispy bacon bits that you garnish the soup with at the end. Other tasty components include chili powder, medium-dry sherry, and sour cream (as a garnish) in addition to soup regulars like garlic, onions, etc.

And because I don't have a food mill, because I HATE food mills and will never waste my money on one, I just blended the bejeezus out of the cooked soup, all of which is messy and (as I mentioned above) time consuming but worked nicely to create a red bean soup puree.

And now I can't find a good photo to steal. Grrr!

OK, just use your imagination, kids...visualize a bright blue bowl, filled with a brick red pureed soup...with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of crispy bacon, and a spangle of scallion greens.

And now you can picture me with my friend Elizabeth, with whom I used to walk umpteen miles a week but the winter has been so crappy we've lost our routine, so imagine us getting together FINALLY not to walk but to eat this soup and drink red wine and catch up on our lives.



NO, I did not really cook mahimahi. Where do you think I am, the Virgin Islands? But I am relieved that they've stopped calling this fish by the name I used to know it--dolphin--an alarming prospect on a menu for somebody who buys dolphin-free tuna.

Want to see a picture?

Now, I'm not going to tell you about the one deep sea fishing trip I took (in the above-mentioned Virgin Islands) but I will tell you that mahimahi, when it's in the water, is the color of rainbows, and when it's dead, it's gray. Also, if you're at all squeamish, you should never go on a deep sea fishing trip.

I used haddock instead, which for all I know might also be rainbow-colored in the water but I don't think so.

Ah, men and their fishing trips. You don't really see a lot of women in these pictures, I wonder why that is?

Anyway, here in Gloucester we have haddock a-plenty, and so haddock is what I used.

This recipe (Pan-Roasted Mahimahi with Butter and Lime) is ridiculously easy and makes good use of simple, flavorful components. All you need is a skillet you can put in the oven, fish, flour, butter and lime and you're good to go.

It's not in the book so I'll go into detail should you be inclined to try it--preheat your oven to 350, then dredge your seasoned fish in flour. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a skillet and let the fish cook not too long...about 3 mins. Flip them, throw the pan in the oven, let them cook for about another 7-8 minutes, and take them out. Remove the fish from the pan. DON'T FORGET THE HANDLE IS HOT. (duh, you're saying but I've grabbed hot handles more times than I can swear at)Add a little more butter and a lime's worth of lime juice--deglaze the pan (that means stir it while it's boiling for you newbies)and pour that over the fish.

Yum bunnies. You can garnish with parsley, if you want to get fancy, but you don't have to.

Argh! I suck at taking photos these days (I'll make it up to you, I promise) so here's another opportunity to work on your visualization skills...imagine a nice, thick piece of white fish, with the palest brown crust...in a pool of buttery sauce with the sharp perfume and bite of lime.


Gluten-Free recipe in this post: Red Bean and Bacon Soup

Thursday, March 5, 2009

It's Official! Melissa and Ancho Chilies are Getting Married.

Oh, ancho chilies, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. I love thee for thy mysterious, unattainable nature, or at least practically unattainable in New England.

2. I love thee for thy odd, yet simple preparation.

3. I love thee for thy amazing affinity with fruit.

4. I love thee for thy ability to transform thyself from raw-tasting to smooth and polished.

5. I love thee for thy ability to be the base of two amazing sauces, both of which I will discuss here!

Ancho chilies, where have you been all my life? Oh, in Mexico? That's why we've never met. The closest I came was when we lived in Texas, but I was in elementary school then and had a crush on peanut butter.

Then, of course, I lived in Belgium, but was seduced by all that dark chocolate and French bistro cooking--not a bad way to lose one's culinary virginity.

I must confess, I've been faithful to France for years. Decades. Oh, I've had my cheap, one-night flings with Chinese, Indian, and even Korean restaurants. I've flirted with sushi bars and tapas menus.

The closest I came to you was an "authentic" Mexican restaurant on Mt. Desert Island, but I got roughed up by tequila and was afraid to try again.

But here we are, together at last! And in the privacy of my very own kitchen. Nothing, Ancho Chilies, nothing can stop us now. Think of the beautiful music we will make together!

OK, getting down to business--with ancho chilies, my newfound true love, I made two recipes from the book--Grilled Pork Kebabs with Manchamantel Sauce and Duck Breasts with Orange-Ancho Chili Sauce.

Here they are:

OK, I know they don't look very glamorous. And can I also just stop and say how hard it is to find these freaking things? They are NOT in the stores around here, not even the wonderful Market Basket. I happened to be in The Fruitful Basket and noticed Bobby had some poblanos out on display. When I remarked on them (cuz I never see those suckers around either) he said he also had some anchos in the back that a local restaurant had ordered--he had tons. Well, not tons. A ton of dried chilies would take up a lot of space. He wasn't even going to put them out because nobody would buy them.

Well, by now you know I'm not just any ordinary nobody. I bought one bag...then another. I won't say it's like buying pot, because I have NO IDEA what that's like, but from what I HEAR it's kind of the same illicit feeling.

Anyway, both of these recipes have you deal with your anchos the same way. You start by toasting them for 30-40 seconds in a dry skillet.

Why? I don't know. It does seem to soften them up a bit, make them slightly more pliable. They do get a little darker. You don't really keep them on there long enough to make a flavor difference, I don't think, but then again nori sheets only take a second to toast.

Then they get a nice long hot bath. Ahhhhh.

At this point they're soft, and can be de-seeded and -stemmed, and chopped up for the next stage.

The next stage for the Manchamantel Sauce was to put them in the blender with stock, some bananas, pineapple, cinnamon, cloves, and some previously sauteed onions and garlic.

For the Ancho-Orange Sauce, the next stage was to put them in a blender with garlic and some chili bath water, and then add it to some caramel that you've just made, thinned out with some fresh-squeezed orange juice.

For both of these sauces, the critical final stage is to cook them in the frying pan for about five minutes.

This smooths out the rough edges.

And, eh voila! I mean, mira!

Pork kebabs:

and duck breasts to go:

(the ancho-chili sauce is under the meat, but it's there, I promise)

But wait! I hear you conservative New England palates cry out...aren't these chilies hot? How can you deliver duck breasts with chili sauce to an 87 year-old man for lunch?

That's the thing, people. They're not hot. These sauces are like the best fruit ketchups you've ever had in your life, ever. Why there isn't more than one type of ketchup out there is beyond me but I think either one of these could give Heinz a run for their money.

I don't know how you're going to try these unless you live somewhere else that sells them, or order things through the mail, or have a connection.

But try them you must. I'm into open marriages (with my dinner ingredients), and I'm willing to share.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Foolproof Basmati Rice & Wild Rice and Toasted Almond Pilaf

Having a backlog of about twenty recipes to write about, I figured I'd categorize them by, well, category. So here we have not one but TWO grain recipes, and they couldn't be more different!

Why, I hear you ask?

Cost, time and effort.

It's not that the Wild Rice and Toasted Almond Pilaf is all that complicated. It really isn't (though it is expensive--$12 for 2 cups of wild rice). You saute an onion in oil, then add the rice, stirring until it's fragrant. Then pour in the stock and cook for an hour or more, depending on when the grain starts to splay open.

In the meantime, you've sauteed sliced almonds in butter, salt and pepper, and that gets tossed with the cooked grains.

This isn't my photo, but it's close to the idea.

This recipe makes a lot, and it served as a great in-the-fridge side dish for the rest of the week. If I were going to change one thing about it, I would use sliced almonds rather than slivered--something about the pointy nature of slivered almonds makes the almonds + wild rice a formidable texture experience. Just sayin'.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Foolproof Basmati Rice.

Are you Rice Cooking Impaired? This is the recipe for you. There is absolutely no way you can f--- this recipe up.

Here we go. Put two cups of basmati rice in a microwave safe dish. Add three cups of water. Microwave, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Cover, microwave for five more minutes. Let it stand for five minutes, covered, then fluff with a fork.

That's it. I'm serious.

It makes perfect rice.

This is the exact dish for a) somebody having a dinner party who has the burners occupied by other things b) people who HATE IT when they're cooking rice and the rice water boils over and gets all over the stove c)people who've got other things going on. Like maybe, a new baby?