"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".

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Melissa Atones by Writing a List

Hey folks, remember when I said my life was sort of kind of a little busy and kind of crazy? Nothing has changed! The bad news is, less time for blogging. The good news is, I'm still cooking.

That's right--these past few months I've been cooking one or two recipes a week out of Gourmet Today, and here they are.

Vodka, ginger beer and lime juice. What could go wrong? Nothing! The big revelation here was finding Goya Jamaican Style Ginger Beer, which is ten thousand times better than Cap't Eli's. I had a taste-test (of two) and declare this the winner.

Friend with overflowing garden + craving soup = thinking this is a pretty good recipe to try. Tons-o-greens in this--we're talking turnip, cabbage, beet, mustard, spinach, parsley...all made much less healthy by a few ham hocks.

And hey, guess what? 1 pound Salt pork DOES NOT EQUAL two pounds of meaty ham hocks! A) I curse Stop n Shop for being so White and b) sadly, I ruined this soup because I was too lazy to drive to Market Basket and get the effing ham hocks.

That doesn't mean I didn't give it a shot. But salty--holy jesus.

I have a friend, Burak. He's from Turkey, and he not only loves food in general, he loves food from his homeland. We are constantly talking about having a dinner party featuring Turkish food, or going to this or that restaurant that serves Turkish food, so it was with NO SMALL AMOUNT OF GUILT that I whipped up this recipe and didn't alert Burak (who lives two hours away in Portland) to come help us eat it.

I did tell him about it the next time I saw him, though, and carefully described the ingredients of the burgers, and the walnut sauce (which, btw, is just walnuts ground w/ a little water, lemon juice and spices).

When I mentioned cayenne, though, Burak brought me up short.

"That is not Turkish."
"It was just a little bit! Just, like, a tiny little pinch."
"No. There really is no cayenne in Turkish food."
"So putting cayenne in something makes it not Turkish?"
"That's right."

So there you go. That must be why this recipe is called Turkish-STYLE. And the bonus was I didn't have to feel guilty any more.

Hey, it's turning cold and what better to take the chill off than a little spicy chili? This is a southwestern-style lamb chili and it's not for the faint of heart what with all the New Mexico chiles and canned chipotle in adobo. Don't make this one for your granny.

How did I screw this one up? By not being able to find masa harina (not even in Market Basket) and just guessing that coarse cornmeal might be pretty much the same thing. Guess what--it's not. So the dumpling batter didn't hold together at all, and really what it ended up being was a flavorful thickener to this already pretty thick chili.

But--delicious! Plain Greek-style yogurt was awesome on top. Oh I forgot the other pain-in-the-ass moment, which was that I could only find lamb shoulder chops (bone-in). Ugh, so tedious to trim those. I hear that meat markets are coming back into style--I have to go find a few that I like because this supermarket stuff is for the birds.


That's all you need to know, really. Go make them.

Happy 17th birthday to O'Malley! As I do every year, I asked my son what he wanted for a cake. And as is his way, he was far more concerned with the tastes of his guests than what he desired for himself. It went like this:

"Zack doesn't like chocolate."
"Well, it's not Zack's birthday. It's your birthday. What do you want?"
"Aedan LOVES chocolate."
"And I'm guessing Brittany does too. What about Ben?"
"He'll eat anything."

Since O'Malley also likes chocolate, then we went through the chocolate cake options in Gourmet Today--Devil's Food Cake with Marshmallow Frosting, Double Chocolate Layer Cake, Chocolate Sour Cream Layer Cake, and so on. And O'Malley (as is his way) wanted the one that sounded the most sophisticated, which was this one.

This recipe involves making caramel (which I've done a gazillion times now, thanks to The Gourmet Cookbook)--but really the surprise in this recipe is that the orange caramel sauce is not really caramely in the way that you're thinking (like a kind of gooey ice cream topping). It's actually caramel-flavored orange juice, which you pour over the cake.

Not what I was expecting, but very good nevertheless. The kids loved it--ate it up with ice cream while they watched Harold and Maude. Isn't that a cool birthday?

It's nice to remember every once in a while that dessert doesn't have to involve flour and chocolate. This is a nice poached fruit recipe that calls for chai in the poaching liquid--this is great with vanilla ice cream or just on its own.

And that's my repentant wrap-up! Big thanks to the photographers of Epicurious-all the photos you see here are pulled from that site. I guess it's kind of a symbiotic relationship.

Happy fall, people! Go apple-picking.


Gluten-free recipes in this post: Chai-Poached Apricots and Plums, Gumbo Z'Herbes, Moscow Mule

Low-carb recipe in this post: Gumbo Z'Herbes

Recipe WIN in this post: Chockfull Blondies

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mint Lassi

I like lassis a lot, but here's the thing. When it comes right down to it, they're essentially fruit smoothies, if you get the mango kind. Order one with dinner at an Indian restaurant, and you feel like you're having dinner and dessert at the same time. They're sweet and they're filling!

But have you ever been at an Indian place and seen the other option for lassis? Salty. You might be thinking, why the heck would I want a salty smoothie? I know it's not exactly the American Way, but believe it or not a drink that's tart and salty is incredibly refreshing. Add mint and toasted cumin and you'll feel like you're a stranger in a strange but delightful land.

Here's how you make a Mint Lassi: pulse 1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp toasted cumin seeds in a blender until the mint is pretty well chopped. Add 2 cups of yogurt (the recipe calls for whole milk; I used nonfat) and 2 cups ice (the recipe calls for crushed ice; I used cubes). Blend 'til smooth.

At this point you can refrigerate (as the recipe suggests) to let the flavors meld and then serve over ice. You can also garnish with a lemon wedge and mint leaves. As you can see from the photo above, I poured that sucker right into a glass and drank it straight. Must have been a hot day.

Athletes! This is a GREAT recovery drink after a workout. The salt helps to replace lost electrolytes, and as much as I admire pickle juice for electrolyte recovery, mint lassis taste better. And no, I am not kidding about pickle juice.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fresh Cod Cakes from Gourmet Today

Astute readers will notice that the last few recipes have been from Gourmet Today, not The Gourmet Cookbook. Why is that, you may wonder?

Well, some of it is because Gourmet Today is Shiny and New. Crisp white pages unmarred by spills or spatters, binding intact, and best of all, over a thousand new recipes that I haven't even started to explore yet (where I have paged through The Gourmet Cookbook hundreds and hundreds of times).

Part of it is that I've exhausted the possibilities for a particular ingredient (as in today's case)--so I turn to the new cookbook for a recipe. Part of it is that it has categories the first book doesn't (can anybody say Cocktails?)

But most of it is because Melissa is The Girl who is Severely Pressed for Time.

I won't be tedious and list off all my vocational and avocational distractions but the beautiful thing is, guess what? I'm the target demographic for Gourmet Today which is to say I'm the person who wants healthy gourmet food super quick because I don't have any frickin' time. In fact, this is the little mental exercises I go through when I read a recipe. If at any point I think to myself "This looks like a pain in the ass", it goes into the "Do it Later--Much Later" category. That cuts out a lot.

So what that means for you, dear reader, is that you can look forward to double the fun here at Melissa Cooks Gourmet--and I am certainly eating my words from when I protested overly much last summer that I was NOT blogging this cookbook (do you hear me?) NOT (except well maybe for Drinks, Grilled Food and Vegetarian Entrees) NOT no matter how flattered I was to get a personal note from Ms. Reichl.

I take it all back, as I so often do.

Which leads us to today's recipe, Fresh Cod Cakes.

In case you don't know, I live on Cape Ann. See where the 39 is? That's about where I live. If you can't see the 39, it's over there by where it says Rockport Harbor. Except I live on land, of course.

And living in such a spiffy location means that it's not unusual for something like this to happen: you're at a party, and a guy is late, and you call him and say WHERE THE HECK ARE YOU and he says OH I JUST GOT OFF THE BOAT I'LL BE RIGHT THERE. And at some point in the night he puts 80 lbs. of filleted fish in the host's fridge and says HEY IF ANYBODY WANTS FISH I PUT IT IN THE FRIDGE. And everybody forgets about the fish and goes home all happy and warm and fuzzy and around midnight the host sends an emergency email saying FOR PETE'S SAKE COME TAKE THIS FISH OUT OF MY FRIDGE!!!!!!! And you go and get some the next day. A lot. And you get some for your friends who live near you who were at the party and you are a fish delivery girl, spreading joy and fish.

And that leads us (again) to Fresh Cod Cakes!

The head notes tell us that traditionally cod cakes are made with dried salt cod and potatoes (and for more on this subject (including recipes) please see the excellent and highly readable book by Mr. Mark Kurlansky called Cod.)

Here, we use fresh cod, bread, a little egg and some veggies (celery, scallions, parsely), which makes it much lighter. The recipe asks for 5 slices of bread for a pound of cod--they say white bread but all I had kicking around was some Ezekial Bread and some other multi-grain stuff and that's what I used. Everything gets pulsed in the food processor, seperately...a batch of bread crumbs, the veggies all together, and then the fish, being careful not to make fish paste.

Only a cup of the crumbs go in the fish mix--the rest are used for coating--and you mix it all up in a bowl with 1 egg and a little s&p. Then make patties and press the remaining crumbs all around the outside. Let them rest in the fridge for about ten minutes and then fry those babies up!

Hey by the way what do you think of my new frying pan? We had some of that expensive Calphalon stuff but now the nonstick whatever it is is starting to come up so we're replacing it. I like it because it's shiny.

Anyway, if you have some fish on your hands, give these a try--they're great. A totally satisfying meal with a simple green salad. Not too bready, and not dense at all.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ladybug from Gourmet Today, or Melissa Needs a Drink

Sometimes, I plan ahead. Like when I had leftover watermelon from the 4th, I thought huh--I seem to recall some spiffy recipes using watermelon in one of those cookbooks...and sure enough, one of the very first drinks in the Drinks chapter of Gourmet Today is the charmingly named Ladybug, which calls for frozen watermelon, vodka, sugar and limes.

So I lined a cookie sheet with plastic wrap, set out a single layer of watermelon chunks, and tucked them into the freezer. So far, so good! I figured I'd pick up some vodka and limes on the way home from work, since all I had kicking around was some gin...and although I had Rose's Lime Juice (which is pretty much limes+sugar), I wanted to follow the recipe as directed.

Well. You know that 100 degree, high humidity, record-breaking day we had the other day? The day where also my car's air conditioner AND our house's central cooling was broken? That day? I picked up neither vodka nor limes but by god nothing was going to stop me from making a drink with that frozen watermelon so Hello gin and Rose's Lime Juice, the able substitutes.

I dumped it all in the blender, ignoring the directions to let the frozen watermelon thaw for fifteen-twenty minutes, and fired it up.


Well, actually I got a little frothy gin, but the watermelon? Immovable and unblendable.

I tried again, and again, and again until my son pointed out that the motor was starting to smell funny, and finally I set the EFFING timer on the microwave for EFFING fifteen minutes, and stormed off to do something hot and sticky like fold the EFFING laundry. Isn't it weird how hot weather makes you swear?

When I tried it again I got a lot more gin froth, but finally, finally and ever so finally the watermelon started to move and blend and I got:


Don't ask me why my blender makes short work of ice cubes but is a wussy blender with frozen watermelon chunks. That's a big mystery that probably won't get solved here. But I'm here to report that the Ladybug is DELICIOUS and should you too be practically perishing from the heat give this one a try--use vodka to be authentic but I can attest that gin works just fine, thanks! As for sugar + lime vs. Rose's Lime Juice, that's your call.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Garam-Masala Rubbed Flank Steak from Gourmet Today

Garam Masala is a spice mix whose time has come. Remember curry powder? Ah, curried chicken salad with grapes--what's a luncheon from the past 30 years without you? And chili powder--how could we get through Superbowl Sunday without chili con carne courtesy of you?

And like all things that can be made from scratch (also bread, cookies, ice cream, and beer, just to name a very few) Garam Masala can also now be found pre-mixed for your convenience, and THAT'S how I know its time has come--McCormick Spices sells a blend AND there's a recipe featuring it in Gourmet Today.

Like many recipes in both Gourmet cookbooks, Garam Masala-Rubbed Flank Steak gives you a helpful recipe for making your own mix but since I had some on my shelf I thought I'd use it up because like all spices the aroma fades in time and better to move it out.

So, this isn't rocket science folks. Steak + salt&pepper + garam masala. Rub it all together in a loving fashion. Fire up grill and commence with the summertime pleasure of charring meat.

If you're not quite sold on a new and strange spice mix, at least not enough invest 4 bucks or so at your grocery, I'll tell you that it's kind of like curry powder but with cinnamon and clove much more prominent. So there's a warming, almost sweet undertone to it. Yesterday I mixed garam masala with salt, pepper and brown sugar, rolled whole carrots around in it and grilled...home run with my guests at our 4th of July bbq.

So keep your eyes open at the luncheons you attend for oh, the next 30 years or so...garam masala chicken salad with pecans and pineapple, garam masala deviled eggs...you read it here first!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chinese-Style Steamed Shrimp with Garlic and Scallions

Looking for a nice, light, low-diet-impact summer dish? Here it is.

I've been skirting around Chinese-Style Steamed Shrimp with Garlic and Scallions because it required a piece of kitchen equipment I didn't have--two actually: a bamboo steamer and a wok. I'm going to not get distracted by how stupid I think it is to use woks on a western-style stove (I'm sure I mention it elsewhere) and just say that I figured one day I'd pick up a bamboo steamer which might be kind of cool and useful.

Then I actually read the directions for this recipe which ask you to put the marinated shrimp on a plate or in a bowl and put THAT inside the steamer and commence with steaming. So really, the wok and the bamboo steamer are just container/platform for the true essential ingredients here: shrimp, and steam.

Containers I got; steamers I got--plenty. So I rigged up the above arrangement, a bowl of shrimp inside a steamer inset inside a soup pot. Guess what? It worked great. It didn't look as authentic while I was doing it as a bamboo steamer inside a wok would have, but let's face it--my people are from northern Europe, not China and there's no way that scene ever really would have been authentic anyway.

Comments on the recipe--if you make this, please note that you steam this long enough to cook the shrimp, but not really long enough to cook the garlic and the ginger--so mince those suckers up if you're in the habit of sloppy chopping (like I am). The flavors were delicious and I ate the leftovers with scrambled eggs for two days in a row.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Halibut with Grapefruit Beurre Blanc

I am so happy to have finally made Halibut with Grapefruit Beurre Blanc. Why? Because this recipe starts with my favorite sentence in the entire Gourmet Cookbook: Halibut is not a strongly flavored fish and can benefit from intrigue.

Who ever wrote that sentence, I would like to kiss you.

Beurre blanc is one of those fancy French sauces that probably intimidates you, if you've ever heard of it. But really, it's pretty simple if you just watch the heat. The idea is to reduce liquid (usually some combo of citrus juice, white wine, vinegar and shallots) until you've got something thick and jammy. Then add cold butter by the tablespoon until you've got heaven in a saucepan. Here's my mis en place:

The recipe instructs you to place the sauce in a metal bowl over a saucepan of hot water to keep warm...but I've had sauce break in that scenario so I just left it on the counter, counting on the hot food to warm it back up.

The fish is simply pan-cooked with salt and pepper, then set aside in a warm oven while you saute sliced shitake caps and chopped endive and stir in reserved grapefruit segments.

I love grapefruit (and I love butter) so I wasn't surprised that this dinner hit all the right buttons for me. The citrus was a nice counterpoint to the umame of the mushrooms and the bitterness of the endive and the sauce gave the fish a nice silky coat. If you're on the fence about trying meals like this, I say go for it--learn how easy it really is to make a good sauce. Besides, haven't you already read one of those books about how French women are doing it better than we are? Make this and feel superior.

As for the intrigue--since you can see that I scarcely even mentioned the fish, I suppose it worked! It was kind of like throwing a dinner party and inviting a bunch of interesting, outspoken people to balance out your shy, sweet sister-in-law. Okay, I'm stretching here but you get the picture.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Passover Sponge Cake with Apples

With this post, I present to you the fifth-to-last cake in the cake chapter. I'm closing in on it!

Passover, as you may or may not know, poses a certain challenge to cooks since there are strict dietary rules around, well, everything. But especially baked goods since leavening is not allowed, nor are certain grains. So what's an intrepid baker to do?

Fortunately all that really needs to be done is to find a few good recipes and hit your local market for items you might have otherwise overlooked, like matzo cake meal and potato starch. There are many recipes in The Gourmet Cookbook that are appropriate for Jewish holidays, and Passover Sponge Cake with Apples is one of them.

The loft in this cake is provided by egg whites beaten to stiff peaks and folded into a base of yolks, sugar, lemon juice, matzo-meal and potato starch. You get a layered effect by alternating the cake batter with apple slices and cinnamon sugar.

This is a very pleasant cake but a little on the dry side so it's improved greatly by something to make it juicier, like whipped cream, ice cream or macerated fruit. Are those things kosher for Passover? I'm not exactly sure, but since I'm not Jewish I won't worry about it too much.

But since we're on the subject, I have a few things to report from friends who are--my neighbor Don who scoffed at this recipe and said that nothing can beat his flourless chocolate torte (I'm inclined to believe him) and our local rabbi, who told me while we were working out (he takes karate too) that a week of eating matzo is enough to wring the evil out of anybody.

So, if you're feeling evil but want to get right AND if you hate chocolate, give this recipe a shot. Otherwise let me know and I'll see if I can get the recipe for Don's flourless chocolate torte.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

9 Winter Recipes

The quandary of cook-through food blogging: what is more important, cooking the recipes, or blogging about them? When I have to choose one or the other due to time constraints, cooking always wins. Not the best scenario for you, dear reader, but luckily I don't have any scruples about combining many dishes into one post.

So here for your reading pleasure is a catch-up post on what's been happening in the Palladino kitchen over the last few months.

When I was a kid, if you asked me if I hated any foods I would have promptly said "hot dogs and lima beans". But now I see that it's all in the preparation (although I'm sorry to say the only thing you can do to improve hot dogs is drown out their taste with the spiciest chili imaginable).

After you've cooked limas with an onion and some garlic, you whiz them up in a food processor with herbs, spices, lemon juice and olive oil. If you're squeamish about spending the bucks for all those fresh herbs in the market (because this calls for fresh cilantro, parsley, dill AND mint) wait for summer when they're abundant and free if you know the right gardeners.

This recipe is a win. I could eat it every day.

Of the many bean-based soups in the book, this one has got to be the fastest. A few cans of black-eyed peas, a slab of ham, diced, a little chicken broth and some collards and hey presto--you've got soup. Very satisfying and if you sweat your onions instead of sauteing them you've got a good spring dieting soup too. Please note that's not my photo--thanks to iamglutenfree.blogspot.com for the swipe (at least I think that's what the script says).

I'm always a little nervous about using bitter greens in salad but I guess they have their place in the universe. One place they occupy nicely is as a counterpoint to a rich entree, like the Shrimp in Coconut Milk, seen here all snuggled up on the same plate.

This salad was pretty good though it called for vast and amazing amounts of chicory to be trimmed away (the dark green outer leaves--good for soups, says the book). If your chicory is like my chicory you can't wash it enough--it must be grown primarily in sand so take heed and wash wash wash. The best way to do it I think is to put the leaves in a big pot or bowl of cold water and let the sand sink to the bottom.

Would I make this salad again? Maybe!

Again, not my photo, and not fully accurate--imagine cubes of creamy white tofu mixed in. Thanks to Recipes for a Postmodern Planet for the swipe.

This recipe was beyond fantastic because of the spices. If you like Indian food in general, you'll swoon over this. It calls for Garam Masala which you can make but also now (thanks to McCormick's ever-adventuresome spice offerings) buy pre-mixed in the supermarket. Vegetarians, this one's for you.

Cauliflower is not the first vegetable I turn to in the produce section when I'm grabbing stuff for dinner. It's not even the second one, and actually not the third one. In fact it might be somewhere down the list with broccoli rabe. Why? It's a perfectly innocuous vegetable but it seems sort of boring and also it's white which makes it seem somehow less healthy than green and orange things which of course is nonsense.

If you too feel uninspired by cauliflower look no further than this dish to create a little excitement with flavors that really pop and an ingredient that actually literally pops--mustard seeds, when heated in a skillet, will pop right out of the pan. So be careful. And enjoy this one--it's a nice way to mix up your weekday veggie repertoire.

Trying to eat less meat? This is a quick week-day supper that will give you veggies, protein and fiber all in one fell swoop and it's also super fast and great for lunch the next day. Sometimes that's all you really need so if this is one of those times, go for it.

Sweet Potato Pie with Bourbon Cream

Aw, just when you thought I was getting all healthy on you with all these veggies and beans--no way, brothers and sisters. My dedication to butterfat remains as constant as ever. I am also pretty close to finishing the Pie chapter so I took the opportunity at our last book group (Serena by Ron Rash in case you're wondering) to make this pie.

What's different about this pie? Frankly I was amazed at how many of my fellow book groupies had never had sweet potato pie so that's different--might be a new experience for your diners. Two, the sweets potatoes are roasted, not boiled. Pretty subtle. Other than that it's just a good old sweet potato pie made with bourbon, and topped with heavy cream flavored with more bourbon. Can you really go wrong here? I think not.

Lemon Pound Cake

With this cake done, I can now count the remaining cake recipes on one hand. Five left, people!!

I made this for my writer's group and it was pretty easy to put together (if you don't mind zesting a gazillion lemons)--my only problem with it was that it just wouldn't finish baking in the middle. See that crack up there? I baked this pound cake for well over an hour and that one spot just wouldn't bake. Weird and vexing but it was still delicious (if slightly, er, moist in that center part). The book suggests serving with strawberries and I did.

Hmm, maybe I'll make that Passover Sponge Cake for my writer's group tonight.....

This is one of the recipes I thought I would never get around to making. For one thing it calls for a special mold and for another it seems fantastically complicated. But, somewhere around Valentine's Day I found myself having a dinner party and since we inherited some heart-shaped molds from our neighbor Marjorie

it seemed like the obvious dessert choice.

Make no mistake--this dessert is kind of a pain. Anything that asks you to force a solid through a fine sieve is going to be irritating. Ditto for lining the little molds--individually--with damp cheesecloth. But what a pay-off! A sweet little dessert that will melt the hearts of your friends and loved ones, and the portion size is just right for a tasty but not too filling treat. Anybody local who wants to try this I'm happy to lend you these molds.

So that's the wrap-up, folks! Thanks for being patient, and I'll see you back here soon.


Paleolithic recipes in this post: Cauliflower with Ginger and Mustard Seeds

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Glazed Duck with Clementine Sauce

I was at work the other day when this guy, Otis, flagged me down.

"Hey Melissa," he said, "any tips for cooking duck? Whenever I've tried it, it doesn't really work out that well."

Turns out he was roasting it like a chicken--just throwing it in a 375 oven and letting the heat do its work. Problem was he was getting tough, stringy meat, and was kind of turned off by all that fatty skin.

How DO you cook duck? There are a few recipes for it in the book--one is the fantastic Duck Legs and Carrots, where you submerge the legs halfway in broth (and carrots), leaving the skin cresting above to get nice and crispy. Another is Duck Breasts with Orange-Ancho Chili Sauce, which I loved so much I decided to marry. (You think I'm kidding, don't you? I'm not.)

And then of course there's the not-yet-embarked-upon Fragrant Crispy Duck, a day-long, multi-step procedure that includes the use of an electric fan. Stay tuned for that, but not today.

So here's the thing with duck. One troublesome area is the ginormous layer of fat on top of the very lean breast meat. The other is that the breast meat and the legs take to different cooking types of cooking--the legs like to be well cooked, while the breast meat is pretty awesome when it's seared on the outside and cooked to medium rare, just like your favorite steak.

I was curious to see how Glazed Duck with Clementine Sauce would tackle this situation, and here's how they do it--using a Chinese technique called "twice-cooked".

And what does that mean, exactly? Well, it goes in the oven twice, but the first time is covered in a medium oven for a long time--2 hours--and then a high-heat finishing at 500 for 30 minutes or so to crisp up the skin.

This is how the first part goes: you loosen up the fat layer on the breast by sliding your fingers around in between the meat and the skin and prick it with a fork, the better to help the fat escape. Rub salt all over the duck, put quartered onions and celery ribs in the cavity, and sprinkle a little sugar around the sides. Then pour boiling water OVER the ducks (the skin tightens right up--it's kind of amazing) and fill the pan halfway. Then cover it up and throw it in the oven for two hours, pulling it out halfway to flip it over.

I have to say, my duck didn't look very promising when I took it out after this step:

It goes into the fridge after this for four hours to "firm up", and all of the cooking liquid goes in too--so the fat solidifies on top and you can get rid of it. And although this is a scary looking duck up there, take a look at the skin--looks like normal, right? No half-inch layer of fat. That's because the braising melted it all away.

When you've returned to this project after, say, doing your taxes or catching up on a season's worth of The Fringe, you start on the sauce.

That's 2 cups of fresh-squeezed clementine juice and finely sliced zest from the peel, which gets blanched in boiling water. The juice is brought to a boil with vinegar and suager, and reduced to about 1/3 cup. A little bit of this is set aside for the glaze, and then the zest and 1 cup of de-fatted cooking liquid gets stirred into the rest.

And now! The transformation! The duck is roasted at 500 until the skin is crisp, and then brushed with glaze. And--voila!

I know, can you believe it? Then there's some more sauce-finishing that involves shallots and Cointreau and whatnot--and the finished plate is--ta da!

It almost doesn't matter how it tastes because it looks so good but you'll be happy to hear it tasted as good as it looks. Which is saying a lot.

Otis--here's your duck recipe. You're welcome!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Shrimp in Coconut Milk

Hello, native shrimp. We've met before. Oh, you don't remember? Think back to a few summers ago to the Seafood Smackdown...

Where the mystery seafood, unveiled at the last moment, was Native Shrimp. Five pounds of it, beautifully cleaned, with which we made fancy little lettuce-wrapped shrimp bundles:

That were oh so tasty and delicious but lost by one point to the cream sauce-laden fried spaghetti bowls next door. Ah well, should we really be surprised?

You may not know that the North Atlantic has shrimp. I actually got into a big argument with my first husband once when I said that I had seen a little shrimp frolicking in the tidal waters and sea grass behind our cabin on North Haven. No shrimp around here, he said. Oh yes there are, said I.

This is what they look like, uncooked:

That's right, in their natural state, they're pink. Unlike the shrimp we buy from the supermarket, which look like this:

...and then turn pink. If you would like to read a boring paper about different types of shrimp and where they live, what they eat, where they spawn, and how they're affected by temperature, go here.

So if I didn't get these fancy shrimp in the supermarket, where did I get them? Regular readers know that I participate in a CSF, or Community Supported Fishery, where I pick up 4-6 lbs of whole fish once a week (well, every other week since I'm splitting it with my friend Elizabeth) and the winter share includes shrimp. Yay for winter!

Except, boo for winter because 4-6 pounds of shrimp turns out to be really time consuming to behead and beshell! So I'm finally getting back around to one of the points of mentioning the Seafood Smackdown up there, which is that you'll notice that I said we were given 5 lbs of beautifully cleaned shrimp, and NOW I KNOW how tedious that process is. Thank you, anonymous shrimp-cleaner, whoever you are!

So finally we come to the meal of the day here, which is Shrimp in Coconut Milk.

Mmm. You might be thinking coconut milk = southeast Asian, but you'd be wrong--this was inspired (say the headnotes) by a trip to Brazil, (where some cook there was probably inspired by a trip to southeast Asia.) How do you make it? Like so:

Make a shrimp stock by boiling your shrimp shells in water, and while you're doing that, mix up the shrimp with some lime juice and salt and throw it in the fridge. Then saute garlic, bell peppers and onions in a pan, add a little flour for thickening, then a big can of diced tomatoes, a can of coconut milk and 2 cups of shrimp stock. Let it cook until the veggies are tender, then toss in the shrimp. Sprinkle with cilantro and scallions, serve over rice, and you've got dinner!

How was it? I screwed up the rice. I combined two types of long-grain white rice and somehow half the rice was over cooked and the other half was undercooked and all I could think of was This Would Totally Get Me Kicked Off Top Chef. Fellow chefs, former chefs, would-be chefs, don't tell me you don't think exactly the same way, imagining Tom Colicchio shaking his head in sorrow and disbelief that you could have screwed up something so basic, which we all do from time to time. Piss off, Tom Colicchio, and get out of my head--I lost all respect for you when you started shilling for Diet Coke. And I'll cook the rice better next time.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chocolate Bread Pudding and Key Lime Pie

You might think, readers, that the desserts remaining to be made in The Gourmet Cookbook are overly complicated, and thus the wait.

Actually, not so! Well, not so for ALL of them--there are a few that I look over from time-to-time (like oh for example Individual Chocolate Raspberry Baked Alaskas) and I get tired just looking at them. Someday, Baked Alaskas...but not today.

But! There are some recipes I just hadn't gotten around to that are delightfully uncomplicated (with spectacular results). These are two of them.

This is not my photo--I was too busy hostessing to snap a pic. Thank you, Nothing But Love!

Like many bread puddings, this calls for day-old bread and if you're a savvy shopper (or just too disorganized to plan ahead) you'll remember that your local supermarket sells day-old bread for next to nothing.

Bring cream and milk to a simmer, and pour it over chopped up unsweetened chocolate. You know, the stuff that's definitely in your cupboard because no matter how desperate you get for chocolate, you can't bring yourself to eat it. While that's melting, toss bread cubes with melted butter and put them in a square casserole dish. Whisk a few eggs into the milk and melted chocolate, add sugar and a little vanilla and salt, let it all soak together in a the casserole dish for an hour and then throw that baby in the oven.

That's it! 45 minutes, and done! Serve to your grateful chocolate-loving guests with some fresh whipped cream and feel the love.

The headnotes for this recipe promise that once you make this dessert you'll understand why it's on so many restaurant menus--great dessert for very little effort. And yes, I've made key lime pie before, but technically not THIS recipe, which might not be different from whatever recipe I've used before, who can remember these things?

Anyway, couldn't be simpler. Toss graham cracker crumbs with melted butter and bake in a pie plate for 10 minutes. While it's baking, whisk together 4 egg yolks with a can of sweetened condensed milk and 6 tablespoons of lime juice. I squeezed my own limes, and not key limes either--just plain old limes from the supermarket. Pour this into the pie shell, and bake for 15 minutes. Chill for 8 hours, the recipe says, but mine was perfectly set in 2.

Top with fresh whipped cream and man, is this a good dessert! We had it after Baja-style fish tacos...perfect for a Mexican themed meal.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Beef Tenderloin with Bordelaise Sauce

Behold my father-in-law.

Son of an Italian restaurateur; a Navy cook at age 18; a restaurateur himself for almost four decades--this is a man who sees life through a filter of family and food.

A lot of food. Don't believe me? Check out Christmas dinner for 9 adults and 1 toddler:

A feast! Lovingly and thoughtfully prepared and designed to ensure that nobody goes hungry. But Don Sr.'s concern for the comfort and well-being of others doesn't just end at his own table, which is why I wasn't at all surprised when he pulled me aside during our visit and told me that he had purchased two beef tenderloins and he wanted us to take them home and wine and dine my parents for a New Year's Day dinner. Love, via food, crossing state lines.

Now, you might read that--beef tenderloin, and think, oh, the steak--because that IS what we call the steak cut from the beef tenderloin. You're thinking this:

But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about a whole beef tenderloin. Like this:

Two of them.

Obviously this calls for more than just a four-person dinner party, don't you think? And exploring the recipes in the Gourmet Cookbook, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to make Beef Tenderloin with Bordelaise Sauce.

So apparently Bordelaise Sauce is a French classic--a quick look at the ingredients and you can see it calls for the usual suspects in a French sauce--veal stock, dry red Bordeaux, aromatics...but it does have one unusual (and optional) ingredient--something I have never come across--beef marrow bones.

Now, my chef friends are perhaps thinking--oh, they're roasted and made into stock, or something along those lines--nope. This is what you do...

Rinse them, then put them in a bowl with warm water to soak for about ten minutes. Why? Because you're going to push the marrow out and throw the bones away. Now that you've got all these semi-soft marrow cylinders, you cut them into 1/8 inch rounds and put them in a bowl where you cover them with cold water. And then let them soak for 24 hours, changing the water twice.

Why the 24 hour cold soak? And the water change? I can honestly tell you (after doing it) that I have absolutely no idea. I couldn't see that anything significant was being poured off while I was changing the water (unlike, say, soaking salt cod). So, I just don't know. If you know, enlighten me! Also you can see those are hardly 1/8 inch wide--more like a 1/3. So sue me.

Anyway, then you make the sauce--you combine the wine, stock etc, and boil til reduced to a tiny little bit of liquid. Here's the starting pot:

...and in this case I reduced it to 2/3 a cup since I was doubling the recipe. Then you add the veal stock (in my case beef stock--sorry Thomas Keller) and bring it to a boil...strain, thicken with arrowroot and add a little Madeira. I would also like to take a moment to be grateful for the patience of liquor store owners everywhere who have to put up with people like me, who wander in asking for "dry" Madeira because a recipe calls for it.

That's it. There's your sauce. You might be wondering where the marrow comes in? Hang on...

You can make the sauce in advance, which I did. We had the dinner party at my parent's house, and I roasted the tenderloins there. I entertained the crowd by searing the tenderloins first on a heavy-duty cookie sheet laid across two burners, and then roasting them in a 350 oven.

The marrow gets prepared like this--first, poached in salted broth for about 8 minutes. Then, added to the sauce. And...what does this poached marrow add? Well, it's kind of like melty warm beefy fat globules. Which, you know, isn't bad. The headnotes for the recipe says it adds "sybaritic luxury" which I never did look up but I think has something to do with Roman feasting in togas or maybe Pan with all his red wine drinking. Oh all right, I'll look it up. Here we go, from Wikipedia--the final paragraph:

The word Sybaritic has become a byword meaning extreme luxury and a seeking for pleasure and comfort. One story has a Sybarite turning in his bed sleeplessly, because a crumpled rose petal had gotten into it. The best known anecdote of the Sybarites is of their defeat in battle. It is told that to amuse themselves the Sybarite cavalrymen trained their horses to dance to pipe music. Armed with pipes, an invading army from nearby Crotonia assailed the Sybarite cavalry with music. The attacking forces easily passed through the dancing horses and their helpless riders, and conquered the city.

OK, decadent and luxurious...I'll buy that. Or eat that. Whatever. I will not train my cat to dance to pipes, though. Think of the advantage the mice might have!

Here's the feast in progress...

If food be the music of love play on...no wait, if music be the food of love play on...HANG ON...


That works for me.