"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, 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.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

3 Festive Winter Drinks

Cold? Tired? Had long freakin' day? Step into my kitchen, friend--I have just the drink for you.

I made Mulled Red Wine when my friend Ben and his boyfriend Steven came over on Rockport's First Night, New Year's Eve. Ben was scheduled to sing downtown at one of the churches (he's got a gorgeous tenor) and is there anything better than a little booze to loosen up those vocal cords? I think not!

I get excited about mulled red wine, because long long ago in a country far far away, I learned how to ski on a terrifying sheet of ice high up in the Alps somewhere. So high the town below was permanently in shadow, no matter how bright and sunny the day. I'm not sure spring skiing on a sheet of ice is the best way to learn how to ski, but a high point for me was stopping halfway down the precipitous slope for lunch, where they also liberally served (even to the high school students) a magical concoction called gluhwein.

This was, essentially, mulled red wine. And let me tell you people, I'm not sure it improved my skiing but it certainly lifted my mood and made me a fan of the stuff for life.

So what's in mulled red wine? Sugar and spice and everything nice, by which I mean a little brandy for kick and some citrus peel to round out the flavor. This recipe says to put the spices in a cheesecloth square and cinch it up but you don't have to--that's just to be neat (probably a German idea, come to think of it). Anyway, good stuff and very festive if you've been outside in the elements, skiing or shoveling or just building snowmen.

I couldn't decide whether or not to serve the guys Mulled Red Wine or Irish Coffee, so as is my way, I made both. They were thrilled! And so was I--usually I'm not an evening coffee drinker but New Year's Eve is a special occasion where you WANT to stay up late. Irish Coffee is a sweet sweet way to get a caffeine injection.

This is super-simple--basically a little Irish whiskey + a little sugar in a cup, add fresh brewed coffee and top with lightly sweetened whipped cream. And then you're ready to go dance your socks off.

Bubbly + creme de cassis--you're thinking New Year's Eve again, I'm sure! No, I'm not THAT schizophrenic a hostess, though this would make an excellent New Year's Eve beverage. I served this drink a few nights ago when our friends Mark and Elizabeth came for dinner--we had a bottle of Moet hanging around our house (probably since last New Year's) and what better thing than friendship to celebrate with champagne?

This is another very easy drink if you don't mind buying a largish bottle of Creme de Cassis that you may never use again--basically you pour a little creme de cassis (that's black currant, btw) into a champagne flute and pour the champagne on top. But if you want to try it, and you're at the liquor store, might as well buy a bottle of white burgundy while you're at it so you can at some future date have Kir (white wine + creme de cassis). That's what I did anyway, so keep your eyes peeled for a post on Kir at some point in the future!


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Black Bean Soup with Rum

Oh black bean soup! Is there anything like you in the dead of winter? I think not.

I'm going to write all about this soup but first I was just reflecting on how probably a vegetarian would look at this and think--oh! Soup for me! But sadly no, the recipe calls for ham hocks (which is not to say it couldn't be made WITHOUT ham hocks, of course it can. But for the cook-through blogger one must follow the recipe, the first time at least!)

And this reflection had me remembering how in my old job there were three vegetarians I had to sometimes consider in meal planning, and two sort-of-partial vegetarians. I made soup from The Gourmet Cookbook so often (and was so vexed by how a soup that one might THINK would be vegetarian actually wasn't) that I actually went through the soup chapter and put a "V" next to the soups that qualified. As vegetarian.

So here I am, looking at the page that has the Black Bean Soup with Rum recipe, and the other three recipes also involve beans, and NONE of them is vegetarian. Somehow that is weird.

Anyway, vegetarians don't forget that Gourmet Today has an ENTIRE chapter dedicated to vegetarian entrees, plus other vegetarian things scattered throughout the book (with a handy index to find them). You should buy that book if you haven't already.

So, Black Bean Soup with Rum! I did the quick-soak with my dried black beans, then sauteed onions, celery, parsley and thyme sprigs with a bay leaf for a while...then added salt pork (they were out of ham hocks--guess everybody had the same idea I did) and beans and stock and water and cooked the dickens out of it for three hours.

Then I took the salt pork out (also the bay and thyme sprigs), added 1/3 cup dark rum (hello Sailor Jerry's) and some lemon juice and used my nifty immersion blender to blendify it. Then I put it through a fine-mesh sieve to get the non-blendified stuff out. By the way, this is in place of using a food mill, which, as you may have read elsewhere on this blog, I hate and will not use.

Then! Dish it up and garnish with a lemon slice, chopped hard-boiled egg, and minced parsley! Ta-da!

I would like to nominate the lemon slice garnish for this soup as Stupidest Garnish Ever. You can't eat it, and when you fish it out it is pretty much impossible to squeeze for juice (and if you tried you would get soup all over your fingers). Basically it's a visual. If I had a category for Stupid Garnishes I would put this one in it, but I only have one for Stupid Recipes (of which happily there are very few!). And this one is NOT a stupid recipe--it's good! Try it! It will make you warmer!

Monday, January 4, 2010


Readers, when you're doing a project like this you are keenly attuned to certain ingredients and pieces of cooking equipment that are unusual, that sort of lodge in your brain as something to keep an eye out for. This is why, if you were in Market Basket with me not too long ago, you would have heard me gasp, "Veal Tongue!" Adam and Teena know what I'm talking about.

So I was cleaning out my fridge a few days ago and pitching some stuff when I grabbed a foil-wrapped package of something not well-wrapped at all actually--it was a bunch of corn tortillas from Mexican take-out that were kind of dried out from air exposure. I had one hand on the garbage can when I suddenly gasped "stale corn tortillas!"

I had one of the key componants of Migas right in my very hand.

You won't find migas on the breakfast menu here in New England--in fact I'm betting that most northerners have never heard of it. If you're Jewish and matzo brei is or was part of your life you'll have an inkling of what I'm about to describe--this is basically a homestyle, use-the-leftovers type of a meal that involves bacon, onion/garlic, chilies and tomatoes scrambled up with some eggs, refried tortilla pieces, and shredded cheese.

Sounds good? It is good. Really satisfying. It won't win a beauty contest, but that's not what it's for now, is it?

You start by frying some bacon and setting aside, then frying some ripped corn tortillas and setting those aside too. Then saute onions, garlic and chilies, add crumbled bacon and tomatoes and cumin. Then stir in the fried tortilla pieces and pour on the eggs and sprinkle on cheese--stir til set.

That's it! You might have these ingredients in your fridge. Why not look? Or, maybe it's time for some Mexican take-out?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

3 Easy Apps

When I found out that one of my co-workers would be performing during Rockport's First Night, I invited him and his partner to our house beforehand for some roasty-toasty cocktails (mmm, mulled red wine and Irish coffee) and some nibbles before we all set off on an evening of sea chanties, calypso-funk and Beatlemania. Of course I turned to our beloved Gourmet Cookbook for the nibbles (and yes, those cocktails came from Gourmet Today--more on those soon).

I was looking for easy, and I was looking for not going to the store. I won on both counts.

I happened to have a few small bags of raw pepitas in the freezer, and this recipe is so simple I'm amazed I haven't tried it yet. You put the pepitas in a dry, medium hot pan, stir them for 5-7 minutes until they're brown and lovely, drizzle a little XVO on them and sprinkle with a little fine sea salt.

That's it! So delicious.

We happened to have an eggplant kicking around, and my husband is a fiend for cured olives--so the ingredients for Olive and Eggplant Spread were right at hand. Sort of a cross between baba and tapenade, my friend commented, and yes, he's right!

Also hanging out in the freezer--tiny little whole wheat pitas, which I thought would make dandy pita toasts for the spread. Again, this is so easy--split the pitas, brush with XVO and sprinkle with coarse salt, then cut into wedges and toast. I had them in the oven at the same time the eggplant was roasting.

Then, on to First Night! Here's some of the great music I heard:

What a great way to ring in the new year! Thanks, Rockport!


Gluten-Free recipes in this post: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Olive and Eggplant Spread

Low-Carb recipes in this post: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Olive and Eggplant Spread

Paleolithic recipe in this post: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Saturday, January 2, 2010

5 1/2 Christmas Confections

Readers, this was an unusual Christmas for me. Why? Because for the first time in over a decade, I wasn't working on Christmas Day! When I had my estate cooking job, that was just part of the gig--Christmas Dinner--and before that, at the Emerson Inn, I offered to cook because our family always celebrated on Christmas Eve.

And all of these years I've also been applying my considerable cooking skill and energy to Christmas cookies, fruitcakes, and confections--all on the job, to be consumed or given as gifts by my employers. Nothing wrong with that--it's what I do!

But this year, I found myself primed at the beginning of December, ready to go--and hey, guess what? This year all of that skill and energy could be channeled to making yummies for my own friends and family. Even more exciting? I had the new Gourmet cookbook in hand, Gourmet Today, to mine for new Christmas confection ideas. Woo hoo! Line up those candy boxes!

My first confection was actually a tried-and-true favorite from the Gourmet Cookbook--one that has proven wildly popular over the past three or four years--Candied Citrus Rind.

When I first made this I quickly realized that the paltry 2 grapefruit they mention (in the book, not the online recipe) would never be enough, and further, that one couldn't stop at just tossing these with sugar--they should properly also be dipped in bittersweet chocolate. So it kind of grew into a candy-making monster. Imagine a soup pot filled to the brim with grapefruit, pomelo, orange, lemon and lime peels (bring to a boil and drain off water FIVE TIMES to draw off bitterness)...make a simple syrup using a whole bag of sugar...what I end up with is many racks of candied peel drying over trays and taking up a lot of room!

This photo is pre-sugar coating/chocolate dip stage, but aren't they beautiful? Oh readers, these are so tasty. It's a very good thing I only make them once a year.

My second confection was the Truffle Fudge from Gourmet Today (the rest are all from that book). Sadly, this is not online, but happily it's so easy I can tell you in two seconds how to make it--melt a bag of bittersweet chocolate chips, 1/2 stick butter, a pinch of salt and a can of sweetened condensed milk together somehow (I used a microwave), pour into an 8" pan lined with parchment paper, and cool in the fridge.

That's it. Super easy!

The third confection was Chocolate Earl Gray Truffles. Here I had a little supermarket quandry, trying to find just the right form of Earl Grey tea. The cook's notes point out that "loose tea leaves have a fresher, more distinctive flavor than the leaves in tea bags", and though I couldn't find loose tea, I did find whole leaf tea in tea bags which seemed like an OK compromise.

If you've ever made a flavored creme brulee this is the same idea--you let the tea leaves steep in hot cream, and then use that cream to go forward and make a ganache. The recipe asks you to roll ganache balls in your hands and then dip those in cocoa powder, but since I have an aversion to goopy hands I used a mini-scoop with a release bar.

The bergamot flavor is very subtle in these truffles and although I liked them (a lot), I couldn't help comparing them with Robert Linxe's truffle recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook, which has you smear a thin layer of melted chocolate on the ganache balls before you toss them in cocoa powder--this fussy little extra step adds a thin snap when you bite into the truffle.

Speaking of Robert Linxe, Don and I visited La Maison du Chocolat while we were in NYC! I got a big box of dark chocolate just for us and I will never tell you how much I paid for it! Here's some history on this fellow for your reading pleasure.

My fourth confection was Toasted-Coconut Marshmallow Squares. My shopping quandry here was finding coconut extract--I could find only artificial extract at Market Basket, but then found real (organic) coconut extract hours later at Common Crow. Of course I went with the latter, only to find out that the 1/2 tsp. didn't add any noticable coconut flavor to the marshmallows--oh well!

I'd never made marshmallows but it's pretty easy if you have a stand mixer--they are essentially meringue + unflavored gelatin. I suppose standard marshmallows are tossed in corn or potato starch so they don't stick--here they are tossed in toasted coconut. Pretty!

The fifth confection was Pumpkin Seed Brittle. On the surface this looks like a simple recipe, requiring only sugar, water, sea salt and green, raw pepitas. But the technique is so odd I'm going to show you action photos--I was quite sure the whole thing was a wash at least twice but they came out beautifully. You start off with sugar, salt and water and bring it to a boil:

When it reaches 238 you take it off the heat and add the pepitas, stirring until the sugar recrystallizes:

Then you put it back on the heat, stirring until it becomes grainy. This is one of the places where I was sure I'd be pitching it because I stirred for a lifetime without it getting to the next stage, where the sugar "turns a deep caramel color" and at the same time, the seeds get all brown and toasty:


Then you pour it onto parchment paper you've got taped down, throw another piece on top and roll it out super thin. I burned my hands here in my enthusiasm to work quickly.

I was in love with this gorgeous candy. Look at it!

Also so good. I think for adventure + flavor this one was my favorite.

And now we come to confection 5 1/2, which was a twice-failed recipe--Fleur de Sel Caramels. On the surface, this seems like another easy one--basically caramelized sugar plus cream. What could go wrong?

A lot, it turns out. The first batch (made by O'Malley, with my supervision) although it cooked to the proper temperature (248) set up far too hard and was essentially a lot like the middle of a Heath bar (not a bad thing, but not caramel!) The second batch, cooked to a temp I found online (236) came out too runny and turned into apple dip.

I'm not sure what exactly went wrong here but I'll try it again next Christmas and see if I can't get it right.

And fyi now-nonexistant Gourmet staffers, where the heck am I supposed to find unsweetened passion fruit puree? I had planned to also make Passion Fruit Gelees but never could find any and since I've never had passion fruit I didn't even know what to sub in. Another confection for next year!