"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".

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tomato, Cucumber and Pineapple Salad with Asian Dressing from Gourmet Today, and ALSO! Melissa is a SUPERTASTER!

You don't get a lot of call (at least in my experience) for salad involving fruit that also involves fish sauce. That could possibly be because I've never been to Southeast Asia, where fish sauce--or Nam Pla--is used as a condiment for anything from curries to casseroles.

Here's some fish sauce:

Don't ask me what the shrimp and the chef are doing here--it looks a little fishy to me:

According to wikipedia, fish sauce is made by layering single or multiple species of fish/shellfish with salt, and pressing for liquid. Some countries have longer or shorter fermenting times for the sauce, others add herbs and spices. Thai fish sauce (which is what I happen to have in my kitchen) is made exclusively from anchovies and salt.

So how does this figure into Tomato, Cucumber and Pineapple Salad? Fish sauce is in the dressing, which also contains garlic paste, lime juice, sugar, vegetable oil and serrano chili. Toss with tomatoes, cucumbers, pineapple, fresh mint and fresh cilantro, and you have an unusual and delicious salad.

I brought this to a family gathering, and everybody loved it. I did too, but I still just couldn't help noticing that it smelled like fish, which just seemed weird to me. It didn't taste like fish, it smelled like it. Did I feel like I was in a very sophisticated cafe somewhere in Vietnam, as the notes for the recipe predicted? Nope. I felt like I was at my mother's birthday party at my sister's house in Bradford, MA. But it was interesting to make and eat anyway.


So, what's this Supertaster business, you ask?

1. Confirmation that if I were ever a superhero, my powers would involve food, as I have ALWAYS SUSPECTED

2. A name bestowed upon people with lots and lots of fungiform papillae on their tongues (that's taste buds to you lesser mortals)

How did I find this out? My sister's young neighbor Lily is doing a science fair project and dyed our tongues blue during the birthday party so she could gather data. Then, using her doctor daddy's high-powered magnifying specs

she counted how many taste buds we had inside an area the size of a hole-punch. She did not punch holes in our tongues, however.

The lowest count was 17, average was in the low 20's, supertasters (like me, my dad and my niece Savannah) had 30.

Unfortunately, my dad and I blow Lily's theory that supertasters = picky eaters. Savannah certainly qualifies, but my dad and I are adventuresome eaters, always have been. Supertasters are supposed to be especially sensitive to spicy heat and bitterness, however, and I will admit that broccoli rabe (my husband's all-time favorite vegetable) is dead last on the list of vegetables I'd like to eat.

As for what biological purpose supertasters might serve, it's speculated that it's an advanced foraging skill, as in if something is bitter it's probably not good to eat and might even be poisonous. So if the end of the world comes and you can't get Apocalypse Alec to show you what to eat, we can browse around in the woods for dinner and I'll keep you from poisoning yourself.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Midwest Boiled Dinner from Gourmet Today

This could be a better picture, but when you're hungry and a table full of people are waiting on you to hurry up and get there so they can start eating...well, food art goes out the window. But you get the idea--Midwest Boiled Dinner (any boiled dinner) is a miracle of cooking efficiency: meat and four veggies that are cooked in the same pot and still retain their unique characters.

The secret is a staggered cooking time, with the potatoes jumping in first, then turnips, followed by carrots and last, cabbage. I had never made a boiled dinner with smoked pork butt--only corned beef, and I will forever more make it with smoked pork--if you're gearing up for St. Paddy's Day and want to try this, look for a 2 lb. piece of smoked pork butt, also called smoked pork shoulder butt, and also sometimes (from what I read) called a Boston butt. Hey, I don't do the naming, I'm just your humble reporter.

And since this recipe isn't on Epicurious, I'll give you the rundown--bring your pork butt to a boil in water to cover, along with 2 bay leaves and 10 peppercorns. Simmer for an hour. (If there's netting, let it cook in the netting for 5 mins, then cut it off). Add 1.25 lbs or so of peeled small yellow potatoes (like Yukon Gold), and simmer for 8 mins; add 3/4 lbs peeled and 1-inch-wedged turnips and simmer for 5 mins (fyi I used radishes which are like little bitty turnips); add peeled carrots that have been cut into 3" lengths and simmer for 10 mins; then finally add 1.5 lbs cabbage (1 small or half large) that's been cut into 6 wedges and simmer for 7-10 mins.

Then take it all out and put it on a platter that you've been keeping in a warming oven (like at 175)--cover with foil. Oh, slice the pork first. And artfully arrange your veggies. Keep the boiling water, you'll want a little bit.

To make the sauce (what? I didn't tell you about the sauce??? It's Brown Butter-Horseradish Sauce!!) melt 6 tbsp butter in a pan and let the milk solids brown (if you've never done this, watch this useful video:)

Please note that I see her sort of jostling the pan around IF YOU HAVE A GAS STOVE DON'T DO THIS because at best you'll get butter on your clothes (which sucks) and at worst you'll have a butter bonfire. Use a wooden spoon (or something) to stir and see what's going on under the foam.

After the butter has browned, take it off the heat and stir in 2 tbsp bottled horseradish, 1 tbsp reserved cooking liquid, 2 tsp white vinegar and 1/4 tsp salt. And there's your sauce! Serve brown mustard on the side and voila--dinner is served.

And hey! The fact that this is called Midwest Boiled Dinner makes me think of my new friends in MN who actually all seem to prefer French Bistro and/or Mexican food. See you guys next week!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Coconut Tuile Cones, because Lady Writers Deserve Fancy Desserts

You heard me right--being a Lady Writer confers certain privileges, and all I can say is if you're a Lady Writer and you're NOT getting a fancy dessert every once in a while, agitate for change. Even if all you have to do is change your mind.

Coconut Tuile Cones is the second to last recipe in the Cookies, Bars and Confections chapter of The Gourmet Cookbook, but I won't be closing it out any time soon since the LAST recipe is Gingerbread Snowflakes. Can't really rush that one, sorry!

Tuiles (French for "tiles"--meant to resemble curved roof tiles) are fun to bake and shape--if you have the right equipment. I'm not sure this recipe gives enough guidance to the uninitiated, so allow me to say a few things: these cookies can be sticky (so use a Sil-Pat--forget buttering your baking sheet) and it's almost impossible to quickly shape two cookies right out of the oven so you might as well resign yourself to baking these one at a time. Come on, you can check FB compulsively in between, like you know you do anyway.

Another modification I made--I didn't wait for the batter to cool--it was much easier to shape when warm. And I flattened it with a measuring cup sprayed w/ non-stick cooking spray (any light layer of oil would do).

These are minor points though--the batter spreads and melts so it really flattens itself during baking.

You'll have to fiddle around with the timing, because the grace period of Perfectly Cooked is really short and speeds towards Burnt with every 5 second interval beyond. I settled on 5:40 minutes, and let my tuiles cool for 1:40 instead of 2 mins for slightly more pliability. Your oven will be different--the first tuile out will tell you how to proceed (kind of like the First Pancake Off the Griddle).

And then there's the shaping part! Don't worry, this is fun and you'll screw at least one up but you can eat it so really it's a win-win. You drape them around a crumpled foil cone. Yes, you'll feel like an elementary school student. Yes, you'll get the hang of it.

And then! The eating with ice cream part! These are not cones you can walk down the street with, admiring the shrubbery, licking your ice cream with confidence you won't drip any on your shirt. Nope, these are filled with holes, totally leaky and best eaten with your favorite ice cream on a plate. I take NO RESPONSIBILITY for your dry cleaning bills.

Lady Writers seem to love these! At least mine did--try them out on yours.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Celery, Sesame and Tofu Salad from Gourmet Today

This is me, learning to love tofu. Okay, if not love, at least learning how versatile it is. Celery, Sesame and Tofu Salad is pretty quick to prepare and as long as you have the celery and tofu chances are you have the rest of the ingredients in your cupboard.

The celery and pressed tofu are tossed with a dressing of rice vinegar, sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds and a little soy sauce. And, that's it! Here are some things to love about this salad:

1. It's sturdy. Unlike other salads that wilt overnight, this one holds up--for me, over the course of 5 days in the fridge.

2. It's a nice alternative to salad with beans. If you're trying to cut back on meat but are bored with beans, here's a different way to add some protein to the mix. The downside is that this salad isn't especially filling, but oh well.

I'm not sure this salad has the oomph to be a main course (if you were so inclined), but it certainly makes a respectable component to a meal. It would be great with salmon!