"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".

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pistachio Schadenfreude, or Melissa Learns a New Vocabulary Word

There's a handful of foreign-born words in use by the literati that's a little...hazy. In my own mind, that is. It took me decades to finally remember what sturm und drang means (and I only remember now because "sturm" is much like "storm")--I saw it in use so rarely that it took a while to stick.

So I was a little suspicious of Pistachio Semifreddo, at least of the name. But the head notes in Gourmet Today are reassuring--semifreddo means "half-cold"--that seems easy enough, right? Like semisweet chocolate. (Though it must be noted that I've told everybody since I made this dish that semifreddo means "half-soft". WHATEVA, foreign-born words! I really am trying!)

This is a delicious dessert. Man is it easy, and if I were a dedicated ice cream eater I would throw away my ice cream maker (pain in the tuckus) because this technique rocks.

Here it is--grind pistachios with sugar. Whip egg whites with sugar. Whip heavy cream with almond extract. Fold all three together. Freeze. The result is creamy and light at the same time and of course pistachios are awesome.

If you've never heard of semifreddo, you might be wondering if you could make it with something besides pistachios--and the answer is yes! Epicurious has three pages of recipes --everything from grappa semifreddo to banana-peanut.

You might be wondering now about the title of this blog post, which is neither sturm und drang OR semifreddo. Well, it's because I was in a conversation that went like this:

My husband: What's the name of that dessert? It means something like "world weariness, right?"

Me: O_o

My husband: Shu...Sha...

Me: Do you mean shadenfreude?

My husband: Yes.

Me: No. The name of the dessert is "semifreddo". It means half-soft, not world weariness.

My husband: Are you sure?

Me: Of course I'm sure! Why would somebody name a dessert Pistachio World Weariness?

My husband: I don't know...maybe you eat it when you're weary?

Then I looked up Shadenfreude because I didn't know exactly what it meant but I see it slung around from time to time when people are trying to look smart (talking to you, book critics)

Hey, guess what? Shadenfreude does NOT mean world weariness, it means "pleasure derived from the misfortune of others". For some reason, the idea of hanging this concept on a dessert makes me laugh, probably because I'm immature enough to enjoy the idea of somebody getting their just desserts.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Artichokes with Garlic Pimiento Vinaigrette

As I have (probably) mentioned elsewhere on this blog when the subject of artichokes comes up, I was raised eating artichokes one way, and one way only: steamed, with a ramekin on the side of melted butter liberally salted and lemoned.

Eating artichokes this way is one of the purest pleasures on earth--a slow scraping of each individual leaf, then freeing the heart from its prickly mantle and devouring it in quarters in the last dredges of milky, lemony butter.

It's inconceivable to me that anybody would want to eat artichokes any other way, but apparently they do. Here's one of those other ways--Artichokes with Garlic Pimiento Vinaigrette.

This recipe has you steam artichokes in the usual way, but only after you trim them and extricate the choke with a melon baller. This is, my lambs, easier said than done--depending on how farm-fresh your artichoke is, you might have a struggle getting those inner leaves pried open enough to scrape out the choke. I did and was none too happy about it. BUT it's always good to have an opportunity to trot out your most creative swear words.

While they're steaming you'll make the vinaigrette--a pleasant garlic/oil/vinegar brightened up with chopped pimientos and parsley. It makes for pretty plate! I couldn't bring myself to serve the artichokes cold (for me cold food requires 80 degree days) so mine were warm-ish, and although my dinner companions ate these up (and so did I) frankly I like them better served hot with lemon butter. Sorry.

Exciting late-breaking Artichoke News: while exchanging tales of Easter dinners in the break room at work, one of my co-workers mentioned his mother's stuffed artichoke recipe--bready and garlicky and buttery. That sounds like something I can get behind--Mike, please ask your mom for the recipe!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Balsamic-Glazed Pork Chops from Gourmet Today

I've always been on the fence about pork chops. Center-cut chops especially are so lean and finely textured that even when NOT overcooked they seem dry and bland.

Balsamic-Glazed Pork Chops is a pretty good remedy for this situation, and it's quick enough to be a weeknight dinner. I'm a fan of any meal that can be cooked in one vessel--in this case it's a big ole frying pan, stovetop.

What was different about this dish for me was the treatment of the shallots (or in my case white boiling onions since shallots were unfindable at the market last night)--you peel but leave the root end intact--then quarter. Those go in the pan with the chops and the time it takes to sear both sides of the meat is also about the time it takes to get some carmelizing action on the onions.

2/3 cup balsamic vinegar + a little sugar serves to deglaze the pan, and in just a few minutes you've got a nice thick glaze to coat your chops as you finish them.

My favorite part of this was the onions--they were tangy and jammy. Balsamic vinegar is really pretty amazing for the flavors you can get out of it. I'm still not completely sold on pork chops, but I enjoyed this preparation.


If you've been enjoying my journey cooking through The Gourmet Cookbook and Gourmet Today, you'll also like The Gourmet Project, where Teena has been doing the same thing (minus Gourmet Today).

In fact, Teena is very close to being done! She's a mere 25 recipes or so away from having cooked through the ENTIRE Gourmet Cookbook. Considering that there are roughly 1300 recipes in that book, this is quite a feat! She thought she would be relieved to be done with such a huge undertaking, but finds that she's actually kind of sad. She's mulling over whether or not to be crazy some more and embark on cooking through Gourmet Today.

I say, of course! I need company in my craziness! So do a girl a favor and go over to The Gourmet Project and tell Teena she should do it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Romaine, Radish and Cucumber Salad with Tahini Dressing from Gourmet Today

Let's face it. You're not bored with salads, you're bored with the dressing you choose over and over again. Maybe you're in the balsamic vinaigrette camp. Maybe you're in the Ken's Light Italian Dressing Camp. Or maybe (horrors!) you're in raspberry or poppyseed land. Wherever you are, it ALL TASTES THE SAME. Am I right?

Throw off the shackles of your self-imposed salad dressing servitude and try something new. Romaine, Radish and Cucumber Salad with Tahini Dressing is (probably) a new flavor profile for you to try, unless you are in the habit of hanging out at falafel carts.

A little hazy on what tahini is, exactly? It's sesame seed paste, and it is to Middle Eastern cuisines what peanut butter is to American households--wildly popular and used in practically everything, though it must be said I've never heard of a tahini and jelly sandwich. Are you a fan of hummus? You've had tahini. It's in your supermarket--just head down the exotic ingredient aisle and look for the Greek/Middle Eastern section. Here's a pic:

So, forget about the salad part here--this dressing could really go on any veggies. The ones listed are fine but you could also try tomato, olives, endive, mushrooms, raw bell peppers, baby spinach, carrots, and sugar snap peas. And if you have a micro-blender (like Magic Bullet) it's ideal for blending this up quickly--and you will need a blender because of the garlic.

The recipe helpfully points out that the salad is delicious stuffed in a pita for a nice lunch. I concur!


If you are a fan of a) cook-through blogging b) chick flicks c) Julia Child d) meta-anything and e) for the lulz...I have an absurd yet somehow completely riveting blog for you to follow. Please meet Lawrence, college student somewhere on the West Coast (I think) who has decided to watch Julie and Julia every day for one year and blog about it in The Lawrence/ Julie and Julia Project.

Why somebody would take on such a masochistic task is beyond me (the movie has infiltrated his dreams) but somehow, every day he manages to see the movie (or parts of it anyway) from a different and often very funny slant. I doubt anybody except the director and the producer of Julie and Julia has paid such close attention to the details. And although I'm pretty sure Lawrence will never become a chef (or cook-through blogger) himself, he surely has the makings of a great project manager, as in tenacious, detail-oriented and a glutton for punishment. Alternatively, maybe he has a future in Hollywood. Who knows?

P.S. Readers with delicate sensibilities please be advised: Lawrence is a college-aged male. That means he refers to porn, has tried his hand at erotica featuring Julia and Paul Child, and swears a lot. There is also, inexplicably, a photo of him making out with a giant bag of chopped onions. Nope, not kidding.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Negroni from Gourmet Today

Since I (now) work as a copywriter, I have an especial fondness for copy written well. Both of the Gourmet cookbooks satisfy on this count, and the head notes for Negroni are a perfect example.

As Italian as a Vespa but with more bracing zip, the Negroni is not for the faint of heart.

This is a perfect sentence. In only 19 words it gives you the pedigree of the drink, a little frisson of danger--AND it manages to be snarky (but only if you're experienced enough with scooters to get the joke.)

Anonymous Gourmet copywriters, wherever you now are--thank you. You've added an extra layer of pleasure to this awesome, self-appointed cook-through task of mine.

A Negroni is made up of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth in equal parts--which makes it super easy to remember and scale up or down as your needs dictate. If you are in the cocktail-drinking set, you're probably familiar with gin and possibly sweet vermouth (read an excellent article on vermouth here), but not too many folks seem to know exactly what Campari is, or what you might use it for.

You can use it to turn into a fairy:

A modern-day Ethel Merman:

A clown:

or a lover:

Doesn't it make you want to run right out and buy a bottle of the stuff? All well and good but be warned: our anonymous copywriter was correct--this stuff is NOT for the faint of heart. It's unbelievably bitter (maybe more so for me since I'm a SUPERTASTER) and needs moderating agents.

What's in it? According to Wikipedia it's an infusion of herbs and fruit--the red color comes (or used to come) from carmine, a dye made from crushed cochineal insects. Another tidbit from the interwebs--the inventor of this strange brew, Gaspare Campari, was a master drink maker at a bar in Turin by the age of 14. Take that, MCAS.

Why drink it? Well, why black coffee, hoppy beer, or 80% dark chocolate? A little bit of torture and even more pleasure.

This is the only recipe in the book that uses campari (though there's a recipe for Campari and grapefruit granita in the yellow book) but rest assured there are plenty more if you spring for a bottle--everything from a Malaria Killer to Fancy Nancy.

How is the Negroni? Well, it's bitter! But not unbearably so--I like these and have added them to my cocktail repertoire.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Asian Pears with Vanilla-Poached Kumquats

Looking for a dairy- and gluten-free dessert? Like orange marmalade? Then you can't go wrong with Asian Pears with Vanilla-Poached Kumquats. The ingredients may be hard to track down--depends on how adventuresome your market is--but if you can find the two main ingredients (Asian pears and kumquats) the rest is cake.

The kumquats are poached in lime syrup (1/4 cup lime juice, water, sugar) along with half a vanilla bean. Pour that over thinly sliced Asian pears, let it sit for a while, and you're done. Easy!

Apprehensive about these unusual fruits? Don't be--Asian Pears are kind of new to the country but they're picking up steam in America--I see on the interwebs that they're trying to cultivate them in Texas. They look like apples (with a similar bite-feel) but have the texture and flavor of pears.

They also hold up well, at least in this dish. Apple pie bakers, you know how using Golden Delicious guarantees you'll have cohesive apple pieces that even have a little bit of firmness? Same deal here.

Kumquats are like the teeniest tiniest little oranges you ever saw--you could serve them at your dolly's tea party as a snack.

The funny thing about these citrus fruits is that the rind is sweet(ish) and the inside is the bitter part. I just eat them whole. In this recipe you slice them into rounds and de-seed--there's usually one one seed. Poached, you get an experience that's very much like a fine orange marmalade--sweet with just an edge of bitterness.


Hey, you--Busy Person. Person who loves Top Chef but can't seem to find the time to watch it. Allow me to introduce you to Karen Carlson and her blog, A Just Recompense.

Karen recaps the Top Chef shows as they appear, and her commentary is both passionate and funny. This is not the main order of business on her blog--she also reviews stories that appear in Tin House, The New Yorker, and other lit mags--additionally, she's working her way through BASS.

Check her out--you'll appreciate her. I do. And keep an eye out for her guest blogger, Zin Kenter, who is a hoot. They're both published authors (Zin most recently in Smokelong)--you can see their bona fides in the right-hand column.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Winter Vegetables with Horseradish Dill Butter

I don't know about you, but when the seasons are on the cusp of change, I have moments of culinary regret about the seasonal dishes I could have made, but didn't. Nectarine Mousse Cake, Mango-Spacho, Pecan Pumpkin Pie, Gingerbread Snowflakes--I'm looking at you.

So it was in that spirit that I decided to cook up some Winter Vegetables with Horseradish Dill Butter before the winter was completely gone. It might officially be spring here in New England but it still feels cold to me. Spring will be here in my opinion when I can leave the house without gloves.

I wasn't too far into making this vegetable dish when I had some serious deja vu. Yes, it all seemed so very familiar, the horseradish, the butter, the steamed veggies, as if I had just cooked this very meal. But of course, I hadn't--had I?

I paged back through my blog posts, and silly me--there it was: Midwest Boiled Dinner from Gourmet Today, featuring--you guessed it--steamed vegetables with brown-butter horseradish sauce. Different cookbook, same idea and done better--the veggies in the Gourmet Today recipe are steamed with staggered cooking times so they are done perfectly and the butter is browned which gives greater depth of flavor.

It's a better recipe. I can't in good conscience recommend the one from The Gourmet Cookbook over it, though Gourmet Today leaves out the chopped dill. So if you too want to celebrate the end of winter by indulging in some yummy steamed root vegetables, go with Midwest Boiled Dinner and leave out the smoked pork (or not, up to you) It's not a bad way to say GOODBYE WINTER (don't go away mad, just go away!)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Prune and Walnut Turnovers

When most people think of tasty fillings for pastries, prune probably isn't very high on the list, but I don't understand that. Why are prunes so different from raisins, or any other dried fruit? They're dried plums! Plums are awesome! I think it's because, in our minds, prunes = old people and if you're eating prunes it's to get a little locomotion going in, uh, the digestive regions.

Well, guess what. All Prune and Walnut Turnovers will do is make you fat, and that's a serious risk because they're so delicious you'll want to eat as many as you can. So make them for a group--otherwise don't blame me if you gain 5 lbs.

What makes them so delicious? Let's start with the crust, which is made with butter AND cream cheese...which makes for moist, flaky and ever-so-slightly tangy crust.

The filling is delicious because a) the walnuts are toasted b) there's cinnamon sugar in it c) there's sherry in it. Win-win-win.

It's not a quick recipe--there's chilling of dough and rolling it out (and filling and sealing) but if you're in the mood for a baking project this is a gratifying one. A food processor is key--if you don't have one, why don't you? Ask the Easter Bunny to bring you one.

I made these for my book group and one of the guys thought it was blueberry filling (mmm so delicious) and almost spit it out when I said it was prune. I'm glad you didn't tell me that BEFORE I ate them, he said. I never would have tried it!

Come on, it's not like I ground up OLD PEOPLE and put them in there (would that make it mincemeat?) OK, gross, time to stop.

Seriously, these are good. I am 5 lbs. fatter. Nobody to blame but myself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

French Kisses from Gourmet Today!

It's hard to say what's more delightful, a French Kiss or a French kiss. I suppose it depends on the hour and the company--and we must also note that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive!

A French Kiss (the cocktail, that is) is a 50/50 mix of sweet and dry vermouth with a twist of lemon. Slightly sweet, slightly herbal, even a touch of bitterness (for all you Moxie fans out there). What makes it special? The lemonade ice cubes, of course, which melt ever so slowly while you're drinking, assuming that is that you drink slowly. Not all of us do, but you'd be missing the point--French Kisses that linger are the best kind.