Thursday, November 27, 2008

71. Jellied Cranberry Sauce (p. 903)

I love cranberry sauce. It's one of my favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal. I love the interplay of the intense tartness and sweetness, and the gorgeous jewel-like color stands out in the otherwise brown and white Thanksgiving plate.

For years, my contribution to the Thanksgiving meal has been pumpkin pie and whole-berry cranberry sauce. For both of these dishes, I usually go no further than the package for the recipe. This year, I decided to give this recipe* from The Book a try. Next year, I'll go back to the recipe on the Ocean Spray package. (Sorry, they can't all be winners.)

Before I go any further, I want to comment on an odd quirk that I've discovered as I cook my way through The Book. I don't know what kind of funky pots and pans they have in the Gourmet test kitchens, but more than a couple of times, The Book calls for an impossibly small pot or pan in the preparation of some of its recipes. For example, in this recipe, The Book says to cook 12 cups of cranberries, 3 cups of sugar and 3 1/4 cups of water (18 1/4 cups of ingredients in all) in a 3 quart pan. Now, I know I was an English major, but I even I know that the laws of physics won't allow 18 1/4 cups of ingredients to fit into a 12 cup pot. The photo to the left shows the cranberries alone overflowing from my 3 1/2 quart pot. So, I used a stockpot to make this recipe, and the cranberries had plenty of elbow room.

I made the sauce by simmering the berries, water and sugar for about fifteen minutes until all of the berries burst. Then I strained the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined colander into a large glass bowl. After about fifteen minutes, I had a little bit more than three cups of beautiful, syrupy garnet colored cranberry juice, and a colander full of chunky cranberry solids. The Book says to discard this, but my wife (who I think lived through the Great Depression in a past life) wouldn't let me throw away all of that cranberry goodness. I took the solids, and the extra juice and mixed it all up an put it in the 'fridge, and I'm glad that I did. This made a delicious, chunky cranberry relish that was just a little bit thicker than the whole berry sauce that I usually make, and as I'll explain in a minute, it was better than the jellied cranberry sauce that is the object of this recipe.

To make the jellied sauce, mix together one cup of the cranberry juice, heated, with some plain gelatin that's been softened in some water. Once the gelatin is fully dissolved, the mixture is combined with the remaining two cups of juice and the whole thing is poured into a mold. I used a Christmas pudding mold that I have. I chilled it in the 'fridge overnight.

On Thanksgiving day, just before we ate, I ran hot water around the sides of the mold to loosen the jellied sauce. It took a little bit of patience, but eventually, the sauce slid out of the mold and onto the serving plate. The picture at the top of this post doesn't do the sauce justice. It was actually a much brighter, jewel-like red color, and it had a beautiful, glittering sheen. The taste, however, wasn't as great. The texture was a lot firmer than the canned stuff that we're all used to. It was a lot like cranberry Jell-O. The flavor wasn't as intense as I would have liked it either.

I was really more impressed with the chunky cranberry relish that I made from the by-products of the recipe that I was supposed to throw away. It's like that old saying, waste not, want not.

UPDATE: We had a lot of the whole berry cranberry sauce leftover, and so I made this recipe from the Ocean Spray website for Quick Cranberry Nut Bread. It was great! Next year, I'm going to make extra cranberry sauce to be sure that I have enough leftover to make this quick bread again.

Date Cooked: November 26, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: Jellied Cranberry Sauce C; Whole Berry Sauce made from leftovers B+

* The recipe on epicurious is almost identical to the one in The Book, but it uses a bit more water and gelatin.

70. Herbed Bread Stuffing (p. 378)

The Book calls for this recipe to stuff the turkey I made for Thanksgiving. I chose not to stuff the turkey, but I made this stuffing anyway, because it sounded good. I'm glad I did.

The recipe starts with a one-pound loaf of crusty, country-style bread. I used a loaf of ciabatta from my local mega-mart bakery. I cut the bread into one-inch cubes and toasted in the oven.

While the bread cubes cooled, I sauteed some chopped onions and thinly-sliced celery in some butter with some thyme, sage and rosemary.

The sauteed vegetables are mixed with the bread and some chicken stock and water. I transferred the stuffing to a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, dotted it with butter and put it in the oven for about 40 minutes. The Book says that if you like moist stuffing, cook covered for the full time, but if you prefer "less moist" stuffing with a crispy top, uncover it after the first 10 minutes. I like my stuffing moist and crispy at the same time, so I split the difference and took the foil cover off after 20 minutes. The result was great. moist with a little bit of a golden crust on top. I really liked the big pieces of bread, and the great flavor of the celery and onions with the butter and herbs. This was like Stove Top Stuffing on steroids.

Date Cooked: November 27, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A-

69. Roast Turkey with Herbed Bread Stuffing and Giblet Gravy (p. 376)

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm going to take the next couple of recipes out of order so that I can tell you all about what I made for Thanksgiving. I still have a little backlog of recipes that I've cooked, but not blogged about yet. I'll get to those next week. But, now, I want to talk about this recipe.

We spend Thanksgiving with my wife's family, which has now grown so big that we're a two-turkey family. The big dinner is at my sister-in-law's house. She was making the "big bird." I offered to make the smaller back-up bird at my house and bring it over. I've never cooked a turkey before, so I was pretty anxious and excited for the challenge.

The first step was to get the bird. The Book calls for a 12- to 14-pound kosher turkey. The blurb in The Book says that Gourmet recommends kosher turkey because "it tends to surpass both supermarket brands and free-range birds in flavor as well as moistness." I don't have a ready source of kosher turkey, but there is a turkey farm in my town, so I have a source of locally-produced fresh turkey. This is where the family has been getting our turkeys for years, so I wasn't going to break with tradition. On my sister-in-law's advice, I called about a month before Thanksgiving to reserve my turkey. I ordered a 16- to 19-pound fresh turkey, and the nice folks at Raymond's Turkey Farm told me that I could pick it up anytime the Monday to Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

So I decided to pick up my turkey on the Tuesday before thanksgiving, first thing in the morning before work, right when they opened at 8am. Easy-peasy, in and out, get the turkey throw it in the 'fridge at my house and back out the door and to work on time. Now, I've been to Raymond's many times, after all the place is an institution in my town. I've gone there to pick up a turkey pie, a roasted chicken, ground turkey, and other tasty things. But I'd never been there the week before Thanksgiving. Had I read this article from the local newspaper, I wouldn't have been surprised when I got to the farm at 8:10 to find the parking lot full, two police officers directing traffic and a line out the door. Oh, and did I mention that it was raining? When I finally got out of the rain and into the farm shop, I was greeted by a woman presiding over a counter lined by about dozen card file boxes. "Name?" she asked. I told her, and she flipped through her card file, pulled out a card with my name and the size turkey I ordered written on it. I was taken aback a bit by the sudden realization that each card in the boxes represented a turkey. Later, I learned that the farm raises 20,000 turkeys each year, 9,000 of which are sold at Thanksgiving. Despite the long line, the farm runs a pretty efficient operation, and I was out the door, with my 17-pound turkey in hand, in about 15 minutes.

The day before Thanksgiving, I made the Turkey Giblet Stock, which is a sub-recipe to the main roast turkey recipe, and is a component of the Giblet Gravy that accompanies the turkey. All of the turkey's innards were neatly wrapped in a tidy wax-paper package in the turkey's cavity. I identified the turkey's neck, kidneys, heart and liver, and browned them (except the liver) in a tablespoon of canola oil. Then, I added chopped celery, carrot, onion, a bay leaf and some peppercorns and thyme, along with some water and store-bought chicken broth (I'm all out of my own home-made stock, again!). Simmer for a bit less than an hour, cool completely and then refrigerate.

Then I made my pumpkin pie (I used The Book's Basic Pastry Dough for the crust, but for the filling, I stuck with tradition and used the recipe from the back of the pumpkin can) and my cranberry sauce (check back tomorrow for that post), and went to bed to rest up for "the big show."

I woke up bright and early on Thanksgiving day. My goal was to get the turkey into the oven by 8am so that it would be done and we could be out the door and on the way to my sister-in-law's by noon.

First, I rinsed the turkey inside and out, and patted it dry with paper towels. Then I seasoned it with pepper and kosher salt (hey, even if my turkey wasn't kosher, at least my salt was). Then I tied the legs together and pinned the wings to the body with wooden skewers. Into the oven it went, first at a pretty high temperature, presumably to start to crisp up the skin and get the juices flowing. During this first half hour, there was an awful lot of crackling, sizzling and sputtering. After that, I reduced the oven temperature and began the roasting in earnest. I basted the turkey every twenty minutes, as directed by The Book.

Since this was my first attempt at roasting a turkey, and since I still don't have a decent instant-read thermometer, I opted to roast the turkey without stuffing it. I've heard so many horror stories about well-meaning amateur cooks poising their loved-ones with a stuffed turkey gone wrong. Also, the fact that I was going to be transporting my cooked turkey across town before serving it, made food safety a priority. I made the Herbed Bread Stuffing separately, and I'll blog about it tomorrow.

After about three hours, the turkey's thigh meat registered about 180 degrees. The Cook's Note in The Book says that an un-stuffed turkey would be done at 170 degrees. I was satisfied that I had enough of a margin of safety, even though I was a little bit worried that I might have overdone it a bit.

I took the turkey out of the oven and put the roasting rack on a tray so that the bird could rest for a bit. Meanwhile, I brought my turkey stock to a simmer on the stovetop. The Book says to "skim fat from pan juices and reserve 1/4 cup of fat." Well, there was about two cups of "pan juices" in the roasting pan, but no discernable "fat" to skim off ... it looked pretty homogeneous. I determined that it was pretty much all fat, so I reserved 1/4 cup of it, and drained out almost all the rest, and hoped for the best. Then I put a cup of the stock in the roasting pan, put it over a burner and deglazed it, scraping up all those great browned bits on the bottom of the pan. All of that goes back into the rest of the simmering stock. Then I made a roux of the reserved 1/4 cup of fat and some flour. After a few minutes of whisking the roux over low heat, I added the broth and deglazing juices. After simmering and whisking for about ten minutes, I had a silky, rich and flavorful gravy.

After I made the gravy, the turkey was rested and ready. I put the turkey (on its rack) back into the deglazed roasting pan, wrapped the whole thing in foil, and put it into a large, newspaper lined cardboard box for the trip across town to my sister-in-law's house. After a short, but nerve-wracking ten minute drive, we arrived, and the turkey wasn't any worse for wear.

I was really happy with my first attempt at roasted turkey. It was pretty moist and flavorful with a beautiful, crispy, golden skin. I probably cooked it a little longer then I needed to, but I wasn't going to risk undercooking it, and I was still satisfied with the results. The aroma of the roasting turkey was great, and we have plenty of leftovers for sandwiches and some sort of turkey recipe or other.

Date Cooked: November 27, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Easier than I thought it would be
Rating: A-

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

68. Kale and White Bean Soup (p. 108)

I've often heard TV chefs say that I should save the rinds of hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano to add to soup, but I've never seen a recipe that calls for a cheese rind. That was until I came across this recipe. Of course, I didn't have a left-over Parmigiano-Reggiano rind just sitting around when I decided to make this soup, so I had to cut the rind off a new piece of cheese.

A couple of things attracted me to this soup. First, there was the prospect of using a cheese rind (all right, I done talking about the cheese rind). Then, there's kale, which I love, and kielbasa, which is just delicious.

I almost passed this recipe by, however, when I saw that it called for dried beans. I wanted to make the soup that day, and I didn't have enough time to soak the beans overnight (who plans that far ahead?). So, I was searching on the internets to find a formula for converting canned beans for dried when I came across instructions for quick-soaking dried beans on page 267 of The Book. Problem solved!

This soup isn't too hard to make. Start by cooking some onions and garlic in a little oil. Then add the beans, chicken stock (my own!), water, cheese rind and herbs. Bring to a boil and simmer for just under an hour. Meanwhile, brown the kielbasa (I used turkey kielbasa). The Book says that it's optional ... I say it's required to give the soup some nice substance and a smoky, salty flavor. Add the kielbasa, carrots and kale to the soup and simmer a bit longer. That's it.

The Cook's Note in The Book, which says that the soup is best if made one to two days ahead, is right on the money. The soup was pretty good right after I made it, but it got better and better as I had the leftovers for lunch over the next couple of days. The flavors came together nicely as the soup rested in the refrigerator.

File this soup recipe away for a snowy day in February. It'll warm you right up.

Date Cooked: October 26, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: (immediately after cooking) B; (leftovers) A

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

67. All-Occasion Yellow Cake (with Chocolate Ganache Frosting) (p, 724)

Just to be clear, my wife did offer to make a birthday cake for me. But, in the interest of checking another recipe off for The Project, I insisted on making my own birthday cake.

In retrospect, I should have let my wife make a cake for me, because she would have made this cake from a Hershey's ad -- an excellent cake that I dream about between birthdays. This recipe, on the other hand, made a pretty disappointing birthday cake.

There's nothing unusual about this recipe. Like many other cake recipes, it starts with creaming butter and sugar, and then beating in some eggs and vanilla. Finally, the milk, flour, baking powder and salt are added gradually. I found the finished product to be dry and cotton-y. And I'm not the only one. Teena thought it was dry, too. (Melissa used the batter as a base for a peach cake. The addition of fruit probably helped with the dryness.) The Book says that this recipe takes only ten minutes more than a boxed cake mix and is "spectacularly better," and it promises that this cake will be "the cornerstone of every cake baker's repertoire." Sorry, but I respectfully disagree.

I haven't written this cake recipe off just yet, however. I'll try it again someday when I make the Seven-Minute Frosting. This time, though, I made the Chocolate Ganache Frosting, and it was a disappointment, too. The recipe is very simple. It's just three-quarters of a pound of chopped bittersweet chocolate (I used a big block of fancy chocolate from Whole Foods) and one cup of heavy cream. Bring the cream to a simmer, pour it over the chopped chocolate and whisk it until smooth. The frosting tastes great (how can you go wrong with chocolate and cream?), but it was very thick, which made spreading a challenge. And then it hardened to a solid shell. The cake wasn't as much frosted as it was encased in chocolate.

Next year, I'll let my wife make my birthday cake. But if my birthday cake was a disappointment, my birthday presents were all that I could have hoped and dreamed for. My wife bought me a selection of items from my Kitchen Wishlist, including an OXO digital kitchen scale and the Oxford Companion to Food. The best present, however, is my new Clear Solutions Jumbo Cookbook Holder. This cookbook holder is highly rated by America's Test Kitchen, and it's going to make my life a lot easier as I continue to work on The Project. The Book is so large that it won't fit in my old cookbook holder, and laying the book down on the counter takes up too much space in my too-tiny kitchen. The Clear Solutions Cookbook Holder is adjustable, so that it can accommodate The Book or a single issue of Gourmet with ease. The large, clear page shield gives an unobstructed view of two pages at a time, and it folds down to allow you to turn the page easily. This thing gets the Gourmet All The Way seal of approval!

Date Cooked: October 19, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: D

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

66. Butternut Squash, Sage, and Goat Cheese Ravioli with Hazelnut-Brown Butter Sauce (p. 236)

I've been wanting to make pasta for a long time, but I must admit that I'm a little intimidated by the whole process. This recipe, however, is an excellent baby step into the world of homemade pasta.

The trick here is that these raviolis are made with packaged wonton wrappers instead of homemade pasta dough. And while this is a bit of a cheat, it's got the Gourmet seal of approval (it's in The Book, after all), and when they were cooked, I couldn't tell the difference.

This recipe begins from the inside out ... you start by making the filling. First, cut a two-pound butternut squash in half lengthwise and seed it. Roast it, flesh-side down on a roasting pan until softened. While that's cooking, saute a finely chopped onion with some butter and sage (breathing deeply to enjoy that great sage-and-butter aroma). After the squash has cooled a bit, scoop out the flesh, and combine it with the onion mixture and some grated aged goat cheese.

Then you're ready to assemble the ravioli. Start by putting a single wonton wrapper on a lightly floured work surface. Put a teaspoon of the filling in the center of the wrapper. Then brush the edges of the wrapper with water, place another wonton wrapper on top of the filing and seal the edges with your fingers. I took the optional step of cutting away the excess dough with a cookie cutter. This resulted in perfectly shaped ravioli, and I think that it also helped to seal them. Place the finished ravioli on a kitchen towel to dry slightly. Repeat 29 times. Yeah, this is pretty time-consuming assembly-line stuff. After about an hour, I only had 15 ravioli to show for my efforts and a seemingly endless supply of filing and wonton wrappers remaining. With time running short and a hungry, pregnant wife grumbling in the next room, I decided to cook what I had and stash the rest of the filling and wrappers in the fridge for later assembly.

The ravioli get cooked in boiling water for a few minutes until the float. I'm not sure how or why that works, but that's how you know when ravioli are cooked, they float. Anyway, I was really impressed with how well these ravioli held up in the boiling water. I was careful to keep the water at a very gentle boil so that the ravioli wouldn't get jostled too much. And only one of the ravioli's seams split during cooking, emptying its contents into the cooking liquid.

While the ravioli cooked, I made the Hazlenut Brown Butter Sauce. I put an insane amount of butter into a pan with some hazlenuts that I had toasted in the oven and chopped. (The Book's tip about rubbing the toasted hazlenuts in a kitchen towel to get the skins off really works!). In just a few minutes, the butter was nicely browned and it gave off a very nice nutty, caramel scent. Keep a close eye on this, because once the butter starts to brown, it happens very quickly, and your brown butter can turn to burnt butter in no time. I took it off the heat and set it aside until the ravioli was ready.

When the ravioli were done, I gently removed them from the boiling water with a large slotted spoon. I divided them into two bowls and poured a little bit of the brown butter sauce (this sauce is pure butter, folks, so a little goes a long way). The result? Absolutely delicious. The ravioli were tender and light. The filling sliky and creamy with the sweetness of the squash, the tang of the goat cheese and the earthiness of the sage. The hazlenut brown butter was rich, and had an excellent nutty flavor. A very sophisticated meal. This was a pretty labor intensive dish, but it was fun to make, and totally worth it.

So, a couple of days later, I took the rest of the filling and wonton wrappers out of the fridge and assembled the rest of the ravioli. After I let them dry out on a kitchen towel for a bit, I put them in a single layer on a baking sheet and then slipped it in the freezer. After a while, when they had frozen pretty well, I transferred them into a ziploc bag and stashed them back into the freezer. The next weekend, we didn't have any dinner plans, and we pulled a couple of handfuls of the frozen ravioli out of the freezer. Popped them into some boiling water until they floated, meanwhile cooking up some more brown butter. How did it taste? Just as good as the first time!

Date Cooked: October 19, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Not difficult, but time consuming
Rating: A-

Sunday, November 9, 2008

65. Chicken Stock (p. 928)

When I made Risotto with Porcini a few weeks back, I used the last of my frozen home-made chicken stock. So, it was time to replenish the supply, and I went straight to the Basics chapter of The Book.

This recipe* starts with a whole, three-pound chicken cut into eight pieces. The chicken and the neck and giblets (except the liver ... it can make the stock bitter) go into your biggest pot with a whole lot of water. Bring it to a boil. The Book, oh-so-politely, says to skim off the "froth." But let's call the gross, foamy, bubbling mass of chicken fat what it really is: scum. Anyway, once that little bit of unpleasantness is behind you, it's smooth sailing from there. Add the remaining ingredients: two onions (peels on ... who knew?), garlic, carrots, celery, fresh parsley and spices. Simmer for three hours, occasionally skimming any additional froth.

Once it's done, strain it through a sieve, discard all of the chicken and vegetables, and cool the stock completely at room temperature. The Book says to chill the stock in the refrigerator and then to "scrape the congealed fat from chilled stock." This instruction conjures up an image of a hard film of fat over the top of the stock. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when, after chilling overnight, there were just a few blobs of fat floating on the surface. These were easily spooned off, no "scraping" necessary.

The finished stock was delicious. Intensely flavored with a beautiful golden color. And while it cooked mostly unattended during a Saturday filled with household chores, it filled the house with a nice comforting aroma.

This was a good recipe, but I felt a little wasteful throwing away the chicken pieces after the stock was done. The stock recipe that I usually make comes from Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef, and it uses chicken carcasses, so you get to use the chicken meat for other purposes. I could tell the difference in the flavor, though. The Gourmet stock was more flavorful than Jamie's.

When all was said and done, I put ten one-cup portions of stock in the freezer. And, do you know what? It's almost gone already, after I made the Kale and White Bean Soup (check back soon), and after my wife made a delicious pumpkin soup from Cooking Light.
Date Cooked: October 18, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A-

*This recipe from epicurious is similar to the one in The Book.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

64. Pumpkin Apple Bread (p. 599)

What do you think of when you think of fall? Maybe it's the changing colors of the leaves, or the crispness in the air. But if you're like me, fall means two things: pumpkins and apples. Well, what do you know, this recipe* puts them together into what The Amateur Gourmet calls "fall ... bundled up and baked in a loaf."

This isn't your basic pumpkin bread. No siree. First, there's the sweet, crunchy streusel topping. Is there anything that isn't made better by adding streusel topping? Next, when you cut into this loaf, you're surprised to find it studded with sweet, tender chunks of apple. The other thing that I loved about this loaf is that it packs a punch with a healthy dose of my favorite fall spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. And, it smells great while it's baking.

Like several of the other loaf recipes in The Book, this recipe makes two loaves. But, because I only have one loaf pan, I cut the recipe in half. After the loaf I made was gone, I wished I had another loaf pan.

Date Cooked: October 15, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A-

* This recipe isn't on, but The Amateur Gourmet has it on his site.

Friday, November 7, 2008

63. Mashed Potatoes with(out) Six Variations (p. 563)

I can't think of anything better than mashed potatoes to go with meatloaf.

There really isn't too much to say about this recipe.* It's a classic, basic recipe for mashed potatoes. Peel and cut your potatoes (I used Yukon Gold), cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook until tender, drain and mash together with butter, milk, salt and pepper. Couldn't be easier.

This being a Gourmet recipe, the quantity of butter is a little higher than other mashed potato recipes I've seen, but it's not outrageous, and of course, the result is delicious.

The Book supplements the basic recipe with six variations, including horseradish, goat cheese, and others. I decided to make the basic recipe this time. I'm sure that I'll revist the variatons from time to time as I need a side to go with other dishes. I'll let you know how they turn out.

Date Cooked: October 13, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A-

*The recipe I found on is similar enough to the one in The Book.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

62. Turkey Meat Loaf (with Roasted Red Pepper-Tomato Sauce) (p. 387)

As the weather begins to get cooler, I start to crave comfort food more and more. You really can't get more comfortable than meat loaf and mashed potatoes, now can you? I made this recipe on Columbus day after a long weekend of home renovations (make way for baby!).

Rather than settle for the off-colored, industrially-produced ground turkey from the mega-mart, I opted to go local. I got the ground turkey for this dish from Raymond's Turkey Farm, an institution in my town for the past fifty-plus years. Unfortunately, when I visited them on the morning I intended to cook this dish, they only had frozen ground turkey. But not to worry, just as the helpful Raymond's employee said it would, the turkey thawed in no time when I placed the sealed package in a large bowl of cold water. The other problem was that the turkey was pre-packaged in one-pound increments. The recipe calls for 1 1/4 lbs. of turkey. I bought two pounds thinking that I'd thaw it all, use what I needed for the recipe and put the rest in the fridge for some later use. After I thought about it for a moment, I realized that there was a strong likelihood that the remaining 3/4 lb. would sit in the back of the fridge for a couple of weeks until it either decomposed or waddled back to the farm. I opted to just make a slightly smaller meat loaf and keep the second pound of turkey in the freezer, where it has a much better chance of actually being used in the future.

Like a lot of really good recipes, this one starts with cooking onions and garlic in a little bit of oil. Once they are softened, you add some diced carrots and cook them for a bit. Next, you add some cremini mushrooms that have been whizzed in the food processor, and cook them until they have given off most of their liquid. Finally, you add some Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and chopped fresh parsley. The result is an intensely flavorful mixture that adds a lot of texture and interest to the finished meat loaf.

While the vegetable mixture is cooling, soak some breadcrumbs in milk. (I took The Book's advice and made my own breadcrumbs in the food processor.) Then mix in the eggs, the vegetable mixture, and finally the turkey and knead it all together with your hands. That's right...roll up your sleeves, take off your wedding ring, and dig in. Once it's all well-combined, turn it out onto an oiled baking dish and form it into a football-shaped loaf and brush it with ketchup. (Yes, ketchup is a perfectly acceptable Gourmet ingredient.) Bake the loaf until it reaches the indicated temperature.

The Book says that you can serve this meat loaf with more ketchup on the side, but it recommends a Roasted Red Pepper-Tomato Sauce. Now, I know that one of the rules of The Project are that there are no rules, but my goal is to cook every recipe in The Book. This is generally a very straightforward goal, but at times it requires me to make some decisions. For example, a few recipes include a number of variations. The Mashed Potatoes With Six Variations that I'll post about next is one of these recipes. Do I have to make the main recipe and all six variations before I can check this one off? A stickler would say yes. I say no. Other recipes, like this one, include a sub-recipe. For some arbitrary reason, I feel like I can't check off the main recipe unless I make the sub-recipe, too. So, it's for that reason, that I went ahead and made the Roasted Red Pepper-Tomato Sauce, and boy am I glad I did.

This recipe is pretty easy, if a little time consuming. You start by roasting a whole garlic bulb (wrapped in foil), a whole red bell pepper and some plum tomatoes in the oven for about an hour (that's the time-consuming part). The epicurious recipe calls for the pepper to be wrapped in foil, too, while The Book leaves it unwrapped and asks you to turn it a few times during the cooking. After they're good and roasted, you take the veggies out of the oven and wrap the pepper in plastic (I put it in a ziploc bag) for a little while to steam. This step makes it super-easy to peel the skin off the pepper. Then the pepper, tomatoes, and the garlic go into the food processor with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. (If you're counting, that's the third time I've used the food processor in making this meal. And yes, I had to wash it in between each step. A little bit of a pain, but worth it I think.) The result is a bright (in color and flavor), hearty sauce with a nicely balanced pepper, tomato and garlic flavor. It was delicious on the meat loaf, but I've also got it filed away as a topping for some baked polenta or a substantial pasta.

And by the way, the leftovers were great, too.

Date Cooked: October 13, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A

Monday, November 3, 2008

61. Apple Crisp (p. 812)

I made this recipe* for dessert when Travis and Jodi came over for dinner a few weeks ago. Since I knew that time would be short, and that I wanted to devote my full attention to my Roasted Chicken with Pan Gravy, I looked for something that was relatively easy to make. And with the leaves changing color all around me, this quintessential fall dessert just about leapt off the pages of The Book.

This dessert has everything I could want in an apple crisp. The sweet, crunchy, crispy topping was delicious, and the apple filling, if a bit softer and more applesauce-like than I'd like it to be, was very good. The addition of orange zest gave it a really unexpected flavor kick.

I really liked this dessert, but it looks like I'm the odd man out among the Gourmet cook-through-bloggers. Neither Teena nor Kevin gave this recipe high marks. Kevin thought that the filling was too sweet and that the texture was all wrong. Both of them were less than impressed with the topping. Kevin was displeased with its "cookiness," and Teena thought that it was "grainy." I must admit that I agree with Teena that the pecans in the topping cooked a lot faster than the rest of the dish, to the point of almost being burned (I actually had to cover the whole dish with aluminum foil a little more than halfway through the cooking time to prevent the nuts from getting totally incinerated). Other than that, though, I thought it was a winner, especially when served warm and topped with a dallop of vanilla ice cream. I didn't see this dish on Melissa's blog. Maybe she'll make it soon and if she likes it, we'll be all tied up, two to two. Come on, Melissa, don't leave me hanging.

One thing to note if you do make this recipe, you'll have enough apple crisp to feed an army. The dish pictured above is one of those great big lasagna pans, and you can see how full it is. Hope you're hungry.

Date Cooked: October 4, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating A-

*This recipe does not appear to be on