Saturday, December 12, 2009

208. Honey-Glazed Wax Beans (p, 523)

This summer's CSA was a non-stop parade of fresh vegetables, and my (and my wife's) challenge was to find interesting ways to use all of the vegetables that Farmer Dave could cram into the weekly box. Every day this summer was like an episode of Chopped. Just try to make a menu using beets, dandelion greens and purslane.

Sure, we could have just steamed, grilled and sauteed the vegetables. But that would have gotten old pretty quick.

So, that's why I was glad to find this recipe for an easy, but somewhat unusual treatment for the one-pound bag of yellow wax beans that I found in the box one week. There's not much to it. Just boil the beans for a few minutes until tender, and then immediately toss with a tablespoon of honey, and a little bit of lemon zest and salt.

Now, my prior experience with wax beans is limited to memories of bland, wiggly yellow-gray wax beans from the lunch line at St. Monica's grammar school. These beans are nothing like those cafeteria beans of yore. They are crisp and sweet (but not too sweet) with a bright zip from the lemon zest. Well done!

Date Cooked: September 12, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A-

Friday, December 11, 2009

207. Shrimp and Corn with Basil (p. 322)

There are some meals that you remember for your whole life. (Dinners at Morimoto, Prune and the White Barn Inn come to mind.) And then there are the meals that, while perfectly fine meals, are forgettable. This recipe, unfortunately, falls into the latter category.

That's the real problem with the backlog of cooked recipes that I've amassed in the last couple of months of less-than-active blogging.

By all objective measures, this is an excellent recipe. It's got only five ingredients, and there are only three steps: 1) melt butter; 2) cook corn and shrimp; and 3) stir in scallions, basil and salt and pepper. And just look at that picture! Looks pretty tasty, no? The problem is that I have absolutely no memory whatsoever of eating it. I can only assume that means it didn't make a big impression one way or the other ... not terrible, but not amazingly good either.

Date Cooked: September 12, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: I honestly don't remember

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Top Chef Finale Tonight!


My little sous chef can hardly contain his excitement!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

206. Stained-Glass Teardrops (p. 681) (Gourmet, unbound, December 2002)

This post is my first contribution to what I think is a really wonderful project. In the wake of the shuttering of Gourmet Magazine a couple of months ago, a few food bloggers--Olga from Sassy Radish, Maggie from Pithy and Cleaver, and Jennifer from In Jennie's Kitchen--decided to launch a collaborative project to keep Gourmet's spirit alive. It's called Gourmet, unbound, and the concept is pretty simple: each month they will publish a roundup of posts from food blogs about recipes that appeared in an issue of Gourmet from that month in any of the six decades of the magazine's run. So, the inaugural roundup this month will feature recipes that were published in any of the magazine's sixty or so December issues.

For my first Gourmet, unbound post, I chose this recipe for Stained-Glass Teardrops that appeared in the December 2002 issue. Actually, these cookies are doing double duty as my contribution to Gourmet, unbound, as well as my contribution to the bakery table at my church's Christmas fair. I chose them because they are festive, seasonal and attractive, all traits that I hope will make them good sellers.

The idea of these cookies is to roll out the dough nice and thin and cut out shapes -- as indicated by the title of this recipe, The Book intends for teardrop shapes -- and then to cut out a smaller shape in the center of the cookie and fill it with crushed hard candy. As the cookies bake, the candy melts and liquefies. As it cools, the candy hardens and forms a colored "stained-glass" window in the center of the cookie. It's a neat little bit of kitchen alchemy.

I made the cookie dough a day in advance. First, I whisked together some all-purpose flour and salt in a bowl. Then I put a stick-and-a-half of softened butter and some granulated sugar in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I beat it until it was light and fluffy and then beat in an egg and some vanilla extract. I slowed the mixer and added the flour and salt bit by bit. Interestingly, there's no leavening agent like baking powder or baking soda in this recipe, so, the resulting cookie is very flat and dense. There's also not a whole lot of moisture in this dough, and it gave the Kitchen Aid a real workout. No way a handheld mixer could manage this dough. Once the dough was all mixed, I divided it into three pieces, flattened them into five-inch disks, wrapped them in plastic and put them in the refrigerator to chill overnight (The Book says to chill for at least two hours.)

The next morning, I got ready to make the cookies. First, I unwrapped some sour balls and divided them by color (red, green, yellow and orange) into small zip-top bags. Then, I got some of my frustrations out by smashing the candy to bits with a rolling pin. I put my candy dust aside and moved on to cookie making in earnest.

I took one of the dough disks out of the refrigerator and put it between two pieces of wax paper and rolled it out to about a ten-inch circle. I couldn't find any teardrop cookie cutters like the ones called for in The Book, so I used a three-inch circle cookie cutter to make the outer cut. I placed the round cookies on a Silpat-lined cookie sheet and made the smaller cutouts in the centers of the cookies. I found some Christmas-themed mini cookie cutters at the grocery store, so I used them to cut a Christmas tree, candy cane, gingerbred man or bell out of each cookie. I filled each cutout with some of the candy dust: green for the Christmas trees (duh!), red for the candy canes (ditto), yellow for the bells and orange for the gingerbread men (close enough, right?).

While these cookies were easy enough to make, they were still very time consuming because of equipment limitations. You absolutely have to make these cookies on a silicone baking sheet liner like a Silpat, otherwise, you'd never get the melted candy off the baking sheet. You also have to allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the Silpat to allow the melted candy to harden. I only have one Silpat (those things are expensive!), so between cooking and cooling, it took about a half-hour per batch, and with four batches, that's a half a day right there.

The finished cookies were really very pretty, or at least most of them were. Some of the cookies browed too quickly and were a little more "golden" than I would have liked. I also put a little bit too much crushed candy in some of the cookies and it either bubbled over the top of the cookie or seeped underneath, giving less-than-attractive results. But the ones that came out right really did look like little stained glass windows. The Book suggests that these cookies would make lovely Christmas tree ornaments, and I'm sure that they would, but, we've been down that road before, and I'm not going there again. The flavor of the cookies, though, was just ... meh. The sugar-cookie base was tasty enough, but nothing to write home about, and the cookie and hard candy tastes and textures don't really compliment each other all that well. In all, I'm glad I made them to have learned a new technique, but I don't think that I'll make them again any time soon.

Date Cooked: November 28 & 29, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Medium (time consuming without two Silpats)
Rating: Appearance A-; Flavor B-

Friday, November 27, 2009

200 through 205: Adam Cooks a Feast!

I'm sorry that I haven't posted anything in a few weeks. I've been incredibly busy at work. So, to thank you for your patience, faithful readers, and to celebrate reaching the milestone of 200 recipes, I thought that I'd take a few dishes out of order and tell you about the pull-out-all-the-stops feast I cooked to celebrate my thirty-fifth birthday last month.

Here's the menu:
Brandied Chicken Liver Pate (p. 22)
Baby Greens with Warm Goat Cheese (p. 131)
Twenty-First-Century Beef Wellington (pp. 418-20)
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots (p. 559)
Pan-Browned Brussels Sprouts (p. 526)
Devil's Food Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream (p. 742)

Up first was the Brandied Chicken Liver Pate. The Book describes this as a "simple, classic pate" with a twist: currants, which The Book calls "a delightful surprise." To make the pate, I started by melting some butter in a skillet and adding some finely chopped onion and garlic. Then I added a pound of chicken livers to the onions and garlic. I've never cooked with chicken livers before, but I've always wanted to try. The first thing that took me by surprise was the price...they are dirt cheap. Ninety-nine cents per pound. The other thing that surprised me was the rich, meaty and decadent flavor. I'll definitely seek out some more chicken liver recipes. Back to the recipe. I gently sauteed the livers for about ten minutes, and then added some cognac to the pan and simmered until it was almost evaporated. It was really starting to smell amazing. Then, I put the liver mixture in the food processor and added some spices: nutmeg, allspice, salt and pepper. I processed the mixture for about a minute until it was nice and smooth. After it had cooled a little bit, I stirred in some currents that I had plumped-up in some boiling water. I packed the pate into a large ramekin and chilled it for a few hours. About an hour before our dinner guests (our good friends Travis and Jodi) arrived, I took the pate out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. The recipe doesn't make very much, but that's OK, since it's so rich. A couple of canapes is just about all a person can handle. The flavor of this pate was excellent, but unfortunately, I didn't love it. I'm not sure if I overcooked the livers, of it something else went wrong, but it was a little dry. If it had been smoother, it would have been excellent.

For a first course, I chose a salad of Baby Greens with Warm Goat Cheese. I was looking for something light, elegant, and most important, something easy, since the rest of the menu was pretty aggressive. This was a really excellent salad. In fact, it just might have been my favorite part of the meal. First, I prepared the goat cheese rounds by mixing together some egg whites and a little bit of water in a shallow bowl. Then I put some panko breadcrumbs in a dish. Next I cut a log of goat cheese into 1/3-inch rounds. I took The Book's advice to use dental floss to cut the goat cheese. It worked a lot better than a knife, which would have mashed it down. Instead, the floss just sliced through the log, leaving perfect little rounds. I dipped each round in the egg mixture and dredged it in the crumbs. I put the rounds on a tray and refrigerated them until I was ready to cook them. I made a simple vinaigrette of cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and extra-virgin olive oil. I tossed some pre-mixed salad greens with the vinaigrette and arranged them on four plates and stashed them in the refrigerator for a few minutes. When I was ready to serve the salad, I heated a bit of oil in a small skillet and cooked the cheese rounds until they were golden on both sides. I arranged three cheese rounds on each plate, and we enjoyed. This was a very simple and delicious salad. The cheese was warm and creamy and the crust was crisp and tasty. I always love recipes like this that are easy, but that make a big impression in terms of flavor and presentation. I'll certainly make this one again.

The main event was the stunning Twenty-First-Century Beef Wellington, which I served with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots and Pan-Browned Brussels Sprouts. Since my wife doesn't eat beef, I don't get the chance to cook it very often. Since this was my special day, I was going to make the most over-the-top beef dish in The Book. First, I needed to get the beef. The recipe is written for 12, but since I was planning a dinner party for 4, only three of whom eat beef, I cut the recipe in half and counted on leftovers. So, instead of the 4 1/2 to 5 pound center-cut tenderloin called for in the recipe, I got a 2 1/2 pound tenderloin. I was taken aback, but not surprised, by the price of the beef: $15 per pound. Expensive, but still cheaper in the end than dinner for four at a fancy restaurant. This recipe includes two sub-recipes: the Cilantro Walnut Filling that surrounds the meat, and the Sour Cream Pastry Dough that encases the whole thing. The filling wasn't too difficult. I blanched some spinach, cilantro and parsley and squeezed out as much moisture as I could. I pulsed the greens in the food processor with some walnuts, garlic, breadcrumbs, egg whites, honey and spices: cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. The pastry dough was fairly straightforward, too. I combined some flour, a little salt and some cold butter (cut up into cubes) with my fingertips until it was crumbly. Then I added some sour cream and a little bit of cold water. The dough was very sticky, but it was workable. After a little bit of frisage, I shaped the dough into a flat rectangle, wrapped it in plastic and put it in the refrigerator to chill. With the dough and filing done, I was ready to assemble the roast. First, I seared the roast on all sides. Then I rolled out the dough into a large rectangle. Using a rubber spatula, I spread some of the filling in the middle of the rectangle and placed the seared beef on top of the filling. I then spread more of the filling all over the roast. I wrapped the pastry around the beef and sealed the edges with an egg wash. I cut a few steam vents on top of the wrapped roast and brushed it with more egg wash. The Book wanted me to decorate the roast with shapes cut from the scraps of the pastry dough. But, because I cut the pastry dough recipe in half, I didn't have any scraps left, so I had an unadorned Wellington. No matter, it was still a show-stopper. Once fully assembled, the whole thing went in the refrigerator to chill for an hour. Then I baked the wrapped roast for about an hour until the pastry was golden and the meat registered 115 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (My new Themapen digital instant read thermometer, which was a birthday gift from my wife!) I let the roast rest for a few minutes before slicing it. This was really an amazing dish. First, it was beautiful. But beyond that, it was also delicious. The pastry was flaky and tender. The sour cream gave it a nice lightness and tang. The filling was excellent, too. The cilantro was a bright and unexpected note that really updated what you would otherwise expect to be a very staid, traditional dish. The beef was wonderful, too. It was perfectly cooked: very tender and nice and rosy inside. A real special-occasion meal.

For the sides, I chose a couple of simple, but sophisticated accompaniments. For the Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots, I caramelized some thinly-sliced shallots in a little butter and then stirred them into some Yukon gold potatoes mashed with buttermilk. The Pan-Browned Brussels Sprouts were very easy. First, I melted some butter in a cast-iron skillet and cooked some thinly sliced garlic until it was golden (OK, it burned on the first try.). Then I removed the cooked garlic and lowered the heat. I cut the Brussels sprouts in half lenghtwise and put them cut side down in the skillet and sprinkled pine nuts over the top. I let them cook undisturbed for about ten minutes until they were nicely browned on cut sides. I removed the Brussels sprouts from the pan with tongs, leaving the pine nuts to cook a little longer with the garlic, which I added back to the pan. These Brussels sprouts were excellent. They were not at all soggy or bitter as Brussels sprouts can get with some cooking methods. The crispy seared edges and the pine nuts were a nice touch.

And the finishing touch? Devil's Food Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream. After last year's less-than-impressive birthday cake, I was reluctant to make another cake from The Book for my birthday. But, this year's cake was a real success. Because I knew that I'd be so busy cooking the main meal on dinner-party day, I decided to cook the cake layers a week before and freeze them. The cake batter isn't too difficult. First, I mixed some cocoa powder and boiling water and then added some milk and vanilla. In a separate bowl, I mixed some all-purpose flour, baking soda and salt. Using my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, I beat two sticks of softened butter with some dark brown and white sugar. I added in some eggs and then the cocoa and flour mixtures, a little bit at a time. I appreciate The Book's occasional warnings about what to expect when you're cooking. For example, The Book helpfully notes that the batter for this cake might look curdled. If it hadn't been for this little note, I might have assumed that my batter was a failure, and been driven by desperation to throw the batter away and go with a store-bought cake. I divided the batter into three cake pans and baked them for about a half hour, switching positions half way through. Once the layers were cool, I wrapped them in plastic wrap and foil and put them in the freezer until the day before my dinner party, when I transferred them to the refrigerator to thaw slowly.
For the brown sugar butter cream, I started by putting three room-temperature egg whites and a bit of salt in the bowl of my Kitchen-Aid. Then, I heated some dark brown sugar and water in a pan until it began to boil. While the sugar syrup boiled, I turned the mixer on and added some lemon juice once the egg whites started to get frothy. When the sugar syrup reached 238 degrees, I very slowly poured it into the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites, constantly beating at high speed. Once the meringue was nice and cool, I began adding three sticks of softened butter, a tablespoon at a time. By the time about half of the butter was added, the frosting broke and looked very curdled and unappetizing, but thanks to another comforting warning from The Book, I knew to soldier on because it would be fine in the end. When all of the butter was in and the frosting had come back together, I added some vanilla and beat it for two final minutes.
I frosted the cake the morning of the dinner party, covered it loosely and put it in the refrigerator until that evening. After dinner, I took the cake out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter to let the frosting come back to room temperature. This was an amazing cake. The cake layers were rich, moist and chocolaty. It kind of reminded me of those Suzy-Q cakes I used to eat as a kid. The frosting was really rich and creamy, and its flavor was very unique. It had a very sweet, caramely taste that I've never had in a birthday cake before. It was a real winner.

It was a huge amount of work to make this feast, but I couldn't think of any other way I'd rather spend my birthday. Good food, good friends, my wife and son ... a good day!

Date Cooked: October 24, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: It took ALL DAY! But it was worth it!
Ratings:
Pate: B-
Salad: A+
Beef: A
Potatoes: A-
Brussles Sprouts: B
Cake: A-

Saturday, October 31, 2009

199. Grated Potato Pancake (Pommes Paillasson) (p. 566)

Ididn't really set out to make this recipe. Instead, I had planned on making The Book's recipe for Rösti. But, when I set out to cook the potatoes about an hour before we wanted to eat, I noticed that the Rosti recipe calls for the potatoes to be cooked and chilled for four hours. Scrach that, and move on to plan B. And what a delicious plan B it was.

First, I peeled a couple of potatoes (The Book calls for Russets, but I had bought the Yukon Golds called for in the Rosi recipe, oh, well), and grated them with the largest holes on my box grater. The Book says that you can also use a food processor, but grating potatoes is easy enough that I didn't think it was worth the effort of taking out the food processor and cleaning it afterward. I put the grated potatoes in a dishtowel a handful at a time and squeezed with all my might to get as much moisture out as I could. It's really amazing how much water you can get out of something so dense as a potato.

While I melted some butter in a nonstick skillet, I tossed the grated potatoes with some salt and pepper. I spread the grated potatoes on top of the melted butter and pressed down gently on the top with a spatula to compact it a bit. Then I left it alone for about twelve minutes to cook and get nice and crispy on the bottom.

Then, I carefully slid the pancake onto a plate (thank goodness for good nonstick pans). I placed another plate on top and flipped it over so that the browned side was facing up. I set it aside for a minute while I melted some more butter in the pan. Then I carefully slid the pancake back into the pan, browned side up. I cooked it for another twelve minutes or so until it was just as crispy as the first side. Finally, I slid the pancake onto a cutting board and cut it into six wedges.

I served this potato pancake with the Grilled Chicken Palliards and Nectarine Chutney that I made some time ago. It was really delicious. Crisp and buttery on the outside. And on the inside, nice and tender, but not quite mashed potatoes. Think McDonald's hash browns taken to the next level.

The Book notes that this dish is also known as Pommes Paillasson in France, loosely translated as "straw mat potatoes." I can see the comparison in terms of appearance and crispiness, but I can guarantee that this dish is a heck of a lot tastier than munching on a welcome mat.

Date Cooked:
September 6, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Pretty Easy
Rating: A-

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

198. Lattice-Crust Peach Pie (p. 762)

The one good thing about having a backlog of recipes to write about is that it lets me pretend that it's still summer, and not cold and rainy out like it actually is.

I made this recipe* to bring to a pot-luck picnic at a co-worker's farm back in August. It came out pretty well, and that's not just me boasting. Someone at the picnic, who didn't know what I brought, told me that I should save some room for dessert because "someone brought a great-looking peach pie." I just smiled.

A lot of pies in The Book call for the standard Basic Pastry Dough for the crust. This recipe, however, has its own special crust recipe. What's so special about it, you ask? Well, that would be the lard, which makes the crust extra tender and flaky. It really makes a difference compared to a butter or vegetable shortening crust.

To make the crust, I blended together (using my fingertips) some flour, a little bit of salt and a half-pound of cold lard cut into bits until it started to look like beach sand. Then I mixed in a little bit of lemon juice and some cold water. I turned the dough out onto a floured pastry mat and did a little firsage action to fully incorporate the fat into the dough. I divided up the dough into two pieces (one slightly larger than the other), wrapped them in wax paper and put them in the 'fridge.

Meanwhile I peeled some fresh peaches by cutting a small "x" in the bottom of each peach and plunging them in boiling water for a few seconds and then into ice water. That loosens the peels just enough that they come off pretty easily. I pitted and sliced the peaches and tossed them with some lemon juice, flour, sugar, salt and a pinch of ground mace. What is mace, anyway? It turns out that it's the lacy, outer covering of the nutmeg seed. It's removed, dried and turned into a powder and used a lot like nutmeg, but some say that it's flavor more delicate and less sweet.

To assemble the pie, I rolled out the larger piece of dough into a 12-inch circle, and put it into a 10-inch disposable pie plate (since I was bringing it to a pot luck picnic, I didn't want to have to worry about getting my pie plate back). I put the shell in the 'fridge while I worked on the dough strips for the pie top. I rolled out the smaller piece of dough into an 11-inch circle. By the way, my flexible, non-stick pastry mat (from Target of all places!) is printed with a handy one-inch grid that makes it easy to roll dough out to any size you want. I put the dough circle on a wax-paper-lined baking sheet and put it in the 'fridge for a few minutes to firm up a bit. Meanwhile, I took the shell out of the 'fridge, filled it up with the peach mixture and dotted it with some butter. I took out the dough circle and cut it into strips (about 3/4 inch wide. Then I arranged half of the strips on top of the pie in one direction and then I arranged the remaining strips in the other direction. I interlaced them in a basketweave pattern. Not as hard as it sounds. The Book says to crimp the edges of the crust "decoratively." I used the end of a wooden spoon to create a fluted edge. Finally, I brushed the top of the pie with an egg wash made from an egg beaten with a tablespoon of water.

I baked the pie at a high temperature for about twenty minutes, and then lowered the heat and baked it for another forty-five minutes or so. When the edges of the crust started to brown a bit too much, I put my foil pie shields on the pie to keep the edges from burning.

Not only was the pie beautiful (the picture doesn't really do it justice, it was state-fair-blue-ribbon pretty), but it was really delicious. As I said, the crust was tender and flaky. The filling was sweet and tart, and just thick enough so that it wasn't runny or gelatinous.

The picnic at the farm was one of the best days we had this past summer. It was my son's first time seeing horses and cows. I didn't know how he'd react to big animals. He wasn't a bit afraid. He petted the horses, and called out to the cows until they came over to see him. Lots of fun.

Date Cooked: August 29, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A

* This recipe isn't on epicurious.com.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

197. Vodka-Spiked Cherry Tomatoes with Pepper Salt (p. 26)

OK, it's time to stop sulking. Gourmet's gone, and it's not coming back. (But if you believe Ruth Reichl, the death of every other magazine isn't very far behind. It sounds a little like sour grapes, but she just might be onto something.) So, it's time to move on and get back to blogging. And boy do I have a huge backlog of recipes to get through!

But before I do, I have to comment on something I saw on EatMeDaily.com today. Every year, there are a few "big" cookbooks that are released around the holidays. This year, those books are David Chang's Momofuku, and Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. In what I think is a wonderful development, two intrepid bloggers have already stepped up to take on the challenge of cooking through these two ambitious books. EatMeDaily isn't so sanguine. Here's what they have to say about the cook-through phenomenon: "this schtick is starting to get old." Well, folks, the snarky food blog is a schtick that's not all that original either. That said, I just can't hate you, EatMeDaily. Can't we all get along?

Now that I've got that off my chest. Back to the food. This recipe, which I made as an hors d'oeuvre for my family's Labor Day cookout (I told you I had a backlog!), could easily be renamed "Bloody Mary Bites." These boozy, zesty, spicy and salty nibbles were a nice surprise, even though they weren't my favorite recipe from The Book.

For the last few weeks of August and the first few weeks of September, my CSA box included some delicious red and yellow cherry and grape tomatoes. Sweet and flavorful, they were great on their own by the handful as a snack, but I was happy to sacrifice a pint to this recipe. First I peeled the tomatoes. I made a small "x" on the bottom of each tomato and blanched them in boiling water for just a few seconds before shocking them in ice water. Just like magic, the peels slipped right off. A little bit of a pain, but necessary for the vodka to permeate the tomato flesh.

Next, I combined some vodka, white wine vinegar, lemon zest and some superfine sugar. I marinated the tomatoes in the vodka mixture for about an hour, and I served them with a small bowl of mixed kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper for dipping.

These hors d'oeuvres were potent little bites. There's a lot of bold tastes here: vodka, lemon zest, salt and pepper. They made quite an impression, although I didn't really love them. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that I'm not a big vodka fan.

Date Cooked: September 5, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: B-

Friday, October 9, 2009

Post Mortem

Now that the initial shock of Gourmet's closure has worn off, people are starting to ask "what happened?," and "what's next?"

There's been plenty of Monday-morning-quarterbacking in the past few days, most of it focusing on the Internet, and food bloggers especially (gulp!), as a primary cause of Gourmet's demise. As Amanda Hesser put it, there was "nothing wrong" with Ruth Reichl's "stewardship" of Gourmet. "What was wrong with the magazine," Hesser says, "was its medium: print." Hesser says that people want content fast, and they want it on the Web. But, more importantly, "they don't want the master talking to the servant." They want to be part of the conversation. Chris Kimball, of Cook's Illustrated, disagrees. He says that "the world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise," and they're willing to pay for it. That's why, he says, his no-advertisement, subscriber-financed business model is doing just fine, thank you very much.

There's even been a fair amount of not-so-nice "I told you so"-ing, including a cutesy piece in The Boston Globe, a "Recipe for Obsolescence." Talk about the pot calling the kettle obsolete! Only a few months ago the Globe's parent company, the New York Times, came dangerously close to shutting down the Globe for very much the same reasons that Conde Nast closed Gourmet.

But no amount of hand wringing and second-guessing will bring Gourmet back. Or will it? Venture capitalist Kylie Sachs has started a one-woman campaign via Twitter to resurrect Gourmet under a Cook's Illustrated-like business model. It seems like a long shot, but, as of today, savegourmet has 648 followers (including yours truly).

Barring a Lazarus-like resurrection, what will become of Gourmet's current subscribers? According to a notice on Gourmet's web site (which will go dark after a "transitional period"), subscribers "can look forward to receiving Bon Appetit magazine for the remainder of their subscription." I, for one, plan to say "Thanks, but no thanks!" to this offer, and in fact, I also intend to cancel my subscriptions to other Conde Nast magazines (GQ and Details).

A little birdie has told me that I can expect to recieve a subscription for Cook's Illustrated for my birthday, which is right around the corner (hint, hint). It won't be the same, but Cook's Illustrated, will fill at least part of the hole in my mailbox left by Gorumet's passing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Laughing through the tears

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. This picture, from Gawker, says only one: gone.

Apparently, the rumors are true: almost immediately after Conde Nast's announcement on Monday that it was closing Gourmet, the offices were packed up. Now, just two days later, the offices are empty and quiet.

As sad as this is, Jon Stewart has, thankfully, given us something to laugh at through our tears. On last night's Daily Show, Stewart made the suggestion (which is no more ridiculous than killing a 68-year-old-icon) that, instead of shuttering Gourmet, Elegant Bride, Modern Bride, and Cookie, Conde Nast should have colsolidated them into a single publication: Pregnant Gourmet Bride Magazine! Here's the clip, props to Eat Me Daily.

The one bit of silver lining in Gourmet's closure, if there is one, is that it paves the way for Ruth's next book: Ruth Reichl: The Condé Nast Years, or something like that. It ought to be good reading. In the meantime, I'll be watching my mailbox for the November issue, and I'll savor every bit of it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

R.I.P. Gourmet Magazine 1941 - 2009

Today is a very sad day for the food world. It was with complete shock and dismay that I read the news this morning that Conde Nast was discontinuing four magazines, including Gourmet. The November issue will be its last.

It's no secret that newspapers and magazines in general have been having a rough go of it over the past few years, and the current recession has been particulary tough on magazines, like Gourmet, that depend heavily on advertising for revenue. In fact, Gourmet's January issue and Bon Appetit's March issue had so few ads that they were barely over the 98-page minimum necessary to even glue the magazines together. There have been rumblings during the past couple of months that there would be "frequency reductions" and severe budget cuts at several Conde Nast magazines. But no one expected today's news that the 68-year-old grand dame of epicurian journalism would be shuttered. The news surely surprised Bon Appetit's publisher, Paul Jowdy (who's keeping his job), who said back in February that the roumors that Conde Nast would close Gourmet or Bon Appetit were "ridiculous ... They would never do that." Apparently, when bean-counting management consultants are involved, you can never say never.

Conde Nast says that it "will remain committed to the brand, retaining Gourmet's book publishing and television programming, and Gourmet recipes on Epicurious.com." This is cold comfort for Gourmet's subscribers -- some of whom have been loyal readers for decades -- not to mention Gourmet's staffers, who, if you believe the stories, are being treated very, very badly by Conde Nast. The reports are that all of Gourmet's staffers, including Ruth Reichl, have been let go, and have been given only 48-hours to pack their things and leave the building. Ruth's Twitter post from today seems to confirm this. "Thank you all SO much for this outpouring of support. It means a lot. Sorry not to be posting now, but I'm packing. We're all stunned, sad."

I'm stunned and sad, too, Ruth.


(Thanks to Eat Me Daily, Eater, Gawker, and The NYT Media Decoder for their excellent coverage of this unfolding story.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

196. Twice-Baked Potatoes with Basil and Sour Cream (p. 570)

Continuing with the left over theme from the last post about Tarragon Lobster Salad, here's a recipe for Twice-Baked Potatoes with Basil and Sour Cream that I made using some baked potatoes also left over from the Labor Day shindig.

This was another easy recipe made even easier by the fact that I didn't have to bake the potatoes first.

I cut each of my leftover potatoes in half and, using a spoon, I scooped out the flesh, leaving a shell. I put the shells on a baking sheet, brushed them with some melted butter and put them in the oven until they turned golden and crisped up a bit. Meanwhile, I mashed the potato flesh together with some butter, milk, salt and pepper, and some chopped fresh basil, and warmed it up on the stove. Then the potato shells were ready, I spooned the mashed potatoes into the shells and put them back in the oven for a few minutes more. To finish off the dish, I topped the potatoes with a dollop of sour cream and some more fresh basil.

These potatoes were pretty good. (They're potatoes, after all. How could the not be good?) I liked the combination of potatoes and basil, a pairing that I don't think I've had before. But, even so, these weren't the best twice-baked potatoes I've had. To me, twice-baked potatoes are all about melted cheese, and lots of it. But there's not one bit of cheese in this recipe ... a glaring omission from my perspective.

If you read this recipe carefully, you'll note that the potatoes actually go into the oven three times, not two. First, you bake the potatoes, next to bake the empty shells, and finally you bake the filled shells. So, a better name for these spuds would probably be "Thrice-Baked" Potatoes. Maybe in the next edition of The Book?

Date Cooked: September 6, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: B+

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

195. Tarragon Lobster Salad (p. 157)

Back on Labor Day, my in-laws had a huge family lobster-fest. Everyone was there: my wife's grandparents, her aunt and uncle, her cousins, and her sisters and their families. And to feed everybody, my father-in-law got more lobsters than I think I've ever seen in one place at one time. He boiled them up in the back yard in a huge pot over gas burner. When everyone had their fill of lobster, melted butter and corn-on-the-cob, there were a few lobsters left over. Left over lobster!?!? Who ever heard of such a thing?

Well, I took full advantage of this windfall and I made this recipe for Tarragon Lobster Salad for lunch the next day. This is a very simple recipe, and since my lobster was already cooked, it was even easier. First, I made a simple dressing of finely chopped shallot, lemon juice, a little bit of mayonnaise, some chopped tarragon and a little salt and pepper. Then, I broke down the chilled lobster by taking the tail and claws and joint meat out of the shell. I cut the lobster meat into bite-sized chunks and tossed it with the dressing.

This was a great lobster salad. The dressing was light and bright, and it let the lobster -- the real star of the dish -- shine through. There was just the right amount of mayonnaise, which is key, since a lot of lobster salads have way too much mayonnaise. And what can I say about tarragon? It's one of my favorite flavors, and it's slight anise flavor goes perfectly with the lobster's sweetness.

This lobster salad would be great on a toasted hot dog roll, but The Book suggests serving it in a hollowed-out tomato. As you can see from the picture, this is a pretty elegant way to eat lobster (as if lobster wasn't already elegant). But in addition to being pretty, the tomato shell and the bed of lettuce added some substance to the dish, which was good, since my wife and I were sharing one lobster's worth of meat between the two of us. (The recipe intends for one-lobster-per-person.)

If you ever have the good fortune of a left over lobster, you must make this salad, but, even if you don't, this recipe is good enough that it's worthwhile to buy lobster just for this purpose.

Date Cooked: September 6, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Very Easy
Rating: A

Monday, September 28, 2009

Gourmet Today: One Last Thing

So, last Thursday, I opened my Gourmet Weekly email newsletter just like I do every Thursday. But, unlike every other Thursday, on this Thursday the Gourmet Weekly email newsletter included this...
That's right, the folks at Gourmet featured my blog and Melissa's too, and our preview of recipes from Gourmet Today as part of their blitz to promote the new book. I appreciate the recognition, and if you've found Gourmet, All The Way through Gourmet Weekly, thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll stick around.

And, really, just one more thing about Gourmet Today ... if you're disappointed that I'm not going to be cooking through the new book, you can get your Gourmet Today cook-through fix at one of the two (that's right, two!) blogs that have jumped into the fray. First, there's Derrick, who's taking on what he calls the BGB (Big Green Book) Challenge. Then, there's Annie who's re-named her blog from Bon Appetit to You Too to It's Gourmet Today! Good luck, guys. I can't wait to see what you're cooking up.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gourmet Today: Elvis Presley's Favorite Pound Cake

Just as every good meal should end with dessert, I decided to wrap up my preview of Gourmet Today with something sweet. And as I flipped through the Cakes chapter, this recipe practically jumped off the page at me. Elvis Presley's Favorite Pound Cake? How could I not make it?

The provenance of this recipe is a little unclear. Gourmet Today's headnote for the recipe doesn't offer any clues about where it comes from, and my research on the internets was inconclusive. So, I don't know if this recipe was something that The King's mom cooked up for him when he was just a prince, or whether it was something that he ate at a favorite restaurant. Wherever the recipe comes from, one thing is for sure: it's good. And by good, I mean really, really good. Like "Sara-Lee-is-drowning-her-sorrows-in-Entenmann's" good.

That this cake is so rich, moist and tender is no surprise considering what's in it: two sticks of butter, seven eggs, and a cup of heavy cream. And, the secret to this cake's amazing texture is sifting and beating ... a lot of it. The recipe says to "sift together sifted [cake] flour and salt. Sift again." This instruction has a bit of a "drop and give me twenty, soldier!" tone, but, after tasting the finished result, I'm not going to argue with sifting the flour three times. Nor am I going to complain about having to beat the batter for an additional five minutes just before it goes in the pan.

Next week, we'll be back to our regularly-scheduled programming. I've got a huge backlog of recipes from The Book to blog about, so stay tuned. I'm obviously focusing my efforts on The Project, but I'll keep cooking recipes from Gourmet Today, and every now and then, I might share one that I think is particularly good.

Date Cooked: September 20, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gourmet Today: Zucchini Curry (p. 331)

Anyone who's ever had a backyard garden (or for that matter, even known anybody who's had a backyard garden) knows that zucchini is the most resilient and abundant of Summer's produce. Regardless of drought, disease or pests, there will always be tons of zucchini come July and August, and people will always be looking for creative uses for it. And with at least a couple of zucchinis in my CSA box each week, I was in need of some inspiration.

Now, I don't have many complaints about The Gourmet Cookbook, but one thing that I wish it had more of is zucchini recipes. There are just nine, and I've already made four of them. Gourmet Today, on the other hand, has twenty (!) different zucchini recipes. And for my first taste of the Vegetarian Main Courses chapter, I chose this recipe for Zucchini Curry.

The first thing I did was to toast some mustard seeds and cumin seeds in a small skillet. The recipe says to heat the seeds "until cumin seeds are fragrant and a shade darker and mustard seeds pop, about 2 minutes. Cool." Once I saw the mustard seeds popping, I thought that the recipe should have said "Cool!" instead. These things were popping all over the place like little exploding bbs.

Next, using my mortar and pestle, I pounded some garlic and a chopped serrano pepper into a paste with some grated fresh ginger and salt. The recipe calls for a jalepeno, but I had some serranos leftover from the CSA box, so that's what I used. Even with that substitution, I thought that the finished product could have been even hotter. I added some curry powder and the toasted cumin and mustard seeds to the paste and set it aside.

Then, I cooked some thinly sliced onions in oil until they were golden brown. I added the curry paste and cooked it for a few more minutes. In with the zucchini (cut into good-sized chunks), and cook for a few minutes "until it begins to look moist." Then I added a can of coconut milk and a bit of salt. After simmering for a little while, it was ready to eat, served over Basmati rice and sprinkled with some chopped cilantro and cashews.

This was a very good curry. Fragrant, flavorful and creamy. It was almost like an Indian risotto. It was quick and easy to make, another good weeknight meal. My semi-veg wife, however, had a complaint about this dish. A lot of "vegetarian" dishes are nothing more than "regular" dishes without the meat. This dish, she said, was basically a chicken curry without the chicken. She's a little bitter after one too many meals at banquet halls when, after flagging down a waiter to ask for the "vegetarian dinner" and waiting while everyone else eats their stuffed chicken breast or petite filet, only to be given a plate of plain cold steamed vegetables. A really good vegetarian meal isn't about what it doesn't have (i.e., meat), it's about what it does have ... substance, interest, flavor (and a little bit of protein wouldn't hurt, either). In this dish, even a can of chickpeas or a handful of lentils would have been an improvement in my wife's opinion. That said, this was a tasty dish, and we devoured it.

As I finish writing this post, I just noticed, that without even realizing it, the first three dishes I picked from Gourmet Today are all Indian-inspired dishes. A coincidence? Or am I maybe subconsciously taking advantage of the increased emphasis on ethnic recipes in Gourmet Today? Either way, it's good eats.

Date Cooked: September 7, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: B+

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gourmet Today: Grilled Chicken Palliards with Nectarine Chutney (p. 525)

I wanted to make a recipe from each of Gourmet Today's new chapters. But, since my gas grill is under the weather, the Grilled Dishes chapter presented a bit of a challenge. I chose this recipe because I knew that I could cook the chicken in the broiler. That, and it seemed like an excellent use for all of the nectarines from my CSA box.

First, I cut up some nectarines into one-inch pieces (no need to peel them), and I chopped a tomato (didn't peel that, either), and some garlic. I put the nectarines, tomatoes and garlic in a pot with some vinegar, brown sugar, curry powder, and salt. I simmered the chutney for about twenty minutes.

While the chutney bubbled away, I made the chicken palliards. I put each of the boneless, skinnless chicken breasts in between two sheets of plastic wrap. Normally, when I make palliards, I bang the heck out of them with a meat pounder. Very effective, but also very noisy. It just so happened that when I was cooking this, my nine-month-old son was asleep, and my wife would kill me if I woke him up with all the noise. What to do ... what to do? Ah-ha! I put a big, heavy frying pan on top of the wrapped chicken, and pressed with all my might. I didn't get it as thin as I could have with the pounder, but it worked reasonably well. I patted the chicken dry, brushed it with some olive oil and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

Now, if my gas grill weren't sick (It just won't get hot. I think that the gas gets are clogged or something.), I'd have put the chicken on the grill. But instead, I cooked them under the broiler. It worked just fine, but of course, there's really no substitute for grilling.

I served the chicken with the chutney (topped with some chopped fresh cliantro), along with some fresh grean beans and a potato dish from The Book that I'll blog about soon. The chicken was good, but the star was the chutney. It was sweet and sour and tangy with an excellent punch of Indian flavor and aroma. The cilantro on top was a nice bright, clean note that contrasted with the richer, spicier chutney.

Gourmet Today says that the start-to-finish time is 25 minutes. It took me a bit longer than that, but certainly less than an hour. This really is a delicious, and really do-able weeknight meal.

Date Cooked: September 6, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Pretty easy
Rating: A-

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gourmet Today: Mango Lassi (p. 30)

In recognition of what the book's editors call "the return of the cocktail," Gourmet Today includes a "Drinks" chapter. Most of the chapter is dedicated to potent potables, including classic cocktails like the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, the Martini and the Gimlet. There's also some of the more obscure gems like the Rob Roy and Pimm's Cup. There's some innovative cocktails, too, like a Limoncello and Mint Sparkler, and a Cucumber, Gigner and Sake Sangria. I'm sure that I'll come back to this chapter again and again.

But, for my first taste from the Drinks chapter, I chose this recipe for Mango Lassi from the non-alcoholic drinks section. I've never had lassi before, but I've learned that it's a very popular Indian drink made with yogurt. There are savory varieties made with cumin, and sweet varieties, like this one, flavored with fruit.

I really liked the flavor of this drink, but I wanted it to be thicker and colder -- more like a smoothie. And as I sit here typing this blog post and re-reading the recipe, I see that I made it wrong, and if I had made it correctly, it would have had the texture I wanted it to. You see, the ingredient list includes the following items: sweetened mango puree, sugar, whole-milk yogurt, crushed ice, lime juice, a pinch of salt, and ice cubes. The recipe says to blend all ingredients except ice cubes. Somehow, I interpreted this to mean that I wasn't supposed to blend any ice at all, and just simply serve the blended drink over ice cubes. I should have blended the crushed ice in with the other ingredients before pouring the mixture over the ice cubes. Oh, well, it was good anyway.

The other thing I wasn't too sure about was the sweetened mango puree. The closest thing I could find at Stop & Shop was this Goya sweetened mango nectar. My wife said that it's not the same thing, and she's probably right, since it was a bit thinner than what I'd expect a puree to look like. Again, it was good anyway.

So the bottom line on this one is that even with my omission of crushed ice and my substitution of mango nectar for the puree, this was still a very delicious and very refreshing drink. Now that I know what lassi is and how good it is, I'm going to seek it out. I'm looking forward to trying one of the savory varieties.

Date Cooked: September 13, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A-

Monday, September 21, 2009

A new day for Gourmet ...Today

About ten years ago, Ruth Reichl and the editors of Gourmet Magazine set out to "gather the cream of the crop" of sixty-plus years of the magazine's recipes and put them together in a single cookbook with "every recipe you would ever want." The result of these efforts, as you know, was The Gourmet Cookbook.

If Ruth & Co. thought their work was done when they published their 1040-page, 1,300-recipe book, they thought wrong. It's a different world now than is was six decades ago when Gourmet magazine first appeared. And a lot has changed even in the short time since The Book's been on the market. Words like "foodie," "flexitarian," "locavore" and "mixologist" have entered our everyday vocabularies. Television shows like "Iron Chef" and "Top Chef" have raised people's standards about what they want to eat, while shows like "30 Minute Meals" have made people less willing to wait around for good food.

In light of these changing attitudes, the folks at Gourmet thought that the time was right to publish a new collection of recipes for the way that people are cooking today and will cook in the coming years. Gourmet Today doesn't replace The Gourmet Cookbook. Instead, the new book picks up where the other one left off. If The Gourmet Cookbook is about the best of food's past, Gourmet Today is about its future. It's a lot like the two-volume Gourmet Cookbook the editors published in the 1950s. Each of the two books compliments the other, but can stand on its own as a complete cookbook.

So, what's different about Gourmet Today? The most immediately noticeable difference is the color. The bright green cover nicely complements the sunny yellow cover of The Gourmet Cookbook, but stands out as something new and different. The rest of the design and layout is very similar to the older book, making it easy to use for cooks familiar with The Gourmet Cookbook. The other major change is the addition of three new chapters designed to meet the needs of today's cook: Drinks, Grilled Dishes and Vegetarian Main Courses. There's more emphasis on ethnic foods (Asian foods in particular), taking advantage of the wider variety of ingredients that are now more and more available in supermarkets. Also, in a nod to the Rachel Ray faction, more than half of the dishes in Gourmet Today can be cooked in a half-hour or less. There are also a couple of new features that really make this a very usable book for planning meals and parties: first, each chapter includes a recipe index (or a "checklist" if you're a cook-through blogger), next, the book's general index is one of the most comprehensive I've seen (it's 66 pages long!), and my favorite new "usability" feature is the addition of suggested menus composed of recipes from Gourmet Today. Often, as I'm cooking my way through The Book, I'll pick a great-looking recipe, but I'll have no idea what to serve with it. Well, in Gourmet Today, the editors have offered suggested menus for everything: seasonal quick weeknight meals, vegetarian menus, holiday meals, cocktail parties, and even weddings.

I was thrilled to get an advance copy of Gourmet Today from the nice folks at Gourmet. And the best part is that it's autographed by Ruth Reichl! The inscription says, "To Adam - From one cook to another, Ruth Reichl, August 2009." And tucked inside the book was a nice note from Ruth. "Dear Adam - Couldn't wait to share this with you. I really hope you like it!" Thanks, Ruth!

As I flipped through Gourmet Today, I was really impressed with the great variety of delicious sounding dishes. I was also pleased to see that the editors took the opportunity to fill some of the gaps in The Gourmet Cookbook. As I said, the editors of The Book aimed to provide "every recipe you would ever want." Well, that was a very tall order, and of course, there were bound to be some omissions. No baklava? No classic Christmas fruitcake? No spanakopita? Thankfully, Gourmet Today provides those missing recipes (pages 803, 735, and 61, respectively). It's hard to find anything to complain about in Gourmet Today. If pressed, I'd have to say that while my "no-red-meat-thank-you-very-much" wife and I are glad to see the addition of vegetarian main courses, it would also have been nice to have more gluten-free options. Many of the vegetarian mains involve pasta, bread, or pie crust (quiches and tarts). That's a small criticism, though, for a book that doesn't bill itself as being allergy-friendly.

Since I know you're wondering, no, I'm not going to attempt to cook through Gourmet Today. Even though I've got almost 200 recipes under my belt, I've really only just begun to cook through The Book. I'd be crazy to add another 1,000 - plus recipes to The Project. But, for the next few days, in honor of the release of Gourmet Today, (in bookstores September 22!) I'm going to do some blog posts about recipes from the new book to give you a bit of a taste. I hope you enjoy it as much as I know that I will.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

193. Corn Relish (p. 902) and 194. Fresh Corn Soup (p. 99)

Has 2009 been some sort of bumper crop year for corn, or what? For the last several weeks, there have been at least a dozen ears of fresh corn in my CSA box. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. It's delicious! Crisp and sweet, but, seriously, that's a lot of corn. And while plain old corn on the cob is one of the true joys of summer, I've also been taking advantage of the corn surplus by focusing on The Book's many corn recipes.

The first recipe* for Corn Relish brought me back in time. When I was a little kid, summer cookouts at my grandparents' house usually involved something called piccalilli. This sweet, tangy brightly-colored relish was always a real favorite of mine. It's been years since I've had it, but one taste of this corn relish brought me right back. Now, traditional piccalilli has cauliflower in it, but it's the seasonings in this relish ... the tumeric and dry mustard ... that are classic piccalilli flavors.

To make the relish, I started by cutting the kernels off eight ears of corn to get four cups of kernels. If you've never done it, cutting the kernels off ears of corn is really easy. First, get a great big bowl and a serrated knife. Stand the corncob on its end in the middle of the bowl, and with a sawing motion, cut the kernels off the cob. As you cut them off, they'll fall into the bowl, and if the bowl is big enough, it will catch any wayward kernels (they tend to scatter a bit as you saw them off). Next, I finely chopped some celery, white onion, and green and red bell peppers. I tried to chop the vegetables to about the same size as the corn kernels, so that everything would be of uniform size. (Excellent knife skilz practice!) The Book calls for green pepper only, but I decided to add a red bell pepper for some nice color.

I mixed the corn and chopped vegetables with some white vinegar, sugar, water, dry mustard, salt, tumeric and celery seeds. I brought it all to a boil and then reduced the heat and simmered it for about 15 minutes. I cooled the relish at room temperature and then transferred it to some plastic containers and put it in the refrigerator to chill.

This stuff is delicious. It's crunchy and sweet with a nice vinegary bite and the bold mustard and celery flavor. And the intense yellow color from the tumeric is bright and sunny. The recipe made about two quarts. The Book says that it keeps for a month in the refrigerator, but I didn't get to test that theory. My wife and I polished off a quart of the relish in about two weeks, enjoying a little bit of it as a condiment with sandwiches and salads for lunch. Another pint disappeared at our family's Labor Day cookout, and I gave the last pint to my sister-in-law. This is an easy and delicious recipe that could easily become a summer tradition.

The second recipe for Fresh Corn Soup was good, but not great. The Book calls it "pure simplicity" and says that it's "all about the corn." This is an incredibly apt description. There's really only one ingredient: corn. (Yeah, you also need water, a bit of salt and some chopped chives as a garnish.)

First I cut the kernels from a dozen ears of corn. As easy as it is to cut the kernels off corncobs, I won't lie, it took some time to do it to a dozen ears. Next, I brought the corn, six cups of water and some sea salt to a boil. Then, I reduced the heat and simmered it for about 20 minutes.

Then comes the pureeing. The Book says to do it in the blender, but I decided to use my immersion blender. It seemed a lot quicker and a lot less messy. Once it was all blended, I poured the soup through a fine-meshed sieve, pressing on the solids to get all of the liquid out.

The Book says that the soup can be served, sprinkled with chopped chives, either hot or cold. I tried it both ways, and while I liked it a lot, I didn't love it. This soup was pure corn essence. The flavor was excellent, and somehow, it was buttery and creamy even though it has not a bit of dairy in it at all. The problem I had with this soup was that it was too light. It had no substance. If I were to have a small bowl of this as a first course before a big meal, I'd be very impressed by it. But, eating this as my main lunchtime meal left me wanting more. I think that this soup could have been improved by adding some more fresh whole corn kernels at the end to give it a bit of crunch and some more heft.

(As I mentioned recently, I have a pretty big backlog of recipes that I've cooked and haven't blogged about yet. For some reason, I did't take a picture of the corn soup, and, for the life of me, I can't even remember exactly when I cooked it.)

Corn Relish
Date Cooked: August 29, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A

*The recipe for Corn Relish isn't on epicurious.com.
Fresh Corn Soup
Date Cooked: Early August, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Very Easy
Rating: B+

Friday, September 11, 2009

192. Plum and Almond Crisp (p. 816)

OK, now I'm confused. At first blush, this Plum and Almond Crisp looks a lot like the Fruit Crumble I made when I was on vacation last month. After a closer examination of the two recipes, and a little Internet research, I thought I had figured out the difference between crisps and a crumbles (not to mention cobblers, slumps, grunts, bettys and pandowdys). Both are fruit desserts topped with a crispy, crumbly topping. According to one source I read, a crisp is the richer American cousin to the British crumble. But all of that went out the window, and I went right back to square one when I found out that this recipe is called "Plum and Almond Cobbler" on epicurious.com. What gives? I thought that a cobbler was a "fruit stew" topped by spoonfuls of biscuit dough. Ugh, this is so confusing. At least one of the commenters on the epicurious recipe challenged its status as a cobbler "Good, quick and easy to make. Wonderful topping, although I would challenge calling it a cobbler." Maybe that's why the Gourmet editors changed the name? Well, anyway, whatever it's called, this is one tasty dessert.

The Book says to use prune plums for this recipe if you can get them. I lucked out because Stop & Shop just happened to have some. Prune plums are smaller and sweeter than the usual reddish skinned, yellow-orange fleshed plums that I'm used to. The also have blue-purple skin and dark reddish purple flesh.

First, I made the filling. I pitted and quartered the plums (no need to skin them) and mixed them with some brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, lemon juice and butter. I poured the plum mixture into a shallow oval baking dish.

Next, I made the topping. I mixed together some sugar, flour, salt and sliced almonds in the food processor and whizzed it until the almonds were ground. I added a beaten egg and whizzed some more until the topping came together. I spooned the topping over the plums and sprinkled some more sliced almonds over the top. (I made this dessert to bring over to my in-laws' house one Sunday afternoon. I also made a single-serving, gluten-free version for my wife using gluten-free baking mix in place of the flour.) Once it was all assembled, I baked the crisp for a little less than an hour.

I really enjoyed this dessert. It was better than the Fruit Crisp because the fruit was sweeter thanks to the brown sugar, jammier thanks to the luscious, juicy prune plums and the cornstarch to make it thicker, and spicier and more fragrant thanks to the cinnamon. This recipe is also great because it's quick, easy and very adaptable to whatever fruit you want to use. Several commenters on epicurious.com wrote about variations that they made using apples, peaches and raspberries.

So whatever it is -- a crisp, a cobbler, a crumble, or even a grunt -- it is delicious.

Date Cooked: August 24, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A-

191. Fresh Tomato Sauce (p. 207)

Tomatoes have been having a rough go of it over the past couple of years. Last year it was a salmonella scare, and this year, it's an attack of late blight. I had pretty much resigned myself to another summer without tomatoes. But for whatever reason, Farmer Dave (my CSA farmer) and Mann Orchard have been spared the blight, and I've been able to get plenty of beautiful, fresh ripe tomatoes. And I'm loving it.

So, when I got a load of tomatoes in my CSA box a few weeks ago, I decided to make this recipe* for Fresh Tomato Sauce. This sauce is a lot of things. It's easy to make, it's uncomplicated, and it's fresh and light tasting. But, there's one thing this sauce isn't. It's not your Nonna's Sunday Gravy. Now, I'm not Italian, and I don't have a Nonna. But my wife is part Italian, and her family's recipe for Sicilian tomato sauce is a big part of our culinary lives. When we were first married, we carried on her family tradition that "Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day."



So, if I'm comparing this recipe for Fresh Tomato Sauce to Grandma Leone's recipe from the Old Country, this recipe loses. But, if I can separate the two and keep in mind that they're two completely different things, this sauce is very good, and a nice change of pace.

To make the sauce, I peeled six pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes. Peeling tomatoes sounds like a pain, but it's really easy and worth the effort (despite what I've said before). All you need to do is bring a big pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut a little X in the bottom of each tomato. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for about 10 to 20 seconds (the more ripe the tomatoes are, the less time they'll need in the boiling water). Immediately plunge the tomatoes in a big bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, you should be able to pull the skins off without any problem. Next, I removed the seeds. This sounds like a pain, too, but it's really easy. Just set a sieve over a large bowl, cut the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze them to release all of the seeds and juice. The seeds get trapped in the sieve, and the juice collects in the bowl so that it can be added back to the sauce. Then I chopped the peeled, seeded tomatoes.

With the heavy prep work done, I moved on to the cooking. I heated some olive oil in a stock pot and added five cloves of thinly sliced garlic. Once the garlic was golden, I added the chopped tomatoes, reserved juice, and a little bit of sugar and salt, and simmered it for about an hour. I stirred in a big handful of chopped fresh basil and I served it with some sauteed sliced Italian chicken sausage over rice pasta (my wife is back on dairy and some soy, but gluten is still off limits).

Like I said, this sauce doesn't hold a candle to my wife's family recipe. It doesn't have the substance, spice, and subtle flavors that you can only get from slow cooking and a few family secrets. But, when viewed for what it is -- a simple celebration of fresh, summer tomatoes -- this sauce is really very good.


Date Cooked: August 30, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: B+

* I couldn't find this recipe on epicurious.com.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

190. Roasted Beet Salad (p. 147)

A lot of people don't like beets. I can't understand why. They're sweet, earthy, and luxurious. They look, and taste, like red velvet. So, as soon as I got a bunch of beets in my CSA box, I didn't hesitate to make this recipe for Roasted Beet Salad.

First, I roasted the beets by wrapping them in foil and putting them in the oven for about an hour and a half. Then I let the beets cool, still in their wrapper, for about a half hour longer.

While the beets cooled, I cooked some sliced almonds in olive oil until they were lightly golden. I took the pan off the heat and let the almonds cool in the oil for a while. Then I took them out with a slotted spoon, put them in a small bowl and seasoned them with a little bit of salt. Usually, when I cook, I'm a clean-up-as-you-go kind of guy, but out of a momentary stroke of laziness, I left the oil in the pan on the stove rather than pouring it down the drain and rinsing the pan. It was a good thing that I didn't, because, even though The Book says nothing at this point in the recipe about reserving the oil, it turns out to be an important component in the salad dressing.

Anyway, while the oil sat in the pan, I whisked together some finely chopped shallot, lemon juce, red wine vinegar, sugar and salt. I added the almond-infused oil, and set the dressing aside.

Next, I peeled the beets. The Book says to "slip skins from beets." No way is it going to be that easy, I thought ... but it was. I turns out that as the roasted beets cool in their foil packet, the steam loosens the skins, and they really do just slip right off. Pretty cool! I sliced the beets, and added the slices to the dressing, tossing to coat. At that point, I did resume my neat-kitchen ways, and rinsed off the cutting board and wiped down the counter to prevent any permanent beet juice stains. Then, I cut a pear into matchsticks and prepared to plate the salad. I arranged the beets on top of a bed of greens (I used some baby spinach that I had in the fridge instead of the baby arugula or mache that The Book calls for). I topped the salad off with the pear matchsticks and the toasted almonds.

I enjoyed this salad. The beets were delicious, the dressing was light and had a really nice flavor. Cooking the almonds in the oil gave it a nice rich nuttiness, and the lemon and shallot were just the right light notes to round it out. The pears and almonds gave the salad a good crunch, and were a nice counterpoint to the soft, silky beets. The only thing I can think of that would have improved this salad would have been a nice bit of soft goat cheese on top.

August 8, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A-

Saturday, September 5, 2009

189. Italian Lemon Ice (p. 860)

It's Labor Day weekend, which means that the summer's over. I can't believe how fast it's gone by, and more importantly, I can't believe how little I've used my ice cream maker this summer.

One of the few times I did use my ice cream maker was to make this recipe* for Italian Lemon Ice.

This refreshing treat was really east to make. All I did was make a simple syrup by boiling some sugar and water, and then adding copious amounts of lemon juice and zest, and just a pinch of salt. I chilled the syrup in the refrigerator and then froze it in the ice cream maker. Finally, I put it in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm up.

This Italian ice was pretty good. It was cold and clean, and its intense puckery lemon flavor was a real wake-up call to the palate. The texture was very nice, too. I was afraid that it was going to be too much like a sno-cone, or worse, like a block of ice, but it was smooth and scoopable.

One of the other times I used my ice cream maker this summer was when I made the Sorbetto di Uva (Concord Grape Sorbet) from the September issue of Gourmet. When I saw the picture of this sorbet in the magazine, it grabbed me immediately. And the recipe looked so simple, I decided that I just had to make it the next time I came across Concord grapes at the supermarket. Well, wouldn't you know it, the very next time I went to the store, there they were! (I don't think that I've ever seen Concord grapes at Stop and Shop, so I think it was destiny.) All I had to do was puree the grapes, put them through a fine mesh sieve to remove the skins and seeds, and mix the puree with some super-fine sugar. I chilled the mixture and then froze it in the ice cream maker. The resulting sorbet was smooth, silky with an intense grape flavor. I thought it was just great!

Now, even though summer's coming to an end, that doesn't mean that the ice cream maker's going into mothballs. No sir, there are plenty of fall and winter ice creams in The Book: maple walnut, Grape Nuts, rum currant, eggnog... I can't wait.

Date Cooked: July 27, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A-

*This recipe is not on epicurious.com.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

188. Fresh Apricot Upside-Down Cake (p. 718)

I can't believe how far behind I've fallen in posting about the recipes I've cooked. I cooked this recipe more than six weeks ago! I took a few recipes out of order when I went on vacation last month, and now I've got a pretty sizable backlog of recipes to work through. Well, stick with me, and I promise that you're in for some tasty treats.

I made this cake to bring with us when we visited our friends Travis and Jodi in their new place. Upside-down cakes are the best. They are sweet, moist, and they look great. Of course, pineapple is the traditional upside-down cake topping, but it's not the only one. There are three different kinds of upside-down cake in The Book. This one uses fresh apricots, which are plentiful and tasty in late summer.

To make this cake, I started by melting a stick of butter in an oven-proof skillet. Once the foam subsided, I sprinkled some brown sugar over the melted butter and let it cook for a few minutes without stirring. Then I arranged some apricot halves (cut sides down) on the bottom of the skillet. I took it off the heat and set it aside while I made the cake batter, which is a pretty straightforward, traditional cake batter. I creamed together some softened butter and sugar, and then I added some vanilla and almond extracts and some eggs. I finished the batter off by adding some buttermilk and some flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, a little at a time, alternating between the dry ingredients and the buttermilk.

I carefully spooned the batter over the apricots and smoothed the top with a rubber spatula and baked it. I let the cake cool for a few minutes before I placed a serving plate over the skillet and very carefully inverted the pan and lifted it off the cake. The Book says that some of the fruit may stick to the pan and need to be put back in place on the top of the cake. No such problems here, the cake released perfectly, and the jewel-like apricots stayed firmly planted in the top of the cake where they belonged.

This cake was a real winner as far as I'm concerned. It is stunningly beautiful with its bright orange fruits and its glossy, caramel-y glaze. And the flavor is wonderful. The topping is sweet and buttery, and the interplay of all of the other flavors is just great: the tart apricots, the tang of the buttermilk and the hints of vanilla and almond come together in perfect harmony.


Date Cooked: July 18, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A