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
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 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 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

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

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