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

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 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" 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+