Monday, November 30, 2009

Eggnog pie

I got the idea for an eggnog pie from Layne, who writes one of my all-time favorite blogs and told me she was thinking of "hacking" a recipe for an eggnog custard pie. Suddenly, I couldn't get the idea of eggnog pie out of my head and had to have one for Thanksgiving. Since I'm no good at hacking recipes, I looked through a bunch of cookbooks and found this fine recipe in San Francisco A La Carte, the outstanding 1979 cookbook by the San Francisco Junior League. It isn't a custard pie, it's a boozy, superrich cream pie and if you eat more than a small slice you will feel fat and tired and sick. But it's worth it.


1. Bake and cool a 9-inch pie shell. The original recipe calls for a pastry crust, but I think a cookie crumb crust would be a lot better.

2. Soften 1 tsp. gelatin in 1 TBS cold water. Set aside.

3. Scald 1 cup milk in the top of a double boiler over simmering water.

4. Dissolve 2 TBS cornstarch in 1/4 cup cold water and stir into scalded milk. Then add 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 3 beaten egg yolks. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved and it's sort of thick, about 15 minutes.

5. Add softened gelatin and stir until dissolved. Add 1 TBS butter, 1 tsp. vanilla, and 1 TBS bourbon. Stir until butter melts. Cool.

6. Beat 1 cup cream until stiff, fold into filling, and pour into pie shell. Refrigerate a while to firm up. Before serving, top with freshly grated nutmeg.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We certainly did. I'm truly grateful to have such a lovely family, both the one I was born into and the one I married into.

But this is a food blog, not a Hallmark card. Here's what we ate:

ajwain cashews 
Parsi cheese crisps
avocado crostini
dried apricots with goat cheese and pistachios
maple sour cocktails (thank-you, Justine and Michael)
deep-fried turkeys
fresh cranberry relish
candied sweet potatoes
mashed potatoes
red rice
brussels sprouts with butter and garlic
cider jelly 
spinach jalapeno casserole (again, thank-you, Justine)
chocolate chess pie
chess pie
eggnog pie
pear pie
pumpkin caramel pie
pecan pie
It was a Parsi/Cajun/Laurie Colwin/Southern/Joy of Cooking/Gourmet Today feast. Isabel and I prepared everything, save several key contributions from my sister Justine. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work and yesterday we were not so peppy.

I'm going to post two recipes here because they're spectacular and I've made them enough times that I feel some ownership, though I certainly did not invent them.

#1. Paul Prudhomme's cranberry relish

From his Louisiana Kitchen, which is a stellar cookbook. This relish is fresh and tangy and so much zippier than jellied "sauce" that I'm surprised it hasn't caught on in a huge way. You can watch a video of Chef Paul demonstrating a version of this recipe right here.

In a food processor, grind together 1 lb. cranberries, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 2 tablespoons vanilla, the juice and pulp from 2/3 of a seeded lemon, the sections from 2 peeled, seeded oranges. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving. 

You'll have a boatload of relish; it's excellent on sandwiches.

#2. John Egerton's chess pie

This recipe comes from his encyclopedic Southern Food, another stellar cookbook. I first made this pie in 1996 and have baked it just about every Thanksgiving since. Flat and very sweet and pale yellow, it my all-time favorite.
First, make pie dough using any recipe you like and roll it out to fit in a 9-inch pan. Preheat oven to 375. Beat 3 eggs with 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1 tablespoon white cornmeal, 1/3 cup buttermilk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix well. Pour into the crust and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 20 minutes more. It should be mostly set but still slightly jiggly in the middle. It will firm as it cools.

As usual, there is none of this pie left over.

As for the turkeys, they were storebought. They were not heritage. Next year, I vow to do better.

I was going to write about frying turkeys, except we're done with frying turkeys. We fried a bunch of turkeys in the mid-1990s when it first became trendy, then lost enthusiasm. Since my father-in-law really wanted to try one, we hauled out the cooker, the giant pot and seasoning injectors, bought six gallons of peanut oil, and went through the dramatic and laborious process one last time. The turkeys were tasty and spicy and much appreciated, but it's undeniably an ordeal and henceforth, we are roasting. 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Three pies down, two to go

I always thought that I was drawn to cooking because my mother had so few inclinations in that direction. She was always installing skylights, building bookshelves, and working in her pottery studio. Cooking was all mine, and I taught myself to cook using cookbooks. See subtitle of blog. I assumed things would play out this way with Isabel, that she would look for areas where she could  distinguish herself.  And she has. She also cooks. She used to bake with me all the time, and now she bakes without me all the time. I couldn't make a pie unsupervised when I was 12, but she can.
I was watching her yesterday and noticed she's picked up all my "tricks" -- she melts her butter in a measuring cup in the preheating oven instead of on the stove, etc. -- 
but she's neater, more patient and methodical. Like, she puts the pecans in an orderly row.
 I never do that.

I'm the tiniest bit jealous. I'll always be a fake cook who learned from books; she'll be a "natural" cook who learned from her gentle, wise, and beautiful mother.

While Isabel and I were having our wholesome Laura Ingalls Wilder day, Owen took in some serious TV. The trouble with taking pictures of a kid watching Ben 10: Alien Swarm is that you can't get both stupefied child and flashing television in the same frame. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Long post about recent social events and what I cooked

We clocked some serious recipe mileage over the last few days. All dishes made from Gourmet Today.
Guests: The parents of Isabel's best friend, who have become friends in their own right 
Topics discussed: the perfidy of middle-school girls, gravlax, wallpaper, Cheerful Money, football.
Pisco sours. This highly alcoholic South American cocktail is supposed to be creamy, frothy, tangy and white. As prepared using the GT recipe, this drink was all those things, but it was also lumpy. Although GT says you can use powdered egg whites instead of the real thing, you can't, or, if you can, you need more detailed instructions.
mussels on the half-shell with ravigote sauce. The first time I've ever made anything "on the half-shell" and it wasn't as hard as feared. In fact, it wasn't hard at all. You should make these for Thanksgiving; they were great and the recipe is here.
You steam the mussels, remove from shells, marinate in an oniony vinaigrette, then place them back in the shells. Everything can be done ahead. I omitted the chervil because I've never been able to find anywhere, ever. My other piece of advice would be to get the biggest mussels you can find.
wine-braised chuck. Really good pot roast.
roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta. Really good brussels sprouts
red leaf lettuce salad with citrus dressing and pine nuts. Not an especially good salad.
hazelnut gelato. I prefer Jack Bishop's recipe from Complete Italian Vegetarian.

Guests: my mother and our cousin Ana Maria
Topics of discussion: the cuteness of chickens, the ugliness of turkeys (at least in my mother's very strong opinion), Cheerful Money, new mammogram guidelines, Thanksgiving table settings
chunky butternut squash and white bean soup. Chosen because my mother requeseted "bland, comforting" foods. It wasn't all that bland; it was delicious. I hope it was comforting. Floating on top are toasted pumpkin seeds.
pear fool. You poach pears in lemon and wine, puree them to a Gerber consistency, layer with whipped cream. See photo at top of post. Bland and comforting.

Guests: my husband's parents who are in town from Boston for Thanksgiving
Topics discussed: the appropriateness of the movie An Education for a 7th-grade girl (too late, already took her, she'll live), ginger cookies made by a long-deceased Wasp relative for which no one has a recipe, family, Cheerful Money
black bean soup with ancho chili. What it sounds like.
grilled cheese sandwiches with curried mayo and fennel. You take an already fattening food and make it more fattening by adding mayonnaise. Brilliant idea! These were fantastic. Recipe here
banoffee pie. Sickly sweet, sticky, and I'm wondering if it will hurt the chickens to eat the remains. Probably. I ordered this once a long, long time ago at a restaurant in Ireland and remembered it as ambrosial. Apparently my tastes have changed. Crust, dulce de leche, bananas, whipped cream. The recipe is here, if you're interested.
In other news, I wrote a story about my attempt to buy a Thanksgiving turkey which you can read here. 

Will start the Moro cookbook right after Thanksgiving. 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Taste test: cake lollipops

I dropped by to visit my sister yesterday morning and she got a wild look in her eye and said, "You have to try one of these," and gestured to a box full of what I guess you would call cake lollipops. They were a gift from friends in honor of the birth of Ben. It was 9 a.m. and too early for cake or lollipops, but Justine is rarely wrong about food. 

The cake lollipop -- hand-made at the Sophie Buns Bakery in Pleasanton, Calif. -- is fantastic in concept and execution. The whole exquisite thing is encased in a firm, waxy icing, and when you break through you encounter a bite of frosting and supremely moist -- pudding-moist -- cake. It's like a petit four on a stick. Why does no one seem to make petit fours anymore? They fill a niche, these dainty, lovely cake-like items. Like a cookie, they're a modest eating commitment., but unlike a flat, arid cookie, they're complicated and interesting. There's icing and decoration and underneath are surprises, layers, jams, and buttercreams, all wrapped up in one tiny, cunning package.

They look like they must be incredibly fussy and hard to make, which is probably why no one makes them anymore. I am answering my own question. Some petit four pictures:

Speaking of girly, Isabel and her best friend went to see New Moon yesterday and they didn't invite me, they just asked me to drive. This made me wistful. I saw Twilight with them last year, and was under the impression we'd had a grand time. I think Robert Pattinson is cute, but he's a poor girl's Ed Westwick. That last sentence? I tried it out on Isabel and her friend in the car and was met with the heaviest of sighs. I can't decide if I come off more like Courteney Cox on Cougar Town or the dorky "cool dad" on Modern Family. In either case, it is clear why Isabel didn't invite me to the movie.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Not to change the subject or anything

But it is hard to weigh a live turkey on a bathroom scale. I did it, sort of. She weighs about 20 pounds. I didn't even try with the Narragansett tom, who is about half her weight and even more skittish. He's really skinny. For an interesting take on heritage turkeys, I recommend this blog post

The author of that blog owns a ranch that is featured in the beautiful and inspiring Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, which I have. Of course. Since it is well past time to move on from Gourmet Today, I've been considering starting up with this book. But there are two other strong contenders. Here's the lineup:

-The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook (California cuisine; very concerned with purveyors; lots of text; seasonally organized)

-Moro (Spanish/Northern African. Downside: I have the British edition which means converting all measurements, which I dread. But it is supposedly a brilliant book)

-A16 (Italian; challenging; recipes for squid ink pasta and pancetta)

There's a poll, if you feel like voting.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Adding pomegranate molasses and sesame oil is not a revolution

I once wrote a story about the history of Caesar salad and I don't remember any of it. Something about Tijuana? I don't remember! Who was Caesar? Don't remember! All I remember is that the salad was initially intended to be eaten with the fingers. I think.

The Gourmet Today grilled Caesar salad involves briefly searing the croutons and the romaine. I had high hopes. Preamble to recipe: "Contrasting cool and warm, crunchy and soft, this Caesar is revolutionary yet familiar."

Not really. It was okay. I felt the lettuce was a tiny bit stewed. We ate it, but I would not grill another Caesar. This whole cookbook seems to be about making tiny, dubious changes to "familiar" dishes and passing them off as "revolutionary."
Another example: the seltzer waffles
Despite the "odd" addition of seltzer water, they are just waffles. Good waffles, but just waffles.

Meanwhile, I am beside myself with delight over the wonderful breast cancer screening news. If women under 50 don't get  mammograms or do breast self exams we will never find a questionable shadow or pea-sized lump and that means. . . fewer breast cancer diagnoses! Hurray! This is change I can believe in. I bet all those women in their 30s and 40s who have battled cancer are bumming right about now, realizing they could have skipped the early diagnosis, lumpectomy, radiation, chemo, nausea, rashes, and ugly hair loss and gone straight to hospice. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Some odds and ends

This is the best dish I've made from Gourmet Today, and it is the one for which I had the lowest expectations. Sun-dried tomato dip. Bleah, right?

I hosted this "group" -- it's not a book group, more like a chat group -- last night and wanted to make appetizers that wouldn't be fussy or difficult or involve oysters, phyllo dough, or caviar. I came up with two: chickpea crostini, which were fine, and sun-dried tomato dip, which was fantastic. It's smooth and rich, incredibly delicious and stupidly easy -- you just throw everything into a blender or Cuisineart. I served it with crackers, but the leftovers will go on sandwiches. I was going to copy the recipe into this space, but it is actually available right here. Try it!

I've been cooking steadily through Gourmet Today but for some reason have been disinclined to post. Everything is good but boring: celery tofu salad, tuna burgers, pasta with lentils and kale, etc. The pomegranate gelato, which was the recipe I most wanted make, failed. When churned, the cream turned grainy, a situation I've encountered before with fruit juice-based ice cream. 

But the devil's food cake with marshmallow icing was a hit.
Isabel made it herself, start to finish. There was some disaster with the decorative cocoa powder falling too quickly out of the sifter at the very end, followed by a futile attempt to fix the situation followed by frustration and tears. I can relate; failed cakes are very frustrating, though I would not count this one as a failure. 
This is our chicken run-in-progress.
Call Sunset! I think they might want to run a Western design feature.

And this is my sister's son, whose name is Ben and who is, as far as I can tell, the perfect baby.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Finally, I understand the coffee yogurt and Ritz crackers

"The Wasp fridge is like the bachelor fridge, but Wasps load up on dairy, including both 1 and 2 percent milk, moldy cheese, expired yogurt, and separated sour cream. And atop the Wasp fridge sit Pepperidge Farm Milanos, Fig Newtons or Saltines. . . "

When I read that passage to my Wasp husband this morning he said: "That's bull. I'd never buy both 1 and 2 percent milk." 

Which (I now understand) is such a Wasp response. 

I didn't expect to love Cheerful Money by Tad Friend (Mr. Amanda Hesser), but I loved Cheerful Money. Could not concentrate on anything else until I'd finished it, which I did at 5 a.m. So many little mysteries about my spouse now solved! Such a funny, rueful memoir.

Here's an excellent passage about a generic old Wasp club:

"If you go to these clubs for dinner on a Saturday night, you get scotch-plaid-upholstered furniture in the Vintage Cherry or English Tavern finish; accordion-folded napkins in the water glasses and sourdough rolls on the bread plates; Dover sole and oysters Rockefeller served up by an Irish waitress with dyed auburn hair; and, for company, an elderly gent in the corner in a striped three-piece suit with pocket square who eats his meal and drinks his three Manhattans, sips Sanka with Equal on the advice of his doctor, then lumbers into the night. His demeanor forbids you to notice, let alone trespass upon, his immense loneliness. In his will the club will receive a small provision for a larger umbrella stand."

Monday, November 16, 2009

This one goes to Starbucks

A rare win for Big Food. Starbucks' vanilla almond biscotti (right) trounces Todd Wilbur's bland, gravelly clone from Top Secret Recipes Unlocked.  Better looks, better flavor, better texture. 

On the other hand, the soft snickerdoodles Isabel baked using Wilbur's Pepperidge Farm clone recipe, were incredible. I always thought Pepperidge Farm was a classy brand of cookie -- have no idea why; is it? -- but tasted side by side with a homemade snickerdoodle, the PF version is almost inedible. Apparently, pure butter trumps "palm and/or interestified and hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed" oil.

You can read my Entertainment Weekly review of Wilbur's book here, but, unfortunately, the online version doesn't include the chart detailing the various items I cooked. The piece is pretty flat without it. If you see a copy of the magazine, it's on page 91. 

Here are some of the experiments that didn't make the cut: 
Homemade Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies (left) were buttery and crispy; the real thing: chalky.
Homemade Starbucks pumpkin cream cheese muffin (left) was fluffy and delicious the real thing: turgid and pasty.

Finally, as some of you might recall, I made onion rings a few weeks ago and since EW doesn't include them in the roundup I can put you out of your suspense.

  A homemade onion ring made using Todd Wilbur's recipe (left) involves dipping actual rings of an actual onion into milk, bread crumbs, and flour, then frying them in a pot of Crisco. They are stupendous. I have no idea how Burger King produces its "onion" rings but they do not contain the rings of an onion. They are more like onion crullers -- batter containing scant bits of onion that is (I would guess) extruded  through a machine into ring shapes, then tossed into a vat of the cheapest possible recycled oil. Sampled side by side with real onion rings, they are truly horrid. 

They are, however, much, much cheaper to buy than to make. They are also tidier to eat and you can get them when you are driving across Nevada, crave a hot, salty snack, and don't want to get out of your car. I would say that the stale, nasty BK onion ring has its place, except why wouldn't you just get french fries? 

Friday, November 13, 2009

I got a heritage turkey, my sister had a baby

She just has to upstage me. I wanted everyone to come see my fantastic turkey but instead they've been trouping over to the hospital to admire that baby of hers. Typical.

Turkey is an unnamed male, a Narragansett, slim and gentle, who nestles up next to his wheezing, sclerotic, factory-bred bride and grooms her. He is graceful and awesomely beautiful and makes a musical trilling sound as he strolls around the yard. 

Baby is an unnamed male, robust and pink, or so I have heard. I have not seen him because we are taking care of my niece and they are not letting germy humans under age 16 into the maternity ward. But all reporters agree that this infant is awesomely beautiful and cries lustily and later today I will see for myself.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I was kind of thirsty when I woke up

That is a chicken quesadilla made by a drunk person. I almost never drink at home anymore, but to alleviate stress from controversial article, hauled the vodka bottle from the freezer last night and mixed a cocktail with lime juice and pomegranate syrup given to us by a friend. Then I made another. I think there was a third, but don't actually remember.
After that, I fired up the stove and tackled Todd Wilbur's recipe for Taco Bell Chicken Quesadillas out of Top Secret Recipes Unlocked. Here's what he writes "Taco Bell takes the fast food quesadilla into new territory with three different cheeses and a creamy jalapeno sauce, all of which you can now cheerfully recreate in the comfort of your warm kitchen."

I was cheerful in my warm kitchen and the recipe was easy, which was a blessing. Creamy jalapeno sauce: mayonnaise stirred together with spices and bottled jalapenos. Chicken: breast meat, grilled or cooked in hot skillet. The three cheeses: cheddar, jack, American. The American cheese really did make the quesadilla taste like something crassly satisfying that you might get at a fast food restaurant. These were great quesadillas.

I was going to drive down the hill and buy a quesadilla from our local Taco Bell to compare, but thought better of it. 
Food styling by a drunk person.

In other news, I can't believe I didn't know about the Tournament of Cookbooks. Now I want that Argentinian cookbook, even though Nora Ephron makes it sound absurd. Plus, we have a wheelbarrow.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A friend for the turkey

Turkey is much happier this morning, roaming all over the yard, hiccuping lustily.  Meanwhile, I found a woman in Rohnert Park who has three heritage toms for sale at a fair price. Should I? I think I should.  I have emailed her with queries as to their temperament and flying abilities and if the answers are to my liking, Owen and I will take a short drive north tomorrow afternoon and bring home a friend for our girl. ONE friend. We have another errand in the general vicinity involving miniature goats, but we will not be bringing home miniature goats. Not yet, anyway. Probably not ever.

I have a tough, but (I think) fair essay about Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals up on Doublex today. You can read it here. I wrote a balanced review a few weeks ago; this is a more personal reaction. I keep wanting to undercut myself and say it's a bitchy essay, but I just wrote what I thought and believe to be true. 
The coverage for this book has been non-stop and almost universally adoring. Here's the opener to Laurie David's review, which I read this morning:  "A young, self-effacing, quiet, humble novelist from Brooklyn has written a powerful, groundbreaking book that might very well save our lives and the planet, if only everyone would read it." 

At first I thought it was parody. It is not. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another day, another coffee cake

Funny, because I rarely eat coffee cake, preferring to maintain the illusion that I'm on a diet until at least noon. But in the interest of science. . .

The Gourmet Today buttermilk coffee cake beats out both Starbucks and the Todd Wilbur Starbucks clone recipe. Taller, fluffier, more substantial, prettier, though the same general rich batter/cinnamon streusel idea. All I would do to improve this cake would be to use more nuts and leave them in biggish pieces for crunch.

In other news, the turkey is tragically lonely. I would think she was sick if I hadn't seen her traipsing widely and seemingly cheerfully around her original home with her turkey companions just a few days ago. Now she just stands in one place for hours and makes hiccuping sounds if anyone approaches. I have picked her up, and she's this heavy, warm, throbbing armful of bird and I hate that she is so glum. She's barely eating, and although I've forced her beak into the water bowl, have not seen her drink. I'm sorry I didn't buy one of the other turkeys to keep her company, and have considered going back to correct my mistake, but it's a very, very long drive to French Camp and the plan was never to keep this bird for long.

If I get more turkeys, which I'd like to do in the spring, I'm going to get heritage turkeys, and start them from poults. This turkey is a painfully awkward animal -- she can't fly and can barely navigate the stairs because she's so top-heavy, so buxom. I suspect she's a broad-breasted white, the Frankenstein breed developed for factory farms. I'm sure you can have a very nice life as a clumsy, top-heavy, flightless bird -- but only if thoughtless people don't also separate you from your BFFs.

I really might have to go back and buy that other turkey. That is crazy, right? Yes. It is crazy.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Coffee cake v. coffee cake

At left, Starbucks coffee cake made at home using Todd Wilbur's recipe out of Top Secret Recipes Unlocked. Price: $4.34 for the whole cake, including fuel to heat oven.

At right, coffee cake purchased at Starbucks: $1.95

Wilbur's recipe made twelve squares. So: 36 cents a piece for homemade, which was tender and buttery, if a bit messy to cut. Starbucks coffee cake was tidy and rigid and the topping tasted very slightly rancid.

No smug lectures. I understand why people buy Starbucks coffee cake. I've done it myself and will do it again. But if you ever think it's "not bad" you need to make Wilbur's clone recipe -- or any coffee cake recipe -- and taste side by side. It's pretty bad and they're not giving it away. 

Interesting fact: Most expensive single component of homemade coffee cake is butter, followed by vanilla. Everything else is almost trivial.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The turkey has landed

A few days ago I saw a Craiglist ad for a $10 tom turkey in Petaluma, which is about a half hour from where we live. I answered the ad, the guy was psyched, I was psyched, I told Owen and he was super-psyched. 

This morning I called to arrange a time to collect the turkey, but the guy had changed his mind. He wanted to keep his turkey. 

I was sort of relieved, my husband was super-relieved, and Owen was devastated. Because of Isabel's flu, he had to cancel all his social plans for the weekend. On top of that, NO TURKEY? 

I went back on Craigslist, widened my search and located a $35 hen turkey out in French Camp, which is two hours from where we live. This was neither convenient nor a sweet deal, but Owen and I drove out there anyway and got this big white bird. She's not a heritage turkey or anything fancy; all I know about her is that she spent her youth pecking around in a yard filled with chickens, cats, junked cars, crushed soda cans, empty plastic bottles, discarded cereal boxes, and one pit bull mix. Hmm. Do you think they used organic feed?

There she is, back at our house, standing in the corner staring glumly at the fencepost. 

Ever since I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I knew a turkey was coming, and now she has come. It's a relief to have that done. We're not naming her. At least not today.

We all have to have our nice hobbies

Here's Jonathan Safran Foer on urban homesteading , specifically, the value of keeping backyard chickens: "Is it a solution to anything? Not really. It might be kind of nice in a hobby way. . . People who do stuff on their own, it's more like a personal interest thing rather than a real alternative."

I don't disagree. But the decision to keep chickens is no more or less a "real alternative" to the problem of factory-farmed eggs than an individual choosing to become a vegan, the option chosen by Jonathan Safran Foer. A real alternative? I don't know. Legislation? That sounds like fun. I would never, ever argue that keeping chickens is going to save the world,  but "it might be kind of nice in a hobby way" has such a supercilious edge to it.

Foer comes out as a vegan right here, then skirts the issue throughout his new book, Eating Animals, and in most interviews. I was going to go hear him speak yesterday at Book Passage and ask him why, but Isabel was sent home sick -- coughing, feverish, dizzy, sore throat, etc. -- and I stayed in. All symptoms of the unspeakable, which the advice nurse at the pediatrician's office said it well might be. 

At top is the cup custard I made using Gourmet Today and hobby eggs. 

And these are the baked eggs in piperade, ditto.
A typical Gourmet Today performance: fine.

Friday, November 06, 2009

All my eggs in one basket

Once they get started, they don't kid around, these hens. Of our seven surviving chickens, five are laying and we collect exactly four eggs every day. Alberta Einstein has never produced an egg and we are beginning to wonder, based on various "behaviors," if she might be a rooster. Whatever she is -- sterile, lesbian, boy -- she is one weird chicken. But since she has never crowed, she can stay.

Not about food or chickens, but on my mind: 

I second what Jessa Crispin has to say about Jonathan Safran Foer and what Lizzie Skurnick writes about sexism in the literary community.  

I  was once in the very same boardroom Lizzie describes trying to get a (great) book by a female author on the list of finalists for the same award. I had just made my lobbying speech before the 20 or so people assembled when a male colleague yawned and replied, "I would rather put a stick in my eye than see that on the list." 

Okay, whatever, he didn't actually yawn, but he gave the impression of one who might yawn at any moment, so boring and trivial was the very idea of this novel I loved. I can't know that he said this because the book was by a woman, about a woman, being advocated by a woman. But I have never seen a man in that organization so contemptuously dismiss a title advocated by a man, or written by a man, and I am not one who perceives sexism everywhere.

I should have said, "Go ahead, put the stick in your eye -- and  can I watch?" but I was raised to be a nice girl who doesn't talk about putting sticks in eyes. So I fumed for hours, stormed out early, and have held a grudge ever since. Very healthy and productive. I have learned from my mistakes. And Lizzie is right.

Tonight: deep fried poached eggs and creamed spinach. For dessert, vanilla cup custard. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Gourmet Today: this marriage can't be saved

I'm feeling no passion for Gourmet Today. Last week I was happily cheating on Ruth Reichl with Todd Wilbur who is so completely sleazy he uses margarine in some of his recipes. I bought margarine, which is simply wrong and just goes to show how bored I am in my primary relationship.

Wilbur's longtime schtick is to try to "clone" brand-name recipes -- Popeye's biscuits, Pepperidge Farm cookies, McDonalds' shakes, et cetera -- and I was messing around with his latest book, Top Secret Recipes Unlocked, for a review that is presumably going to appear in another venue shortly. (After that, all details about onion rings, donuts, and more will be revealed) The project was extremely fun and funny and surprisingly delicious. 
The other morning, on my own time, I made Wilbur's version of Starbucks' pumpkin scones. He calls them "orange triangles of goodness," which is typical of his prose. They really were orange triangles of goodness -- soft, sufficiently pumpkiny (rare), like a muffin married to a scone. We didn't bother cross-tasting them with the store product as I have recently sampled enough Starbucks baked goods to know that they are all substandard and overpriced. These were like the Platonic ideal of a Starbucks scone. 
As for Gourmet Today. Sigh. I keep fishing out the recipes with the lowest "active time" which is a bad sign. To wit, the other last night: hoisin turkey cutlets (active time: 15 minutes), panfried Romaine (active time: 20 minutes) chocolate sorbet (active time: 15  minutes.)  

Writing about this drab weeknight convenience food feels like a sad joke. Plus, just look at it. 

The turkey was fine.

The sorbet  was fine.

The panfried Romaine was better than fine. You buy packaged hearts of Romaine , cut them in half lengthwise, wash well and dry. Heat olive oil, put the Romaine hearts face down, salt, sear for a minute, flip, cover, cook for two minutes more. I loved this and will make it again.

The next night I made a Gascon white bean soup (active time: 30 minutes) that was fine, and baked apples with candied walnuts, (active time: 15 minutes) also fine. 

It's all fine. But this whole book feels like fine leftovers someone has turned into a casserole by topping with a little cheese and reheating.