107 Cookbooks Rotating Header Image

July 5th, 2009:

The Meatless Gourmet: Last party recipe

samosas, cucumber-tomato raita

PartyTable2The Meatless Gourmet is a collection of vegetarian recipes from different world cuisines. Mexico, Italy, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and more are represented in appetizers, entrees, side dishes and beverages. I probably bought the book when it was new in 1995, because I know we’ve cooked from it for years.

For the party I decided to try the Indian section: samosas filled with a curried potato-and-pea mixture, and a cucumber-tomato raita. The recipes are clear and easy to follow. I made the samosa filling the day before the party. You start by cutting a potato into chunks and boiling it until it’s tender but not mushy; let it cool briefly and then remove the peel, and dice smaller. Dice some onion as well, and Samoas-TaterNOnionsautee it with some minced fresh ginger root and Indian spices: fennel, coriander, curry powder, cumin, turmeric and cayenne, plus salt and pepper. Add the potatoes and some fresh or frozen peas, and cook until the mixture is heated through and the peas are tender, about 15 minutes.

I assembled and baked the samosas the day of the party. The recipe calls for refrigerated biscuit dough. I had misgivings, but decided that I had enough to do without making my own biscuits. As it turns out, though, the time-consuming part of the process is the rolling and assembly; the time I saved by not mixing my own biscuits was spent in reading the ingredient labels at the supermarket to make sure the biscuit dough I chose did not include beef tallow. Because Samosas-Spicesthat would kind of defeat the purpose of a vegetarian recipe, and since there were actual vegetarians coming to the party I though it would be stupid to sabotage them in that way. If I make these again I’ll make biscuits from scratch.

But pressing forward with the pressure-packed dough: You roll out an individual biscuit and then cut it in half, top the lower end of each half with filling, and then close up the turnovers and bake them for about 8 minutes. The refrigerated dough may not have saved me any real time, but it tasted just fine in conjunction with the spicy potato and pea filling.

SamosasAssemblingThe raita is a sauce or dip that contrasts a cool, fresh flavor with the usual hot and spicy dishes that Indian food is known for. It was pretty easy to make: peel, seed and shred a cucumber, and combine it with plain nonfat yogurt, fresh mint, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper, diced tomato and onion. I only tasted a little of it; I was looking forward to using the leftovers, but at the end of the night I stood in the over-warm room and looked at the mixture that had been sitting out for several hours and had visions of subsequent food poisoning. So down the drain it went, I’m sad to say. Maybe next time I’ll rest the bowl on a bed of ice.

SamosasToBakeVerdict: Success. The samosas and raita tasted good, and were easy to make. I’ll probably try them both again, with modifications to the samosas.SamosasBaked

McCall’s Cookie Collection: The next-to-last party book

crisscross peanut cookies

PBCookieDoughI knew that when it came to sweets, the Black and White Cupcakes would be the big hits of the party. Different, dramatic and delicious ‚Äî and did I mention they were chocolate? I am a rabid fan of chocolate. (I hesitate to use the term ‚Äúchocoholic‚Äù because there‚Äôs no alcohol in the stuff, and also I don‚Äôt have a problem and can quit any time I want.) I am such a rabid fan of chocolate, in fact, that I reflexively feel guilty when it comes to dessert. Any time I am planning dessert my immediate, powerful impulse is to choose something with chocolate. And then I have a momentary surge of doubt: Am I being too narrow when I choose chocolate? What about all those other delightful non-chocolate desserts, such as cr?®me brulee and blueberry pie and coffee ice cream? Am I missing something if I choose chocolate?

PBCookieDough2Most of the time I would say no, I’m not. (Though on mid-priced restaurant menus I am prone to choosing just about anything other than the inevitable Death by Chocolate Torte, especially if there’s a local or regional specialty to be had.) But I do try to be cognizant of the fact that not everyone is as wild about chocolate as I am, and to provide alternatives. In this case I didn’t want to do something very labor-intensive or fragile, nothing that would seem like it was competing with the cupcakes, so I opted for cookies.

I’ve had the McCall’s Cookie Collection book for decades — certainly since high school, possibly longer. I was the family’s designated cookie baker from about kindergarten, the year my mom PBCookiesRawdiscovered that I liked that particular task a lot more than she did, which also happened to be the year I discovered that people will ooh and aah over your cleverly decorated Christmas sugar cookies and then pass them over for the far tastier chocolate chip. Which is probably also a lesson for life: the pretty ones will get a lot of attention, but people quickly figure out who they need to rely on to get the job done right.

I have no idea where I got the book; a slim, battered paperback that might be better called a pamphlet than a cookbook, it looks like something that might have come free with a holiday bakeware purchase at a department store. There are a number of oddly lit photos of the finished cookies, all arrayed on trays or in large glass jars, PBCookiesplus some photos of a doll preparing and baking cookies. It must be a very large doll, because it appears to be in a full-scale kitchen, and in one of the shots there’s a real person in the background at the sink. All of which makes me wonder why they chose to use a doll instead of a person. Have some creepy with your Christmas cookies!

Not all of the recipes in the book are holiday cookies, but naturally quite a lot of them are. I’ve used this book a few times for my holiday baking, and I had to search for a while before finding a recipe I thought would be appropriate for summer. Peanut-butter cookies are a favorite of mine, so I settled on the recipe titled “Crisscross Peanut Cookies.” And it wasn’t until I was sliding the cooled cookies into zipper bags to hold until the next day that I had a sudden realization: Hadn’t I made these before? I might have. I’m not sure. I racked my brain but I could not be certain. PBCookies2So to err on the side of completeness, this book will have to go back into the 107 Cookbooks hopper; I’ll add it to the December cookie roundup, and will be sure to make something I know I’ve never made before, like Filbert-Chocolate Drops  or Walnut-Topped Cookies. (But not the sugar cookies; I’ve made them before and they’re boring.)

Verdict: Partial success. The cookies were delicious, but I didn’t ensure that I was using an untried recipe.