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January, 2010:

Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite: Good Food, No Yelling

kale, chorizo, and potato soup

StewInBowlI’ve never watched “Hell’s Kitchen” or any of Gordon Ramsay‘s other cooking shows, and I’ve never seen any footage of him yelling at the people under his command. I don’t approve of that sort of behavior, and because of that I wouldn’t have set out to buy this cookbook. But I missed one of the deadlines to let the cookbook club know I didn’t want the selection of the month, then lost the box WeighingKaleunder a pile of junk on my desk until it seemed too late to return it.

Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite doesn’t hint at any of the “Hell’s Kitchen” temper or conflict. The book brims with beautiful color photos of a cheery blond chef and his delicious but healthy food. In the introduction Ramsay insists he’s been passionate about KalePotatoesStagedhealthy lifestyle since 2000, and that while “I don’t believe in diets” (which is typically chef-speak for “I don’t count calories and I use butter”) he does believe that good food made with the right ingredients can help people live more healthfully. The right ingredients are of course fresh, locally sourced, and naturally low in fat (vegetables, lean cuts of meat, etc.).

AddingPotatoesSaltPepperThe recipes do look good. There are some terrific-looking salad and vegetable dishes, plus a lot of oily fish and whole grains. There are also poached eggs, beef roasts and lamb; there is no sense of deprivation here. Of course everything in the photos is gorgeously plated. And quite a few of the recipes are fast and simple, suitable for weeknight cooking.

BringingToBoil2The recipe I chose for tonight — kale, chorizo and potato soup — would be a good weeknight option, though it was also quite satisfactory for a Sunday spent working on other projects at home. It’s also a good winter dish, which made it stand out from the tomato- and pepper-rich beauties that are going to have to wait until the Greenmarket is in full swing.

AddingKale3To make the soup I started with my prep: I rinsed, stemmed and chopped some kale, chopped two onions, minced two cloves of garlic, and diced two red potatoes, while Scott diced a couple of links of chicken sausage with jalapeno. (There was no actual chorizo at the grocery store I went to; this seemed the closest thing.) I heated some olive oil in a pot and sauteed the onions and AddingKalegarlic, then added the sausage and let that cook for a few minutes. Then I added the diced potatoes, salt and pepper, and some water, brought the mixture to a boil, and let it simmer for about 12 minutes. When the timer went off I stirred in the kale and let it cook for another five minutes, then dished up the soup.

This was a tasty dish. Actual StewInBowls3chorizo would have given it a different taste — a more rich, warm peppery heat instead of the sharp heat of the jalapeno — and probably have made the soup a little fattier, though not in a bad way. The flavors complemented one another well: rich onion, slightly bitter kale, mild potato, savory sausage. I was afraid the liquid would be too thin, but I think using broth instead of water would have overwhelmed the other flavors.

Verdict: Success. I’ll want to make this again at least once more before the end of the winter.

The Irreverent Flavor of Nike: A Blast From My Past

Julie’s parmesan chicken

ChickenPlatedIf you live in the Pacific Northwest for any period of time and are willing to entertain the pursuit of corporate work, odds are strong that you will put in some time at either Nike or Microsoft, or both. If not at the company itself, one of its vendors. If not as a full-time employee, then as a temp.

I temped at Nike in 1990, helping to compile sales forecasts and RawChickenBreastassemble binders. (They loved binders.) After several weeks of satisfactory performance I was offered a full-time administrative assistant job. I was kind of bored with my work and unenthusiastic about the bus commute from Northwest Portland out to Beaverton, so I turned it down in favor of an administrative assistant job at the Oregon Historical Society, which paid far worse but offered me vastly more intellectual interest, not to say drama, starting on day one when one of the exhibit techs cut off the end of a finger and going uphill from there.

But Scott worked at Nike then too, as a full-time employee, first TomatoSauceMixturein the warehouse and then in an import-export paperwork job. And that Christmas he brought home the employee Christmas gift, an overflowing basket with a custom-labeled bottle of wine, a wooden spoon, a Nike swoosh-shaped cookie cutter, a few packets of foodstuffs like pancake mixes and chocolate, and an employee-compiled cookbook, The Irreverent Flavor of Nike.

TomatoSauceCookingThe book features recipes from both employees and sponsored athletes, from all corners of the globe. A vegetarian chili recipe from apparel marketing managers in Beaverton is next to a meat-intensive chili recipe from Bo Jackson. (Three kinds of meat and three kinds of beans.) Michael Jordan‘s fried chicken and Alberto Salazar‘s arroz con pollo jostle with brownies and salads from the company rank and file. The book is attractively designed and coil-bound, and has held up to a surprising amount of wear, because a lot of the recipes are quite good. (We still have the wooden spoon and the cookie cutter too, though I think the basket went away a few moves ago.)

SauceOverChickenI wanted to make an uncomplicated dinner dish, so I chose “Julie’s parmesan chicken,” which had been contributed by Peter Mannos of Retail Marketing at one of the Beaverton locations. (This was before the main campus opened, and the corporate offices were scattered around six or seven suburban locations, none of which was easy to reach by bus from any of the others.) He doesn’t indicate who Julie is or was, but the recipe is straightforward.

BakedMixturePreProvI started by putting three boneless, skinless chicken breast halves into a baking pan, covering it with foil, and putting it into a 425-degree oven for 25 minutes. (I was supposed to use four, but the packages I found were three-packs of very large portions, so I decided it amounted to the same thing.) While that cooked, I emptied a 32-ounce can of Italian-style chopped tomatoes into a saucepan and stirred in some cornstarch, oregano, Tabasco, and grated parmesan cheese. I brought the mixture to a simmer and let it cook and thicken.

MeltedProvoloneWhen the oven timer went off I pulled the chicken pan from the oven, drained off the little bit of liquid that had accumulated, and poured the tomato sauce over the chicken. I grated on a little bit of additional parmesan, then laid about five slices of provolone over the whole and put the pan into the oven uncovered. Then I looked more closely at the recipe, swore loudly, yanked the pan from the oven and scooped off the already-melting provolone: I had added it too early. I removed the now-deformed slices to a plate and put the pan back in the oven for half an hour. Then I laid on the provolone and put it back to bake until the cheese melted, less than two minutes.

ChickenPlated2The dish was tasty. The chicken had a good texture, and the tomato blend was flavorful, though I would add more Tabasco and maybe some dried basil as well. I may not make this often because the whole thing was pretty darn cheesy, and I’m trying to eat a little more healthfully than that. But it was very easy, and it might not be a bad option in an otherwise lean week.

Verdict: Success. Savory and satisfying.

New Delineator Recipes: In Which I Mock the Mock Sausage

mock sausage

PlatedOnPasta2New Delineator Recipes is a slim volume published in 1930. I got it for the Recipes of the Damned; the volume is rife with under-seasoned recipes. I decided against a pot roast in which the only additional seasoning is the inherent flavor in the pork fat you use to brown the meat; I decided against the peanut-butter cutlets from the chapter of vegetarian dishes. (It’s sort of like French MashingBeanstoast only with a peanut butter mixture instead of an egg batter.)

But the vegetarian dishes intrigued me. We’re accustomed to seeing Boca Burgers and Gardenburgers in the freezers of even small grocery stores now, but it’s been within my adult life that vegetarian meat substitutes really made an incursion onto the market, spurred by the national StirringMixturespread of Gardenburgers from Portland, Oregon. (I remember the first year’s worth of Morningstar Farms offerings — frankly, inedible, but they quickly reworked their recipes and now produce some palatable products.) Would a 1930 recipe, I wonder, really be worth eating? Depression-era cookery would of course benefit from lower-cost substitutions for meat, but that ShapingLinksdidn’t necessarily mean they’d be any good.

New Delineator author Ann Batchelder seems to have studied at the Miss Leslie school of vague instruction. Mock sausage is based on cooked beans, which the recipe says to force through a strainer. I used canned Great Northern beans, and quickly found that pushing them through FryingLinksa strainer was not going to be easy. A fine sieve was too much for the beans, which didn’t get through at all; a fine-holed metal colander was a bit easier, but still promised to keep me working for half an hour or so. I decided to mash the beans with a potato masher, though in retrospect I should probably have pulsed them in the food processor. It also occurred to me later that the FryingLinks21930 definition of “cooked until tender” was probably a bit softer than the canned beans, and I might have had an easier time if I’d cooked the beans longer.

The other listed ingredients are these (spelling original):

  • 2/3 cup bread-crums
  • 3 eggs
  • FryingLinks3

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon sage
  • salt and pepper

After the beans are strained, the recipe says, “Add remaining ingredients, shape into form of sausages, roll in crums, egg, and crums again.” Go back and read that again. We have a metaphysical issue here. One is PlatedOnPastasupposed to add the remaining ingredients, yet somehow magically know which ones to save out to coat the shaped links. I proceeded on the assumption that one was supposed to add everything and then use extra bread crumbs, but this turned out to be incorrect. The mixture was wet and sticky, and did not hang together. Possibly the idea was to mix the beans with the butter, sage, and salt and pepper, and the roll it in the eggs and crumbs. Possibly I should have mixed in two of the eggs and used the third for rolling. The privilege of a cookbook author is that if she has a specific result in mind, she can specify what should be done.

I mixed in some more bread crumbs until the mixture held together fairly well, then shaped six links (the number recommended in the recipe) and rolled them in some more crumbs. This also was a misjudgment, because the links were too large to turn in the pan without breaking. If I were to do this again (the odds are dwindling at this point), I would make more and smaller links, possibly about the size of a Brown ‘n Serve breakfast link, or I’d make meatballs. Still, I pushed onward, and browned the mock sausages in some oil. The cooked links had a good texture; it was impossible to move the long links around without breaking them, but the shorter segments held together well.

The recipe recommends serving them “with tomato sauce,” so I cooked rotini and some Newman’s Own sauce and topped them with pieces of the mock sausage. They tasted all right; in my exasperation with the texture I had forgotten to add salt and pepper and they needed it badly, and they would have benefited from more sage, but the basic flavor was agreeable.

Verdict: Passable. This wasn’t as disastrous as Miss Leslie’s jelly puffs, but I have better fake-burger and fake-sausage recipes on hand.

Food & Wine Fast: Quick and Elegant Dishes

Swiss chard with chickpeas and feta

ChardPlatedWithBread2Food & Wine Fast is another of those special stand-alone editions of a magazine. This one offers elegant dishes of the quality often found in Food & Wine, all of which can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. I do like Food & Wine; the recipes all feature real, high-quality ingredients, and the photo spreads are glorious.

I designated this recipe for SwissChardLeavestonight simply because I hadn’t been able to pick up Swiss chard any earlier in the week, but it turned out to be a good choice because I spent a big chunk of time in the kitchen baking cookies for tomorrow’s knitting night, and I didn’t want to spend more time on dinner than I had to.

I began by rinsing and stemming some Swiss chard and putting the ChardInPotstill-dripping leaves into a pot (in fact, the new Calphalon pot I got with a gift certificate recently). I covered the pot and cooked the leaves until they were wilted, which took less than five minutes; then I drained the chard and rinsed it in cold water, and pressed out as much liquid as I could. I chopped the leaves coarsely and put them into a bowl. To this I added sliced ChardAndChickpeaPanscallions, chopped fresh dill, minced garlic, chickpeas, salt and pepper, and some olive oil. I mixed the ingredients well and put them into a square baking dish that I’d coated with a bit more olive oil. Atop all this I crumbled some feta cheese and pressed it down a bit, then put the dish into a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, which gave ChardWithFetame some time to clean up the kitchen.

The cheese had browned a bit at the edges when I pulled out the pan, and the mixture was hot through. I dished it up and accompanied it with some bread left over from Sunday. The dish was terrific; the dill gave it an unusual savory flavor, and the slight tang of the chard balanced nicely with the richness of the feta.

Verdict: Success. The dish was fast, as promised, and tasted great.

The Joy of Cooking (2006 ed.): A Classic, Revised

chicken breasts baked on a bed of mushrooms

DinnerPlate3The Joy of Cooking was the first cookbook I remember working with. My mother owned a copy that dated from the early 1960s, I think, and it was loaded with fascinating information. I still laugh at the thought of a recipe my sister and I came across at random, “buttered crumbs”; it was clearly an ingredient in greater dishes, but we loved the idea of pitching it as an entree. SlicingMushrooms“What’s for dinner tonight, honey?” “Buttered crumbs!” “Oh, boy, my favorite!”

Yes, we were kind of weird as children.

But the Joy (as we called it) was a treasure trove, a reference. Any time we needed to know how to do something, we consulted the Joy. Roast a chicken? Slice a cut PanOShroomsof beef? Bake a cake? It was all in the Joy. My mother was a good cook, and like many good cooks she worked from innate skill rather than following recipes, but if she needed to know how to do something new she consulted the Joy, and if it wasn’t in the Joy it probably wasn’t meant to be tried.

Then I grew up and learned about PanOShroomsCloseupvegetarian cooking and ethnic foods and organics and whatnot, and found that the Joy was popularly seen as a throwback, a bastion of bad old midcentury American cookery. The recipes were unadventurous or constraining, the flavors limited. My foundational reference seemed less important, especially as I sought to learn more about vegetarian cooking, and as I ChickenToCookbought more cookbooks for my collection I didn’t try to get my own copy of the Joy (my mother’s remained safely at home, and I believe my sister still has it — stained and wrinkled pages and all). I did come across one volume of a two-volume paperback version, which I will be cooking from later in this project, but never found the second.

ChickenToCookCloseupAnd then a couple of years ago one of those cookbook clubs offered a revised and updated 75th anniversary version. New drawings, updated recipes, fewer potentially lethal techniques (or at least warnings about internal meat temperature and the use of raw eggs). So I got one, though I forget now whether I did so on purpose or if, on opening the accidentally purchased selection CookingThermometerof the month, my heart simply melted at the sight of a shiny new version of the old classic. The illustrations do seem a bit more modern, though the old ones were quite clear and easy to follow. The recipes still followed the format I remembered, tracing neatly through the steps and calling out each ingredient on a new line. I skimmed through the volume (no title CookedChickenInPan“buttered crumbs,” though its equivalent easy to find in a section on breading foods), tucked the iconic red ribbon between two pages at random, and set it on the shelf, where it sat until I started on the inventory for this project.

I wasn’t sure what to make from my new Joy. What would capture the classic feel and still be worth having for dinner? ChickenPlatterI settled on chicken breasts baked on a bed of mushrooms because that seemed to have a lot of the classic elements: roasting of poultry, a cream sauce, and a traditional-dinner feel.

The recipe offers options for the mushrooms. One can use large whole portobellos or shiitakes, or slice up smaller mushrooms to cover the bottom of a lightly oiled CookingCreamSaucebaking dish. I went with the smaller mushrooms as a more economical purchase, and sprinkled the slices with minced garlic (about a teaspoonful, or one modestly sized clove) and a bit of salt and pepper, then poured on about a cup of white wine. Atop this I placed some chicken breast halves, which I had seasoned with salt, pepper and some thyme. I brushed the DinnerPlate2chicken with olive oil and slid the pan into a preheated 400-degree oven. After about 25 minutes I turned the breasts skin-side down, basted them with pan juices, and let them bake until the internal temperature reached 165. (This business of using a thermometer is clearly part of the revision, not the classic approach.) This gave me a chance to use the new digital thermometer I bought with part of an Amazon gift card, and that kept me from overcooking the chicken; I would have left it in the oven for about five more minutes without the thermometer’s beep.

At this point I removed the chicken breasts to a platter, along with the mushrooms (spooned out with a slotted spoon). I poured the pan juices into a saucepan and skimmed off as much surface fat as I could, then put the liquid to boil and added some broth and some cream. I whisked them together and let it cook down and thicken a bit. After 10 minutes it was definitely thicker, but it could probably have gone five minutes more. Lacking patience, I drizzled some of the thick-enough-for-my-purposes sauce over the chicken breasts and mushrooms, added some steamed broccoli to the plates, and called it dinner.

And it was good. The chicken had a nice flavor, and the mushrooms were heavenly. I used a modest amount of sauce and it served as a good accent to the flavor without making the dish heavy. I think if I made this again, though, I’d keep the breasts skin-side-up the whole time to let them brown better, and would just baste the chicken a couple of times.

Verdict: Success. Yet another simple but elegant-seeming meal. And if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go heat up the leftovers.

Beard On Bread: The Greatest Thing Since–Um, Wait

sour cream bread

SlicedBreadBeard On Bread, at least my copy, is a slim little mass-market paperback compilation of great bread recipes from the legendary James Beard. The man knew what he was doing. The book starts with information about flours, equipment and techniques, but moves quickly to bread recipes. Offerings range from basic white breads to dark and rye breads, dessert and sweet breads, YeastMixturequick-rise rolls, flat breads and even fried dough offerings.

I had to check the volume carefully to make sure I didn’t try anything I’ve done before. That ruled out at least one oatmeal bread, some biscuit recipes and the cinnamon bread, which is designed as a cinnamon-flavored loaf but which I like to use as a base for a substantial cinnamon AddingFlourToDoughroll, thickly layered with nuts and cinnamon sugar and slathered with cream cheese frosting. (That particular recipe is fun for a weekend breakfast, and you can save time by making it the night before, shaping the rolls and then putting the pans in the fridge overnight for a slow rise — just let them sit at room temperature for about half an hour before they go into the oven.)

DoughToKneadI chose sour cream bread, because I don’t care for rye bread and I wanted something that could go with dinner rather than a sweet breakfast bread. Sour cream bread is also a good choice because it’s fairly easy and takes only two rises.

I started by proofing some yeast with sugar and water. While the mixture began to bubble, I mixed DoughBallToRise3sour cream with some salt and baking powder. Then I added the yeast mixture to the sour cream and stirred in four cups of flour. The recipe said the dough was supposed to be very wet and sticky at this point; mine was sticky but not especially wet, so it was not difficult to turn out onto a floured counter and knead into a springy but not-too-sticky ball. I washed and buttered the mixing RisenDough2bowl, thumped the dough into it and turned it over so the top side was buttered, covered it with plastic wrap, and let it rise. The recipe says to let it rise “until doubled,” without specifying a time; our kitchen was a bit cool, so when I checked it at 75 minutes I didn’t think it had doubled. The two-hour mark showed better results.

RisenLoavesNow I buttered two loaf pans, then turned out and punched down my dough, kneaded it briefly, and shaped it into loaves. I don’t remember where I learned this particular trick, but for a nicely shaped loaf, I shape the dough into a rectangle approximately the size of my pan, press it into the loaf pan so that it’s fully stretched to all sides, and then lift it out and turn it over. BakedLoavesThis ensures that the top is buttered and reasonably level for the second rise. I loosely covered the pans and let them rise for a little more than an hour.

When the timer went off I preheated the oven to 375, and put in the loaves for 35 minutes. At the end of the baking they were nicely browned and made a good sound when thumped. I let BakedLoaves2them cool in the pans for about five minutes, then turned the loaves out onto the rack and let them cool a bit longer. I was in luck: The dinner I was making required a higher baking temperature, so I had to bake the bread ahead of time. This gave the loaves enough time to cool so that I could slice them neatly, instead of hacking them into primitive chunks as I’m prone to BakedLoaves3do with fresh hot bread.

The bread was delicious, with a smooth, light texture and a subtle tang. It’s going to be great for toast, I can see.

Verdict: Success. Easy, delicious, well worth the (minimal) effort.

The Spice Box Vegetarian Indian Cookbook: More Spicy Fun

turnip koftas curry (shalgam ke koftas), lemon rice (neebu chawal)

DinnerPlated2It’s time for Indian food again! Unlike Curries Without Worries, The Spice Box is a fully vegetarian cookbook. Author Manju Shivraj Singh provides introductory sections that explain different spices and ingredients that are key to Indian cooking, as well as a list of places to find the ingredients. One of the stores listed is only about ten minutes by subway from my home, but as LemonRiceIngreds3it happens I was able to find nearly everything I needed in my usual neighborhood grocery stores. Or, in the case of most of the spices, on my pantry shelves.

I decided to try the turnip koftas curry because I’m a big fan of the vegetable kofta, a sort of Indian veggie meatball. I accompanied it with lemon rice, which recommended itself in part FryingMustardSeeds2because it’s supposed to be as good cold as warm — meaning I could make it ahead and let it sit while I made the koftas, which were a bit labor-intensive.

For the rice, I started by cooking some rice, starting with about three cups’ worth of dry rice. I let it cool a bit while I prepared the vegetables for the flavor mixture. I heated some oil in a skillet and ChilesSplitPeasadded some mustard seeds, which I cooked until they started to pop. Then I added some diced chiles and yellow split peas, and cooked them all together a bit longer. At this point I added some turmeric, cashews, and lemon juice. I was also supposed to add curry leaves, but that was the one ingredient I hadn’t found, so I substituted a little parsley and cilantro; I don’t know if that was LemonRiceIngredsclose, but it was something. I cooked this mixture for five minutes more, then stirred in a little salt, and then stirred the whole mixture into the rice and mixed it up well, until the chunky ingredients were evenly distributed and my rice paddle was a lovely fluorescent yellow. (Hooray for turmeric!) I put the lid back on the rice pot and turned to my koftas.

LemonRice2I started by peeling, slicing and boiling a pound of turnips. While they cooked I finished the rest of my veggie prep: I diced chiles, ginger root and cilantro for the koftas, and chopped onions, garlic and tomatoes for the sauce. I also chunked up some onions and garlic and pulsed them in the food processor until they were very fine. Once the turnips were cooked, I drained and mashed SlicedTurnips2them. Then I stirred in the processed onions and garlic, some chickpea flour, some Cream of Wheat (semolina flour would have been OK too), and some turmeric, cayenne, coriander and salt. This mixture made a coarse sort of batter; in fact it was a little moist, which I think was because I hadn’t perfectly drained the turnips before mashing them, but I added a little more chickpea StuffingKoftaflour and Cream of Wheat until the consistency seemed right: a loose dough that would hold its shape if formed into a ball without breaking apart or giving up moisture.

I shaped lumps of this into round — OK, sort of round — balls that were probably too big, but I had to shape them to contain a center mixture of diced chiles, diced KoftasBeforeFryingginger root, cilantro and raisins. I think in the future I might mince the filling mixture fine, but the chunky filling worked well enough this time. While I continued to shape and fill koftas, Scott fried the shaped balls in oil, following the detailed instruction in the recipe (“Deep fry these balls and set aside”). They did fry up nicely, with a beautiful golden crust and a nicely light, flavorful interior. FryingKoftaOne of the koftas broke apart when Scott turned it, but it still tasted good, and the others held their shape beautifully.

For the sauce, I heated some oil in a skillet and added some cumin seeds, which I fried for about two minutes. These did not pop. I then added some onions and garlic and cooked them until the onions were golden, about seven FriedKoftasminutes. Then I added some hot water, the chopped tomatoes, and spices: salt, turmeric, cayenne, and coriander, and let the mixture cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce had thickened. I took it off the heat and stirred in some garam masala, then carefully added the koftas.

The rice was delightful: spicy and savory, and not as hot as you KoftaSauceCooking2might expect. (I fully expect the heat to build as the leftovers sit in the fridge, though; oh, darn.) The koftas were savory, with a crunchy outside and a perfectly cooked interior. Good work, Scott! The sauce was thick and spicy, and went nicely with the koftas.

Verdict: Success. I may not make the koftas again soon since they were rather work-intensive, but the rice was pretty easy and will definitely have to go into the rotation.

Special Diet Recipes: I Made Dessert With Baby Food

peach parfait

PeachParfaitBowl3Special Diet Recipes is a 1949 pamphlet of recipes that use baby food — perhaps a predictable approach for the Gerber Products Company. The recipes are recommended for various special diets. Peach parfait fits into a few regimens, including bland diet, soft diet, dental or mechanically soft diet, and liquid diet. So if I ever find myself needing to nurse someone through an antiquated EggWhitedisease I’ll have options for feeding them. (You laugh, but a friend did once get scarlet fever, and Scott suffers from gout. It could happen!)

I picked up this book for Recipes of the Damned because of the meat milk-shake (which is more or less what it sounds like: milk, Gerber’s strained meat, and refrigeration), but I’ve long had MakingSyrup2my doubts about all of the recipes. Baby food? Really? I mean, it’s not like it’s a booklet of recipes using dog food; theoretically baby food should be good stuff since you don’t want to feed crap to your baby. But it seems unpromising, and I’d probably never have used the booklet if it weren’t for this cookbook project.

EggWhiteCloseupAnd that would have been a shame, because I believe I have found a way to make homemade frozen desserts without buying an ice-cream maker. The recipe for peach parfait looks more difficult than it is. I started by making a sugar syrup, dissolving three tablespoons of sugar in a quarter-cup of water and heating it to the thread stage (230 degrees F for those of us who prefer using FoldingInEggWhitea thermometer to playing about with bowls of cold water). I then pulled the syrup pan off the heat, quickly beat an egg white to stiff peaks, and then continued to beat while drizzling in the syrup. Once it was fully blended, I covered the bowl with plastic and chilled it for about an hour.

When I decided the egg white-syrup mixture had chilled FoldingInPeachPureelong enough, I assembled everything and measured out a cup of heavy cream. I whipped the cream until it made sharp peaks, then folded in the egg white-syrup mixture, and then folded in a jar of Gerber’s strained peaches and a couple of drops of almond extract. I had misgivings when I poured the peach puree into the bowl, because it looked so unappetizing (and seriously, PeachParfaitthe baby food section at the grocery store was awfully monochromatic), but I forgot to taste the puree at that point to see what it was really like. It did smell peachy, though not as nice as actual fresh peaches.

I carefully turned the fluffy, creamy mixture into a plastic container and put it in the freezer. And this is the real magic of this PeachParfaitToFreezerecipe: You just have to freeze it, with no churning or turning. Several hours later when we were ready for dessert, the frozen mixture had a thick, creamy consistency.

And the real surprise was that it tasted good.

So I think I’m going to have to try this again, though not with baby PeachParfaitBowls2food. It seems like it should be simple enough to puree fresh peaches or other fruit, or to make a chocolate-and-nut mixture and fold it in. The flavor element is the last thing to be folded in, so as long as the proportion and consistency are right, I should be able to substitute my own ingredients.

Verdict: Success, and surprise. I’ll keep you posted on future experiments.

The Moosewood Cookbook: Hearty Veggie Fare

ratatouille

RatatouillePlatedI’ve owned The Moosewood Cookbook for years, decades perhaps, and cooked from it quite a bit. It’s very charming, with hand-lettered recipes and illustrations, and it has a kind of cute hippie tone to it — lots of whole grains and bliss. But don’t let that fool you. The food in here is good, and the recipes are varied. There are a few starch-intensive recipes but for the most EggplantCubespart the dishes present great combinations of vegetables, textures and flavors. My go-to minestrone recipe is in here, and I see from marginal notes that I’ve made the rarebit before (“more horseradish, get a wire whisk, need LOTS OF BREAD,” say my notes).

I’ve never made ratatouille from either this book or any other. I’m ZucchiniGarlicPeppersnot sure why. It’s not at all difficult, and it’s an excellent vegetarian dinner. It was a good choice for a cold night. New York’s in the middle of a cold snap, though we’re weathering it much better at our place now that we’ve replaced the broken middle blind in the front windows — especially since in the process Scott discovered that all three windows were slightly open at the ZucchinitomPastePeppersTomatoestop, which explains the draft and chill that we’ve had since *ahem* 2005.

I started by doing most of my vegetable prep, then heated some olive oil in a heavy pot. I crushed in some garlic and added diced onion and a bay leaf, then let them cook until the onion was softened and translucent. Then I added a little red wine, some OnionsGarlicBayLeaftomato juice and a diced eggplant, and let them stew for about 10 minutes. I did the last of my chopping (the tomatoes and parsley) and washed the cutting board and dishes while it cooked. When the eggplant was softened a bit I added some diced zucchini and green pepper, as well as some herbs, and let them continue to stew. Now it was time to add tomato paste and diced Ratatouille2tomato and let it simmer a little while longer. When the vegetables were tender I turned off the heat and stirred in some chopped parsley.

I served the ratatouille over rice, topped with grated romano cheese and some chopped Kalamata olives. It was delicious: The vegetables were tender but not mushy, and the flavors were RatatouillePlatedOliveslively and complex. And there are leftovers, so I know what I’m taking for lunch on Monday.

Verdict: Success. This is definitely going into my repertoire. It comes together pretty quickly, so I could probably make it on a weeknight, and it would be ideal for a brown-bag lunch.

Cooking With Gourmet Grains: Easy Pudding

double chocolate pudding

PuddingBowlCooking With Gourmet Grains is a Recipes of the Damned book, sent to me by Sallyacious with sticky notes calling out some of the most egregious concoctions. The foremost of those is “wheat germ chicken with peaches,” which Sally tags “the reason I bought this book.” It’s basically oven-fried chicken and oven-fried peaches, breaded with wheat germ. The peaches are canned PuddingIngredientshalves, not fresh peaches, though I’m not sure that would help matters.

The book itself is a plastic coil-bound relic of the early 1970s, all brown illustrations on natural-tone paper and that dated typeface that I’m pretty sure was only really in use between about 1968 and 1979. I’d call it hippy-dippy but that would be DryMixtureunduly insulting to hippies. Its theme is the use of grains, and the category is quite broad, ranging from kasha and wheat germ to all-purpose flour; basically, if the Stone-Buhr company manufactures it, it counts.

I didn’t bother to try to search out Stone-Buhr brand grains, which I’m not sure are PuddingBattereasily available in this part of the country, and I didn’t feel compelled to make anything I found especially hippy-dippy. This left me with a lot of options, though since I knew I’d be working on a weeknight I ruled out yeast breads and breakfast foods. I also decided I should probably try something that wasn’t just a variation of something I’ve made before, BatterWSugarMixturewhich struck off a lot of the baked goods. Eventually I settled on double chocolate pudding, because it looked easy. Suspiciously easy, I thought. Surely this can’t work?

I started by mixing together some whole-wheat pastry flour, baking powder, sugar, cocoa and salt; in another bowl I combined melted butter, milk and vanilla, then PuddingPlusWatermixed the liquids into the dry ingredients. This resulted in a smooth and thick batter, which I spread in a baking dish. Then I mixed some cocoa and sugar (this second application of cocoa accounts for the “double” chocolate), which I spread evenly over the batter. Then I carefully poured some water over the whole thing, and put the now unlovely-looking mixture into the BakedPuddingoven for about 45 minutes. During the baking it puffed up and formed a crust with a moist interior. I let the pudding cool for a bit, then served it up; the warm concoction had a mixed consistency, dense cake-like structure with lots of soft gooey spots, which worked together nicely. It tasted rich and chocolatey. It would have been good with ice cream or whipped cream, but it was just fine on its own.

You may be saying that doesn’t sound like pudding. Certainly it’s not like stovetop puddings or Jell-O pudding, but it’s more like what one might call “a pudding,” a denser baked dessert. Whatever you call it, it’s tasty, and unbelievably easy.

Verdict: Success. Easy dessert, good flavor, no canned peaches.