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June, 2010:

Taking an Incomplete, Getting an Extension

Today was supposed to be the final day of the 107 Cookbooks effort. By the end of the day I had intended to cook at least one thing from each of the 107 cookbooks in my collection. I didn’t do it. With my writeup of Saturday’s whiskey experiment, I have reached 82 — still a respectable average of more than 6 cookbooks each month, and a higher recipe count since I made full meals from a number of books, but not 107.

I want to complete the list, though. So I’m extending my deadline to Labor Day. That’s still a bit of a stretch, 25 cookbooks in about 67 days, but it’s not impossible.

Once I’ve made it through the 107, I’ll continue with the blog, setting a goal of preparing at least one new recipe per week from any source — the 107 books, the few other cookbooks I have on hand that didn’t make it into the count for a variety of reasons, the year’s backlog of cooking magazines I’ve built up. But until then, I’m going to keep plugging away at the list.

Cheers.

Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices: Nobody Knows How to Do Anything These Days

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

how to make Canadian type whiskey

I’m at a loss how to classify Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices. Grizzled loner? Disgruntled former employee? The book, by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter, was published by the Herters in Waseca, Minnesota, in the 1960s and features recipes, photos and opinions galore. There are numerous recipes for game, seafood, soups, sandwiches and wines, as well as helpful Whiskies2hints ranging from “how to keep eggs from sticking in a stainless steel copper bottomed frying pan” (let the pan rest for a few minutes away from the heat) to “Indian method of quitting smoking” (basically, leave a small amount of leaf tobacco in your mouth until the desire to smoke leaves you) to “In case of a hydrogen bomb attack you must know the ways of the wilderness WhiskiesMaskedto survive.”

I thought that last one might be a bit too complex to try out for the blog, but I was drawn to the recipe “how to make Canadian type whiskey.” You would need to do this, explain the Herters, because Canadian whiskeys are superior to American but “are so high priced, however, that no one can afford them in this country

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

any more.” But fear not: you can duplicate the smooth, drinkable Canadian Club by simply adding some port wine to your cheapest American whiskey, shaking it up and letting it sit for three hours, and voila:

You then will have as smooth a drinking and tasting whiskey as any made in the world, regardless of price. In fact, it will taste so much like the famed Canadian-made Canadian Club Whiskey that is so smooth and free of irritants that it can be drank [sic] without any diluting at all. Your American whiskey with the port wine added, you will find, can also be drunk with no diluting at all and will have no bad alcohol taste or fumes.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

So of course I had to try it. I bought my supplies: a bottle of Canadian Club ($24 for a liter), a bottle of the cheapest American non-bourbon whiskey I could find on the shelf (Bellows, not a brand I am familiar with, $9 for a liter), a bottle of port ($12), and some little plastic shot glasses ($3 for a few dozen). Once I got home, I rechecked the recipe and found that the magic formula is to add 1 1/2 ounces of port to a fifth of whiskey. I double-checked that a fifth is 750 ml and poured off 250 ml to set aside; this was handy because it meant I could have another point of comparison. Then I poured in the ounce and a half of port (3 tablespoons), closed and shook up the bottle, and masked the three whiskey samples with white paper so that I could subject our party guests to a blind comparison test.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

When the guests were ready, I explained the rules: Each participant would taste whiskey from bottle A, bottle B, and bottle C (or, strictly speaking, mason jar C). They would then tell me which one was smoothest, which had the best flavor, and which they liked best overall. We began with A, which the other guests tasted before I had the chance to sample mine; they all found it harsh and hard to swallow, as did I. Whiskey B went down much easier; we debated a few minutes about whether that was because A had already killed what taste buds were susceptible, but decided that B was in fact objectively a smoother drink. C was not quite as smooth as B and had a distinct after-kick that gave the drinkers pause, but was still not as great a shock to the system as A. People liked B the best.

Now it was time to fill the subjects in on the experiment. I read aloud the passage from the book, and then surprised everyone by announcing that whiskey A was the Canadian Club. They quickly deduced that whiskey B was the doctored Bellows and whiskey C the set-aside, unadulterated American brew.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

I was as surprised as anyone. I really expected the Canadian Club to be the best, and the doctored whiskey to be harsh and weird-tasting. Granted, I am not a connoisseur, nor did any of the guests claim to have particularly educated palates. It’s possible that someone who really knew his stuff would have responded differently and been able to pick out the impostor. It’s also possible that the way the whiskeys were stored made a difference; there was more air inside the bottles of doctored and undoctored Bellows than in the full bottle of Canadian Club, and maybe the liquids reacted with the greater amount of oxygen during the three hours they sat “maturing.” (Though if that was a factor, the port still made a difference, because the air-to-liquid ratio in the mason jar of undoctored Bellows was much greater than in the doctored bottle.) It’s also possible that if we’d randomized the tasting so that someone started off with B or C instead of A, we’d see different responses. And of course we had only four drinkers, hardly a scientific sample.

Verdict: Success, and surprise. Still, now we have a very drinkable hybrid, and a whole lot of whiskey left in general. I think I’d better see if any of the cookbooks left for the project have recipes for cocktails.

The Cake Mix Doctor: Baking Outside the Box

birthday cake cones

CupcakeCones2If you’ve been reading this blog you’ve probably noticed that I’m kind of a snob about scratch cooking. I don’t think that every kind of processed food out there is an abomination, but I think a lot of them are, and their chief failing is that they provide a lower-quality, less tasty result, often in cases when it just isn’t that hard to make the dish for yourself.

CakeIngreds3Ann Byrn, author of The Cake Mix Doctor, thinks that cake mixes can produce subpar cakes, but they also offer two great advantages: They save a significant amount of prep time, and they are engineered to be nearly impossible to ruin. Even the most maladept baker can successfully produce a cake from a boxed mix. And rather than turn up her nose, Byrn embraces the mixes and MixingCake2offers recipes that improve on their lackluster flavors with the addition of spices, extra eggs or oil, or other secret ingredients. I’ve long been a fan of her melted ice-cream cake, which enhances a white cake mix with a pint of your choice of premium ice cream (New York Super Fudge Chunk is fun).

For the party I decided to make birthday cake cones. I started CupcakeConesInPan3with a package of store-brand devil’s food cake mix, and beat in water, oil (a bit more than called for on the box), eggs, and half a teaspoon of cinnamon. So far, so basic. Now came the fun part: I spooned batter into wafer-style ice cream cones, the ones with the flat bottoms, whose bases I’d wrapped with aluminum foil to prevent leaking. The recipe says to fill the cones only halfway, but FillingConesI think I could have added a wee bit more. (I had some leftover batter, which I poured into standard cupcake liners.) Once I’d filled all the cones, I carefully maneuvered the pan into a 350-degree oven and let the cupcakes bake for 25 minutes. (I was expecting all the cones to fall over as I moved the pan, but they were stable. Whew!)

BakedCones6Now it was time to make the frosting. Byrn has an extensive chapter of frosting recipes; as she says, cake mixes are one thing, but frosting mixes and canned frosting are pretty bad across the board, and homemade frosting can be extremely easy to make. I sifted 3 cups of powdered sugar. This is probably the most finicky part of making frosting, if you use a sifter, as I did, but you could FrostingIngreds2also get satisfactory results by pouring powdered sugar into a bowl and giving it a whirl with the mixer blades, then measuring it out; the important thing is to break up any clumps so you have a fine, consistent powder and you’re not overpacking the measuring cup. I set the sugar aside and put one stick of butter (softened) into a mixing bowl with 2/3 cup of cocoa, and stirred ButterAndCocoa2them together on the lowest mixer setting until they were evenly blended. Then I added the sugar, 1/3 cup of milk, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, and a pinch of salt, and mixed them on the lowest speed until they were just blended, then turned the mixer up to high and beat the frosting another 2 minutes or so, until it was fluffy and light. Total prep time, including sifting the powdered sugar: about 7 minutes.

FrostingMixed2We frosted the cupcakes and decorated them with candy sprinkles, which is always loads of fun; I find I can usually make this my last piece of party prep and enlist the help of the earliest-arriving guest, or even make decorating a main party activity. People do love to slather on the frosting and get creative with the colored sugars and decorating pieces.

CupcakeCones4The cupcakes were really delicious, too. The added cinnamon wasn’t really easy to pick out as cinnamon, but it gave the chocolate a richer undertone. The frosting was rich and chocolatey as well, though I had a moment of puzzlement when I first tasted it — then I realized that I’ve gotten into such a rut of making cream-cheese-based frosting that I was assuming any homemade frosting should have that subtle tang. It was just dandy without it, though.

Verdict: Success. I’ll want to make these again, playing with flavors and frostings.

A Man, a Can, a Plan: A Laugh

chunky kernel spread

MixingDip4I picked up A Man, a Can, a Plan from the discount tables at the Strand Bookstore a couple of years ago. It has so much to make fun of: thick cardboard pages of the kind usually found in babies’ picture books; “recipes” that involve mixing together the contents of cans and passing the results off as cuisine; and a deeply silly self-justifying introduction that would be DipIngreds2offensively sexist if it could possibly have been meant as anything other than a joke:

“Men don’t cook.” People tell me this all the time. That’s a load of bull. … we have better things to do. Why slave over a hot stove when we could be cooking up plans for a golf outing ? Or warming up at the gym? Or making things CreamCheeseNRanchsizzle in the bedroom? … When your girl insists that you cook something for a change, you’ve got it in the can.

The book is published by Men’s Health, which clearly has very little faith in its readers’ ability to find their way around a kitchen without pictorial guidance. Or in their palates, for that matter; we DicingRedPepper2find canned ham and pop-tube crescent rolls, tuna and jarred spaghetti sauce, Spaghetti-Os and — well, anything, really — and a truly disheartening array of canned soups. It looks like sponsorship must be involved too, because some brand-name products are featured in vivid color photos, while no-name ingredients get a textual “also” but no pictures.

MixingDipIt didn’t take long to flip through the 50 recipes, but to actually settle on something I would make and ask other humans to eat took a while. I ruled out Spaghetti-Os, canned meat, and anything that would need to cook for more than 30 minutes on a 90-degree day. I also ruled out pineapple, canned fish, and beer as an ingredient. (I guessed that anything I was willing to drink would have too MixingDip3strong a flavor for the dish.) I was left with a few options, and settled on chunky kernel spread, which I keep wanting to call chunky kernel dip, because really it is a dip.

This is one of the easier recipes of an elementary lot. I allowed two packets of reduced-fat cream cheese to soften (the recipe called for fat-free, but you can’t really DipWithFritos2find fat-free anything in our local stores), then mixed in a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix. The recipe directed me to then add an 11-ounce can of corn (drained), a 5-ounce can of sliced black olives (drained), a 4-ounce jar of chopped mild green chiles (also drained), and a small red bell pepper (diced). I could only find 12-ounce cans of corn, and chose not to worry about the PartySpreaddifference. I could also only find cans of whole black olives, so bought a can and sliced up enough to equal the canned amount. And I found only cans of chiles, not jars. I thought I had pulled a can of chopped chiles but discovered when I opened it that I had once again fallen prey to grocery shelf dyslexia and purchased whole chiles, so I chopped those up as well. I stirred everything together, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and stuck it in the fridge for a little over an hour.

Closer to party time, I pulled out the dip and put it into a bowl, which I set in a serving dish and surrounded with Fritos (as per the recipe). I found the dip underwhelming when I sampled some off the spoon, but it turns out that Fritos were required for a reason: the high level of salt and the strong corn flavor tie together the flavors in the dip, and make it a pretty satisfying snack.

Verdict: Success. I can’t see myself making this again any time soon; it seems like it would go best with a sports-watching party, and I don’t really watch sports. Puppy Bowl, maybe? If I do make it again I’ll use hotter chiles and kalamata olives, and buy more Fritos.

The Twinkies Cookbook: Twinkiehenge

Twinkiehenge

TwinkieHengeTwinkies are the epitome of processed food: spongy, resilient, wrapped in plastic, with only slightly more flavor than the wrapping, they are globally recognizable and endlessly the same. They couldn’t not be Recipes of the Damned. So when I saw The Twinkies Cookbook in the discount section at Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago, I had to buy it. What could one possibly cook with Twinkies?

PuddingIngreds2So many things, though “cook” is not always the operative word. An astounding 49 recipes, ranging from Twinkie Kebabs to Twinkie Ice Cream to Twinkie Tunnel Bundt Cake (yes, cake with a tunnel of Twinkies) to Pigs in a Twinkie. (In the upsettingly named chapter “Twinkies and Meat,” which only contains three recipes, thank heavens.) You can blend Twinkies into a milkshake. You can deep-fry them and serve them with chocolate sauce. (We tried that at Chipshop in Park Slope, Brooklyn; meh, unable to hold a candle to the deep-fried Cadbury Creme Egg.)

Oreos2But of course for the party I had to try Twinkiehenge.

It’s very simple. You start by mixing up some instant chocolate pudding, according to the package instructions. The recipe called for a 5.9-ounce package, but all I could find was two 3.9-ounce packages. This didn’t bother me; have you ever noticed that you never hear the phrase “too much pudding”? I mixed up the pudding and put it into a serving bowl, and topped it with crushed Oreos, about 16 cookies’ worth.

CrushingOreosNow it was time to add the Twinkies. The recipe says to cut Twinkies in half crosswise and stand them up on end, with the rounded edges up and the cut ends pushed into the pudding. But this seemed to me to be only halfway there. Stonehenge isn’t just standing vertical stones; it’s the crossbars that make it truly distinctive. Without them I’d have Twinkie Rapa Nui. So I halved a few Twinkies lengthwise as well and laid them atop the posts, and voila: Twinkiehenge.

CrushedOreosSome of you may have found the combination of chocolate pudding and crushed Oreos familiar. When I was in my teens, back in the last century, our Y-Teens gatherings often featured a dessert known by a number of names: Better than Sex, Better than Robert Redford, God in a Pan. (Yes, we were in our mid-teens and Robert Redford was in his late 40s at that point. What can I say? The man can still bring it.) BTS was made of chocolate pudding, crushed Oreos (often still a bit chunky), and whipped cream or Cool Whip. We did not bother with Twinkies, or henges.

PuddingAndOreosOf course on Saturday it took us a while to get around to eating Twinkiehenge. It’s one of those dishes that looks too pretty, or at least too goofy, to eat. But we cast aside our fears of little Twinkie Druids casting little Twinkie curses on us, and dug in. Unsurprisingly, the combination of pudding and Oreos was tasty. The Twinkies didn’t really add anything to that. They didn’t detract; they were just kind of there.

TwinkieHenge3Verdict: Success, albeit silly. I don’t think I’ll be bothering with the Twinkie part again, but we’re working on transforming too much pudding into no more pudding.

The New Joys of Jell-O: Joy Is Not the Word I Would Use

ring around the fruit mold

RingAroundJellO2I have never been a fan of Jell-O. I find the texture off-putting, the taste chemical-y and harsh, and the very principle simply wrong. This is probably one reason that I own three Jell-O cookbooks; in fact, it was a Jell-O cookbook that started me down the path to Recipes of the Damned, and eventually to this blog.

JelloFruitCocktailThe New Joys of Jell-O is not that cookbook. The New Joys of Jell-O is a slim hardcover published in 1973 and resplendent with early 1970s glory; lurid color photos display outmoded hairstyles, clothing and Jell-O dishes. The publisher is clearly trying to pull Jell-O out of a 1960s cultural tar pit by showing that hip, groovy people who are in touch with today’s modern world will show up on your doorstep carrying fruit encased in translucent goo.

JellOPowderThe last time I made a Jell-O recipe I played it safe, adding melon balls to lime Jell-O and leaving it at that. This time I decided that I really had to go big. Big and bad, as it happened. So I scanned the recipes for something that would encapsulate all the worst aspects of Jell-O cookery — no small selection of choices — and settled on ring around the fruit mold.

JellOInBundtPan2I began by making the Jell-O itself. Following the recipe’s instructions, I drained the liquid from a 30-ounce can of fruit cocktail, and added water to it to make 1 1/2 cups. I set this aside, possibly not as far as I should have. I dissolved a 6-ounce packet of strawberry Jell-O in 2 cups of boiling water, stirred in the fruit cocktail solution, and poured the liquid into a Bundt pan. This represented my first real sign that things weren’t going to go quite as hoped. (Well, first real sign after the realization that I was making Jell-O in the first place.) I don’t own any actual Jell-O molds, and I didn’t have anything at all ring-shaped other than my standard Bundt pan, and it’s about twice the size I needed. I worried a little about whether the Jell-O would unmold cleanly, then decided there wasn’t anything I could do about it at this point, and put the pan in the fridge to chill overnight.

DicingMarshmallowsThe next step was to assemble the fruit component. The recipe called for 1 cup of prepared Dream Whip, 1/3 cup of chopped nuts, 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows, and the fruit from that can of fruit cocktail. You can see already this isn’t going anywhere good. I’ll reassure you on one point, though: Dream Whip is (or perhaps was) the mix-it-yourself equivalent of Cool Whip. (It is not salad dressing; that’s Miracle Whip. Breathe a sigh of relief.) I don’t know if Dream Whip is available for sale today, but it certainly can’t be found in my neighborhood grocery store, so I substituted Cool Whip.

JellOFillingIngredsThe marshmallows were also a problem, because they didn’t have miniatures at FoodTown. I couldn’t be sure from the shelves if they were sold out or if they just weren’t available. I considered trying the other grocery stores in the area, but I decided against that. It’s been insanely hot here, and I didn’t feel like trooping from store to store. I also wasn’t confident that I’d find them anywhere else; after all, who runs out of or doesn’t stock miniature marshmallows? It wouldn’t be the first time that I’d gone store to store only to discover that nobody carries something that I had just assumed everybody would have in stock. And I had a party to prepare for; I didn’t really want to spend the time, especially if it wasn’t going to come to anything.

JellOFillingSo I bought full-size marshmallows and decided to chop them into bits. This was tricky, because marshmallows are gummy and sticky inside and really want to stick to your knife. I dusted my knife blade with powered sugar and dipped the exposed surfaces in powdered sugar as I went along, and while this didn’t completely solve the stickiness problem, it reduced it enough that I could accumulate half a cup of marshmallow bits without completely losing it.

JellOJelledMy sourcing problems addressed, I mixed together the Cool Whip, fruit cocktail bits, marshmallows and chopped walnuts. The mixture was pale and lumpy and distinctly unencouraging. I set it aside and prepared to unmold my Jell-O. I turned it onto a plate and it came out in once piece–a misshapen piece that was liquidy at the edges. I think I may have held the mold in warm water a little too long; I was afraid I’d mixed in too much liquid (package directions say no) or used boiling water when I should not have (package directions say boiling water, no problem there) or failed to let it chill long enough. But it didn’t continue to bleed liquid, so I think I just warmed the pan too much. Certainly once I’d turned it out into a cockeyed triangle, it didn’t remain malleable enough for me to shape it back into a ring.

JellOUnmolded2I began to spoon the fruit cocktail mixture into the center. There was a lot of it. Frankly, I think there was too much of it. For the amount of fruit cocktail mixture I had I think I needed twice the Jell-O. (It had occurred to me the night before, when I saw that the Bundt pan was only half full, that I might go get more Jell-O and make a double quantity. But then it occurred to me that I would have that much more Jell-O left over, because I had no illusions that the party guests were going to flock to the Jell-O mold and clamor to take some home with them. So I didn’t.) I spooned in as much as I felt I could reasonably keep on the plate without in fact hiding the Jell-O, and carried the dish out to the party buffet.

RingAroundJellO3Quite a bit later, after we’d enjoyed salad and dips and pickles and cake and whiskey (more on that in another post), Scott decided it was time to find out how the Jell-O was. He served himself a plate with even shares of Jell-O and fruit cocktail mixture, took a bite, and furrowed his brows. “You have to eat some of this,” he said, in a tone that implied “It’s your fault we even have this here.” He served some out for me before I could protest, though I agreed that it was my fault and it was only fair that I tried it for myself.

JellODishedThe Jell-O was the best part of it. This is not a compliment. The combination of Cool Whip and fruit cocktail and marshmallows was unpleasant, even more than I had expected. (The nuts did nothing to improve or degrade it, really.) The flavors and textures were completely discordant. There was the slipperiness and chemical tang of Jell-O, the sticky softness of marshmallow, and the mushy so-very-not-fresh-fruit sensation of the fruit cocktail pieces. I finished the serving because I kept thinking one of these spoonfuls was bound to improve, but they never did.

The apartment was really warm, but the Jell-O held up surprisingly well, and didn’t start to melt off the plate for some hours. Once it did, I took it out to the kitchen and disposed of it.

Verdict: Disgusting. Kids, don’t try this at home.

Today’s Country Cooking: Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb

strawberry-rhubarb pie

PieSlice2Last Saturday I finally made it to the neighborhood Greenmarket, its third week of operation. I had good but annoying reasons for missing the first two and I was determined not to miss this one. I knew it was too early for tomatoes, but I was delighted to see there are still plenty of strawberries on hand. I picked up a couple of quarts, and on my way to join the line I saw stalks of PiecrustIngredsrhubarb, and I thought, this will be a blog recipe to knock off. One of my books has to have a recipe for strawberry-rhubarb pie, and I bet it’s Today’s Country Cooking.

And I was right, though I missed it at first; the index had no listing under strawberry, but when I searched “rhubarb,” I found rhubarb pie with a variation that included strawberries. Good PiecrustInPanenough for me!

Today’s Country Cooking is the last one I had left to try in the group of cookbook-club-published books I’ve accumulated. Like its fellows, it’s large and glossy and prettily laid out. It offers lots of glowingly American recipes: mashed potatoes, jam, meatloaf, cake, and something called “American Chop Suey Hot Dish.” Rhubarb2(Macaroni, garlic, ground beef…I think I don’t want to know, actually.)

I started by preparing a pie crust, following a recipe included in the book. I had reservations, because I’m a butter-crust person and the recipe here called for shortening. But one of my goals for this project is to get better at following a new recipe without Rhubarb5imposing my own ideas about what to do before I’ve even seen how it would work, and I knew that there would be a real difference in texture with shortening. I had to try it for myself. So I took a deep breath, bought a container of Crisco, and set to work. I blended some flour with a bit of salt and some Crisco, then mixed in some ice water. I used the amounts specified, and I Strawberriesexpected the crust to be a bit shaggy, but it was downright wet. I swiftly blended in some more flour until the texture seemed right, trying my best not to over-handle it and make it tough. I rolled out a bottom crust and laid it into the pie pan, then rolled out a top crust and folded it into a quarter-wedge, and set it aside.

Now it was time to put together Strawberries4the filling. I sliced rhubarb into half-inch-thick pieces and arranged them in the pie pan, then sliced up some strawberries and added them to the rhubarb. Then I blended some sugar, brown sugar and flour in one bowl; in another, I combined eggs, egg yolks, half-and-half, and vanilla. I poured the egg mixture into the sugar mixture and whisked it together, then FruitInCrust2poured it over the fruit.

Now it was time to top the pie. Well, I assumed so, anyway; the recipe doesn’t actually say to lay on the top crust, but the illustration shows a lattice-topped pie, so I decided that would serve as an implication that a top crust was intended, and carefully unfolded the top crust that I had set aside. It wanted to stick FillingIngredstogether, but I managed to tease it apart into a single layer with out shredding it too much. I pinched the edges, poked a few holes, and popped the pie into a 350-degree oven for an hour.

Once the pie had cooled, it was ready to slice and serve. The crust was surprisingly good: light, flaky, and with a delicate flavor that complemented the pie filling. ClosingPie2The filling was very good too, though I found it a little sweeter than I thought it should be; that could probably be taken care of by adding just a bit more of both kinds of fruit without increasing the egg-and-sugar mixture. The strawberries and rhubarb balanced sweetness and tartness.

Verdict: Success. I may have to make another within the next PieBaked3couple of weeks, while there are still strawberries in the Greenmarket.

Totally Garlic Cookbook: Savory Taste of the Stinking Rose

garlic goat cheese spread

GoatCheeseAtPicnicWhen I signed up to bring appetizers to the office picnic, I promised one vegetable-based dish and one “more indulgent” dish. The eggplant dip met the “vegetable-based” goal. For “more indulgent,” I decided that meant it had to have cheese. I also knew it had to be something that could be served at room temperature. I turned to the shelf where I’ve gathered all the GarlicCookbookremaining cookbooks for the project and found the Totally Garlic Cookbook, which is a slim little paperback shaped like a clove of garlic. (Get it? Because it’s garlic! Hi-larious, right?)

I have no idea where we got this, whether it was a gift or a discount bin purchase or a throw-in-with-an-online-order acquisition, but here it is. It’s loaded with GarlicHeadappealing appetizers, entrees, even desserts. I quickly found garlic goat cheese spread and was ready to go.

I began with the garlic: one head, top trimmed off, drizzled with a little bit of olive oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes. I wrapped the head in foil and put it into a 350-degree oven for an hour, then pulled it out, unwrapped the GarlicRoasted3foil, and let it sit until it was cool enough to handle.

While the garlic baked, I minced four of those sun-dried tomatoes and chopped about three tablespoons of fresh basil. When the garlic was cool, I squeezed the garlic into the bowl with the tomatoes and basil. The garlic was soft and almost gooey, and was easy to squeeze out of the SunDriedTomatoeslittle papery hulls. It smelled glorious: rich, mellowed, but still pungent and distinctly garlicky. (Note to self: Next time I’m using the oven, wrap up three or four heads to roast and set aside.) (Additional note to self: When using the oven for potatoes or chicken or something, not cookies.)

At this point I stirred in about 11 GarlicBasilTomatoesounces of goat cheese. I used the Chevre brand spread, the last two little containers that were on the shelf at the grocery store, but I think just about any basic goat cheese would serve. Once I’d thoroughly mixed it all together, I laid four whole basil leaves on a sheet of plastic wrap, spread the goat cheese mixture over them, laid on four more basil leaves, and rolled the plastic around to GoatCheeseMixture2shape the cheese into a little log. It went into the fridge, and the idea was that after an overnight chilling it would be stiff enough to slice into rounds. It was not. It was still soft and spreadable in the morning, and I knew that once I got it to Central Park there would be no chance of chilling and slicing. So I removed the plastic and laid the cheese in a container with some kalamata GoatCheeseMixture3olives.

At the picnic I offered it up with slices of baguette, and it was very well received. The picnickers went through a good proportion of it, though what was left at the end of the day was decidedly the worse for wear.

Verdict: Success. I’ll do it again, when it cools down enough to turn on the oven.

Eat More, Weigh Less: The Joy of Eggplant

pita chips with roasted eggplant dip

EggplantAtPicnic2Lately it seems to be taking an act of God to get me to cook much. I’m cooking dinner most evenings, but I’ve been doing easy lazy things. Pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, basil and chickpeas. Stir-fry. Hot dogs. Things that don’t require measuring or even really counting. I feel like I haven’t quite caught up with my domestic life yet, what with travel and Eggplantsome fairly mentally demanding projects at work.

But this past Friday was the office picnic, in Central Park no less, and I knew I had to get my act together. By the time I signed the contribution sheet the dessert and entree categories were pretty full, so I turned my attention to appetizers, and chose two: a spicy roasted eggplant dip, and a EggplantRoastedgoat cheese spread with roasted garlic (next post).

I’ve made roasted eggplant dip before, about a year ago. This one is a little bit different, with the inclusion of a minced jalapeno pepper and a slightly different blend of spices. Spices are a key element in Eat More, Weigh Less, the first of two healthy lifestyle cookbooks by Dr. Dean Ornish (I ShallotChileSpicescooked from the second, Everyday Cooking With Dr. Dean Ornish, in November). Dr. Ornish’s recipes are drastically low in fat, so strong flavor elements are featured to help counteract the popular notion that low-fat food isn’t flavorful.

This dip was definitely flavorful. I began by halving two eggplants lengthwise and putting them in a EggplantRoasted3350-degree oven to roast. While they cooked, I minced a jalapeno pepper and a shallot, juiced a lemon and a lime to get a teaspoon of juice from each, and mixed that in a bowl with some cumin, cinnamon and salt. Once the eggplants were out of the oven and cool enough to handle, I put them into a food processor with the shallot-pepper mixture and processed it all until it was EggplantInProcessorsmooth.

I did push the eggplant halves into the processor bowl without cutting them up (come on, you try neatly slicing a roasted eggplant! It kind of falls apart on you), and this meant that there were some oversized pieces of the skin that I had to pluck out for aesthetic reasons. I think if I did this again I’d scoop the EggplantDip3eggplant flesh out of the skins, even though I favor eating the skins of vegetables on principle.

I also cut up some pitas into single-layer slices and toasted them. Dr. Ornish’s recipe said to brush them with an egg white wash, which I didn’t bother to do. That might have made them stiffer and better able to scoop up dip, but I wasn’t convinced the MorePicnicSpread2extra effort would have been worth it. I cut up some additional pitas and left them uncooked, and they seemed robust enough.

The next day I hauled my dips, pitas and bread to the park, where our crew found a picnic spot that was very close to, but not exactly, the spot we had chosen ahead of time. We laid out blankets and massive quantities MorePicnicSpreadof food, and began to dish up a welcome late lunch. People seemed to enjoy the eggplant dip. There was a fair amount of it left at the end of the day, but that was because we had managed to bring enough to feed at least twice our number. And it was a little too warm out to overstuff ourselves.

Verdict: Success. Easy, tasty, and low in fat. I’ll want to make this one again.

A Blog Near-Death Experience

No recipe this time. I had a scary day and half or so; it began yesterday afternoon when I tried to upgrade my version of WordPress. Between inherent tech issues and mistaken choices on my part things went rapidly downhill, and for a while I was afraid I had well and truly killed the blog for good. With some persistence, some patience, and the help of a technician named Manuel at my Web hoster, I was able to bring 107 Cookbooks back from the dead. I’ve learned a few things:

  • Even if the site suggests you should upgrade, it may not be a good idea to upgrade.
  • It is definitely not a good idea to upgrade if your Web hoster is not running a high enough version of SQL Server.
  • It would have been awfully nice if the upgrade instructions had ever presented this as a possible issue before I installed the upgrade and began getting error messages.
  • When you’re annoyed about somebody else’s unclear instructions and then you make a really bad mistake of your own, it takes all the fun out of your righteous indignation.
  • Sometimes the correct next step is to walk away from the computer for 15 minutes and let the servers do their thing.
  • When you can envision a worst-case scenario that involves manually re-entering 11 months of posts as HTML, nearly any solution short of that will come as a relief.

Still catching up with the rest of my life, but I will be back in the kitchen before too much longer.