October 28, 2009

Ruth Reichl and Gourmet Today

Ruth Reichl is one of my favorite people. It’s funny how after reading three memoirs about her life, I feel like I know her. It kind of makes me sound weird and stalker-ish, but I’ve spent hours with Ruth, hearing about all of the phases of her life. (At the event I attended, she told an audience member that she could only write the next installment of her memoirs if she no longer worked for Conde Nast–the publisher of Gourmet magazine, where she was the editor. The weekend after the event, it came out that after sixty years Conde Nast is canceling the magazine, so it looks like I’ve got something to look forward to!) In real life, Ruth Reichl is just as personable as she is on the page.

I headed down town to The Nines hotel alone one Wednesday night last month. Up to the  swanky sixth floor ballroom. People were drinking wine in the lounge outside waiting for the event to start. I picked up my signed copy of the huge new lime green Gourmet cookbook that Ruth had edited and was promoting.

Tickets were $40, a lot of money to get to see Ruth, but really it’s just the price of the cookbook and the talk is included for free. Except, I was there for the talk and couldn’t really care any less about the cookbook. So, I really did pay $40 just to hear Ruth Reichl talk for an hour. It was worth every penny. I’m sure everyone else there thought so too. But, to them $40 probably didn’t break the bank. It seems that the demographic for such events is comprised almost entirely of rich, middle-aged white women. I felt slightly out-of-place, but who knows, in 30 years that may just be me.

By the time I entered the ballroom clutching my copy of the book, the front row seats were filled. “Damn! I should have gotten here earlier,” I thought to myself as I slid into my seat on the far end of the second row. Luckily, it happened to be the side that Ruth walked down before heading to the podium. Her iridescent blue-green tunic shirt glistened as she walked by. For a foodie in her fifties, Ruth is skinny and a little more petite that I would have imagined–she has such an over-sized personality for someone of her stature. She wore her famously wild hair long, sleek and straight that night.

She launched into her talk. She spoke about why we need this new cookbook, how Americans are cooking and eating in an exciting new way. She noted the changes in the average suburban supermarket, the range of ingredients you can find these days; about her son Nick and his friends and their vegetarian/vegan eating habits, about how people are more conscious than ever of their food and where it comes from.

Ruth Reichl makes chicken stock every weekend. She makes risotto whenever she gets home from work and doesn’t know what else to cook. She is afraid that Nick, who is in college on the East Coast, will move to Portland after he graduates, because “it’s the place all the kinds want to go after college” these days. We are so hip right now.

Ruth is political, which is definitely part of why I like her. She included an article in Gourmet recently about how  slavery in alive and well in Florida’s tomato growing regions. People wrote in letters to the editor that a food magazine like Gourmet should not be involved in politics, but I happen to think that eating is a political act. At the event, she noted that 80% of the cookbooks that she signs for people’s kids lately are for their sons, indicating that we have a new “generation of people who don’t think of cooking as women’s work,” like they used to. She talked about the dire state of school lunches in this country. Ruth pointed out that personal outrage was not enough, that we must complain to our politicians. We need to tell them that good food for our children is important. “It’s got to be political,” she said. “It’s been deemed frivolous, but training people to eat well is going to save us money in the long run.” Yes! It’s common sense, but still so hard to get that point across publicly.

Ruth answered questions from the audience, mostly about boring stuff like what fat does she use in pie crusts (apparently a terribly contentious issue in the baking world, as it came up at a Wordstock baking Q&A, too), or what to call mushrooms that are farmed, but somehow are referred to as “wild” on restaurant menus, much to the despair of mushroom hunters (Ruth had no idea—and why are these people wasting my time with Ruth anyway?).

About three-quarters of the way through, I got up enough courage to raise my hand and ask a question. At first I wasn’t sure if she was going to call on me. She picked a woman sitting right in front of me first, so I thought my chances were slim. But soon enough, she came back over to my side and I spoke to Ruth Reichl. I asked her if she read any food blogs—if so, which ones?!–and how she felt blogging fit into the new food landscape she was describing.

She said that she used to read 20 food blogs a day, but that she just didn’t have time to follow them anymore (of course! Silly question to ask someone in Ruth’s position, damn!). But, she said it is a “new and wonderful world” where food is being cooked and discussed and celebrated. When she started cooking in Berkeley in the sixties, she said no one was talking about food, as I suppose it was considered more of a woman’s chore than a thing to celebrate. Ruth also likes that fact that it makes food professionals better, as their consumers are more informed. It keeps chefs accountable.

But, the best thing that she said all night was about cookbooks. She described how many times Gourmet’s chefs and home cooks had tested each of the thousand recipes in the new Gourmet Today cookbook. Even the simplest dish with the fewest ingredients was made and remade in their test kitchens. The reason, she said, is that she is continually “shocked at how many failed recipes are in famous cookbooks by famous authors.” And the worst part, she pointed out, is that when you are at home and you try one of those poor, untested recipes, you inevitably think that it’s your fault when it doesn’t turn out. Which is a terrible thing, said Ruth, because how you learn to cook is with courage. You make something, people like it, so you make more.

I couldn’t agree more.

October 22, 2009

Orecchiette with Sausage and Roasted Peppers

Ok, here's another one adapted from the Great Food Fast book from Everyday Food. Apparently they really do have a lot of good recipes, although this actually asks you to roast your own peppers---not something I would consider particularly fast. (And when I say fast, I'm thinking along the lines of black bean tacos--open a can of beans, heat some tortillas, add cheese and salsa....)

Anyway, I'd never actually roasted my own bell peppers, so this was a fun experiment. It is incredibly easy (if not exactly quick) and I would recommend it to anyone. Roasted peppers have such a wonderful flavor! I feel like they would be a good addition to just about anything. AND it just sounds fancy. I think you will impress people (or at least people who've not roasted their own peppers before).

The onions and ricotta are my own additions. I made a pasta recipe that called for ricotta cheese recently, so I had it in the fridge. I've been adding it to all of my pasta dishes now, and it's such an easy (and low calorie) way to make any sauce creamy! And, as far as I'm concerned, creamy is almost always better than not creamy. Give it a try---be creative!

Also, orecchiette (or-reh-key-EH-tay) is my new favorite pasta. (The shape! They way they hold the sauce!) I've been hoarding recipes that call for it. I didn't see them available at my local supermarket, but I found some (organic and really expensive) at Whole Foods.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Roasted Peppers
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, four flat sides sliced off core, ribs and seeds discarded
  • 2 medium yellow bell peppers, prepped the same way
  • Course sat and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 pound orecchiette (as you can see in my picture, I actually ran out this time and subbed some other small pasta)
  • 3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 pound Italian sweet sausage, removed from casings
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup low-fat (or reg.) ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat the broiler. Place the peppers, skin side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 4 inches from heat until charred--about 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Steam for 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve the juices in the bowl. Using a paper towel, rub off skins. (I just used my fingers to pull the skins off.) Thinly slice the peppers crosswise into 1/4-inch strips. Return to bowl and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet. Saute onions, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize.
  3. At the same time, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, according to the package instructions. Reserve a 1/2 cup of the pasta water then drain pasta.
  4. Add the sausage and remaining oil to the skillet with the onions. Cook over medium heat, breaking sausage up with a spoon, until browned--7 to 10 minutes. Add the roasted peppers and cook until heated through.
  5. Transfer the sausage mixture to a large bowl. Add the pasta, butter, reserved pasta water, ricotta and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Top with grated Parmesan and serve immediately.

October 15, 2009

Molasses Cookie and Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwiches

Exactly three years ago, I was in Gearhart, a small town on the Oregon coast. (Really small, of maybe a thousand people.) I happened to find a wonderful ice cream shop that served Tillamook ice cream. (Tillamook ice cream is right up there with the best. You've probably heard of Tillamook cheese---their ice cream has a more limited distribution.) I ordered a homemade ice cream sandwich. This was new to me, the idea of homemade ice cream sandwiches---I thought they were limited to the packaged kind with vanilla ice cream. But, of course not! What an easy idea, homemade cookies with ice cream in the middle! What could be better? These particular sandwiches were made with gingersnaps and pumpkin ice cream. I've dreamed about them ever since.

Well, Mark had a coupon for a free pint of ice cream (Dreyer's, not Tillamook, sadly) and we stumbled upon their seasonally available pumpkin ice cream. I knew exactly what to do! After much deliberation, I decided to make Chewy Molasses cookies, from Martha Stewart's Cookies, for my ice cream sandwiches.

Martha Stewart's Cookies, what can I say? I've made dozens of different cookies from this book and they are all delicious. I'm really looking forward to making the Iced Oatmeal Applesauce cookies, Cashew Caramel cookies, Honey Florentines, Lemon Madeleines, Chocolate Waffles, Rugelach...OK, I could go on and on. That's one of the nice things about this book, there are more recipes that I want to make than I have time to make! I have a lot of cookbooks that end up having more recipes that I'm not interested in than the ones I am. Not the case with Cookies.

As you know, I am not a huge fan of the Martha Stewart empire or what she stands for. But, when you make a Martha Stewart recipe, you know it will turn out and it will taste good.

And these Chewy Molasses cookies really did pair well with pumpkin ice cream.

Molasses Cookies
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar.
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/4 cup for rolling
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  1. Beat butter, brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Mix in the eggs one at a time, followed by the molasses and oil.
  2. Reduce speed to low and gradually mix in flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and salt. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm---1 hour or up to overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a bowl. Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon, form balls of dough. (Caution--the dough is extremely sticky!) Roll balls in sugar to coat and space 3 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are flat and the centers are set---about 17 minutes. Cool completely on sheets on wire racks.
  • Homemade cookies
  • Ice cream of your choice
  1. Take ice cream out of freezer for a few minutes, until it is soft enough to work with but not melt-y.
  2. Grab 2 cookies. Place them upside down on a plate. Scoop ice cream on to one cookie until it is thick enough for your liking. Spread the ice cream around so it is level and all the way to the edges.
  3. Place second cookie right side up on top of the ice cream and voila! Easy.

October 14, 2009

Persian Kidney Beans

I first made these years ago for an Iranian themed book club meeting. I had no idea how they would turn out and I had 15 people coming over, so I really hoped it would be good. The great thing about this dish is that it is simple and inexpensive to make. And it will serve a ton of people. The flavor combination is maybe a little different, but to me onions, garlic, cumin, jalapeno and citrus is redolent of Mexican cooking. The cinnamon is really what gives it a more exotic touch.

It all worked out fine that night, but for some reason I hadn't come back to this recipe. Then, flipping through one my new cookbooks, Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Heaven, I found this recipe again. I compared it to the one I'd made earlier from Allrecipes.com and they are strikingly similar. Here is my own conglomeration of the two. Plus the addition of cilantro, because we had some, it goes well with the flavors and spices in the dish and it seems like fresh herbs always take a dish to the next level.

Persian Kidney Beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3-5 gloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups orange juice (to taste)
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 4 cans kidney beans, rinsed
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 1/2 each lime and orange zest (optional. Zest before juicing!)
  • Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
  • Black pepper to taste (optional)
  • Torn fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
  • Pita bread
  1. Heat the oil in a deep sauce pan or Dutch oven. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the garlic, salt, cumin and cinnamon. Saute for 5 more minutes.
  2. Stir in the orange and lime juice. Add the tomato paste and stir until well combined. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the beans, the jalapeno, the citrus zest and red pepper flakes. Stir often and cook for 20 more minutes over low heat.
  4. Taste and adjust seasonings, then serve hot topped with more zest, red pepper flakes and fresh cilantro and pita bread to the side.
*Despite the jalapeno and red pepper flakes, this dish is not particularly spicy.

October 9, 2009

Lentil-Walnut Burger with Creamy Cilantro Lemon Sauce

Lentil burgers remind me of the Sierra Nevada Brewery pub in Chico, CA. They offer enticing dishes of all types, but whenever I am there I have to get the lentil burger. It's just too delicious to pass up.

I saw this lentil-walnut burger recipe in my Everyday Food: Great Fast Food cookbook, from the people who do the Martha Stewart Living magazine. So far, what I've made from this book has been tasty, and what I really appreciate (just like in my Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook) are the fantastic photos. It certainly helps motivate me to make new dishes when I'm staring at a mouth-watering picture.

I'm going through a cook-what-I-already-have-in-my-cupboards phase. I happened to have some dried lentils on hand--in fact I'd had them for quite some time. And I always keep a Costco-sized bag of walnuts (so much cheaper!) for baking and the like. So, the stars aligned and I decided to make these burgers for dinner. It was a bit of a process (maybe because I have the smallest food processor known to man), but not a complicated or terribly elaborate one. And the results were definitely worth the effort!

Lentil-Walnut Burgers
  • 3/4 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/3 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
  • 3 garlic cloves (or more to taste) coarsely chopped or pressed
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/4- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Course salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large egg
  • Creamy cilantro sauce (optional)
Creamy Cilantro Sauce

  • 3/4 cup low-fat or non-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Course salt and fresh ground pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender but still holding their shape--about 15-20 minutes. (The older the lentil, the longer the cooking time. I actually soaked my old lentils for about 2 hours before I started cooking so they wouldn't take as long to cook.) Drain well and cool.
  2. Meanwhile, spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant and darkened, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
  3. While waiting for lentils and walnuts to cook, whisk together all ingredients for creamy cilantro sauce, season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  4. In a food processor, combine the walnuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Process until finely ground.
    Add the lentils and 1 tablespoon of oil. Pulse until coarsely chopped. (Some lentils should remain whole).
  5. In a large bowl, whisk the egg. Add the lentil mixture and mix well. Divide into 4 equal-sized parts. Roll into balls and flatten with your palms into 3/4-inch-thick patties.
6. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the burgers and cook over medium-low heat until crisp and browned, gently flip the burgers---8 to 10 minutes each side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Serve with creamy cilantro sauce and other burger fixin's.

October 6, 2009


Usually when I have lots of apples, I resort to making Apple Crisp or White Rabbit Salad. When Mary Ann dropped a bag of apples off on my front step this weekend I figured on making some type of baked treat. We both decided, however, on embarking on a mission to make homemade applesauce. It's amazingly quick and easy, and delicious! It's like eating a sauce version of apple pie, yum.

What's in it
5-6 apples
1/4 C water or apple juice/cider
2 Tbl brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

How it's made
Peel and core apples, then cut them into chunks about an inch square. Place apples in a saucepan with the water/cider/juice. Heat on low until simmering, then simmer covered for 20
minutes or until soft. Remove from heat. Mash apples down until desired texture. I used a pastry cutter, but a potato masher or fork would work as well. If you like smooth sauce, you can use a food processor. Mix in sugar and spices. Eat warm or cold. This would be a great topping for pork chops. Does anyone have a good recipe??