Archive for the ‘Recipe Sources’ Category

Ottolenghi … Converted   Leave a comment

I spent part of the morning converting the recipe for Ottolenghi’s Chocolate Fudge Cake from metric to American measures. Well, more accurately, I used an online converter to make the calculations for me and then duly recorded the figures in the cookbook. My grammar school metrics lessons were an utter failure at the time and have completely vacated my brain at this point. The converted measures were unusual though: do you round up or down when you get something like 3.34 ounces? While you could go either way without much consequence when making something like a roast, it’s entirely different when you’re baking, which demands relatively precise measures. I couldn’t decide whether to err on the side of less or more, so I made the bold decision to flip a button on my kitchen scale — from pounds to kilograms — and cook in metric.

Most experienced cooks “eyeball” measurements, but to make this possible, you need to have a pretty good sense for how much, say, a cup’s worth of flour is or a teaspoon full of salt. I guess this ability is kind of like culinary ESP. I don’t have the foggiest idea of how much 290 grams worth of anything is, so that particular culinary sense was eliminated during the baking of this cake. Add to that the fact that I’ve never baked a flourless-cake before and I was completely disoriented throughout.

The cake is in the oven now. 170 degrees Celsius is 338 degrees Farenheit, a temperature that the analog dial of my oven can only approximate, so I’m watching the cake closely. Also, the recipe called for a 20 cm pan and I had only a 24 cm pan, so I’ll reduce the cooking time. The fancy whistle of this cake is that it gets cooked in stages: the lower level has a proper cake-like texture while the upper is fudgier from having been cooked for a shorter period of time. That lower level is smelling awfully good right now.

This experience has provided a glimpse into the world of European baking, which prefers measurements by weight rather than volume. As I think about it, this method seems contrary to the American psyche. Without a doubt, weight measurements are more precise.  The method is not difficult, provided that you have a decent kitchen scale.  The attitude behind it seems, however, more rigid, less of the freewheelin’ cowboy thing that Americans are famous for both inside and outside of the kitchen.

Not such a bad thing, in my opinion.  The proof is, as they say, in the pudding, which should be finished shortly.

Posted October 17, 2009 by Admin in Metric, Ottolenghi, Recipe Sources, Uncategorized

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Ottolenghi: A Kitchen Essential   Leave a comment

Since I don’t happen to live there, it’s a bit inconvenient that my favorite restaurant is in London. The restaurant is called Ottolenghi, and there are four branches. I’ve only been to the original location, in Notting Hill, but word is that the other three sites are just as good as the first.

Although it’s possible to eat there — there is seating for only about 10 people — the Notting Hill branch of Ottolenghi is mainly a take-out place. That said: banish any preconceived notions that you may have about take-out. Ottolenghi is altogether something else. This place redefines the concept and serves the most incredible take-out that you can imagine: fresh, simple salads; delicious soups; innovative main dishes; lush desserts.

If I were to open a restaurant here in Opelika, which is fairly unlikely, I’d borrow heavily from the Ottolenghi model: bare white walls, shiny, reflective surfaces, heaping platters of gorgeous food as the only decoration. In such a place, everything is oriented toward the food, which means, of course, that the food has to be arrestingly beautiful and delicious. This true of Ottolenghi. Whether eating a meal there or just having a look at the astounding window display, a trip to Ottolenghi is a real treat and ranks high on my must-do list whenever I can manage the trip to London.

Unfortunately, that isn’t very often, which is why I was delighted when Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the geniuses behind the restaurant, came out with a cookbook last year. (Recently,an article in Gourmet profiled both the restaurant and the book.) Happily, the book is every bit as good as the restaurant. In fact, even though I ordered it as a pricey import and got taken on the exchange rate, purchasing it might wind up saving me a bit of money in the long run, since, for a time, I can use it here in Alabama to stave off those powerful longings to visit Ottolenghi (but only for a time…).

I own a lot of cookbooks, but I have only a tiny bit space available for book storage. That means that I must store a significant number of my cookbooks creatively, a practice that may oneday drive my husband insane. Far too many of my cookbooks are kept underneath my bed, but a small space on my cramped kitchen counter is reserved for a few oft-used tomes. Ottolenghi is prominent among them.

Ottolenghi, the Cookbook is gorgeous; quirky photographs capture the energetic spirit of the restaurant. The authors write about food in clear, precise, but engaging prose. The introduction of the book explains the ideological underpinnings of the restaurant:

Unfussiness and simplicity in food preparation are … the only ways to maintain the freshness of a dish. Each individual ingredient has a clear voice, plain characteristics that are lucid and powerful — images, tastes, aromas you remember and yearn for.

Indeed! The recipes reflect this admirable philosophy; the ingredients are prepared in ways that render them truly “lucid and powerful.” Ottolenghi and Tamami favor simple methods and assertive spices, but nothing aggressive or fatuous, nothing exotic for the sake of being exotic. They admit to being obsessed with lemon and garlic, surely worthy objects of obsession. The pair also use a lot of yogurt, saffron, pomegranate molasses, as well as a variety of peppers and rustic cheeses. The recipes often feature roasted vegetables. Roasted eggplant with Saffron Yogurt is one of my favorites, but the famous Chargrilled Broccoli with chili and garlic is simple and satisfying. The recipe for cauliflower with tomato, dill, and capers elevates an ordinary vegetable to poetry.

These guys understand the culinary potential of simple foods, especially legumes and pulses. Recipes for Puy Lentils with Sour Cherries, Bacon, and Gorgonzola; Kosheri, the popular Egyptian dish of lentils and rice; and Red Lentil and Chard Soup are impressive enough to serve for company but simple enough to eat weekly.

A number of the recipes feature unexpected cuts of meat or flavor combinations. For instance, the Turkey and Sweetcorn Meatballs with Roasted Pepper Sauce fabulously showcase a meat that no one associates with stellar meatballs, while the recipe for Sweet Potato Galettes — made with puff pastry, goat cheese, and chili — is off-beat but logical. The perfect meeting point of the sweet and the savory and oh, so delicious.

Their baked goods are stunning. To give you some idea of what the restaurant looks like, imagine a display window full of white trays that are filled with huge piles of giant multicolored, multiflavored meringues. Surrounding these are platters heaped with nearly black chocolate brownies, oversized fruit-filled muffins, lacy almond and orange florentines, baskets of wheaten breads, and jars of seeded- crackers. Human beings simply cannot ignore such abundance. You can easily identify the restaurant when you come to it: it’s the place with a constant rotation of 5-6 people, all standing outside the window display with hungry and astonished looks on their faces.

The recipes for these treasures are, however, straightforward and relatively uncomplicated. This is food can be prepared by anyone who has an inclination to make it. I’m dying to try the Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing; Pear and Amaretto Crumble Cake; Plum, Marzipan, and Cinnamon Muffins; Khalid’s Chocolate and Chesnut Bars; and the restaurant’s justifiably famous Orange Polenta Cake (a version of which, with converted weights and measures, is available on the link to the Gourmet profile). All of these recipes use simple enough ingredients and call for straight-forward cooking methods.

Ottolenghi, the Cookbook deserves its spot on my kitchen counter. I plan to revist this kitchen essential in the coming weeks by cooking recipes from it regularly. Some will be recipes that I’ve made before, others will be new to me. I’ll post descriptions of my experiences and evaluate the recipes after I cook them. Think of it as a kind of extended cookbook review.

By the way, Yotom Ottolenghi writes a regular column for the Guardian called “The New Vegetarian.” I should point out, however, that Ottolenghi is not a vegetarian restaurant.

Alas, Gourmet Magazine Sleeps with the Fishes   Leave a comment

I first became interested in cooking as a result of watching The Godfather. (I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in this.) There is one scene in particular that intrigued me. Michael Corleone stands over a pot of simmering marinara sauce while his brother Sonny storms around the kitchen, plotting revenge for the shooting of their father. Michael’s anger steadily simmers along with the sauce on the stove, but Sonny makes light of his brother’s rage and insists that he continue on with his cooking lesson while real soldiers craft the plan.

The scene is pivotal. It marks the point at which the film moves from being a simple tale of a Mafia family to become the mythic — almost Greek — story of a man who is living the life that no one, least of all himself, envisioned. Standing behind this simmering pot, Michael announces that he will enact the plan; he will kill the men who are responsible for Vito Corleone’s near-fatal shooting. This act of vengeance inaugurates Michael’s ascendancy to the head of the Corleone crime-family.

Meanwhile, the red sauce simmers away on the stove, functioning as a multivalent symbol — of Michael’s Italian heritage, of the rage that boils within him, and of the blood that he will soon spill.

But the scene also offers some good advice on how to make a decent marinara sauce: add a slug of wine, sprinkle in some sugar, simmer slowly and gently. How could I not be intrigued by cooking after I saw it? I was only 12 years old at the time, but even then I understood that it illustrated the power of cooking and food.

And thus began the “Summer of Sauce.” Using only the information gleaned by watching the film, as well as my own hazy and deeply compromised understanding of what marinara sauce was, I spent an entire summer trying to make the perfect “marinara.” I realize now that I was not really making marinara sauce at all; it was actually more like a Bolognese sauce. There were, however, a few gestures to authenticity: I’d managed to convince my mother to buy a bottle of red wine, slugs of which wound up in every pot. Dried oregano — lots of it — was a regular addition, but I never thought to include basil. Go figure.

In spite of its rather confused nature, the sauce tasted good, and I was quite proud of it. Each pot taught me a new lesson about cooking. I learned about the power of garlic, the impact of spice, the importance of sautéing, and the logic of simmering. Unfortunately, and somewhat inevitably, my family started to feel a little overwhelmed by my Godfather-inspired sauce-obsession. A family can only eat so much pasta with marinara sauce.

After the tenth pot or so, it dawned on my parents that they could harness my enthusiasm for the common good, but for that to work, I would need a larger culinary repertoire. Then someone had the clever idea of giving me a subscription to Gourmet magazine, to which, save for a few lapses, I have subscribed ever since. Certainly, my cooking became better and more varied as a result of reading the magazine. More consequentially, however, my interest in cooking and food became richer and more sophisticated. The magazine has always featured pieces that deal with the cultural and political implications of cooking, a focus that has distinguished it from other similar magazines. As a result of reading Gourmet, I not only learned what to cook and how, but I also learned why we cook the way that we do and why it matters that we do so. I came to understand food and cooking as artifacts of culture. This understanding makes the experience of cooking and eating that much more meaningful.

In a previous post, I discussed the sense of loss that I feel as a result of the magazine’s imminent demise. Today, however, I’ll leave loss behind and celebrate the magazine’s life. How better to do that than with a meal? I’ll post photos and recipes when the meal is complete. Meanwhile, here’s the proposed menu.

Spice Rubbed Pork Loin (adapted from a recipe from Gourmet)

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Molasses & Smoked Paprika

Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese & Pears


Here are some photos & recipes:

I wound up using a different Gourmet recipe for the pork loin. It called for a mustard sauce made with dry Vermouth, but I didn’t have any in the house. I used bourbon instead and I’m not sure about that as a substitution. The flavor of the bourbon was a bit pronounced. Still, the roast itself was lovely, infused with the flavor of the herbs and a bit tangy from the mustard. Quite nice.

The sweet potatoes are an old-standby.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Smoked Paprika & Molasses

2 large sweet potatoes, cut up into 1 inch chunks

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper; I used Marash, but Aleppo pepper is also nice

1 teaspoon of Spanish smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure that the potatoes are completely covered. Pour the potatoes on a rimmed cookie sheet. Ensure that potatoes are in a single layer, otherwise they will steam and not roast. Cook for 25-30 minutes; serve immediately


Au revoir, Gourmet.


Posted October 10, 2009 by Admin in Gourmet, Main Dishes, pork, Recipe Sources

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Gone Gourmet?   2 comments

Is it possible? Are we to live in a world without Gourmet magazine?

The announcement was made yesterday: after 68 years in print, Gourmet magazine is folding. Not enough ad revenue, it seems. The November 2009 issue may be its last.

Apparently, the brand will live on at the Epicurious site, in a television series, and as a sort of umbrella title for future cookbooks, but the magazine itself, that “68-year-old totem of culinary aspiration,” is not long for this earth.

It will be missed. Yes, sometimes the photos were cheesy — oh how I hated the pictures of vacantly beautiful people eating hyper-styled food in quaint settings — but the recipes were mostly inspired, and the articles were often sublime. Consider this brilliant piece by the late David Foster Wallace. Gourmet’s surviving sibling, Bon Appetit, which is also owed by parent-company Conde Nast, doesn’t offer much that is comparable in terms of substance and depth.

I’m still coming to terms with the loss of Gourmet. Look for a follow-up post in memoriam.

Posted October 6, 2009 by Admin in Gourmet, Recipe Sources