Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gourmet All the Way!

For about two years now, I've been collecting back issues of Gourmet. At first it was just an issue here and there. Then I bought five years off eBay from 1961 through 1965. These magazines served me well. My favorite thing this last two summers has been to go to Ravinia, sit on the lawn with a pick-nick, a glass of wine, and a forty year-old issue of Gourmet.

Well a few weeks ago I was looking at eBay and saw that a woman had put up for sale her whole collection of Gourmets. From 1965 all the way through the last issue. This just about killed me. I was intentionally NOT trying to make a complete set of Gourmet. I mean, our apartment is 697 square feet. Where am I supposed to store something like that? And what kind of right do I have to take up all of that space? Who needs all those magazines anyway? Turns out I do because I wrote the woman. She'd never sold anything on eBay before. Her mother-in-law had subscribed to the magazine and when she passed, this amazing woman kept renewing the subscription. I can see how that happened.  It would take a lot to stop subscribing after all those years. Perhaps like a monthly remembrance of her mother-in-law.

The catch was, I had to pick the magazines up in Kentucky! I just couldn't figure out how to make that happen, so I didn't even bid on them. But no one else did either. When the magazines were reposted Serena convinced me to buy them. The woman who was selling them offered to meet us in a town called Marion on the Illinois side of the boarder. This saved us two hours each way.

I was really nervous to meet her. I was afraid she would think me a dilettante. Or perhaps resentful that I was carrying away her past. But when we all rendezvoused in the parking lot of some highway-side chain hotel, all of my fears were dispelled. Her name is Terri! And she's an artist and a metal worker and someone who, if I'd met at an opening, I would have immediately loved. The whole experience was odd and intimate. I felt as if I were carrying away her memories, which I guess I was.

After almost a week of rearranging, cleaning, and tossing out, finally the magazines are installed in the dining room. This was at Serena's insistence. She maintains that after the time and expense of procuring these things, it would be foolish to stash them in the basement, or even under the bed. Of course, she is right.

I've got some duplicate years. Now I'm the one posting on eBay.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Lunch Box

Last weekend Serena and I drove practically to Kentucky to pick up 54 years of Gourmet that I bought off Ebay. It’s a six hour drive to Marion, where we were to rendezvous with my Gourmet’s previous owner. But six hours is a long time in a car and although we had a good time, but doubt we’ll be vacationing there anytime soon.

Since I’d already shot my wad on the magazines, this road trip seemed like perfect opportunity to try out some new recipes instead of eating at a lot of expensive and unhealthful roadside restaurants. I turned to The Lunch Box Cookbook for some ideas. I settled on “Sardine de Luxe” filling for our sandwiches. But quel dommage! I was all out of sardines. Serena though that this was a good thing, and that perhaps sardines sandwiches weren’t quite the right choice for a day-long car ride.

Of course she was right, and I decided to make something that did not require a trip to the grocery. The Lunch Box has a great recipe for “Basic Egg Salad Filling” followed by many “variations.”

4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped fine
3 tablespoons chopped sweet pickle
3 tablespoons salad dressing
   NOTE: they mean vinaigrette dressing
½ teaspoon prepared mustard
¼ teaspoon onion salt
Few grains pepper

This is an easy recipe and I had everything on hand—even onion salt. I chose the variation in which you add chopped pimento-stuffed green olives. It was really tasty and way less stinky than sardines.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Roasted Artichokes

This week my Newleaf Grocery organic produce box contained two perfect little artichokes. I love artichokes so much, but the last time I made them I think I steamed them for maybe...I don't know, six hours, and they were still underdone. So staring at my new friends on the counter, I decided to try something new. After a little browsing on the interwebs, I came across this great recipe for roasted artichokes on the excellent food blog Pinch My Salt.

The recipe is simple enough: Cut the tops off your artichokes, stuff in a few cloves of garlic, drizzle with olive oil and lemon, then of course, salt and pepper. Wrap your little ones in foil and bake at 425 for an hour and fifteen minutes. This is one of the best and easiest recipes I've ever tried for artichokes. They are delicious and require zero attention, which would make them great and elegant for a dinner party, something where you don't want to be tied to the kitchen. 

I'd never roasted artichokes before, and I have to say, they are amazing. The roasting intensifies the flavors. Most likely, any artichoke at my house will never again see a boiling pot of water.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pin Feathers

I used to hate chicken—all chickens, including actual pecky chickens, and I especially hated poultry, the eatin’ kind. My only experiences with chicken involved meat that was stringy, dry, and dusty. All of that changed when I moved to Rogers Park and started ordering the whole roasted take-out chicken from El Llano. Sadly, it burned to the ground and I was forced to learn to make chicken myself. Don’t worry, though, they have another location.

America’s Test Kitchen is great place to start for almost any new cooking skill. After many attempts, I mastered their roasted chicken recipe, and can knock a Purdue extra-meaty roasting chicken out of the ballpark. But I’ve got to tell you, a big, fat, giant chicken takes a long time to cook and it makes every meal feel like Thanksgiving. A whole roasted chicken is feels a little limiting.

Then about three months ago, I moved to the advanced stuff—Jacques and Julia Cook at Home. Jacques likes to splay his chicken. This has a couple of benefits. First, it cooks in about half the time. Second, it makes the chicken seem WAY less formal. It’s easy to dress up or down. The knife skills needed for this are just at the outer edge of my ability, so I always make sure to watch Jacques do it right before I attack the backbone. Usually, I watch it two or three times to work up the courage to chop the joint off it’s little drumstick. Practice is helping. A cleaver might help more. I think the next step is to try boning an entire chicken.

In The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook, there’s a handy little boning how-to. Step 1 includes cutting the head off your chicken. My chickens only come beheaded. ALL of the recipes in the poultry section have you start by pulling and singeing pinfeathers. I get the feeling that chickens used to come barely dead. The pictures are great, but I’m not sure they’re that instructive. The last steps show you how to stuff and tie your now de-boned chicken. Makes me want to try it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The New Art

Last weekend Serena and I went to the Edgewater Antique Mall. I was poking around the ladies' things, like I always do, when I ran across some excellent used books. I found the 1953 Pillsbury Bake-Off cookbook highlighting the year's winners (more about that later). I even thought about trying to enter. I mean, the deadline is this Saturday. I sadly discovered that I do not meet the requirements. Too bad. The Pillsbury Bake-Off seems like the kind of thing you could etch on a tombstone.

This delightful handbook The New Art (1935) is produced by the General Electric Kitchen Institute of Nela Park, Cleveland, Ohio. In it the authors introduce us to the joys of General Electric kitchen appliances. The book opens with a photo of the pastoral Nela Park GE Kitchen Institute. The following pages show happy, carefree women. In one photo a woman sits in a car stopped on what looks like a tree-lined street, while a woman on the sidewalk leans into her friend's car. They look as if they have just bumped into each other. The car door is open. Perhaps they are going somewhere. The photo that follows shows a well-dressed woman sitting on sprawling lawn as her children play next to her. The next photo is a foursome of women playing cards. It is obvious these women have been set free from the drudgery of kitchen work and are now able to spend more time with their children. But what's more surprising is that they are also depicted as child-free, spending leisure time with each other. The first part of this little booklet goes to great lengths to avoid showing actual women using the appliances. The only women we see using these new time-saving tools are disembodied hands and female scientists. The housewives, well they just drive around the neighborhood and play cards all day.

There's delightful little tidbits throughout. For example in the chapter entitled "Food Preservation and the General Electric Refrigerator," we are told how this new device solves the three major problems of food storage: "1. A low, even temperature, always below 50 degrees. 2. An atmosphere not too moist nor too dry. 3. A good circulation of of pure, chilled air." I don't know about you, but I'm shocked that 50 degrees counts as "chilled." Um, I think my bedroom closet runs somewhere around 50. 

One thing that all the appliances had in common is that they all have space beneath them. As Serena pointed out, that would go a long way to making a small kitchen feel spacious. I kind of wish we still had these today. I'd like them to work a little better, though.

The little booklet ends with these words: "The New Art of Living Electrically has not only banished drudgery and monotonous routine from America's homes, but is has brought new hours of freedom to the busy homemaker, new joy to her work, new savings to her budget, and new health and happiness to her family." Turns out they were right.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Barefoot with Ina

Have I mentioned that I’m in love with Ina Garten? I mean really, really in love. I used to just read her cookbooks (Barefoot in Paris is my favorite), but then her show Back to Basics appeared on Hulu and that’s when I was really smitten. Her freckle-kissed nose. Her joie de vivre. The portrayal of life in The Hamptons that boarders on pornographic. It’s my favorite way to end the day.
Recently there was an episode where she made a dessert of roasted berries, finished with walnuts, served atop Greek yogurt. While I was watching the show, I didn’t really think much about it. But the next weekend, we were invited to our friends’ house for dinner, so Serena and I decided to try Ina’s dish. It was a big hit.

The thing is, I don’t live in The Hamptons, and for most of the year good berries are hard to come by. So, I bastardized Ina’s fresh fruit recipe and came up with something similar that I have been serving for breakfast all through the worst part of winter.

In a heavy skillet add about a quarter cup of water, just enough to wet the bottom of the pan. Add a diced apple and diced pear (or whatever it is you want to get rid of) and let these cook a few minutes on medium, just to soften them up a little. To this mixture I add about a half-teaspoon of cinnamon and a generous pinch of cardamom. Then I add a bag of frozen organic mixed berries. And if they are reasonably priced, fresh berries too. Right now organic blueberries are around for about 2.50 so they have been well-featured. I add a big pinch of kosher salt and the let whole thing bubble around together, until the many have become one, but not so long that the berries break down. When it is all over, stir in chopped walnuts. Serve on Greek yogurt.

This has been such a pleasant addition to our morning. Bright and sunny. It’s easy to make, too and has the ability to give new life to tired apples and pears.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Chou-fleur au beurre noir

Sometimes a dish sneaks up on you with its goodness. You make it, set it on the table, and then are dumbfounded by the result. This is exactly what happened to me last week as I was unthinkingly trying to get rid of some surplus cauliflower from my organic produce box. As you may know, I love cauliflower—actually all of the cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, rapini, all of them.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a copy of LaRousse Gastronomique. The consensus of the interewebs said to get the pre-revision version, so I bought the 1961 edition. It’s not really a cookbook, but more of an encyclopedia of food. Each entry describes the food/dish/technique in detail and then gives practical examples. I was reading through the “C” section and stumbled upon “cauliflower” or chou-fleur as the French say. I read through all of suggestions for preparation and they sounded all right, but mostly involved boiling in well-salted water, serving either hot or cold and covering with something like cheese or butter or herbs.

Later that day, I’m staring mindlessly into the fridge trying to come up with something for dinner and I thought, What the hell. I’ll just boil that cauliflower up. So I followed the directions and boiled the head whole and topped it with browned butter. Then I sliced the cooked cauliflower like a loaf of bread, plated it, and on went the browned butter (good, European-style). I served it as an entrée with a mesclun salad. It was amazing. Rich, savory, and very satisfying. This is exactly what people mean when they say “more than the sum of its parts.” Cauliflower with browned butter will most certainly make it into regular rotation at my house. I realize it doesn’t sound like much, but you really will just have to take my word for it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A San Francisco Treat!

I spent this Christmas with my girlfriend and her "Blue State" family. A bunch of us got together and stayed with Serena's sister Cydney and her husband Kevin in San Francisco. OMG! It was so fun. I'll tell you, the last time I was in San Francisco was about twenty years ago--back when everyone was still vegetarian. You've come a long way baby! Just about all we did was eat. We cooked. We went to Chinatown. We went for coffee. To Boulette's Larder. But maybe the most fun was the day we went to the Ferry Building and ate at Boccalone, a salumi shop that sells sandwiches as well. (Here I am with my brother-in-law, "porking out.") I love their motto: Tasty, Salted Pig Parts. For lunch, I chose to have the "meat cone." A delightful cone filled with slices of many of their porky offerings. The prosciutto was great. It was like heaven! A cone of meat for lunch. What more could a girl want?

I realize that maybe next to Brooklyn, San Francisco is probably the most foodie place in the country. I've read that. I didn't disbelieve that, but after four days there I just couldn't get over the quality of the food and drink that was seemingly everywhere. Cydney served fresh oysters. They were so good, I cried. I hadn't eaten seafood so fresh since I left Seattle. Here in Chicago, I have to search high and low for quality produce. Despite shopping at high-end groceries and having a weekly organic produce box delivered, I still often feel as if the food quality comes up short. It's really frustrating. Of course San Francisco has the luxury of being in a temperate climate. It practically has a year-round growing season. Yesterday in Chicago it was -2 BEFORE the windchill. I guess you do what you can with what you've got.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Serena sent me this great article from The Village Voice. It's called "Our Ten Best NYC Restaurants of the Last Two Centuries." One of the restaurants listed is Delmonico's, reportedly the oldest continuously operated restaurant in New York. I was supposed to have dinner there last Thursday. If it wasn't for the winter storm that grounded the outgoing planes from O'Hare, I'd be writing you right now about the fabulous time I'd had eating Steak Delmonico's and Lobster Newburg.

The lure of the oldest restaurant in New York is pretty seductive to a gal like me. Delmonico's first seriously hit my radar last year when I read an article in Gourmet (February 1962)

called "Lunching with Father" by Carol Truax. In this, Ms Truax tells of her Saturday luncheons at Delmonico's with her father, the Honorable Judge Truax of the Supreme Court of New York--a fat cat in every possible way. In this remembrance, she's a little girl, "beruffled and beribboned." She doesn't give a specific date but her father died in 1910, just weeks after his retirement from the bench. (A search of Google Books brought me to a lovely tribute in Medico-Legal Journal, March 1910. See picture.) For sure, this bit of fluff is a tad on the pretentious side, but nonetheless it's very interesting, even if it is the memory, at least fifty years later, of an eight year old girl. Her father has the porterhouse steak and little Carol has squab. Judge Truax orders a bottle of Chateuax Margaux '87 for them both. As is so true with the old Gourmets, this is basically just food and wine porn.

In "Lunching with Father," Truax calls it Oscar's Delmonico's. At the end they visit the Waldorf-Astoria where Oscar is their waiter. The Village Voice article discusses Oscar and his big move from Delmonico's to the Waldorf-Astoria. I can't help but imagine that Gourmet readers of the early sixties would have known the reputation of Oscar.

The Bowery Boys have a great episode all about Delmonico's.