This is the third installment of my series of Thanksgiving magazine reviews. You can see my evaluative criteria here. Today’s review is of GOURMET — a venerable publication directed by non other than Ruth Reichl. For years I have avoided Gourmet, thinking of it as the imperious matriarch lording over its more accessible and friendly sister magazine, Bon Appetit. My impression was that the recipes were too esoteric for me, the ingredients too rarified. Below, I take another look.
- 180 pages total : 80 pages of ads (44%)
- 73 Recipes (interesting that a misleading heading on the cover of the magazine claims: “212 recipes, wines, tips, complete menus, and techniques”)
- News-stand price: $4.50
- Price per recipe: $0.06
- # of ads pretending to be articles: HA! Hahahaha! I found 13! I think that Conde Nast, who publishes Gourmet and Bon Appetit, invented the concept. One of these “special advertising sections” even carries the title “The Good Life”, adapted from (and in the same font as) a Gourmet regular section “Good Living”
- Recipe Index? One index at the back of the magazine sorts the recipes by course (Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dishes) and separates out a list of Vegetarian and Quick recipes. I did not find the index particularly helpful here, and I still don’t understand why the Cauliflower Risotto was listed under “Main Course: Vegetarian”, but not under “Vegetarian Dishes” when many other recipes were double-listed.
Photos: Right proper food porn, if you ask me. In the special Thanksgiving section, the photos are in a group, followed by the recipes, so you can drool and then get down to business. Definitely could benefit from more pictures, though. Gimme more, I need my fix!
• Good Living: Kitchen. I am not sure if this is a regular section of the magazine (as I said, I don’t pick this one up often), but I love looking into gorgeous kitchens. I have a major jones for a two-oven kitchen with a substantial butcher-block island in the middle.
• Cookbook Club — If you are like me and you have a serious cookbook addiction, this is just bad for you.
• In theory, “One or Two for Dinner” is perfect for me. I’m always working to scale-down recipes to accommodate the fact that RJ and I are having dinner, just the two of us, 90% of the time.
• Many recipes include a “Cook’s Note” which refers readers to the web to find out how to make use of leftovers. I, for one, don’t love having a half-head of cabbage rotting in my crisper drawer for weeks after making a special dish. “Cook’s notes” also let readers know what aspects of a recipe, if any, can be made ahead.
• Each of the 4 (!!) Thanksgiving menu sections includes a “Game Plan” outlining the dishes, or aspects of dishes, that can be done ahead, and in what order they should be tackled.
Thanksgiving at the Gourmet house:
•Four separate versions of the Thanksgiving feast are provided. “Over the Top” is just that, and very typical of most Gourmet issues: Foie Gras Toasts with Sauternes Gelee; Smoked-Sable Tartare with Beets and Watercress; Seckel Pear Tart with Poire William Cream. “Come Together” gives a Latino version of Thanksgiving: Clementine Jicama Salad, Adobo Turkey with Red Chile Gravy; Sweet-Potato Coconut Puree. “Four Hour Feast” attempts a ‘faster’ Thanksgiving (what’s the point of that?!?): Cranberry Tangerine Conserve; Roasted Potatoes and Shallots; Cider-Poached Apples with Candied Walnuts, Rum Cream, and Cider Syrup. Finally, “Harvest’s Home” – a vegetarian version of the holiday: Mushroom and Farro Pie; Moscatel-Glazed Parsnips; Artichokes Braised in Lemon and Olive Oil. Ruling? Not your grandmother’s Thanksgiving.
• Celery Apple Granita (ew!)
• Pumpkin and Cod Fritters with Creole Sauce (double, nay, triple ew!)
• Sauteed Lemon Maple Frisee
• Mango Pomegranate Guacamole (I like all three separately, but together?)
I’m looking forward to cooking:
• Roast Pumpkin with Cheese Fondue (I’m not the only one!)
• Haricots Verts with Bacon and Chestnuts
• Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds with Garlic Oil and Fried Sage
• *Spiced-Pumpkin Souffles with Bourbon Molasses Sauce
• Parsnip Puree with Sauteed Brussels Sprouts Leaves
Gourmet is analogous, in a way, to Vanity Fair – it looks like an easy, fun read from the outside (who doesn’t like Nicole Kidman or roast turkey?) but ends up requiring a lot more brainpower than you expected. I am not in any way against revving up the ol’ gray matter – I love spending a few hours with the New Yorker or the Times on a Sunday – but when I pick up a food magazine, or a fashion magazine for that matter, I am looking for instant satisfaction. The articles in Gourmet are long and wordy, without many pictures. I am constantly skimming and thinking “blah, blah, blah.” This is a good magazine for those who want to bring a stand-out, crowd-awing dish to a Thanksgiving party, or for someone who has a pretty established and fixed family menu and wants to offer a fancy alternative to one of the ho-hum annual dishes. Also good for vegetarians, obviously, or maybe a gourmande group cooking club. I cannot, however, see how it would be possible for one, or even two cooks to pull together any of these elaborate menus on Thanksgiving day.
I also think that in most circles, if you tried to put on a ‘Latino Thanksgiving’ with hot spices and tropical fruits in every dish, you would experience mass revolt. The realities of Thanksgiving, at least as I have experienced it, is that you have a lot of people, of all ages, gathered together for one meal after not having seen each other for some time. That means varied diets, preoccupied moms and dads, family catch-up talks, and very busy kitchens. Timing and assembling 8 or more individual pumpkin souffles for Thanksgiving dessert seems unlikely and unnecessarily difficult. My past Thanksgivings have involved several aunts hocking their various pie specialties (or purchases) and me and my cousins trying to convince our parents that four 1-inch slices of different pies is equal to one normal-sized slice of a single pie. However, I am well aware that Thanksgiving can go down any number of ways. If you have the time for these elaborate and very Gourmet menus, I would like an invitation for next year.
*Spiced-Pumpkin Souffles with Bourbon Molasses Sauce [printable recipe]
1/2 c. whole milk
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
pinch of ground cloves
3/4 c. plus 1 Tbs. granulated sugar, divided, plus additional for coating ramekins
3/4 c. canned pure pumpkin (from a 15 oz. can, not pie filling)
10 large egg whites
1/4 tsp. salt
Whisk together milk, cornstarch, spices, and 1 Tbs. granulated sugar in a small heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking, then simmer, whisking, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in pumpkin. Transfer to a large bowl and cool to room temperature. (can be made ahead to this point and chilled for up to 1 day)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F with rack in lower third. Butter ramekins and coat with granulated sugar, knocking out excess, then put in a large shallow baking pan.
Beat egg whites with salt in another large bowl using an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Add remaining 3/4 c. granulated sugar a little at a time, beating, then beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks, 1-2 minutes more. Fold one third of the whites into cooled pumpkin mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Divide mixture among ramekins, mounding it.
Bake souffles until puffed and golden, 18-20 minutes. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve immediately.
Bourbon Molasses Sauce (in case you are wondering, this is NOT OPTIONAL – it makes the dessert!)
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbs. water, divided
3 Tbs. bourbon
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 1/2 Tbs. molasses (not blackstrap or robust)
1/4 tsp. salt
Bring sugar and 2 Tbs. water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from the side of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until caramel is dark amber. Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1/4 c. water, then stir in bourbon, butter, molasses, and salt. Return to heat and simmer, stirring, to dissolve any hardened caramel if necessary. Sauce can be made one day ahead and chilled. Reheat in a microwave or double boiler until liquefied.
Results: Oh, how I love Gourmet magazine. To anyone who doubts the supremacy of this magazine, including whatever whack-job wrote the above review, please have a bite of this souffle. This was absolutely divine. The souffle was light and fluffy – perfect after a full meal. It puffed up over the rim of the ramekin nearly doubling in size – a beautiful presentation. Plus, the sauce was truly magical – I would drench ice cream or pumpkin pie or cheesecake with this. I would take a bath in it. As RJ says, “if they made it a toothpaste, I’d brush my teeth with it.” I’m still not sure you could make a souffle on Thanksgiving day, despite the fact that the sauce and part of the pumpkin mixture can be done ahead of time, but please remember: the fall season lasts for three months!