Posts tagged ‘Vegetable Side’

Suffering? Succotash!

Edamame succotash

After over a month of awful, rainy weather, summer has come on us full-bore.  We are finally seeing the sun, and feeling the heat and humidity that is so familiar to those of us in the Northeast.  Yet after this year’s June, I truly welcome a bit of sweltering.  Especially since I’m able to escape to the cool breezes of the coast for a sail or a dip in the Atlantic as often as I want.  Trust me, I am savoring the dwindling days of my vacation…

When I think about this time last year, I remember how lucky RJ and I were to have had access to plenty of fresh bluefin tuna — the perfect summer entree.  We grilled it, poached it in olive oil, made it into burgers and, of course, ate it raw.  Despite the many blog posts, I have not yet broached the topic of side dishes.  When straight-off-the-boat tuna comes your way, you don’t want your side dish to overpower the subtleties of the fish or contrast unfortunately with your chosen flavor profiles.  Our first tuna of 2009 came to us a couple weeks ago.  I had just arrived home after work, and RJ got ‘the call’ — we had bluefin to collect!  My sweet husband drove an hour north and an hour back to deliver the sweet red meat to our table.  I called my sister and her girlfriend over, and whipped up the following salad.  I have never appreciated summer so thoroughly.

Roasted Corn and Edamame Salad, from Epicurious.com via Self Magazine [Printable Recipe]

2 ears fresh corn, unhusked, or 1 1/4 cups cooked corn kernels (I used defrosted frozen ones)
1/2 c. shelled edamame
1/4 c. chopped red onion
1/4 c. small-diced red bell pepper
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. light mayonnaise
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. finely chopped or grated ginger
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

If using fresh corn ears, soak them in cold water about 30 minutes. Heat grill on high. Grill corn in husk, 10 to 15 minutes, turning once. Let cool. Remove husks. Cut corn from cob into a bowl; combine with remaining ingredients. Cover and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Edamame-final

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August 11, 2009 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Simple Roast Salmon

Unfortunately I had little success with my third recipe from Nina Simonds’ cookbook Spices of Life.  I wanted all three recipes to showcase the strengths of the cookbook – Kung Pao Chicken gives an easy method for making a favorite Chinese takeout dish at home and Doctored-up Ramen demonstrates a healthy, inexpensive and fun version of a nostalgic noodle – but I also intend for my Cookbook Challenge to be representative.  In the week I dedicated to the cookbook, I had two great successes (already mentioned) and a bunch of not-so-good results.  First, the cardamom asparagus which were not spectacular:

Cardamom AsparagusThen a strawberry-rhubarb crumble that had the weakest, least flavorful topping I’ve ever tasted (what a waste!):

rhubarb-crumble

and finally, a Pad Thai that truly disappointed.  Though I really LOVE pad thai, this make-at-home version was horrific.  I would ascribe the off flavor to the ketchup (!) in the recipe — no amount of fresh lime juice or peanuts could save it.  But the pictures came out well:

pad-thai-3

The above recipes really aren’t worth repeating here, so I won’t!  The below recipe is pretty simple, and while I wasn’t totally blown away by it, I think part of the problem might have been human error.  I overcooked the salmon slightly (by following the times in the directions, I might add) and I am unsure how (given the balsamic and soy sauce in the marinade) anyone could achieve the light pink result pictured in the book:

Simonds Salmon

As for the snap peas, I thought they tasted very light and refreshing — perfect for a hot summer lunch, picnic or potluck.  I am not convinced that the cold minty snap peas are a good pairing with the salty warm salmon.  In fact, I really didn’t like the two of them together.  I feel like I gave the cookbook ample opportunity to give me a winner third recipe, but instead I give you two recipes that were decent on their own, and very simple to make, but which do not have my wholehearted endorsement.

Pan-Roasted Salmon Served with Minty Snap Peas, from Nina Simonds’ Spices of Life

(Serves 6)

“The ginger–soy–balsamic marinade gives the seared salmon a lovely flavor and color and the simple mint dressing is a light and refreshing complement to snap peas. Nina likes to serve this dish hot, or at room temperature with rice pilaf for a festive buffet.” [she says to serve this dish hot, meaning (I suppose) the salmon, since the snap peas are ‘refreshed in cold water’ before being added to the mint dressing]

salmon-marinade6 pieces salmon fillets with skin on, each weighing about 6 ounces

For salmon marinade
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1½ pounds snap peas

For mint dressing
3 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste
4 to 5 tablespoons chopped mint
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

Make the marinade: Mix the ginger, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Put the salmon in a deep dish. Pour in the marinade and toss lightly to coat. Let the salmon sit at room temperature while cooking the snap peas.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a saucepan and add the snap peas. Cook for 2 minutes, or until they are crisp tender. Drain in a colander and refresh in cold water. Drain again and blot dry on paper towels.

Whisk the mint dressing ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add the snap peas and toss lightly to coat. Taste for seasoning, adjusting if necessary.

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat until very hot. Place the salmon steaks with their coating, skin side down, in the pan, partially cover, and fry about 5 to 6 minutes covered over high heat (depending on the thickness) until the skin is crisp and the salmon meat has started becoming opaque. Carefully flip over with a spatula and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until just cooked.

Arrange the salmon fillets on a serving platter and spoon the snap peas around and on top. Serve with steamed brown rice.

Calories: 370 ⁄ Protein: 34 g ⁄ Carbohydrate: 11 g ⁄ Fiber: 3 g⁄ Sodium: 570 mg
Saturated fat: 3 g ⁄ Polyunsaturated fat: 5 g ⁄ Monounsaturated fat: 11 g
Trans fat: 0 g ⁄ Cholesterol: 85 mg

salmon-final

May 24, 2009 at 11:25 am Leave a comment

Zucchini-Tomato Gratin

Tomato & Zucchini Vegetable Gratin

Well, she’s got another winner.  I am so very glad that I instituted the “Cookbook Challenge” um, for myself, because before this week I hadn’t picked up Patricia Wells’ The Paris Cookbook in many, many years except to hunt down restaurant recommendations.  What a great resource it is!  Despite its major failing, the utter lack of food porn, each of the three recipes I made this week has been absolutely delicious.  From the earthy, layered flavors of the lentil salad to the creamy texture of the cheesy polenta to this newest revelation – a bright, fresh-tasting gratin – Patricia Wells has not disappointed me yet.

gratin-1

When I generally think of gratins, my mind’s eye sees a heavy spoonful of stacked sliced potatoes oozing cream and dragging strings of elastic cheese from the serving dish.  It is a lovely picture, indeed, yet the subject of today’s post is rather the opposite in terms of the key words “heavy”, “oozing”, and “cream”.  Thankfully, the cheese remains, standing alone as it were, to defend the moniker “gratin”.

gratin-2

The internet reveals a bit of a controversy over the exact definition of a gratin.  Some define the term as “A top crust consisting of browned crumbs and butter, often with grated cheese”, and others deny the primacy of the bread crumbs, defining au gratin as “any dish having a lightly browned, crisp crust on top, esp. one topped with bread crumbs or grated cheese and broiled briefly.”  About.com gives an explanation for the discrepancy: “In English, au gratin usually means ‘with cheese,’ whereas in French it’s more like ‘baked dish with crusty top.'”  Anecdotal evidence on the same site verifies that this crust may be composed of any number of alchemic reactions: “According a French friend of mine, le gratin dauphinois, aka pommes de terre dauphinoises, should never include cheese. The real thing is made with potatoes baked in a simple béchamel sauce or a mix of milk and cream which cooks away and leaves the impression of a kind of cheesy sauce.”

gratin-3Whatever your definition of gratin, I would argue that cheese-on-top is never a bad call.  This dish uses Parmigiano-Reggiano to create a bubbling, browned surface layer that belies the vibrant, clean flavors beneath.  Since Patricia is such a stickler for “very good” and “fresh” and “the best you can find” ingredients throughout her book, I felt it would be a failure to do anything less than OBEY on this first Cookbook Challenge.  Thus, I used day-old sourdough bread from a local bakery, San Marzano canned tomatoes, and authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano from my favorite cheese shop.  I can’t tell you if it made a difference, since I’ll never make it any other way – this was really really good.  I’ll also never look at the word ‘gratin’ with such a narrow mind – it seems that the possibilities for layering, binding, and topping this shallow-dish creation are truly infinite.  Just don’t forget the crust…

gratin-5

Richard-Lenoir Market Zucchini-Tomato Gratin, from Patricia Wells’ The Paris Cookbook
(4 Servings)

1/3 c. fresh breadcrumbs
1 lb. small fresh zucchini, scrubbed and cut into thin rounds
fine sea salt to taste
12 zucchini blossoms (optional)
2 c. Tomato Sauce (see below recipe)
1 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a 1-quart gratin dish, layer half of the bread crumbs, half of the zucchini, a fine sprinkling of sea salt, half of the zucchini blossoms, if using, and half of the tomato sauce. Continue with the remaining bread crumbs, half of the cheese, the remaining zucchini, a fine sprinkling of sea salt, the remaining blossoms, if using, the remaining tomato sauce and the remaining cheese.

Place the dish in the center of the oven and bake until the gratin is bubbling and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

gratin-9

Tomato Sauce (makes 3 cups)

4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
2 plump, fresh cloves garlic, peeled and minced
sea salt to taste
Two 28-oz. cans peeled tomatoes in their juice
1 bouquet garni: several sprigs of fresh parsley, several bay leaves, and several celery leaves, tied in a bundle with cotton string

In a large skillet, heat the oil, onions, garlic, and salt over moderate heat. Cook just until the onions are soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Place a food mill over the skillet and puree the tomatoes directly into the pan. Add the bouquet garni and stir to blend. Simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. The sauce may be used immediately, stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

April 30, 2009 at 6:08 pm Leave a comment

Mother Sauces, Part Deux

The last installment of my mother sauces series was so long ago you probably didn’t guess that this was going to be a series.  However, I use this béchamel base all the time and it seems criminal not to share how easy and useful it is with those who are not already aware.  Again, exact ingredients can vary slightly among the greats, including a particularly complicated version by Escoffier which recommends adding veal bits then straining them out, but the very basic details are straight forward:

White roux

In a saucepan, add 1 part white flour to 1 part melted butter (e.g. 2 Tbs. butter, melted, plus 2 Tbs. flour).  Stir over low heat until combined and thick, about 1 minute [this is called making a roux].  Whisking constantly, add approximately 16 parts milk (i.e. 1 cup milk to every tablespoon of butter) in a slow stream until fully incorporated.  If you like, you can warm up the milk with aromatics before blending with the roux – for example: nutmeg, bay leaf, thyme, or onion.  This will infuse your sauce with a great depth of flavor; just be sure to strain the solids out before mixing the milk with the roux.  Let sauce simmer over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce coats the back of a spoon (i.e. the sauce doesn’t slip right off of the spoon, and when you drag your finger through it, the trail stays put).

Bechamel thickenedThis has so many incredible applications, including recipes such as:  Cauliflower Gratin, Baked Potatos with Gruyere & Broccoli Sauce, and Wild Mushroom Lasagne.  I have used it too as a base for my creamed spinach (which is really a mornay sauce), and for my macaroni and cheese (though I may be replacing that recipe with this one as my new favorite).

Bechamel squash puree

From the béchamel base you can add cheese to make a cheese sauce, cream to make a cream sauce, or any sturdy vegetable to make a gratin.  I often boil and mash winter squash then stir in a sage-infused béchamel to thin it out a bit and make for a more flavorful puree.  A thin béchamel with lots of garlic aromas (like a Soubise sauce) can make for a killer shrimp pasta or the perfect topping for fresh mushroom ravioli.  Let your imagination be your guide, but do try this to find out how easy and versatile it really is.

April 23, 2009 at 7:59 pm 2 comments

Fried Rice and Shrimp

Crispy Shrimp

I would like to add to my previously mentioned list of food I usually purchase rather than attempt to cook.  Asian food, though a broad category, should certainly be on that list.  I just think that the professionals do a much better job than I ever could, for several reasons: 1) I don’t usually have the right ingredients and end up making odd substitutions like vermouth+sugar for mirin, barbecue sauce+teriyaki sauce+molasses for hoisin, and ground fennel seed for star anise.  When I do buy the occasional jar of Thai fish sauce or black bean paste, it ends up sitting in my fridge for ages until eventually I throw it out.  2) Asian dishes usually (and admirably) involve lots of vegetables.  This poses the recurring problem in my house.  If I buy 5 different vegetables for a stir fry or something, then I use a tiny bit of each since I’m cooking for only one veggie-eater, I end up with a pile of leftover vegetables that I can barely begin to erode before they go bad.  3) I’m no Asian – I’m the whitest white girl eva… so I doubt I would ever make anything authentic or ground breaking in this arena.  4) It is fun to get takeout every once and a while – every cook needs a break!

Now you know all my pathetic reasons for not venturing into the culinary sphere of the Far East.  Unassailable logic, no?  Despite this, it took only one recipe to allay all my fears and negate all my excuses!  I should say, actually, that it is two recipes – though one is decidedly more Asian than the other, they go together so well I am including them both here.

Funny that this ‘Asian’ recipe comes from another stark-white white girl: Ellie Krieger.  As far as Food Network stars go, I would give Ellie a 5 out of 10.  Not as funky/charismatic as Anne Burrell or cute as Danny Boome, but also not as annoying as Paula Deen or Rachael Ray.  I never watch her show, cuz most of the food is whole grains and vegetables which don’t go over so well with RJ.  So imagine my amazement when I see Ellie’s recipe for fried brown rice, chock full of colorful veggies, in my Fine Cooking.  As some of you know, I’m doing the “Cook the Issue” challenge, whereby I have to cook every recipe in Issue #97 – see my work so far by clicking here.  Before I post the recipe, let me tell you how Ellie, with this one dish, addressed all of my issues with both her cooking style and the making of Asian food in general:

1) The recipe does not include any exotic Asian condiments besides soy sauce, which hardly counts, and fresh ginger, which I sometimes buy and happened to have leftover from my marmalade.  The shrimp, which I paired with this rice, required Chinese five-spice powder, but I can buy this in small quantities and not worry about having to toss it within 6 months.

2) Yes, this fried rice uses a lot of vegetables, but get this: it encourages the use of whatever leftover veggies you have lying around.  Think baby carrots that are turning flakey and white on the outside, that random quarter of a red bell pepper you’ve had in a plastic bag since last week’s salad, and residual broccoli stalks.  It also incorporates frozen vegetables like corn and edamame which can obviously keep a lot longer than fresh stuff.

3) I gained confidence starting my venture into Asian cuisine under the tutelage of a woman with skin paler even than my own.

4) Sure is fun getting takeout, but it is also fun to save money and have fun cooking.  I made the full yield of the recipe, and ate the rice for several lunches in the days that followed.

5) This recipe also helped me to get over the whole problem with whole grains in my house.  It requires that the brown rice be cooked in advance and chilled in the fridge before frying.  This means that I can actually justify cooking my brown rice for dinner one night (even though RJ won’t touch the stuff so I’ll have to make him a separate white rice serving) and saving the leftover rice for the next day’s cooking.

Needless to say, the dish was a revelation.  The shrimp, which comes from the same Fine Cooking issue, was simple  to make alongside the fried rice.  They tasted wonderful together!  And I did most of the prep work for both recipes well ahead of time, making the assembly all the easier.  I highly recommend this dinner and the inevitable lunches that will follow unless you have 4 people who love fried rice like you do!

Fried rice aromaticsFive-Treasure Fried Rice, by Ellie Krieger in Fine Cooking issue #97 (serves 4+)

“I first created this recipe as a destination for leftover broccoli stalks, but its easily adaptable, so feel free to substitute other vegetables you might have in the fridge—asparagus, zucchini, peas, mushrooms, bok choy, bean sprouts, and jícama are all possibilities. I love the nutty taste and chewiness of brown rice, and you just can’t argue with its antioxidant power and fiber. My favorite route to brown rice is to order it with Chinese food, but you can certainly cook some up yourself. Either way, bear in mind that the rice has to be well chilled so the starch hardens and makes it fry-able. Use fresh rice and you wind up with a gummy mess.”

Chopped veggie prep2 Tbs. canola oil
1 cup peeled, finely diced broccoli stems (from about 1-1/4 lb. broccoli)
3/4 cup finely diced carrots
3/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
3/4 cup frozen shelled edamame
3/4 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
4 scallions (both white and green parts), thinly sliced
2 Tbs. finely grated fresh ginger
2 large cloves garlic, minced
4 cups very cold cooked brown rice
3/4 cup finely diced Canadian bacon (4 oz.)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup lower-sodium soy sauce

rice-vegHeat all but 1 tsp. of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or stir-fry pan over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli stems, carrots, and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the edamame and corn and cook until the edamame is thawed, about 1 minute. Add the scallion, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the raw garlic aroma subsides, about 1 minute. Add the rice and Canadian bacon and cook, stirring, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.

Make a 3-inch well in the center of the rice mixture. Add the remaining 1 tsp. oil, then the eggs, and cook, stirring, until the eggs are almost fully scrambled. Stir the eggs into the rice mixture. Stir in the soy sauce and serve.

Fried Rice

Salt-and-Pepper Shrimp with Garlic and Chile, from Fine Cooking issue #97  (serves 4)

Using easy-peel shrimp will speed prep because the shells are slit open and they’ve been deveined.  [This recipe can be prepared as a meal or as a fun appetizer]

Shrimp prep2 Tbs. cornstarch
1 tsp. granulated sugar
Pinch of Chinese five-spice powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 serrano chile, thinly sliced into rounds
4 large scallions (green parts only), sliced 1/4 inch thick
1-1/2 lb. large shrimp (26 to 30 per lb.), peeled and deveined, tails left on
3-1/2 Tbs. peanut or canola oil
1 small lime, cut into 4 wedges

In a large bowl, mix the cornstarch, sugar, five-spice powder, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper. In a small bowl, mix the garlic, chile, and scallions; set aside.

Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. Line a small baking sheet or large plate with a double layer of paper towels. Add the shrimp to the cornstarch mixture and toss until evenly and thoroughly coated.

Cooked crispy shrimpIn a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1-1/2 Tbs. of the oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Add half of the shrimp in a single layer. Cook without disturbing until deep golden and spotty brown on one side, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, quickly flip each shrimp and continue to cook until the second sides are spotty golden brown, about 1 minute longer. (The shrimp may not be cooked through at this point.) Transfer the shrimp to the prepared sheet. Add another 1 Tbs. of the oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining shrimp, transferring them to the sheet when done.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil to the skillet. Add the garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the chile and scallions are softened andthe garlic is golden and smells toasted, about 1 minute. Return the shrimp to the pan and stir to combine. Serve immediately, with the lime wedges.

February 2, 2009 at 9:47 am 3 comments

Fun Veggie Alert – Sauteed Escarole

Escarole

As many of you know, when I cook vegetables, I am cooking for one.  RJ doesn’t eat vegetables or fruit – green, orange, red or otherwise.  When you press him for a “Why?”, he will give you one of these responses: a) “one time when I was little I had dinner at a friend’s house and his mom forced me to eat the salad, and then I went to the emergency room.”  b) “vegetables taste funny and they have weird crunchy textures that make me gag.”  c) “why are you on my case – you don’t even like them, you just eat them because you have to.  I’m more liberated.”

The problem is not that I don’t like vegetables, it is that I am the only one eating them.  That means, for me, that spending time to elaborately prepare or flavor my side dish for one is pretty much wasted effort, when I could be concentrating on the entree and starch that we both will be eating.  Also, they are usually an afterthought – so I will throw some peapods or spinach in a saute pan at the last minute and just add salt.  Plus, if only one person in the household eats vegetables, a bag of baby carrots doesn’t disappear until after about four days of eating them, night after night.   A head of lettuce usually goes bad even before I’ve tired of the Caesar dressing.  The solution is often to resort to frozen vegetables that last longer, so I can alternate between “Chinese Stir-fry medley” and peas with mushrooms.  That’s where RJ gets the whole “you hate vegetables too” justification.  I just don’t put my efforts there.

Recently, however, I received my new issue of Fine Cooking magazine.  This is my favorite magazine, as I’ve said before.  One of the first recipes was a scrumptious-looking sauteed escarole.  I had most of the ingredients on hand (save the escarole, of course, which I purchased at the grocery store), and thought that I would give it a go.  It should also be noted that Fine Cooking is having a contest this month, challenging its readers to “Cook the Issue” – meaning, cook all of the recipes in the Feb./Mar. issue and post about them on their website.  I’m in!  I’ll be posting more lengthy descriptions here at From My Table and shorter ones here, with my fellow F.C. fans

EscaroleBack to the ‘scarole, as Tony Soprano would say.  I cooked it up, I photographed it, and I ate it.  All of it.  This was a recipe for four people – granted, I used 1 1/2 lbs. of escarole instead of 2 lbs., but honestly!  So now this is my new solution to avoid having tons of rotting veggies in my fridge AND enjoy eating my daily greens – make really good, sophisticated vegetable dishes with care and they will be gone in seconds!  The texture of the escarole was the true marvel of the dish – not as slimy as spinach can sometimes be, but not as tough as kale, and with a pleasant bite to the stalky bits.  I would actually recommend making this without the raisins and capers – I think simplicity here (without devolving back into my steam everything in two seconds habits) would really make the escarole shine.  So now, everyone – go out and eat your vegetables!

Sauteed Escarole, from Fine Cooking magazine, Feb/March 2009 issue.
(Serves 4…or 1…)

escarole-add-insKosher salt
2 lbs. escarole, trimmed, rinsed, and cut into roughly 2-inch pieces
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 Tbs. pine nuts
2 Tbs. raisins (optional)
1 Tbs. capers, rinsed (optional)
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

escarole-blanchedBring a large pot of well-salted water to boil over high heat. Add the escarole and cook until the stem pieces start to soften, about 2 minutes (the water needn’t return to a boil). Drain, run under cold water to cool, and drain again.  This can be done up to an hour ahead of serving time.

In a 12-inch skillet, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic browns lightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the garlic with tongs and discard. Add the pine nuts, raisins, capers, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the pine nuts are golden and the raisins puff, about 1 minute.

Sauteed EscaroleAdd the escarole, increase the heat to medium high, and cook, tossing often, until heated through and tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and season to taste with salt.

January 14, 2009 at 10:13 am 2 comments

Magazine Review: “Bon Appetit” and Shaved Brussels Sprouts

brussels-final This is the fourth installment of my series of Thanksgiving magazine reviews.  You can see my evaluative criteria here.  I have been holding off on looking at one of the most popular food magazines of all, BON APPETIT, until now.  Although I have already confessed that Fine Cooking is my favorite subscription, Bon Appetit is my longest running.  Besides my own collection, dating back to my first cooking experiences in 1998, I also have access to my mother’s Bon Appetits – the oldest of which is from 1980 or so.  Confession time: when I was in middle school, I would sneak into the closet where mom kept her magazines filed by title and date, and would cut out all of the Absolut Vodka ads.  She only noticed this, and punished me, when she caught me in the act one day – because, like me, her collection kept growing and the motivation to go back to “the archives” was low.

I digress.  My point is that I have a long relationship with Bon Appetit, and although I absolutely despise the redesign they recently introduced, the magazine has treated me well for many years – especially on Thanksgiving.  You may already have sensed that my family holidays are pretty traditional, and the menu fairly fixed.  However, each year I bring my Bon Appetit Thanksgiving issue up to the family house and make one supplementary fancy dish – once it was cheddar and sage mashed potatoes and one year we even mixed it up with a special turkey.  Below, I decide whether 2008 matches up.

  • 194 pages total : 98 pages of ads (51%) !!
  • 65 Recipes (though this would be much higher if I included the many recipes that were offered on advertising pages, such as “Land o Lakes TM Blue Ribbon Sugar Cookies” or “Ghirardelli TM Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies”)
  • News-stand price: $4.99
  • Price per recipe: $0.08
  • # of ads pretending to be articles: 14.  What I found even more disturbing, however, was the ubiquity of especially long, multi-page advertisement spreads – like 4 pages each for Dacor appliances and Circulon pans.
  • Recipe Index? One index at the end of the magazine lists the recipes by specific types (Potatoes, Sauces, Breakfast Dishes, etc) and within those sometimes breaks the list down further (under Main Courses: fish/seafood, poultry, meats, vegetarian).  Recipes are also labeled with nutritional advice (Low Calorie, Low fat, High fiber).  Somewhat hard to follow due to small and dense text.
(c) Bon Appetit, photo by Tim Morris

(c) Bon Appetit, Photo by Tim Morris

Photos: Generally, I find BA to have great food photography.  That being said, I alternated between annoyance and amusement when flipping through the shots in the Thanksgiving section of this issue.  There were way too many full-page location shots of the sides of barns and insides of Shaker classrooms (there is a Heritage theme here – and we are not to forget it!!), taking up space where we should be looking at the food.  Also – and I don’t know if I’m crazy or if anyone else was wigged out by this – there were pictures of platters set on the very edge of tables, seconds away from tipping over (see above), and other shots of pies sitting on the floor or on a side table parked directly in front of a chest of drawers obviously meant for a bedroom.  The artificiality of these set-ups made me laugh out loud.  I did like the fact that in the “Purely Pumpkin” section, they provided pictures of both the whole finished desserts and the individual portions, and the article on make-ahead side dishes was also well-illustrated.

Best Sections:
• R.S.V.P. – this section features readers’ requests for the recipes of their favorite restaurant dishes.  Aside from the fact that I have thrice submitted a request and never been answered, I love this section.
• Fast, Easy, Fresh – pretty self-explanatory here: quick recipes for the weeknight.  This section was so popular that many past entries have been compiled into a cookbook.
• Cooking Life – Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette fame, has her own section written in that same great voice from her blog (obviously) and features her own fun and beautiful photography.
• At the Market – Each month a different seasonal ingredient is highlighted, and several different ways to use it are provided.  This month – Pomegranate!

Best Features:
• Recipes with obscure ingredients provide a suggestion for where to buy them.
• All of the Thanksgiving recipes are grouped together at the end of the magazine where, like Gourmet, the pictures are kept separate from the Recipe section.  Photos are labeled so you can immediately go to the page for the recipe of the dish that caught your eye.

Thanksgiving at the Bon Appetit house:
The Thanksgiving section here is divided into five different “stories,” but all maintain the singular theme of a Heritage holiday, meaning authentic ingredients native (or at least traditional) to America.  The first is called “Menu” and as far as I can tell it is meant to be the basic traditional meal while the following sections are optional swap-ins.  It includes such recipes as Dungeness Crab and Heirloom Bean Brandade; Wild Rice with butternut, squash, leeks and corn; and Garnet Yams with Blis Maple Syrup and Maple-Sugar Streusel.  Next up is “The Turkey” providing an alternative to the previous article’s turkey (Roast Heritage Turkey with Bacon-Herb Butter and Cider Gravy) and suggesting three variations of Salted Roast Turkey.  Following the Turkeys is “One Recipe Four Ways” which outlines four flavors of stuffing and gives four separate recipes (rather than one master recipe which can be modified: slightly disappointing).  After stuffing comes the other side dishes in “Make Ahead Makes it Easy” with do-ahead recipes like “Cranberry Relish with Grapefruit and Mint”, “Creamy Corn and Chestnut Pudding” and “Green Beans with Pickled-Onion Relish.”  Finally, an exclusively pumpkin finale called “Purely Pumpkin” including “Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie”, “Pumpkin Praline Trifle” and “Pumpkin Ice Cream with Toffee Sauce.”  Ruling? I’m confused.

Particularly Unappetizing:
• Cumin-Scented Eggplant with Pomegranate and Cilantro

I’m looking forward to cooking:
• Buttermilk Biscuits with Green Onions, Black Pepper, and Sea Salt
• Chaussons aux Pommes
• Bacon, Apple, and Fennel Stuffing
• *Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Currants and Chestnuts
• Scalloped Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin with Fresh Herbs

I would like to explain why I am so confused.  The setup of the Thanksgiving section is heavy-handed, what with the puritain garb on the models, the Shaker furniture, and the old-fashioned barns and schoolroom blackboard.  This might be actually very interesting and beautiful if they had stuck with the “heritage” theme of authentic local New England foods the pilgrims might have served if they had been equipped with convection ovens and 6-burner stovetops.  However, mixed in with the corn-, cider- and maple-based dishes are recipes that stick out like so many sore Shaker thumbs: Green Goddess Dip (“created in the 1920s at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel”); Cranberry Relish with Grapefruit and Mint; Salted Roast Turkey with Chipotle Glaze; and Potato, Zucchini, and Tomato Gratin (“Thanksgiving goes Provencal”).  Why put all the recipes together and try to tie them all to a theme which simply cannot cover all of them?   Nevertheless, it says a lot that I couldn’t find more than one recipe of the whole bunch that I thought was unappetizing, and I must admit that my recipe file has grown since acquiring this issue.  ((Sigh)) I guess I can’t fault a magazine which has been reinventing itself and the recipes within for over 50 years.  If you are a cook with the same goal (reinvention, that is), this magazine is for you.  An interesting review of the The Bon Appetit Cookbook
(which I do own, by the way) gives a rundown of the advantages and fallbacks of BA’s philosophy.

*Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Currants and Chestnutsbrussels-mise

1/2 c. apple cider
1/2 c. dried currants
1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 7- to 8-oz. jar whole peeled chestnuts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 Tbs. butter
1 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

Bring cider to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add currants; let soak 30 minutes. Using processor fitted with slicing disk, push brussels sprouts through feed tube and slice. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill currant mixture. Wrap brussels sprouts in paper towels, then enclose in resealable plastic bag and chill.

brussels-fruitHeat oil in large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add chestnuts; sauté 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to bowl. Add brussels sprouts to skillet; sauté until beginning to wilt, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and butter; sauté until most of liquid evaporates and brussels sprouts are tender but still bright green, adding more water by tablespoonfuls if mixture is dry, about 7 minutes. Stir in chestnuts, currant mixture, and vinegar; sauté until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

brussels-cookingResults:  This was very good.  The problems I had with the dish were of my own making: Instead of using the slicing disk of the food processor, I used the shredding disk, resulting in a not-too-pleasant flakey texture to about half of my sprouts (before I realized my mistake and swapped the disk out).  Second, I used dried cranberries and cherries rather than dried currants (which I couldn’t find in any of my three grocery stores), making the dish a bit too sweet for my taste.  All in all, however, the flavor was very good – especially the chestnuts which had a very subtle and earthy savor to them.  I reheated leftovers the second night, and while the color was nowhere near as vibrant, the taste was the same if not better.  Prepared properly, this would be a great addition to the holiday table.

November 22, 2008 at 9:27 am 2 comments


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