Save Me the Plums

Reading Ruth Reichl’s account as editor of Gourmet magazine made me happy and hungry. With her usual flair, Reichl sails through her ten years at the prestigious food magazine, describing food so delicious you can almost smell and taste it.

Following the arc from learning the ropes, wondering if the job is too challenging, to the inevitable highs of success with a staff as enthusiastic as she is about bringing culinary delights to the masses, Reichl talks about her staff as collaborators and friends in a delightful journey to experiment and explore food. Of course, the arc ultimately turns down during the recession with budget cuts and gleaning of staff, eventually causing the demise of the revered magazine of seventy years in the Conde Nast warehouse. With 48 hours notice, she and her staff lost their jobs.

Throughout her story, Reichl is witty and charming, with flashes of down to earth philosophy as she manages her fairy tale career with family obligations. I laughed along with her when she described some of the publishing quirks in the foodie business, and would have been glad to have been counted as one of her friends. People she did not like, however, (she brooked no enemies) were given short shrift; sometimes you could almost see her making a face behind their backs.

I’ve read several of her books – my favorite is Garlic and Sapphires – and each has its own flavor, but Save Me the Plums may have been a catharsis, helping her transition from a whirlwind life of luxury into forced early retirement and a return to the normal life. Reichl always makes me laugh but this book offered a story of relatable issues any career mom would identify. Although my career had nothing to do with food, I could relate as she learned to be a leader, overseeing a staff for the first time as she came into her own, creating programs lauded and appreciated. The sudden ending was fretful but we all survive and often thrive.

Since the end of Gourmet magazine in 2009, Reichl has kept busy cooking in her upstate New York kitchen, and writing books: her first fiction book – Delicious!, a cookbook – My Kitchen Year, and a tribute to her mother in Not Becoming My Mother. Her writing pops up in assorted publications, and in a recent article for Real Simple magazine her tart humor described the perfect kitchen.  “Forget all the appliances you think you need.  Just turn your kitchen into a space you love…I do have a dishwasher, but the truth is I wish I didn’t…” As always, she offers real suggestions with a dollop of wry humor.

Reichl included several Gourmet recipes in Save Me the Plums, but I only copied and tried one – the one with chocolate, of course. Ruth says it tastes best with Scharffen Berger chocolate but I couldn’t find any; trust me, it’s still great with any good grade chocolate (just stay away from Dutch processed). The cake is a YAFI (You Asked for It) from one of Gourmet’s issues – easy to make and tastes amazing.

I wish I had thought to take a picture but we scarfed it up pretty quickly.  Besides, in a recent interview Reichl says she does not like the current practice of eaters taking pictures of the food.  “You distance yourself from the food as soon as you take a picture – better to experience it and enjoy it.”

I’m sure she would be happy if you would try making it too – here’s the recipe: 

Jeweled Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder, plus more for dusting pan but not Dutch process
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup neutral vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter a deep 9 inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust it with cocoa powder.

Melt the chocolate with the cocoa, butter, oil, and water over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar.

Cool completely, then whisk in the eggs, one at a time.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and whisk into the chocolate mixture. Shake the buttermilk well, measure, and stir that in.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake on the middle shelf for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out, peel the parchment from the bottom and allow to cool completely.

Praline Topping:

  • 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds
  • 1/4 cup blanched hazelnuts (I substituted chopped pecans)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Toast the nuts in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil without stirring until it begins to darken, swirling until mixture turns a deep gold. Happens fast – so stay with it or it will burn.

Remove from heat and stir in nuts. Pour onto baking sheet lined with parchment, spreading evenly. Allow to cool completely. Then, break into pieces and put into a plastic bag, smashing with a rolling pin (or bottom of a heavy glass) until you have crushed pieces to sprinkle over the frosting.

Frosting 

  • Mix 2 tablespoons of sugar into a cup of mascarpone.
  • Spread on the cooled cake and heap praline bits on top.

 

 

 

Food for Book Clubs

n1026182Sometimes the food accompanying the book club discussion is better than the book.  Although some book clubs serve wine, I have never been to one.  One of my favorite women, however, always served champagne when it was her turn to host; I don’t remember any of the books we discussed, but I remember the champagne.

If you are ambitious or just want to impress, books with suggestions for food to enhance the discussion have ideas from casseroles to desserts:  Judy Gelman’s The Book Club Cookbook and Table of Contents are two of my favorites.  The My Recipe website  has a list of book with links to recipes.

I might like a book club focusing on the food first, and then the book.

Here are my suggestions for easing the discussion by pairing food with books. The recipes are on my other site – Potpourri with Rosemarie – just click on Recipes.

  • for J. Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest, Pat Prager’s chocolate peanut butter bars
  • for Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic, Aunt Isabelle’s Chocolate Tipsy Cake
  • for Robin Sloan’s Sourdough,  Christmas tree buns
  • for Isabel Allende’s In the Midst of Winter, Chilean cazuela
  • for Antsley Harris’ Goodbye, Paris, Grandma Elsie’s Mandel Bread
  • for any book – chocolate popcorn

What are your ideas for good food with good books?

Three Cookbooks I Want on My Shelf

Before I commit to buying a cookbook, I evaluate its worthiness to take up space on my limited shelves by checking it out of the library and trying a few of the recipes.  Of course, when three cookbooks arrived at the same time, they were in competition.  Who would win the coveted shelf space?  All three were winners.  Somehow I will find space for Ina Garten’s Cooking for Jeffrey, Maria Rodale’s Scratch, and Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and get them for presents (are you listening, daughters?)

9780307464897_p0_v3_s192x300  Cooking for Jeffrey

Ina Garten’s newest in her collection – Cooking for Jeffrey – has all the mouth-watering full page pictures enticing the reader to try the recipe.  Jeffrey is a lucky guy; those dishes would taste so much better if Ina would cook for me.  With a four layer chocolate cake on the cover, this book had me before I opened it.

9781623366438_p0_v2_s118x184  Scratch

Full of simple homemade dishes many will remember from childhood days of mother’s cooking, Maria Rodale’s Scratch could become the go-to book when memory lapses.  Tips for making the perfect poached egg or homemade chicken stock may seems simple, but Rodale’s extra twist is worth noting.  A few of the recipes may be heavy on the butter and cream – savory spiced pumpkin soup – but a little butter now and then never hurt, as my favorite chef Julia Child always said.  Rodale prefaces the book noting it is not a diet book – more comfort food, when you need it.

9781583335277_p0_v4_s118x184   The Oh She Glows Cookbook 

When I checked this out of the library, the librarian told me she had bought the book herself after trying some of the recipes – a good recommendation.  Many of us are always looking to eat better, healthier, and with less meat; this vegan cookbook offers easy possibilities. As I flipped through the preface, I was encouraged to find many of the foods I have in stock yet tend to ignore -those healthy alternatives to chips and store-bought cookies.  Liddon not only has the recipes you would expect from a healthy eating cookbook, like green smoothies and veggie burgers, she also includes power snacks and desserts like almond brownies and pudding parfait. A handy reference book for getting back on the track of healthy eating, The Oh She Glows Cookbook includes one of my favorite quotes from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

A timely thought for today, when the news of the world seems overwhelming. Good food may help.

Related Reviews:

 

 

Reading Cookbooks -Julia Child and Yotam Ottolenghi

Julia Child long ago inspired me, along with my mother and grandmother, to have courage in the kitchen. They all recorded their successes in books, and reading their cookbooks has become one of my favorite pastimes. Of course, trying the recipes is a treat too.

9780385351751_p0_v3_s192x300  A friend recently sent me an excerpt in The Boston Globe of  The French Chef in America by Alex Prud’homme, Julia Child’s great nephew,  prompting me to look for this latest examination of my favorite chef.  Prud’homme co-wrote his great-aunt’s 2007 memoir, My Life in France, and he describes The French Chef in America as the story of Child’s “second act – her life after the publication of her classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

After Julia and Paul Child returned to the United States from France, they settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she reinvented herself as a TV personality and dealt with her husband’s challenging health issues, never losing her optimistic view of the world – a role model who didn’t find her true voice until her seventies.   After reading Steven Krage’s  review I downloaded the book from audible and look forward to learning more about Julia Child.

9781489126672_p0_v1_s192x300   I also recently discovered Yotam Ottolenghi, the British chef with Israeli roots. His first cookbook – The Yotan Ottolenghi Handbook –  published eight years ago, has just been reissued with a shiny red cover. I found two more of his books in the library – Plenty and Jerusalem – and now have them on my shelf.

Both books are heavy with padded colorful covers.  Jerusalem focuses on traditional fare with food ranging from roasted potatoes with figs to chocolate krantz cake – better known as chocolate babka for Seinfeld fans – with step by step pictorial instructions.  Some recipes met my expectations – tabbouleh, hummus, couscous; others were a pleasant surprise – Clementine syrup cake, herb pie, lamb stuffed with pomegranate.  Plenty offers all vegetarian dishes but the desserts caught my eye: pear crostini, watermelon and feta, and Halloween soufflés.

Always looking for a new way to cook chicken, I found Ottolenghi’s recipe for roast chicken easy to follow, but finding the accompanying ingredients of sumac and za’atar required my best research skills. An easy substitute for sumac is lemon zest, and I found an easy recipe for za’atar: fresh-zaatar-rub-su-x

Grind together 3 Tbs. dried thyme, 1 Tbs. lightly toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 tsp. dried oregano or marjoram, 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, and add 1 tbsp lemon zest.

Years ago, a friend gifted me a small jar and I used it as a wonderful topping for cheeseless pizza. Just drizzle the dough with olive oil and pat in heaps of za’atar before baking. I may try it again now that I’ve found the recipe for making my own.

Yotam and Julia share the same philosophy in cookbooks, with the careful attention to detail and their determination to simplify instructions and clarify the process. Yotam noted in an interview: “So long as a recipe made sense and our readers could make a delicious meal by following it, that was that. Job done: let’s eat!”  Julia is famous for saying, “”Well, if I can do it you can do it.” Unlike Julia Child, Ottolenghi’s books have full page pictures with mouth-watering plates to tempt me to try making them. But for now, I’m content to read the recipes, look at the pictures, and  savor the food vicariously while listening to stories about Julia.

Related Review:   Cookbooks 101

 

Cookbooks 101

9780847837939_p0_v2_s192x300.jpg   Did you know you can study for a Ph.D. in food studies at New York University?  To support the program The Fales Library at NYU created a door stopper of a book, 688 pages – 101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes from Fannie Farmer to Thomas Keller – compiled and edited by an academic committee (of course).

The first half of 101 Classic Cookbooks is the canon of cookbooks, beginning with Fannie  Farmer’s The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896).  Books by Julia Child, Ruth Reichl, Emeril Lagasse and Betty Crocker,  James Beard and, of course, Irma Rombauer’s bible – The Joy of Cooking are a few of the famous included.   Just flipping through the glossy pages, you will see clear copies of cook book covers and recipe pages excerpted from each; the editors also offer a short introduction on the history and significance of each cookbook (which I confess I did not always read).  The collection crosses regions from Southern cooking to international, and from comfort food to  Alice Waters’ farm to table.

The editors  include a few spiral bound cookbooks (we all have a few) from the Junior Leagues of Charleston and Augusta, and one of my favorites – The Moosewood Cookbook.    Mark Bittman and Thomas Keller are the anchors, finishing the collection with books from 1998 and 1999.  The current century is still in committee.

Recipe pages in the first section copied directly from the cookbooks are not readable, but the second half of 101 Classic Cookbooks becomes 501 Classic Recipes, the best ideas culled from all and clearly printed (with an editor’s caveat warning older recipes may not always work).  With ten categories, from Drinks and Nibbles to Baked Goods and Desserts, this section is overwhelming – too much even for those of us who like to read cookbooks. But this is a textbook.

The Index is the place to start. Recipes, authors, and books are cross-referenced – a map to finding your favorite cookbook author or honing in on a recipe you might like to try. The recipe for Lord Baltimore Cake caught my eye.

An ambitious undertaking, 101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes is a first in reference books for food studies, but it also could be a happy diversion for anyone who would rather cook than study – or just likes to read cookbooks.

Related Review:  My Visit to Thomas Kellor’s French Laundry

Reviews on Other Cookbooks: