Saturday, December 19, 2009

In honor of Gourmet

I have been receiving Gourmet, monthly, since 1990 and, until a few years ago when I began clipping the recipes I wanted to try and then recycling the remainder of the magazine, I saved them all. I guess I'm a pack rat of sorts, honestly come by via my Dad. My kitchen is packed with over a hundred cookbooks as well as assorted issues of Bon Appetit, Food and Wine and my shelf of Gourmet. These magazines somehow made the cut (or wholesale purge of extraneous possessions) during moves in 1990, 1994 and 2006. With each move, the commitment was greater - the first time, there were fewer than a year's worth, while during the last move they filled a couple of boxes. A few months ago, I considered tossing them, or maybe donating them to a school yard sale, but didn't and now that Gourmet has closed up shop, I'm so glad I saved them.

I've always enjoyed reading Gourmet, even in the earlier days when I worked long hours and carry out was my best friend. Cook or no, there was much to love about the magazine, with it's literary articles, glossy photos that draw you right up to the table and the extensive travel features. All you needed was a love of food. For me, travel is always intricately tied in to the food of the locale, so I loved reading about how food affected and even guided other people's trips. This was especially so after Ruth Reichl took over. It's been a treat to travel the world with Gourmet.While many of the recipes might have been more complicated or time consuming than I would make regularly, others have been simple and delicious.

I've been skimming some of the collection lately and am planning to participate in a monthly project in which food bloggers cook an item from that month's issue from any year, and then submit it to one central blog called Gourmet, Unbound. Sort of a Gourmet tribute blog. In preparation for the January event, I made a soup from the January 1990 issue - my very first - called Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup.
I prepared this soup in anticipation of a snow storm cum blizzard which eventually dropped 23 inches of snow according the the tv news. Pretty unusual for the DC area! We initially ate it as we watched out the window for the snow to begin, which unfortunately happened before our teenaged son could get home from an evening activity. The snow began falling around 9 p.m., and the roads iced up pretty quickly, making for a white-knuckle trip home for him around 10 p.m. By morning, we must have had almost a foot of snow. We cleared the walkway and front steps, window well covers, HVAC units and the car left outside and parts of the driveway a total of three times, twice on Saturday and again on Sunday. Between the two bouts of shoveling on Saturday, we were able to eat the leftovers for a warming and delicious lunch.

I had planned to use the kale I had growing in my outdoor ornamental pots, sort of a pre-snow final harvest, but the plants were saggy and wan due to the recent cold snap. Instead, I used some really perky and bright chard I had found at the grocery store earlier in the week and had not yet figured out how or when I would use. While at the store in a final pre-storm shopping trip, I also tried to replace the moldy chorizo that had been hiding in my deli bin for more months than I can remember. Though successful with the chard, I was unable to find chorizo in that store and substituted Portugese linguica sausage which is pretty similar. I figured that it's a Portuguese soup anyway. In fact, this is really a caldo verde, which should use linguica. Lastly, I didn't even bother to remove the russet potatoes from the pot to a blender. I simply crushed the chunks against the side of the pot with the back of my spoon.

Healthwise, with a pork sausage, there's always a little fat. However, you could easily substitute a lower-fat spicy turkey or chicken andouille sausage. As always, though, check the sodium content on the stock and sausage! With all the greens, and carrots, though, this is not so bad a choice, especially after a good shovelling workout.

Funny, as I searched Epicurious for a link to the recipe, I found that in the last issue Gourmet published, November 2009, they included a similar soup. While they didn't rename it, this time they acknowledge that the soup is actually a Portuguese caldo verde, and recommend using either chourico or linguica sausage, as I did.

It was delicious and warming for this time of year, and relatively easy to prepare. You can find the recipe as printed in 1990 at:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Comfort Mash

Celeriac (seh-LER-ee-ak - I finally looked up the pronunciation!) or celery root is a knobby, brown skinned vegetable with cream colored flesh that has a taste similar to celery with a little more bite. It is actually the root of a type of celery grown specifically for its root, rather than the root of the type of celery we commonly eat. It's currently available at farm markets and is about the size of a baseball or softball. It's a lot less ugly once you peel it.

Not long ago I cut some up and roasted the pieces with carrots, onions and potatoes. Not a success. I was the only one who ate the celeriac bits and virtually every other piece (save for the three the others tasted) was left to sit forlornly in the pan. In this recipe, however, my family ate the celeriac happily, or at least without complaint. In a mash or puree with potatoes, the celeriac provides a welcome bite and a dash of extra flavor which comes in handy when you're limiting the fat in the recipe. I did this mash with chives, skim milk and just one tablespoon of butter for the whole bowl. To my taste, this is good stuff.

You can prepare this as a puree if you like, by running the potatoes and celeriac through a ricer, or you can simply mash the potatoes with a regular old potato masher. I usually opt for the latter as I like a thicker consistency to my mashed potatoes. This is a milder dish though, than a rustic smashed potato with olive oil, which I also love. This one looks a little more refined and would be great with the mustard crusted salmon I wrote about in my March 10, 2009 post. Though the dish does technically contain a vegetable along with the potatoes, I like to also serve a green vegetable alongside to provide some color contrast on the plate.

Comfort Mash

(serves 6)

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks

1 celeriac knob, preferable one closer to baseball sized than softball sized), peeled and cut into chunks smaller than the potatoes

1/2 - 1 cup skim milk

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons chives, minced

1 tablespoon butter

salt and pepper to taste

1. Put the potato and celeriac into a large saucepan and cover with cool water by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to medium - low and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Check a chunk of celeriac and a chunk of potato with a fork to see if soft.

2. Drain the vegetables in a colander and return them to the saucepan over medium heat. Stir the potato and celeriac around in the pot for a couple of minutes to dry them out. Turn the heat to low and either mash the potatoes in the pot or if you want a finer, more pureed consistency, put the vegetables through a ricer (and put the puree back in the pot). Add the skim milk, one half cup at a time, and the olive oil. Mix well. Add the second half cup of milk if it seems too dry. Add the chives and butter and mix again and then add salt and pepper, started with about a quarter teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper, adding more to taste.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Odds and Ends

First, I'd like to give kudos to "Mrs. Wheelbarrow" for her stunningly good and simple challah and veggie stuffing that I linked to before Thanksgiving via After many years of trial and error and many different stuffings, this one is a keeper. The outside got nice and crispy while the inside was just a little creamy. I adapted her recipe only minimally, using turkey stock instead of vegetable and adding a little extra stock so I could cut the amount of butter. I also used a mix of both cremini and chanterelle mushrooms instead of the button mushroom stems. I made a double recipe and still, there was not a bit left.

Next, I'd just like to bore you all, briefly, with another public health/food concern. Consumer Reports has discovered that much like with feedlot cattle, feedlot chickens have a higher incidence of bacteria, etc. The organic and air chilled chickens had a lower incidence of contaminants. Wonder what would have happened if they tested pastured chickens from small farms. Whatever type of chicken you buy, it's crucial to keep the raw chicken and any of it's liquids from contaminating the rest of your kitchen and grocery bag. The Well column in the New York Times had some suggestions for this:

Lastly, I have been wanting to mention that I had my cholesterol and other related blood work done a few weeks ago and was very gratified by the results. Just about all of my numbers are significantly better than a year ago, and, frankly, for most people, the numbers weren't all that bad to begin with. While this is in no way scientific, I do believe that the improvement is directly related to sticking with my exercise plan and eating a healthier diet. This has included eating less fat, sodium and refined flour products, and more vegetables, wild salmon, oatmeal, walnuts and other foods high in Omega-3s.