Saturday, October 30, 2010


I had too many books to review this summer and before it gets any later, I just have to give a shout-out to RECIPES FROM AN ITALIAN SUMMER (Phaidon; $39.95; ISBN: 978-0-7148-5773-2).  Collected by the editors of the legendary The Silver Spoon cookbook, here's a cookbook to take advantage of a long summer of la dolce vita.

"Italian summer food is simple to prepare and makes the best possible use of a 
huge variety of season produce."

The 400 never-before published recipes are organized into picnics, salads, barbecues, light lunches and suppers, summer entertaining, desserts, ice creams and drinks. This visually sumptuous cookbook is so striking and inviting, you're instantly immersed in it's summery glow.  So many of recipes here feature few ingredients, demonstrating that great summer food is best enjoyed as simply as possible to let summer's bounty shine. Lidia Bastianich first introduced me to the concept of rice salads as ideal summer fare, and I now make them all the time, especially when I'm going to a party and I'm asked to bring something.  You can put almost anything in them from meat, seafood and poultry to cheese, a huge variety of vegetables, herbs--whatever.  They feed a crowd, are easy to assemble and delicious.  Try the Piquant Rice Salad at your next picnic instead of heavier mayonnaise-based potato or macaroni salads.  Best of all they can safely sit on a warm table without worry of spoiling.  A Peach Salad with lettuce strips, low-fat yogurt, and walnuts, at first sounds different, and it is.  But it's delicious.  Corn and Mozzarella Salad have a natural affinity and with diced tomatoes, it's very pretty.

Grilled foods are an Italian summer specialty, and Grilled Stuffed SquidLamb Chops with Anchovy ButterMixed Fish Kabobs, the famous Florentine T-bone Steak, and Grilled Eggplant are some of the fabulously grilled foods here.  The barbecue section begins with a wealth of marinades and flavored butters that enhance these dishes.  

Summer's heat encourages lighter suppers and Farro and Shrimp SaladRadicchio, Turkey, and Snow Pea Salad are good choices.  While scanning the pizza section, I found a Potato Pizza that I ate on my very first visit to Rome and never forgot.  Eggplant, Shrimp and Arugula, and a Fisherman's Pizza with baby octopus, shrimp, clams and mussels could become new summer classics. 

In the summer Italians love to linger over long dinners with family and friends.  Canapes, crostini, bruschetta are simple, flavorful starters.  Soups (there's a gorgeous Milanese Minestrone with pancetta) and lots of vegetables), risottos (a surprising Strawberry version), fish (Fish Couscous), poultry (a wow Quail with White Grapes)  and meat main courses (Veal Roulades in Aspic and Vitello Tonnato), are the kinds of recipes I want on my patio table.

Desserts can be a simple as Figs with Cream or a Cherry Compote, or a very pretty Peach Aspic.  Iced Raspberry and Strawberry Souffle is an impressive company dessert as is Fruits of the Forest Tart with its  rows of blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and red currants over a pastry tart dough filled with creme patissiere.  There's also a fine section of ice creams and my own favorite, a Raspberry Semifreddo.  

These days with so many of us close to farmer's markets, it's easy to imagine your own Italian Summer meals.  I hope you'll get a copy of this lovely book with its painterly scenes of the Italian countryside. The enticing recipes and gorgeous photos should help get you through the long winter.

Piquant Rice Salad
Insalata di riso piccante

 Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15-18 minutes

Serves 4


1 ¼ cups long-grain rice
½ cup shelled peas
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
3 ounces canned anchovies, drained and chopped
scant 1 cup pitted olives
1 tablespoon rinsed and drained capers
generous 1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice, strained
salt and pepper


Cook the rice in a large pan of salted boiling water for 15-18 minutes, or according to package directions, until tender. Meanwhile, cook the peas in a small pan of salted boiling water for 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain the rice, rinse under cold running water, and drain again. Drain the peas and refresh in cold water.

Put the rice and peas into a bowl and add the strips of bell pepper, anchovies, olives, and capers. Whisk together the oil and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the salad.

Raspberry Semifreddo
Semifreddo ai lamponi

Preparation Time: 4 ½ hours (including freezing)
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Serves 6-8


6 egg yolks
1 ¼ cups superfine sugar
1 ½ cups raspberries
3 cups heavy cream


Beat the egg yolks with the sugar in a heatproof bowl until they are light and foamy. Set the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove the bowl from the heat and continue to whisk until the mixture has cooled completely. Put the raspberries into a shallow dish and mash to a coarse puree with a fork. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream to stiff peaks, then fold in the egg mixture and the raspberry puree. Line a rectangular, freezerproof container with plastic wrap. Pour in the mixture and smooth the surface. Put the container into the freezer and freeze for at least 4 hours. To serve, briefly dip the bottom of the container in hot water and turn out the semifreddo onto a dish. Carefully remove the plastic wrap and cut the semifreddo into 1/2 –inch slices. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


By Jennifer McCord

I am not sure when the decision to learn as much as I could about Chinese cooking occurred but I do know that it changed my cooking life.  My mother tried her hand at Chinese cooking when I was a youngster but we all preferred eating Chinese food prepared in a Chinese restaurant.  Murray, my husband, loves Chinese food. When we were dating as university students, we often spent time-sharing a meal at local Chinese restaurants.  When we married, we loved dining at Chinese restaurants and still go often.   

As I was learning to cook various kinds of foods from superb chefs, I knew the time was coming for me to find someone to teach me how to cook authentic Chinese food. I studied for many years with a teacher at a Chinese cooking school. I have my old notebook full of recipes in fading ink from my notes to remind me of the various steps and techniques.  One of the main concepts I learned in class that so changed my eating and cooking world was the proportion of meat to vegetables—less meat more vegetables Today, in any dish I make, this is still a concept that I am aware of which means that we eat lots of vegetables in our daily meals. Even my mother used the recipes that I learned in my classes to make wonderful Chinese food.

I haven’t been cooking as much Chinese food lately, so I was thrilled to read STIR-FRYING TO THE SKY’S EDGE: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, With Authentic Recipes and Stories (Simon & Schuster; $35.00; ISBN: 978-1416580577). This is the latest cookbook from Grace Young, the author of such stunning works as The Breath of a Wok and The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. Young’s essential information about the various kinds of woks, how to care for and cook with them, is worth the price of the book alone. There is a chapter on stir-frying that discusses the proper heat, stir- frying basics, and overall philosophy of stir-frying, which immediately inspired me to begin thinking of what to cook from this book. I have two woks which I have owned for over twenty years. Even so, it was hard not to buy another one just for this book.

The recipes are really instructive and the photos are guaranteed to make you hungry.  Sunday afternoon, my husband and I read through the recipes in order to decide which recipe to cook. There were lots of choices. STIR-FRYING TO THE SKY’S EDGE is divided into: meat, poultry and egg, fish and shellfish, vegetable and tofu, rice and noodle recipes. We chose Hoisin Explosion Chicken because we love hoisin sauce. We had a can of excellent bamboo shoots in the pantry, and went to the market to buy fresh chicken breasts and green pepper.  We then spent part of the afternoon, preparing the chicken, cutting the vegetables including the ginger and garlic, and measuring out the ingredients for the sauce.  Ms. Young discusses woks in great detail (she also wrote the outstanding The Breath of a Wok). Explaining that woks have various uses, with one for stir-frying or another for steaming), all of which she details here. We have two woks and were sorely tempted to add a third to our collection.  We cooked the chicken using the velveting technique, which the author describes as “velveting stir fry--helps to produce the silky, smooth texture known by the Cantonese as waat. No other cooking technique produces such light, delicate and tender succulence hence the culinary term "velveting" in English.  The marinated morsels are blanched in either oil or water, thoroughly drained in a colander before being stir fried.”  Young recommends the water blanching method for the home cook because it is less complicated and dangerous than oil blanching.

This was an added step to our usual stir-frying. The chicken was tender and moist so well worth the effort.  The aroma through the house was ginger and garlic with a touch of spice. We choose our special bowls for this delightful dish and enjoyed our dinner.

Hoisin Explosion Chicken

There are many versions of this classic recipe that combines ingredients from the far corners of China: the hoisin sauce is a northern condiment, the spicy red pepper flakes are from the west, and the rice wine is an eastern staple. Here the velveting technique is used with chicken for a full-flavored, robust stir-fry laced with heat. In addition to the egg white, cornstarch, rice wine, and salt, a little water helps to further tenderize the chicken.

12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut
into 14-inch-thick bite-sized slices
1 tablespoon egg white, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1-12 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice
wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
12 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 14-inch-wide
strips (about 112 cups)
One 8-ounce can sliced bamboo shoots, rinsed
and drained

1. In a medium bowl combine the chicken, egg white, cornstarch, 112 teaspoons of the rice wine, 12 teaspoon of the salt, and 1-12 teaspoons cold water. Stir until the cornstarch is totally dissolved and no clumps are visible. Put the chicken uncovered in the refrigerator for
30 minutes. In a small bowl combine the hoisin sauce,soy sauce, and the remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine.

2. In a 2-quart saucepan bring 1 quart water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the boiling water. Reduce the heat to low. When the water is barely simmering, carefully add the chicken, gently stirring it so that the pieces do not clump together. Cook 1 minute or until the chicken just turns opaque but is not cooked through. Carefully drain the chicken in a colander, shaking the colander to remove excess water.

3. Heat a 14-inch fl at-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, add the ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 10 seconds or until the aromatics are fragrant. Add the bell peppers, sprinkle on the remaining 12 teaspoon salt,
and stir-fry 30 seconds or until the peppers are bright green. Add the chicken and the bamboo shoots. Swirl the hoisin sauce mixture into the wok, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked through.

Serves 2 to 3 as a main dish with rice or 4 as part of a
multicourse meal.

Jennifer McCord made her first cake when she was nine years old. Even though the cake did not turn out as she expected, the experience began a life long love of cooking. She read M.F.K. Fisher in her late teens and decided to follow her advice. Cook with the cook whose food you have found delightful. Therefore, she has cooked with a host of cooks from bakers to restaurateurs following her palate and learning how to better her own cooking.  

Jennifer has her own publishing consulting company where she operates as an editor, publishing management consultant and book packager. She and her husband Murray, live in Settle, Washington. Jennifer can be reached at

Friday, October 22, 2010


Robert's Absolute Best Brownies

I've been meaning to write about David Lebovitz's fantastic new READY FOR DESSERT:  My Best Recipes (Ten Speed Press; $35.00; ISBN: 978-1-58008-138-2) since it was released in April, but my oven betrayed me.  I'm thrilled that I found out it was the oven's fault and not David's.  I have a Jenn-Air oven with one of those down-draft exhausts.  It came with my new house. I love it, but lately, I've had some baking mishaps and David's recipe for Robert's Absolute Best Brownies was my oven's first victim.  This sensationally easy recipe was a snap to throw together (my preferred dessert-making ambition these days is 'no effort'), and it went into the oven for its 30-minute baking time.  At 20 minutes, I smelled something burning.  I opened the oven and was appalled to see the brownies had indeed burned. This was my first experience with a David Lebovitz recipe, and I was incensed.  How could he be so wrong, I thought. A week later, I was eating crow and asking David silently for forgiveness.  My oven is running 25 to 50 degrees hotter and two attempts to correct it have failed so far.  So as I contemplate a new stove, I'm compensating for the extra blast of heat.  I made the brownies, and indeed they lived up to their billing of 'Absolute Best.'  My brownies had a cup of roasted hazel nuts which complimented these beauties.  Served absolutely plain, my guests ate two each! So a little belatedly it is now time to sing the praises of the rest of the book.

David Lebovitz has been thrilling dessert lovers with his bestselling cookbooks and adding readers to his award-wining website (www.davidlebovitz).  His beautifully conceived recipes, clarity of instruction, are thoroughly modern.  These are the desserts we love to make and serve today.  READY FOR DESSERT  is a greatest hits package--a compilation of a decade's worth of 170 updated and revised desserts.

Around the time READY FOR DESSERT arrived, a friend brought me a huge quantity of pink grapefruits. I turned some of them into a pint of homemade pink-grapefruit sorbet, which was resting in the freezer.  Pink Grapefruit-Champagne Sorbet Cocktail was a terrific inspiration, instantly putting my sorbet to use. I had used vodka instead of champagne, and I really don't love the idea of using good champagne for dessert.  Instead, I had a bottle of prosecco in the fridge, and it worked superbly. The small scoops of sorbet looked beautiful in the clear glasses of bubbly prosecco. Served with a good butter cookie, it was a refreshing spring dessert.

In the 80s and 90s, I loved baking cakes but I OD'd on chocolate and found myself powerfully drawn to pie, cobbler, clafoutis, and panna cotta.  But lately I've been making cakes again.  Fresh Ginger Cake is one of the reasons.  Justifiably popular, this elegant and deeply flavored cake is a knockout--it's gingery zing is very appealing.  While we're on the subject of ginger, the Guiness-Gingerbread Cupcakes are an adult dessert that restores sanity to this wildly overwrought category.  The lime frosting is the perfect bright element to these wonderful cupcakes.

I'm a huge fan of semifreddos.  The Lemon Semifreddo, is strictly speaking, not a semifreddo, but it's lemony tartness is irresistible.  So is the Peach-Mascarpone Semifreddo.  A Mixed Berry Pie sounds simple and it is with its combination of strawberry, blueberries and blackberries. A great pie to celebrate the summer's peak berry season.  Apple-Frangipane Galette would add a rustic note to anyone's Thanksgiving dessert offerings and I'll be torn between this and a sumptuous Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Crust and Whiskey-Caramel Topping.   I want spoonfuls of David's ice creams and sorbets.  Let me start with Butterscotch-Pecan Ice Cream and venture on with Chocolate Gelato, Toasted Coconut SherbetBlood Orange Sorbet Surprise, and Blackberry Sorbert.

Like Maida Heatter and Dorrie Greenspan, David Lebovitz has a warm and encouraging voice. He knows where all the dessert pitfalls are and gently talks you down from the top limbs of dessert-making-hell-trees with humor and expertise. You can't have too many dessert collections in your cookbook library, and mine are already bursting.  But I have happily made room for this beautiful new addition.

Robert’s Absolute Best Brownies
Makes 9 to 12 brownies

6 tablespoons (3 ounces/85 g) unsalted or salted butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces (225 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup (35 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (about 135 g) walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line the inside of a 9-inch (23-cm) square pan with 2 lengths of foil, positioning the sheets perpendicular to each other and allowing the excess to extend beyond the edges of the pan. Or, use one large sheet of extrawide foil or parchment paper. Lightly grease the foil or parchment with butter or nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, then add the chocolate and stir over low heat until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and stir energetically for 1 full minute, until the batter loses its graininess, becomes smooth and glossy, and pulls away a bit from the sides of the saucepan. Stir in the chopped nuts.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the center feels almost set, about 30 minutes. Don’t overbake.

Let cool completely in the pan before lifting out the foil or parchment to remove the brownies.

Storage: These brownies will keep well for up to 4 days and can be frozen for 1 month.

Variation: This recipe takes well to mix-ins. I’ll sometimes add 1/3 cup (45 g) chopped dried cherries or 1/3 cup (45 g) cocoa nibs to the batter.

To make minty brownies, crush the contents of one 50-g tin of peppermint Altoids in a sturdy plastic bag. Add the crushed mints to the brownies along with the nuts (or omit the nuts). If you like very minty brownies, add 1/2 teaspoon mint extract along with the crushed mints.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Unless you've been under a rock for the past two years, there's a recession going on.  And it is still stubbornly hanging on.  With all of us slashing budgets, nothing took a bigger hit than the Christmas shopping budget.  But cooks can simply change gears and look to the kitchen for gift inspiration.  A few weeks ago GIFTS COOKS LOVE: Recipes For Giving (Andrews McMeel Publishing; $25.00; ISBN: 978-0-7407-9350-9) arrived on my doorstep and not a moment too soon.  In this divinely inspired book written by Diane Morgan for Sur La Table, there are plenty of wonderfully homey, elegant, sensationally delicious and easy-to-prepare gifts that won't stretch the pocketbook and will be appreciated long after the holiday season is over.

Moving to Portland, Oregon was a no-brainer for me. It's a fabulous town and its reputation as a hub for food is well-deserved. One of the city's best culinary assets is Diane Morgan, a fine writer of cookbooks and outstanding cooking teacher and host of her own cooking website called Diane Morgan Cooks! (, that feature great videos.  I've already reviewed her excellent The News Thanksgiving Table (Chronicle Books).  GIFTS COOKS LOVE exceeds any previous book I've seen on this subject and is a generous collection of gifts from the kitchen encompassing sweet and savory preserved jams and curds, chutneys, mustards, sauces, ketchups, fish, cakes, cookies, bars, breads, breakfast treats, cookies, crackers, candies, drinks, cocktail purees, liqueurs, flavored butters and popcorn, spice blends and bbq rubs, pastas, and gift kits.

There is a long tradition of giving loved ones and friends gifts of food from the kitchen. It's a good way of preserving the bounty of the garden or farmer's market.  I've been making chocolate sauce and jams for friends for years, but GIFTS COOKS LOVE goes far beyond those limited choices.  Diane not only shows you how to create all these gift choices, but also provides the steps to make sure you have the necessary tools, ingredients in your pantry, and creative decorative packaging ideas, plus essential tips and techniques needed for preserving and dehydrating.

I've made lemon curd many times, but have often wished I had jars of quality curd on hand to save me a few steps.  With Meyer Lemon Curd I can make what I need and still have a few jars for gifts.  Boysenberry and Lemon Verbena Jam is a luscious spread for bread and toast. For Portlanders whose hearts were broken with uncooperative weather this summer that left their tomatoes unripened on the vine, here's a Green Tomato Chutney to make delicious use of all those un-red tomatoes. Apricot-Bourbon Mustard is just the finishing touch needed for a piled up Dagwood-style sandwich. Smokey Tomato Ketchup is a nice alternative to the store-bought stuff.  Curing Salmon Gravlax requires no cooking at all, just a rub of sugar and salt, some fresh dill and a shot of gin.  Jalapeno and Cheddar Skillet Cornbread with Honey Butter, Rustic Rosemary-Parmesan Crackers make fine gifts to serve at a party.  For a friend or loved one's sweet tooth, there are lots of choices:  Double Fudge Brownie Pops, Cracked Pepper, Dried Cherry and Chocolate Chunk Biscotti, Panforte, Blackberry-Merlot Jellies (Why don't I have the ingredients in hand now that I want to try these!), and Smoked Salt, Dried Apricot, and Almond Chocolate Bark.  Make the holiday breakfast that much more memorable with Mini Apricot and Crystallized Ginger Quick Breads or Coconut Granola Crunch.

In Rome, Italian trattorias often offer gratis a small glass of house-made Limoncello, a tart and sweet liquer, to end the meal.  I've always wanted to make my own, and I can now boast of a batch infusing in my basement as I write this.  I'll keep one for myself and have three for gifts just in time for the holidays.

Each recipe in GIFTS COOKS LOVE comes with lots of tips on storage, script suggestions for gift cards that describes the use of each recipe, when it was made, instructions on how to serve it plus gift-giving tips on appropriate decorative touches, such as ties and ribbons, containers and other trimmings, plus ways to turn the gift into a basket with related items. A S'Mores Kit features chocolate plus Toasted Coconut Marshmallows and Cinnamon-Coated Graham Crackers.  A grill kit might include Backyard BBQ  Rub, Smoky Tomato Ketchup and Aleppo Pepper-Peach Chutney along with some skewers and wood planks for grilling.

Gorgeously photographed, organized for success, with Diane Morgan's excellent recipes, GIFTS COOKS LOVE will keep you out of the mall in in the kitchen preparing lots of creative gifts for everyone on your list this season.  A thoughtfully prepared offering is surely the best gift of all.


The saying goes, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” We say, “When you are handed lemons, make limoncello and lemonade.” It takes 15 lemons to make limoncello, and since only the peel is used, that leaves all the fruit to juice for a refreshingly large pitcher of homemade lemonade—that’s the beauty of making limoncello in the summer! In addition, since it takes 40 to 80 days for the mixture to infuse, if you make it over the summer you’ll have bottles of limoncello ready for holiday gift giving. Use the freshest, most blemish-free, most fully ripe lemons you can find. In addition, buy organic ones if possible. Since the limoncello is made from the lemon peel, you want to make sure they haven’t been coated or sprayed with pesticides.


15 organic lemons
2 (750-milliliter) bottles 151- or 190-proof grain alcohol, such as Everclear (see page 11)
4 cups granulated sugar
9½ cups water


1-Gallon Glass Jar, Vegetable Peeler, Long Wooden Spoon, Measuring Cups, Large Saucepan, Four (1-Liter) Glass Bottles, Fine-Mesh Strainer or Coffee Filter, Large Bowl, Narrow-Neck Funnel, Ladle
Prep Time: 15 minutes  |  Infusing Time: 40 to 80 days  |  Makes four (1-liter) bottles of limoncello
Wash a 1-gallon glass jar and lid in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly. Alternatively, run the jar and lid through the regular cycle of your dishwasher.
Scrub the lemons in warm water and pat dry. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from each lemon in wide strips. Be careful not to remove the white pith, which will impart a bitter flavor to the limoncello.
Place the lemon peels in the prepared jar. Pour in 1 bottle of the alcohol, and push down the lemon peels with a wooden spoon to completely submerge them in the liquid. Tightly secure the lid, and set the jar in a cool, dark place to steep. Stirring is not necessary.
After 20 or 40 days, add the second bottle of alcohol to the mixture. Place the sugar and 7½ cups of the water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Decrease to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes to ensure that all the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool.
When the sugar syrup is completely cool, add it to the lemon and alcohol mixture in the jar. Tightly secure the lid, and return the jar to a cool, dark place to steep for an additional 20 to 40 days. Over time, the liquid will absorb the flavor from the lemon peels and turn bright yellow in color.
To bottle, first wash the bottles in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly. Alternatively, run the bottles through the regular cycle of your dishwasher.
Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer, or coffee filter set in a strainer, into a large bowl. Add 1²⁄³ cups of water to the limencello if you used 151-proof grain alcohol; add 2 cups of water if you used 190-proof. (Note: The addition of the water will turn the liquid cloudy and pale yellow in color. This is the desired outcome.) Let it rest for a moment so that any remaining sediment will fall to the bottom of the bowl.
Using a narrow-neck funnel, ladle the limoncello into the prepared bottles, leaving 1 inch headspace. Wipe the rims clean, secure the lids, and label.
Storing: Store the bottles in a cool, dark place, or keep in the freezer until ready to serve. Limoncello will keep for several years.

Gift Card: This homemade Limoncello was bottled on [give date] and can be enjoyed for several years to come. Store it in the freezer, and enjoy it as a refreshing liqueur to sip after dinner.

Gift-Giving Tips: Tie each bottle with raffia or ribbon and attach a gift card. To turn this into a gift basket, add a set of cordial glasses.

—From Gifts Cooks Love: Recipes for Giving by Sur La Table and Diane Morgan/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Sunday, October 3, 2010


"Every once in a while, my mother follows one of my recipes.  Actually, follows is too exacting a word for what goes on. Let's just say, every once in a while, my mother decides to cook something of mine she's seen in the New York Times." 
                               --Melissa Clark, author of IN THE KITCHEN WITH A GOOD APPETITE

These opening sentences of a recipe for My Mother's Garlic and Thyme-Roasted Chicken Parts with Mustard Croutons convinced me that I had to make this wonderful dish.  It's from Melissa Clark's very readable new cookbook, IN THE KITCHEN WITH A GOOD APPETITE: 150 Recipes & Stories About the Food You Love (Hyperion; $27.50; ISBN: 978-1-4013-2376-9) and it's a spin off of her original recipe (included here) for Garlic and Thyme-Roasted Chicken with Crispy Drippings Croutons. Clark's mother called her daughter to tell her that she made the recipe and "It was terrific." Knowing her mother constantly changes her recipes, Clark's skepticism, turned to admiration as she grilled her mother about the way she prepared it.  Her mother stuck reasonably to her daughter's version, substituting a cut-up chicken for a whole one.  But it was her mother's use of mustard on the bread that grabbed Clark's attention.  "Mustard!  It was a brilliant idea," she writes.  "Mustard would add a slight spicy jolt to the croutons, and probably help flavor the chicken pieces as well.  I couldn't wait to try it.  Plus, chicken parts cook faster than a whole bid, and there would be less of a chance for the bread to burn."  My mother is an excellent cook, but she's never followed a recipe I've given her, almost always telling me with competitive glee her version is an improvement on the original!  In Clark's mother's case, the result was a wonderful chicken dish that is now part of my regular line-up.  I immediately sent to a bunch of friends and it's the kind of story that makes Melissa Clark one of the most popular food writers at The New York Times.  

Her A Good Appetite column in The New York Times' Wednesday food pages is always the highlight of my week.  Clark's exploration of how she creates meals, what inspires her, and the way she handles the daily challenges and joys of cooking food from a home cook's perspective, is always a pleasure to read.  Her breezy, conversational tone puts me in mind of Laurie Colwin's remarkable food columns which appeared in Gourmet in the 80s and early 90s (and became beloved books--Home Cooking and More Home Cooking).  Clark delivers unfussy food with robust flavors while reminding us that eating at home is fun, nurturing and not at all difficult. 

My Mother's Garlic and Thyme-Roasted Chicken Parts with Mustard Croutons

For a young woman, Clark has written a lot of cookbooks, 29 in all.  Her inspiration comes from an amazingly wide source of friends (Karen's Chorizo Corn Dog Bites is a deliciously down-market guilty pleasure, and makes me want to sit down and swap kitchen lore with them both), a technique (deep-frying), her family (aside from her mother's contributions, there's Almost Aunt Sandy's Sweet-and-Sour Salmon), and her carnivorous proclivities (she is a self-professed "bone picker" and provides the tasty recipes to prove it).  Michele Scicolone introduced me to roasted cauliflower nearly twenty years ago in her book The Antipasto Table.  I now consider it one of my favorite vegetables.  Clark's Roasted Spiced Cauliflower with Almonds, seems right up my alley, which I want to try for today's Sunday supper.  Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Fried Eggs and Anchovy Bread Crumbs amply demonstrates that eggs don't always need bacon.   I avoided the "Better Fried" chapter, fearing for my soaring cholesterol, but eventually Clark's siren-ability to make me turn the page brought me back to this forbidden section.  O-M-G!:  Panfried Cheese with Anchovy-Date Salad, those naughty Chorizo  Corn Dog Bites, Spicy, Crispy Chickpeas, Deep-Fried Bourbon Peach Pies, and Gingery Doughnut Fingers have weakened my resolve (intellectually I know that taking cholesterol medication is not a license to eat whatever I like, but in this case, I may have to make an exception). For cocktail lovers, Clark's restoration of rye whiskey to the original Rye Manhattan atones for all those sweet Manhattans made with bourbon.  She even provides a recipe for homemade Maraschino Cherries

IN THE KITCHEN WITH A GOOD APPETITE is this season's great cookbook read, as well as a collection of 150 wonderfully easy, and totally delicious recipes.  Melissa Clark artfully combines her kitchen and story chops into one delightful cookbook staple that should have no problem earning its stain marks as you compulsively cook your way through it! 


Time:  1 hour and 10 minutes
Serves 4

Country bread, ciabatta, or other study bread, preferably stale and sliced 1/2 inch thick.  

Mustard, as needed
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher slat, more as needed
1 4 to 5 pound chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces, rinsed and patted dry
1 head garlic, separated into cloves 
1 bay leaf, torn into pieces
1/2 bunch thyme sprigs

1. Preheat oven to 424 degrees.  Lay the bread slices in the bottom of a heavy-duty roasting pan in one layer. Brush with mustard, drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper and place the pieces on the bread, arranging the white meat in the center and the dark meat and wings around the sides. Scatter the garlic cloves, bay leaf, and thyme over the chicken and drizzle everything with more oil (take care to drizzle the garlic cloves).

3. Roast the chicken until it's lightly browned and the thigh juices run clear when pricked with a knife, about 50 minutes. If you like, you can crisp the skin by running the pan under the broiler for a minute, though you might want to rescue the garlic cloves before you do so they don't burn (if you don't plan to eat them, it doesn't matter so much).  Serve the chicken with pieces of bread from the pan.  

NOTE:  I started checking the chicken at 40 minutes.  But it did cook the full 50 minutes. 

NOTE:  You must use a heavy-bottomed roasting pan. No aluminum--you'll just end up burning the bread.

from IN THE KITCHEN WITH A GOOD APPETITE by Melissa Clark (Hyperion)