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Books I like: The Gourmet Cookbook January 25, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Books I like, Zook.
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Whenever I compare notes with anyone on the question “What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?”, I always have the topper.

You see, I used to be a cookbook librarian.

During college and for a couple of years afterward, I was in charge of the cookbook library at Gourmet magazine, where my father was the art director.

Did I learn to be a great cook? Hell, no. Did I learn about the better things in life? Well, I learned I couldn’t afford them on the salary of a cookbook librarian. Fortunately, going to lunch on the expense account of an art director occasionally made up for it … 😉

The Magazine Of Good Living (or as I used to call it, The Magazine Of Bad Habits) has changed a lot in the many, many years since I was there. My father is laughing himself silly at the thought that Earle MacAusland’s baby is now a Condé Nast publication.

Under editor Ruth Reichl, Gourmet has finally gotten around to revising (well, actually, rewriting from scratch) The Gourmet Cookbook, originally published in 1950. The original cookbook was a creature of its time, prehistoric by today’s standards. It was also notoriously unreliable; the magazine had no kitchens to speak of until they moved out of the Plaza Hotel penthouse in the mid-1960s, and recipes were seldom tested by staff. This climaxed in a 1966 Gourmet Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Cake that left out the baking powder.

For several years of my tenure as a galley slave, I worked closely with Isabel Callvert, James Beard‘s editor and close collaborator. Mrs. C. taught me the joys of reading a well-written cookbook (believe me, I had plenty of time to read cookbooks). The works of Beard/Callvert, Elizabeth David and (especially) M. F. K. Fisher, all of whom wrote for Gourmet in its early years, make for good reading even if one has no interest in cooking. And I am glad to say, the magazine that Nora Ephron once dismissed as “full of articles written by women with three names” is once again very readable, if not quite up to the high standard of the Beard and Fisher years.

And for someone in the throes of a diet, there are few joys to compare with making up a menu it will be a long, long time before I can indulge in:

BIBB LETTUCE WITH BUTTER DRESSING

Although this old-fashioned butter dressing is rich in flavor, it has a surprisingly light and silky texture, which keeps it from weighing down the delicate bibb lettuce (coincidentally also known as butterhead lettuce). As with many simple things, success hinges on getting the details right. The greens must be at room temperature — if they are cold, the warmed butter will solidify on the leaves. When all the elements come together in the right way, this salad is a revelation.

Separate leaves from 1 pound Bibb lettuce (about 8 heads) and put in a large bowl. Halve 2 cloves garlic and in a small heavy skillet heat with 1 stick butter (1/2 cup) over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden and butter has a slight nutty aroma, about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and discard garlic. Add 8 teaspoons lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste, swirling skillet to incorporate (butter will foam).

Pour warm dressing over lettuce and toss to coat. Serve salad immediately. Serves 8.

— The Gourmet Cookbook, page 130


BEEF BOURGUIGNON

Some dishes are simply famous. This version of beef bourguignon, adapted from Suzanne Rodriguez-Hunter’s Found Meals of the Lost Generation, is a case in point. Be sure that you brown the beef very well. The high-heat reaction between the proteins and sugars on the surface of the meat, known as the Maillard reaction, creates a layer of intense flavor, which gets distributed throughout during braising. Peeled boiled potatoes tossed with butter and parsley are the ideal accompaniment.

The beef bourguignon can be made up to 1 day ahead, and in fact it tastes even better made ahead, because this gives the flavors time to develop. Cool, uncovered, then refrigerate, covered. Chilling also makes it easy to remove fat from the surface.

Cut 1/4 pound thick-sliced bacon (3 slices) into 1-inch-wide pieces. Cook bacon in a 3-quart saucepan of boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain.

Cut 3 pounds boneless beef chuck into 2-inch chunks. Pat beef dry and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Divide 1/3 cup all-purpose flour between two large sealable plastic bags. Divide beef between bags, seal bags, and shake to coat meat.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a 6- to 8-quart wide heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Brown beef well in 2 or 3 batches, without crowding, adding 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil as needed. Transfer to a bowl.

Pour off any excess oil from pot, then add 1/2 cup brandy and deglaze pot by boiling over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, for 1 minute. Pour over beef.

Tie 1 (4-inch) celery rib, 4 fresh parsley stems (without leaves), 4 fresh thyme sprigs, 2 Turkish bay leaves (or 1 California bay leaf) and 2 whole cloves together with kitchen string to make a bouquet garni (stick cloves into celery so they don’t fall out). Heat 1 tablespoon unsalted butter in cleaned pot over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then cook bacon, stirring, 2 minutes. Add 2 onions, finely chopped; 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped; and 2 carrots, peeled if desired and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices; and cook, stirring occasionally, until pale golden, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry red wine, preferably Burgundy or Côtes du Rhône, the meat with its juices, and the bouquet garni, bring to a simmer, and simmer gently, partially covered, until meat is tender, 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Meanwhile, blanch 1 pound small (1 1/2-inch-wide) boiling onions or pearl onions in a 4-quart saucepan of boiling well-salted water for 1 minute; drain (blanching onions makes peeling easier). Rinse under cold running water, then peel.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Add boiling onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned in patches. Season with salt and pepper. Add 2 cups water (1 1/2 cups if using pearl onions), bring to a simmer, and simmer, partially covered, until onions are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Increase heat and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to a glaze, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Add 1 pound mushrooms, trimmed and quartered if large, and cook, stirring until golden brown and any liquid mushrooms give off has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

When meat is tender, stir onions and mushrooms into stew and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and discard bouquet garni and skim any fat from surface of stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Makes eight servings.

— The Gourmet Cookbook, page 440


PARSLEY POTATOES

Peel 3 pounds small (1 1/2- to 2-inch) boiling potatoes and cover with salted cold water by 2 inches in a large heavy pot. Simmer, uncovered, until just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain in a colander and toss in a bowl with 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces; 4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley; and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Makes 8 servings.


CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

Chocolate mousse was the first classic French dessert that many of us tasted. And no matter how often we may have eaten it since, a well-made mousse still has all the rich allure of that first bite. This version has another advantage: it is made with cooked eggs, not raw ones. Use your favorite bittersweet chocolate here; some premium brands, with a higher percentage of cocoa solids, will result in a slightly denser mousse.

Heat 3/4 cup heavy cream in a 1-quart heavy saucepan until hot. Whisk together 4 large egg yolks, 3 tablespoons sugar, and a pinch of salt in a metal bowl until combined well, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking until combined. Transfer mixture to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until it registers 160°F on thermometer. Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Chop 7 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened). Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or in a glass bowl in a microwave at 50 percent power 3 to 5 minutes), stirring frequently. Whisk custard into chocolate until smooth, then cool.

Beat 1 1/4 cups chilled heavy cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Whisk one fourth of cream into chocolate custard to lighten, then fold in remaining cream gently but thoroughly.

Spoon mousse into 8 (6-ounce) stemmed glasses or ramekins and chill, covered, at least 6 hours. Let stand at room temperature about 20 minutes before serving. Garnish with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Mousse can be chilled up to 1 day. Makes 8 servings.

— The Gourmet Cookbook, page 838

I cheated in how I transcribed the above recipes. Not long after Earle MacAusland died in 1980, the magazine abandoned the “prose recipe” style and adopted the standard practice of listing ingredients at the head of the recipe. The thing is, recipes read better this way. It’s one of the very few things I miss about my former employer.

Well, that and Dad’s expense account.

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Comments»

1. Marcus - January 25, 2007

Compare to Yiddish theater or bookkeeper at Bowery Electric….

2. Jeff - January 25, 2007

I dunno know about the bookkeeper job, but you got me on the Yiddish theater. And let’s not forget the mink farming …

3. Julia - January 25, 2007

Hmm… I shall have to check into this at the library. God knows I’m a sucker for a good cookbook. 🙂

4. Jeff Pompadur - February 12, 2007

Dear Jeff (Max A)
Apparently, This Is Not My Blog, has not a link to contact you directly, so if you please, I am writing to you here.
While searching for things Zook, I stumbled across your blog. My my you’re a busy boy. It’s been many a long year since I was in your basement on the East coast helping you pack up for your move to Calif. That’s when you were still working at Gourmet. As I helped to empty off the wooden shelves, I have never forgotten that one of the last things I picked up was a small almost square metal box wrapped brown Kraft paper and tied with string. It was much heavier and denser than one might expect for a box that you could pick up in one hand. Let’s just say I was a bit startled what you told who it was.

I hope we can speak one day soon.

Aloha,

Montana A Zook

5. Montana A Zook - February 12, 2007

Dear Jeff,

Please pardon me for noting this here: Happy Birthday to Marcus!
Aloha,
Montana A Zook

6. mike weber - February 26, 2007

May i recommend the (out of print but that’s what AbeBooks is for) Foodstamp Gourmet as an excellent cookbook for beginner or experienced amateur cook alike?

Not only does it, as the cover blurb on the original edition said, tesh “Patrician esting on a proletarian Budget”-style cooking, but it has wonderful covers and interior illos by Gil Shelton, Dave Sheridan and Greg Irons.


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