Wednesday, October 21, 2009

WNK: So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, good-bye

Much has been written about the passing of Gourmet. It's been a few weeks since the announcement that the venerable institution is packing up shop, and, frankly, I'm still in shock. It's more than just a magazine; it represented a way of life for almost seventy years. In fact, one of my favorite issues is the 65-year retrospective published in January 2006, where they picked one of the best recipes from each year of the magazine to date. It's a gold mine. We love the po-boys from 1945, the Chinese egg rolls from 1946, the chocolate souffle cake from 2001...and those are just the recipes I remember off the top of my head.

I'm not the only one who feels this sense of loss, of course. By the time I looked at the article in the NYT announcing the end of the Gourmet era, there were over 600 comments posted online. In the interview I linked to above, Ruth Reichl talks about Gourmet's incredibly loyal subscriber base. My 92 year-old grandmother only let her subscription lapse a few years ago when her arthritis got so bad that she really wasn't able to stand up in the kitchen to cook anymore. My mom has kept and archived every single issue since 1972, and is devastated by the closing. Even with the advent of Epicurious (which is an awesome resource), certain issues are particular favorites that she turns back to again and again, like December 1995 (the Christmas butter cookie dough is memorable and lends itself to variations). My mom is planning an extravagant Thanksgiving memorial to Gourmet, based on the final issue that arrived last week.

When you publish dozens of new recipes each month, they can't all be winners. But Gourmet has, or rather had, an unusually high percentage. To me, what's remarkable about the magazine are not the three-hour recipes for chicken mole, but rather the consistent goodness of all the recipes, including those in the "Quick Kitchen" section. The editors realized that the modern cook wanted to eat well, but realistically also needed to eat quickly.

Last night I needed a quick weeknight recipe (and had a surplus of green beans from the CSA box), so I turned to this stirfry with green beans, onions, and bell peppers. It has become a standby in our house. I'd almost forgotten about my plan to incorporate quick weeknight recipes into my blog, so I thought I'd share it with you.

It barely squeaks in under the thirty-minute mark, but the flavors are complex and satisfying. Compared to the original recipe, I've taken out the cashews, and added onions for sweetness and cilantro for brightness. (In the picture above, you may notice that I added yellow and red bell pepper, though the recipe only calls for red.)

The sauce is primarily coconut milk, flavored with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and lime. When B and I went to a cooking class a few years ago, our instructor told us that brands of coconut milk that have "OK" in the name are better than those without. Neither of us can remember what was supposedly wrong with the other brands, but we've been scared to deviate from the instructions, so we buy the ChaOKah brand available at our supermarket. This is a full-fat coconut milk; if you use a low fat one, you may have to take the vegetables out with a slotted spoon towards the end of the cooking and boil the sauce down to thicken it.

The stirfry reheats beautifully for lunch, or a dinner later in the week. Eat it while you think wistfully of the fact that you won't be receiving a magazine full of similar recipes each month. It almost makes me cry just to contemplate it, and I've only been subscribing for five years.

Good-bye, Gourmet.

Stirfry with Tofu, Green Beans, and Bell Pepper

Serves 4, as main course
Time: 30 minutes active and total

1 14-oz package firm tofu
3 T. soy sauce, divided
2-3 T. vegetable oil
1 lb green beans, ends trimmed
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced into pieces 1/4 in. wide
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 T. fresh chopped ginger, or 1 t. powdered ginger
1 t. red pepper flakes
1 15-oz can coconut milk
1/2 t. salt, or more to taste
juice of one lime
1/4 c. chopped cilantro

Slice the tofu into pieces 1/2 in. by 1/2 in. by 2 in. Place into a shallow bowl with 2 T. soy sauce. Marinate for 10 minutes and then dry completely with paper towels. Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables, and heat the oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the marinated, dried tofu pieces and saute, turning frequently, for 5 minutes or until golden. Place the tofu in a separate bowl using a slotted spoon.

Add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes to the oil. When they become fragrant after 3o seconds or so, add the green beans, onion, and bell pepper. Stir for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, salt, and remaining tablespoon of soy sauce. Once mixture comes to a boil, turn heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes or until green beans are cooked through (take one out to taste). Add sauteed tofu, and cook for another minute until tofu is heated through. Turn off heat, and add lime juice and cilantro, along with more salt to taste.

Serve immediately with rice (1 cup of dried rice makes a perfect amount).

Friday, October 16, 2009

The world is your...

B and I have been making great use of our 101 Great Hikes in the Bay Area book recently. There are a lot of beautiful spots around, and, now that the fog-ridden summer has passed, the weather has been sunny. Except (notably) for the freak rainstorm earlier this week that showed us that the drain on the back patio was clogged with accumulated eucalyptus leaves and silt; the overflow temporarily filled the garage and our downstairs neighbor's apartment with muddy water. We were delighted, truly delighted, to have the opportunity to learn that plumbers can snake outside drains the same way they snake indoor ones. Thankfully, the problem is now fixed.

But back to the hikes. In the past few weeks, we've been to the Point Bonita lighthouse (we spotted whale spouts off the coast), Hill 88 in Marin Headlands (a former military radar installation with expansive views of the city), and Tomales Point (extremely windy, but we spotted the tule elk as the guidebook promised). Here we are in Marin Headlands.

Recently, I've decided that I like oysters. Raw oysters, that is. I'd always liked them cooked, and we used to have smoked oysters on stoned-wheat crackers on picnics when I was a child. My main previous experience with raw oysters was nearly a decade ago. The year after college, I lived in England for a year, and JB met me in Nice so that we could explore Provence for a week.

We spent one night in Monaco. We visited our third jardin exotique of the trip (filled with cacti and not worth a visit if you're from Southern California), watched the changing of the guard at the castle, walked down a sidewalk-free stretch of road that may or may not have been where Princess Grace died, and visited the famous casino. (For future reference, do not wear jeans to the famous casino. Women in long red dresses with diamonds will sweep by, looking down their noses at the stupid Americains.)

Before the casino, we went out to dinner. Unlike the women at the casino, our waiter was enchanted with the American girls. So enchanted, in fact, that he presented us with a complimentary appetizer. We each received an absolutely enormous raw oyster on the half-shell. We couldn't turn them away—our nice waiter would be offended—so I choked mine down.

Then I looked over at JB's plate; she doesn't eat shellfish at all. Her oyster seemed even larger than mine. Our waiter shot a glance over to our table to make sure we were enjoying our oysters. We didn't want to upset him!

I choked yet another oyster down.

And that was the end of my raw oyster eating for years. But then, a few months ago, B and I ate brunch with my parents at Foreign Cinema and had some sweet and briny Kumamoto oysters. They were a revelation! Much smaller and more manageable than whatever I'd eaten in Monaco. And so delicious.

When B and I went for our hike to Tomales Bay, then, we knew we had to stop at the Hog Island Oyster Company.

We bought some oysters at the stand, learned the elements of oyster-shucking, and made our way over to the picnic tables overlooking the bay. As you can tell, B was intent. So was I.

B is better than I am at a lot of things, but it turns out that I'm a better oyster-shucker than he is. I felt like I was ready for Top Chef by the end of it.

We can't wait to go back to Hog Island with a crowd of people to use the barbeques on the patio and have a full-on picnic. The sea air, the briny oysters, the warm sun altogether added up to an idyllic afternoon. I'll never think about oysters the way I did before. Enjoy!

Oysters on the Half-Shell
Serves: 2

18 fresh oysters
1 lemon, halved

Place a glove on your left hand, and place the flatter side of the oyster face-up. Put the sharp end of an oyster knife (conveniently attached to the tray at Hog Island) through the hinge, and rock your hand back and forth until it gives (it takes some force). Keeping the knife parallel to the ground, swing the knife around the left side of the oyster to detach the muscle. Remove the top shell. Detach the muscle from the bottom shell without disturbing the oyster and its liquor. Squeeze some lemon juice on top, slurp, and enjoy.