I’m hooked. Seriously. If Cook’s Illustrated were to publish a special, commemorative “Guy Fieri, Satan, and Your High School Gym Teacher Get Together and Cook Furry Household Pets” issue, I would buy it.
Actually, I would totally buy that. But I digress.
Point being, I’m hooked. No matter what impossible promises are on the cover (pie crust made easy!) or how fuzzy and distracting the little line drawings are or how pointless and self-gratifying the introductory essay by the editor about the winters in rural Vermont where everyone minds his own business yet looks out for one another and never thinks about food but is yet some sort of wise and instinctive epicure… I’m plunking down the six dollars. What IS it about this magazine?
I gave it some thought this past weekend, after realizing I had purchased two “special editions” in as many weeks. For my ideas as to why, please consider the following hastily drawn but uncanny Venn Diagram:
“Foodies” should be obvious, but the other two circles bear elaboration. I say “lazy” not in a physical sense, I’m really getting at is a sort of moral and intellectual laziness, that admittedly, I am occasionally guilty of in the kitchen. The certainty of the “only chicken recipe I’ll ever need,” or the ongoing quest to find something that works, use it, and stubbornly hang on to it for the rest of my life. This is, i admit, a HORRIBLE habit, right up there with ordering the same thing each time I visit a restaurant, which I also do. Shameful.
This is why I have such a love-hate relationship with this publication.
Nonetheless, I can’t really argue with the recipes. They are tested methodically explained clearly and strike a good balance between quality and convenience. Here are two from this past weekend that I was really happy with. Incidentally, you will notice some things in common. Both are fairly straightforward “dishes,” but there is an unusual quirk to their preparation that may initially seem fussy, is well-explained within the text of the publication itself – AND this “tweak” you can certainly notice in the final product, and very much for the better.
I have never ever made lemonade. Or really even liked it that much. And my problem was never the “sweet/sour” continuum - I’m pretty content either way – but more a problem of viscosity: I’ve never really liked lemonade because the ones I’ve had were typically either too syrupy or too watery. This one caught my eye because of a different method – muddling lemon slices rather than just squeezing a bunch of lemons. (NB: LAZY!) The method works because you’re able to include the essential oils in the lemon’s zest, rather than just the pungent juice.
Lemonade (adapted slightly From Cook’s Illustrated, American Classics Issue)
12 medium lemons, scrubbed and sliced into rounds
1 1/4 C sugar
5 C cold water
Muddle lemons and sugar in a large, deep bowl with a potato masher until the lemons give up their juice and the sugar is dissolved. (about two cups – the magazine said this would take 4 minutes but it took me closer to ten)
Pour half of the lemon slices and syrup into a large colander over a bowl, and press with a masher or wooden spoon, in order to release as much liquid as possible. Discard solids, and repeat with the other half. Strain.
Add water to liquid in a pitcher and stir. Chill well and stir to blend.
I LOVED this lemonade. The flavor was… baroque, it seemed. Loud and assertive, yet clean, bright, and well composed. The straining offered a good texture, the syrup diluted nicely throughout the water, this was very refreshing, and a perfect alternative to iced tea this past Sunday. Totally worth enduring a caffeine headache for.
Now the other dish I made were these raspberry bars. For those of you who follow my Twitter feed, you’ll know I flew into a panic after carefully meezing the ingredients and reading the recipe over and over, I accidentally spread the jam and topping onto the “underdough,” rather than blind baking the crust for a few minutes first.
Ultimately it hardly mattered. The dough was a bit soft, but it did cook completely and firmed up well. In retrospect, I don’t think it mattered too much, but I suppose I got lucky.
The clever thing about this recipe is the combination of the preserves and the fresh berries. It adds to the brightness without undercutting the spreadability or, honestly, turning this into a $15 endeavor.
Raspberry Struessel Bars (From Cook’s Illustrated ALL TIME BEST RECIPES SPECIAL COLLECTORS ISSUE–fft)
2 1/2 Cups AP flour
2/3 C sugar
1/2 t salt
2 Sticks (plus two tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and softened to cool room temperature
1/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C rolled oats
1/2 C pecans, chopped fine
3/4 C rasbperry preserves
3/4 C fresh raspberries
1T lemon juice
Oven to 375
Line the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking pan with aluminum foil to make a sort of “sling” for easy extraction.
Combine white sugar, flour, and salt in the food processor. (Note: the magazines recipe also includes instructions for using a stand mixer) Spin for a moment, add the 16T of butter, and spin in pulses until the mixture looks like wet sand.
Measure 1 1/4 cups flour mixture into medium bowl and set aside. Distribute remaining flour mixture into the bottom of the pan, and tamp down to form a crust. Bake until edges brown, 14-18 min (note: I forgot to do this)
While the crust is baking, add brown sugar, oats, and nuts to reserved flour mixture, toss to combine. Work in remaining 2T butter with your fingertips until butter is fully incorporated.
Combine berries, preservers, and lomen juice in small bowl, and mash with a fork until combined but some berry pieces remain.
Spread filling over hot crust, sprinkle streussel topping ovenly over filling (do not tamp the topping). Return pan to oven and bake until topping is golden brown… 20 – 25 min. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack – 1 to 2 hours.
Cut into squares and serve. YUM!