Open Sesame

March 26, 2016

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One of the finest series Gourmet ever published was Nina Simonds two-year long epic on Chinese cooking. That was back in the seventies, when sourcing Asian ingredients was anything but easy. Nevertheless, the magazine boldly forged ahead, publishing recipes for all sorts of arcane items like fermented wine rice, which you made yourself using a wine yeast ball (chiu niang).

To my great distress, I never did manage to locate what I needed to make the fermented rice, so I couldn’t manage those enticing Sichuan stir-fried shrimp in the February, 1979 issue.  But this recipe from the same issue was something I often made; I even used it once for a catering gig. It was a huge hit.

(A couple of caveats: be sure to use Asian sesame sauce, not tahini.  If you can’t find it, peanut butter makes an acceptable substitute. And don’t use Worcestershire sauce; it you come up short on Chinese black vinegar, substitute Balsamic vinegar. )

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Just in Time for Easter

March 25, 2016

Leafing through this issue of Gourmet from 1951, I found still more proof that pineapples were all the rage. Here, just in time to grace your Easter table, is an old recipe for a cream-filled baked pineapple that must have looked quite spectacular.


And then, of course, there’s that old favorite, roast peacock. I wonder where they bought them.

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Looking for something a bit more sensible? Consider this Burgundy-baked ham wrapped in a crust.

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Afterward, you might need a little bit of this…

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America’s Most Prodigious Eater

March 24, 2016

IMG_5044If New York City has one prodigal glutton, it has to be – without any question – Diamond Jim Brady. A millionaire railroad magnate and rare jewel enthusiast, Diamond Jim haunted the nouveu-riche lobster palaces of the theater district in the late 1890s, eating everything in (and out of) sight. His regular was Rector’s, a cavernous Delmonico’s competitor that served over 1,000 people per day. Still, Rector called Diamond Jim “the 25 best customers I ever had.”

Here’s a roundup of Diamond Jim’s daily routine (From America Eats Out, by John Mariani):

“a hefty breakfast of eggs, breads, muffins, grits, pancakes, steaks, chops, fried potatoes, and pitchers of orange juice. He’d stave off mid-morning hunger by downing two or three dozen clams or oysters, then repair to Delmonico’s or Rector’s for a lunch that consisted of more oysters and clams, lobsters, crabs, a joint of beef, pie, and more orange juice. In midafternoon, allegedly, came a snack “of more seafood,” followed by dinner: “Three dozen oysters (the largest Lynnhavens were saved for him), a dozen crabs, six or seven lobsters, terrapin soup,” and a steak, with a dessert of “a tray full of pastries… and two pounds of bonbons.” Later in the evening, allegedly, came an après-theater supper of “a few game birds and more orange juice.”

I find this all a little specious.  And I am not alone: David Kamp did some interesting sleuthing on the subject.

Still, that’s no reason to abstain from Diamond Jim’s ultimate indulgence. Behold this recipe, from Rector’s cookbook, published in 1949. Legend has it that Diamond Jim was so enamored of this dish he asked that George Rector send a cook to France to study the technique. Voila: IMG_5046IMG_5040

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More Recipes for the New Bride

March 23, 2016

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Here, from the same stunning cookbook that offered advice on boiling water, a few more stellar recipes.

One thing I couldn’t help noticing: this book, published in 1969 (although it seems at least a decade older), betrays an overwhelming fondness for pineapple, coconut and avocados.  I’m assuming they were all fairly exotic back then, and therefore considered sophisticated.

Now, without further ado…

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And if those aren’t bad enough, consider this little gem:

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Butter-Toasted Apricot Oatmeal

March 22, 2016

Butter-Toasted Apricot Oatmeal

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup steel-cut oatmeal

4 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup California dried apricots, chopped

brown sugar


Toast the oats with the butter in a heavy bottomed pot until fragrant and light golden, medium heat, stirring constantly. Add 4 cups of water and the salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until most of the water is absorbed, covered.

Stir in the apricots and serve with brown sugar and cream.

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