Sauces and Salsas The Book

134. Mayonnaise p.886

Surprisingly there’s no recipe on Epicurious for plain old mayonnaise.

This is The Book’s basic mayonnaise recipe, there are 7 other dressed up mayonnaises which use this recipe as a starting point, so I’ll be making it a bunch of times. As with most of the basic recipes in the book, it’s solid, but not exciting. However, that’s not a bad thing. I made the mayo recipe from the ’76 edition of The Joy of Cooking, and it was a disaster. Joy is often considered the home cook’s go to source for no-fail basic recipes, and you’d think they’d have a rock solid mayo method, but no. Mayonnaise is made by whisking an egg yolk with oil a drop at a time to get an emulsion started, then pouring in a staggering amount of oil in a slow stream while whisking madly. Once the mayo is thickened and the emulsion is no longer at risk of breaking, you can add extra flavourings. The crazy Joy method would have you add mustard, salt, cayenne, lemon juice, and confectioners sugar before you start the emulsion at all. The mustard is a common addition because it helps the emulsion form, but adding the lemon juice is just stupidity. The acid fights the emulsion you’re working so hard to build, why would you put it in there? I whisked for about 20 minutes before I could get a thin soupy consistency. It was an OK salad dressing, but a horrific mayo. The Book’s method is much more logical, and worked very well.

In this recipe an egg yolk is whisked together with Dijon and salt, then 3/4 of a cup of oil are added first by drops then in a slow stream. Once the mixture starts to thicken to the point that it’s getting difficult to whisk, and the emulsion is solid, you add a bit of white wine vinegar, and lemon juice. Then the remainder of the oil is added in a stream, and salt and white pepper are stirred in.

The mayo wasn’t quite as thick as I would have liked. You’d be better applying this with a spoon than a knife. But, it was silky smooth, and nicely glossy. I might have cut 1/2 a teaspoon of liquid somewhere to keep the mayo thicker. The flavour was pretty good, it had the eggy richness I look for in a mayonnaise, with a little bite from the vinegar and lemon juice, and a background body from the mustard. It was very nice spread on a sandwich, and quite a bit better than the the stuff that comes from a jar.

My only real complaint was the instruction to use either olive oil or vegetable oil in the recipe without further specification. Depending on your olive oil it can have a very pronounced taste, which is great for some applications, but it can make for a very weirdly flavoured mayonnaise. I made mayo at my brother’s place a few weeks back, and the only oil he had was olive, that mayo was edible, but none of us liked it much. It lacked the  mellow feeling I’m looking for in mayo, all of those grassy spicy flavours I enjoy in good olive oil where just unpleasant and distracting when they were so amplified. If you’re going to use all olive oil, I’d recommend using very mildly flavoured oil, preferably not extra virgin. I think the best tactic is to use a small amount of good olive oil for flavour, and then use a flavourless oil for the rest of it (canola, or grapeseed would be my first choices, using about 1 part olive oil to 3 parts other oil).

Mayonnaise is quite easy to make, and homemade has a definite edge over the store bought kind. I’ve always been disturbed by the fact that Hellman’s is made with real eggs, but keeps for months. Without all of the shelf-stable preservatives this mayo will only keep for two days. Since it’s really not much trouble to make, and it tastes better than the miracles of food science on the grocery shelf, I’ve been getting into the habit of making my own. This recipe uses a solid method, and it’s a jumping off point for a lot of interesting variations. It won’t blow your mind, and I’ve had better homemade mayo, but it’s worth trying at least once.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

46. Eggplant Caviar p.11

No recipe this time, but honestly you’re not missing all that much.

I think this came out to be less than the sum of it’s parts. Essentially it’s broiled eggplant, sweated onions, garlic, and green pepper mixed with fresh tomatoes, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and pepper. All good stuff up to this point, but it all went for a spin in the food processor, and came out a mushy unappealing terra cotta.

The idea is to chill this for a few hours and then serve it with crackers or baguette. In this regard the texture was way off, it had tiny chunks in a soupy liquid destined to slip and slide. Its texture was wrong in the same way that store bought salsa can be wrong. If it had been completely smooth and thickened it could have worked well, if it had been left chunkier with something to bite into it might have been nice. As it was all the ingredients lost their individual identities, but didn’t really meld into a flavour partnership. Bland, watery, and ugly was the take home message of this dish. I had 12 hungry people in my living room devouring anything put in front of them, but there was plenty of this left at the end of the evening.

A day or two later I cooked down some the remainder and used it as a pizza sauce. It worked remarkably well in that incarnation. Eggplant, tomato, and onions all have a lot of water in them, I think the water either had to be left in the cell structure of the vegetables, or cooked out. Food processing it just left is soupy and uninspiring.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

45. Hummus with toasted pine nuts, cumin seeds, and parsely oil p.14

The recipe

I made this for one of The Boys going away parties. He’d just finished his Ph.D. and was heading off to a very fancy post doc in the states. I was throwing a party in his honor, and I wanted to make things he would like. I think I did alright in pleasing him, but I totally forgot that his girlfriend is allergic to garlic, and couldn’t eat even one of the dishes I’d prepared. I apologized at the time, but I’ll say it again. I’m sorry.

I love hummus as party food. It has all the virtues of a good crowd pleaser; it’s intensely flavored, can be dipped with anything your heart desires, it neatly avoids almost all dietary restrictions, it’s substantial, and it costs pennies to prepare. The only downside to hummus it that it’s oatmeal like appearance doesn’t make for the greatest visual impression. Here a very basic hummus recipe is given a face lift with a rather attractive topping of pine nuts, cumin seeds, and drizzled parsley oil. The nuts also add a nice texture and bursts of flavour, giving you a little something to look forward to in every bite. The vibrant green of the oil really set the dish off. That colour happens to have been attained with parsely. Maybe it’s not so useless after all? That might be going too far.

I think this dish is being added to my repertoire of party standards. It’s a way to take the ubiquitous bowl of hummus at college parties along with you into the adult world.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

26. Guacamole p.9

No linked recipe this time, but this one is so simple I don’t mind retyping it.

4 ripe California avocados, halved, pitted, and peeled
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
3-4 serrano chiles, minced including seeds
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl, mash with a fork until avocado is mashed but still somewhat chunky. Stir until blended.

This guacamole was absolutely minimalist, and not in a good way. No garlic, no cilantro, no tomatoes, no nothing. The avocado relish meant to accompany Tortilla Soup With Crisp Tortillas and Avocado Relish on page 96 is by far the superior guacamole (I’ll get to writing that up in a few months, I’m way way behind).

To be fair, the book does offer this version of the guacamole up as a base for several interesting variations: Guacamole with tomato, radish and cilantro guacamole, fall-winter fruit guacamole, and summer fruit guacamole. The radish and cilantro sounds particularly interesting. I’m adding radishes to the list of under appreciated vegetables, relegated to being picked around on crudité plates and otherwise ignored.

The central flaw with this recipe in all it’s variations is the omission of garlic. I don’t think I’ve ever had a guacamole without garlic, and I don’t think I care to ever again. I’m not sure if this this no garlic business is the traditional method and my readers in Oaxaca are exchanging sly glances about the stupid Canadian, but this is my stance and I’m sticking to it. Maybe if this was the first time I’d ever had guacamole I wouldn’t have missed the garlic, but theres no going back once you know the wonders of the avocado-lime-garlic trifecta.

Overall this was fine, but could have been so much more. The other variations may have worked out better than the base recipe, but as it was it was just dull.

N.B. I’ll do my best to push that nasty picture of the fajitas off the main page as quickly as possible. Sorry.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

22. Pita Toasts p. 7

the recipe

A recipe for toast. A recipe… for toast. Well, super simple basics like this will sure help me get through the book faster. Or at least compensate for some of the marathon recipes yet to come. These were the recommended accompaniment for Olive and Eggplant Spread. They worked perfectly well, nice crisp pitas able to support the dip, with a good flavour of their own. They’re dried and crisped slowly in a 375 oven to avoid browning too much or heating the olive oil above its smoke point, and kosher salt also adds a nice texture. The Book did everything right, but I don’t think I’ve ever been moved by a pita toast (a baguette is another matter).

Don’t get me wrong, pitas, toasted or not, are an indispensable workhorse in my kitchen. I don’t think I’ve ever put out appetizers without pita appearing in some way. It’s the unsung hero of the cocktail party world! but I’m content to leave it seen but not heard. Make these, use them, but don’t love them.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

21. Olive and Eggplant Spread p.11

the recipe

This was a great appetizer, it’s basically a tapenade cut with roasted eggplant. I love eggplant, and I love olives, together they’re even better. Eggplant dips naturally tend to turn out a kind of grey-brown that’s not the most inviting. The olives helped it turn a delightful shade of purple with a nice lustre. Also, a straight ahead tapenade can be a bit too much olive, even for olive lovers. Using eggplant cut the intensity and made this very affordable. I’d say this was the best of both worlds. I like that all the saltiness of the dip came from the olives and capers, no need to add more.

The result here had loads of olive flavour, with the almost meaty background of the eggplant. It worked well as a dip, which I find nicer than having to spread a thin layer as you would with a more potent tapenade. This was a really solid recipe that I’d happily make again.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

18. Brandied Chicken Liver Pâté p.22

the recipe

This worked out surprisingly well. My dining companion was a bit skeptical when I said I’d be making a pâté, but I think we were both suitably pleased with it. It was very smooth with a mild flavour, and the aromas of the cognac really coming through. I’d never had fruit in a pâté before, and the sweetness of the currants (I cheated and used small raisins) was a really nice addition.

Actually making this was a bit offputting. I didn’t much enjoy watching the livers swirl into a paste in the food processor, and tasting for seasoning while it was still hot was an experience I wouldn’t rush to repeat. Once it had cooled and had a bit of time to come together it was absolutely delicious. That said, this is not a pâté for those who are at all squeamish about liver. This is more like a smooth liverwurst than the more terrine like pâtés you often run into.

I had a good time gathering mildly grossed out looks from friends when I told them about this one, it would seem that liver isn’t too popular amongst my social set. Mes amis végétarien, I devote this post to you.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

13. Toasted Walnut, Roasted Red Pepper, and Cumin Spread p.12

the recipe

This was an absolute winner. Easy, cheap, packed with flavour, unusual, brightly coloured, exploding with garlic, what’s not to love? I’ve made this twice and I’m sure a third time is not too far away. There are flavours pulling in all sorts of directions here, sweet roasted red peppers and molasses, earthy cumin and walnuts, sharp garlic and red pepper flakes, an acidic bite of lemon juice, but everything plays very well together. It also changes a bit as you eat it. At first the sweet and spicy flavours are prominent, but after a few bites the nuts start to take centre stage.

I was complaining that the lamb tagine’s flavours were too scattered and working against each other. The flavours here are similar in some ways, but they’re pulling in concert. The result is my new favourite spread. The book suggests adding this sauce to meat, and while I haven’t tried it on a roast, I did put it on a turkey sandwich. I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch.

The only downside here is that I think I might be slightly allergic to walnuts. It’s nothing much, just a slight numbing of my mouth and lips and a tickle at the back of my throat; particularly if they’re raw. I’d probably do well to limit my exposure to avoid kindling or sensitization though. Too bad.