Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Last Touch

There was one part of my Thanksgiving appetizer platter that I didn’t tell you about in yesterday’s post, because I think it deserves special mention. It’s a small memorial to Gourmet magazine.

When the publisher, Condé Nast, decided to kill Gourmet and try to channel its readership to the publication Bon Appétit, it was like cancelling the Julia Child cooking show and telling everyone “we know you’ll love Rachael Ray!” —Ugh!!! Not the same!

So, getting around to the deviled eggs I made: They were prepared as a tribute to my long relationship with Gourmet, and to all the inspiration I’ve gotten from its pages over the years.

The initial idea came from the “wow! gee whiz!” reaction I had to a photo in the very last issue of Gourmet—November 2009, the last annual Thanksgiving issue. In an article entitled “From the Heart,” Ian Knauer presented a Thanksgiving menu centering on flavors and foods native to rural Pennsylvania, and the heartland in general.

There were, of course, several gorgeous photos showing the meal; the one that immediately caught my eye was of beet-pickled deviled eggs—the hard-boiled eggs weren’t technically pickled in the sense that they could have been preserved in Mason jars, but they were soaked a minimum of 2 hours in seasoned vinegar with a sliced, cooked beet. It was just enough soaking to make the outside of the eggs turn vibrant magenta and to impart a bit of the pickled-beet flavor.

It was an homage to the traditional beet-pickled hard-boiled eggs available at bars in Pennsylvania and the region; and it looks amazing when deviled, since the egg white near the yolk remains white. The presentation is genuinely special.

But that’s where I stopped with that particular recipe, because in my cooking notebooks I have a photocopy of the last page of the April 1995 issue of Gourmet, which I acquired from my neighbor, who was a real, live trained chef and who introduced me to Gourmet. (I looked up to her, and she looked up to Gourmet. Not long after that, I had my own subscription, and Sue, who loves me and knows what I love, maintained my subscription ever since.)

I’m not saying anything against the delicious-looking yolk preparation with the November 2009 recipe—it had caraway in it, and it sounded terrific—but I wanted something lighter. Brighter.

If you’re familiar with Gourmet, you know that they had a long-running feature on the very last page, called “The Last Touch,” where they’d select a food, an ingredient, or a technique, and hand you five or so brief recipes on that theme. And each one would be worthy as a “real keeper,” a “go-to” recipe.

In April 1995, the topic of “The Last Touch” was “Stuffed Eggs.” My neighbor, Sherri, had handed me the photocopy about a week before we were going to do an all-out joint feast, her and Steve, and me and Sue. Sherri told me to make up some deviled eggs, and she suggested these to me.

By the way, here’s a list of the recipes on that one page:

---Smoked salmon, cream cheese, and dill stuffed eggs
---Olive and anchovy stuffed eggs
---Watercress and radish stuffed eggs
---Curried stuffed eggs
---Lemon tarragon stuffed eggs
---Ham and horseradish stuffed eggs

They all sound good, don’t they!

Okay: so when I decided against the caraway-themed devilment, I returned to this fourteen-year-old photocopy and selected the lemon-tarragon version. Here’s a link to that recipe.

So that’s what I made, and they were of course a big hit. Even when I “messed with” the original recipe and crossed it with another, it came out perfectly, looked great, and tasted incredibly good.

And you know what? That’s Gourmet for you. Fabulous ideas that work, and enough context so that over time you can become confident about taking liberties with flavors and ingredients.

I’m already thinking of new twists on the idea. What about preparing a brine or pickling sauce using freshly juiced carrots (with that wonderful juicer I have), to give some of the eggs an orange color? Or do the same with something full of chlorophyll? A batch of fresh basil leaves, parsley, or spinach? Or turmeric or curry marinade on some? You could make a batch of different colors for an Easter platter. Think of the possibilities!

I’ll bet you ten bucks that most people who were inspired by that photograph in the last issue of Gourmet didn’t stick slavishly to the entire printed recipe but improvised to some degree or other—which, as I see it, is a tremendous compliment to an immortal magazine.

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