Ruth Reichl Is Not My Niece’s Friend

My niece, Kelsee, loves to cook. She’s adventurous in the kitchen and up for anything. Though we live in different states now, there was a time when we lived together, so we have a small group of common friends and aquaintances. Anyway, long story short, she was telling me about a recipe for chocolate cake that she got from Ruth Reichl that I just had to try. After our conversation, I kept running Ruth’s name through my mind trying to remember which friend of Kelsee’s she was. Well, after a week or two, I wanted to make the cake, so I asked Kelsee for the recipe and she told me I could just google it. Ruth Reichl is not my niece’s friend.

Ruth Reichl is a famous food expert. A professional. Someone who really knows food.  Former restaurant owner, food critic, Gourmet magazine editor, James Beard Award winner multiple times, author of memoir, fiction, and cookbooks, Reichl has done it all when it comes to the world of food.

That chocolate cake was good. It wasn’t just good, it was the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted (well, except for the German Sweet Chocolate Cake that I make just so I can eat the frosting). This cake is moist and not too sweet and the frosting is smooth, creamy, chocolaty, velvety. The recipe is easy and the ingredients are basic and easy to find, and the result is delightful. Oh, and it’s BIG. It’s a layer cake, but the layers are made in 9×13 pans. Make sure you have a crowd to help you eat it, because if you don’t, you will eat it all by yourself.

Of course, once I was introduced to Reichl I had to find out more. I listened to her work of fiction, Delicious!, which is a fun read that takes us behind the foodie scene in New York with a World War II side plot that delves into food rationing and what people used for substitutions in their cooking. Her works of memoir are now on my To Read list. I also checked out a Gourmet Today cookbook that she edited.

The drawback to Gourmet Today is that there are absolutely NO PICTURES! It is a huge tome with over 1000 recipes, so it is quite dense, but I think pictures are so important in cookbooks, and I almost put the cookbook back on the shelf, but I persevered.

This cookbook is so much more than a collection of recipes from a variety of cooks and chefs. Reichl set out to include as many recipes as possible that could be made in 30 minutes or less. She also had the future of cooking in mind as far as using ingredients that are sustainable and environmentally friendly sourced. Some ingredients are unique and might be hard to find but she does include a source guide to help you find them. Each section begins with an introduction by Reichl and these are entertaining to read even if you don’t like cooking. In the back, she provides menus for eat in nights or for those nights you want to cook for friends. And of course tips and techniques are found throughout the book that help make the time you spend in your kitchen successful and enjoyable.

So, what did I make from Gourmet Today?

I made the Spiced Chicken (pg 397), Potato and Parmesan Gratin (pg 25), the Balsamic-Glazed Beets (pg 572), and Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies (pg 681). It was delicious! Everything! I will be making these recipes again I assure you! (In the picture you’ll notice carrots and broccoli stir-fried in a little peanut oil with a touch of soy sauce and freshly grated ginger that we make often. Also, forgive the paper plate – I forgot to put the dishwasher through before dinner…)

They were so easy to make. The most laborious were the potatoes but that was due to the peeling and slicing. The spice rub for the chicken I made the night before as well as the sauce for the beets. The beets I cooked the day before and heated them as directed in the recipe to serve. I will say, Reichl states she tried to find 30 minute recipes and they are there, but unless you are well-practiced in the kitchen I would allow a little more time.

All the ingredients were available at my local grocery store. The potatoes do call for parmigiano-reggiano cheese, but, I learned, that is cheese that’s made in a specific area of Italy. Parmesan cheese is the generic term for parmigiano-reggiano that is not made in the traditional geographic area of Italy, so I went with the fresh parmesan cheese I could find at the grocery store.

I did make a few minor adjustments. The chicken recipe called for skin on and bone in chicken breast, leg, or thigh. I used boneless, skinless chicken breast. (We received an air fryer as a gift and we cooked the chicken in the air fryer. Juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside!) To the potatoes I added some asiago and romano cheese as well as the parmesan. The beets I made as stated and didn’t change anything, but she suggests pure maple syrup or honey in the recipe and I used the maple syrup.

As I said, everything was delicious and I will be making these recipes again. We were all relieved with how the chicken turned out. The rub was a savory rub, but it had cinnamon in it and so we weren’t sure what that would taste like. The cinnamon was not overpowering and really added layers to the flavor. My sister tasted the maple syrup on the beets whereas I tasted more of the balsamic vinegar. The only thing I would do differently next time is pair these recipes with more subtle flavored foods. The beets and the chicken were so bold in flavor sometimes I thought they were fighting each other. The potatoes were a nice balance. The cookies finished off the meal, though I wasn’t sure they would last until then.

It is a large cookbook, and it doesn’t have any pictures, but there are recipes for everyone, and definitely worth a look.

P.S. Reichl just released another memoir Save Me the Plums which covers her time at Gourmet magazine. From the reports I’ve heard from patrons, it’s a great read.