Ruth Reichl’s dismissal in 2009 as editor of America’s oldest food magazine, Gourmet, came out of nowhere, like a crack of lightning.
As she recounts in “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved Me” (Random House, $35, 352 pages), which came out in September, she was in a Seattle restaurant, being interviewed about the magazine’s just-published cookbook “Gourmet Today,” when she got the ominous call: Her boss at Conde Nast wanted her back in New York on the next flight.
Less than 24 hours later, surrounded by staff, she learned the 69-year-old magazine was history. “I was gobsmacked,” she recalls over the phone. “We never saw it coming.”
Having worked since she was 16, she panicked at the thought of an empty calendar. “Retire? Oh my God, no,” she says. But who would hire a woman in her 60s?
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Reichl did what she always does in times of stress and upheaval. After finishing her book tour, she retreated to the warm embrace of her kitchen and began to cook.
A fragile year followed, and the cookbook grew out of it. Actually, she says, “My Kitchen Year” is not so much a cookbook as a story told in recipes. It’s like a conversation.
“I wanted my book to encourage you to pay attention to what’s going on in the kitchen,” she says. To notice the color of a peach under the skin, how chicken sizzles when it hits a hot griddle.
She’s not overly fussy with instructions, opting for a breezy, reassuring way of explaining things she hopes will encourage her readers to make the recipes their own.
“The physical act of cooking gives me enormous pleasure, but I also like watching what it does for others,” she writes. “Even the angriest person is soothed by the scent of soup simmering on a stove.”
Spicy Tuscan kale
From “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life” by Ruth Reichl (Random House, $35, 352 pages).
3 large bunches lacinato (Tuscan) kale
2 large onions
4 anchovy fillets
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 pound Parmesan cheese, grated
Homemade bread crumbs (see recipe at right)
Wash kale then strip leaves off the ribs. Tear leaves into large pieces and cook in pot of boiling salted water for a minute or so. Kale should stay a vibrant green. Drain, and run kale under cold water until it’s cool enough to comfortably hold in your hands, then squeeze out as much water as you can and set the kale aside.
Chop onions into a casual dice; no need to be fussy about this step.
Heat a healthy splash of olive oil in large skillet. Throw in anchovies and worry them with a wooden spoon until they’ve completely disintegrated. Add onions, a few pinches of chili flakes, a few grinds pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until everything is soft and fragrant. Toss in kale, along with garlic, and cook for another 10 minutes or so, until it’s all come together in a lively green mass.
Taste for salt, add a bit more olive oil if you like, and stir in the Parmesan cheese and the crisp bread crumbs for texture.
Homemade bread crumbs
1 loaf stale French, sourdough or Italian bread
Cut bread into cubes and grind into crumbs in a blender or food processor. If bread is not stale enough to crumb, you can dry cubes in a 200-degree oven for about 15 minutes before grinding.
Spread crumbs on baking sheet and toast in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes until they are crisp and golden. Drizzle with olive oil ( 1/4 cup for every 2 cups of crumbs), season with salt and allow to cool completely before putting into containers.
These will keep in the freezer almost indefinitely. Just stick crumbs in microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off before using.
With its sunny color and subtle flavor, this easy chicken soup flavored with lemon and egg is perfect for a cool, fall evening. From “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life” by Ruth Reichl.
6 cups homemade chicken stock (see recipe at right)
1/3 cup rice
4 egg yolks
Bring stock to boil. Add rice, lower heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, grate rind from lemon into a bowl. Squeeze naked lemon and add juice to the rind.
Separate eggs, dropping yolks into the lemon juice. (Save whites for another use.) Add pinch salt and beat yolks into the lemon juice and rind.
When rice is tender, whisk about 1/2 cup of hot stock into yolks, then slowly pour yolks into the soup, stirring constantly. Cook gently for about 5 minutes, or until soup is slightly thickened. Pour into bowls and eat slowly. If snow is falling outside, so much the better.
Homemade chicken stock
1 stewing hen, or 6 to 8 pounds chicken parts
2 carrots, halved
2 stalks celery
1 or 2 onions, halved
5 sprigs parsley
2 teaspoons salt
Place chicken in large stockpot. Cover with cold water, about 2 quarts, and bring almost to a boil.
Skim off foam that rises to top, add onions, carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaf and handful of peppercorns. Add salt.
Partially cover pot and cook very slowly, so a bubble rises lazily to the surface every minute or so, for at least 4 hours.
Strain broth, let liquid come to room temperature, then chill overnight. Remove fat from top of broth, divide into containers and store in refrigerator for up to 5 days, or in freezer for a few months. If you like, shred the meat for chicken salad.
Food cart curry chicken
Recipe from Ruth Reichl’s “My Kichen Year.”
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Cut chicken thighs into bite-sized chunks and slice the onion into thin rings.
Make a paste by combining olive oil with 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, coriander seeds, garlic, curry powder, a sprig of oregano, paprika, cumin and a teaspoon salt in a spice grinder or blender. Give it a whirl, then grind in copious amounts of black pepper.
Put onions and chicken into a plastic bag, pour in marinade and squish it all around so onions and chicken are thoroughly coated. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Slick a heavy pan or wok with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, and cook onions and chicken for about 5 minutes, tossing every minute or so. It will splutter a bit, and it will smell so delicious you'll be snatching pieces from the pan.
Serve over white rice. If you like, top with a righteous red hot sauce, or sauce made from equal parts mayonnaise and Greek yogurt, and seasoned with sugar, salt, pepper and a splash of vinegar.
Perfect pound cake
Serves 6 to 8
This cake really is perfect: moist, buttery and just as delicious toasted for breakfast as served with berries for dessert.
Be sure to have all your ingredients at room temperature, as cold ingredients do not blend evenly. (You should be able to bend the butter with your fingers.) And take your time beating the batter – you’re trying to create a creamy mixture that holds the air bubbles that have already been whipped in.
From “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life” by Ruth Reichl.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
Beat butter at high speed in a stand mixer until it’s fluffy and starting to turn white; it is not possible to overdo this step, which should take a least 5 minutes. Slowly add sugar, a bit at a time, and keep beating, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula whenever it seems necessary. Add 1 large egg and beat for a couple of minutes. Your eggs are your major leavening, so you want to take your time here, incorporating as much air as possible. Add another egg, beat it in, and then another and another, until 4 eggs have become one with the butter. Add vanilla and mix again.
In separate bowl whisk together cake flour, baking powder and pinch of salt. Remove bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the flour by hand. Stop as soon as the flour is incorporated into the butter and egg mixture; you don’t want to overmix.
Turn mixture into buttered loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake for about an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let rest on rack for 10 minutes before turning out of pan. Allow cake to cool completely on rack before serving.