Ruth Reichl is a Food writer’s food writer. For ten years, she presided over Gourmet Magazine, building it into a repository of fascinating stories. They were must-reads for those of us who really care about the food we eat. But as Gourmet rushed headlong into the Internet age, it suffered. Declines in Print Ad spending were one thing. Consumers consumed by the idea of getting in and out of the kitchen in as little time as possible were another. The general dumbing down of food culture was witnessed on TV’s Food Channel. It all led to Gourmet’s demise. Oddly, when summoned back to New York from a publicity tour for her monumental Gourmet Today (2009) cookbook, Ms. Reichl knew nothing of the plans to shutter the magazine entirely. Instead, she and her fellow staffers, some of whom had spent their entire careers at the magazine, shuffled into a conference room. There they were told that the magazine would be closed that very day. The galleys for its December issue left at the printers, would never to see the light of day. If it was viewed as a tragedy by its readers, like me, it dealt a body blow to Ms. Reichl. It took her fully a year to recover. And while she did, she wrote a book, a marvelous book that is the result of that year of struggle.
‘MY KITCHEN YEAR’ (RANDOM HOUSE 2015) CONTAINS ‘136 RECIPES THAT SAVED MY LIFE. Ms. Reichl retreated to her country home in the Hudson Valley and there she began her year-long rehabilitation. She and her husband, Michael, sat out that first winter, snowed in at times but with her stove going full tilt. She literally cooked her way out of her disappointment. And in doing so, she toyed with food, creating recipes from memory and from her Twitter feed. She re-visited folders of recipes and delved deep into her kitchen library. In the book, she provides us with those recipes which, as she points out in her subhead, literally saved her life.
|Bread cooked in a Dutch Oven
THIS IS A COOK’S BOOK.
If you love cooking, if you see it as a means of self-expression, and not just as a means of feeding your family and friends, you will adore this book. Every page either affirms something you knew or teaches you something you didn’t. For consistently sized breadcrumbs, use the Blender, not the Cuisinart. If you buy stew beef instead of a chuck roast, the meat will not cook evenly. You can cook a great loaf of bread in a Dutch Oven. Every page seems to have one of these and it’s all poetry to a cook’s ears. She “gathers”, she “showers”, she “zings”. And she introduces you to some beautiful food.
|My Heirloom Tomato Soup
That is how I came to her recipe for Grilled Cheese sandwiches. What’s more comforting than a grilled cheese sandwich? Its ideal companion is, to my way of thinking, a bowl of tomato soup. I happened to have canned some Heirloom Tomato soup which I’d brought along from Bridgehampton. You can be forgiven for using Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup as long as you promise to cook it with milk, not water, and as long as you spike it with some cream just before serving.
|Ruth’s Diva of Grilled Cheese.
MS. REICHL NAMED HER SANDICH “THE DIVA OF GRILLED CHEESE.
To Andrew that was a bit of a misnomer. That’s because it is not a conventional grilled cheese at all. Instead, it relies on a mixture of virtually any kind of onion you have on hand –shallots, red onions or yellow or white, scallions, leeks, and garlic—and the best cheddar cheese you can find. I confess to having added 4 cut-up strips of bacon because if you are going to add onions, I felt free to add them as another crisp, flavorful element to the sandwich. You may certainly leave it out. This will likely not be the last you’ll hear of Ms. Reichl’s book on these pages. There are just too many recipes that I cannot wait to try. But it’s a start. Here is the recipe:
1. Gather a group of shallots, leeks, scallions, and an onion red, yellow, or white—as many members of the allium family as you have on hand—and chop them into a small heap. In a skillet, cook the bacon until it is crispy brown. Dice the bacon into 1/2 inch pieces. Mix the bacon into the onion mixture.
2. Add a minced clove of garlic. Grate a few generous handfuls of the best cheddar you can afford (Montgomery is particularly appealing), set a little aside, and gently combine the rest with the onion bacon mixture
3. Butter one side of thickly sliced bread and heap as much of the mixture as possible between the slices.
4. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the outside of the bread (this will keep it from scorching on the griddle).
5. Press the reserved grated cheese to the outside of the bread, where it will create a wonderfully crisp and shaggy crust, giving your sandwich an entirely new dimension.
6. Fry on a heated griddle or in a skillet about 4 minutes a side, until the cheese is softly melted.