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Lots of trouble

You already know by now, I’m sure, that I like the idea of a simple recipe. For whatever it’s worth, I like the notion that you can take a few well-chosen, high-quality ingredients, treat them kindly, and come out with a pretty nice meal. When I started this blog, I had no idea that this was a schtick of any sort, much less my schtick: it’s just sort of happened that way. It’s how I like to eat.

It also, however, gets me into lots of trouble sometimes. I am constantly – I mean constantly, people; it’s pathological – falling prey to cookbook and magazine recipes that are way too simple, with too few ingredients to taste like much of anything. I mean, it’s one thing to take a can of tomatoes, five tablespoons of butter, and one halved onion, bang them into a saucepan, and call it tomato sauce. That’s fine. That’s classic. But to take four pounds of thinly sliced tart apples, three measly tablespoons of sugar, and two even more measly tablespoons of butter, bake them together overnight in a low, low oven (while you toss and turn, I might add, waiting for the house to burn down), and expect a magical transformation, a delightful gâteau aux pommes, something that looks and tastes like the burnished, beautiful top of a tarte Tatin?

That’s silly. Like, stupid-silly. Like, thump-your-forehead-with-the-palm
-of-your-hand-silly. Like, I’m-going-to-throw-the-cookbook-that-inspired
-this-down-the-basement-stairs-and-I-just-might-go-with-it-silly. That’s the recipe I made last night. ARRRRGH.

That’s also the recipe I won’t be sharing with you today. I’ll just say this: that if you have a cookbook whose title rhymes with The Ban Brancisco Berry Blaza Barmers’ Barket Bookbook, please do not make the cake on page 173. That, and listen to your husband when he tells you to just stop, to stop cursing the apple corer, to stop it RIGHT NOW and come sit on the couch and end the weekend nicely, with an episode of Brothers and Sisters. Take it from me. I know these things.

On the upside, however, I do have a backup recipe for you, a little something that we made as part of dinner on Friday, when we didn’t have much in the house but felt too cheap to go out for groceries. It’s pretty darn simple, too, but unlike, ahem, some things, it actually worked. For every stupid, lumpy, watery-tasting gâteau aux pommes, may there be a radicchio salad with radishes and parmesan.

It happened the way most dinners do when we’re busy: with us digging in the fridge, dredging up scraps and drips, and throwing them together. In the crisper drawer we found a head of radicchio left from a recipe test a couple weeks back, along with some radishes - they’re a constant around here, always at the ready - and a raggedy-edged wedge of parmesan cheese. I sort of wrinkled my nose at the combination, worrying that the radicchio might be old and bitter, but Brandon forged on. He sliced the radicchio into thin strips and the radishes into wafers, and then, while we boiled water for some pasta, he tossed them in a bowl with a last of a jar of vinaigrette from the week before. Then he shaved some parmesan over the top, and while the pasta cooked - it would later be tossed with some pesto from the freezer - we sat down to a surprisingly pretty, fittingly fall-like salad.

The radicchio was crisp and wonderfully mellow, tamed by a good dose of vinaigrette and the rich, salty punch of parmesan. The radish, for its part, crunched pleasantly, sweet and cool. Brandon commented than a few slivers of pear would be nice too, and he’s right: their sweet, perfumed flavor would be perfect here, and perfectly in season too. I don’t have a photograph to show you, because we ate it all on the spot - so sorry! - but given the trauma I’ve detailed above, I hope you’ll let me off easy. Anyway, you can imagine it for yourself: a tangle of purple leaves dotted with red-edged disks of radish, big shards of parmesan, and couple slices of slivered pear, its green skin curved like a line drawing. (See? So pretty! You don’t need some stinking photograph.) It’s lovely; it’s s-i-m-p-l-e; and come to think of it, it might just be dinner again tonight.

Radicchio and Radish Salad with Pear and Parmesan

The dressing that we used on this was my standard vinaigrette, but made with Cognac vinegar. I know that not everyone lives with a vinegar fiend, as I do, so if you don’t happen to have a bottle of that fancy stuff lying around, know that you can use most any white wine-type vinegar.

6 radishes
1 medium head radicchio
½ firm-ripe pear, green or red or most any color (optional)
Parmigiano Reggiano

For vinaigrette:
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. Cognac vinegar (see note above)
½ tsp. salt
5 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more to taste

First, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar, and salt, and whisk to blend. Add the olive oil, and whisk vigorously to emulsify. Taste, and adjust as needed. Depending on your vinegar, you made need more oil. (We often add an additional teaspoon.) This is a more acidic dressing than some, but it shouldn’t hit you over the head with vinegar. Set aside.

Prepare the salad. Trim the radishes, and slice them very thinly. Quarter the radicchio from stem end to tip, and peel away any ragged outer leaves. Working with one quarter at a time, slice crosswise into ¼-inch-thick strips. If you are using the pear, cut it into very thin slices. Combine the radishes and radicchio in a large bowl, and toss with vinaigrette to taste. Add the pear slices, and toss very gently, so as not to break them up.

Serve, using a vegetable peeler to shave a few shards of parmesan cheese onto each serving.

Yield: About 4 standard-size servings, or two Molly-and-Brandon-size servings

P.S. Does anyone besides me read the title of this post and want to yell “Lots of trouble! Lots of bubble!” à la Fred Schneider in “Rock Lobster”? I didn’t think so.


Blogger Tokyoastrogirl said...

I have no idea which cookbook you're talking about...;)-. You are funny. And yes- fewer things are more frustrating than a recipe that LIES! Especially since it's only after you've put the time and effort in that you realize you've been deceived. Oh well. Your salad and pasta supper sounds like it saved the day. Who needs recipes when you and Brandon have such great insticts?!

At least you weren't in a jam...in a giant clam......

2:07 PM, October 08, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

HA! Tokyoastrogirl, that nearly killed me: "at least you weren't in a jam...in a giant clam." Ha! You're good, lady.

2:12 PM, October 08, 2007  
Anonymous Dana said...

I feel your pain. I once spent an afternoon making a "simple" plum tart -- a few pounds of plums tossed with honey and a few spices, thrown into a tart crust I had sitting in the freezer. Simple, yes. Delicious, no. The time I spent slicing 3lbs of plums is time I will never get back...

3:05 PM, October 08, 2007  
Blogger Ellen said...

I feel your pain--hate it when recipes look promising on the page & then are just kind of blah. (Had an experience like that myself last night...) I suppose that if you had the whole night to think & worry about said dish, the disappointment would be that much worse! Your salad sounds very pleasant, though.
My favorite simple apple recipe is apple sauce...made some recently with fresh ginger. Mmm. Easy to adjust as you go, so that there's no moment of disappointment!

3:15 PM, October 08, 2007  
Anonymous Hillary said...

Haha sorry that recipe didn't work out! You put in a good effort, and I can't possibly imagine what that cookbook's name is. In other news, I LOVE the show Brothers and Sisters; that would cheer me up too! Great radicchio and radish salad :)

3:25 PM, October 08, 2007  
Anonymous DC Sarah said...

This reminds me of that chapter in 'Bridget Jones' Diary", where she spends many hours making a supposedly "simple" meal for her friends, and ends up with blue soup, eggs, and marmalade. It happens to me more often thank I like to admit.

On a happier note, I will definitely be picking up radicchio and pears and radish at the farmer's market on Saturday and having myself a lovely fall lunch!

3:27 PM, October 08, 2007  
Blogger christianne said...

how unfortunate! i too feel your pain...not a week goes by without some sort of culinary disaster in my kitchen - which would explain my failure to post a recipe in the past month! Kudos to you for getting it done.

The way things are going around here, my next post is going to be a simple recipe - open vodka, add rocks. :)

3:28 PM, October 08, 2007  
Anonymous Rose said...

I'm so desperate for more apple recipes, I'm almost tempted to make your failed tart, despite the sad review! After dried apples, apple sauce, apple butter, apple galette, apple cobbler, and even apple soup, I still have 5 bags of orchard fresh apples in my pantry. What else is there?!

3:30 PM, October 08, 2007  
Blogger vida said...

Ok, I have had this dessert and it works and it's simply but time consuming to make. It was voted dessert of the year but our most senior food critic in Melbourne, Australia. The chef was Andrew McConnell and his restaurant is Three, Two, One. I had it in France and we used orange zest, sugar AND water. We used Granny Smith apples because they HOLD their shape better. We lined the tin with foil and let it sit overnight (10-15hours) then bake it for 7 hours at 150c. The other trick is to spiral the apple slices and with every layer make the spiral go in the opposite direction. Don't stop when you get the to the top of your tin, continue spiraling for 10-12cm making the spirals smaller than the tin so they will naturally collapse into the middle so you won't get a hole in the middle. Once it's been cooked you refidgerate it for 12 hours to firm. We also did a caramel to line the tin, kinda like you do for creme caramel. All this make it work and work FANTASTICALLY. Give it another chance, Vida x

3:32 PM, October 08, 2007  
Blogger vida said...

The restaurant is Three One Two, www.threeonetwo.com.au in case you want to look it up. Vida x

3:53 PM, October 08, 2007  
Anonymous swirlingnotions said...

At least your house didn't burn down ;-). And, selfishly, I'm glad it turned into the radicchio and pear salad. I'd rather that than an apple galette from the "hmmm hmmm" cookbook anyway!

4:16 PM, October 08, 2007  
Anonymous Andy said...

hmm, I actually have that cookbook, so I think I'll have to check that recipe out so I DON'T make it.

Thanks for the warning!!

5:27 PM, October 08, 2007  
Anonymous Margo said...

wow, that just is not appetizing. but the radicchio salad sounds great.
Hey Rose, I know you said you made applesauce, but what about cranberry applesauce?? I've never really measured, but you simply cook cranberries with the apples until soft enough to go through the sieve or food mill. I use a pound of cranberries and anywhere from 4-6 apples (I think). Add sugar to taste. At Thanksgiving, we make it slightly tart and that takes the place of cranberry relish.
Also, what about making and canning chutney? I've done that before.
hee hee - can you tell that one of my favorite pursuits is using up what's on hand? I love nothing better than a major challenge and my dad just dropped off a half a cabbage that is 9 pounds (I AM NOT JOKING!).

6:32 PM, October 08, 2007  
Blogger Mercedes said...

Oh no, no, no!
I started reading your post and I was so excited because I just made that exact apple cake this past weekend. Except, we loved it, and I'm so sure you would have loved it too. My mom actually called it the best apple dessert she'd ever had, and that says a lot!

A few notes: I used apples from our neighbors tree, which are super firm and tart, like granny smith but tarter. My cake looked just like yours when I inverted it, but did you do the final reducing step? Because when the juices boiled down and poured over top, the pectin causes them to sort of congeal on top (like in the photo) and held the cake together. And I didn't even bother coring the apples, just peeled, quartered and thinly sliced.

I'm so sorry about your diappointment but know that the recipe can be good (I was planning on posting it myself this week, though now I'm feeling sheepish).

6:44 PM, October 08, 2007  
Blogger Lynn said...

I usually cross my finger before I start a on a SIMPLE recipe and usually by the end I am kicking myself because it didn't turn out the way it looked in the book.

7:06 PM, October 08, 2007  
Blogger LT Garcia said...

Experiences like that are the very reason I rarely cook from cookbooks anymore, except a handful that have never steered me wrong. I go mostly to online sites that either have recipe collections with healthy amounts of reader reviews and only make the ones with a critical mass of good reviews, or select sites I've learned to inherently trust, a la Orangette. I also aspire to make the best meal I can using the fewest high quality items and eschew any of those ridiculous recipes that call for 50 specially prepared ingredients! No wonder Americans think they don't have time to cook. I don't like Rachel Ray or any of the 30 minute corner cutting approaches. I do like simplicity and elegance, at least when it comes to cooking. And there is no substitute for a truly great, simple recipe. Thanks for the warning and the addition to your already impressive collection.

7:13 PM, October 08, 2007  
Anonymous Smirkle said...

Uh ... don't throw anything at me but did you add the juice and zest of two oranges.

*hastily backing away with a saucepan lid for a shield*

I'm just asking.

10:43 PM, October 08, 2007  
Blogger neil said...

Shame it didn't work out, the picture in the book looks right edible - I've shared that pain before. Nope, I didn't bubble my troubles, but there is just one heck of a party embedded in the song.

11:32 PM, October 08, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Hi, guys. Many thanks for sharing my pain. It feels much better now that it's spread around! Phew.

Just to address a few points and questions:

Vida, I wish I'd had your helpful pointers and notes before I started! The instructions in the recipe I used were much less specific than the ones you mention, which might be why mine didn't work. Sob! I really would love to try this cake when it's properly made. I just might have to buck up and try again...

Margo, thanks so much for giving Rose those helpful suggestions! I love the thought of cranberry applesauce. Hello, fall! (Oh, and good luck with that cabbage! Yeep!)

Oh, Mercedes, please do write about your version! I'd love to hear more about it. Really! Please! Mine was a disaster. I planned to reduce the juices, yes, but mine gave off so little that it hardly even covered the bottom of a small saucepan - definitely not enough to even consider reducing. So I'm afraid there was no hope for my sad little cake. Also, flavor-wise, it was pretty so-so. I used Granny Smiths, and there was far too little sugar to balance their astringency. (And I like tart apples; this cake was just too tart, though.) We're going to turn the botched mess into applesauce, I think...

Oh, ask away, Smirkle! No problem! Yes, I did use the juice and zest, as called for. I'm a good directions-follower, I promise! In this case, though, I really think the recipe was lacking in some crucial details, instructions- and quantities-wise...

12:04 AM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger Pille said...

Oh Molly, sorry to hear it didn't work. I must admit the gateaux recipe sounds really appealing, and given I've got loads and loads of apples from my mum's garden waiting to be consumed, I'm tempted to make it straight away. Now with all those extra tips from Vida and Mercedes, I might still give it a go.
(PS Made your tuna bouchons last weekend again - probably for the 15th time already - and still really like them. Such a great quick snack:)

1:21 AM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger vida said...

Molly, I can type out my recipe for you and email it if you like. My was from a French cooking teacher that has been teaching for over 30 years and she got it directly from a French chef famous for this dessert and we made it in class and it was perfect. The course was held at La Combe in the South West of France. We had a ball. Vida x

5:08 AM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger Cookie baker Lynn said...

I love and trust YOUR simple recipes, but I don't know that I'd extend that to any other cookbook. Your chickpea salad is a staple around my house, although we do add avacado.

7:34 AM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger hannah said...

that brandon...he is a smart, smart man. you win some, you lose some, right? dang girl, if only i had some radicchio last night. i threw a minced garlic clove, the juice from half a lemon, some zest, s&p and olive oil in a jelly jar and gave it a good shake, tossed with some romain and parm. with a big thick slice of quiche it was just right. i guess i need pears & radishes too.

7:53 AM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger Jessica, Mark & David said...

Hahahaha. I tried that VERY SAME RECIPE a few years ago, in my then-boyfriend's crappy apartment oven. My fingers were pruned by the time I was done with all those apples. And all night long I'd toss and turn, wondering if the house would burn, if the apples would burn, if there was juice leaking all over the bottom of the oven. Ugh. And when it was done... it was lop-sided, ugly and inedible. I thought, "Oh, it's the oven. It won't go low enough." We've since married and moved in to a house. The oven says it will go to a low enough temperature for the recipe, but frankly I've got better recipes to occupy my time. ;-)

9:59 AM, October 09, 2007  
Anonymous Adam said...

Awww, you referred to Brandon as your husband. That's so cute!!! You guys are really married!

11:15 AM, October 09, 2007  
Anonymous Meryl said...

I love hearing that I'm not the only one who has HUGE cooking disappointments. I just tried a sweet potato soup that was a NIGHTMARE :-(

Molly, will you tell us how the book is going? is it fun writing a cookbook? more horrible than we can imagine? what are you working on with 9 or 10 weeks left? I'm so curious!

11:44 AM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger Juree said...

Molly, I second the request to hear how your cookbook is going. As you can imagine, there are many of us who will be counting down the days!

I adore radishes and will try the salad soon, but I am always at a loss at to what pear to buy for salads. I ususually end up with a Bosc, but would love to hear what your favorite pears are-- for salads and with sharp cheeses..


6:38 PM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger Mercedes said...

I've put the successful apple cake here, I doubled the sugar when I made it, and I think that may have been the key to success.

6:42 PM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger sister AE said...

I like to think of a new recipe as a present that I get to open when I taste it at the end. What a disappointment when it lets you down! My wife made an apple cake (a quick bread really) this weekend, but it needs a little fixing - the proportions of baking powder and flour are a bit off. I'm hoping version 2 or 3 is better.

And I'm sure that pile of apple stuff will make a very nice applesauce!

8:39 PM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger Babeth said...

God I know it's frustrating! we think we can trust cookbooks like little kids trust their parents! You just have now to burn the terrible book I don't see any other way out :-)

10:58 PM, October 09, 2007  
Blogger Nabeela said...

I once had a recipe that added 3 tbsp of salt to 3 lb tomatoes while slow roasting. Since that was my first time slow roasting and didn't know much about it, I went with it...little did I know that batch was never to see the light of the day(and yes, I tasted one....and drank like a gallon of water later)

12:35 AM, October 10, 2007  
Blogger TD said...

I had a heartbreaking experience with an orange-flavored cornmeal/olive oil cake just last night. I think my pan was too big (9", recipe called for 8"), but it was all hilly around the edges and the center slumped in. I've switched pan sizes before with no problem--usually you just end up with a thinner cake. Not this time. My thought are with you in your hour of need (although likely you've recovered by now--I hope :) ).

10:45 AM, October 10, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Vida, I would love to see your recipe! Would you really e-mail it? That would be wonderful.

Mercedes, thank you for posting your cake! You were smart to increase the sugar, lady.

And thank you to those who've asked to hear more about the book! I'd love to tell you about my process, and I've been meaning to for a while, in fact. The whole thing feels sort of overwhelming at the moment - a little disorganized, and more than a little daunting! - but it would be fun to write about for next week's post. Stay tuned...

In the meantime, thank you all for understanding why I can't reply to every comment these days. Eeep!

11:00 AM, October 10, 2007  
Blogger love.boxes said...

I run into the same trouble because I want my food to be very easy .. no fool proof. I'm not a great cook, but so often what I make tastes like nothing. The salad sounds delicious though. See... redeemed. :)

4:38 PM, October 10, 2007  
Blogger Village Vegan said...

I'm sorry your apple dessert didn't turn out as planned, but that was such a funny post :-) I'll have to try this salad, though...mmm.

And by the way, some of my favourite simple recipes come from your site, especially the chickpea salad with lemon and parmesan. Simple but not too simple.

11:50 AM, October 11, 2007  
Blogger Shelby said...

There are so many intervening factors in making something so simple, especially one made in the oven. I'm convinced the stars must truly be aligned for this to come out well.

12:54 PM, October 12, 2007  
Blogger Alice Q. said...

Sometimes things just don't work out and that's all there is to it -it just happens that way sometimes. At least you can salvage it by making applesauce - sounds like a fantastic accompaniment for roast pork!

10:09 AM, October 13, 2007  
Blogger Clare Marie said...

This is my first time commenting on your lovely blog.
I am not a chef, (my husband is a fabulous cook) but I am definitely a foodie. When I get a bee in my bonnet and decide to venture into the kitchen, I want to make something yummy and EASY. So thank you for the inspiration for this fantastic salad. I changed it a little...only because I didn't have a white vinegar so I used lemon juice and made a tangy vinaigrette which worked well with the DELICIOUS pear I used, and I used ricotta salata instead of parmesan, but that's only because I love ricotta salata and use it whenever possible. The end result was delicious. My mouth is watering thinking about it, so I guess I'll have to make it again tomorrow. :)
Thanks again!!

9:14 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger kickpleat said...

even though it's grey and threatening rain and a salad should be the last thing that i want....i really do want a huge bite of this (or really, a molly/brandon-sized portion).

1:19 PM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous Laura said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! You should call this Danger Sauce because I ate way too much cappellini in an effort to consume as much sauce as possible. I used Plugra instead of regular butter, to great effect. My new desert island kit includes San Marzano tomatoes, Plugra, an onion, and some pasta.

4:35 PM, March 18, 2008  

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