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. This marvelous book in the result of that year of struggle.
|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. New York has suddenly gone from 72 degrees on Christmas Day to 12 degrees in the bat of an eye. Comfort food is called for on a daily basis. And what is 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 entitled her recipe “The Diva of Grilled Cheese”, which to Andrew, at least, 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 it 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.
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 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.