Rainbow Trout Caught With A Willow Switch Rod

Wildhorse Creek, Idaho

Bob Griswold, handsomest cowboy in the Sawtooth’s, cut a willow branch with a knife, tied on some line and a hook, placed a bright red salmon egg on the end of the hook and let Livia drop it in Wildhorse Creek, in a pool close to the bank.  She pulled out three trout.  Bob made a campfire and set up a cast iron pan at the edge of it, on some rocks.  Livia, bitten, went back with her willow switch rod to catch another and she did, immediately.  Alone, she wasn’t sure what to do with the fish as it flopped about on the bank.  Another friend, Matt, showed her what to do, and then gave a lesson in gutting the fish.  Livia cleaned her own.  Others caught a river char, and Leandro McPhee, on his tenth birthday, caught the longest trout of all.  On a sunny bank of a creek in a valley of the Sawtooth’s, we ate butter fried fish with lemon.  I thought of my grandmother 100 years ago, a six year old, in Montana, in the wilderness, fishing with nothing more than a switch, catching dinner for her mother and little sister — in what was then, for them, with no money and little food, something of a necessity.

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Aeolian Capers
They are as big as South Sea Pearls, plump and juicy, the pickled bud — before it blossoms into the gorgeous white and purple spiny flower.  On Salina in June I saw them everywhere, the caper bush flourishing in the dry, black volcanic soil of the Aeolian Islands.  I was struck by their beauty and size, learning that they have many special powers, able to create appetite, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, fight toothaches, ignite libido, and even to magically transform into another fruit.  After the bud flowers from the flower come the cucunci. Filled with the tiniest seeds, which give it texture, they are delicious too — some people even think they’re tastier than capers.  (In the first picture above, the cucunci hangs next to the caper on the end of one of the flower’s purple tentacles.)
Halibut with capers
(Or any white fish — branzino (Italian seabass), orata (gilthead seabream)
Roast very simply at 400 for about 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, with a little olive oil, big capers, cherry tomatoes cut in half, a sprinkle of salt.  Serve immediately with a wedge of lemon to spritz over the fish.
I would pair with a summer orzo and a light salad.

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Hundred Dollar Days and Gateau au Chocolat: Le Diablo

Ever since I was little girl I have enjoyed cooking. I started because I liked brownies and wanted to get to the bottom of how they were made.  I would only make them from scratch and failed repeatedly.  They were so hard my stepbrothers called them “rockies” and used them as ammunition for their slingshots. My determination (and failures) impressed my father.  Deciding that I needed to feel success, he gave me a case of Duncan Hines brownie mixes. I rejected them because they were too easy, inauthentic. But I liked the batter and made the mix just so I could spread it between two pieces of white bread to create a chocolate sandwich — a recipe I learned from a little Indian girl, the daughter of a scholar at The Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. I can’t remember the little girl’s name but I can still taste the chocolate sandwiches her mother gave us as snacks after school.

At a French restaurant with my father, I tried a flourless chocolate cake.  I liked it better than any  brownie I had ever eaten and became determined to learn how to make it.  For our birthdays, my father gave my sisters and me “hundred dollar days,” that was a day in which we could do anything we pleased with the money.  (One sister went to the race tracks to bet on horses.)  For my eighth birthday, I asked my father to help me figure out the recipe to that flourless cake.  We ended up at Dean and Deluca’s in NYC, combing through cookbooks until we found a recipe in Simca’s Kitchen by Simone Beck — Julia Child’s partner.  With my $100 my father bought me the book, chocolate, all the equipment and we drove home to Princeton and started making the cake.  I’ve been making it ever since, have even transformed the small little thing into a massive wedding cake, big enough to feed 200.

 Gateau au Chocolat: Le Diablo

A note: I altered the recipe.  Beck uses German sweet chocolate.  In the icing she adds coffee.


6 ounces of semi sweet chocolate

3/4 cup of butter

3/4 cup of sugar

4 eggs, separated

4 tablespoons ground almond

2 tablespoons of flour

9″ spring form pan

In the top of a double boiler melt chocolate and butter.  Set aside.  In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until pale.

Beat egg whites until stiff.  Set aside.  Fold the chocolate into the yolks.  Add the ground almonds and flour.  Fold in the chocolate very gently.

Butter and flour the spring form pan.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until the center is almost set.  Don’t overcook.  You want it very moist in the center, almost molten.

For icing: 1/2 stick of butter and 4 ounces of chocolate.  Melt and then spread over the cake.

1986: Jenny helping me assemble the wedding cake.  After icing with chocolate I covered the whole thing in whipped cream.  As it happened, our Saint Bernard took an enormous bite out of the cake, a good fourth of one of the bottom layers.  I started crying.  Sarah turned the bitten section to the center of the cloverleaf, covered with loads of whipped cream and told me to cheer up.  No one would ever know.

More food stories in MORE

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A Classic Tiramisu


Over the years I have made many variations of tiramisu, some incredibily elaborate with multiple liquors, but my favorite is the one I share here.  I use fresh eggs from my mother’s farm, but when I don’t have them I buy the best, organic brand I can find.  Cooking the yolks is part of the trick, but carefully so that you don’t have scrambled eggs.  I also use the raw whites.  If you don’t want to use raw whites — skip that and just use the whipped heavy cream.  But the whites make it so much lighter.  A confession: my son developed an allergy to egg white and in looking back I blame my passion for tiramisu.  When I was very pregnant with my son, and in the early months of breast-feeding him, I developed a craving for tiramisu and ate so much of it I am sure that’s the reason my poor little guy became allergic.  Thankfully, he outgrew the allergy.  In Italian tiramisu means cheer-me-up. 


6 eggs, separated

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 pound mascarpone

1 cup heavy cream

2 (12 ounce) packages ladyfingers

lots of espresso (maybe as much as 2 cups)

unsweetened cocoa

Combine yolks and sugar in top of a double boiler, over boiling water.

Turn off heat.  Beat with a hand-held mixer for ten minutes until thick and lemon colored.  Remove from double-boiler and add mascarpone.

Beat until combined. In separate bowls, whip heavy cream and whip whites—separately.  Gently fold together.  Set aside in the refrigerator.  Dip ladyfingers in espresso, saturating but don’t let the ladyfingers fall apart.  I use a bowl, but many people use a flat glass baking dish.  If using a bowl, arrange the ladyfingers so that they cover the interior of the bowl, up the sides. 

Fill the bowl half way with the cream-yolk mixture. 

Dust cacao on top of the cream, then arrange a layer of ladyfingers so that they cover the cream.  Then cover the ladyfingers with the remaining cream.  Dust with cacao.  Do this by putting the cacao powder into a sieve and shaking gently on top of the cream.  If doing this in  a glass baking dish, use an 8 by 10 size and arrange in two layers starting with ladyfingers, ending with cream. Dust with cacoa. Chill at least 6 hours.

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Secrets To A Perfect Risotto

Luca’s Risotto With Shrimp And Lemon

First, the secrets:

1) A heavy pan, cast iron, perhaps a Le Creuset
2) A highish heat
3) Abundant liquid. Keep the rice well soaked with broth even to the far end. It should be almost soup-like when you turn the heat off.
4) When finished cooking, pour the very wet risotto onto a platter. It will continue absorbing the water, but more slowly as it is away from the heat and on a cooler surface.

These tips work for all risotto. I don’t generally measure, so the following recipe is more or less, but, as with all the recipes I use, this one is very forgiving. More or less is good enough.

Shrimp Risotto (serves four — doubles, triples easily, as long as you follow the secrets)


1/4 cup red onion, chopped

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 cup of risotto

1/3 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons of grated lemon rind

1/4 cup of lemon juice

10 ounces of medium shrimp, deveined

3/4 cups frozen small peas

1/4 cup of chopped Italian parsely

5-7 cups of stock which should be heated in another pot.  If you run out of stock, use water.

Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy pot heat olive oil, add onion, cook about 3-5 minutes until translucent.  Add rice, coat with oil and onion.  Add wine.  Let absorb a little.  Add an ample laddle of stock, stir constantly.  Before all the stock is absorbed add another laddle of stock.  Stir.  Repeat.  REMEMBER always keep the rice wet.  Don’t let the stock vanish.  This should take about 15-20 minutes.  When the rice is al dente, add a second to last laddle of stock.  While stirring it in add the peas and the shrimp, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Stir until the shrimp turn pink and curl.  About 2-3 minutes.  Add a final laddle of stock.  The risotto should look almost soupy.  Stir in the parsely.  Transfer to a platter and serve. 

Adding the wine.

Absorbing the wine and the first bit of stock.

Keeping the risotto wet as you stir and cook.

Ecco: the final product.  Serve and enjoy! 

Note: NEVER serve with cheese.  As any Italian will tell you, cheese and fish do not go together.

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This Is What I Do When I Can’t Write,

bake bread with my son.


Whole-Wheat Bread

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

4 teaspoons salt

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water

2 teaspoons sugar

2 packages active dry yeast

3 cups whole-wheat flour

3 cups white flour

Heat the milk, brown sugar, butter and salt together in a saucepan.  Stir constantly and remove from heat when butter melts completely.  Cool until lukewarm.  Mix the water and sugar.  Sprinkle the yeast on top. Stir once and then let stand 7-10 minutes.

Mix in the warm milk.  Stir together the whole-wheat and white flours.  Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture.  Work the flour into the yeast, a little at a time.  Beat well, turn out on a lightly floured board.  Knead until smooth and elastic–at least 5 minutes.

A little help from Mark

Place in a greased bowl, cover with a dish towel and let rise until doubled in bulk, over an hour.  Turn out on a board and knead again for 1-2 minutes. Divide in half, and shape into loaves.  Place in greased bread pans, 9x5x3 inches.  Cover and let rise again until center of dough is slightly higher than the edge of the pan, about 45 minutes.  Bake at 375 for 40-50 minutes.  The top should be brown and the bread should sound hollow when tapped lightly with the fingers.  Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

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Our Last Gourmet Thanksgiving

An Ode

Once again I am reminded of, and thus devastated about, the loss of Gourmet.  We’re off to Providence for Thanksgiving.  Many McPhees collecting at my cousin’s house to cook an enormous feast.  (Twenty-six of us this year.)  We arrive each year armed with Gourmet and the intention to cook many of the recipes, replacing the ones that interest us less with recipes from past November issues.  I have had more than a few friends ask what we will do without Gourmet.  I don’t know, is the answer.  The year of the Persian-influenced Thanksgiving (I still make the jeweled rice regularly) we made every single recipe.  We even bought the calla lilies used in the illustration to decorate the table.  I can’t help feeling that S.I. Newhouse will come to his senses, that he’ll bring Gourmet back.  It will come back.  It will.  In the meantime, we have this year.  Off we go, ready to roll our sleeves up and cook: Bacon Smashed Potatoes, and Toasted Cornbread Pudding, and Kale With Panfried Walnuts, and Oyster Casserole, and Braised Turnip Greens With Turnips and Apples, and Brown Sugar Baked Sweet Potatoes And Acorn Squash, Cranberry Celery Relish, and Bourbon Pumpkin Pie, and this is just the beginning.  My splendid, gracious cousin, her welcoming family, her parents, my parents (both sets divorced), our stepmothers, in-laws, a few of my many lovely sisters, all the children, even my cat—all of us in the kitchen, inspired by Gourmet: stirring, whipping, melting, rolling, stuffing, carving.  Happy Thanksgiving.

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