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Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Mentor and The Protégée

A long career in the food world has brought countless pleasures, but none tops having been a mentor. Over the past years, several Amherst College students have asked if they could come and cook with me. Although each has loved the one-on-one lessons and sampling homemade rather than dorm food, I have been the real beneficiary. These young “foodies” have brought enthusiasm, curiosity, and a fresh new perspective into my kitchen.

Natanya Khazzam, one of these talented interns, decided to pursue a career in the food world. She settled in New York, enrolled in NYU’s Food Studies program, and worked for two star chefs, Daniel Boulud (as a PR assistant) and Marcus Samuelsson (on his website). Recently, she landed a catering job—a cocktail party for a well-known media personality who requested food that was fresh, local, and mostly vegetarian. The event was a huge hit, and when my gifted protégée called with details of the menu, I was stunned by the originality of her dishes. One appetizer, grapes coated with goat cheese and roasted pumpkin seeds, was a variation on one of my own recipes. Her interpretation was so clever that it made me realize that she was no longer a mentee, but a new colleague.

Here’s my original and Natanya’s variation. Mine has a cool, refreshing taste, while the adaptation offers hints of sweetness and deep wintry notes. Both take minutes to assemble, can be made far ahead, and would be just right to serve during the holidays.

Pistachio and Goat Cheese Grapes

1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) shelled pistachios
Scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, optional
6 ounces creamy goat cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped mint plus sprigs for garnish
20 green seedless grapes, rinsed and patted dry

Place the pistachios in a plastic bag and crush them coarsely with a meat pounder or a rolling pin. If unsalted, add a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt to the bag and shake to mix. Then spread them on a large dinner plate.

Place the goat cheese in a medium bowl and with a table fork combine it with the chopped mint. Scoop out about 1/2 tablespoon of the mixture and press it evenly over all surfaces of a grape. Then roll the grape for a few seconds in the palms of your hands until the coating is smooth and even.  

Roll the grape in the pistachios and place it on a large plate. Repeat with remaining grapes. (Grapes can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 15 minutes before serving.)

With a sharp knife halve the grape balls and arrange the halves on a serving tray. Garnish the platter with mint sprigs. Makes 40 servings.

Grapes Wrapped in Honeyed Goat Cheese and Pumpkin Seeds

1. Replace pistachios with toasted, salted pumpkin seeds (available at Whole Foods).
2. Replace mint with:
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon each dried thyme and dried crushed rosemary
Pinch of red pepper flakes.
3. Use a combo of green and red seedless grapes.
4. Use rosemary sprigs as a garnish in place of mint.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What’s Old is New Again!

Imagine my surprise when I picked up my December Bon Appetit and saw a gorgeous new cover photo of the chocolate ribbon cake I had created for the magazine in 1984! Barbara Fairchild, who’s been at Bon Appetit for over 30 years, most recently as editor-in-chief, commissioned the original story, and more than a quarter century later decided to bring the cake back to life for a new generation of readers. In her Letter From the Editor she gives this dessert a big compliment explaining that “Twenty six years later, it remains our most requested recipe, generating more mail over a longer period than any other recipe we have ever run.”  

Looking at that beautiful new picture brought back some funny memories for me. In 1987 the ribbon cake was included in my first book, Betty’s Rosbottom’s Cooking School Cookbook.  When I traveled around the country doing PR, the cake went with me. I placed it in a tall cake box and tucked it into an LL Bean canvas bag along with a pasta machine used to make the ribbons. It was pre-9/11, so no one questioned the large carry-on I slid under the seat on my flights.

During one leg of my tour, I traveled up and down the West Coast.  The cake and I were fine until I encountered a February heat wave in Los Angeles. The high temperature made the glaze start to melt and the oozing chocolate smudged the ribbons. Then a zealous airport official roughed up the cake as it went through security so that it tilted  like the Tower of Pisa. By the time I had arrived late at night in Seattle, I was in a panic. I  called the hotel kitchen and told them of my dilemma. The staff invited me down and helped remove and clean the ribbons, straighten the layers, and whip up more chocolate glaze. An hour later, restored to its former glory, the gateau sat safely in the kitchen’s big fridge.

The next morning I went to several interviews with the ribbon cake intact and then flew to San Diego to end my week-long odyssey. For my last event, I brought the cake to a local TV station where I did a short segment.  I had been planning to discreetly dispose of the ten-day-old, restored cake after the show, but the host invited a 100-year-old woman in the audience to join us for a birthday slice! All I could think of was that I didn’t want to see this sweet little old lady’s demise in front of my eyes.  The cake had logged thousands of miles, had undergone pastry surgery, and had spent most of the week unrefrigerated. “Would it kill?” was my concern.  Apparently not. The centenarian ate the slice and walked out of the studio with the rest of the cake. I never got an emergency call. This cake has more than just a few things going for it—looks great, tastes fabulous, and, oh yes, travels extremely well!

Look for the recipe for the Chocolate Ribbon Cake on page 100 in the December 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. You can also find it in Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful, a collection of more than 600 Bon Appetit favorites.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Butcher To The Rescue

November 17, 2010
What a week! The photographs for Sunday Roasts are being shot as I write. The photographer, Susie Cushner, called first and the food stylist, Maggie Ruggiero, next. I ended up talking to Maggie for over two hours about each shot (there are 25), and how she envisioned each roast on the page—the angle, the garnishes, the props!  I thought all was well until a day ago when Maggie called in a quandary. Her New York butcher wasn’t familiar with “a boneless top sirloin beef roast” that she needed for a picture, so I got in the car with my IPhone and drove to Whole Foods. At the meat counter, one of the senior butchers proudly held up the boneless top sirloin, and I snapped and hit “send.”  Clearly the guy liked his new role because when I finished snapping, he asked, “Am I going to be famous?” 

Friday, November 12, 2010


Welcome to my blog. Let me introduce myself. I’m Betty Rosbottom, a long time member of the food world (as a teacher, writer, cookbook author), and I’m thrilled to be launching my first post.   

I hope to give you some “behind the scenes” details about life as a professional cook on my blog. I  also have a brand new website up at the old address: where you'll find my newest recipes plus favorite ones from my archives. On that site, the little yellow cook icon will appear on every page as your one-click link to this blog which I will update frequently.

 I do want to keep in closer touch with my readers and to get to know the younger generation who are just as fascinated with food as I am, so here goes! 

Thanks for visiting.  Betty