Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cookbook Library: Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook

Probably no cookbook maven inspires the love/hate reaction that Martha Stewart does.  I don't think I am alone in this. I have at least nine of her cookbooks, not to mention a box of the little "Dinner of the Month" cards from her magazine that I have ripped out and saved for years, but I seldom cook from any of them.  I find that the recipes are either needlessly complicated (fine if you have staff on hand to help) or just go wrong, like she hides a booby trap in there designed to destroy the amateur's cooking confidence.

But, being determined to make at least one new recipe from every cookbook on my shelves, I turned to Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook.  I had a whim to make pâté for a little backyard picnic, now that the weather has finally turned nice.  But the Silver Palate recipe I usually use is a little time-consuming -- mostly because it requires final oven cooking in a bain-marie.  Martha's recipe was simple and pretty quick, although I skimped on the soaking stage:

1/2 pound chicken livers, cleaned
1/4 cup brandy
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp.
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
salt & pepper

A summary of instructions:

Soak the livers in the brandy for 3 to 4 hours in a cool place (I did this for one hour).Drain, but save the liquid.

Saute shallots in half the butter. Add livers, sage, salt and pepper and saute until livers are not pink inside (about 5 minutes).

Transfer to food prosessor, add remaining butter, and process until smooth. Add the brandy liquid. Proseess another 30 seconds.

Transfer to an earthenware bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours.

She recommends using a "Pullman loaf pan" and even provides the dimensions (good thing, because what is a Pullman loaf?): 16" x 3 1/2" x 3 1/2". Wait a minute. Look at the ingredients. There is, at most, one cup -- eight ounces -- of material involved in this recipe. If you poured it into a 16-inch long pan, even if only 3 1/2 inches wide, you would end up with a very thin, flat slab of pâté. I doubled the recipe and it still fit in a small crock not much bigger than a ramekin. 

OK. Having avoided the booby trap of the Pullman loaf pan, the recipe was easy enough and straightforward. I like a little cognac in pâté, so this seemed to be the recipe for me. I thought I had finally found a Martha recipe I would use often.

Oh, was I wrong. The cognac flavor was so overwhelming you could almost see the fumes rising off the cracker. Instead of tasting like pâté with a hint of brandy, it tasted like a liver-infused cocktail -- which is disgusting even to type.

Once again, Martha let me down. It was inedible. Our backyard picnic was heavy on cheese and olives.  The pâté went down the garbage disposal. 


I am interested to know if anyone has ever had luck with Martha Stewart recipes. Anyone? Anything? Please share! I want to know the secret.

Beth Fish Reads hosts a weekly event called Weekend Cooking It dovetails nicely with my goal of making one new recipe from all the books in my Cookbook Library.


  1. I have had some luck with her earlier cookbooks -- the ones from her catering days before she got very famous. I have some cookie recipes I tore out of her magazine and the recipes always needed tweaking so I tossed them.

    That pate sounds vile. Some Weekend Cooking people seem to like her Everyday magazine. I haven't tried it or seen it.

  2. Beth -- Vile is a good description. My husband accused me of trying to poison him.

  3. I've found that I can make some of her recipes and they taste okay, but they never, ever have the eye appeal they do when she creates them.

  4. Liver-infused cocktail ...

    I think that runs about $12.50 at most bars in the Pearl District ...

  5. I would recommend trying Martha's Everyday Food Magazine. The recipes are all simple enough for a weeknight, and there usually aren't fancy ingredients. I've had great luck with it!

  6. Put me in the loathe category. Her food is ALL about the presentation and to h*** with the taste, in my opinion. I made a chicken cacciatore-like dish once and it was edible, at best.

    Despite that, I used to like her until the whole stock sell felony thing. I am appalled she would do such a thing, when she already has more money than God. So I have sworn never to buy another product with her name on it, or hidden in the background somewhere, as she has taken to doing lately.

    Okay, rant over. Sorry. I just saw araucana blue there for a minute.

  7. Oh no, that's too bad!

    I have more luck with her Everyday Food magazine recipes. The ingredients are fewer and much simpler. This month has a recipe for S'mores in it. Can't get much simpler than that!

    Her cooking encyclopedia is pretty good too. I've made a few things from that. It's more instructive, I think that's why it works better.

  8. I have this book and like it although I have not used it in awhile-I agree that her recipes are a hit or miss.

    I am not sure if it is a rumor or the truth but I have heard that she leaves out essential ingredients so that no one else can be Martha.

  9. bermudaonion -- I find that to be true of so many cookbooks! Or maybe I am just a messy cook. :)

    Bob -- Ha! You are right -- it will be on the Alberta Street bar hop scene next!

    Beth -- I've never looked at the EF magazine. I should.

    JG -- I like the rant. Like I said -- love/hate with Martha. I still love the non-cooking parts. Like how to make a lamp out of 1940s bakelite flatware . . .

    Chris -- I will definitely have to take a look at that Everyday magazine. Although, adopting another Martha product may be beyond me. I already have saved all the MSL going back to 2000 and beyond.

    Esme -- That is just the kind of booby trap I am talking about!

  10. I also used to get the Everyday Food magazine but it is rather repetitive. A year's worth is good to touch on all of the seasonal ingredients and you can riff on any of the simple recipes.

    I use her baking cookbook. I think the best thing I ever made was a layer cake with homemade lemon curd. Absolutely delicious. And her snickerdoodles have more butter in them than a cow but they are really the best. Too bad I can only justify making them once or twice a year! Still, other cookies have been impossible to replicate -- I think because I don't have marble countertops or a drawer freezer for flash-freezing.

  11. Put me in the loathe category, too. I am so not into perfection. Just ask my mom. She'll be happy to tell you. I think Martha's approach just encourages people -- mostly women, c'mon -- to be neurotic. Though I do confess to being drawn into her TV show a time or two.

    I heard from someone who heard from someone who used to work for her that she's a super micro-manager.

    I was once at a party and a woman brought a bottle of vodka encased in a solid block of ice with pretty flowers frozen around it. When I asked where she got the clever idea, she said Martha Stewart and then talked and talked and talked about how much she adored her.

    Whatever side of the fence you're on, you gotta admit that ...

    one bottle of vodka
    a bunch of water
    pretty flowers

    ... has got to be the very best no-fail recipe.

  12. I hate to cook, so my cooking consists of all tested and tried recipes. I am not a M.S. fan. And the pate sounds just as you describe it, vile... But, I enjoyed reading your review, and I won't be running out quick to buy any of her books. LOL...

  13. Oh, no! That sounds awful! Her Everyday FOOD magazine and cookbooks have been a big hit for me. Those recipes seem a little less complicated and use 'regular' ingredients. Here are a couple recent posts about them from our kitchen blog -

  14. I have heard that her cookbooks are not particularly good, but I have had good luck with recipes from the magazines. Some really great ones in fact from both the regular mag and the Everyday Living.

  15. A liver -infused cocktail? That sounds bad. Seems that Martha Stewart is more for looks than actual use. Sorry, your pate didn't turn out the way you hoped. I never treid a MArtha Stewart recip myself, and after reading what you said, I think I'll give her a wide berth.


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