Since we’re on the subject of classic cookbooks, I’d like to take this moment to declare my undying love and devotion to Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins. Their Silver Palate Cookbook was the earliest and perhaps most significant influence on my culinary identity that I can recall. My mother and grandmother taught me how to cook, but The Silver Palate was the closest thing we had to a textbook; required reading for the course. It sat on my mother’s bookshelf for as long as I can remember, and anytime there was company or a potluck, my mother would pull it out and flip through the pages, find the perfect recipe like magic.
For holidays, she loved to make the sweet potato and carrot puree. Have you ever had their sweet potato and carrot puree? It’s as simple as it sounds - just sweet potatoes and carrots mashed together with an unholy amount of cream and butter. But the flavor of this dish is something else entirely; an education in the luxury of simple pleasures.
When I began to show an interest in cooking, it became my turn to flip through those pages. I still remember the first meal I ever cooked. Under the careful supervision of my mother I made raspberry chicken, with a side of simply sauteed vegetables. I can recall the flavor with precise clarity, in much the same way that I can recall the flavor of the chicken dijonaisse my prepared so frequently. Both dishes were too complex for my as-of-yet-inexperienced palate, but to this day they haunt me, begging to be recreated.
Isn’t it a wonder then, that I somehow managed to forget the book they came from? I confess that for the past five years up until very recently I had given the Silver Palate nary a thought. Even as the flavors of those dishes remained etched in my mind, and their techniques continued to influence my cooking, their source remained a peripheral memory. There, but not quite visible. In much the same way that we forget about scars or birth marks or tattoos, I knew it was a part of me, I simply forgot to think about it.
Then, somewhere in the midst of my vintage cookbook obsession, I found myself lamenting the fact that all the nostalgia I was immersing myself in did not, in fact, belong to me. The cookbooks I was reading were not my cookbooks. The memories of times gone by were not my memories. I had purchased them second-hand at a used bookstore. Like every other d-bag in my generation, I was nostalgic for a time that I did not even live through.
I fell asleep that night with a pout on my face, but as I was sleeping, I remembered in a dream, as if the answer was sent to me; what about The Silver Palate? And even as I slept, I realized, if I was searching for simple, elegant classics, the answer was lying between those well-worn pages.
Upon waking, I did the only logical thing there was to do: called my mother and begged her to please, please send me the battered and bookmarked copy that had been sitting in her bookcase for the past 20 something years. Her answer: I threw it away. Typical. If there are two things my mother despises in this world they would be clutter and sentiment.
So I was forced to order a used copy, new just wouldn’t do. And of course they sent it through media mail and it took, I’m not even kidding you like, a year to get to me. And when I finally had it in my hands, it was like reading it for the first time. Recipes I had overlooked for years revealed themselves as precious gems; sesame mayonnaise, escabeche, black forest cake. I wanted nothing more than to sit and read that book cover to cover, every note, every sideline, every quote and charming little illustration. Unfortunately for me, life got in the way. I had to work, I had to wash ten loads of laundry, I had to buy cat litter, I had to cook dinner for myself and my boyfriend every. single. night.The entirety of my existence felt like one big chore that was keeping me from reading The Silver Palate.
Finally, I lost it, snapping at my boyfriend “Why don’t you cook dinner? I’m sick of doing everything around here!!” (cue psychotic head spin).
I returned home the following day to find a gorgeous meal waiting on the stove.
“And I made dessert,” he told me proudly.
“Oh, yeah? Whaddya make?”
“Just that lime mousse from that silver-palate-thingie you’ve been reading”
I was shocked. Torn between feeling touched (I wanted to impress you, he said, you’re so good at cooking and it’s not that easy for me) and livid with jealousy (how dare he cook out of that book when I can’t even find a second to read it?!?!!!). Of course, that all changed once I tasted it.
The lime mousse had always caught my eye, but I had never made it. My mom thought it sounded gross and the only opportunity I had to cook in my younger years was for family gatherings. It is one of the recipes they are best known for, and I assure you it deserves it’s reputation. As they say in the recipe’s introduction it is simultaneously buttery, rich and refreshing. Like a key lime pie only ten times more elegant and refined.
I imagined myself eating this dessert at a party catered by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins in their heyday. I’d be wearing shoulder pads and excessive jewelry. I’d have bubble bangs. The party would be on a yacht. Only then I realized, quite abruptly, it was just as relevant now. It made just as much sense to be eating lime mousse at home with my boyfriend and my cats on a sunny spring evening, and it would make sense, too, to be eating this lime mousse in a trendy restaurant after a five-star meal. It is one of those dishes that’s absolutely timeless. A straightforward combination of two things that taste really good together - citrus and cream - suspended in a delicate balance that feels seamless and beautiful. It is the epitome of fresh, simple cooking and that idea, as the Silver Palate still so eloquently proves, will never get old.
Lemon/Lime Mousse adpated from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
In the book, this recipe is called Lime Mousse, but they note in the sidebar that you can make it with lemons as well. The version in the photos is made with meyer lemons, as they are plentiful and readily available where I live, but I imagine you could make it with any citrus you happened to have on hand. I'd love to try it with blood oranges. The color would be gorgeous and I imagine it would taste a bit like a creamsicle. I also have fantasies of addind thyme to the butter as it melts to infuse the whole thing with an herbal flavor. That's one of the things I love the most about this recipe - it's so simple it practically begs you to get creative.
1 stick (8 tbsp) sweet butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice
grated zest of five limes or lemons
2 cups cold heavy cream
Melt the butter in a double boiler, or in a large bowl positioned just inside a pot of simmering water.
Beat the eggs and sugar together until the sugar dissolves and the eggs become frothy. Add this mixture to the melted butter slowly and incorporate fully, being careful not to scramble the eggs. Cook over very low heat until the mixture thickens into a silky custard. Again, be sure to remove it from the heat as soon as it reaches this point to be sure that that the eggs don't scramble.
Off the heat, stir in the juice and zest of the lemons/limes/whatever citrus you are using. Let this mixture cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. I usually prefer my whipped cream a bit loose and floppy but for this recipe it really needs to be stiff. Almost to the point where it turns into butter.
When the cream is stiff and the custard is cool, fold the two mixtures together carefully. At this point, you can divide the mousse into individual servings (this recipe says it makes 8, but think six is more like it) and chill it, or chill it in one big bowl and divide it up when you're ready to serve it. I put mine into mason jars and garnished it with lemon slices and mint. However you serve it, it makes a really elegant end to a spring or summer meal. Enjoy!