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The Splendid Table turns 20

The Splendid TableWhile some cooking programs have turned to high drama to attract bigger ratings, one show has remained rock steady for 20 years: NPR's The Splendid Table. Host Lynne Rossetto Kasper reminisces with Eater about the show, recalling the early episodes which featured luminaries like chefs Danny Meyer and Michael Romano of The Union Square Cafe, food scientist and cookbook author Shirley Corriher, and Julia Child, who appeared regularly on the early shows.

Kasper also discusses the changes that have happened over the past two decades. She feels there is now "more varied material on food. We were always tracking what was happening in the food world in the broadest sense. One of the great changes was that in the beginning, whenever we mentioned the word "sustainable" or "organic," we had to explain it. Today, you don't even have to think about explaining it."

The Spendid Table has certainly contributed to the broader U.S. interest in food today. Says Kasper: "We saw the changes. Some people have said we nudged some of those, or at least broadened the awareness of those changes in what we were doing. I consider that a great compliment." Congratulations to The Splendid Table and Lynne Rossetto Kasper on twenty years of great food radio.


Bigger isn't always better

RefrigeratorWaistlines aren't the only things to have grown in the United States over the last few decades: our refrigerators have as well. Gawker's Dan Nosowitzmakes the arguments for why we should consider downsizing our refrigerators.

Nosowitz points out that on average, refrigerators in the U.S. are more than twice the size as refrigerators in Europe (22 cubic feet vs. 10 cubic feet). They're getting bigger, too. Browse any appliance website and you can see monstrous units that break the 30-cubic-foot mark. Part of the reason our fridges are so large is that we keep too many things in them, notes Nosowitz. He says that items like hot sauce, mustard, vinegars, and most oils don't need to be refrigerated, because they won't go bad and most won't even develop off flavors for months.

Another problem with large refrigerators is that they can lead to unhealthy eating habits. A study of warehouse food shoppers found that "families that have more food in the house eat more food. If your freezer is large enough to house the family SUV and is full of ice cream because you bought it in bulk on a deal, you're going to eat more of that ice cream than if you'd just bought a single carton for your sensibly-sized freezer." That may seem obvious, but in addition to eating more, people with larger refrigerators likely waste more food too. It's estimated that the average American throws away 25% of the food and drink purchased in a year.

Nosowitz advocates buying groceries more often, "a few times a week or even near-daily, and the only things in your fridge should be stuff you plan to eat immediately and maybe a few jars of preserves and condiments and sauces." That's easier said than done in today's hectic society. Not everyone lives conveniently close to a grocery store and has the time to devote to a daily grocery shop.

Another point Nosowitz makes is that big refrigerators cost more, both to purchase and to operate. Anyone who has shopped for refrigerators recently probably faced sticker shock at the prices. Nevertheless, you may have to pry our large refrigerator door handles out of our cold, dead hands. The siren song of a large fridge, where everything is neatly stored, easy to find, and that can accommodate that tall layer cake without it getting smooshed, is enticing to many people. What do you think? Are U.S. fridges bloated behemoths or necessary given our busy lifestyles and distant supermarkets?

The Beautiful Books

As I've said before, it's a golden age of cookbook photography and design, maybe because digital photography and photo editing software have made it easier to achieve whatever vision of beauty or perfection you seek. (Though there's a downside, too - publishers often feel they must reserve a stiff chunk of a book's production budget for photography, and they sometimes short-change editing and recipe testing in the process.)

 Among these splendors, there's a subcategory of cookbooks so ravishing you hesitate to bring them near the splatters and spills of kitchen life. It may have started with the Canal House series of quarterlies; with their spare layout and saturated images, they felt like literary productions, or miniature works of art.

 More recent arrivals in the deluge of beautiful books aspire not so much to Art with a capital A as something more accessible, something more commercial. It's called "lifestyle". If you've ever browsed through a Martha Stewart magazine just to window-shop the pictures, that's "lifestyle". If you've bought a Beekman Heirloom cookbook for the recipes but then stopped dead while paging through it, floored by a vegetable still life whose lighting seems to have been arranged by a Renaissance master, that's "lifestyle". Sometimes there are associated "lifestyle products" you can buy - lotions, or jams, or glassware. It might be anything, but you can bet it'll have a stunning label.

Sometimes, there are profiles or interviews or essays or portraits, as in The Kinfolk Table - glimpses into lives beautifully lived, and airy spaces where people with great hair and intriguing accessories bite into crisp apples with perfect teeth. The recipes are often monklike in their simplicity, because, the cooks claim, they are really all about "beautiful fresh ingredients" rather than technique. (The fact is, recipes like this may not have much to teach a competent cook.)

Another one of these lovelies, A Simple Feast: A Year of Stories & Recipes to Savor & Share, crossed my desk today. The author, Diana Yen, runs a "creative studio" called The Jewels of New York, which does special-event catering, menu consulting, and other lifestyle-oriented gigs. The book is gorgeous, with a wide-open matte-finished page, serene photography, and the occasional charming graphic. The stories aren't exactly stories.  They're more a diary of things seen, planned, loved, or bought; a chronicle of materials. Nothing happens on this beautiful stage, but what doesn't happen, doesn't happen beautifully.

When I see these books, I fall in love a little, maybe for a half hour. I leaf through the pages,letting my eyes soak up the rich colors. I remember sitting at my graphic designer dad's drafting table, with Rapidograph pens and T-squares and cases of colored pencils at hand - the promise of trapping beauty and making it stand still for a moment. And then, after a while, I wake to the sounds of life passing by, my kids growing older, our own dinner crying out to be made. It's messy, it's imperfect, sometimes it's downright exasperating, and it's rarely staged at all, never mind beautifully staged. But no one would ever say that nothing happens.

The all-weather fruit

Preserved lemons

Lemons may be associated with summertime treats like lemonade and sorbet, but we shouldn't overlook their contribution to winter foods, notes Judith Elen of The Australian. Lemons go well with so many types of food that they remain popular year round, and in the global marketplace you can usually find fresh lemons in any season. But even though it may not seem necessary to preserve lemons, Elen thinks you should. She describes how preserved lemons "packed in salt or oil and dried lemon zest, quite different from their fresh forebears, are potent additions to robust meats. They're even fun to concoct from scratch on a chilly weekend afternoon in the dead of winter."

Also included in the article is a fascinating history lesson about the origins of this popular citrus fruit. Lemons can be traced to the Himalayan region of the India thousands of years ago. But their genetic roots go back farther--and farther afield. Recent DNA analysis "seems to identify finger limes among citrus's earliest progenitors," with the origination point being in Australia. Researchers believe that "in the time of Pangaea (200 million-plus years ago), Citrus glauca, whose variants include finger limes, developed in what is now Australia."

Here are some popular recipes with preserved lemons from the EYB Library. Let us know your favorites in the comments section.

Bluefish (or swordfish) with preserved lemons by Dorie Greenspan
Preserved lemon, pork and Parmesan meatballs with herb salad from Cuisine Magazine
Chicken with chickpeas, prunes and preserved lemon, from Food and Travel Magazine
Preserved lemon & chickpea pasta with parsley pesto  from The Year in Food

Photo of Preserved lemons (Citrons confits) from Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous by Joan Nathan



Layers of lies

Maple caramelized onionsTom Scocca of Slate magazine is taking recipe writers to task. After reading countless recipes that assure you that you will get caramelized onions in as little as 10 minutes, Scocca finally snapped and tweeted an all-caps rant about it.

He notes that even veteran cookbook authors make this claim: "Here's Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh: 'Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until the onions turn a medium-brown colour.'" One author who gets the timing right, according to Scocca, is Julia Child. In her instructions on preparing onions for French Onion Soup, Child instructs us to cook the onions "slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, 25 to 30 minutes." This 40 to 45 minute mark is much closer to reality than the 10 to 20 minutes in many recipes.

Scocca tried several "short cut" methods, including one advocated by Melissa Clark of the New York Times. While he found that this using this technique did shave a few minutes off the time, he noted that Clark's claim was "off by 180 percent on the cooking time. You can save 12 minutes off caramelizing onions, provided you pin yourself to the stove." And that is one of the problems with any of the shortcut methods, according to Scocca. He posits that any time you save by using one of these so-called shortcuts is wiped out by the slavish devotion to the stove that they require.

So why do authors continue to perpetuate the myth of 20-minute caramelized onions? Probably because they are under pressure to keep cooking times to 30 minutes or less. "Telling the truth about caramelized onions would turn a lot of dinner-in-half-an-hour recipes into dinner-in-a-little-over-an-hour recipes." Scocca goes on to note that other recipes also play fast and loose with the times noted for tasks. He takes on The Times' scone recipe as another example.

In which recipes have you found the authors fudging on the time it takes to caramelize onions (or perform other tasks)?

Photo of maple caramelized onions from Closet Cooking

The savory side of jams

Roasted tomato jam

For the past few years, home canning and preserving has been growing in popularity. As people master the basics like strawberry and raspberry jam, they look for new challenges. ABC News reports that increasingly, people are finding that outlet in savory jams. These semi-sweet concotions "occupy the space between chunky relishes made of pickled items and smoother spreads and purees" and offer loads of new flavor possibilities. They also help you make use of any extra produce from your garden. 

Marisa McClellan, creator of indexed blog Food in Jars and author of Preserving by the Pint, is always "looking at ways to open people's eyes to the different opportunities in preserve making." Some of her savory jams include apricot rosemary jam and tomato jam. For the latter, she might serve it "with roasted sweet potato rounds or whirr it in the food processor with cream cheese for dip. A dollop of caramelized shallot jam livens up a grain bowl, she says, and a ramekin of peach-Sriracha jam makes a great dipping sauce."

Naturally, another popular ingredient in savory jams is bacon. Bacon jam surprises the taste buds, because people aren't expecting the sweet punch with the salty and savory flavors. As Chicago chef Gregory Ellis notes, "It pleases everyone and they like it after they try it." He uses it in his pork belly sandwich and on French toast. While bacon jam may be a novelty, other savory jams have been around for ages, like hot pepper jelly, a Southern U.S. staple.

Are you a fan of savory jams? If so, which is your favorite?

Photo of Roasted tomato jam from indexed blog Food52 and the EYB Library

Featured Cookbooks & Recipes

At Eat Your Books we want to bring you the best recipes - our dedicated team searches out and finds online recipes excerpted from newly indexed cookbooks and magazines. And new recipes from the best blogs are indexed daily.

Below you'll find this week's recommendations from the EYB team.

Remember you can add any of these online recipes to your EYB Bookshelf - it's a great way to expand your personal recipe collection.

From magazines & blogs:

Kahlua Cheesecake Brownies from indexed blog Bake at 350

6 recipes featuring ricotta from the Spring issue of newly indexed Sweet Paul Magazine

From UK books:

10 recipes from Tart it Up! Sweet & Savoury Tarts & Pies by Eric Lanlard,
indexed by an EYB member

From AUS/NZ books:

3 recipes from Cuisine du Temps by Jacques Reymond

Enter our giveaway (Ends Aug. 15th)

9 recipes from The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches 
by Andrea Nguyen
Enter our giveaway (Ends July 31st)

9 recipes from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook: 100 Delicious Heritage Recipes from the Farm and Garden by Brent Ridge, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, & Sandy Gluck

8 recipes from Beyond Bacon: Paleo Recipes That Respect the Whole Hog 
by Matthew McCarry & Stacy Toth, indexed by an EYB member

7 recipes from Baking By Hand: Make the Best Artisanal Breads and Pastries
Better Without a Mixer
by Andy & Jackie King

5 recipes from  The World's Best Street Food: Where to Find It & How to Make It 
by Lonely Planet

3 recipes from Gather: The Art of Paleo Entertaining by Bill Staley & Hayley Mason,
indexed by an EYB member


There are still a few days left to enter our contest for a chance to win
a free LIFETIME membership!
(Ends July 31st)


Jacques Pépin on "reality" cooking shows

Jacques PepinTurn on any televised cooking program and you are likely to hear yelling--a lot of yelling. The drama drives ratings, but how much is what we are seeing like a real restaurant kitchen? If you ask Jacques Pépin, the answer is "not much." In a recent Daily Meal article, Pépin blasts this negative depiction of professional kitchens.

While he admits that sometimes the stress of service causes tempers to flare and results in the occasional verbal barrage, Pépin notes that this is usually temporary and that it often "ends in a friendly discussion over a glass of wine or a beer." Kitchens work best when there is order and dignity, and in these so-called reality shows "the confrontation and the bitter drama are not conducive to producing good food."

To add insult to injury, very little actual cooking is shown. We don't see "the process of combining ingredients together to create a dish...nor is the process of tasting, adding an ingredient, then tasting again and commenting ever shown." Pépin singles out Hell's Kitchen, noting that while the conflict depicted may be good for ratings, it is "unjust to dedicated cooks and unfair to the trade." He notes that if you were to visit the kitchen in a respected restaurant (citing restaurants run by Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, and Grant Achatz), you would see "a kitchen that is well organized, with a contented, dedicated, hard-working staff."

Do you agree with Chef Pépin or do you think he's being too hard on Gordon Ramsay and these shows?

The good, the bad and the ugly

Inglorious fruit

Visit any supermarket produce department and you'll see beautifully arranged bins with towering mounds of perfectly formed, glossy fruits and vegetables. There is nary a blemish or mark on the produce. But as any gardener knows, not all cucumbers are straight, sometimes carrots look funny, and apples are frequently lopsided. A great many fruits and vegetables don't conform to the supermarket ideals of beauty. So why don't we see them in the stores? Supermarket produce managers would likely say it's because people won't buy the imperfect foods. But one grocer is seeking to change that. Intermarché, France's third-largest grocery chain, has launched a campaign to get people to buy less than perfect produce.

Featuring clever ads for "inglorious" fruits and vegetables, the stores hope to entice customers to buy "the ridiculous potato," the "disfigured eggplant," and the "failed lemon" by offering a 30% discount. The goal is to reduce food waste - almost all imperfect produce is just tossed by the growers. You may have seen this video making the rounds on social media with calls for other supermarkets to emulate the campaign, which has been quite successful. Have any of the stores in your area tried to do this or something similar?

5,000 cookbooks and counting

5000 cookbooks

Drum roll, please: we are thrilled to announce that we have indexed book number 5,000 in the EYB Library! So which book is lucky number 5,000? It's Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Feast Goes On, an Australian book that Yotam Ottolenghi calls "a remarkable excursion into the realm of comfort food."

The Feast Goes OnEYB indexers have been diligently working to reach this milestone, so thanks goes to them for their dedication to the task. They have received assistance from members who have indexed their favorite cookbooks, so thank you to everyone who has volunteered to do that. Remember, if you have a book on your Bookshelf that you can't wait to see indexed, you can request that EYB do the indexing or that you do it yourself.

This milestone follows on the heels of surpassing 1,000,000 indexed recipes earlier this year. We are not stopping to rest on our laurels, however. We've added two new magazines this month, Sweet Paul Magazine and Kinfolk. Plus we are in the process of indexing over 400 more volumes. The odds just keep getting better that the cookbook you've been thinking of buying will be indexed on EYB - so go ahead, buy it! And if you click on the Buy Book link from EYB, we get a small affiliate fee from the retailer, so we have more money to spend indexing more books - a win-win!

Seen anything interesting? Let us know & we'll share it!