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The many faces of sugar

sugared cranberries

If you have any vintage recipe books, you probably will find only one or two kinds of sugar specified in the ingredients list of recipes. That is no longer the case today, as the types of sugar available to consumers has greatly expanded. Epicurious explains the many types of sugar available today in their ultimate guide to buying and using the sweet stuff.

The simple white granulated sugar we take for granted is a relatively new commodity. While honey was used as a sweetener for eons, highly refined sugar didn't become widely available to the masses until the end of 18th century. The mechanization of the Industrial Age allowed sugar cane to processed on a much larger scale. Once people got a taste of the sweet substance they demanded it, and soon people began to look beyond sugar cane. A German chemist discovered a variety of beet that contained high levels of sucrose, and by 2010 approximately 20% of the world's sugar came from beets.

Although we think of sugar as a simple product, it takes quite a procedure to make it. The process involves the application of heat and chemicals, and in the case of beet sugar, a centrifuge. The bleaching process for cane sugar can involve phosphoric acid and sometimes involves filtering through bone char to further remove impurities.

Most of the sugars listed in the Epicurious article are cane or beet sugar derivatives. While cane and beet sugars are both pure sucrose, some cooks and bakers swear that they perform differently and have a strong preference for one over the other. Light and dark brown sugars are just refined white sugar with molasses added back in. Muscovado sugar (my personal favorite) is made from unrefined sugar that hasn't had the molasses removed. It has a much more pronounced flavor than either light or brown sugar. There there are the in-between products like turbinado and demarara.

More kinds of sugar are made from further processing white sugar: confectioner's sugar (also known as powdered or 10x), and superfine or caster sugar also have their uses. But cane and beet sugars aren't the only game in town; there are even more kinds of sugar to choose from. Date, palm, coconut, and maple sugars are also available and each have their own distinctive flavor profiles and uses.  

Photo of How to make sugared cranberries from Annie's Eats

Ivy Manning goes veg in her latest cookbook

Ivy Manning

Ivy Manning is a Portland, Oregon-based food and travel writer and author of several cookbooks. Her work regularly appears in Cooking Light, Fine Cooking, Sunset, Eating Well, and Everyday with Rachel Ray. We caught up with Ivy as her latest cookbook, Weeknight Vegetarian, hit the shelves. EYB Members in the U.S. and Canada can enter our contest for a chance to win one of three copies of the cookbook.

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This is your fifth cookbook but your first that is fully vegetarian (The Adaptable Feast covered meals for vegetarians, vegans and omnivores).  Have you found your own diet has changed over the last few years?

Yes, I'm eating less meat. My husband is a fishetarian, so it's not tenable to cook a lot of meaty things at home since it's just the two of us. I find it a challenge enough to get all my servings of fruits and veggies into my meals, so leaving out meat makes more room, and honestly, I don't miss it. Once in awhile I need a burger, so I go out for it.

The book is organized by season.  Do you think it's harder to eat a plant-based diet in the winter?  What are your favorite vegetarian meals for cold, wintery days (for those EYB members in the northern hemisphere)?

Oh heck no, actually the colder months are my favorite time to cook! In Weeknight Vegetarian, I use a lot of beans and legumes for protein, and when it's chilly, they're so warming-dinners like Black Bean-Butternut Chili with Masa Dumplings and Cannellini Bean and Kale Soup over Garlic Toasts are the best!  And some of my very favorite veg happen in winter and fall, so we get to eat things like the roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cheddar Polenta and Spiced Walnuts, Savory Mushroom Strudel, and Potato and Beet Rosti, Massaman Curry with Kabocha Squash and Broccoli. What's not to like?

Weeknight Vegetarian cookbookThere definitely seems to be a trend towards more plant-focused meals.  For your book did you do much research on how a vegetarian diet improves both our own health and that of the planet?

No, I didn't really take that angle. To me, it's not about what we shouldn't eat and much more about how many delicious things you can eat without leaning on the meat-and-three model for dinner. Cooking my vegetarian way never seems like anything but really delicious stuff that happens not to have meat in it. I focus on cuisine from all over the globe, so it never, ever gets boring.

Did you have any surprises in creating fast every-night meals without meat, poultry or fish?

A lot of vegetarian books have these long, multi-step recipes, almost like they are making up for the lack of meat. It doesn't have to be so time-intensive. If you follow what is in season, keep it simple, and use quicker cooking legumes like lentils, convenience items like fresh pizza dough and fresh pasta, and canned beans from time to time, it is possible to eat vegetarian every night without spending all your spare time in the kitchen. I was surprised how fast the collection of recipes ended up being!

Are there any less well-known vegetables that you would like to see become more popular?

Yes! I think bitter veg like radicchio, broccoli rabe and watercress ought to be more popular than they are. When prepared correctly and balanced with rich or high-flavor ingredients like in my Quinoa Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe, Feta, and Mint recipe, or the tangy watercress salad with Welsh Rarebit, or the Rotini with Radicchio, Fontina, and Hazelnuts, they add a whole new layer of flavor that most Americans eschew, whereas in Italy, they're well loved. They add so much interest to a dish.

Ottolenghi has written two successful vegetarian cookbooks (Plenty and Plenty More) though he is not a vegetarian himself.  For some recipes in the books he suggests meat or fish that could accompany the vegetable dishes - have you done the same?

No. I opted to leave out mention of meat entirely. I really didn't want to approach these recipes as side dishes; in fact, I worked to avoid dishes that seem too much like side dishes-they all have balance and completeness to them. They're satisfying meals, not just accompaniments to something else. The only exception is I do tell folks where they might use fish sauce in Thai recipes if they're not strict vegetarians, but I offer a way around the fish sauce, too. 

There are some people who think a meal is not complete without animal protein.  Which recipes in the book would satisfy them?

Well, I think all of them!  But you know, if you've got a real Fred Flintstone coming to the table and they see the plate as half empty without roast beast on it, go for hearty fork-and-knife dishes like the Mushroom and Chestnut Strudel, Skillet Mushroom Pie-a biscuit topped chicken-less pot pie type thing, Tomatillo Chilaquiles with Egg, or the Two-Layer Tacos with Pinto Beans and Guacamole--a crunchy taco tucked inside a soft flour tortilla smeared with avocado. Things with lots of texture help ease naysayers into meatless meals.

I gather you are currently working on another cookbook.  Are you able to say what it is about?

The ink isn't dry quite yet. It's vegetable-centric, I can tell you that.

Cookbook giveaway - Weeknight Vegetarian

Weeknight Vegetarian

Weeknight Vegetarian gives us the tools to put a delicious, wholesome meatless meal on the table on any schedule. It offers quick, easy, and healthy meatless dinner ideas for any time of the year, with dozens of choices for any occasion. You can learn more about author Ivy Manning's inspiration for the book in our author interview.

Organized by season, chapters open with advice about the fresh ingredients and cooking methods best suited to the time of year. Clever tips throughout offer enticing ways to round out meatless meals, customize recipes to personal tastes, menu planning strategies, and helpful ideas for turning leftovers into new suppers later in the week. 

We're delighted to offer three copies of Weeknight Vegetarian. The contest is limited to EYB members in the United States and Canada. One of the entry options is answering the following question in the blog comments:

What's your go-to quick vegetarian meal?

Please note that you must enter the comment after signing into Rafflecopter or your entry won't be counted. The contest ends February 22, 2015.

How important are cookbook directives?

butter, salt, eggs

You see the directives in most modern (and even many older) cookbooks: use only unsalted butter, all eggs should be large, use X-brand kosher salt. Dire consequences are threatened if you do not follow these admonitions. But how much do these instructions really matter? It depends on who you ask, says The Telegraph.

Most of these demands are from authors we trust, maybe even revere. Ottolenghi's Plenty More lists several ingredient requirements: "Unless otherwise specified, all salt is table salt, pepper is freshly cracked, eggs are large, parsley is flat-leaf, olive oil is extra-virgin, peppers are deseeded, lemon and lime pith is to be avoided when the zest is shaved, and onions, garlic and shallots are peeled." The idea behind these directives "is to get us on the same page as the recipe writer before we start to cook. If we use curly-leaf parsley instead of flat and forget to deseed our peppers, we can't go running to Ottolenghi to complain his recipe didn't work."

This is not a recent phenomenon, either. The 1937 tome The Country Life Cookery Book by Ambrose Heath, (recently reissued by Persephone Books), also contains demands. Instead of dictating which butter to use, however, Heath was concerned about the composition of fines herbes. He insisted that fines herbes must include "parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon."

Just how important are these specifications and when do they cross the line between vital and pedantic? Michael Ruhlman addresses these demands in recent coobkook, Egg. He relates that his editor was peppering him with a multitude of questions like "butter (salted or unsalted?)" or "large eggs?" Ruhlman became exasperated by the incessant questions because he thinks that many of them don't really matter.

While not suggesting that there is no difference between unsalted and salted butter, Ruhlman believes that a good cook can make adjustments for different ingredients and in the end "salted and unsalted yield pretty much the same results." For Ruhlman, the crucial requirement (as noted in his EYB author interview) is that cooks pay attention.

Do you religiously follow the directives of cookbook authors or do you believe they are more guidelines than absolutes? Does it make a difference when it's a baking book versus a cookery book?

Salt, fat add flavor to cocktails

The Man Harrison cocktailYou have probably heard the expression "fat equals flavor." This admonition holds true not only in the kitchen, but in the bar as well. The Washington Post reports on the technique known as "fat washing" that is used to add flavor to drinks.

Fat washing is a method of infusing almost any type of flavorful fat, from coconut oil to bacon fat, into spirits. The booze is then frozen and the hardened fat strained out. This technique allows the flavors to come through without any greasy residue. "The last thing you want in the drink is the fat itself. You don't want that fatty mouth feel when you're drinking a cocktail," says Carlo Bruno, general manager at Bar Charley. "It's all the other things you want from the fat. That's why people do fat washes with bacon fat. It's not the fat itself; it's the salt and the smoke."

Which brings us to salt, which has uses in a cocktail beyond the salty rim on your margarita. It's no secret that salt can enhance the flavor of almost any food, and used judiciously, it will do the same to your cocktail. The mechanism by which salt enhances flavor is "through a series of complex chemical processes involving things like G protein-coupled receptors and cations." In layman's terms, salt blocks bitterness which allows more subtle flavors to be noticed.

"Salt is the secret ingredient in almost all my cocktails," writes cocktail guru Dave Arnold in his book, Liquid Intelligence. "Any cocktail that includes fruit, chocolate or coffee benefits from a pinch of salt."

If you remain skeptical, Arnold recommends making your favorite drink twice, once as normal and once with a dash of salt. Compare the two, and "you will never forget the salt again," he says. Don't add too much, though - the drink shouldn't taste salty. Once you see how salt can enhance your drink you may want to experiment with different types of salt, including smoked and infused salts.

Photo of The man Harrison from Ruhlman.com by Michael Ruhlman

Choosing the right yeast

Yeasted breads

Baking can be intimidating, especially when it comes to making foods with yeast. There are many different types of yeast available, and baking disaster stories abound concerning dense, misshapen loaves or out-of-control dough monsters. But yeast baking doesn't have to be scary, says Susan Reid, Publications Manager at King Arthur Flour. In an interview with Epicurious, Reid dispels common yeast baking myths and provides guidance on choosing which yeast to use.

The only types of yeast that Reid says most bakers need to know about are active dry yeast and instant yeast, which are also the most easily available. In almost every instance, they can be subsituted for one another. Active dry yeast is made "by removing the water in live yeast and grinding it into fine granules." Instant yeast is ground even finer to dissolve more quickly, but it's not just active dry yeast processed further. 

"Instant is a slightly different strain, so it produces a bit of a different flavor," Reid says. But "frankly, you can use [both active dry and instant yeast] exactly the same way." So there is no need to stock both types of yeast, just stick with one for consistency. Reid recommends the SAF Red Instant Yeast used in the King Arthur Flour test kitchens. (SAF owns Red Star, a popular supermarket brand.)

One common misconception is that you must proof active dry yeast by dissolving it in warm water before using it. That step is not necessary, according to Reid. Active dry yeast "is produced in a such a way that it can be added directly to the bread dough with the dry ingredients." The reason yeast was traditionally proofed is to make sure it was still alive and able to do its job, a problem found more with fresh yeast. Fresh and rapid rise yeast are also explained in the Epicurious article.

For best results you should store your yeast in the freezer, where Reid says it will last up to a year. My experience is that it will last several years in the freezer - I recently baked bread with yeast that had a "use-by" date of 2011.

Photos, l to r:  Daring bakers' yeast meringue coffee cake from Life's a Feast by Jamie Schler and Basic soft white sandwich loaf from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

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. New recipes from the best blogs are indexed daily and members index their favorite online recipes using the Bookmarklet all the time.

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.

Happy cooking and baking everyone!


From blogs:

Homemade Hot Sauce by Hugh Acheson featured on indexed blog Leite's Culinaria
Spiced Carrot Oat Breakfast Cookies from indexed blog The Kitchn

 
From AUS/NZ books:

 13 recipes from Sweet Envy: 100 Recipes from the Grandest Little Bakehouse in Town 
by Alistair Wise & Teena Kearney-Wise


 

Cookbook store profile - Good Egg

Good Egg cookbook storeOur latest installment in our profiles of great cookbook stores takes us to Good Egg located in Toronto, Canada. Good Egg is a shop dedicated to those who like to eat. Visit the store and you'll be immersed in books and things devoted to the art and culture of food. Their selection of books reflects every food philosophy, but they've whittled the vast world of cookbooks down to the best of the best. The Good Egg staff is eager to help customers, and they have a large database at their disposal to aid in that effort. Owner Mika Bareket graciously answered EYB's questions about her shop, now the only dedicated cookbook store in Toronto: 

How does Good Egg stay competitive in the current trading environment, where online stores offer low prices and free home delivery? 

The human factor! We read and test the books, and give our customers honest advice. We'd much make a friend than a sale. Also, we play really nice music in the store, and gift wrap faster than a speeding bullet.

Why do the customers in your store prefer to come to Good Egg rather than large general bookstores or online shopping?

By making discriminating choices in our buying and display. Not that larger retailers don't, but the size of our store means we need to be extra picky about what we bring in. What we may lack in range, we make up for in conviction.

Until the recent closure of The Cookbook Store, there were two bookstores dedicated to food and drink books in the city. What is about Toronto that sustained two stores whereas many cities have none?

Toronto is the most culturally diverse city on the planet, and with every wave of immigration comes restaurants and grocery stores specific to each ethnicity. Food is the great unifier in Toronto. We're located in a neighbourhood called Kensington Market, which has been a food hub for many generations. It just made sense to bring a quirky cook book store to the area.

Do you specialize in any particular areas of cookbooks?

We specialize in the best.

Do you sell other products apart from cookbooks?

Oh yes! Everything from budget friendly cast iron skillets, to ergonomic baby spoons. We're not quite a one-stop kitchen supply shop, but we try to have the essentials. We also carry many books that are not cooking-related per se, but are nourishing in some way.

What are the big sellers at Good Egg?

Yotam Ottolenghi has been our top author for 4 years running. Well deserved! Also, we reorder Niki Segnit's poetic and lovely Flavour Thesaurus constantly, and the River Cottage series of handbooks do really well, maybe because they're amazing.

Do you import many books from overseas?

We try to be patient and wait for titles to become available domestically, but some take a year to do so, and others never do. So, yes. Australia and the UK publish many of our favourite books, and well, we can't resist bringing them in despite the sticker shock due to import charges.

Do you get many chefs shopping in your store? If so, what are the books they are buying?

Chefs make up a growing proportion of our customer base, which is great for us because we can get their professional perspective and offer home cooks more informed opinions than our own. They tend to buy books with good plating ideas and/or in depth-technique, typically those written by other restaurant chefs or Michael Ruhlman, their patron saint.

What type of books do you like to cook from yourself? Do you have a favorite cookbook of all time?

I'm forever obsessed with Nigel Slater. I wish we were best friends. The first cookbook I bought as an adult was Appetite, which I still think is a perfect cookbook. Diana Henry, Fuchsia Dunlop, Jennifer McLagan and Madhur Jaffrey are my "ladies" of cooking. I like lessons from smart and sassy ladies with my recipes.

Around the world in 193 meals

Algerian and Zimbabwean food

Talk about traveling the world via food. A husband-and-wife team blogging under the name United Noshes, is making one meal from each member state in the United Nations, alphabetically, as a series of dinner parties. That's 193 meals, featuring widely varying ingredients from diverse cuisines.

Jesse Friedman and his wife, Laura Hadden, began this culinary journey three years ago "as a way to explore the culinary bounty of New York City," their home at the time. The couple has cooked their way from Algeria to Libya so far, starting at home with intimate groups of friends and, as the project snowballed, cooking for dozens of guests in large venues.

Word about their adventure spread, and as their blog readership grew larger so too did the meals and the mission. What started as an exploration of culinary diversity morphed into a fundraiser, first for the U.N.'s world food program, and now for Mercy Corps, an international relief and development organization based in the couple's new home city of Portland, Oregon. Diners each make a small donation, and to date the project has raised over $20,000 USD.

Friedman and Hadden expect to reach the halfway point of their project in a few weeks, but it will take about four more years for them to finish the project.

Photos of Algerian harira from indexed blog Great British Chefs and the Zimbabwean Goan prawn curry from Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation: Britain's 100 Favourite Curries

Men in T-shirts, cooking

I noticed something funny in my "Discards" pile this morning - a trio of men in T-shirts and jeans. looking at out me with bright eyes and white teeth.  What's going on with  that?  I thought.

It turns out that two of them - Jorge Cruise in The 100 and Abel James in The Wild Diet - were suggesting that I lose weight.  Abel says I can lose 20 pounds in 40 days.  Jorge says I can lose 18 pounds in 2 weeks. Jorge is faster.  But Abel actually has food on his cookbook  jacket.  Neither says anything about the losing 5 pounds in one week with a stomach virus, which I just successfully did. 

Fortunately, not all the men in T-shirts are so obsessed with my weight.  The one with the most facial hair and tattoos wants to help me make fast, delicious food for my family.  Dean McDermott (that's Mr. Tori Spelling) offers up straight-ahead family recipes that lean on flavor amplifiers like bacon and mushrooms and coconut oil.  It's just normal, good-tasting food, although sometimes he styles it in animal shapes.

I'm all for more men in cookbooks, especially men who aren't in chef whites.  I'm a big fan of T-shirts.  And by March I imagine I'll fit back in my jeans.  But I draw the line at tattoos.  You can lead a girl to water - or get her to make animal shapes out of food, or eat less sugar, or go Paleo - but you can't make her get inked.

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

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