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Ruhlman on paying attention

Michael RuhlmanAward-winning author Michael Ruhlman is back with another cookbook, How to Roast. (You can enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book.) It's the first in a series of "how-to" books he plans to publish, and he's hinted that the next book will be about braising. Ruhlman provided EYB with an excerpt from the introduction of How to Roast to share with our members. It is presented without further ado:

When you set your oven to 350˚F, do you believe that it is an absolute and uniform measurement of temperature? Or 180˚C, for that matter?...

Happily we don't need to know the precise, +/− 0.1-degree measurement when we're roasting a leg of lamb or some parsnips. Foods that we roast are generous and easygoing. Temperature and time are more critical for baked goods. Leave a second batch of cookies in for five extra minutes and you've got two different cookies (one may be ruined); do that with a roasted chicken and the difference is not likely to be noticeable. This also reflects the fact that the smaller the food item is, the smaller the window you have in terms of pulling it out of the oven at its moment of perfection.

More important than choosing 350˚F/180˚C rather than 375˚F/190˚C is paying attention to the food itself.

What this means cannot be overemphasized. If I am washing salad greens, with my back to the oven, I am still paying attention to that standing rib roast in the oven. If I'm washing greens, it means that dinner is nearly ready and the meat has been roasting for most of my intended cooking time, so if I don't smell deliciousness in the kitchen, my oven is not hot enough. If I smell smoke, I need to pay even more attention and maybe turn around and use my eyes. If my rib roast has been in the oven for only 15 minutes and I hear violent crackling, I'd better check to make sure that the oven is not too hot. I certainly wouldn't pay attention to the recipe in the book I was following because that won't tell me anything about what my roast is doing in my oven at that moment.

So when you're cooking, you're using all your senses, the most important of which is common sense. And that just means paying attention. If you smell burning and your roast shouldn't be close to done, you need to evaluate. And you should not simply pay attention to today's chicken or pan of root vegetables and then hit the "reset" button in your brain. You should have roasted chicken and root vegetable files in the vault of your cooking experience...This is how, over time, you develop cooking sense. Cooking sense comes from being aware; to be aware we use taste, touch, smell, sound, sight, experience, and common sense over the continuum of our cooking lives. We might never be able to achieve a state of absolute awareness in the kitchen, but if we strive to pay attention, we continually turn up that awareness by degrees each time we apply heat to food.

Now, having addressed your most valuable cooking tool, well protected between your ears, I return to the primary roasting tool, the oven...generally speaking, "Know thy oven" means paying attention to how it has behaved in the past, knowing where the hot spots are, understanding how your particular convection fan works, and so on. Implicit in the command is not to be overly dependent on a recipe. Common sense should almost always override a recipe instruction.

Excerpted from RUHLMAN'S HOW TO ROAST. Copyright 2014 by Michael Ruhlman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher. Reprinted by arrangement with Little, Brown and Company.

Cookbook giveaway - How to Roast

How to RoastMichael Ruhlman begins a new series of "how to" cookbooks with How to Roast, a treatise that provides clear, no-nonsense advice on a fundamental cooking technique. "Of all our cooking terms," Ruhlman writes, "sautéed, grilled, poached, broiled--I believe roasted is the most evocative adjective we can attach to our food, conjuring as it does ideas of deep rich flavors and delicious browning." You can read an excerpt from the book to get a flavor for the practical guidance Ruhlman dispenses to accompany the book's 20 recipes, illustrated by dozens of color photographs depicting both step-by-step instructions and gorgeous finished dishes.

We're delighted to offer five copies of How to Roast to EYB members in the United States and Canada only. Click on the contest below to view all of the entry options. Please note that while one option is to answer a question in the comments, you must enter through Rafflecopter or your entries won't be counted. The contest ends November 18, 2014.

 

Artisanal meat alternatives?

Aubrey Walch

Until recently, meat alternatives were mostly shunned by foodies, because many of the products were highly-processed, bland, had weird textures, or a combination of the three. That's changing, accordng to an article posted on Civil Eats. Kristina Johnson reports that as demand for meatless protein grows, it has spurred the creation of companies devoted to foodie-worthy meat alternatives.

One of these companies is called No-Evil Foods, started earlier this year in Asheville, North Carolina. No-Evil produces seitan-based Italian sausage, roast, and chorizo. Inspired to find something better than what was commercially available, co-owners Mike Woliansky and Sadra Schadel, both vegetarians, sought a way to make vegetarian alternatives that were not heavily processed. They also wanted to appeal to meat-eaters, so they recruited friends to taste test their products. Apparently they have succeeded, because Schadel notes that people "come up to us at the farmers' market and say they haven't had chorizo as good as ours since their grandmother made it."

Another success story comes from the opposite side of the North American continent, where San Francisco chef James Corwell creats a sushi alternative made with tomatoes cooked sous-vide with select herbs, tamari, rice wine vinegar, and a touch of sugar. And in the middle of the U.S., siblings Aubrey and Kale Walch recently started The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, taking the city's farmers' market by storm with products that have the look, taste, and feel of meat. Their ultimate goal is to create "a vegan butcher shop with cheeses and meats and sauces and meat rubs... anything you'd find in a butcher shop." 

To more fully fund their ventures, Chef Corwell of Tomato Sushi has a Kickstarter in the works and the Walch duo are planning one next month. What is your take on these "meatless meats" - tofurkey all over again, or do you find them promising?

Photo of Aubry Walch courtesy The Herbivorous Butcher 

The Perfect Instruction

So, over my years as a cookbook reviewer, I've come to realize there is actually a word formula for the kind of recipe that works for me.

The ingredients list doesn't matter that much - unless there's a bunch of callouts in the list, like "Saba vinaigrette (see p. 289)" and "48-hour croutons (see p. 311-313)".  

No, for me, what makes or breaks a recipe is the way the instructions are written.  What I like to see looks like this, in what I will call, for lack of a better term, Mad Libs form:

"[ACTIVE VERB] [INGREDIENT] [ADVERB] over [TEMPERATURE], for about [X-Y MINUTES], until [VIVID VISUAL DESCRIPTION].  You should [SEE/HEAR/SMELL/FEEL] [DETAIL] ["-ing" VERB]."

I'll make up an example:

"Sweat the shallots and shiitakes gently over very low heat, for about 4-5 minutes, until the shallots give up their rigidity and the mushrooms start to curl a bit on the edges.  You should hear the mixture start to hiss a little as it begins to dry out."

Sometimes it's not exactly that formula.  But I know it when I see it.  Here, for example, are several examples from Dorie Greenspan's new Baking Chez Moi:   "As the bubbles grow big, be on the lookout for the sugar to start changing color around the edges."   Or  "You'll think that there isn't enough liquid to coat all the dry ingredients, but keep stirring..."  Or  "Don't be discouraged if the mixture curdles; it will be fine as soon as you add the flour."

Even a little single-subject book can be a giant in the details department. In The Banh Mi Handbook, Andrea Nguyen keeps track of the small stuff with both eyes and nose:  "Add the pepper and sugar, then grind to a fragrant, sandy mixture."  And - I love this one about portobellos - "Steam will shoot from under the caps as they cook gill sides down."

We talked a couple weeks ago about the way some authors make you use your judgement, with subjective terms like "squidgy" and "dollop". Sometimes I enjoy that too.  But by and large, I like my hand held.  It can make for a wordier recipe, but I always feel like I'm in good hands when someone's watching out for the tiniest signs and symptoms.  It forces me to pay attention too, and, I'm pretty sure, that makes me a better cook and a better writer, too.

Observer Food Monthly announces award winners

Persiana, Nigella Lawson, & Jack Monroe

Awards season in the U.S. won't happen for several months, but in the U.K. there's food award action now, as indexed magazine Observer Food Monthly announces its 2014 award winners. While much of the action focuses on restaurants and retailers, there are some awards that EYB members outside of the U.K. may find interesting.

Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond by Sabrina Ghayour won the award for best cookbook. Ghayour's take "on Middle Eastern cooking mixes it up a bit and includes turmeric and cumin roast potatoes and pomegranate-glazed pork as well as pistachio and lemon shortbread." The best food blog award goes to Jack Monroe, the blogger, cookbook writer, and austerity activist who "has defeated all-comers, from Edwina Currie to internet trolls, on her way to success."

If you're in the market for a new brownie recipe, you might want to try out the winner for best reader's recipe: smokin' pig licker brownies by Gavan Knox (yes, they contain bacon). Read more about the 2014 award winners, including an interview with Nigella Lawson, OFM's food personality of the year. 

Be it ever so humble

Baked potato

Over at the NY Times, Sam Sifton is waxing poetic about baked potatoes. Steaming hot russets with crisp skins loaded with traditional toppings like sour cream and chives, or more avant-garde combinations like blue cheese and rosemary, are delicious as a side dish. Appropriately topped, baked potatoes can be a complete meal and they're perfect for cool weather cooking.

Baked potatoes could hardly be easier to make, and you can have them as plain or as fancy as you have the time and inclination. The Times article has links to two different recipes, one with cauliflower and Parmesan and the other featuring crab, jalapeño and mint. You have options in how to make them, too: split and topped as soon as they emerge from the oven, or a more decadent "twice-baked" version. Even if you bake them just once, you have the choice of using the oven or a crockpot (or even the microwave; just don't tell the purists).

The EYB Library is stuffed with baked potato recipes. Here are a few of the most popular:

Twice-baked potatoes with goat cheese and chives from Epicurious
Baked potatoes with Spanish flavours from Cuisine Magazine
Twice-baked potato cups with caramelized shallots
from Epicurious
Loaded baked potato dip
from indexed blog Brown Eyed Baker
Almond potatoes
 from The Washington Post by Bryn Williams

What's your favorite way to enjoy a baked potato?

Photo of Twice-baked potatoes with caramelized onion and blue cheese from Fine Cooking Magazine

Fried foliage

Maple leaves

Nothing says fall like the return of pumpkin spice--it's in everything: lattes, desserts, quickbreads, and even salads. But if you get bored with pumpkin spice and want to try a new fall treat, you may want to look to Japan, says Svati Kirsten Narula of Quartz She writes about an unusual snack from Japan's Minoh Park, a tree-covered valley and tourist destination near Osaka. The park is known for its fall foliage, especially the crimson leaves of the Japanese maple tree, known as momiji. Come November, shops and restaurants in the park sell momiji tempura.

Unlike traditional tempura where the flavor of the battered food shines thorugh, in momiji tempura the leaf imparts almost no taste and lends only the shape, plus a very slight crunch, to the final product. Each tempura maker in and around the park will use her own batter recipe, often including sesame seeds. Legend has it that momiji tempura has been around for over a thousand years, after a traveler was so taken with the trees surrounding the Minootaki waterfall that he decided to fry some leaves and eat them.

There are a few recipes for momiji tempura scattered across the web so you can try it out for yourself. However, if you are a stickler for tradition, you'll have to cure the leaves in salt for a year before you fry them.

Photo by Darcie Boschee

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 US books:

Belly up to the (fictional) bar

restaurant

It looks like life really does imitate art. Real-life versions of Central Perk, the fictional coffee shop from the American television series Friends, are popping up worldwide. According to The Guardian, "to celebrate Friends' 20th anniversary, a pop-up Central Perk has had fans queuing for more than an hour for free coffee and a chance to look at 'Joey's ceramic white dog.'" This New York location joins other Central Perks across the globe.

While queuing for hours to sip coffee in a replica of a 90s TV show set is not for everyone, it does pose an interesting question. If you were able to go to a pub, bar, or restaurant from a work of fiction, which establishment would you most like to visit? The surreal Double R Diner from Twin Peaks? The Tabard Inn from The Canterbury Tales? Nuovo Vesuvio from The Sopranos? Ten Forward from Star Trek: The Next Generation?

At many of these establishments, the food and drink is often just a footnote to the real action, so this question may be too esoteric for diehard foodies. But a few fictional places do look intriguing from a food standpoint, such as The Pie Hole from Pushing Daisies (check out indexed blog The Kitchn's take on pies inspired by The Pie Hole).

Even if the drinks weren't the focus of our daydream, most of us have probably imagined sidling up next to our hero at the bar and striking up a conversation, or perhaps we imagined sitting down to an elegant dinner with the leading man (or woman) at their favorite eatery. Let us know which fictional restaurant or bar you would most like to visit. 

A plant-strong diet

Karen PageA lifelong omnivore, Karen Page coauthored with her chef-husband Andrew Dornenburg such influential food books as The Flavor Bible, What to Drink with What You Eat, Culinary Artistry, and Becoming a Chef, each of which has sold more than 100,000 copies.  She has just come out with her first solo book, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, to which Dornenburg contributed more than 100 four-color images for his first book as a photographer. We asked Karen to expound on her new release. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible.)

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What prompted you to embrace a plant-strong diet? 

At the end of 2009, I lost my father to cancer - on the heels of losing my stepmother to cancer in 2006.  In 2000 and in 2004, we'd lost my husband Andrew's mother and father, also to cancer.  No longer could we ignore the headlines linking diet and wellness, nor the research of Michael Pollan that "In all my interviews with nutrition experts, the benefits of a plant-based diet provided the only point of universal consensus."

As a Midwest native who grew up eating meat at least twice a day, vegetarianism was foreign to me - but at the end of 2009, I ended up meeting Oscar winner Marketa Irglova (who starred in the indie film "Once," and co-wrote the music for the movie and the hit Broadway musical based on it) through our mutual friend Chef Jose Andres.  As Marketa moved to New York City and our friendship deepened, her vegetarianism was yet another influence on my decision to eventually embrace a plant-strong diet in May 2012.  In 2013, I earned a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell in conjunction with the T. Colin Campbell Foundation, and the work of Dr. Campbell, Dr. Neal Barnard, and Dr. Joel Fuhrman were especially influential on me.

Have your taste buds suffered?

As award-winning culinary authors, Andrew and I have always believed flavor to be paramount -- and it continues to be so.  Now, however, we believe healthfulness should be its equal in priority.  While we used to think - mistakenly -- that the two were mutually exclusive, we now know better!  Leading restaurant critics are discovering this, too:  Even 15-time James Beard Award winner Alan Richman wrote in GQ that "I had a hard time understanding how vegan cuisine had advanced this far this fast without an accompanying outpouring of acclaim."  Andrew and I agree - and have actually been amazed to discover the flavor benefits of plant-strong cooking, aside from the health and other benefits.

What have been some of the health and other benefits you've experienced as a result of a plant-strong diet?

Food professionals - chefs and writers alike -- can often have a difficult time managing their weight.  However, Andrew and I discovered that after switching to a plant-strong diet (eliminating meat and reducing our consumption of eggs and dairy, while increasing our consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains), we each dropped more than 25 pounds rather effortlessly.  Also, I used to have digestive aches and pains every night after dinner, which I'd thought was normal until I discovered they completely disappeared when I stopped eating meat.

Most importantly, we both found that instead of feeling depleted from any sense of lack, as we'd feared we might, we both felt great and with more energy and vitality. 

KCRW's Evan Kleiman described The Vegetarian Flavor Bible on her public radio show "Good Food" as a "deeply-researched book."  What was your research process like?

Over the several years that I spent creating this book, the research was deep indeed: For Chapter 3 alone, I studied more than 100 of the most influential vegetarian and vegan cookbooks of the past 50 to deconstruct how they combined flavors, pouring through classics by Mollie Katzen, Deborah Madison, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and others.  I also studied the dishes mentioned on restaurant menus and in restaurant reviews of some of America's leading vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and interviewed dozens of their chefs and owners - from Dirt Candy's Amanda Cohen in NYC to Crossroads' Tal Ronnen in LA -- about how they composed flavors.  In addition, I studied vegetarian and vegan nutrition to be able to write the Introduction to the book, and vegetarian and vegan history for Chapter 1, not to mention trends in contemporary gastronomy to be able to write Chapter 2.

What were some of your favorite flavor discoveries along the way?

I had a surprisingly great vegan latte at Pomegranate Café in Phoenix, whose mother-daughter owners Marlene and Cassie Tolman told me that the secret was using half hemp milk ("for nuttiness") and half coconut milk ("for great richness"), which foam up better together than any other of the dozens of blends they tried. 

And the chef of Winvian resort in Connecticut, Chris Eddy, taught us a ridiculously simple technique he'd learned while working with Chef Alain Ducasse for making a creamy vegetable sauce for pasta with vegetables other than tomatoes, using just steamed vegetables, a Vitamix, some ice, a hint of cayenne or chili pepper flakes, and an optional touch of brown butter.   I can attest that it's ridiculously delicious, too.

Photo above of two-time James Beard Award-winning author Karen Page with Oscar winner Marketa Irglova after her NYC concert while on tour with her new album MUNA

 

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