Cookbooks hit you where you live

Molasses spice cookies

This will be my last official blog for EYB so I'm going to indulge by sharing a few things. First, thanks to Jane and Fiona who gave me a venue to share my personal passion for all things food related - I've had a wonderful time writing this blog. And a second thanks to the readers who've sent me some nice compliments, engaged in thoughtful ideas through postings, corrected a few wayward errors, and generally enhanced a community that's wonderful to be a part of.

Of course I also wanted to point out that it has been an honor to be associated with Eat Your Books, which remains one of the best websites online - cleverly designed and extraordinarily useful. And I can't leave without extending my best wishes to Darcie, who will be taking over this blogging space. I couldn't leave it in better hands.

As a final indulgence, since I know we all share a passion for food-related books, I thought I'd share some thoughts about the two food authors that I've read with pleasure for over 20 years - if for no other reason than I'd really would like to make certain they're not overlooked by a new generation:

M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992) has earned praise as a writer well beyond culinary circles. W.H. Auden called her "the best prose writer in America". A New Yorker reviewer of one of the books contained in The Art of Eating wrote, "M.F.K. Fisher writes about food as others do about love, only better." That comment still holds true today. She ultimately published 26 books, read any of them and you will be addicted. Reading Fisher is like plunging into a cool pool on a hot day - sheer pleasure at being in such a strange environment where the sensory is all encompassing, and where you are always kept slightly off balance.

She writes in the first person so most of her writing has autobiographical elements, although clarifying details may or may not be present. But the miracle of Fisher is that despite a life full of tragedies, (the pain of her first divorce, her second husband's suicide after years of chronic illness, an illegitimate child, her brother's suicide, her third husband's mental illness), you finish her books envious of her sheer joy in daily living. She has an extraordinary ability to both become absorbed in and communicate the delight of daily experiences, most of which revolve around food, appetite, cooking, or sharing meals. There is also a trace of the exotic in Fisher, largely because a lot of her writings involve pre -WWII France.

Laurie Colwin, (1944 -1992), by contrast to Fisher, was primarily a fiction writer, having written five novels and short story collections by the time of her untimely death at 48. Her two food books, which came out of articles written for Gourmet, are Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. These are autobiographical and you do learn a lot about her daily life, but she doesn't have Fisher's dramatic life experiences. What she does have is an opinionated, even feisty nature well tempered with an intelligence and warmth that would make any reader want her for a best friend.

She also has great  recipes, about which she is certainly passionate. To me she exemplifies the best of cookbook writing - her recipes work, they require some competency but no advanced skill, and she assumes that you are approaching the dish with the joyful anticipation of sharing great food with loved persons. She is a totally unpretentious writer - the best description of her books is in her own introduction to More Home Cooking, "Cookbooks hit you where you live. You want comfort; you want security; you want food; you want to not be hungry; and not only do you want those basic things fixed, you want it done in a really nice, gentle way that makes you feel loved." Colwin doesn't have Fisher's sex appeal - but rather the warmth of a perpetual hug.

Hope to be talking to you again soon.

Lindsay

 

Photo of Molasses Spice Cookies by Lindsay McSweeney

Clearing up sausage confusion

Choucroute

Unless you're a real sausage fan, it's likely that at some time you've faced a  recipe quandary - sausage types. How do you tell a bratwurst from a kielbasa? Here's a handy guide from Eatocracy  (check out the article for further details, buying suggestions from the Test Kitchen, as well as possible substitutes and uses):

  • Frankfurter, aka Hot Dog: Beef (sometimes combined with pork), which is cured, smoked, cooked, and seasoned with coriander, garlic, ground mustard, nutmeg, salt, sugar, and white pepper. 
  • Knackwurst, aka knockwurst: Plumper and more sophisticated than a hot dog.
  • Pepperoni, aka the pizza sausage: Ground, dried pork (usually) combined with black and cayenne pepper, sugar, salt, and paprika and cured for several weeks. 
  • Bratwurst: Milder than hot dog,  made from ground pork and veal gently seasoned with caraway, coriander, ginger, and nutmeg.
  • Genoa salami Cured pork sausage with visible pockets of fat.
  • Banger: British slang for generic sausage.
  • Kielbasa: Beef, pork, or turkey sausage made with  garlic, marjoram, and smoke.
  • Italian sausage: Coarsely ground fresh pork flavored with garlic and fennel seed and, for the hot variety, red pepper flakes.
  • Spanish Chorizo (not Mexican chorizo): Cured, fully cooked. Made from chopped pork and pork fat and seasoned with smoked paprika, garlic, and herbs.
  • Mexican Chorizo: Raw, sold in links or bulk packs. Includes paprika, garlic, and especially chili powder, which provides a spicy  flavor. 
  • Andouille: Originally from Louisiana, made from  ground pork, salt, garlic, and lots of black pepper,  smoked over pecan wood and sugarcane.
  • Linguiça: A peppery, smoked sausage made with an herbal  blend of paprika, garlic, pepper, cumin, and, sometimes, allspice or cinnamon, which is then combined with pork butt and brined in vinegar and salt before smoking.

And now that's clear, here are a few popular recipes from the EYB Library to try them out:

 

Photo of Choucroute courtesy of Epicurious


Cookbook giveaway - Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less

Weeknight Wonders

 

We're delighted to be able to offer two copies of Food Network Host Ellie Krieger's new cookbook: Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less to our EYB members. The book includes 150 recipes for quick weeknight meals, made with minimal fuss about cooking techniques or hard-to-find ingredients.

 

 

To win a copy, just answer the following question: What's your quick go-to weeknight meal?

Additional rules are:

  • Please make certain you have signed in to the EYB website (you don't have to be a paid member). This ensures that we have your email address and can get in contact with you. 
  • The giveaway will expire in 4 weeks on February 25, 2014.

This contest is now closed.  The two lucky winners, selected by random number generator, are PatJ and BarbaraM48.

What to do when your garlic clove sprouts a green shoot

Green Garlic Sprout

Thanks to David Lebovitz, we have a definitive answer to one of the kitchen's little questions:  Should You Remove the Green Germ from Garlic? As he writes in his blog, conventional wisdom requires that, to avoid bitterness, you need to remove that little green sprout. But someone "told me that Marcella [Hazan] never removed the green germ (her reasoning being that since it was new garlic in the making, it was tender and not bitter), I figured it would be interesting to see - and taste - if removing it really did make a difference."

And he did put it to the test, first making mayonnaise and then pasta with garlic. Briefly, he noticed the bitterness in the mayonnaise (an uncooked dish) but not in the pasta. So his advice? "Garlic will be different depending on season, variety, and a host of other factors. But when using garlic raw, you should definitely remove the green germ. For cooking, even though it didn't make as much of a difference  in my little taste test, I still advise plucking out the green sprout from the center, which I will continue to do, mostly because it brings me the same joy as cleaning the lint filter on my dryer. "

Photo by David Lebovitz, at david lebovitz.

If you like Ottolenghi's books, you should learn about Persian food

Tadig 525

By spending a fair amount of time wandering the internet reading about food (I know, it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it), I've become aware of some themes that may not make the "what's trending" or "hot" lists, but still seem to be surprisingly persistent. And one of those themes is Persian foods. I'm not sure why - maybe because there has been some miniscule thawing in the political situation - but I think it has probably more to do with a growing awareness of the vibrant flavors from the MidEast, certainly strengthened by the huge success of Yotam Ottolenghi's books.

So I thought I'd give a helping hand to this trend in a couple of ways. First, here's a fairly recent Thrillist Nation article, "What the hell is Persian food? Here Are the Dishes You Should Know" that is designed for true novices in the area. The five dishes they list are:

  • Fesenjoon: A stew made from a puree of pomegranates, ground walnuts, and chopped onions combined with chunks of poultry or balls of ground meat.
  • Ghormeh Sabzi: A stew made from parsley, spinach, leeks, coriander, kidney beans, dried lemons, dried fenugreek leaves, and  turmeric-seasoned lamb or beef.
  • Kabob: This actually pretty much means meat in general, but it is the origin of the kabob most Westerners know:  Long strips of lamb, chicken, or beef  (often minced) grilled and usually served alongside charred tomatoes, rice sprinkled with sumac, a parsley salad, and flatbread.
  • Doogh: A sour yogurt drink made from   yogurt, mint, and sometimes diced cucumbers.
  • Tadig (other spellings include tadeeg, tahdig): This isn't really a dish made by itself, but it a result of properly prepared Persian rice ("polo"), which is made with saffron. Tadeeg isthe bottom crispy layer that's slightly burnt and beautifully golden, having soaked up much of the saffron and butter/oil it's made with (see photo).

And, second, for those who are really interested, here are 57 Persian cookbooks that our members have voted on by purchasing.

 

 

Favorite breakfast cookbooks

Baked Oatmeal

There's a post over at BuzzFeed that asks "What Does Your Favorite Breakfast Food Say About You?" The answers are classic BuzzFeed, although not snarky as they can be - if you like bagels, you're basically like Beyoncé, cinnamon rolls imply you're very loveable, French Toast people are destined for greatness, Huevos Rancheros make you a winner, etc. - they're all very flattering.

But the interesting thing about this post wasn't the comments - which are, at best, superficial, but rather the collection of photos and the realization that there wasn't one breakfast item listed that wouldn't taste great at this moment. Which got me to thinking about breakfast and how often people seem to say that breakfast is their favorite meal regardless of the time of day - especially on a really cold day, like it is here today.

And so, out of curiousity, I took a look at the EYB library, which lists 138 cookbooks that focus on breakfast, and sorted them by popularity to see what were the favorite breakfast books owned by EYB members. Here are the top 5:

And the top breakfast recipe, based on ratings and comments? This was a surprise - not eggs, or pancakes, but Baked Oatmeal from Heidi Swanson.  Here's the description: "A layer of fruit lines the base of a well-buttered baking dish. The fruit is then topped with a blend of rolled oats, nuts, and spices. A wet mixture of milk, egg, melted butter, and vanilla is drizzled over the dry ingredients before baking to a golden-topped, fruit-scented finish. Be sure to use rolled oats and not instant oats."

Now I'm really hungry.

To win a great new breakfast cookbook, enter our contest for  Whole-Grain Mornings: New Breakfast Recipes to Span the Seasons by Megan Gordon.

 

 

Per Deborah Madison, the word "veggies" should be banned

Vegies

There is a trend for certain food terms to become popular and then reviled. "Food porn" came in and went out pretty fast; "foodies" has lasted longer but there is now gradual consensus that it should be eliminated from polite conversation as a derogatory term. But "veggies"?

According to Deborah Madison (The Greens Cookbook, Vegetable Literacy, and other numerous vegetarian books) "veggies" should indeed join the crowd. In her article on Zester, Stop Calling Them Veggies: Vegetables Are Due Respect, she writes:

"And why would I bother to have and squander any emotion at all about the word veggies? I've wondered myself about why I don't like it and won't use it. I think it's this: The word veggie is infantile. Like puppies. Or Cuties. It reduces vegetables to something fluffy and insubstantial. Think about it: We don't say "fruities," or "meaties" "or "wheaties" - unless it's the cereal. We don't say "eggies" or "beefies." We don't have a Thanksgiving birdy; we havethe bird. But we don't seem to be able to say vegetable.  Certainly it's no longer than saying "Grass-fed beef" or "I'll have a latte." Veggie turns vegetables into something kind of sweet but dumb, and in turn, one who eats a lot of vegetables might be construed as something of a lightweight, but one who can somehow excused. "It's just veggies, after all. They'll snap out of it."

She goes on to highlight why "plants are generally quite amazing, strong and clever beings that evolve with time."

Interestingly, by the way, in response to some of the replies to the blog, she does address the British term "veg" - "I am okay with "veg" because it makes me think of vegetation."

Obviously Deborah spends a great deal of time thinking about vegetables, so this is a subject much closer to her than it is to me, but I have to say that, in general, if we can just get people thinking about vegetables in a fond way - and maybe "veggie" does that - I can't get bothered by it. And it doesn't, at least to me, have the derogatory tone that "foodie" has. What do you think?

Troubles with healthy food: Looking at kale, plus the Paleo Diet

juiced kale

There were a couple of interesting news items recently that once again drove home the point that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

The first article, in the New York Times, Kale? Juicing? Trouble Ahead was written by Jennifer Berman. As she writes, "I was into health food before it was cool. There were only two other people I knew who frequented my neighborhood health food store in the late '80s: an emaciated man with a gray ponytail and a woman with a surprising amount of underarm hair, who smelled of B.O. and patchouli."

So she was feeling pretty good about herself when the rest of the world caught up with her - until she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism at the age of 40, and then her teeth became highly problematic (5 cavities in one trip). The first diagnosis related back to the quantity of cruciferous vegetables she's eaten - e.g. kale, Brussels sprouts, etc. and the second to a combination of too much fruit juice (especially lemon in water) compounded by using a natural toothpaste with no flouride.

And the second article, from Michael Pollan, tells us what's wrong with the Paleo Diet. For those who may not be aware of it, the Paleo Diet tries  "to mimic our ancient ancestors - minus the animal-skin fashions and the total lack of technology, of course. The adherents eschew what they believe comes from modern agriculture (wheat, dairy, legumes, for instance) and rely instead on meals full of meat, nuts, and vegetables - foods they claim are closer to what hunter-gatherers ate."

In a comprehensive interview, Pollan explains what the problem with this approach is - not the least of which is that "Most people who tell you with great confidence that this is what our ancestors ate - I think they're kind of blowing smoke."

He goes into further detail in five areas, offering some common sense advice along the way. Here are some highpoints:

Meat: As Pollan explains, "the animals bred by modern agriculture - which are fed artificial diets of corn and grains, and beefed up with hormones and antibiotics - have nutritional profiles far from wild game.  Pastured animals, raised on diets of grass and grubs, are closer to their wild relatives; even these, however, are nothing like the lean animals our ancestors ate.  So, basically, enjoy meat in moderation, and choose pastured meat if possible."

Don't Shun Bread: "Paleo obsessives might shun bread, but bread, as it has been traditionally made, is a healthy way to access a wide array of nutrients from grains."

Eat More Microbes: "Microbes, such as those in our gut, play a key role  in our health" - so eat more fermented foods like  beer, cheese, yogurt, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, pickles. 

Don't go even more extreme, and follow a raw diet  "We cook to get our hands on more nutrients, not fewer."

And cook for yourself: "The food industry has done a great job of convincing eaters that corporations can cook better than we can. The problem is, it's not true. And the food that others cook is nearly always less healthful than that which we cook ourselves."


Cookbook store profile: Featuring "the cookbook store" in Toronto

The Cookbook Store

Recently we began to offer an EYB feature highlighting independent cookbook stores. Now you can discover (or get reacquainted with) a store near your home - or plan a new target destination when you travel.

And to make this as strong a feature as we can, we're asking our members to help us. We already know of many great stores, which we keep an ongoing list of  (you can view them here), but we'd love to learn about more - especially those treasured by our members. So please share the names of independent cookbook stores that you know, love, admire, or are just plain crazy about. Add a comment to this posting, or email us at info@eatyourbooks.com with the name, address, and owner (if you know it). We'll do the rest.

 __________________________________________________________

This month we've traveled to "the cookbook store," located on  850 Yonge Street in Toronto, Canada - a "bricks and mortar" store with thousands of culinary and wine titles. And they are especially proud of their program of hosting both local stars and cultural icons from the cooking world - including  Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Giada de Laurentiis, Anthony Bourdain, Bill Granger, Elizabeth Baird, Monda Rosenberg, Anne Lindsay, Lucy Waverman, Bonnie Stern, Paul Bocuse, Anton Mosimann, Nick Malgieri, Martha Stewart and Julia Child.

We started our Q&A with store owner Alison Fryer discussing being a "brick and mortar" establishment:

EYB: The Cookbook Store was set up before online bookstores dominated the market.  How have you tried to compete in the new trading environment?

Since we opened in 1983 we have always tried to make our store a community where you can not only buy books but also meet and discuss culinary ideas with authors, chefs, and those passionate about food. It creates and fosters a new generation of cooks, both for home and professional kitchens. At the same time we want to inspire and reinvigorate those who have been cooking for a while. To see people's faces light up with enthusiasm and passion when they meet their culinary heroes, such as Thomas Keller or Julia Child, or engage with an author such as Magnus Nilsson, Alex Atala and our own Canadian talent such as Mark McEwan, Michael Smith or Lynn Crawford. It's being a part of the magic. None of this you get in an online experience.

EYB: Why do the customers in your store prefer to come to The Cookbook Store?

We first, and foremost, love people. You can't be in  retail and not be a people person. Plus we get to work with food, wine, and publishing industries - what's not  to like! We engage with the culinary world and connect it to the public in a meaningful way. For example, yes we can host Ferran Adrià for over 500 people but we also hold knife skills classes for those who are just starting out. Both are equally important and I think our customers look to us to engage with them beyond the cookbooks. Of course we draw on over 30 years experience, we have had chefs, food stylists, cookbook authors, on staff; we currently have a very knowledgeable person on staff who is vegan; people trust us to recommend a book that will fit their needs. We really just talk food all day long!

EYB: Do you specialize in any particular areas of cookbooks?

We obviously can't be all things to all people but we try, we sell just as much of Muffin Mania ( an iconic self published Canadian cookbook) as we do the latest chef book. So we try to keep a broad spectrum of books.

EYB: What are the big sellers at The Cookbook Store?

Today? This week? Last month? Gosh it changes but at this time of year January focuses on healthy food, simple dishes. So: Plenty, Grain Power, One Good DishGramercy Tavern, For the Love of Soup, Tartine No 3.

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

I'm more of a classics person sprinkled with new ideas and I tend to focus on authors rather than specific books. I do keep a large collection of Canadian books as they sadly tend to go out of print faster. My list would include Marcella Hazan, Deborah Madison, Lucy Waverman, Julia Child, Dianne Rosen Worthington, Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson and then David Tanis, Canal House, Ottolenghi, Yvette Van Boven. I think I'd better stop!

Are Americans now too stupid to cook?

cooking breakfast

Michael Ruhlman had a particularly controversial blog entry recently. In America: Too Stupid to Cook, he presented the thesis that "Americans are being taught that we're too stupid to cook." To back up his argument, he cites several examples: 

"The messages are everywhere.  Boxed cake mix.  Why is it there?  Because a real cake is too hard!  You can't bake a cake!  Takes too long, you can't do it, you're gonna fail!

Look at all those rotisserie chickens stacked in the warming bin at the grocery store.  Why?  Because roasting a chicken is too hard, takes FOREVER.  An hour.  I don't have an hour to watch a chicken cook!

Companies that make microwaveable dinners have spent countless R&D dollars to transform dishes that used to take 7 minutes in the microwave into ones that take 3 minutes.  "Hey, Marge, that's four minutes of extra TEEvee we can watch!"

In practically every single cookbook produced today, the message is, buy this book because we show you easy things to make fast.  Only takes a second.  Whether it's Rachael's 30-minute meals or the quick-and-easy columns in the food magazines.  That's all we hear.  Real cooking is hard and difficult so here are the nifty shortcuts and tips to make all that hard stuff quickly and easily."

It's an interesting argument, but I can't agree. First, two of his examples - boxed cake mixes and TV dinners have been around since the 1950's and so any lessons have long been assimilated. And look at some of the trends since then - the resurgence of farmers' markets, the popularity of cooking shows, the much greater availability of ethnic, international, and artisanal foods in the markets. All of these argue for a greater, not lesser, interest in cooking.

And his argument about cookbooks also doesn't really hold water. Last year Ree Drummond (the Pioneer Woman) had three of the top ten selling cookbooks in the U.S. in 2013. And whether you like her recipes or not, her books strongly advocate home-style cooking - there's very little about trying to make meals quicker or substituting store-bought ingredients. 

I guess I'd like to give us a little more credit than Ruhlman does for being able to balance an unquestioned need for more time against a natural instinct and intelligence for good food. But I'd love to hear what you think.

And, by the way, I wanted to give you all a heads up that in February I'm preparing to hand over the reins as EYB's primary blogger to a new blogger, Darcie Boschee.  Darcie is a culinary enthusiast, freelance food writer, and (naturally) a cookbook lover. Her passion for cooking is exceeded only by her zeal for baking and craft cocktails. By way of introduction, Darcie will be posting a bit this month as well. 

 

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

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