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Fermented foods continue upward trend

Bread & butter pickles

Restaurant discovery service Urbanspoon compiles restaurant reviews from various sources including bloggers, food critics, and local diners. After sorting through the data from their app's Popular Dish feature, reviews, comments, and user data, the service has come up with their predictions for 2015's food trends, along with the top cuisines of the current year.

The reigning cuisines in the US & Canada for 2014 were Spanish-style tapas, Italian, Mediterranean, Southern (US) and soul foods, and Japanese. The popularity of pickles and other fermented foods soared this year, and the service predicts that trend will continue, and in 2015 we'll see "cauliflower, onions, eggplant, zucchini and fennel bulbs get dunked in vinegary, herbal and garlicky solutions." (See Susie Chang's recent report on pickling and preserving cookbooks for 2014.)

Other Urbanspoon predictions for the new year include smoked vegetables and the return of old-fashioned desserts and candies, especially brittle. Look for the terms "artisanal" and "homemade" to preface the treats.

North American trends seem to be in line with what's expected in Australia. One Australian source predicts a fermenting frenzy: "Originally popular amongst the raw food enthusiasts, the trend of using microbes in your own kitchen is set to go mainstream with DIY lessons going beyond creating homemade yoghurt. Think sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kombucha (fermented tea), kimchee (fermented vegetables) and kefir (cultured milk product)." Tourism Australia's predictions for next year also include smoked foods (everything from meat to fruit), plus savoury cocktails, an emphasis on vegetables, and outrageous sweets.

No one seems to have made similar pickle predictions for the UK for 2015. Members there will have to fill us in on whether 'fermenting frenzy' is taking hold in the UK as much as it is across the pond.

Photo of Bread & butter pickles from Food Wishes by John Mitzewich

Gil Marks, Jewish food historian, dies at 62

Encyclopedia of Jewish FoodOlive trees and honey










Gil Marks, a culinary historian who wrote about Jewish food and culture, has died at the age of 62. Marks authored several books on Jewish food and in 2005 won a James Beard Award for his book Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes From Jewish Communities Around the World. He is probably better known, however, for his more recent Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.

Marks' books "not only provided a recipe-by-recipe chronicle of kosher menus through the centuries but also examined the role of food in the establishment and growth of cultural traditions," according to his obituary in the NY Times. At the time of his death, he was working on a new book called American Cakes. Portions of that work have appeared on the website The History Kitchen. 

In addition to being a culinary historian who focused on the relationship between Jewish food and culture, Marks was previously a guidance counselor and history teacher at Yeshiva University High School for Boys in New York. He also worked in Philadelphia as a social worker before returning to New York, where he lived for most of his life. Marks had recently moved to the West Bank near Jerusalem.


The Cookie Countdown

I am, and always have been, a cookie person.  I'm happiest when there's a nearly-full cookie box or jar somewhere in the kitchen, just waiting for me to have an excuse: a story filed, a disagreeable chore completed, or just plain "lunch dessert".  A cookie doesn't make you feel as guilty as a big juicy slab of pie, or a dense wedge of cake.  It's just a cookie - sweet, perfect, and of short duration.

The difficulty at this time of year is deciding which of my many, many favorite cookies will get my attention.  Last year, it was all star cookies, of which my perennial favorite (and the one I always make time to make) is La Befana, the sprinkle star from Gina dePalma's Dolce Italiano, which has never once let me down.

If I've really got my ducks in a row, I might have time to make stroopwafels, which require a bit of careful timing and keeping your wits about you so you don't burn yourself on the waffle iron. You also have to eat them while they're warm and still pliant, but that's the least of our problems.

My husband's favorite cookie - and one I'm also crazy about - is the double dark chocolate cherry cookie from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book.  He makes giant double batches with jumbo bags of chips and cherries from Costco, and he gives them out to his students.  But there's always some left over for the rest of us.

This year around Thanksgiving, I discovered another favorite cookie - The "Ischler" - from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Baking Bible.  It's a sandwich cookie filled with apricot preserves and ganache, and I think it will be my Death Row request cookie if I ever find myself in that situation.  

While I've been dreaming about cookies, my cousin Barbara and my aunt Mimi have been making them. We got an incredible package this week in the mail, overflowing with little meringues and wrapped truffles and, best of all, crisp pecan sand tarts.  Barbara says these are the Joy of Cooking sand tarts, which means now I have another cookie to add to my Try list.  My plan is to use them for this year's reindeer cookies - oh, I forgot - that's another favorite, but mostly because we get to practice our royal icing technique on them.

My long-term ambition is to someday get all these cookies done early enough to mail them to friends and family, the way Barbara does.  But for now, it's just one more thing I'll be dreaming about.  What's your cookie of choice? 

Tips for perfect sugar cookies

Iced sugar cookies

If you haven't started your holiday baking yet, there is still time to make plenty of treats. Iced sugar cookies are a classic holiday treat, and they are tons of fun to make and decorate. However, they can be a little fussy and if you're not careful you can end up with misshapen, broken, greasy, or burnt cookies. Don't panic, though, we've got great cookie tips from your favorite indexed blogs.

The Kitchn shows us how to avoid the top 5 mistakes in making sugar cookies. The number one tip is to make sure your butter isn't too soft. Sometimes we get in a hurry and try to rush the butter softening by using a microwave, but this frequently results in butter that's too warm. When that happens, your cookies can turn out greasy and won't hold their shape well.

You also want to avoid overworking the dough, which will lead to tough cookies. Use a gentle hand and mix "the dry ingredients only until they're just incorporated, and not a second longer. Once the dry ingredients are added, less mixing equals more tender cookies." The third tip is to chill the dough before rolling and cutting to make it more compliant. Visit The Kitchn for the remainder of their tips.

In addition to this great advice, Food52 offers suggestions for improving your cookies. Their first tip is to "Cream, cream, cream, cream the butter." Why is this so important?  Because the creaming "process actually helps to "dissolve" the sugar into the butter, which makes for a properly mixed cookie. This process -- done correctly -- takes 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low speed." You don't have to worry about over-mixing until you add the dry ingredients.

Another solid piece of advice is to not add too much flour. More flour leads to tough cookies, not the soft, chewy masterpieces you're after. When rolling out the dough, a "light dusting to your surface and your rolling pin should do the trick. Plus, if you've rolled your soft dough into a 1 inch-thick disk, you don't have very far to go to roll out the dough to the proper thickness." Read more tips at Food52.

Finally, the "golden" rule that both blogs emphasize: don't bake the cookies until golden. Although many recipes will tell you to do just that, it is not good advice for rolled sugar cookies like this. They should appear set around the edges, and the edges should just be turning color, but the tops should be pale for the most tender cookies.

Photo of Iced sugar cookies from Cooking Light Magazine

Returning the star

Michelin stars

A Michelin star rating can put a restaurant on the map. It can also put it in a straitjacket, which is why a number of chefs are giving back their stars, says Fortune magazine. Another issue plaguing starred restaurants isn't the constraint placed upon them, but rather that diners have come to expect a certain type of atmosphere. Some avant garde restaurants don't fit into that mold and diners can feel let down.

Australian chef Skye Gyngell learned this the hard way. "People have certain expectations of a Michelin restaurant, but we don't have cloths on the tables, our service isn't very formal. You know, if they're used to eating at Marcus Wareing [a two-star restaurant in London's Berkeley hotel], then they feel let down when they come here," Gyngell told Australia's Good Weekend magazine. Gyngell took the star off her London restaurant, Petersham Nurseries Café, and quit a short time later. She has since opened a new restaurant, which does not have a star.

Chef Julio Biosca returned his Michelin star for a different reason. While he respects the star system and recognizes that his Michelin star helped popularize his restaurant, he also felt pressured by it.  Biosca "felt that he'd been awarded it for a certain culinary project, which included a tasting menu and complicated dishes, and the award gave customers very specific expectations. The star was an honor but also a straitjacket" that limited his creative ability.

The decisions made by these chefs are not the norm. "A Michelin star is the life goal of many restaurateurs, and the distinction has immense marketing power. "Michelin puts you on the gastronomic map, literally," says Spanish food critic Julia Pérez Lozano.

But keeping the Michelin star is not a guarantee of success for a restaurant. Restaurants that are awarded stars often feel pressure to invest in decor and service and to raise prices. Even though the star rating may increase traffic in the restaurant, it doesn't always translate into financial reward as nearly half of starred restaurants aren't profitable.

Fruitcake's extended family


Fruitcake has gotten a bad rap. What used to be a celebratory cake studded with dried fruit and nuts that was moist and flavorful turned into a caricature of itself, morphing into a products that was overly sweet yet somehow dry, with neon-colored bits that barely resemble anything in the fruit world. No wonder most fruitcakes end up in the trash bin.

It doesn't have to be that way, says Tess Panzer of Yahoo! DIY."Think quality dried fruit and crunchy nuts. Think of good brandy. Think toasted, warming spices. Revamp that glowing old loaf, and give it new, rustic depth of flavor and the TLC it deserves."

You don't have to stick with traditional fruitcake, either. Different regions have different takes on the holiday treat, Panzer notes. "German Stollen incorporates marzipan for a sweet and nutty flavor that also keeps the cake from drying out." There's also a traditional Italian favorite, panforte, which contains fruit, nuts, and spices but no eggs or leavener and only a little flour. This results in a dense, chewy and spicy treat. 

Christmas puddings also fall on the fruitcake spectrum, and if made properly, "soaked in brandy or sherry and sticky with beautiful dried figs and currants, can be to die for. " Which fruitcake family member do you prefer? 

Photo of Panforte from Jamie Magazine

Chef Sean Brock brings history to Heritage

HeritageChef Sean Brock's recently released cookbook, Heritage, is sure to be on many "best of" lists for 2014. What began as a book about cooking in the Lowcountry (Brock's two restaurants are located in Charleston, South Carolina) transformed into a self-described documentary with "personal anecdotes and reflections on the significance of seed-saving, home-gardening and keeping culinary traditions alive."

The James-Beard Award winning chef found this change to a full-disclosure approach to be "terrifying." Making his personal history public was scary enough, but he also strived to make sure no recipes were shortchanged. He notes that "if the food that you're serving while you're telling a story isn't delicious, nobody cares about the story."

Brock, who grew up in Appalachia, takes a conservationist approach to food. He recalls eating at his grandmother's house, where the food was vibrant and flavorful, and contrasts those memories to the first time he ate Hoppin' John at a restaurant. Brock found it tasteless compared to his family's food, and he attributes the difference to the quality of the heirloom vegetables his family raised. "I'd go back to my grandmother's house, have dinner and everything would be bursting with flavour because my family saved seeds, and they're very in love with specific varieties of plants that they've been growing and eating forever," he says.

Brock would like to open another restaurantm this one based on the cuisine of the Appalachians, but he feels that he wouldn't be able to get enough of the quality food that he wants to use. Read more about Brock's story and why he thinks winter is the best time to cook at the National Post.

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 UK books:

2 recipes from Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef by Massimo Bottura

From AUS/NZ books:

10 recipes from Everyday by Karen Martini

From US books:

19 recipes from The Skinnytaste Cookbook: Light on Calories, Big on Flavor 
by Gina Homolka & Heather K. Jones, RD
(You can add indexed Skinnytaste blog to your Bookshelf as well!)

7 recipes from Flour + Water: Pasta by Thomas McNaughton

28 recipes from Sugar Rush: Master Tips, Techniques, and Recipes for Sweet Baking 
by Johnny Iuzzini & Wes Martin

13 recipes from Indian for Everyone: The Home Cook's Guide to Traditional Favorites 
by Anupy Singla

10 recipes from  Everyday Indian: 100 Fast, Fresh and Healthy Recipes by Bal Arneson

And don't forget EYB gift vouchers are Buy 1, Get 1 Free for the holidays!
(Ends Dec. 18th)


Sunset looks for a new home

Sunset magazine

Time, Inc., the corporate parent of Sunset magazine, announced that it has sold Sunset's 7-acre campus, located in Menlo Park, California. The campus contained several gardens and midcentury ranch-style buildings designed by Cliff May, considered the father of the California ranch home. Sunset magazine's rich history traces all the way to 1898 with a sales publication developed by the Southern Pacific Railroad, which wanted to lure people to the West.

In the 1950s, the magazine moved to its current location and became a chronicle of California living from the kitchen to the garden and beyond. Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magazine, reminisced about the magazine's impact: "When I moved to Berkeley in 1973, I had all these articles I had been pulling out of Sunset," she said. "I had one that told you how to build your own bread oven in your backyard. They were so ahead of the curve. They made California seem like the most romantic place on earth."

Time Inc. will continue to publish Sunset and has started a search for a new home for the magazine's kitchen, gardens, and offices. The magazine will stay in its current location through 2015. This move is one of many that Time Inc. has undertaken during its spinoff from Time Warner. Earlier this year, Time sold the Alabama property that housed magazines like Southern Living and Cooking Light, but it leased back some of the space, so those magazines didn't have to move.

Some former Sunset staffers worry that the move will negatively impact the magazine. "It will be hard for Sunset to survive as it represents itself now . . . as a working voice of the West, without the tools for testing and experimenting," says Jerry Anne Di Vecchio, who worked at Sunset for over 40 years.

The Hanukkah latke story

Adam & Maxine's famous latkes

Fried foods feature prominently in Hanukkah celebrations, and latkes are popular expressions of the tradition. The popularity of potato latkes is no surprise - what's not to love about the contrast between the crispy exteriors and creamy insides? They're so delicious, Epicurious dreams of a latke party with their five favorite latke and sauce pairings.

But did you know that the first latkes weren't made with potatoes, but with cheese? According to Tori Avey, food blogger and culinary anthropologist, "latkes descends from Italian pancakes that were made with ricotta cheese. The first connection between Hanukkah and pancakes was made by a rabbi in Italy named Rabbi Kalonymus ben Kalonymus." While potato latkes are now a Hanukkah tradition, the tradition of eating dairy during the holiday is actually older.

This practice traces back to the Jewish heroine Judith, who saved her village from the invading Assyrian army. Judith plied the general of the army with salty cheese. When he got thirsty she gave him plenty of wine, getting him so drunk that he fell asleep. Judith then beheaded the general with his own sword, and the Israelites were able to defeat the leaderless army after launching a surprise attack. In Judith's honor, dairy foods are eaten during Hanukkah.

Potato latkes arrived much later, in 18th or 19th century. The tradition can be traced back to Northern Europe, where the slaugher of geese which produced a lot of cooking fat. Even the poorest person could "find a potato in the field, an onion in the cellar, and some of the precious, newly-rendered goose fat to create the Hanukkah culinary story of Neis gadol hayah sham―A great miracle happened there." The fact that they are delicious as well as symbolic cemented their association with the holiday.

Photo of Adam and Maxine's famous latkes from Bon Appétit Magazine

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