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The disappearing foods of Rome

spaghetti ala olio and peperoncino 

If you've always dreamed of visiting Rome and savoring a relaxed, hours-long traditional meal at a Roman ristorante or trattoria, you might want to book your flights sooner rather than later. Indexed magazine Saveur explains that much of Rome's traditional cuisine is disappearing.

Thanks in part to E.U.'s globalized food system and competition from new eateries like gastropubs and French bistros, Romans are turning away from once common meals like umache alla romana (plump snails braised in a spicy tomato sauce with mint) in favor of newer foodstuffs. The news isn't all bad, however. There are still a few "culinary preservationists keeping the city's cuisine alive, thankfully - chefs and restaurant owners who are carrying on the traditions of their family-run restaurants."

Saveur provides us with six different examples of such restaurants. One of these is Armando al Pantheon, where chef Claudio Gargioli features traditional spaghetti ajo, ojo, e peperoncino (pasta coated with garlic and chile-infused oil), once a regular late-night staple. In the past, long meals would end with this simple dish, which was served after dessert. "It signaled the end of a meal," says Gargioli. He now features it on his menu alongside popular primi like carbonara, gricia, and cacio e pepe because Roman meals don't end with pasta anymore, instead, they end with dessert.

Photo of Spaghetti with aglio, olio, and peperoncino from Dinner Chez Moi by Laura Calder

Get your chocolate fix

 golden kiss cocktail

Valentine's Day will probably be forever linked with chocolate. Last year, people in the US spent nearly $350 million on chocolate (a whopping 58 million pounds) for the holiday. But you don't have to be content with just eating chocolate as a treat. As the website FSR explains, you can incorporate chocolate into your entire meal.

From cocktails to dessert, you'll find chocolate on many restaurant menus. It isn't always the star of each course, however. Pastry chef Summer Schott of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants uses Bitter Truth Chocolate Bitters for "a chocolate mole undertone" in her Rum Punch. Using just the bitters instead of a chocolate liqueur "portrays how chocolate does not always have to be the main flavor, but can subtly add to a dish or drink," says Schott. 

Main courses can also feature a subtle chocolate note. At The ChopHouse, located in Gibbsboro, New Jersey, a Kona Steak rub, which features coffee and dry mustard in addition to cocoa powder, "is the key ingredient that yields earthy tones and a crusty, dark char in the sirloin." (Check out these chocolate rubs in the EYB Library.)

Of course chocolate features heavily in dessert menus. It can be the star of many sweet treats like chocolate mousse and the ubiquitous molten chocolate cake, but it can be used with restraint here as well. Zac Young, executive pastry chef of David Burke Group, says, "I've recently been using chocolate in a supporting role. Although I make many chocolate-centric desserts, I also love using chocolate as an accent ingredient." One of his signature desserts is called "The Big Apple Mousse." It is composed of a mascarpone mousse and apple compote molded into an apple shape, which is then dipped into a roasted white chocolate glaze.

What's your favorite way to bring chocolate into your meal?

Photo of Golden kiss (featuring cocoa nibs) from Observer Food Monthly Magazine

Featured Cookbooks & Recipes

Do you find other people's comments on recipes helpful? Have you written your own recipe Notes? It's a great way to remind yourself how a dish turned out and share your experience with the EYB community. On each Recipe Details page you'll find a Notes tab.

Adding online recipes to your EYB Bookshelf is a really great way to expand your personal recipe collection. You can now do this even if you have a free membership!

We're featuring online recipes from these books, magazines and blogs - check them out.

Happy cooking & baking everyone!

From magazines:

Banana, Fig & Oat Breakfast Bread from the February issue of indexed Jamie Magazine

From AUS/NZ books:

17 recipes -- many with videos! -- from Same Same But Different: Recipe Pairs That Share a Process, Ingredient or Texture by Poh Ling Yeow

From US books:
11 recipes from Gizzi's Healthy Appetite: Food to Nourish the Body and Feed the Soul 
by Gizzi Erskine (originally published in the UK)
Enter our giveaway (US/CANADA only -- Ends Feb 24th)

20 recipes from Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest 
by Blaine Wetzel & Joe Ray

31 recipes from My Irish Table: Recipes from the Homeland and Restaurant Eve 
by Cathal Armstrong & David Hagedorn, indexed by an EYB member

19 recipes from Everyone Is Italian on Sunday by Rachael Ray

13 recipes from Cooking Like a MasterChef: 100 Recipes to Make the Everyday Extraordinary by Graham Elliot with Mary Goodbody


If you like it, put a ring on (or in) it

 Hearts on cheesecake

Valentine's Day is fast approaching, a day that will feature countless romantic dinners and more than a few marriage proposals. Sometimes the person making the proposal will ask the restaurant to assist him or her in making the moment extra special by requesting the couple's favorite song to be played or by having the pastry chef hide the engagement ring in the dessert

At some restaurants this phenomenon isn't limited to Valentine's Day. Anna Bolz, pastry chef at Per Se in New York City, sees a ring a few times per month. One of the ways she will present the ring involves a play on a custom at the restaurant to send out a whole truffle as a sort of teaser before the truffle course. In the case of a proposal, "they'll send out the ring as a pre-dessert course. Bolz plates the ring differently depending on the couple, and what's for dessert, but her favorite is a golden egg dish, which opens up to reveal the ring nested in glittering Maldon salt (chosen because it doesn't leave too much residue on the ring)."

Pastry chefs frequently create desserts in which to hide the ring. At River Cafe in New York City, one of the favorites is called the Brooklyn Bridge dessert, "a dark chocolate sculpture in which the ring dangles from one of the bridge's cables." At Gramercy Tavern, also in New York City, rings are delicately placed on the restaurant's "allergy-friendly coconut cake with a torched marshmallow frosting, surrounded by flower petals from their in-house florist, and presented under a cloche."

One enterprising young gentleman even proposed using a Cronut. "I remember this gentlemen came into the shop and it was like 4:30 in the morning, and he was pounding on the door asking me for a Cronut," said chef Dominique Ansel, "I told him that he had to wait because they just weren't ready." The young man persisted, knocking again at 6:00 a.m., but was again rebuffed by Ansel. It wasn't until after he showed Ansel the boarding ticket for his flight to California that was departing quite soon that Ansel made a rare exception and sold an early Cronut.

Too much of a good thing

beef stew 

When it comes to beef stews and braises, long cooking at low temperature is the way to go, and many recipes call for hours of cooking. Even though you may think longer is better, beware of extended cooking times, says indexed blog Serious Eats.

You might feel that if three hours is good, four must be better, to allow all of the connective tissue to break down. While that does take some time, there are undesirable changes that occur when the meat is cooked for too long. J. Kenji López-Alt explains that there are three distinct phases that the meat passes through during long cooking sessions: what he calls primary, secondary, and tertiary breakdown.

In the first phase, "large swaths of connective tissue that run through a piece of stew beef break down and convert to gelatin. Individual cubes will still hold their shape very well, but will show tenderness when you bite into them." The second phase occurs "when the tissue holding together individual muscle fibrils (the long, skinny bundles of muscle cells that give meat its distinct grain) breaks down and the fibrils easily separate from each other. At this stage, the beef is very easily shredded." The final phase "is when those individual muscle fibrils themselves break down, turning from distinct, juice-filled strands into pulpy mush."

In Kenji's experiment, he noted that cooking times that went beyond four hours ended in meat being extremely dry and resembling the "pulpy mush" described above. He cautions that the slow cooker recipes that call for eight hours of cooking may be overdoing it, although he does offer the caveat that the cooking temperature and cut of meat also play roles in how long it takes for a stew to be done. That means there are no hard and fast rules. Kenji recommends that you begin "checking your meat when you hit around 80% of the total recommended cooking time, and stop cooking as soon as it reaches the stage at which the meat is tender, but not falling apart-so, if a recipe says to cook the stew for 2 1/2 hours, start checking it around the 2-hour mark."

Photo of All-American beef stew from Serious Eats by J. Kenji López-Alt

Oysters and their taste of place

baked oysters with tender leeks

Writer Cynthia Nims is a lifelong resident of the Northwest US who reveled in growing up surrounded by great food. After studying cooking at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in France where she received the Grand Diplôme d'Etudes Culinaires, Cynthia worked on numerous cookbooks with the school's president, Anne Willan. She is the author of ten cookbooks and was previously editor of Simply Seafood magazine and food editor of Seattle Magazine. Her most recent cookbook, Oysters: Recipes That Bring Home a Taste of the Sea, is fresh off the presses. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book. And check out Cynthia's book tour dates.) We asked Cynthia to expound on her enthusiasm for the book's subject. Here's what she had to say:

Something about oysters elicits passions that run mighty deep for members of their fan club. Which may have a lot to do with the fact that oysters-beyond being delicious and intriguing creatures-represent  a taste of place as few other foods do. Even other seafoods. Oysters don't just live surrounded by seawater, they are voracious consumers of that seawater. As filter-feeders, they draw through their gills many gallons of water each day, filtering out nutritious phytoplankton and other minute particles that impact their flavor. The salinity of the water does as well, plus how active the tide, the water temperature, and other environmental factors that contribute to the taste and texture of the meat tucked between the distinctive shells.

This conglomeration of natural influences has come to be known as meroir, a sea-going version of terroir. And as terroir was uniquely linked with wine grapes initially, so is it that meroir comes about with a distinct link to oysters. The evidence of this is easy enough to discover when you slurp different oysters side-by-side, the better to distinguish their unique characteristics.

The two key species of oyster grown in North America are the Eastern oyster (sometimes known by its Latin name, Virginica) and the Pacific oyster. They have some species-specific features: Pacifics' shells are more fluted and ruffled than Easterns and Eastern oysters tend to taste brinier than those on the Pacific, to name a couple. But because of that meroir factor, within each of those species are countless variations in size, shape, flavor and texture that reflect the specific waters where the oyster grew. Which explains why you rarely see these oysters sold simply by their species name, instead it will be Fanny Bay, Judd Cove, Hama Hama, Cedar Island, Malpeque.

So you can have quite an oyster adventure without leaving your seat at the oyster bar, which is one of the joys of this beautiful bivalve. The three other species grown in North America which you may see on the menu are the popular Kumamotos (an ideal 'starter' oyster), the Olympia (the only oyster native to the West Coast) and the European Flat (grown in very small volumes on both coasts). Add them to the mix when available. As you slurp your way through the half-shell selections, some will be briskly-briny other mellower and almost sweet, some cucumber-y while others more toward earthy or mineral flavors. Even their shells have stories to tell whether covered with barnacles or smooth from the tumbling tide, or simply esthetically striking with lovely stripes or frilly ruffles. The fascinating exploration perfectly emphasizes the distinct taste of place that oysters provide.

Cookbook giveaway - Oysters

Oysters cookbookOyster lovers, rejoice! The new cookbook by Cynthia Nims, Oysters: Recipes That Bring Home a Taste of the Sea is brimming with recipes, shucking instructions, and the local farming success story of the many delicious oysters from the Pacific Coast. In addition, the book is filled with gorgeous photographs of the beautiful areas where oysters are harvested. You can learn more about the book and its subject in our informative author interview with Cynthia. And check out Cynthia's book tour dates.

We're delighted to offer two copies of Oysters to EYB Members. The contest is limited to Members in the USA and Canada only. One of the entry options is to answer the following question in the comments section of this blog post:

What is your favorite way to eat oysters?

Please note that you must be signed into the Rafflecopter contest before posting the comment or your entry won't be counted. If you are not already a Member, you can join at no cost. The contest ends March 8, 2016.

Learn to love your slow cooker

 Slow cooker chicken tikka masala

Chowhound recently proclaimed that this is "the age of the crockpot." The "golden age" term has perhaps been bandied about too often, but hyperbole aside, the once forgotten slow cooker has found new life in modern kitchens. As Chowhound points out, the machines have improved in recent years. But while the slow cooker is among the simplest appliances to use, the site correctly notes that "not all crock-pot dishes are created equal. What you cook, how you assemble it in the cooker, and how long you let it simmer - these are all crucial points in winning at slow cooking."

The article provides a brief history of the appliance. While the concept of passive cooking has been around as long as fires have slowly died, the slow cooker itself can be traced back only about 50 years. While initially marketed as time savers for the busy working woman who wanted to feed her family, Chowhound stresses that slow cookers "do not eliminate the need for prep or preliminary steps such as browning meats and soaking beans (though you can certainly just dump a bunch of raw stuff in a crock pot, it doesn't yield optimal results)."

However, when properly used, slow cookers can assist in time management because they don't need to be constantly monitored. Top food bloggers and cookbook writers have elevated the slow cooker by crafting recipes that take advantage of the gentle heat of the appliance while adding a much needed flavor boost to the bland recipes of yore. In addition to providing tips and recipes, Chowhound offers a guide to purchasing a slow cooker, exploring the varied features that have emerged in recent years like programmable timers. Most of the many factors that go into choosing and using a slow cooker are also covered, and the site offers a comparison of three top models.

Once you purchase the perfect appliance, try one of the highly rated recipes from the EYB Library specially adapted for the slow cooker. There are also categories for other small appliances or specialized cookware, specifically for the rice cooker, pressure cooker and microwave.

Photo of Slow cooker chicken tikka masala from indexed blog The Kitchn

'Low and slow' works for more than just meat

 baby carrots

Read any modern vegetable recipe and you're likely to see words like char, sear, and roast - all high heat methods. This reflects the current emphasis on treating vegetables like meat as many people embrace a more vegetable-centric diet. But just as many meats benefit from 'low and slow' cooking, so can vegetables, says indexed magazine Bon Appétit.

Don't worry, the magazine isn't advocating boiling your vegetables to death. Instead, they suggest "dry roasting that veg with a little olive oil, a good sprinkle of salt, and a sprinkle of chile flakes for good measure-in a 250° degree oven until the exterior gets all shrivel-y and the interior takes on a delicate, custard-like texture." The goal is to concentrate the natural flavors of the vegetables instead of adding flavor with char. 

Just as with braises and stews, patience is rewarded. It may take an hour and a half to slow-roast fresh carrots, but you end up with a "beautifully concentrated sweetness." Likewise, it can take up to two and a half hours for a halved head of cauliflower to become tender, "but the result-moist, rich, deeply satisfying-is worth the wait."

The problems with food media


I'll admit it; I'm a food writing junkie. A significant portion of my free time is consumed by reading about food in print media (albeit less and less frequently), in cookbooks and, of course, on a plethora of websites and blogs. There are definite trends in the discourse on the web. Some of that revolves around seasonal items like holidays and weather-driven foodstuffs, but other trends seem to be picked up just to echo popular sites or to drive clicks. The website First We Feast discusses this phenomenon, and also criticizes food media for additional perceived flaws.

The article notes that over the past several years, the food media landscape has been in a state of flux, with big names like Bittman, Parsons, and Cowin departing the scene, among other changes. "Yet through all the ups and downs," they note, "something rankled: Food media has felt, for lack of a better word, soft. The most interesting and challenging stories are told from outside of the industry, and the appealing feralness of early food blogs has been neutered as websites settled into their role as the new establishment."

Specific fault-finding includes the theory that food writers are too scared of losing access to be critical. This seems to be belied by the recent takedowns of the Mast Brothers and the disparaging review of Per Se by food critic Pete Wells. But even those negative articles are problematic, says First We Feast. "While food-media outlets are quick to pull punches, they can also be opportunistic bullies at times, switching from boosterism to bashing only when it suits them best," they say. If it feels safe to do so, they posit, websites will gleefully tear down once-revered idols, but only after someone else (like an obscure blog) gets the ball rolling. 

On recipes, First We Feast is even more critical: "We've hit peak recipe, and too many of them are bad." The site laments the shift from cookbooks written by homecooking stalwarts like Diane Kennedy and Madhur Jaffrey to more chef-driven books, saying that "too many new cookbooks are little more than vanity projects, packed with elaborate recipes that require obscure ingredients and full brigades to pull off correctly." 

Some of the criticism may be fair, like the fact that gatekeepers are too homogenous, leading to lack of diversity. Other parts of the article seem to be attributing to food writing the same changes that all media has undergone as the world has shifted from print media to an online platform. And for its complaints, the site offers few suggestions for what should be done differently. Perhaps this introspection will lead to changes, but ideas on how to improve would have been welcome.

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