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Short films capture the intersection of food and culture

Tajikistan bread

Most of the stories on the EYB blog involve the written word, whether that is cookbooks, links to other blogs, food news, or other information about food. But that just scratches the surface of the food-related information available on the web. Videos - whether instructional (like these in the EYB Library) or entertaining are available via many outlets. One source for fascinating short food videos that are informative and can also be visually stunning is National Geographic. They have an entire library of video shorts called the Short Film Showcase. The videos cover a wide array of subjects, one of which is the intersection of food and culture.

Ranging from one to 15 minutes in length, the videos explore many facets: tea in the Falkland islands, drinking absinthe, eating ants, a cranberry harvest. One particularly compelling video portrays a Tajikistan woman making the region's traditional flatbread, a major source of calories for the residents in this rugged and inhospitable area.

The vignette captures a great deal of information in just over one minute: you get a glimpse of the rustic dwelling, see how the in-ground oven is lit with dried branches, watch as the woman executes the unique scoring and decorating of the dough, view the dough being plopped onto the sides of the oven, and see the golden brown bread emerge. If you want to learn tidbits about subjects as diverse as durian, truffles, and rotten shark meat, check out the other food and culture offerings on the National Geographic website.

Brisket's rise in the BBQ world

smoked brisket

For decades, pork ruled the barbecue circuits in the US. From the Carolinas to the Midwest, pulled pork and ribs reigned supreme. But recently a new contender has emerged for the title of king of the barbecue: brisket. It has expanded from its epicenter in Texas to achieve prominent status on menus from Portland to Brooklyn. First We Feast traces the origins of the brisket barbecue movement.

The article shows how a confluence of factors, from technological advances to cultural shifts, catapulted brisket to "the apple of the BBQ world's eye." The first factor was the rise of gas-powered, wood-enhanced ovens, which took away the biggest obstacle to any long-smoked meat: labor. Instead of having to tend to a wood fire for the better part of a day, restaurateurs could load up the oven and walk away, returning 12 to 24 hours later to a finished product.

But perhaps more important than the technology was a movement toward authenticity, led by Austin, Texas barbecue guru Aaron Franklin. Franklin wasn't the only guy using all-wood fires to smoke brisket, but he his quest for perfection energized chefs across the country. The lines outside his iconic restaurant stretch for blocks, as hundreds of people queue in 100-degree weather for a chance to taste his signature product. A slew of barbecue restaurants featuring brisket opened in New York and the movement spread like wildfire.

But of all the reasons brisket rose to the top of the barbecue world, "one may be a dirty little secret: good brisket just isn't as difficult to make as its mythologists would have you believe." As more people attempt backyard smoking, they are finding that while it takes some skill to make swoon-worthy brisket, the task isn't any more difficult than smoking pulled pork or ribs. The only downside to the brisket craze is - you guessed it - that brisket, once an also-ran in the meat departments, now commands a premium price.

Photo of Smoked brisket with coffee (with barbecue rub #67) from Leite's Culinaria by Leigh Beisch

Food blog Mad Libs

blog post comments

We've all seen it before: a commenter on a food blog has made the recipe with a host of substitutions and changes but trashes the recipe anyway. The folks over at The Kitchn found this scenario (and several others) to be perfect fodder for a game of Mad Libs. (For the uninitiated, Mad Libs is a word game where one player prompts others for a list of words to substitute for blanks in a story. The completed story - often comical or nonsensical - is then read aloud.) 

The Kitchn created several Mad Lib templates based on different types of commenters. There's The Anthropologist: "This is not authentic [name of food]! I lived in [name of country] for [number][unit of time] and I can tell you NO ONE puts [common ingredient] in their [name of food]." Then there's the Know-It-All: "No, no, no! This is not how you [cooking verb] [baking ingredient]. The ONLY way to do it is with a [kitchen tool you use once a year] and your [body part]. Your method is just wrong."

The ones that I found the funniest are for the commenters who substitute ingredients. These commenters fall into three camps: The Happy Substitutionist, The Optimistic Substitutionist, and The Angry Substitutionist. Check out the Mad Libs for those, as well as for The Self-Promoter and The Wet Blanket, over at The Kitchn. Can you think of any other kinds of comments that lend themselves to Mad Libs?

It's zucchini time

Zuni cafe zucchini pickles

If there is one food you can count on finding at any farmers' market in Northern Hemisphere at this time of year, it's zucchini. Most people who plant it end up with far more than they can use, foisting the extra on relatives and friends. If you end up with a surfeit of the yellow and green vegetables, Russ Parsons of the L.A. Times can help you find new ways to use them.

There are over 100 varieties of zucchini, but the most common can be broken down into two basic types. Parsons provides an explanation of the differences between these: the yellow or light-colored varieties "tend to be smaller at the stem than at the flower end. The flavor tends to be mild and the texture firm, and they're great for soups." The dark green variety, on the other hand, "tend to be roughly the same diameter from stem to flower [and] are a little more vibrantly flavored but also tend to fall apart in long cooking. Serve these raw, or cooked only briefly."

Parsons goes on to describe the two most important techniques to keep in mind when using zucchini: glazing and salting. Glazing zucchini "means cooking it in a covered pan over medium heat with some oil, a little bit of water and whatever flavorings you prefer." As the zucchini becomes tender, remove the lid and turn up the heat to evaporate the water and create a pan sauce of sorts. Salting is important when serving zucchini raw. It draws out some of the water and changes the texture in a pleasing way. Be sure to rinse it and pat it dry before serving.

The article includes tips on how to purchase zucchini and offers a dozen recipes. For more inspiration, turn to the following highly-rated zucchini recipes from the EYB Library - many indexed by EYB Members:

Zucchini and yellow squash gratin from MarthaStewart.com by Everyday Food Magazine
Provençal tartlets
from My Recipes by Annie Somerville and Sunset Magazine
Zucchini tomato gratin
from Proud Italian Cook
Courgette & ricotta tart
from BBC Good Food Magazine Home Cooking Series
Zuni Cafe's zucchini pickles
from The Wednesday Chef by Luisa Weiss (pictured at top)

An accidental invention: the history of the Popsicle

watermelon jalapeno ice pops Popsicles define summertime for many US children. The brightly-colored, fruit-flavored frozen treats are the perfect foil to a hot, sticky summer afternoon. Popsicles are adored by children but did you know that they were also invented by one? NPR's The Salt tells the story of how an 11-year-old accidentally created the frozen treat over 100 years ago.

In 1905, Frank Epperson, a boy living in the San Francisco Bay area, "mixed some sugary soda powder with water and left it out overnight. It was a cold night, and the mixture froze. In the morning, Epperson devoured the icy concoction, licking it off the wooden stirrer." He named his invention the "Epsicle" and began selling the treat around his neighborhood. Several years later Epperson applied for a patent and changed the name, at the urging of his kids, to what they were calling the treat - Popsicle (Pops' sicle).

While the story of the Popsicle's creation is charming, it doesn't have a very happy ending. A broke Epperson sold the rights to his creation to the Joe Lowe Co. in the late 1920s: "I was flat and had to liquidate all my assets," he later said. "I haven't been the same since." Popsicle remained independent until 1989, when food giant Unilever scooped up the rights to the frozen treat. 

While Popsicles may be perfect for kids, the EYB Library has recipes for frozen pops that will suit young and old alike. Try the Watermelon-jalapeño ice pops from Cooking Light Magazine by David Bonom (pictured above) or the highly-rated Yogurt ice pops with berries (Paletas de yogurt con moras) from Paletas by Fany Gerson. You'll find over 300 more fruit and cream ice pop recipes in the Library.


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 UK books:

25 recipes from The Edible Atlas by Mina Holland, editor of indexed The Guardian Cook
(Published as The World on a Plate in the US)
Enter our giveaway (Ends Aug 19th -- US/UK only)

21 recipes (many with videos!) from The Dumpling Sisters Cookbook: Over 100 Favourite Recipes from a Chinese Family Kitchen by Amy & Julie Zhang 
Enter our giveaway (Ends Aug 20th -- UK only)

10 recipes from The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot 
(Buy from the Phaidon website using coupon code EYB to save 35%!)

10 recipes from Celebrity Bake Book, edited by Linda Morris, indexed by an EYB member

From AUS/NZ books:

3 recipes from David Herbert's Best-Ever Baking Recipes, indexed by an EYB member

From US books:

31 recipes from Feeding the Fire: Recipes and Strategies for Better Barbecue and Grilling
by Joe Carroll & Nick Fauchald

8 recipes from Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto 
by Aaron Franklin & Jordan Mackay, indexed by an EYB member

28 recipes from Weber's On the Grill: Steak & Sides 
by Jamie Purviance, indexed by an EYB member

19 recipes from Weber's On the Grill: Chicken & Sides,
by Jamie Purviance, indexed by an EYB member

Why you should try rye

The Scofflaw cocktail

Until recently, rye whiskey was thought of as an old-fashioned spirit imbibed by the likes of a gumshoe detective in a paperback mystery. That is changing, however, due to a US-led rye whiskey revival. According to The Telegraph, a "resurgence in artisanal distilling and aging in America has led to a rye renaissance. Old brands have been revived, new brands born, and the most grown-up of American whiskies is back." And it's better than ever, which means it's time to try a rye-based cocktail.

Arguably the most famous rye cocktail is the Manhattan. The story of its invention is (like many cocktails) in dispute. The Manhattan traces back to "a banquet either in honour of Winston Churchill's mother or losing presidential candidate Samuel J Tilden in the late 19th Century." The drink comes dry, perfect or sweet, depending on which type of vermouth and the amount you like to use.

There are newer cocktails that celebrate the spirit, like the Red Hook, which dates back to the 1980s and NYC bartender Enzo Enrico, or the even more recent Conference cocktail from the team behind Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails. Whether you want to revisit a classic or find something new, the EYB Library features over 200 drinks highlighting rye whiskey, like these popular libations:

The slope (Time for a Drink) from Serious Eats
Artillery punch from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan
Hibiscus Sazerac from Food Network Magazine by Masaharu Morimoto
The scofflaw cocktail from The Kitchn (pictured above)
Rye and maple fizz from Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine
Caraway rye cocktail from Food & Wine Magazine by Richard Blais

Scientists think they've discovered a sixth taste

bacon fatFor centuries, people described food in terms of four basic tastes: sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. More recently a Japanese chemist discovered a fifth taste, umami, which is triggered by glutamates. Now scientists say they have found a sixth basic taste, and they believe it could profoundly change the way we eat.

This new basic taste doesn't get a fancy new name because it is already familiar to everyone - it's fat. Scientists have long known that receptors in our mouths recognize fat, which led them to speculate that it could change the way we perceive food in the same way that other basic tastes do. Now scientists have discovered the evidence to back up their theory.

Richard Mattes, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University, is the lead author of the study. He explained the results to The Washington Post: "We already knew that people have a taste receptor for fatty acids; now we know that it's a distinguishable taste - that it doesn't have overlap. The combination of those two things is what's important," he said.

When you eat, fat isn't perceived by itself, just like you don't immediately perceive that the color green is a combination of blue and yellow. In the same manner, "when you eat a food that contains fat, you don't immediately perceive the taste produced by the fatty acid. But it's there, and it's distinct." 

You may be surprised to learn that fat, when isolated from other flavors, doesn't taste good. "It's very harsh," said Mattes. But other basic tastes operate in the same manner. The bitter taste and MSG also aren't appealing outside of the food products in which they are found, but they contribute significantly to foods we love like chocolate and beer. "Many things that are unpleasant in isolation in fact contribute greatly to the appeal of foods," Mattes reminds us. "Fat is a perfect example."

This finding will change the way food companies approach flavor. Until now, they've mostly focused on the "mouthfeel" of fat rather than the flavor. Mattes thinks that if these companies learn to manipulate the taste of fat correctly, they can make many foods taste better by finding better substitutes or using fat molecules as a flavor enhancer. 

Photo of Rendering bacon fat from Cooking Light Magazine

The Great British Bake Off returns

Great British Bakeoff

It might be hard to believe, but the Great British Bake Off returns on 1 August for another season. The show has spawned several new stars and at least 20 cookbooks, some by contestants and some from hosts Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. The Guardian caught up with the show's presenters, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, to discuss the show as it approaches the premiere of its sixth season.

When asked how they retain their "famous normalness" when working on the biggest show on TV, Sue replies "We're the same people we were when we met as teenagers. We've had lots of ups and downs, so we don't link our career success to our personal happiness. You learn how to do that when you lose everything and become very badly unemployed, as we did." Mel chimes in, saying "It helps having extremely grounded families."

The pair discuss what they think the future holds and reply in their trademark off-the-cuff manner. They get a bit more serious when discussing the contestants, however. Says Sue ""A lot of people, women particularly, have come to this programme to find out who they are. They've spent a life doing things for other people, they're mothers, daughters, and now it's time for them. To see that spark of independence and self-worth is really something. I don't want to be too meta about it, because it is just a show about cakes, but..." and this is where Mel chimes in, "...it means a lot to people."

When talking with Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, the focus of the conversation changes a bit. They discuss their relationship, which is described as "most similar to that of a stubborn son and his long suffering mother." Mainly, though, they talk about the contestants. When asked why he thinks they want to be on the show, Paul states "It's about the challenge. To push themselves. Where's your benchmark? You want to be the best. It takes a certain type of person. A strong person. Confident. You have to be a pretty good baker as well." Mary notes that over the seasons, "the bakers have really changed. Now they're savvy, and they know what's expected of them. The standard has gone up. Paul and I are trying to get it back to basics."

Are you planning to watch the sixth season of the show? Which of the show's many cookbooks is your favourite?

Noma popup slated for Australia

Noma cookbooks

The chef of the number one restaurant in the world is taking his show on the road once again again. René Redzepi is packing up everything, include his entire 60-person staff, and will open a popup version of Noma in Sydney for 10 weeks beginning in January. Redzepi notes that the weather was at least one factor in choosing the location for the popup, as he was partly motivated by the thought of his three children learning to surf. "There is a unique shoreline culture in Australia and you definitely feel that as visiting northern Europeans," he said.

The avant garde chef will continue his signature style of finding creative ways to use native foods. He's already spent time foraging in the Northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia to get ideas for the menu. "I have always been attracted to the incredible diversity you find in Australia's landscapes and ingredients, because they are like no other place I've seen before," said Redzepi.

There is no word yet on how much lunch or dinner at Noma Australia will cost. Expressions of interest in attending the restaurant will be taken at www.noma.dk/australia, and plans are for the spot to be open for lunch and dinner five days a week over the 10-week period. It's not yet clear whether the restaurant will follow the lead of Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck Australia, which utilised a ballot to allocate the limited number of tables. That restaurant attracted 90,000 people for the available 14,000 seats.

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