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Fat Tuesday feast

Gumbo, Sazerac, and king cake

Today is Fat Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras) and festivities are in full force in New Orleans. Celebrated as the last extravagance before the austere days of Lent, Mardi Gras features indulgent food and drink. Even if you don't celebrate the religious holiday, the festival is a good excuse to eat classic New Orleans-inspired food. Indexed magazine Saveur features an entire Fat Tuesday menu, starting with the classic New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac. If rye whiskey doesn't suit your style, you might enjoy another classic, the hurricane cocktail.

Moving on to appetizers, Saveur recommends oysters. You can't go wrong with these Cajun and Creole oyster starters. Other New Orleans-inspired appetizers feature crawfish, beignets, shrimp, fritters, and cheese spreads.

New Orleans feasts frequently include gumbo as the main dish. There are varieties to suit almost any appetite, with variations that include shrimp, chicken, sausage (including andouille and tasso), duck, and even severel vegan offerings. If you are daunted by the thought of making a long-cooked roux, a hallmark of most gumbo recipes, jambalaya would also suit the occasion.

Jambalaya doesn't require a roux yet it is thicker than gumbo, featuring rice in the dish itself whereas gumbo is usually served over rice. Many people think of jambalaya as a relative of paella but with a definite New Orleans slant. Jambalaya often includes many of the same meats as gumbo including chicken, shrimp and sausage, but there are ham and vegetarian versions as well.

While colorful king cake may be the king of Fat Tuesday desserts, there are other tasty options. Pillowy beignets and rum-spiked bananas Foster are also quintessential New Orleans sweets. Bread puddings are also popular desserts from the region.

What's on your Mardi Gras menu?

Photos of Creole okra gumbo and Sazerac cocktail from Saveur, and photo of king cake from Sweet by Food Network Magazine

Little known facts about the Nutella empire

Nutella cake

You may have heard that Michele Ferrero, the man at the head of the family behind Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, died on Valentine's Day. Reporting on Ferrero's passing, The Telegraph provides 14 facts that you may not know about Ferrero and the Nutella empire he leaves behind.

We first learn that the company has always been family owned. It was started by Michele's parents who had a small cafe in Alba, a hilly town in northern Italy. That is where Pietro (Michele's father) "would tinker with new products for pastry shop to sell." Giovanni Ferrero, Michele's son and Pietro's grandson, is now at the helm of the company.

The incredibly successful Nutella empire had humble roots. Pietro got the idea for Nutella when he wanted to make a cheaper alternative to chocolate, which was very expensive and hard to come by during and after WWII. He combined hazelnuts, which were easily available locally, with a little cocoa to form a sliceable block called pasta gianduja. The brick was meant to be sliced and eaten with bread. The product was reformulated to be more easily spreadable, but the Nutella name itself is newer than the spread. Ferrero renamed the paste when it was introduced in the UK in 1964.

Hazelnut are still very important to the company. Ferrero is the world's largest consumer of hazelnuts, using a whopping 25 percent of the entire world supply, the bulk of which come from Turkey. Bad weather in 2014 drove up the cost of the nuts, but Ferrero has buffered itself from price spikes by purchasing a major producer of Turkish hazelnuts. 

Nutella is now more popular than Marmite, another product with a loyal (some might say fanatical) following. Nutella outsells its "saltier friend in the UK, selling one jar every 2.5 seconds worldwide." While sales of Marmite are sagging, Nutella increased its sales by nearly 20 percent in 2013. Find out more interesting tidbits in the full article.

Photo of Torta alla gianduia (Nutella cake) from How To Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

Life imitates art

cookbook covers

Cookbooks that tie-in to books, movies, or television shows are not new. We've got Downton Abbey cookbooks, The Sopranos Family Cookbook, and even Alice's Brady Bunch Cookbook. These range from books that strive for historical accuracy to kitschy tomes following on the popularity of a current show or on nostalgia for a favorite childhood program.

Sometimes, however, the cookbooks that reference a book or movie aren't really part of the program. We see this in the recent spate of books that capitalize on the notoriety of 50 Shades of Grey, which was recently made into a movie. Yahoo! Food reports on the phenomenon, and you can view most of the books right in the EYB Library.

Far and away the biggest hit is Fifty Shades of Chicken, which is promoted as a "parody in a cookbook." Beginning with the introduction, the author spoofs the over-the-top prose of E.L. James's trilogy. The second most popular is Fifty Shades of Kale, which takes advantage not only on the popularity of the book-turned-movie, but also of the "it" ingredient of the past decade.

Of course we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Fifty Shades of Bacon, because naturally there would be a bacon version. There's also Fifty Shades of Gravy, written by an author from Kentucky who writes "from a Christian world view." It might be safe to assume that book isn't nearly as naughty as its namesake. Probably the only surprise is that there isn't a Fifty Shades of Salted Caramel book.

If you have any of the "Fifty Shades" cookbooks, please let us know what you think of them, and if you've made anything from the books. (But please do keep all comments rated PG.)

Red velvet on the rise

Red Velvet cake

There's no doubt that on Valentine's Day plenty of red velvet cake will find its way onto dessert plates. The cake, which originated in the Southern US, achieved its peak popularity during the cupcake craze a few years back. But recent signs point to its possible comeback on dessert menus, according to Restaurant Hospitality.

Red Velvet Oreos recently hit store shelves after Oreo's parent company identified red velvet cake as an underserved niche. "We knew there was a lot of love out there for the flavor red velvet … and for Oreo,"  says Janda Lukin, senior director for Oreo North America. "So we asked ourselves, why not combine the two?" Ben & Jerry's has long offered Red Velvet Cake Ice Cream, which the company describes as "red velvet cake batter ice cream loaded with red velvet cake pieces and a cream cheese frosting swirl." 

Previously, restaurants have shunned red velvet cake due to its pedestrian roots. It's seen as something too simple to be featured on a dessert menu. But the recent trend of outsourcing desserts, as noted in Washingtonian magazine, may provide incentive to offer red velvet cake. The dessert menu increasingly "falls to chefs and line cooks who, lacking any background in baking, have contrived to fill their menus with simple, quick-fix solutions. Puddings, custards, panna cotta (an Italian term for what is essentially Jell-O made with cream) don't require a lot of effort or expense; all can be made in the morning and stashed in the walk-in refrigerator," the magazine notes. Since red velvet cake requires no specialized experience, it could easily fill this role. 

Would you order red velvet cake if it were offered on a dessert menu?

Photo of Red velvet cake from The Chew: Food. Life. Fun. Over 100 Delicious Recipes from the Chew Kitchen

A travel notebook inspires a cookbook

Notebook

A graduate of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, Rachel Khoo's passion for patisserie lured her to Paris, where she obtained a pastry degree from Le Cordon Bleu. In addition to working in a Paris culinary bookstore and tea salon, La Cocotte, Rachel has written several popular cookbooks.

After years of living in Paris, Rachel recently returned to London and her food roots. Excited by London's vivacious food scene, Rachel decided to make her hometown the focus of one part of her new cookbook, Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook. (You can enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book). Illustrations from Rachel's actual travel notebook as well as photographs from her Instagram account are featured in the book; you can view samples above and below. We're delighted to feature an excerpt from the introduction to the cookbook.

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I carry a notebook everywhere, and it almost always ends up tattered, dog-eared and splashed with various food stains from eating my way around the world or cooking in my kitchen. The recipes, illustrations, kitchen titbits and tips that end up in my notebook are all something that I wanted to share. Recipes that reflect both my culinary past and my present, the places I've been, my kitchen experiences...a book that tells a story of how I cook in the kitchen.

After writing two cookbooks that chronicled my exploration of la cuisine française, I felt it was time to show my true colours with this book. My childhood played a big part in forming my culinary DNA, but the experiences and cultures I've exposed myself to in my adult life have also been formative in the way my cooking style has evolved. The last several years have been packed tighter than a tin of sardines with adventures in places close to home and beyond. I've visited an eclectic range of places, from the Scandi-cool Stockholm and the fragrant delights of the East in Istanbul, to the slightly rough-aroundthe-edges Naples, as well as rediscovering my home town, London, with its vibrant, energetic food scene.

Rachel KhooEven though I've lived in Paris for eight years, I am not 'that French woman off the telly', as I've frequently been described since the Little Paris Kitchen TV show aired. I'm quite proudly British (despite the many years of British food bashing I endured in France), with a colourful culinary heritage, thanks to my Malaysian dad and Austrian mum. Living in Bavaria as a teenager has also played its part. My taste buds were stimulated from a young age with spices, flavours and smells from South-East Asia, sweet and heartwarming dishes from Austria, as well as some British classics like roast beef and Yorkshire puddings...

The famous communication philosopher Marshall McLuhan once said that 'the medium is the message'. A cookbook has a tactile and personal element that a recipe on a tablet or TV show can't have. Reading a tablet in the bathtub is a little more risky than reading a book. But this goes beyond the physical object for me. I think of a recipe as a little snapshot of what I've experienced, and putting them together in a book is like collating a personal culinary diary.

It's a time-consuming process, but I love every part of it, from the research, recipe development and writing about my personal stories, to the photo shoot, where the book begins to take a visual shape. Writing a book may start off as a solitary activity, but the more the book progresses, the more essential it is to work with people you admire and find inspiring (more about them in the Acknowledgements). They all play a part in pushing me as a food writer and making the book the best it can be.

Cookbook giveaway - Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook

Kitchen NotebookAfter years of living in Paris, Rachel Khoo recently returned to her hometown of London. Excited by the city's vivacious food scene, Rachel decided to make her hometown the focus of one part of her new cookbook, Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook. You can read an excerpt from the book's introduction and view images from the book as well.

The cookbook is packed to the brim with 100 standout recipes, full-colour photography and Rachel's very own sketches of the food and places she encounters. Out and about, she finds the most delicious fare, recording it all in her kitchen notebook.

We're delighted to offer two copies of Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook to EYB Members. One of the entry options is answering the following question in the blog comments:

What dish have you made that was inspired by your travels?

Please note that you must enter the comment after signing into Rafflecopter or your entry won't be counted. The contest ends March 13, 2015.

Guacamole, but no brown M&Ms

Guacamole

Grammy-winning musician Jack White has recently been in the news for something other than his music. The University of Oklahoma's student newspaper published a copy of his band's tour rider, which included some very specific food requests. The rider went so far as to dictate the recipe for the guacamole that was expected backstage.

This specificity isn't new, according to Yahoo! Food's Jeff O'Heir. He explains that the riders are just one perk of being a rock star. Some performers have notoriously detailed tour riders; the most well-known is probably Van Halen's 1983 rider which included in a "munchies" section: "M&M's (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)."

You might think that these demands reflect the vanity and self-importance that comes with stardom. That may be partially true, but the riders aren't just about the stars' idiosyncrasies. Jack White's management explained in a statement that "Jack doesn't write the rider nor make demands about his favorite snacks that must be in his dressing room. We're not even sure he likes guacamole but we do know that the folks who work hard to put on the show do enjoy it."

Performers also note that they use these requests to make sure people are doing their jobs. Van Halen, for instance, "insists the M&M's directive had more to do with making sure the tour promoters were paying attention to every detail-from snacks to security to ticket sales-and less to do with rock-n-roll privilege."

When director Jon Paley heard about the Van Halen story, he began to research tour riders,  which led to an online video series called "No Brown M&M's." The short videos detail the food requested by performers ranging from Frank Sinatra to Britney Spears. Perhaps the healthiest tour rider belongs to the late Lou Reed, who required "a plate of blueberries, cherries, and cantaloupe. He also wanted walnuts, almonds, egg whites, radishes, hummus, and local, organic whitefish. Nothing containing sugar was allowed."

Contrast this to Frank Sinatra's requests: "one bottle Stoli, one bottle Jack Daniels, one bottle Courvoisier, one bottle Chivas, one bottle Beefeater Gin, three cans of Campbell's chicken with rice soup, one carton of Camels, and 12 boxes of Luden's cough drops." We expect there were plenty of people around to help him with all of those bottles.

Photo of Classic guacamole from Fine Cooking Magazine

Featured Cookbooks & Recipes

Did you know adding online recipes to your EYB Bookshelf is a really great way to build your personal recipe collection? You can now do this even if you have a free membership!

Try it out now and see how easy it is. Browse the recipes below, choose one that appeals, click on the link, and add it to your Bookshelf. (Make sure that you are signed in first.)

All the recipes we feature in these weekly round-ups have online links so you can add any of them to your Bookshelf. Happy cooking & baking everyone!
From AUS/NZ books:

14 recipes from Community: Salad Recipes from Arthur Street Kitchen by Hetty McKinnon,
indexed by an EYB member

 
From US books:

Advisory group set to remove cholesterol warnings

shakshuka

If there's one constant when it comes to dietary recommendations it's that they change frequently. So it goes with the admonitions against cholesterol, which have been part of the US dietary guidelines since the 1960s. But a more nuanced understanding of the role of dietary cholesterol has called this recommendation into question, and now the United States' leading nutrition advisory panel is set to remove the warnings against cholesterol consumption.

The case against cholesterol began in the early 1900s, when researchers noted a correlation between cholesterol and heart disease. Warnings about the potential dangers of a diet high in cholesterol followed and in 1961 "the American Heart Association recommended that people reduce cholesterol consumption and eventually set a limit of 300 milligrams a day."

More recent research, however, shows that the link between cholesterol and heart disease is very complex. Scientists learned that "the body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than their diet provides, that the body regulates how much is in the blood and that there is both "good" and "bad" cholesterol." 

Some people see this reversal as a sign that more money needs to be allocated to researching nutrition science. They feel the science isn't settled and removing the warning is premature. Others, however, view it more as standard scientific progress. "These reversals in the field do make us wonder and scratch our heads," said David Allison, a public health professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "But in science, change is normal and expected." As our understanding of physics shifted from Ptolemy to Newton to Einstein, Allison said, "the reaction was not to say, 'Oh my gosh, something is wrong with physics!' We say, 'Oh my gosh, isn't this cool?'"

The recommendations bring the US in line with other countries that don't single out cholesterol in their dietary guidelines. It might bring solace to the US egg industry, too. After reaching a peak just after World War II, American egg consumption plummeted by nearly 50%, and Americans now eat fewer eggs than at almost any other time in the last century.

Photo of Shakshuka from David Lebovitz

Why we're obsessed with unusual flavors

Salted caramel parsnipsUnless you've been hiding under a rock for the past decade, you've probably been exposed to the flavor combination of salted caramel. It's everywhere, emerging first in chocolates and ice creams, but moving to new territory like crisps (chips for those of us in the States). The Guardian inspects this trend and other, weirder, food flavor combinations.

While on a visit to the United States, writer Laura Barton figured odd flavor pairings like Mountain Dew popcorn were limited to that country. But on her return to England, she noticed a similar trend happening there. She gave an example of the explosion of flavoured tea, noting that "Twinings alone now offers 50 flavours, including Camomile & Maple, Intensely Buttermint, and Salted Caramel Green Tea, and is currently running a campaign advising customers in the art of "flavouring your day". Meanwhile, British crisps have also been enjoying a period of flavour experimentation."

This experimentation includes the salted caramel trend. Barton tried Tesco's version of these crisps, and noted that the "caramel seemed to emerge after the initial saltiness, which was fine, except for the potato. I'm not sure they make such easy bedfellows. I found the whole experience mildly unsettling, as if I had accidentally worn a jumper back to front. But what these crisps confirmed was this century's unwavering infatuation with salted caramel - everywhere from French patisseries to ice-cream parlours, high street coffee chains and now even pretzels and potato snacks."

The popularity of salted caramel is due in part to its combination appeals to younger and older populations alike. Beyond salted caramel, the "increased appetite for a range of many flavours, often in unfamiliar settings, is a youth-driven trend," says Dr Alan Hirsch, founder and neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. Food can be part of the teenage rebellion. Naturally, the flavours popular with generations are different than those of their elders. "Studies of olfactory-based nostalgia found that older people are more nostalgic for nature - for the smell of horses and hay," Hirsch says. "Younger people are more nostalgic for artificial odours, so artificial food appeals to their nostalgia."

Photo of Salted caramel parsnips from BBC Good Food Magazine

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