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You'll go nuts for this tip

Spiced mixed nuts

This is the time of year where many of us are deep into our holiday meal planning. The most organized cooks are making lists and setting schedules. Over at indexed blog Serious Eats, J. Kenji López-Alt has discovered a way to shave a chunk of time off our packed to-do lists. He's mastered a quick and easy method for toasting nuts.

Toasting nuts really brings out their flavor, but doing it in the oven takes a fair amount of time, even if you use a toaster oven. Using a skillet takes less time but also increases the chances of burning or uneven toasting. Kenji solves both problems by using a microwave to shorten the amount of time to as little as three minutes, without the need for constant stirring or shaking.

He started with the technique mentioned in Harold McGee's classic On Food and Cooking, but found that just putting raw nuts into the microwave didn't quite stack up to the conventional methods. However, by adding a small amount of oil to the nuts, he was able to achieve toasty perfection in a much shorter amount of time. Check out the Serious Eats article for particulars.

Photo of Spiced mixed nuts from Martha Stewart Living Magazine

Worrying news for chocolate lovers

Salted choclate caramel tarts

Chocolate lovers, brace yourselves. The world's chocolate supply can't keep up with demand, according to several chocolate producers including Mars, Inc. and Barry Callebaut. This "chocolate deficit" - in which consumers eat more chocolate than is produced in a year - is growing and shows no sign of abating.

The reasons for the deficit are two-fold. First, bad weather and a fungal disease are affecting chocolate crops, especially in West Africa, which produces more than 70 percent of the world's cocoa. The International Cocoa Organization estimates the fungal disease has caused the loss of 30 to 40 percent of global coca production. 

The second reason is that we just love chocolate too much. There is an almost insatiable demand for chocolate products, especially dark chocolate, which uses much more cocoa (the average chocolate bar contains about 10 percent cocoa, while dark chocolate bars can reach 70 percent cocoa by volume). Demand outstripped supply by 70,000 metric tons in the last year, and shows no signs of slowing down.

So what's being done to alleviate this crisis? One avnue is increased innovation in cocoa production. One research group in Central Africa "is developing trees that can produce up to seven times the amount of beans traditional cocoa trees can." Whether this trade-off in production quantity will affect the quality and flavor of the product is unknown, but judging by other crops like supermarket tomatoes, the prognosis is not great.

Unless a solution is found to dramatically (and quickly) increase cocoa production, consumers should be prepared to continue to pay more. Chocolate prices have been climbing steadily since 2012 and nothing suggests a departure from this trend.

Photo of Salted chocolate & caramel tarts from Delicious Magazine (Aus)

Get out your bundt pans

bundt cake

Today is National Bundt Day in the United States. Although cakes baked in ring shapes have been around for centuries, Bundt cakes got a boost after Minnesota-based cookware manufacturer Nordic Ware trademarked the name "Bundt" and began producing the pans from cast aluminum. The pan was nearly a flop until 1966, when the "Tunnel of Fudge" cake, baked in a Bundt pan, won the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

The Bundt cake can trace its origins in part from rich European cakes called Gugelhupf (or Gugelhopf), which were popular among Jewish communities in north central Europe.  In the northern part of Germany, Gugelhupf is called Bundkuchen, a name formed by joining the words Kuchen (cake) and Bund. There is some dispute on the significance of the word bund. It translates variously as band, bundle, or bond (as in alliance). 

Some scholars think the term refers to the way the dough is bundled around the tubed center of the pan, while others feel it describes the banded appearance given to the cake by the fluted sides of the pan, similar to a bundle of wheat. A third opinion is "that Bund instead refers to a group of people, and that Bundkuchen is so called because of its suitability for parties and gatherings." NordicWare added the "t" to Bund to get a trademark, and to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the pan in 2006, the company designated November 15 as National Bundt Day.

You can find several books featuring bundt cakes and bundt cake recipes galore in the EYB Library. Here are some of the most popular:

Lemon-buttermilk bundt cake from Bon Appétit Magazine (photo above)
Triple berry summer buttermilk bundt
from indexed blog Smitten Kitchen
All-in-one holiday bundt cake from Baking: From My Home to Yours

Chocolate bundt cake
from indexed blog 101 Cookbooks
Pumpkin spice bundt cake with buttermilk icing from Gourmet Magazine

What's your favorite bundt?

Tips to spotting bad recipes

iPad

Finding recipes online is easy, but ensuring that they are great isn't always as simple. Of course the EYB Library is full of well-tested recipes from trusted sources, but occasionally you may stumble across a recipe whose provenance isn't well known. For these recipes, Epicurious (through Yahoo! Food) has provided a list of five signs that indicate a recipe won't work.

Most of the signs are signs of omission: leaving out ingredients, mismatches between the ingredient list and the directions, or omitting special equipment needed to make the dish. Other signs require more interpretation. For instance, one sign is the inclusion of rambling or confusing paragraphs, noting that "if the recipe you're looking at doesn't make sense on the first (or even the second) read, it's a good sign that it's probably missing other essential information for success." However, one person's rambling may be another person's charming prose.

In other posts we've discussed the optimistic times posted with some recipe instructions (for example caramelizing onions), and this too is a sign that the recipe may be headed for disaster. If the recipe has time estimates but no instructions about what to look for at the end of the time period (e.g. color, aroma, viscosity, or sounds), you might want to look for a different recipe.

What signs tip you off that a recipe isn't going to work?

Peek inside Prune

Gabrielle Hamilton's new cookbook stands apart, as we've previously discussed. We're excited to announce that we've scored an excerpt from Prune to share with EYB Members, plus you can enter our contest for your chance to win a copy! And don't forget to check Hamilton's tour dates for the book in our events calendar.

The excerpt below (click on the photo to view the entire excerpt) is for Grilled hamburger with Cheddar cheese on toasted English muffin with parsley shallot butter (photo credit: Eric Wolfinger). Although the recipe is simple and straightforward, Hamilton's directions are detailed and evocative: "Season each burger all over--top, bottom, and the circumference--with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Hold your hands high and "rain" the salt and pepper."

We hope you enjoy the glimpse into this unique cookbook.

Prune cookbook

Cookbook giveaway - Prune

PruneGabrielle Hamilton's new cookbook, Prune, is generating plenty of buzz for its deviation from the chef cookbook archetype. A few days ago we reported on the unique style of the cookbook, and we just received a sneak peek inside the cover.

We're delighted to offer one copy of Prune to EYB Members. Click on the contest below to view all entry options. One of the options is to answer the following question in the comments below:

What aspect of this cookbook interests you the most--the recipes, the unique style, the insight into the back of the house, or something else?

Please note that you must enter the comment after signing into Rafflecopter or your entry won't be counted. The contest ends December 11, 2014.

 

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 blogs & magazines:

Pumpkin Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies from indexed blog Joy the Baker


Coffee Mascarpone Cheesecake by Ruby Tandoh from indexed The Guardian Cook supplement

 
From UK books:

8 recipes from D.O.M: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients by Alex Atala

 
From AUS/NZ books:

15 recipes from Bread by Dean Brettschneider

 
From US books:

The great holiday meal debates

Sweet potato casserole

In a recent Epicurious article, the writer opines that it doesn't matter what you put in your stuffing. Rather, she instructs that whatever flavoring agents you choose, you should put in more than you think you need to avoid a bland dish. That being said, the author notes that friendships are formed and "families torn asunder by painful debates over what ingredients belong in Thanksgiving stuffing."

The post reminded me of discussions I've had with friends on the obstacles they faced changing recipes for holiday meals. On one side you have the staunch traditionalists: they believe that Aunt Mabel's sweet potato casserole must be made in exactly the same way at every holiday meal, with the slightest alteration amounting to sacrilege. On the other side, you have more free-spirited family members who wonder what harm can come from trying Martha Stewart's sweet potato casserole.

The traditionalists make the point that the holiday meal is a celebration not only of food, but more importantly, of family and friendship. Coming together with loved ones and sharing time-honored customs make the holidays special, not stuffing yourself full of, well, stuffing. Changing recipes that have been handed down for generations diminishes the sense of togetherness or, worse yet, slights an elderly family member.

Generally speaking, foodies inhabit the other side of the debate. While they recognize that the sweet potato casserole has graced the holiday table for decades, they would remind us that while everyone takes a scoop, no one actually eats it because it's bland and too sweet. Besides, creating new traditions should be welcomed even as we honor old ones. A compromise is sometimes reached where competing dishes are made, but when Aunt Mabel notices that no one is even taking her casserole, her feathers can still get ruffled.

Food safety is yet another aspect that comes into play. A family member will tell the cook that putting cool stuffing into the turkey and letting it sit on the counter for hours before being put into the oven is not a safe practice. Often the reply comes back that "we've been doing it this way for years and no one has ever gotten sick."

What's the story at your family gatherings? Do you cringe at lax food safety practices? Are there foods that are sacrosanct and must be served regardless of whether anyone enjoys them? (Jellied cranberry sauce in a can, I'm looking at you.) Or do your relatives and friends enjoy creating new traditions during the holidays?

Photo of Sweet potato and sage-butter casserole from MarthaStewart.com by Martha Stewart Living Magazine

In a word: Chefs

You know the cookbook season is in full swing when the coffee-table books start arriving (ker-THUNK on the porch!). The spines are the first thing you notice, stark and black, with a single word emblazoned across darkness. MALLMANN, they say.  BROCK.  And DABBOUS.

This is only a little different from books of a few years ago, which typically featured restaurants on their spine-marquees: MANRESA, or NOMA, or A16.  Today's productions are equally architectural and visually striking.

The modernist-cuisine influence is still strong in Dabbous (in this case the name of the London restaurant as well its proprietor, Ollie Dabbous), which relies heavliy on vacuum-bag techniques, although you don't find transglutaminase ("meat glue") or foams. Still, even a simple-sounding recipe like "Ripe Peach in Its Own Juice" calls for 2 days of prep and some tricky sourcing: fresh almonds, marigold leaves, plum kernel oil. Gallery-quality art shots with die-cut mattes fill the book, further advocating for the book's residency in the living room, not the kitchen.

MALLMANN (which turns out to be actually called Mallmann on Fire), by contrast, is low-tech in the extreme - many of the book's recipes were created on a portable grill that hops about with Chef on his travels.  The book is practically an album of snapshots- live fire, fresh meat, cook with his hat & neckerchief.  There's something inspirational about it - the idea that you can cook anything, anywhere, so long as you're comfortable with fire - and yet, at the same time, it feels like it just might work at home too.

Of all these, I was perhaps most excited to see Sean Brock's book, Heritage.  Brock, the genius of Southern foodways, has been getting a lot of press for his devotion to heritage ingredients.  I knew that I couldn't expect the book to be that accessible,  since what's "local" or "heritage" south of the Mason-Dixon line is hardly likely to be available in New England.  Still, I was disappointed that I couldn't jump right in without ordering something online (fine-cloth-bolted pastry flour, Bourbon-barrel-aged vanilla) or getting halted by equipment ("Juice extractor", "dehydrator") in each recipe.  I'd almost have rather have had a book with no pretense of practicality - all photos and essays - than confront my own lack of resourcefulness on every page.

So, no surprises destined for the kitchen shelf.  Ah well, there's no room there anyway - it's filled with weeknight cookbooks I actually use.  I guess we'll just have to go hunting for a coffee table.

You can find them in the club

Baked apples

New varieties of apples hit the market with dizzying frequency. Which varieties you see in your grocery store may be heavily influenced by a new push to manage cultivars, as NPR's The Salt discusses. In the past, new apples came on the market from breeding programs led by universities or grower groups. These apples, bred for different characteristics like crunch, sweetness, and flavor, were patented. However, any grower who wanted to buy a particular variety was generally able to do so after paying a royalty to the creators. Popular HoneyCrisp apples followed this path to market.

The would-be successors to HoneyCrisp like SweeTango, however, are using a different approach. In addition to patenting the new cultivars, breeders are also trademarking the names and only allowing members of certain growing associations to plant them. These are becoming known as "club apples," because only a select "club" of farmers can sell them.

What's driving this trend? According to Tim Byrne, president of the cooperative that is managing the SweeTango brand, three factors are driving the push. The first is quality control. "If you have one management company overseeing the whole thing, you get to select the group that you want to manage the commercialization, the growing, the harvesting, the packing," Byrne says. This helps ensure that all SweeTango apples are of consistently high quality.

The second factor is quantity control. Controlling how many apples hit the stores keeps prices higher for growers. Finally, and perhaps most appealing to breeders, "is the ability to organize marketing campaigns that convince consumers to buy the variety, and stores to stock it. Nobody did that for previous varieties, because anyone could plant them." They posit that many promising apple varieties never became popular because no one marketed them.

If you want to grow your own apples, you can find many varieties that aren't under patent, like HoneyCrisp. But if you want to grow SweeTango, you're out of luck, unless you can find a way to join the exclusive grower's cooperative. What do you think of the "club apple" trend?

Photo of Baked apples with cinnamon prunes & ginger from BBC Good Food Magazine Home Cooking Series

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

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