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Salt of the earth (and sea and mountains)

Watermelon & feta salad on salt blockIf you spend any time perusing old recipe books, you'll be hard pressed to find any other description for salt other than "salt." In contrast, today's cookbooks might make reference to a dozen types of salt. Maria Fitzpatrick of The Wall Street Journal takes a look at how this once humble ingredient rose to star status.

Fitzpatrick traces the rise of specialty salts to Ferran Adria and El Bulli in the mid 1990s. Adria needed the finishing touch for his new deconstructed lasagna, so he called a small, historic, family-run saltworks in Maldon, England. He asked for "one case of their finest crystals, in perfectly uniform but oversize pyramid shapes, individually wrapped in cotton wool." 

And as with most culinary trends, it found its way from restaurants to home kitchens. According to David Turner, global food and drink analyst at market-research firm Mintel, there's been a marked jump in premium salts coming to market world-wide-22% more in 2014 compared with a year earlier.

Not all foodies are buying it, though. "In my view, the vogue for funky salts is rather unnecessary," says Annie Gray, a U.K.-based food historian, consultant and broadcaster. "The nice colors may be pretty, but at the end of the day, it's still the same chemical."

But for others, salt lives up to its hype. It's all helped along by the resurgence of age-old preservation methods such as curing and pickling, which involve not only a lot more salt but an "inescapable appreciation for the difference the right [salt] makes," says Andrew Turner, executive head chef at London's Hotel Café Royal. "The key to exciting results, whatever you're cooking, is in the salt's purity," he says. "The beauty is, if the quality is that good, you can use less of it."

While the number of salts keeps growing, ranging from exotic Himalayan pink salt to oak-smoked sea salt, Food Republic gets you started with the five types of salt every cook should know. From there you can progress to recipes in the EYB Library that call for smoked salt or Himalayan pink salt. The latter is sometimes used in block form as in the Watermelon and feta on a salt block (pictured above) from Salt Block Cooking.

Roots and Sprouts and Fire

It's March! and that means fresh starts and kitchen adventures and maybe a break from the routine.  It's the smell of dirt and the fresh air.

Blogger Sarah Britton has My New Roots, full of seed butters and sprouts and bright-colored salads.  Meanwhile, the Sprouted Kitchen's Sara & Hugh Forte are back with a second opus, Bowl + Spoon,  focusing on single-bowl meals. Don't forget Sara's entire Sprouted Kitchen blog can be added to your Bookshelf.

Then there's the meat books - a little earlier than the usual Memorial Day extravaganza, but you can almost smell the grill smoke emanating from them.  There's Franklin Barbecue (after Aaron Franklin's Texas restaurant) and Oklahoman camp cook Kent Rollins' A Taste of Cowboy.  Both will make you test your outdoor-cooking skills - once the snow has finally left the ground.

And then of course there's The Wild Diet, by Abel James, last seen in advance galley form in my Men in T-shirts post.   His book is out now, leading me to inevitably ask: Are "Mustard-roasted chicken legs with Peach Salad" wild?  Are "Pulled Pork Sliders" wild?  Are pancakes wild?

To be truthful, the wildest part of these books is what each reader brings in their imagination.  But that's probably true of most books and most cooks.  What wakes you up as a cook, in spring?

The evolution of Irish soda bread

Irish soda bread

A few food items are synonymous with St. Patrick's Day: green beer, corned beef, potatoes, and Irish soda bread. Sadly, St. Patrick himself never got to enjoy most of these. As American Food Roots explains, the history of these "traditional" Irish foods is mostly "embedded in the soil of the American side of the Atlantic, not in Ireland."

Just as tomato sauce is associated with Italian food even though tomatoes weren't part of Italian cuisine until fairly recently, so too the foods most associated with the Irish weren't anything that St. Patrick, born in 387 A.D, would recognize. Potatoes didn't reach Ireland until the 17th century, and baking soda wasn't even invented until the mid 1800s.

So how is it that these foods came to be synonymous with Irish culture? It turns out that soda bread, "a relatively new addition to the Irish diet, has a history closely connected to the events of the 19th century." Prior to the invention of baking soda, most Irish households lacked an oven and did not bake bread at home.

This continued throughout the 1800s, when "most of Ireland's agricultural products were exported and used to fill British coffers, not to feed the local population." The Irish turned to a recent import, potatoes, for most of their sustenance. When the potato crop failed for several years in the mid-1800s, the Irish population suffered greatly. Over 1 million people starved and twice that amount left the country, many of them coming to America, where they encountered many new things, among them baking soda.

Perhaps the emigrants, "writing letters to family back home, shared these recipes and news of the leavening agent. Baking soda was available in Ireland by the latter part of the 1840s. The new leavening not only popularized quick breads, it made producing bread in the very basic Irish kitchens possible." It also worked well with the soft wheat flour most commonly available.

You can check out the complete story, and find out how soda bread recipes have evolved, at American Food Roots, which has been nominated for Best Culinary Website in the IACP Awards. American Food Roots consistently features well-researched and fascinating stories.

Photo of Irish soda bread from BBC Food by James Martin

Test tube chicken

roast chicken

A couple of years ago, scientists successfully grew beef in a laboratory. Now a group of reaseachers in Israel is poised to do the same with chicken. Tel Aviv University bioengineer Professor Amit Gefen has started "a year-long feasibility study into manufacturing chicken in a lab, funded by a non-profit group called the Modern Agriculture Foundation which hopes "cultured meat" will one day replace the raising of animals for slaughter."

The goal is to create "a recipe for how to culture chicken cells" by the end of the year. Although a lab in the Netherlands has already grown hamburger from cells, researchers here plan to up the ante by creating a whole piece of chicken starting from a single cell.

Animal rights activists and environmentalists support such research. They are bolstered by a study conducted by Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam that predicts "cultured meat would produce 96 percent less greenhouse gas, consume 82 to 96 percent less water and virtually eliminate land requirements needed to raise livestock."

Skeptics have dubbed this type of meat "Frankenfood." Taste tests of the lab grown burger indicate that the process has a long way to go to meet quality demands as evidenced by the Roast chicken with caramelized shallots by David Lebovitz, pictured at top. What do you think about lab grown meat?

Quiche by any other name

Spinach and cheddar tart 

Maybe it was the book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, or maybe it was the healthy eating movement, but whatever the reason, quiche fell out of favor over the last decade or two. Indexed magazine Bon Appetit thinks that despite too many "passed mini-quiches that were always cold and tasted like bitter mushrooms," quiche deserves to be rescued.

It could be said that quiche never really went away, it just got rebranded. Bon Appetit notes that the dish on the cover of its February issue, Caramelized garlic, spinach, and cheddar tart (pictured above), is really a quiche. Says the magazine, "It is called a tart, but it is a quiche (even our food director Carla Lalli Music admits it). Why? By definition, it contains a savory egg custard inside a pastry crust. And it's absolutely delicious."

So why aren't dishes like these, that fit the criteria of quiche, called by that name? It might have to do with the inferior quality of some quiche dishes. As the article notes, sometimes "[t]he filling can be mushy. The crusts are frequently store-bought. The egg is often overcooked. The add-ins are typically underseasoned."

A good quiche, on the other hand, has a lot of dairy and enough fat to make it luxurious. It should have a good, homemade crust, and the filling should be well-seasoned and cooked separately if need be (like mushrooms that need to shed excess liquid).

The article ends with a plea to reinstate quiche's reputation: "Don't let all the bad quiches out there ruin the entire category." After all, bad versions foods of foods like roast chicken and steak frites haven't ruined  the reputation of those dishes, so why should quiche suffer?

Fuchsia Dunlop's favorites

Fuchsia Dunlop

EYB Members love Fuchsia Dunlop. Every one of her cookbooks has garnered at least a 4-star rating in the EYB Library. Her most recent cookbook, Every Grain of Rice, earned a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award in 2014, and her memoir, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, has received rave reviews. If you've ever wondered which resources this great author turns to for inspiration, wonder no more, as this Serious Eats interview delves into Fuchsia's favorite cookbooks, her Chinese cooking heroes, and her favorite regional Chinese cuisines.

The interview traces Fuchsia's journey to becoming a Chinese cooking authority. Already a cooking enthusiast, Fuchsia first became interested in China through a job at the BBC which led her to visit the country. She began learning Mandarin and exploring the vast landscape. In 1993, she paid her first visit to Sichuan province, where a local couple introduced her to Sichuanese cuisine.

Says Fuchsia, "It was so exciting, and so different from any Chinese food I'd encountered in restaurants in England. I started learning to cook informally, in the kitchens of Chinese friends and small restaurants around the university, and later enrolled as a full-time student at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine."

Classic Food of China cookbookThe author who first inspired Fuchsia's Chinese cooking adventure was Yan-kit So. So's Classic Chinese Cookbook and Classic Food of China rank among Fuchsia's favorites cookbooks. Another is A Tradition of Soup: Flavors from China's Pearl River Delta by Teresa M. Chen, which she calls "a gem of a book about Cantonese tonic soups." Fuchsia's first favorite cookbook was Leith's Cookery Course, a basic introduction to English and French cooking.

When asked which lesser-known Chinese cuisines people should learn more about, Fuchsia responded that it was difficult to narrow down the myriad options. "The mere idea of 'Chinese food' tends to obscure the vast regional differences in Chinese culinary styles. Have dinner, say, in northern Xi'an, and then fly to southern Hangzhou the next day and you might as well be in another country, foodwise," she said. A partial list of her favorite cuisines include "Chiuchow" cooking in northeastern Guangdong province and the "delicate" cooking of the Southern Yangtze region.

You can read the full interview with Fuchsia at Serious Eats.

Featured Cookbooks & Recipes

Finding the best recipes amongst the millions online is not easy - but you don't have to! The team here at Eat Your Books, searches for excerpts from indexed books and magazines and every week we bring you our latest finds. Every day recipes are added from the best blogs and websites.

As a member, you can also add your own favorite online recipes using the Bookmarklet. With EYB, you can have a searchable index of all your recipes in one place!

Happy cooking and baking everyone!

From UK books:

9 recipes from Ms. Marmite Lover's Secret Tea Party:
Exquisite Recipes for Ultimate Afternoon Teas
 by Kerstin Rodgers

13 recipes from My Portugal: Recipes and Stories by George Mendes & Genevieve Ko

12 recipes from Honey & Co.: Food from the Middle East by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich

3 recipes from Comptoir Libanais Express by Tony Kitous & Dan Lepard

6 recipes from The Little Book of Lunch: Recipes and Ideas for the Office Packed Lunch 
by Caroline Craig & Sophie Missing, indexed by an EYB member

39 recipes from Big Table, Busy Kitchen: 200 Recipes for Life by Allegra McEvedy

From US books:

4 recipes from Ciao Biscotti: Sweet and Savory Recipes Celebrating Italy's Favorite Cookie 
by Domenica Marchetti
Enter our giveaway (Ends April 7th -- US & Canada only)

19 recipes from Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen 
by Leela Punyaratabandhu 

8 recipes from Mediterranean Cooking: More Than 150 Favorites to Enjoy with Family and Friends by Pamela Clark, indexed by an EYB member

15 recipes from The Big Book of Sides: More Than 450 Recipes for the Best Vegetables, Grains, Salads, Breads, Sauces, and More by Rick Rodgers

12 recipes from Easy Gourmet: Awesome Recipes Anyone Can Cook by Stephanie Le

3 recipes from Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal by Peter Miller

13 recipes from Sunday Casseroles: Complete Comfort in One Dish 
by Betty Rosbottom

   11 recipes from The Biscoff Cookie & Spread Cookbook: Irresistible Cupcakes, Cookies, Confections, and More by Katrina Bahl, indexed by an EYB member

11 recipes from Sweet Confections: Beautiful Candy to Make at Home by Nina Wanat,
indexed by an EYB member

6 recipes from Slice & Bake Cookies
: Fast Recipes from Your Refrigerator or Freezer
by Elinor Klivans, indexed by an EYB member

Orange Ginger Cake with Ruby Red Cranberry Sauce from Best of the Bundt: A Collection of Prize-Winning, Classic, and Soon-to-Be Favorite Recipes for America's Most Famous Cake Pan by Nordic Ware, indexed by an EYB member

7 recipes from Meze: Small Bites, Big Flavors from the Greek Table 
by Rosemary Barron & David Roth, indexed by an EYB member

2 recipes from ¡Sabor!: A Passion for Cuban Cuisine by Ana Quincoces Rodriguez,
indexed by an EYB member


Reworking Southern classics for healthier eating

Sweet potato gratin and pork chops

Virginia Willis is not only an authority on Southern cooking, a French-trained chef, and a veteran cookbook author; she is also a proud Southerner who adores eating and cooking for family and friends. So when she needed to drop a few pounds and generally lighten up her diet, the most important criterion for her new lifestyle was that all the food had to taste delicious.

The result is Lighten Up, Y'all, a deeply personal collection of Virginia's new favorite recipes. (You can enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book and check out her book tour dates in our  Events Calendar.) Southern staples are reworked, from  warm, melting Broccoli Mac and Cheese to Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Pie. Each dish is packed with real Southern flavor, but made with healthier, more wholesome ingredients and techniques. This isn't Virginia's first foray into revisiting Southern classics. In a previous cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company, she transformed already wonderful dishes into an all-out show stoppers.

Virginia has graciously allowed us to excerpt two complete recipes from Lighten Up Y'all, Bourbon Grilled Pork Chops and Sweet Potato Gratin with Herb Crumble. We hope you enjoy these fresh new takes on classic Southern recipes.  



Pork chops are a tender, quick-cooking cut of meat. In fact, so quick-cooking, that they are actually very easy to overcook. Cooking these chops on the bone, instead of using boneless chops, will help the pork cook more evenly, and make them less likely to dry out. Just make sure to trim away as much fat as possible for healthier results. The tangy Peach Barbecue Sauce, flavored with the zip of ginger and vinegar, and sweetened with natural honey, would be incredible on grilled or roasted chicken, as well.

I'll be honest with you, this is a splurge meal since we're cooking the meat on the bone and serving it with barbecue sauce-a plan-for-it, make-sure-to-work-out-that-day dinner. But, it's worth it! I find it so depressing for someone to say to me, "Oh, you can't have that on your diet, can you?" It's not about "no," it's about saying "yes!" I can have anything as long as I am accountable with my exercise and stick to my plan. So, believe me, I am going to gnaw on this bone until it shines.

4 peaches (about 1 1/4 pounds), halved, pitted, and quartered
2 medium ripe tomatoes, seeded and quartered
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/4 cup coarse kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups boiling water
3 cups ice cubes
4 center cut, bone-in pork chops, about 1-inch thick, well trimmed, (2 3/4 to 3 pounds)

Pork Chop: Calories 327 Fat 13 g Carbs 7 g Fiber .4 g Protein 44 g
Peach Barbecue Sauce per tablespoon: Calories 19.18 Fat .4 g Carbs 4 g Fiber .4 g Protein .3 g

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, puree the peaches and tomatoes until smooth; set aside. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the reserved peach-tomato puree, vinegar, honey, and bourbon; season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to simmer. Cook until the mixture is reduced by half and thickened, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for the seasoning with salt and pepper. Reserve 1⁄4 cup sauce for basting the chops, and keep the remaining sauce warm in the saucepan until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, place the remaining 1⁄4 cup salt and brown sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Pour over the 2 cups boiling water and stir to dissolve. Add the ice cubes and stir to cool. Add the pork chops, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate to marinate, about 30 minutes. (Do not marinate any longer or the pork will be too salty. If you can't cook it right at the 30-minute mark, remove the pork from the marinade and refrigerate until ready to continue.) Remove from the brine, rinse well, and thoroughly dry pat with paper towels. Set aside.

Season the pork chops with pepper. Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn all burners to high, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Or, preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat until hot. Place the pork chops in the grill pan or on the grill and grill for 3 to 5 minutes per side or until the internal temperature reaches 145°F, brushing with Peach Barbecue Sauce in the last few minutes. Remove to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to rest and let the juices redistribute, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately with reserved warm sauce on the side.


An instant-read thermometer is your best friend when it comes to cooking meat on the grill. Sometimes it's hard to gauge the doneness of the meat, especially when you've got hot and cold spots on the grill, distractions like kids running around the yard, and the inevitable conversation magnet that a grill can be. An accurate digital instant-read thermometer will be your best grill-friend who will save you from overcooked chops or underdone chicken.


Earthy, rich sweet potatoes are one of fall's most delicious vegetables and pair wonderfully with pecans, one of fall's most delicious nuts. You'll be shocked when you take a bite of this dish. Everyone always assumes they will be hit with a rush of sugar, and yet this sweet potato dish is distinctively full-flavored and savory, a welcome departure from typical marshmallow-topped and bourbon-drenched sweet potato dishes. This recipe utilizes whole wheat pastry flour, which is more nutritionally dense than refined all-purpose flour, but also is not as dense and heavy as regular whole wheat flour. Look for Bob's Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour in well-stocked grocery stores. I know Thanksgiving can be tricky. No one wants to give up a favorite dish, but slip this one into the mix and it's certain to become a family favorite.

If you want to take a serious shortcut for this dish you can substitute one 29-ounce can of pumpkin puree or canned sweet potatoes. The herb-pecan topping tastes equally great with both.

3 large sweet potatoes

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for your hands
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
3 tablespoons 2 percent milk
1 tablespoon pure olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Calories 98.02 Fat 7.35 g Carbs 7.28 g Fiber 1.41 g Protein 1.98 g

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. (This will help with clean up.) Spray a 2-quart shallow baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Using a fork, pierce the sweet potatoes in several places and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until fork-tender, about 50 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool.

When the potatoes are almost tender, prepare the topping: In a small bowl combine the chopped pecans, flour, Parmesan, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Add the milk, oil, and sage. Stir until well combined. Set aside.

When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes, discarding the skin. Place the pulp in large bowl. Add the brown sugar and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Smash the squash with a potato masher until chunky.

Transfer the sweet potatoes to the prepared baking dish. Lightly flour your hands and crumble the topping in small, cherry size pieces on top of the sweet potatoes. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Serve immediately. 

Photos and recipes copyright Lighten Up Y'all by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press). Reprinted with permission.

Cookbook giveaway - Lighten Up Y'all

Lighten Up Y'allDo you love Southern food but are trying to eat healthier? Southern food expert and French-trained chef Virginia Willis has come to your rescue with Lighten Up Y'all, a collection of classic Southern comfort food recipes--including seven-layer dip, chicken and gravy, and strawberry shortcake--made lighter, healthier, and completely guilt-free.

If this concept piques your curiousity, Virginia has provided us with two recipes from her book for you to try. And you can check out her book tour dates in our Events Calendar.

In addition to the recipes, we're delighted to offer three copies of Lighten Up Y'all to EYB Members in the US and Canada. Click on the Rafflecopter image below to view entry details and requirements. One of the entry options is to answer the following question on this blog post:

Which Southern classic would you most like to see reworked for healthier eating?

Please note that you must enter the comment after signing into Rafflecopter or your entry won't be counted. The contest ends April 10, 2015.


The fruit, the whole fruit, and nothing but the fruit

Blood oranges

Citrus brightens up many savory and sweet recipes. Usually the recipes call for the zest or the juice (sometimes both), and cooks are instructed to scrupulously avoid the bitter white pith. But using the whole fruit can be a revelation, says Sam Worley of Epicurious (via Yahoo! Food).

When properly prepared, whole oranges, lemons and limes can add complex bittersweet flavors to a dish. Worley notes well-known recipes that provide a framework for how to tame the bitterness of the pith, like orange marmalade and lemon shaker pie.

The most common way to remove bitterness involves boiling the fruit (usually sliced) in water or simple syrup. Worley has developed what he calls the "lazy man's" method: bring a 1:1 water:sugar mixture to a boil, pour it over sliced citrus, and let it sit at room temperature for a day or two. He provides suggestions on how to use the prepared fruit, such as placing lemon slices on blueberry muffins during their last few minutes of baking, using them as decoration on a cake, or even cutting the fruit into pieces and using it in the frosting. 

One thing Worley didn't mention is another whole-fruit application that doesn't involve sugar: preserved lemons. The EYB Library features several recipes to help you make those at home, too.

Photo for Blood orange marmalade from indexed blog Leite's Culinaria by Christine Ferber

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