Bonnie Benwick on downsizing a kitchen

There are many reasons that people downsize their homes, the most obvious being retirement or divorce. If you have a kitchen filled with gadgets and cookware (not to mention a study stuffed with cookbooks), the thought of moving to a much smaller place might give you cold chills. But getting rid of things isn't always bad, as food writer Bonnie Benwick relates. She recently had to downsize, and that meant losing a lot of stuff - including hundreds of cookbooks

cookbooks in box

Benwick needed to downsize following a divorce, and had to make do with a rental kitchen that was not very spacious. She culled items ruthlessly - no duplicates in the size of pans, for example. She hunted high and low until she found the perfect compartmentalized trays to hold her spices. The result is a kitchen that is more organized. 

Parting with cookbooks was another story. As Benwick explained, "Downsizing my cookbooks was the hardest hurdle." She had to get rid of hundreds of volumes. "They represented periods of my life, a self-taught cooking education, food luminaries I had spent time with, memories I wasn't ready to dismiss," she said. She made a deal with herself to start with the books she hadn't used in the last couple of years. This meant giving away some books that had been handed down to her by her mother. I'm not sure I'm strong enough to be so bold. 

Use your instant read thermometer for more than just meat

If you have an instant read thermometer, there's a high likelihood that you purchased for its speed and accuracy when measuring the temperature of large cuts of meat like steaks, whole chicken, roasts, and chops. However, the uses for this nifty device don't end there, as The Washington Post explains. It's also handy for many other foods, too. 

Thermapen

Delicate items lke fish and seafood also benefit from the kind of precision cooking that instant read thermometers make easy. Banish rubbery scallops or overcooked cod. Baked goods like breads, cakes, muffins and cheesecake also have target temperatures that can help you determine when they are truly ready. 

Custards and other egg-based dishes like quiche benefit from being cooked within a temperature range of 165 to 180 degrees to avoid curdling. The WaPo article provides a handy guide to temperatures for various items that you can save for future reference. Using an instant read thermometer really takes the guesswork out of items with vague instructions like "until almost set" or things that you can't judge solely by outward appearance, like gooey brownies. 

Check out the new 'Cookbook Love' podcast

Although the traffic is terrible, the worst part of my long daily commute is that it wastes time that I could be spending reading cookbooks. Until now, there has not been much to fill that time that is even cookbook-related. But a new podcast called Cookbook Love is changing that.

Cookbook Love podcast

CookBook Love was started by author, editor, and coach Maggie Green. A Kentucky native, Maggie is the author of The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook and owns The Green Apron Company, a consulting firm specializing in culinary nutrition and cookbook development. She has also edited several well-known trade cookbooks including James Beard Award-winning cookbook BakeWise by Shirley Corriher. This month she has two new cookbooks hitting the shelves: The Essential Pantry and The Essential Plant-Based Pantry. We will have more on those titles later this month. 

Following an introduction and the first episode which features The Little Snack Newsletter, we get a real treat: Episode 2 features our own Jenny Hartin who talks about both her Facebook group The Cookbook Junkies and Eat Your Books. In the episode, Jenny discusses how she first became interested in cooking and cookbooks. (Spoiler alert: she didn't learn about food from her mother.)

Jenny also answers the question "What is it about cookbooks and the genre of cookbooks that people love so much?" Listen to the full episode on the Cookbook Love podcast page

When a cookbook doesn't live up to expectations

Oh, the thrill of a new cookbook: cracking open the cover, leafing through the pages, and marking the pages of the recipes you want to try first. You gather all of the ingredients and proceed on the maiden voyage. And the results? Eh, it wasn't what you were expecting. You shrug it off, thinking 'not every recipe can be a superstar'.

open books

You shrug off the less-than-wonderful dish and move on to the next recipe. It, too, doesn't live up to your expectations. Maybe you begin to doubt yourself - did you follow the instructions correctly? Did you miss anything in the ingredients list? I can't tell you how many times I have overlooked a prep bowl. But no, that's not it. 

Now, the question is, do you give up after two or three disappointing recipes? How many tries before you give up on a book? And if you do give up on it, do you cull it from your library or do you hang on to it just in case a different recipe redeems the book? 

I have had a cookbook where the first three recipes were not that great. I was about to give up on it but decided to give it one more chance and the recipe was so wonderful that it completely changed my mind. I won't keep you in suspense - the book was Sweet Miniatures by Flo Braker. The recipe that changed my mind was the Miniature Tartlet Pastry. After finding that recipe, I went on to discover several more winners and the book will never be leaving my bookshelf.

That experience changed my approach to evaluate new books. When I get a new cookbook that doesn't instantly live up to expectations, I give it a few more tries before I give up on it. So far, I haven't found many books where my perseverance hasn't paid off. How many attempts do you give a cookbook before you call it quits?  

How to keep your wooden cutting board in tip top shape

Everyone knows that proper seasoning is the key to great cast iron, but what you might not realize is that the same holds true for wooden cutting boards. Over at indexed website Serious Eats, J. Kenji López-Alt gives us great advice on how to season a new cutting board, and how to keep it working (and looking) good for years. 

cutting board

The process is similar to seasoning cast iron, as it turns out. You need to start out with multiple coats of a food-grade mineral oil. Most major big box stores, as well as specialty kitchen stores, carry this product. I've found it in my local grocery store, although the price was a bit higher than other places. You can also order it online. Use more than you think you will need, says Kenji, because the board will absorb it. 

Once you have it well seasoned, periodically reapply oil so the board doesn't get dried out. If you do a lot of cooking, this could be a monthly process, but for most people a few times a year will suffice. If your board has a lot of knife marks on it, you can sand it smooth again and start over.

Jenny vs. Modernist Bread - Bagel Battle

Earlier this year, I purchased Modernist Cuisine from an author friend who was downsizing. Due to my obsessive nature, I couldn't have one set of the books without the other so I took the plunge and ordered Modernist Bread. I'm already saving up for set three, Modernist Pizza. I really don't need both kidneys and these books are worth every penny.

My goal is to work my way through the bread volumes first and then hopefully crack open Cuisine. unless I slide an advanced pastry project in between. In May, I shared my project plans with an Emile Henry giveaway and today I'm going to chronicle my first experience - bagels. I've tagged all of these related articles as #modernistbread for easy reference.

For those who would like a look inside the Modernist sets, we have EYBD Previews set up as follows:  Cuisine   and Bread  . Both sets of books are indexed: Modernist Cuisine has a whopping 714 recipes and Modernist Bread is indexed by volume number 1 through 5 with almost 1,000 recipes. Please note that the EYBD Preview for Bread is available on the library record for the set. Those who own Modernist Bread - please be sure you add the individual volumes to your bookshelf so you are able to search the index. 

I wanted to start this Modernist Bread project after I was settled into our new home which has a large kitchen with a DIY baking island made from our old dining table - this allows me the space and organization to work efficiently. If I would have began the project while packing, moving and working, I think my husband would have been a casualty of my too many projects. It would be a slam dunk case with bagel DNA embedded in the strangulation marks on his neck.

In early August after getting somewhat settled, I began experimenting with bagel recipes before tackling Modernist Bread's version. As you can see from my photographs below, I've come a long way - or at least I think I have. The first recipe I tried was King Arthur's recipe and I used the Leuke bagel molds which I found helped with the boiling portion. Using the molds provides a handle (the top of the cone) for the boiling portion without the need to use a spider that sometimes makes indentations in the dough. However, I didn't like the unnatural shape of the holes - too perfectly round which happened when I used the molds to bake the bagels as well. I've read online reviews that recommend removing the molds before baking to avoid the cartoonish bagel look in picture 1 below of the collage.  

I've always shied away from bagel and most bread baking thinking that it was just too much trouble - but I was wrong. Bagels are incredibly approachable. I've made ten batches since I began this project in the last five weeks and each time it has become easier. For the record, I have tried:

  • King Arthur's Bagel (I used the Asiago recipe but omitted the cheese) - good flavor, not easily rolled. Using the molds left them looking a bit odd and I believe I made them too small. I made the King Arthur version again without the molds. 
  • Washington Post's Bagel  - better shape, but not as flavorful, using a steel or stone suggestion was great - but trust me you want a Baking Steel - it is worth every penny and then some. You can use it for breads, bagels, pizza (look for a promotion soon with Mastering Pizza to win a steel of your own). Using the Baking Steel made a huge difference.
  • Ruhlman's  - found to be close to the other bagel recipes, don't need to brush egg on bagels for the toppings to stick because to me half the fun are crumbs of the everything mixture that are left on the plate to snack on after the bagel
  • Stella Parks - found to be close in texture and flavor to the above mentioned recipes
  • My own adaption of King Arthur and Washington Post recipes - provided good results 
  • Reinhart and Smitten Kitchen - the best tasting of all of the mentioned recipes - that is, until I made the Modernist Bread recipe 
  • Modernist Bread (three times)

All the bagel recipes produced results that were better than anything I could purchase here in Colorado and yes even better than those we could buy back home on Long Island. Deb Perelman's adaptation of Peter Reinhart's recipe is incredible and was the winner until I cracked open Modernist Bread.

After putting all these bagels to the test, I decided I was ready for Modernist Bread's version. To my great surprise and relief, Modernist's version was similar but different and yielded the easiest dough to work with, the best shape by far and absolutely the most perfect bagel ever. I did not, however, use the lye bath - but my combination of baking soda and malt powder. I don't need my bagels to be super dark and saw no reason to go to that length.

The Modernist bagel had a perfectly crisp crust (this is from the cold proofing), chewy interior and incredible New York bagel flavor. My son's bus driver and aid are from New York, they loved the Smitten Kitchen version - as did all the staff at the school - until they had the Modernist bagel. They agreed by far that Modernist's was the best tasting bagel of all the ones I shared with them.

Now that I have exorcised myself from the surly bonds of Modernist Bread fear, I am ready to try my next recipe - brioche. I've made brioche before using Huckleberry's recipe (both the blueberry and simple brioche) but now I'm ready for the big guns.  

Disclaimer: I purchased the Modernist volumes myself. My opinion is 100 percent my own backed by a few trusted New Yorkers including my husband. What clinched my decision that this was the best recipe was based on the ease of working with the dough and the taste.

If you need me, I'll be in the kitchen starting my next batch of bagels. 

Bring on the pumpkin

Labor Day is nearly over here in the US, and that can only mean one thing: pumpkin season has officially begun. Pumpkin spice-flavored items have sprung up on menus everywhere (pro tip - there is no pumpkin in pumpkin spice), but even better, sweet pie pumpkins are popping up in stores. Of course, canned pumpkin is available all year round, but there is something about the shortening days and cooler weather that makes pumpkin items so much better during the fall.

Pumpkin stuffed with everything good

Pumpkin has played a huge role in the culinary history of the U.S., dating back to colonial times. The website Taste of Home reminds us of this with 30 vintage pumpkin dessert recipes, including favorites like pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin muffins. Williams-Sonoma also offers 30 recipes featuring this delicious orange fruit (although we use it as a vegetable, technically pumpkin is a fruit). Many of the Williams-Sonoma recipes highlight the often-overlooked savory side of pumpkin, with dishes like pumpkin ravioli, chicken with pumpkin mole sauce, and pumpkin cassoulet with caramelized onions and roasted garlic.

Of course the love of pumpkin is not constrained by national boundaries, and it is enjoyed in many different ways around the world. The EYB Library is an excellent resource for pumpkin recipes both savory and sweet and from many different ethnicities. Here are a few Member favorites to get you ready for peak pumpkin season:

When life hands you lemons (and cucumbers and tomatoes and herbs and...)

After a trip to a particularly bountiful farmers' market last week, I stood before my open refrigerator in wonderment at the heaps of luscious fruit, vegetables, and herbs I had just purchased. Just as I was basking in this embarrassment of riches, panic struck: how was I going to use all of it before it went bad? 

The panic was compounded by the sad truth that I had done zero planning before my shopping trip. I just grabbed a handful of reusable bags and dived in with no regard as to what I might want to make. I surmised that I would only purchase whatever was at peak ripeness and that would narrow my options, failing to remember that in late August in Minnesota, everything is at peak ripeness. Tomatoes are heavy and plump, eggplants are shiny and smooth, herbs beckon with their heady scent, and everything is priced to sell. 

I returned from the trip laden with more items than I could reasonably use, once again seduced by the sights and smells of produce at its finest. That night we sliced a couple of gorgeous late-summer heirloom tomatoes, reveling in their meaty texture and intoxicating aroma. The next day, however, grim realization set in. Two tomatoes out of probably 20 pounds of vegetables and fruit didn't even make a dent. The basket of ground cherries that I just couldn't pass up was parked next to last week's basket of same that I still hadn't used. 

The large bag of pickling cucumbers that seemed to be such a bargain had literally turned into mush overnight. I could only salvage about a third of them, which barely made three quarts of pickles. Now what was I going to do with the remainder of the gigantic bouquet of dill I grabbed, and the two leeks that begged me to take them home and were threatening to roll out of the fridge every time I opened it?

Leek feta and dill tart

Naturally I turned to the EYB Library for assistance, finding the Leek tart with feta and dill pictured above from Onions Etcetera (bonus points for the book being an alternate selection in the EYB Cookbook Club). Not only did it use the produce I had, it conveniently dispatched with the last of the Greek yogurt and a small container of feta that was edging ever closer to its 'best by' date. (There are few things worse than opening a container of blue cheese only to find out that it isn't blue cheese at all...) 

Using the Library will help me avoid wasting more of the precious products in my fridge and on my counter. I feel that throwing any of it away is disrespectful both to the farmers who invested their labor in growing it and to those who don't have access to the abundance that I do. I hope I can stop myself from going crazy at the market next week - but if not, at least I have many cookbooks and EYB to save me.  

James Beard on the importance of salt

Discovering a new seasoning is one of the greatest pleasures a food lover can have. The first time you taste it, you immediately start imagining all of the dishes in which you could use the flavor. It gets tucked away in your mental spice box, ready to be pulled out at just the right moment.

The more you cook and discover new spices and herbs, the bigger this toolkit gets. The downside to having all of these flavors at your disposal is that it can lead you to overlook the more basic seasonings. Sometimes it's good to be reminded of how important the simplest of these can be, as this essay by James Beard about salt demonstrates

salt

Beard describes the major types of salt (that which comes from the sea and the other that originates deep in the earth), and even gives you instructions how to make your own sea salt. If you happen to vacation at a beach, you should give it a try sometime. Noting that salt is added to nearly everey type of food we eat, from savory to sweet and everything in between, Beard opines that salt "is one of our greatest culinary gifts." 

The latest tattoo fad is inspired by kitchenware

Tattoos of whisks, animals, cupcakes, and more adorn various body parts of chefs and dedicated cooks all over the world. Now we can add a new category to the annals of kitchen-inspired tattoo art: Pyrex bowls and bakeware. The designs, which have changed only subtly since the 1950s, have arguably lasted so long that they have attained a classic status.

Pyrex bowls

Those enamored by all things retro have adopted the stylistic designs, many of which are based on folk art, for tattoos. The lifestyle site Real Simple has identified several examples, with two others recognized by Country Living magazine. Pyrex, which was created by Corning Glass in 1915, has attracted a cult following, with  blogs dedicated to the brand's patterns and pieces, and Facebook fan groups such as "Pyrex Passion".

Still, it takes someone truly dedicated to have their passion for mixing bowls and baking dishes permanently etched on their body. For many, the designs are nostalgic. Some of the people interviewed note that they remind them of their parents or grandparents. I know some EYB Members are Pyrex collectors - one of them graciously shared a photo of their collection (shown above). If any of you have tattoos to match, let us know!

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

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