Spice support: pepper

Pepper, in its many varieties, is one of the world's most popular spices, found in cuisines north, south, east, and west. While it is ubiquitous, few people know much about the spice, such as what differentiates the types of pepper, where the spice is grown or how it is harvested. Over at Serious Eats, new columnist Caitlin Penzey Moog (yes, of the Penzeys' Spices family and also author of On Spice: Advice, Wisdom, and History with a Grain of Saltiness) fills us in on everything we need to know about pepper

peppercorns

When most Westerners think of pepper, they are likely referring to the dried fruits of piper nigrum, a climbing shrub from India. In the wild, the vining plant wraps itself around the trunks of trees and commercially, the plants are manually wrapped around stakes. Flowers produce rows of tiny berries which ripen from green to red. Once ripe, the berries are dried and processed to become the little wrinkled orbs of goodness we have come to love. 

White and green pepper hail from the same plant, but are processed differently. Green peppercorns are unripe berries that are kept from maturing either by drying or pickling. White peppercorns are the centermost part of black peppercorns - the wrinkled brown to black coating is stripped away using water to soften and remove it. In terms of flavor, green pepper is milder than black pepper, and white pepper is more delicate, with fruity or floral undertones. There is also some 'barnyard fund' flavors in white peppercorns due to a small amount of fermentation that goes along with the hull stripping process. 

Other spices called pepper come from a variety of sources. Cubeb pepper and long pepper are from plants in the piper family, so they are related to black, green, and white peppers. Some spices are not even remotely related to these pepper plants, but co-opted the pepper name due to its popularity or because of their heat. This list includes Sichuan peppercorns, grains of paradise, and sansho pepper. In addition to explaining where all of the different types of pepper originated, the article dives deep into the different nuances between different peppercorns in the piper nigrum family. 

Battle of the Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie

Levain Bakery, hands down, creates the best chocolate chip cookie I have ever tasted. Yes, I make that statement without fear of backlash and differing opinions. When we lived in New York, we would venture into the city or out to the island to get our Levain fix. And now when I travel back to New York, if I do not bring back Levain cookies, I may as well not come home. The photo below is the Levain chocolate chip walnut cookie.  This cookie can be ordered along with other products and cookie flavors through their site.

 

Levain chocolate chip walnut cookie from the Levain Bakery


Before I go into my obsession about this cookie, I will tell you a story.  We lived in New York for fifteen years before moving to Colorado (I want to move back every single day). One weekend we took a drive out to Wainscott and I had my husband stop at the Levain Bakery there. When he saw the price of $4 a cookie, he almost bolted. I convinced him that I had heard they were the best cookie ever and well worth that price.

We each bought one. I remember sitting on a bench near the bakery and watching my husband and son's faces as they bit into the cookie. "Andrew, mommy is never wrong about anything, remember that." (He repeated that same statement when I dragged him into Doughnut Plant but that is for another story). 

Last year I shared an article on my cookbook dreams, one of which was my hope that the fabulous women behind Levain would publish a book with their to-die-for recipes. Until that time occurs and in between trips to New York, I have made it my mission to try as many of the copycat versions I have found online (some I have adapted).  If you happen to take to Google, there are hundreds of copycat versions, here I will highlight the ones that I found to be the best. 

You will note that most of the recipes listed below are very similar but here are a few rules you must follow no matter which recipe you choose to make. Levain has confirmed they have no vanilla in their cookie (adding it is up to you). Try to use dark chocolate chips as that is what the bakery's version contains, but I sometimes mix the chocolate half dark, half semi-sweet. Before baking always, always - let me repeat - always - refrigerate the dough balls for at least an hour (or freeze for twenty minutes). If you do not take this step, the cookies will spread and you want them to be craggily mounds of majestic cookieness. Do not overbake - they are meant to be warm and gooey and orgasmic and when I'm feeling really crazy, I sprinkle a little fleur de sel on top of the cookies right out of the oven.

Recipes below are indexed on Eat Your Books - click the link and look for "View Complete Recipe".

 

Levain Bakery copycat chocolate chip walnut cookie part two by Parsley Sage Sweet has set the bar that all copycats try to reach. Lisa of Parsley, Sage has done the work on this cookie - her recipe is the closest to perfection I have found (with the addition of the cornstarch and freezing/or refrigeration of the dough). Before she posted those updates, I had discovered those additions myself. The only thing I do differently is a half and half mix of cake flour and bread flour as I find that results in a texture that is more like the original cookie. 

 

Levain Bakery chocolate chip cookies by Brown Eyed Baker is a nice version but doesn't have the same craggily (yes, that is my word for these cookies) texture.  

If you have not had the real deal from Levain Bakery, any of these versions will provide delicious results. I have made each of the versions listed below (save Bake at 350's chocolate peanut butter version) and they were good. (Honey and Brie does not have you chill the dough and that results in spreading cookies - delicious but flat.) 

I will keep experimenting and will update this post if I make any discoveries. Let me know if you make any of these recipes or find others you enjoy.

Happy Baking!

Giving parsley its due

For years, I only knew parsley as a throwaway garnish found at the edge of the plate in small-town restaurants in the rural area where I grew up. It was only after I began exploring the world of cooking through cookbooks and websites that I discovered it had uses beyond an afterthought decoration. The herb is often overlooked in favor of more trendy items but you should not ignore it. Parsley has a glamorous side, as Fine Cooking explains by showing us the  many ways we can put this ubiquitous herb to excellent use

Parsley sauce

Parsley's bright, clean but not too assertive flavor, combined with its vivid color, make it an excellent partner to many ingredients. In particular, it provides a nice contrast to the richness of cheese, and helps round out the flavor of pungent ingredients such as anchovies, capers, and olives. The flavor of the two main varieties available in most supermarkets (curly and flat leaf/Italian) is very similar, but the textures are different. Each has its best use: curly parsley works well in salads where it adds a bit of bulk, and flat leaf parsley is easier to chop. The variety is not critical, and you can substitute one for the other in almost any recipe. 

In addition to providing tips on using parsley, the article offers advice on storing it (it keeps well) and growing it. Parlsey is quite hardy and in most temperate climates it will readily self-seed, making it a wonderful addition to almost any garden. Its deep green leaves blend well with many different types of plantings - I grow it between flowers to fill in bare spots while also providing plenty of parsley for my summer and fall cooking. Here are a few recipes that highlight the clean, fresh flavor of parsley: 

How are you celebrating Pi(e) Day?

Today is 03/14, and that can only mean one thing: it's time to celebrate National Pi(e) Day! My social media feeds are replete with one stunning pie after another: sweet, savory, and even pizza pie are featured. I'm always looking for an excuse to fire up the oven and make a delicious dessert or sensational main course pie, so you know I'll be celebrating. 

Pi shaped pie

Cathy Barrow's wonderful book Pie Squared is perfect for today's baking bonanza, and don't forget about The New Pie: Modern Techniques for the Classic American Dessert by Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin, an excellent new tome highlighted by Jenny in the March 2019 Cookbook Preview. The EYB Library is brimming with a myriad of recipes too:  over 5,400 online pie recipes (not counting other pastries, tarts, and pizza).

If you want to participate but are short on inspiration, try one of these recipes:

Are you ready to "refrigerdate?"

Dating apps have, with wildly varying degrees of success, attempted to match people based on a variety of characteristics, from religious beliefs to location to astrological signs to love of the same sports teams. Now there one based on something far more telling of what lies inside the soul. Samsung, maker of a bevy of smart appliances, is debuting a dating app that matches people based on the contents of their refrigerators.

refrigerator

The app is called "Refrigerdating" and is described as "Tinder, but with the contents of your fridge." When I read the Eater article about the app, I had to check the calendar to make sure it wasn't April 1. This seems to be a real thing, however, and there is even a bit of science to back up the idea. For instance, research has posited a link between people who are risk-takers and a love of spicy food, so perhaps this is not as far-fetched as it seems at first blush. 

Samsung is likely betting that apps like these will help sell their technology-enhanced appliances, like the internet-connected refrigerator that has a camera inside so you can see the contents without opening the door. The idea of people primping the interiors of their fridge before signing up makes me giggle. I imagine people grocery shopping with an eye toward aesthetic packaging or high-end products to give just the right "look" to their food storage device, the food equivalent of digitally-altered selfies. If you sign up for this app, let us know how it works out for you!

Recipes that break the rules

Ask anyone who bakes well the secret to their success and you are likely to get an answer that involves being precise and following the rules. You will also likely hear the old saying that cooking is closer to art while baking is more akin to science. While it is true that for many baked goods success hinges on adding just the right amount of leavening or having exactly the right proportion of ingredients, sometimes the best results come when you break the rules altogether. 

Basque cheesecake

That is the case with the famous burnt cheesecake from Spain made famous by restaurant La Viña in San Sebastián. The top of it is blackened while the interior ranges from firm at the edges to ultra creamy in the center. It defies the standard of fluffy New York-style or creamy and dense traditional cheesecake to become the stuff of legend. Chef Santiago Rivera invented the unusual dessert in the 1990s, and it has wowed diners ever since. 

I recently stumbled across another dessert recipe that breaks the rules to delicious effect, the rose custard from Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts. You cook the custard for a long time, until it completely breaks. Then, through the magic of a high-speed immersion blender, the goopy, greasy mess is transformed into a silken custard that is even richer than a traditional one because more of the moisture is cooked from it. I admit that I was skeptical when I read the instructions, but followed through after reading Chef Falkner's reassurance that it would, indeed, work out splendidly. It did, and I have added the entire dessert (Rosebud: rose custard, caramel crisps, saffron pistachio cookies) to my arsenal. 

What are your favorite recipes that break the rules? 

Photo of Basque cheesecake from Taste by Daniela Galarza

The Piglet 2019 has launched

The Piglet is back! The oft-times controversial bracket style cookbook competition kicked off its first round this week. Sixteen cookbooks are paired head-to-head, with the winner of each matchup facing another winner in the next round, until only one remains. 

cookbook collage

As in year's past, this competition features some head-scratching competitions, with books from very different genres going against each other.  Combined with marked differences in the culinary ability and interest of the panel of judges has led to outcomes that left some cookbook lovers puzzled and even outraged. Regardless of what you think about the pairings and judges, The Piglet can provide some insight into the best books of last year, just in case you were on the fence about them. 

Celebrity judges this year include chefs and food writers like Emeril Lagasse, Dominique Ansel, Vivian Howard, and Padma Lakshi. There are also a handful of celebrities from outside the industry, too, including actor Kyle MacLaughlin. It's always interesting to compare how this type of judge approaches the books to the culinary professionals. 

cookbook collage

The first round of judging is already under way. The sixteen cookbooks vying for this year's title are (paired together in the first-round matchups):

Which vegetables should you be refrigerating?

Where should you store your vegetables? There is no one answer to that question, as each type of vegetable has its own requirement for the best results. There is a lot of confusion about where certain types of vegetables should reside, but as Bob Granleese of The Guardian explains, where the vegetables grow provides a clue as to how they should be stored.

vegetables

The basic rule of thumb is that if the vegetable grows underground, like potatoes, carrots, and onions, it will stay fresher longer if stored outside the fridge. Part of the problem is that the refrigerator not only keeps food cold, it also dries it out, resulting in sad, shrunken veg. 

Other items that shouldn't be stored in the refrigerator include most soft fruits and vegetables like tomatoes. Many items do better in the cold, however, including fresh greens and certain berries. For the greens, Jane Scotter who runs the   Fern Verrow biodynamic farm, has a tip to keep them perky. She suggests that you wash them "in baby bath-warm water - never cold, because that gives them an almighty shock, and never hot, for obvious reasons [ie, it'll cook them]", then dry them off and place them in a (reusable) plastic bag. 

Now, we only need to settle the debate about whether eggs should be refrigerated. 

Paying the cookbook love forward

As I have written before, I enjoying browsing for cookbooks at thrift shops and secondhand stores, delighting when I discover classic or out of print books for mere pennies. Some of my favorite volumes were found tucked away among faddish diet books from the 1970s, in tiny thrift shops in equally tiny towns that I've visited. Even though I love adding new (old) books to my collection, there's another part of this cookbook bargain hunting that I've come to love: expanding the culinary horizons of my friends and family.

If I see a great cookbook for a few dollars I eagerly add it to my cart even if I already own it, not because I need a second copy, but because I now have the perfect gift for a friend who is learning to cook or expanding her repertoire. I was recently reminded about how rewarding this can be while having drinks with friends. When one friend remarked that she wanted to learn more about bread baking, I said that I could provide baking books to help her on her journey. Another friend chimed in and said "You should definitely take up Darcie's offer. I told her my husband wanted to make pasta and she gave us a wonderful book. Now my husband and I make fresh pasta all the time." 

Classic Pasta Cookbook

I was tickled that the copy of The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Guiliano Hazan I picked up for 99 cents was as inspiring to my friend as I had hoped it would be. Giving a cookbook to a loved one is like matchmaking without the pressure. If it works out, it's wonderful, but if it doesn't there are no awkward feelings. I'm now on the hunt for more classic volumes so I can pay forward the joy and knowledge that I derive from my cookbook collection. 

Uses for leftover egg yolks (whites too)

I like to bake. A lot. Which means I use an extraordinary amount of eggs. Since my go-to cake icing is Italian meringue buttercream and since I prefer white cake to yellow, this means I'm frequently faced with a dilemma of what to do with the unused egg yolks. Luckily for me, Elazar Sontag of Serious Eats also experiences this conundrum and has assembled a lovely list of ways to use up extra egg yolks

eggs

Elazar's first suggestion is to make a rich pasta dough, which you can either cut into noodles or use as the wrapping for ravioli, stuffed with - you guessed it - an egg yolk. He also recommends challah as another excellent way to use up a large quantity of yolks ( brioche would work as well). 

The world of desserts offers a plethora of ideas for using extra yolks, with an array of custards, ice creams, and puddings to keep you satiated. You could also make a French buttercream to frost any number of yolk-based cakes. One of my favorite uses for extra yolks is to make lemon curd, which freezes beautifully. 

If you have the opposite problem of too many egg whites, you can use the EYB Library to discover ways to use those as well. I've already mentioned Italian meringue buttercream and cake, but pavlova and macarons are terrific options too. Turning to savory options, there are lots of ways to use egg whites in appetizers, whether as a binder, batter ingredients, or to help breading stick to something deep fried and delicious. Unlike egg yolks, egg whites can be easily frozen - use an ice cube tray to freeze and portion all at once. 

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

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