Nigel Slater reminisces about 'How to Eat'

Some cookbooks age much better than others. After a couple of decades, what's left of the 'unicorn food' books are going to littering vintage shops, with shoppers making snide comments about how silly people were back in the teens. Other volumes, however, have timeless appeal. When you are lucky enough to find a copy in the resale store, it will be well-used, with splatters telling the story of successful dinners and satisfied eaters. 

Nigella Lawson's How to Eat is one such book. Can you believe that it's been 20 years since this magnificent cookbook was released? And who better than Nigel Slater to reminisce about it? He reminds us of how different How to Eat was than almost all of the cookbooks the preceded it, and how it ushered in a new wave of cookery books. 

How to Eat

"It says everything that Delia wrote  How to Cook and Nigella  How to Eat. And that's the difference between this and most other cookbooks. This is about meals rather than recipes," Slater writes. Nigella makes us feel at home in her books, like we are sharing the kitchen with her. And even though it's more than just another collection of recipes, the recipes work. How to Eat is as practical as it is inspirational. It's truly a cookbook for the ages. 

Own a slice of history by buying...wedding cake?

chiffon cake

We learned several weeks ago that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle chose to break from the tradition of serving fruitcake at their wedding, opting instead for a lemon and elderflower cake made by baker and cookbook author Claire Ptak. The tradition has held for centuries, and as Atlas Obscura explains, some of that ancient cake is still in circulation

Dating back to at least 1840, when Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, guests of the royal wedding have received commemorative slices of wedding fruitcake to take home as souvenirs. Often the cake was accompanied by a card and encased in a decorative box or tin. According to  Carol Wilson  in her article Wedding Cake: A Slice of History, royal wedding-cake souvenirs were based on the 1800s tradition of sending slices of un-iced "groom's cake" home with guests.

The practice continued through Prince William and Kate Middleton's nuptials in 2011. The souvenirs have become collectors' items, fetching thousands of dollars at auction. A slice of cake from the wedding of Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor  sold for $29,900 in 1998. An upcoming auction will feature cakes that span nearly 40 years of ceremonies, from  the 1973 wedding cake of Princess Anne to the 2011 wedding of Prince William.

The cake for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle won't become a collector's item, as the cake will be more fragile than the traditional fruitcake with its preservative liquor soak. People will have to look elsewhere for souvenirs from this royal wedding. 

Photo of Mango buttercream chiffon cake from The Guardian Cook Supplement by Claire Ptak

Celebrate Pi(e) Day

Apple pie

March 14 (3.14 if you use the month-first convention found in the US) is the perfect day for bakers to celebrate both pi (the mathematical constant) and pie (the tasty food with endless variants both savory and sweet) because of the natural synergy between the two. Bakers use pi when scaling pie and cake recipes to determine the proper pan size, and of course bakers love to make pies, whether filled with fruit, custard, meat, or vegetables. Pie is universally appealing to everyone from carnivores to vegans, for those with a sweet tooth or not, and even to those on gluten-free diets.

Officially, Pie Day (in the US) is January 23, but that doesn't stop people from celebrating on March 14. Any excuse is good enough when it comes to pie. While the mathematical constant is, well, constant, the definition of pie is less formally defined; you can celebrate with tartsquiche, and pasties, too.

Use these sweet and savory pies from the EYB library as your inspiration for Pi Day:

Fried apple pies from Eat the Love by Irvin Lin
Dahlia triple coconut cream pie from The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook
Bacon and egg pie from the Free Range Cook by Annabel Langbein
Creamy onion, broccoli and mushroom pie with a ruff puff pastry crust from Belleau Kitchen by Dominic Franks
Seville orange meringue pie from The Guardian by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

What pi(e) you are making to celebrate?

Why chocolate is associated with Valentine's Day

 chocolate cookies

Valentine's Day has several items associated with it: red roses, an exchange of cards (often heart-shaped and trimmed with lace), romantic dinners, wine, and last but not least, chocolate. But why, and how, did chocolate become associated with the holiday? NPR's The Salt has the answer

We need to travel back several centuries to find the root of the idea. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Latin America, cacao already had a reputation as an aphrodisiac. The Aztec leader Moctezuma served mugs of cacao-based drink at a banquet where Cortez was a guest, and reports of the elixir's alleged properties as a sexual stimulant traveled back with cocoa to Europe. It wasn't long before chocolate was popular on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. 

That only provides part of the explanation of why it is associated with Valentine's Day. We have to fast forward a couple of centuries to the mid-1800s in England to see how that happened. Chocolate had only recently been transformed from a drink to a solid candy. A rivalry between two chocolate companies J.S. Fry & Sons and Cadbury cemented the relationship between chocolate and the romantic holiday. I think we all know which company came out on top in that rivalry, but you can learn how fancy packaging helped link chocolate and Valentine's day on the NPR website

Photo of Double-chocolate sandwich cookies from Food Network Magazine

A cake fit for a king

King cake

Fat Tuesday, the capstone of the Carnival season in New Orleans, is tomorrow. Because it is the last day before Lent begins, people often indulge before they begin their Lenten abstention. In New Orleans, that involves eating king cake. King cake is to Mardi Gras as  pumpkin pie is to Thanksgiving: the holiday just wouldn't be the same without it.

Although it's called a cake, king cake is more like a sweet bread. Laced with cinnamon, the cake if often shaped like a braid or a crown. It's also frequently decorated with sugar tinted in the three colors associated with Mardi Gras: gold for power, green for faith, and purple for justice.

A tiny plastic baby is hidden in the cake. This tradition stems from the cake's religious origins, but today the concept is much more secular. If you are the lucky person who gets the baby in your piece of cake, you are named "King" for a day and are required by custom to host the next party and provide the King Cake.

If you can't make it to New Orleans or if your local bakeries don't offer king cake, you can make it yourself. The EYB Library contains 27 recipes for king cake, including How to make a king cake for Mardi Gras from indexed blog The Kitchn, pictured above. 

New Year's food traditions around the world

 candied grapes

New Year's celebrations are happening around the world. In addition to the parties and festivities, many people are ringing in the new year by eating foods that are part of their culture. CNN reports on ten such traditions around the world

Grapes play an important role in Spain, where revelers consume 12 grapes just as the clock strikes midnight, each grape representing a coming month in the new year. The custom began at the turn of the 20th century and was allegedly cooked up by grape producers that had a bumper crop. This tradition has spread to nearby Portugal as well as former Spanish and Portuguese colonies.

In the Netherlands, fried oil balls, or oliebollen, are frequently consumed at New Year's Eve, as well as during other celebrations. Similar to doughnuts, the oliebollen are spiked with currants or raisins, fried, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. In Japan, it is customary to eat buckwheat soba noodles at midnight "to bid farewell to the year gone by and welcome the year to come." The tradition is much older than the grape-eating, as Japanese have been doing this for about four hundred years.  The long noodles are thought to symbolize longevity and prosperity.

No matter what your food traditions, we hope that all of you have a Happy New Year!

Photo of Candied grapes from Food Network Magazine

Get ready for New Year's Eve

 grilled rum Manhattan

2017 is ready for the history books (and what a year it's been). There's one holiday left before we turn over the calendar page, and it's one that is suited for both the quiet, introspective types who will reflect on the year that has passed, and the people who revel in a raucous party, who will cheer as the ball drops and keep going until the sun rises.

Whichever way you prefer to celebrate New Year's Eve, you'll need to plan some food and drink. Indexed blog Great British Chefs can help in that regard, with over 210 recipes in its New Year's Eve recipe guide. They are featuring a dizzying array of appetizers, canapés, and cocktails to make your gathering delightful. A few recipes that struck my fancy include Goat's cheesecake with red onion jam Cheddar beignets with sesame dressing, and the Grilled rum Manhattan pictured above. 

For even more options browse the EYB Library, which features thousands of recipes perfect for entertaining. Choose from appetizers and starterscanapés and hors d'oeuvres, and a bevy of crowd-pleasing beverages, both with and without alcohol. Remember that you can further filter these results to narrow your options to fit your own palate and dietary concerns. We're sure you will find something inspiring. 

Keeping the time by the Christmas leftovers

turkey pie

It's been a delightful day, as for a change of pace we didn't travel or host over the Christmas holiday. This means I was able to spend the day in the kitchen, cooking, baking, and tidying from the rush of holiday baking. In addition, I took some time to scroll through my social media feeds, enjoying the many posts of people excited about their recent cookbook acquisitions.

Even though we did not make a huge meal, I still managed to overeat during the past few days. It seems that no matter what you celebrate during this year-end season, eating too much food will be a part of it. This reminded me of a post from The Guardian a couple of years ago, where they proved that over the Christmas holiday, you don't need a calendar (or even a clock) to know what time it is. You can tell the time by the leftovers you are eating.

Assuming a traditional Christmas meal, the guide begins with the main Christmas Day feast: "Despite the fact that you stuffed yourself to the point of intestinal tearing just hours earlier, you are back in the kitchen. You are not hungry, no, but feel like you should have something, lest you wake up in the night with a gnawing hunger." Continuing right on through to New Year's, the guide tackles the waning enthusiasm for turkey and the reluctant eating of food gifts that you don't really care for.

I and the rest of the team at Eat Your Books hopes that you enjoy your holiday meal (including the leftovers), and that you find yourself surrounded by friends, family, and new cookbooks to begin the New Year. 

Photo of Last of the leftovers turkey pie with stuffing cobblers from Fuss Free Flavours 

Holiday cocktail ideas

Lillet, orange & vanilla mimosa

In the rush of holiday meal planning, it's easy to overlook the drinks. But having the right cocktail can make the dinner or brunch special, and Australian Gourmet Traveller has the goods, with a list of 20 Christmas cocktail ideas. The recipes range from traditional to contemporary. 

On the traditional side you'll find champagne crustas, eggnog, sangria, and a Bajan rum punch. The punch recipe is from chef Paul Carmichael, originally from Barbados. That's where his father developed the recipe, which he shared with Paul in the form of a poem: 

One of sour, two of sweet
Three of strong and four of weak
A dash of bitters and a sprinkle of spice
Serve well chilled with plenty of ice

More adventuresome cocktails include a bright and refreshing cucumber and Tequila concoction, and the Lillet, burnt orange and vanilla mimosa pictured above.

The EYB Library contains hundreds of vibrant holiday cocktail ideas, like these Member favorites:

German mulled wine (Glühwein) from Chow.com
Pink sangria from Cuisine Magazine (NZ)
Fresh whiskey sours from Ina Garten
Sparkling pear Hanukkah sangria from The Kitchn
Spiced pomegranate gin from Jamie Magazine 
Batched rye-cranberry shrub cocktail from Serious Eats 
A winter sultan from Diana Henry at The Sunday Telegraph

'Tis the season for gifts from the kitchen

 English toffee

Every year my holiday wish list gets smaller but my holiday treats list grows. I've come to enjoy making cookies, candies, and other non-food handmade items for friends and family. I know that they enjoy them too, because they save the tins for months and always manage to return them a couple of months prior to year's end. I have a few "must makes" - an English toffee recipe very similar to this one from Simply Recipes by Irvin Lin (pictured above), plus homemade caramels, but I also love trying new recipes to keep things fresh.

I know I am not alone in this sentiment - for avid cooks and bakers, creating unique and delicious products is cathartic and rewarding in itself. Sharing it with others is icing on the cake (or cookies, as the case may be). To help keep you inspired, we've gathered a few resources to find new items to add to your cookie trays or canning jars for presents or just to take to dinner. 

The Happy Foodie has compiled a Pinterest board full of homemade holiday gift items from Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, including many items from Sweet. Don't forget about Eat Your Books' Pinterest pages like Preserving, Candies & Sweets, and Cookies

While sweets dominate most lists, there are plenty of savory options as well. Food & Wine magazine has a list of easy food gifts that includes savory items such as spicy herb salt and garlic confit. The Kitchn offers 45 options in several categories such as cookies and bars, brittles and chocolate bark, nuts and popcorn, and infusions and other drink items. The list from Delicious Magazine (UK) contains many delicious-sounding items like salted caramel whiskey sauce and spicy apple and walnut chutney.

You may also find some great recipes this month in the Eat Your Books Cookbook Club where we are starting to share our favorite cookies and holiday treats. 

If you need to ship any of your handmade items across town or across the country, Cooking Light Magazine  offers tips on how to package things like cookies so they arrive intact. Chowhound also provides packaging advice plus a list of "drop dead" dates for US shippers including the USPS, UPS, and FedEx, to ensure that your items arrive in time for the holidays. 

What's on your holiday gift baking list? 

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

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