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Novice and professional chefs alike appreciate cookbooks that inspire, instruct and offer up irresistible recipes. Washington Post recipe editor Bonnie Benwick has put many of them through their paces this past year. She joins us to review some of the standouts published in 2013.
- Bonnie Benwick deputy editor and recipe editor, Washington Post Food Section
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, winter reading for kids and young adults. But first, when perusing the cookbook section at your local bookstore, you're likely to face the same dilemma you do when approaching a laden holiday buffet table. The shelves are likely full to overflowing with colorful, tempting and often pricy recipe collections. So, how do you know which titles will leave you filled with flavor and sustenance, sure to end up dog eared and sauce splattered from use, instead of in a giveaway pile a few months from now?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIYou call on Bonnie Benwick. That's how. The Washington Post's Duputy Food Editor and Recipe Editor is here to tell us which cookbooks are the best bet for ourselves this holiday season. During the holiday season, we always like to have our favorite things, and so we welcome our favorite people. Bonnie Benwick, good to see you.
MS. BONNIE BENWICKHey. Nice new digs. I like the light.
NNAMDIThank you very much for joining us. She's talking about our new digs on Connecticut Ave. NW, where we're on the ground floor, where you can see from the outside what's going on in here. Not that anybody's stopping by. I wonder why. You spend a lot of your time trying recipes out and noticed a lot of mistakes in many of the books out this year, which I imagine might hurt their chances of making your list. So, for you, what goes into a good cookbook?
BENWICKWell, first of all, I have to say, you know, I'm at the top of the list, in terms of making recipe mistakes. As a matter of fact, there's one in the paper today. I could just start with a mea culpa right now. And it's almost impossible to do, to produce a cookbook with more than 100 recipes and not leave something out, or overlook something, or wish that you could do something that, hopefully, there's a second printing for, so...
NNAMDISo it's excusable.
BENWICKIt is. It is, and a lot of books have websites with a section called "Errata," so they will list the mistakes. But it just seemed to be very small things, like a half cup should have been a quarter cup. Things like that, and really I choose recipes based on what I think our readers will like and what should go in the section, in terms of a nice mix of recipes. And it just came up this year, more than others. I don’t know why.
NNAMDIOne of the more striking books, it's my understanding, offered recipes of a sort not for creating dishes, but for showing how the dishes were photographed.
BENWICKIt is phenomenal. If I had a bigger car, I would have brought it in today. It's about the size of a coffee table, actually. "The Photography of Modernist Cuisine." They end up doing really great things, like they have the technology to saw the back of an oven off, so that you can look in the inside. They saw pressure cookers in half so that you can see the layers. And all the lighting tips. I loaned it out to a couple of photographer buddies, and they've just been gushing over it. But, it's a beautiful, beautifully shot, beautifully produced huge book. But it doesn't...
NNAMDII was about to say, this is not a coffee table book, this is a coffee table.
BENWICKIt is. Pretty much. But I think people would be happy to have it. It's just sort of endless fascination if you wonder how they do the things they do.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Bonnie Benwick, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Is there a recent cookbook you're planning to give or would like to receive this holiday season? What newer cookbooks do you turn to time and again as a resource? Do you consider them new classics? 800-433-8850. Bonnie, for better or worse, cookbook authors were busy this year. How do publishers decide what they think will sell?
BENWICKThese days, television still plays large. I think if you look on Amazon, the top five books, The Pioneer Woman, who has a show on Food Network, has two books in the top five. And that, I would think, is because people really like her style. The recipes are, you know, they're nothing maybe that you couldn't find in other books so that you haven't seen before. You know, they're casseroles. They're baked beans, they're, you know, big, tall coconut cakes. I mean, you know, but she's selling sort of an oove and she's got her family.
BENWICKAnd she's very welcoming. She makes things look easy. She talks people through it on the screen, and I guess that translates into heavy book sales.
NNAMDIOne professional chef whose books have been a hit over the past few years is back with another. What does Yotam Ottolenghi do so well?
BENWICKWell, first of all, he's really personable. He and his partner, Sammy, business partner Sammy Tamimi blew through town a couple months ago. And they were feted from the moment they touched ground. They're charming, they, you know, Mediterranean cooking is always kind of big, but they have a lot of fresh salads, so there's not even a lot of cooking involved. The book was shot in a beautiful way, and I have a personal feeling that if you sprinkle enough pomegranate seeds and beautiful Turkish pistachios on top of things, it's gonna look really good.
NNAMDIHis previous books, "Plenty," from 2011, and "Jerusalem," from last year, have also been big hits as well.
BENWICKThey have. It goes to that style of food which is fresh and looks pretty healthful. You know, it's got a lot of olive oil and (unintelligible) cookbook is something that they put into an edition to sell overseas. It's things that you could find in their restaurants in London. And that's a good thing. So, it all sort of ties in, but, you know, it just went crazy in terms of how popular it was.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number if you'd like to join the conversation. Do you have a favorite cookbook to give as a gift. Tell us what it is. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot us a tweet at kojoshow. Bonnie, there are a number of books on this list that help home chefs make the most of ingredients. One such item, that many of us might pick up for a specific use that then we're not sure to do with the rest of it is buttermilk.
BENWICKYou know, I think that we have kind of a buttermilk-less generation somewhere in between the mid 30s and maybe up to 45 or so.
NNAMDII think you're right.
BENWICKThey're just not -- they didn't grow up with it in the house, in their refrigerator. Other than biscuits or stirring in the mashed potatoes, they haven't really heard about what you could do. But, it's a great tenderizer. It has a great tang. And I love this "Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook" because, as you can see today, I roasted, I marinated a chicken in buttermilk. Usually, it's marinated and fried, but I marinated and roasted it per a recipe in the book.
NNAMDIIt's mine. All mine.
BENWICKIt is. And it made it -- it gave it a great flavor. So moist inside. Really, really delightful. The marinade also has a little garlic and a little smoked paprika in it, so that doesn't, that never hurts.
NNAMDIAnd Bonnie did us the favor of bringing it in studio. So, if you hear long periods of long silence from me, it's because I couldn't wait.
BENWICKSo, there are just lots of other things they -- he uses -- they use buttermilk instead of, you know, cream spinach usually is pretty heavy with cream and butter. So, they -- I also brought this swiss chard, which is sautéed and creamed with buttermilk instead. There are just lots of other ways to use it, and I think if you bought a bottle, that you can find easily enough in any grocery store, you'd have a field day with this cookbook.
NNAMDII'm assuming that what you brought consists of recipes from the "Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook."
NNAMDIThank you. Two more of your top ten picks are about using as much of any given ingredient as you can. What potential are we leaving untapped if we toss our carrot fawns or meat scraps?
BENWICK"The Root-to-Stalk Cooking," you're talking about. I found this fascinating. I mean, sustainable cooking and cooking smarter and cooking with an eye toward using everything that you can is very big these days. And not only in whole meat butchery, but in vegetables, too. So, this was a book written by a San Francisco Chronicle Food Staffer, who happens to have a farm. And so instead of throwing everything out on the compost pile, she was making stock. She was using it in soups and stews.
BENWICKShe was using it in meat dishes. All kinds of ways to really use vegetables that you wouldn't think of. And, actually, also tell you what not to use. There are some things, some vegetables that don't really go in stock very well.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Sarah, who asks, why would a consumer want to buy a cookbook, which can be extremely pricey, when they can go to online websites like epicurious.com, which has a tremendous number of recipes. If there's ever a mistake in an online or errata sheet, is not needed. They just fix it. Plus, websites can be very interactive with recipe tester comments. What say you?
BENWICKI'm a big proponent of online recipes, and certainly epicurious has, you know, tens of thousands of recipes that they've tested and that are good. But, I have found there's an inexhaustible audience for these sort of niche markets. If I do have that bottle of buttermilk in my refrigerator, or if I want to learn to cook with flowers, the little head note summaries at the top of a recipe are not gonna give me all the information that I might want about how I can cook with tulips, for example. Or what callendulas lend certain flavor that I might be interested in, or what the health benefits of cooking with flowers might be. So, and also, I like the expertise that comes from a cookbook author or a chef.
BENWICKLike "The Soupmaker's Kitchen." My friend in Philadelphia, Aliza Green, long time chef. The tips in her soupmaker's book are worth the cost of the book alone.
NNAMDIBonnie Benwick is the Deputy Food Editor and Recipe Editor at The Washington Post. She's also the driving force behind The Washington Post cookbook, "Readers' Favorite Recipes," that came out earlier this year.
BENWICKThanks for that.
NNAMDITis the season of baked goods, Bonnie, and for bakers, advanced and new alike, there are some good options out there. Which is the most comprehensive and perhaps best for the beginner?
BENWICKI was really impressed with "The Cook's Illustrated Big Baking Book" this year. I didn't bring it into the studio, but it's shot black and white in kind of a moody way. But, I thought they did a really good job of organizing, you know, in the magazine, if you, I'm sure you've seen Cook's Illustrated, and your listeners are familiar with it. They will show you sort three shots of maybe an under baked, an over baked, and what it's supposed to be. The Goldilocks range of things that can go wrong, and so those accompany just about every recipe in the book.
BENWICKAnd they all -- they're very good about giving sources and about giving scientific reasons why certain things rise or certain things, maybe butter works better in a recipe than shortening does in another. So, I think for a beginner, it would be, although it looks like a great big daunting book, it's actually packed with information. Very, very helpful.
NNAMDIFor bakers looking for a different perspective on the treats that they make, what's on your list?
BENWICKI thought this "Bake It Like You Mean It," by..
NNAMDII love the name.
BENWICKYeah, I know. I know, I mean, you can, mere mortals can actually make a cake that looks like that.
BENWICKYes, and someone told me, somebody at work told me that this is a sister of Sandra Bullock, and they grew up in the area, so I'll have to check that out. I don't want to give out any misinformation. But, just the insides, you know, you don't usually think of the insides of a cake as being something you can get creative with, but they're fascinating. I mean, layers and colors and flavors. And she's got diagrams and things. You wanna take a look at it?
NNAMDIAnd you don't have to be a pro to make it?
BENWICKYou do not. You do not.
NNAMDIAnd photographs by Tina Rupp. It's called "Bake It Like You Mean It: Gorgeous Cakes From Inside Out."
BENWICKThere's a picture on the back there. It shows you how to put a heart inside your cake. I mean...
NNAMDIThat's so cool.
BENWICKI know. I know. Something to keep you kind of busy and fun when the winter really hits and we're baking on the weekends, which is what I like to do.
NNAMDIHere's Rebecca in Alexandria, Virginia. Rebecca, your turn.
REBECCAHi. I've made many of Bonnie's recipes. I'm wondering where or if you publish corrections when there are mistakes in your recipes in the food section.
BENWICKThanks, Rebecca. As we, you know, since we're a weekly section, publishing the correction in our section a week later doesn't seem like it would do anybody any good. So, we publish the next possible day that we can. Our corrections, as are most corrections in the paper, appear on page A2 of the main section of the paper. We also put that correction online in the recipe, because all the recipes that we're printing now immediately go into our recipe finder. They're actually published on Tuesday afternoons. So, we'll catch that and append the correction to the recipe itself.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Rebecca. Many a home cook likes to listen to whistle while they work, perhaps with accompaniment. Which book provides a suggested playlist for each recipe?
BENWICKOne of my favorite titles "Pigs -- oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry -- "Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey" by Chef John Currence from Mississippi. This was a book that...
NNAMDIWhat a minute, "Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey: Recipes From My Three Favorite Food Groups" is the subtitle of that.
BENWICKAnd "And Then Some" in parenthesis. It's one of those titles I usually don't like them to go on forever but this just speaks to how fun -- you know, he's got a great voice in the book. The recipes are, you know, just really, really interesting. You know, he's got -- he's from the south so he's pickling and he's smoking and he's curing and he's putting sort of interesting things together. I just happened to open to Lemon Pickled Honey Crisp Apples. I mean, don't they sound -- they just sound good.
BENWICKAnd he also gives -- you know, because I don't know about you -- when I'm not listening to NPR while I'm baking or cooking, I'm listening to music on my iPhone. So, you know, he gives suggestions for what you might want to hear while you're cooking this particular dish, which I think is kind of genius.
NNAMDIIt works for me. Here is Kat in Washington, D.C. Kat, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHi. I am a small business owner and I'm always looking for inspiration for recipes. And my go-to cookbook is the Silver Palette cookbook.
BENWICKDo you use the old version from the '80s or have you gotten the updated 25th anniversary edition?
KATI actually have both so -- but I really do go to the old version first. And the Chicken Marbella is easily my favorite recipe.
BENWICKYeah, that is what's called the recipe with legs. I mean, I've been making that for, you know, ever since the book came out. And I think my generation -- all you have to mention is Silver Palette and they can reel off a half a dozen recipes that they know by heart. But that, in fact, was a book that had a fair amount of mistakes, and we didn't care. And they put out (word?) and when they published the 25th edition, they put in pictures and they fixed the mistakes.
NNAMDIKat, thank you for your call, covering all her basis is Kat. There are some non-cookbooks on your list as well. We talked to farmer Forrest Pritchard earlier this year. And I know a lot of people really enjoyed his book gaining ground. What did you like about it?
BENWICKBoy, I loved it. You know, he's a smart guy. You know, I looked up the transcript because you had him on in September. You know, it's just nice to have somebody who thinks about what they're doing in terms of food. And these days more and more of his care, not just about the food that came to us in a package where that's at the farmer's market, but the way it was produced, it just says a lot about the food. And you helped to understand why maybe you shouldn't feel put upon to pay a little bit more at the farmer's market, or to pay for some food that's locally grown and you know where it comes from. I think he's really good at explaining that, as he did on your show.
NNAMDIIf you are one of those who likes to get your recipes online, then you probably need to talk to Richard in Upper Marlboro, Md. for another point of view. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDHey, Kojo. Always listen to you and, Bonnie, I read your recipes every week in the food section. I love them.
RICHARDI've made several. I'd like...
NNAMDIHow many cookbooks do you have, Richard?
RICHARD...back in 1980 my sister gave me the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. It's the first one I've ever had and it's still sort of my go-to book when I'm going to make a nice dinner. It has every possible bit of information, however dated it might be. And I used that a lot. I'm over 120 cookbooks now. It's sort of gotten to be a disease.
BENWICKNo, no, no, no. It's survivable.
RICHARDI just look for one recipe, I'll make it and buy the book. You know, that's it. But a couple others that I've just got -- well, one other, Julia and Jacques Pepin, "The Cooking At Home" book that gives her own little twist on...
BENWICKOh, two snaps up.
RICHARD...how they do something. That's a neat book (unintelligible) a lot.
BENWICKYeah, absolutely, two snaps up for that.
RICHARDAnd the latest ones I've gotten that I've used a lot are Molly Stevens two books all about roasting and all about braising.
BENWICKRichard, you've gone to number one on the charts with me with a bullet. That "All About Braising" is really on my top five fall favorite of all time cookbooks. I think Molly Steven's kind of a genius. The "All About Braising" again, she was braising -- she was using that technique to do more than meat. And I literally have cooked my way from the front to the back of that book. It came out in 2000 -- 2010 maybe?
NNAMDIRichard, thank you very much for your call, And your obsession is not a bad thing at all. Finally, Bonnie, you were modest enough to leave them off your list, but there are two Washington Post cookbook authors with books out this year. Joe Yonan was on this broadcast to talk about Eat Your Vegetables on August 7. And who's the other one? Oh, Bonnie Benwick. The Washington Post cookbook readers' favorite recipes. You talked with us on June 5 of this year.
NNAMDIThose books should be on the list.
BENWICKWell, we were just assuming that people already had them certainly -- or that they would keep using them. But, sure, I mean, they're familiar with our work and hopefully they keep coming back to the food section on Wednesdays to see us. And I wanted to highlight other books for people.
NNAMDIAnd hopefully you'll keep coming back to see us. Bonnie Benwick is the deputy food editor and recipe editor for the Washington Post, also the driving force behind what I mentioned earlier, the Washington Post cookbook, "Rita's Favorite Recipes" that came out earlier this year. Always a pleasure.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, winter reading for kids and young adults. Stay tuned. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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