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Amanda Hesser, a food columnist for “The New York Times” discusses how she compiled the most noteworthy recipes published by the paper since it started covering food in the 1850s. The resulting “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” is a compendium of recipes from chefs, home cooks, and food writers that showcases the history of American cooking.
- Amanda Hesser food editor and writer at the New York Times.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She's visiting WMFE in Orlando, Fla. and will be back in this chair on Monday. When food writer Amanda Hesser decided to write a cookbook that would gather the best New York Times recipes, she believed she was essentially doing it alone. But six years and 1,400 recipes later, she found herself part of a community of food lovers in her finally completed compilation. She tells how the experience helped her appreciate the thousands of newspaper readers who contributed their most beloved Times recipes and how it changed the shape of her career.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThe book is titled "The Essential New York Times Cookbook" and Amanda Hesser joins me in the studio. Welcome.
MS. AMANDA HESSERWhy thank you.
ROBERTSNow, you guys can call in, talk to Amanda tell us your favorite recipes from The New York Times. This is how she wrote this book and now you get a chance to be part of it. 1-800-433-8850, -- email@example.com is our e-mail address. You know, the first question is, another cookbook? I talked to my very accomplished wife who is a very good cook and she said, I got a kitchen full of cookbooks and most cooks already have one and this one is 932 pages and it's huge and it's bright red. Why did we need another one?
HESSERSo you could get rid of all the rest (laugh). You know, of course I have the same issue. It's, like, I'm constantly having to like shed cookbooks and well, I just think that, you know, there is no publication that has recorded all the changes in American food for as long as The New York Times. And because it's a newspaper, it's constantly distilling kind of the news that's coming in and highlighting what they see as important and they've done that for now for 150 plus years with food.
HESSERAnd so it was a great -- I mean, there was just this archive kind of lying there, kind of fallow and I felt like it was a great moment to kind of go back and really to revisit our past and unearth all of the sort of great gems that have shaped our food culture.
ROBERTSSo that's part of what makes it different from all those dozens, even hundreds of other books you have on your shelves (laugh)...
ROBERTS...and we have in our kitchen. It's the historical perspective that very few cookbooks have.
HESSERYeah, and at the same time, it's not like an academic book in any way. It's really like, you know, a useful cookbook. I mean, I did the -- I worked on it in the way that any home cook would I got in the kitchen and I cooked all of these recipes and then collected the ones that were really terrific and noteworthy and I -- you know, I sort of saw my job as the kind of the tour guide through this history so that I could say, you know, this recipe belongs in this book for these reasons.
HESSERAnd I give context and sort of -- and here's a tip for how you could, you know, do a variation or like if you don't have that pot, use this one. And you know and I really wanted it to bring to life these things that maybe we haven't cooked in awhile. At the same time, also collect all the like amazing recipes that The Times has been publishing over the past two decades because they've -- the food pages have really flourished most recently.
ROBERTSNow, one of the things that I love about this notion is that when you asked readers to send in their most stained recipes, obviously meaning the ones they use the most and the most beloved. And every cook knows that the more stains on a recipe (laugh), the more beloved it is and those are the ones that you inherit from your mothers and grandmothers, the ones that have all the pasta sauce (laugh) on them. And what -- when you -- what did you find? Did you -- I mean, you had an outpouring. What did that tell you about the passion people bring to this process of cooking?
HESSERI don't think I had a grasp of how loyal people were to The Times' food pages and how much they cared about them and how much they sort of have been integrated into their lives for decades. You know, a lot of the recipes that people recommended were two decades old. You know, they had been -- if not four (laugh). You know, they had just been making them for a really long time and, you know, you know, I'm looking at a recipe right now, it's called Veal Chops Ces Jours and this woman, it's a recipe from 1967 and this reader who sent the recommendation to me said that she attributes this recipe to the longevity of her marriage (laugh).
HESSERAnd there were lots and lots of e-mails and letters and actually people sent their actual tattered clippings to me, which I feel kind of guilt about because I -- you know, I want to return them to everyone, but there are so many. And I just -- you know, I really just sort of got a sense that actually, The New York Times' readership was this kind of broad community of sort of passionate cooks and I wanted to really celebrate them in the book.
ROBERTSWell, it's -- what you're saying, it sounds, it's not just that they had a passionate connection to The New York Times, which I...
ROBERTS…understand having worked at The New York Times for 25 years and understand people's connection to that institution, but you're also talking about the passion that food as a central element to family life and culture and ritual play. You don't get passions about news stories, you get passions about something that matters in their lives.
HESSERYeah, and I mean, the thing about food is that, yeah, you your -- you consume it together, you know, around a table. It's like, it's this, you know, physical, sensual act. You know, you have to get in the kitchen and cook something and it's just -- it becomes -- it's part of your life, literally and so you -- I think it really sticks with people when they find, like, a recipe that they love.
HESSERYou know, and I think of something like the Purple Plum Torte, which is the most popular recipe in The New York Times. It was published by Marian Burros originally in 1983, but then several times after that because readers kept -- they kept losing their clippings (laugh) and then begging her to reprint it. And it was just the thing that, you know, it was their potluck dish. It was their -- thing they cooked to give as a present. You know, it was the thing that they made for a holiday dinner and -- and I think that that is -- it's a really powerful connection.
ROBERTSI've always believed that the process of cooking even if it's just one person cooking for another or one -- three people cooking for a family dinner or a holiday celebration, on some level, every meal is a gift from the cook to the person who eats it. Even someone eating alone, (laugh) I suppose on some level, it's a gift to yourself.
ROBERTSAnd that lends an emotional dimension to the process that other household rituals and tasks don't fully have. There's something so special about cooking that makes it apart from anything else people do in the house.
HESSERWell, there's -- you know, it's a sensual pleasure and it also incorporates all of your senses, so it's not like. you know, yes you could clean your house and you feel satisfied, but there's something, yes, much deeper when you cook something and then have enjoyed it with others.
ROBERTSNow, when you say you read the -- the -- or mentioned the veal chops recipe that held a marriage together. Any other anecdotes like that of people writing in and saying, this particular recipe played a particular role in my life?
HESSERYeah, well, there's this recipe for Jordan Marsh's Blueberry Muffins. Do you remember Jordan Marsh? It was this department store in Boston...
ROBERTSSure. In Boston, yeah.
HESSERYeah, and this reader, her name is Suzanne, from Woodmere, N.Y. She wrote, "There are two sacred things in my life and kitchen, my mother's 75-year-old rusted vegetable peeler, which I use religiously, and my blueberry muffin recipe. Both items look like they need to be tossed, but they contain my very soul." So.
ROBERTSThat's pretty powerful.
ROBERTSNow, the other question you get all the time, Amanda Hesser, is, oh, and you -- so you're updating Craig Claiborne? I mean, you can't write about food in The New York Times without associating with this great figure who authored I think it was -- it was The Green Book and The Blue Book, right? (laugh) The two New York Times cookbooks that became huge bestsellers and essentials in the kitchens all over America. But you're not updating Craig Claiborne. How is what you are doing different from what he did and how do you answer people who say, oh, well, you're just updating Craig.
HESSERI sigh (laugh), but, you know, well, the reason I didn't update Craig Claiborne's is because there's no need to. It's just -- it's a terrific book still. You know, it has held up for decades. The original New York Times Cookbook, which he wrote, came out in 1961. The thing that's very -- maybe people don't necessarily understand about it is that it, the recipes in that book come mostly from The Times recipe archive from the 1950s.
HESSERHe sort of gathered them up. It has about 1,000 recipes. My book -- which I had originally planned to just take from 1961 up to the present and then I realized that actually The New York Times archive, recipe archive went back to the 1850s, so I decided actually to do that whole period, so I've gathered up what I have deemed the most noteworthy recipes and sort of hidden gems from that whole 150 plus year period, so it's a completely different -- it hits all sorts of -- all different eras, all different writers, every trend (laugh) that has sort of passed through the pages of The Times during that period.
ROBERTSAnd you have some figures that you've unearthed, historical figures really who were constant correspondents with The Times in that period, like Aunt Addie. Who is she?
HESSERYeah, I loved Aunt Addie. She was -- I mean, as far as I know, she was just a very kind of enthusiastic and talented home cook who had a lot of very strong convictions about her cooking and so, you know, in the 19th century, the recipes were all sent in by readers. And as far as I could tell, the editors didn't actually do much editing, they kind of just put all...
ROBERTS...testing of the recipes...
HESSER(laugh) No, certainly not testing and so the recipes were great. They were very -- written in a very elemental form just kind of they would name the ingredients, they wouldn't necessarily tell you how to mix them or bake them or what pan to use or -- and certainly no oven temperatures.
ROBERTSBecause they assumed you were an experienced cook.
HESSEROf course, yeah. You knew how to butcher things, you knew how to fold and whisk and all that and they would just sign their names. And some -- often it was just initials, sometimes it would tell you where they were from, but Aunt Addie, who was one of the sort of power users or regulars, she would, if you sent in a recipe for something like tomato soup, she would, you know, raise you three soups the next week and with three variations and all sort of explaining how these are the right way to make tomato soup.
ROBERTSAnd you haven't been able to find out who she really was?
HESSERNo. I tried. I just -- and I was not able to.
ROBERTSBut Bob the sea cook was also a big figure in those years.
HESSERHe (laugh) was fantastic. He was a great writer actually and the thing I was not able to figure out actually was whether he was fictional -- he had created this fictional character Bob the sea cook or if he actually was Bob the sea cook. I kind of think he was because his recipes actually were very clear and they work for the most part and it was clear that he had done a lot of traveling as a sea cook would, but the thing about his recipes that I was always amused by was that he could sometimes be sexist and say if, you know, if you have to peel garlic, have a woman do it (laugh).
ROBERTSAmanda Hesser, her book, "The New York Times Cookbook." We'll be right back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. My guest this hour, Amanda Hesser. Her new book, "The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century." But as we were discussing with Amanda, one of the things that makes it so distinctive is that she's gone back into the New York archives over 150 years. And one of the things that I'd be interested to know as a result of your research, there were -- you mentioned that one of the things you noticed in the early recipes is that there was always an assumption that people were experienced cooks and that anyone who cared about a recipe knew about measuring, knew about the pans you used, the utensils. Did you have to update some of these recipes for more modern cooks who were not as familiar with some of these processes?
HESSERYeah, I mean, I call it I sort of translated them because updating, to me, suggests that I've kind of changed them to modern tastes and I have not done that because I felt like that would kind of change the nature and authenticity of the book, so yeah, I just simply kind of wrote them as recipes that -- in a structure that you and I are familiar with so that we could follow them. I just wanted to kind of make them accessible to everyone.
ROBERTSAnd you also noticed over the years fads. I mean, you point out that one period, there'd be all these duck recipes and then they disappear or...
ROBERTS...or certain ethnic cuisines. One that you hardly ever see anymore are -- is German cooking...
ROBERTS...a great tradition, but it doesn't show up. Talk about some of the fads you've noticed.
HESSERWell, I mean, there -- it's funny because, well, I think of the ones that are specific dishes, you know, like panna cotta or risotto, where we went kind of like nuts for these recipes and, like, tried every variation and then got tired of it and moved on to the next thing. And we sort of tend to -- as our -- like, that tends to be a kind of mode of our food culture, is that we kind of get in super enthusiastic and then we get completely tired and sick of something and toss it aside and then move on to the next thing.
HESSERI think the other -- you know, we went -- definitely went through this kind of in the '60s, like, German, Hungarian and French, of course. And then in the '70s, we were sort of -- the '70s I call the soup and dessert decade and I can't explain it, but there were so many great soup recipes and so many great dessert recipes. And then the '80s is when we started kind of exploring Europe with a new, like, fresh eye and that was when we started thinking of, like, you know, Italian cooking and getting -- and looking at French cooking from a different point of view. Thanks very much to Patricia Wells who wrote "Bistro Cooking" at the time and we became really fascinated with kind of French country food and Bistro food and that sort of more kind of like laid back French cooking.
HESSERBut the thing that I think that I've noticed the biggest shift was -- in cooking has been toward a more complex kind of taste profile in our recipes. Like we want to have sweet and sour and salty and bitter and new mommy and we want crunch and we want soft. We want all of these different kind of contrasting elements in a single dish, while we also want the recipes to be simpler. It's a kind of interesting conflict and I think that, you know, there are some amazing recipes -- modern recipes that are able to kind of do that. And I think actually, Mark Bittman's Minimalist column has been a very good kind of expression of that sort of shift.
ROBERTSAnd what about -- you mentioned earlier that the -- you had people not really vote, but of all the recipes of 150 years that the Purple Plum Torte was the favorite, but you have the top five and I notice that four of them are desserts.
HESSERYes. Well, I (laugh) -- while I was working on the book, I joked that the title should be "Chicken and Dessert" because the vast -- I mean, if you looked at the 6,000 recipe suggestions that I got from readers and you looked at the sort of where there were -- where there were kind of concentrations of interest, they were certainly in chicken and dessert (laugh). We've just been a big dessert culture I think throughout, you know, the 150 years. I mean, the 19th century archives certainly are packed with desserts as well.
ROBERTSAnd did the vote surprise you at all or...
HESSERWell, what surprised me was that four of the five recipes were more than 20 years old and, I mean, that just says something about those recipes themselves, but also that once people latch onto something, they really kind of love it. And yeah, I mean, I think that...
ROBERTSWhy was the Purple Plum Torte so popular?
HESSEROkay. The Purple Plum Torte, I think it was popular for a number of reasons. One, it has four steps. You know, you look at it, you don't feel intimidated. It has -- most of the ingredients, except for the plums, you probably have at home already. It's like, you know, flour, milk -- I mean, not flour -- not milk, I'm sorry, (laugh) flour, eggs, sugar, butter and it's a thing that you mix up and you can mix it up in any order and it doesn't -- you can't screw it up.
HESSERAll you have to do is stir and you plop it into a pan and stick the plums on top and then the plums sink into the batter and they look like these little inlaid jewels and so it's very beautiful when it comes out of the oven. So if you've never baked before, you think that you've done this, like, masterful recipe. And it is, it's delicious, it travels well, it also freezes well. You know, it's kind of all around has all of the elements of a successful recipe.
ROBERTSAnd as we were talking earlier, the classic food is gift because you can bring it with you to someone's house.
ROBERTSI mean, there are all sorts of ways in which you can use it. Other trends that you saw in -- you say chicken and dessert, but why chicken? Again, because it was relatively easy, not very expensive. I mean, why was there so much affection lavished on the humble chicken?
HESSERYou know, that's a great question. I mean, I just think that interestingly, in the 19th century, there's very few chicken recipes and I think it's just that when chicken farms, like sort of industrial chicken farms actually had took off and they kind of promoted chicken as this kind of easy -- you know, if you think about it, a chicken easily feeds a family of four. It's kind of like the perfect size, it's, you know, economical. It just became the sort of central, I think kind of, you know, main course dish for Americans. And so we've become, you know, hungry for all kinds of, like, new ways to prepare it that would be exciting, you know.
HESSERAnd in the meantime, more seemingly exotic things, like, you know, duck kind of fall off the map. But more recently -- and actually, I did notice that since 2000, The Times has actually been publishing fewer chicken recipes and much more kind of like things like short rips and, you know, other kind of, like, braised beef and lamb and sort of off cuts of meat.
ROBERTSYou know, from -- I still -- you know, if I'm asked by the cooks in my family, what do you want for Sunday dinner, they know what I'm gonna answer, which is a great roast chicken still.
ROBERTSI mean, it is still the best Sunday dinner ever and...
ROBERTS...and I don't want it cooked another way.
ROBERTSI want it cooked the way it's always been cooked.
HESSERWell, here you'll find the Zuni Café Roast Chicken, which is a kind of a famous restaurant recipe.
ROBERTSThat is a good one.
ROBERTSLet me read you some e-mails, Amanda Hesser...
ROBERTS...and then we'll get to some of our callers. And we're going to start with Charles who is upbraiding me for my opening comment. "I find the sexism with which you have kicked off this hour to be rather unfortunate. Doing a show about cooking, better ask my wife about it." Well, I ask my wife because she's a great cook and -- and that's why. "Those recipes that are best are the ones that are passed down by our mothers and grandmothers." Well, I said that because I have learned that to be true and I don't in any way denigrate what Charles says, which is, "Well, your host might be surprised to know that guys can cook, too." Of course, I understand that. "And my favorite main recipes are those that my dad taught me." Bravo.
HESSERCan I point something out, actually?
HESSEROkay. Which is -- well, actually three of the five most recommended recipes actually come from men, which is David Ayr's Pancake, Teddy's Apple Cake and Ed Joby's Lasagna, just interestingly and they're, you know, older recipes, so I don't think that it's just from women that we get recipes (laugh).
ROBERTSAbsolutely not, but I have also learned that the process of passing down recipes in the kitchen, sure that happens from father to son. I think it happens more often from grandmother to mother to daughter and I think that's an essential element in the -- in the experience of many families, of that's how people bond, is over this process of passing down recipes, hints, suggestions and learning from a very young age.
HESSERI think that's probably gonna change, though. I think in -- as more and more people cook and I think there's this whole generation of where there's like sort of there's no gender barriers, like, everyone is cooking and so I think that you'll find overtime that...
HESSER...fathers will, you know, be passing things along to their daughters or -- and mothers will be passing it along to their sons and whatever, you know.
ROBERTSParticularly as more and more women in the workplace...
ROBERTS...therefore, who is doing the domestic chores. It changes in terms of gender balance. Let me read this from Kathryn in Cincinnati, Ohio. "I've inherited many recipes, but they are so many oh so loaded with butter and oil, I simply cannot cook them anymore without clogging my arteries. Have you ever thought of doing a healthy makeover cookbook for the recipes you've collected?"
HESSERYou know, I didn't because, you know, I would say, you know, most of the recipes in this book are really quite healthy. Of course, you know, yes, the desserts have butter in them, but, you know, even in the old, old recipes, I kind of expected them to be kind of all weighed down with lard. And in fact, they're not and olive oil was a very common ingredient in the 19th century. And there's a great focus on vegetables and produce.
HESSERAnd, you know, often, when you're cooking them, it was very kind of simple. Yes, there were the occasional, like, butter laden, white sauce laden gratins or whatever, but I think, you know, I was really looking for a balanced, you know, view of all the recipes that were, you know, in the archive. I mean, yes, I think that there could be a book done on that, but that's not what I was setting out to do here.
ROBERTSMichael Roberts writes to us from Boca Raton, Fla., "What are your thoughts on the way technology is affecting the food writing industry? What are your favorite cooking websites?" Now, you yourself are now a proprietor of your own website.
ROBERTSSo talk about that.
HESSERYeah, so, well, my point of view's a little biased, but -- so my friend Meryl Stubbs and I started a website a year ago called Food52 and it was actually inspired by work on The New York Times Cookbook because we could see that there were -- you know, cooks had all these -- you know, these really strong connections of those recipes. And then additionally online, there were thousands and thousands of food blogs and many of which were terrific.
HESSERThey were -- people have reached this point, I think, in our food culture where they weren't just consuming the information, they were actually wanting to express themselves and so they were -- they knew a lot about food and they wanted to tell others and as they write these blogs and they have amazing photographs and they get followings. And so we created a site that really is a platform for, you know, cooks of all kinds to get recognized for their great recipes and for the, you know, the knowledge that they're sharing.
ROBERTSThe cooks in my family are big fans of epicurious.com and you said -- regularly, I will see the printouts, you know, and what they tell me is that it's great to be able to -- if you have an idea for a dish or even if you bring something home, how do you deal with it? And it's just a terrific way of producing a recipe quickly that's often very useful.
HESSERYeah, you know, the thing that's great about technology is the way you can so fluidly share information. Like, so one of the things that we recently did was that -- you know, when you have cooking questions -- everyone has cooking questions no matter how experienced they are, right? And you often need an answer quickly because you're, like, at the stove or you're in the grocery store and you're not sure which ingredient to get, so we created this thing called FoodPickle, where you can use Twitter or you can go on the site and you just ask a food question.
HESSERAnd then anyone can answer it. And as soon as an answer comes in, we e-mail it to you or we direct message you, depending on how you've come in. And it's worked incredibly well because there are so many people out there who know a ton about very specific things. You know, like, I asked -- like, I needed a candy thermometer and I said, you know, I don't know what kind I should buy. And, you know, within five minutes, I had all of these amazing, like, suggestions and people who had bought different kinds and which ones were successful and which ones were not. And that, to me, is the beauty of technology and food.
ROBERTSAnd so what we were talking about earlier that this ritual of passing down accumulated wisdom and tips and insights and experience can just be magnified through the use of technology.
HESSERYeah, exactly, yeah.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." My guest this hour is Amanda Hesser, her book is "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." And Amanda, let's turn to some of our callers...
ROBERTS...and let's start with Marilyn in Indianapolis, Ind.
MARILYNYes. Amanda, I have a minor complaint...
MARILYN...and a question. What you have said is that the most popular recipes through the years in The New York Times have been those which are the most accessible. And it seems to me that in recent years, particularly in The Sunday Times in the magazine, the recipes are very esoteric. I'm thinking of a recent one that called for freca, which I had never heard of, and I'm not sure I could find in Indianapolis. And I'm thinking of the "Cooking With Dexter" articles. They're really difficult and not particularly attractive to the ordinary home cook.
ROBERTSThank you, Marilyn.
HESSER...yeah, I think it's an interesting point. I just want to clarify one thing.
ROBERTSIt's a complaint I've heard from other people, too, by the way.
HESSER(laugh) I -- yeah, I've heard it before. It's completely familiar to me. So I just want to clarify one point, which is that I was not saying that I was selecting recipes based on their accessibility. I was trying to take the old recipes -- his recipe language was very inaccessible and make it accessible to you and me so we could -- so you could take a 19th century cake and really make it. But in terms of what you're saying, I -- yes, I hear you and I think that The Times food section really aims to have this balance of, you know, on one end the "Minimalist" column, which is very accessible and it's really kind of geared towards people who are trying to get dinner on the table during the week, but have really interesting and inspiring meals, not, you know, something that was just done for the sake of ease.
HESSEROn the other end of the spectrum, they're always trying to kind of like push us into the next place. And, you know, honestly -- I mean, I look at, like, Craig Claiborne's columns and he spent a lot of time on ingredients like feta, which, you know, really were only available to New Yorkers. Like, I mean, now, of course, feta is everywhere, but at the time, he would have to explain exactly what this kind of crazy ingredient (laugh) was and really kind of pushed his readers to try new things. And I think that The Times has continued that in that vein since then to kind of push us to try new things and so not every column is going to be accessible.
ROBERTSOkay. Thanks a lot, Marilyn. We have a number of other callers. Here's another e-mail that we got who says, his wife has acres of cookbooks and gazillion recipes and would like to put them into a computer. He'd like to be able to scan them and be able to find them after. "Does your guest have any other suggestions as a parse to these tattered pieces (laugh) of newsprint that have been the staples for so long?"
HESSERThere is actually -- and I am sorry, I'm forgetting -- but there is a website online that is starting to basically do that service, but from a slightly different -- where you can kind of tell them what books you have and then they give you access to, I think, the recipes.
ROBERTSAre the -- can people computerize these recipes from your book? Are they accessible online or do you have...
HESSERNot yet, but we're working on that.
ROBERTSYou are working on that...
ROBERTS...so that people can store them that way.
HESSERYeah, probably an iPad app.
ROBERTSAnd Judith writes, "Can you please give us the name of Amanda's blog website again?"
HESSEROh, great. It's Food52, so it's food52.com.
ROBERTSAnd that's -- and we're gonna put that on our WAMU website, so any of you listeners who haven't written that down, we will give you access to that. We're talking with Amanda Hesser, longtime New York Times food writer, still a columnist there. "The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century." This weighs in at how many pounds? About 10 pounds (laugh) ?
HESSERYeah, you can use it for exercise as well.
ROBERTSNine hundred and thirty-two pages. It comes with a handle you can use it -- buy two of them, you can use them as -- for weight training. I'm Steve Roberts and I'll be right back with Amanda. Stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back, I'm Steve Roberts sitting in for Diane today and my guest this hour is Amanda Hesser, long time food writer from The New York Times and the author of a new book, "The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes For a New Century." Nine hundred and thirty-two pages, bright red cover, you cannot miss it. And Amanda, we've got a lot of callers, cooks and eaters and everybody in-between who wants to join the conversation, so let's turn to William in Lexington, Ky. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
WILLIAMHello there. Amanda, you mentioned a couple of times Mark Bittman The Minimalist and I must say that Mark Bittman is my hero. And I wanted to share with you my favorite Mark Bittman recipe. First of all, you start out with some two-inch or so fresh tuna steak, set some greens, arugula is probably the best, make up a marinade of -- a soy-based marinade and cut a pocket in the tuna steak. And after you marinate the steaks for a little while and the greens for a little while, stuff the greens into the tuna and grill it rare. Oh, my gosh, that is the best stuff. The first time my wife and I made it, we made copies of the recipe and faxed it to all our friends and said, "This is the best stuff we have ever eaten."
ROBERTSThanks for -- thanks for...
ROBERTSThanks very much, but this is part of what happens, right? This is what you were tapping into. This communication, people want to share.
ROBERTSAnd that's really what -- part of what the book's about, right?
HESSERYeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. You know, I wanted the -- all the people who, like, had written in to sort of feel like, you know, this was kind of their book. And, in fact, actually, it's not the only thing that I crowd sourced. I actually, the cover was -- the cover fabric was partially decided by people on Twitter and Facebook who I had polled about whether the book should have a dust jacket or not and they overwhelmingly said, no, it should not have a dust jacket. And so Norton went with no dust jacket and also the timelines throughout the book. I reached out to people to say, like, what were the important moments in food? You know, like, who were the important people, the important ingredients, the sort of turning points? And they -- I -- a lot of the feedback I got found its way into those timelines.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Sue in Fairport, N.Y. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
SUEHi, thank you. I have my old yellowed recipes and the ones – two that stand out are for squid.
SUEAnd they're very old because you couldn't readily find recipes for squid and I -- we love squid, but the way we usually had it at home was in tomato sauce. And I was looking for variations. One is for stuffed squid and one is for sautéed in butter, wine sauce and garlic, but you did mention you felt the most profound change was contrasting textures or the demand for that. I would suggest that it's probably the way we cook veggies.
HESSEROh, I think that's a great point. I mean, I think that's equally -- we just cook them for a lot less time.
SUEAnd the way we roast them.
SUEAnd caramelize them.
HESSERWhich was really -- I think that that was popularized by Al Forno Restaurant in Providence, R.I. in the '80s. They -- The Times actually published a couple of their roasted vegetable recipes and I think, yes, you're right. That sort of, like, changed the way we think about.
SUEMakes them much more palatable.
HESSERAnd I just wanna point out that there -- you know, there are many squid recipes in The Times over the years and that is a great example of what the earlier caller was saying about how, like, you know, sometimes there are a lot of really esoteric ingredients. Well, that certainly would have been considered an esoteric ingredient, but if The Times doesn't publish stuff like that, then, you know what I mean? Then it kind of just dies away.
ROBERTSBut does -- is it also true that the growing availability -- you mentioned feta cheese as one small example -- the growing availability of once esoteric or foreign ingredients to American cooks for a variety of reasons, growth of ethnic stores or whatever it is or even in your local Whole Foods of Safeway, has that changed the way you think of recipes? Is -- are you now aware that people have access to a wider variety of foods and a wider variety of ingredients than they did before?
HESSERYes. There were a huge -- there was a great variety of ingredients, actually, you know, a hundred years ago and then it sort of shrunk. And I can't explain exactly why it could have done -- it could have had something to do with the wars. And then it really took, you know, three or four decades until, like, basically the late '80s where we started really kind of rapidly expanding the different ingredients that we had access to. And also, like, our sort of willingness to kind of cook with a great variety of different foods.
ROBERTSHere's another e-mail that I will read. "Speak to the fact, please, that on TV when describing meals that take say only 30 minutes to prepare, it's not realistic. They almost always have all the ingredients chopped, prepared ahead of time, ready to add any mixture or cooking pan. They also have all the utensils, bowls, blenders, food processors and pans at the ready. Preparing to prepare a meal can take quite a bit of time in itself. I feel so inadequate. I'm pretty slow anyway because it may take me an hour or two hours to prepare a so-called 30-minute meal. Why make us regular cooks feel so slow by not including preparation time in the calculation?"
HESSERSo I'm very opposed to preparation times because for the very reason that this person is saying. Like, they -- what takes somebody 15 minutes could take somebody else 45 minutes. So when you're putting a preparation time in there, I think they often also fudge it, too, honestly, because they don't want -- they don't want to intimidate you and I just think...
ROBERTSAnd it's got to fit in a 30-minute TV show (laugh).
HESSERYeah, or even just in general, like, you know, Paul Prudhomme's Cajun-style gumbo is going to take you four hours. I'm sorry (laugh), but I was not going to not include that recipe in this book because it's really fantastic and it's not like you're...
ROBERTSThat one is worth it (laugh) .
HESSERYeah and you're not, like, spending four hours in the kitchen, but there are stages and it sort of -- it progresses over the course of four hours, but I'm not going to put a preparation time in there that basically says, you know, run away, yeah. I just think that you can usually see by the length of a recipe -- you have sense of how long things are going to take and just, you know, and I think -- and then you know your own style of cooking.
ROBERTSAnd as you point out, it's also true as you become a more experienced cook all these things become easy. You can estimate better. You're more adept at using a recipe so that it's not the same preparation cook for inexperienced cook and for a veteran cook. It's just not the same.
ROBERTSFelipe, in St. Louis, welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
FELIPEHi, thank you so much for taking my call. I was actually calling because of a comment that was made earlier about men and cooking and the legacy they leave for their kids.
FELIPEAnd I started a project similar to what Amanda did. I started a book. I just, you know, wherever I am if I'm in a doctor's office, if I'm anywhere and I find a recipe in a magazine or a cookbook or a newspaper that I think is attractive and it's something that I would like to cook I get home, I try to make that recipe and then I actually keep a book of all those clippings. And if it's successful and if it's simple and if it's something that is clearly outstanding, I include it in the book.
FELIPEAnd then I put notes of where I got it or if someone gave it to me. I keep notes of, you know, is it something that is – you know, anything I've changed and, you know, what the expectation should be on that. And I have three kids and one on the way and my goal is to pass it on to my -- I have a girl and I have boys, so my goal is to pass it on to them just to give them a base of where to start and nothing complicated just something that they'll enjoy.
HESSERI think it's fantastic.
ROBERTSAnd a lot of this is -- and this is part of what you've tried to capture in the book. That is so much of the wisdom about cooking is in people like Felipe and families like his.
ROBERTSThat are -- they're not in the fancy restaurants. They're in -- it's kitchen by kitchen, family by family.
HESSERYeah, yeah, and, you know, I -- actually a lot of readers would send me recipes and tell me how they've tweaked them over the years and I tried to include that, you know, when it was relevant and interesting and -- yeah.
ROBERTSLet me try -- let me go to Kevin in Baltimore, Md. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Kevin.
KEVINHello. I'd like to talk about a joy for cooking from an interesting perspective. My father grew up on a farming family in the Midwest and he had 12 or 13 siblings, so there was a very fundamental, practical kind of cooking going on around the clock at all times.
KEVINAnd it struck a note with me when the caller complained about esoteric cooking. And a lot of my father's siblings had grown up to raise large families of their own and so they've continued to become magnificent cooks. And one evening my father called me and a lot of them live near each other now And he spoke to me as if I had the list in front of me. He said, oh, yeah, we're going to get together and aunt so and so is going to bring her, say, her pork and beans specialty and aunt so and so is going to bring her German potato salad and so on and so forth. And they all had their great specialties that were just made perfect over the decades. And at that point, I stood up in my chair and I thought to myself, gosh, I am so bored with just nourishing myself.
KEVINAnd I realized that one of the fundamental pleasures in life is definitely eating and I thought, not only is it smart to try to eat well, but I'm going to go back to the kitchen and learn some good recipes that I can share with other people and really get some good pleasure out of myself. And once I got into the kitchen, the kitchen changed me in a way. Back in college, I almost became a biochemistry major and I looked at all the recipes around me and it was kind of like looking at a shelf of all the music. I didn't know what to choose first. I wanted to improvise. I wanted to understand how the food worked.
KEVINYou know? And so it reinspired me a love for organic chemistry, I guess.
KEVINAnd I just -- and of course, you've got to start with the real recipes to learn first, right?
KEVINIn fact, when your show came on, I had just -- I was just testing an onion, artichoke and broccoli dip I had just experimented with, which did not come out too bad. That was nice. And it seemed to me, that if most people took an experimental approach or love of an experimental approach to cooking like that, then we would have a hell of a lot more healthy people in this country because they would understand the ingredients that they're putting in their bodies.
ROBERTSThank you very much, Kevin. Interesting perspective.
HESSERYeah, I mean, I think that there's -- I mean, there's room for both because, I mean, there are people who, you know, just want to kind of -- they want to get dinner on the table, but they want something that's interesting and good. But they don't want to have to, like, you know, deal with the hunting down something in Chinatown or whatever. And then there are ones like you who are incredibly experimental and I think that's fantastic. And I -- you know, I think that you'd find both in this book because the way The Times has really covered the food world. I mean, you know, a lot of the things that were, you know, esoteric are just very common now. Goat cheese.
HESSERI'm thinking about, you know, there's this recipe for a miso roasted cod that was this restaurant dish in the '90s that was, you know, this very fashionable dish, but now it's the kind of thing that you have seen in lots of cookbooks and, you know, it's not that hard to get miso anymore and it's, you know, not that hard to get cod and it's -- you know, it's really kind of quite a simple preparation, but that's sort of how it works. It kind of -- it just, you know, something comes along and it seems exotic and maybe a little intimidating and then over time, as people try it out, it becomes more and more available.
ROBERTSSure. I'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got time for one or two more callers and Patrick in Cleveland, Ohio, you've been very patient. Thanks for joining us.
PATRICKYeah, hi, thanks for taking my call. I had a question that was similar to something you might have already answered. And that is how do recipes get in the book? Did you keep recipes out and you sort of said about Prudomme's recipe it's really complicated. Do you keep many recipes out because they were so complicated and focused primarily on the fact that the recipe tastes incredible? What was the criteria you used?
HESSERYeah, so actually, I would say that there are no recipes in here that are super complicated. In fact, the gumbo isn't, either. It just takes time to chop the vegetables and to, sort of, you know, cook each phase, right? But anyone could follow it, even, I think, a beginning cook. You know, I really -- it wasn't like -- I mean, I really was aiming to sort of paint this kind of, you know, interesting patchwork quilt of recipes so that there were, you know, that the sort of -- all the kind of classics that we think of that the trends, like, you know, tiramisu or, you know, panini, the sort of little mini trends that we've -- that have kind of like passed along, you know, recipes by important food writers and chefs like Maida Heatter or Thomas Keller, Jonathan Waxman and then a lot of the, you know, great recipes from Mark Bittman. I mean, it's really this mixture of -- a great mixture of all kinds of recipes and not really...
HESSER...just, like, I wasn't saying, like, oh, something's too difficult. It can't go in this book.
ROBERTSDid you test every one?
HESSEROh, yeah, yeah, yeah. So I tested 1,400 recipes and there are about a thousand plus recipes in here. I felt like I had to test every recipe in here in order to recommend it and say, like, this is why this recipe mattered. And this is what's interesting about it. And this is why we should still be cooking it.
ROBERTSDo you have a favorite?
HESSERI have many favorites. One of my favorites is a recipe -- and there were a lot of great recipe names, you know, like transparent pudding is an old butter tart. Tomato figs, which were kind of sun-dried tomatoes that are tossed in sugar, but one of my favorite names and also, recipes is heavenly hots, which sounds like a late-night cable offering, but it's actually a pancake. And it's a sour cream based pancake and it's almost like a bilini. It's super delicate. It almost tastes like it has, like, you know, it's crisp on the top and bottom and then it almost has, like, this kind of sour cream pudding center. And everyone loves them. And I think they're called heavenly hots because you inevitably eat -- they're so good that you eat them while they're hot.
ROBERTSAnd as you have gone around talking about this book you must have, as with our callers, people deluging you with yet more recipes.
ROBERTSSo is there another book in the works?
HESSER(laugh) Not yet. But yes, there -- well, it's always a great triumph when somebody says well, this is my favorite recipe and I know that it's actually in the book because I feel like oh, phew, you know, I hit on your favorite. But then, you know, like, the woman who called earlier about the squid recipes neither of those are in the book, so I feel kind of guilty like I've missed some, you know, special...
ROBERTSNow, you -- now, it's now five minutes to 12 and if you were cooking lunch for...
ROBERTS...these wonderful producers who produce this show or for maybe even if you invited me what would you cook here on a Thursday afternoon -- just an ordinary weekday lunch and what recipe would you take from your book and cook for us for lunch?
HESSEROh, gosh. Well, I might make the oyster pan roast, which is kind of a -- actually, I know what I would make. I would make something called the Delmonico hash, which is sort of a breakfast dish, but also could be kind of eaten at lunchtime. Delmonico's was this famous restaurant and you just use...
ROBERTSIn New York or New Orleans?
HESSERIn New York, in New York, sorry.
ROBERTSBecause there's also one in New Orleans.
HESSERI'm sorry, yes, New York. And you basically use leftover lamb and you just kind of cook it in its own juices with a little salt and pepper and then you toast bread and you dip -- you dip the bread in cream (laugh) and then you spoon the lamb on top. And it's just like -- it's kind of like -- it's an open-faced sandwich. It's kind of like having a tuna melt, but it's like the 19th century equivalent and it's so delicious.
ROBERTSWe'll be right over. Amanda Hesser is the author of "The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century." Amanda, thanks for joining us...
HESSERThank you so much.
ROBERTS...on "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. Thanks for spending your morning with us and I hope you got some good ideas for lunch. Thank you.
KEVIN"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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