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Diana Henry on How to Raise Adventurous Eaters (& The One Cookbook She Won’t Write)

This week, members of our Cookbook Club submitted questions they wanted to ask Diana Henry, the author of this month’s featured book, Simple. She answered queries on everything from how to encourage kids to be adventurous eaters to why you won’t see a baking cookbook from her anytime soon. Read on to see her answers (and much more) and to check out photos of what members have been cooking this week.

If you haven’t joined the Cookbook Club yet, not to worry, you haven’t missed out on your shot to ask Diana Henry a question—she’ll be joining us on our Hotline, Friday, April 28th from 12 to 2 PM EST to answer all of your burning questions.

Didn’t know we have cookbook clubs? Head here for the full run-down!

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Photo by Issy Croker

Simple

Chris Werme: Did you consider different ways of organizing the book? For instance, did you consider putting all the chicken recipes together instead of dividing them between Roasts and Chicken? Are these sorts of decisions difficult to make, or do they just seem to fall into place?

Diana Henry: I think a lot about how to structure the books. I don’t, personally, like cookbooks that are just divided into starters, main courses, and desserts. I thought it was important to have a chapter on Roasts as I roast a lot—it’s a very easy technique (and there are chicken recipes in the Roasts chapter) then the Chicken chapter contains all the chicken recipes that aren’t whole roasted birds.

Structuring a book can be very difficult. But I never want them to be pedestrian. I am working on a book at the minute that is proving very difficult indeed to structure.

Turkish pasta with feta, yogurt, and dill. Another gem from @dianahenryfood's "Simple".

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Beverly Holloway: Just curious: Is there a reason why there are no beef recipes in Simple? Is it difficult to purchase beef in London?

Diana Henry: It’s not at all difficult to purchase beef—and we have great grass-fed beef here—but I don’t cook it that often and, if I’m keeping things simple, it’s steak or roast beef and I don’t believe you should do more to those than season them and cook them. You don’t need a recipe for that. Cheaper cuts of beef—and I do love them—require braising. That takes a bit more effort and I didn’t think those dishes had a place in a book like Simple.

Basically, I’ve always put recipes for the dishes I actually cook into my books—so what is in Simple is a reflection of how I cook. Over the past six or seven years, I have tended to eat less red meat and more vegetables. It wasn’t a decision, it’s just the way my eating has changed. I think a lot of people are doing something similar. I adore chicken and I love vegetables.

Melody Brotherton: Cooking from Simple this month has been my introduction to your work. If you could choose three recipes for me to make that best represent who you are and the food you love, what would you have me to cook?

Diana Henry: What a great question! I think I am known, mostly, for dishes that are big on flavor without being complicated. I would make the Mumbai Toastie (p 57), the Cumin-Roast Eggplants, Chickpeas, Walnuts & Dates (p 74), and the Spelt (you can use faro or wheat berries instead) with Blackberries, Beets, Walnuts & Buttermilk (p 112).

Do I have to stop there? No? Okay, also the Seared Tuna with Preserved Lemon, Olives & Avocado (p 139) and maybe the Turkish Spiced Chicken with Parsley Salad (p 214)—or the Korean Chicken (p 224), it’s fantastic for parties in the garden. Then make the Bitter Flourless Chocolate Cake with Coffee Cream (p 318) or the Raspberry Yoghurt Cake (p 327). Then hopefully you’ll make everything else too. 😉

Cumin-roast aubergines, chickpeas, walnuts & dates from Diana Henry's Simple. I totally forgot that I recently made walnut milk (testing non-dairy milks for the cooking course) and used up my big bag of walnuts. So I had to substitute with pecans instead (which as nuts go I much prefer to walnuts so it was hardly a hardship). Medjool dates are soooooooo sweet! I think that every time I have them. Although I chopped 5 fat sticky dates as stated in the recipe (I prefer sticking as strictly as possible to a recipe the first time I make it), I ended up only adding about half that amount and it was more than enough for me. The burst of sweetness from the dates were a nice balance to the slightly bitter (from the tahini) and sour (yoghurt & lemon) dressing. It was a really rich and filling dish – good as a side dish in a buffet/potluck/BBQ but quite heavy as a main (for me). (I reckon this recipe can easily be adapted to be vegan by using a non-dairy yoghurt for the dressing). #f52cookbookclub #dianahenryfood #dianahenry #aubergine #chickpeas #garbanzos #dates #medjool #vegetables #vegetarian #gluten-free

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Catherine Sharp-Aouchiche: My biggest cooking-related struggle is finding dishes that appeal to my kids (7 and 9). I assume you have passed through this stage also…do your kids like your recipes as much as we do? Which are their favorite recipes from Simple? And lastly, any tips on encouraging adventurous eaters?

Diana Henry: Sister, I hear you!! My eldest is 18 years old, my youngest has just turned 12 and I have had years of cooking a proper meal for most of the family and pasta with tuna and sweetcorn (or something similar) for the little one! My children weren’t good eaters as babies or toddlers, to be honest—always fussy—and it has been a struggle. BUT—this is the good news—they get much better as they get older. My eldest doesn’t like everything but he will try everything and is also becoming a very good cook himself (and loves restaurants). My advice? Offer them everything, don’t make a massive fuss if they don’t like it, cook in front of them. It’s worked for me. If you cook from scratch and they see that—and, mostly, eat it—they know the importance of good food. They just absorb it (and they absorb how to cook as well).

As to whether they like my food as much as others do, they are my children! They are really tough on me and moments of praise are few and far between! But I get over it. From Simple the really successful dish with the youngest is the Parmesan Roast Chicken with Cauliflower.

Recipes

Andrea James: Do you do side-by-side tests of adding/leaving out an ingredient or tweaking the technique when you’re developing recipes? Like, say J. Kenji López-Alt (even if perhaps not so obsessively)? If you do, how do you keep track of all your tests? And who eats all the food?

Diana Henry: I do try different things. I basically stand at the cooker with a notebook so I record what I’m doing—I can then change particular details (quantities or a technique) on the next testing. My family gets to eat the food and they are tough critics. (My 18-year-old has a really good palate—he will sometimes say, “Something is missing, something in the middle of that dish,” and he can be right. He is not a cook—he’s actually studying medicine—but he’s a very good taster.)

I have to carry tested recipes to neighbors. You can see me in my road carrying foil-covered dishes up and down to various people. Sometimes friends even come and collect lots of dishes and take them away in their car to have their own dinner party. If I’ve been testing and tasting a lot I don’t want to eat the food anymore—I’ve had enough. So my friends take the dishes away and I have a boiled egg and grapefruit!

I've been eating this deliciously refreshing grain dish for the past week at work. The beets add a beautiful brightness to my lunch breaks–no sad desk lunch for me! ✨👌🙌 The recipe I used is "spelt with blackberries, beets, walnuts & buttermilk" from @dianahenryfood's Simple. A couple notes on the my version: I didn't have spelt or buttermilk and used farro and yoghurt + 1 lemon instead. still was equally delicious! i also realized I forgot to photograph the walnuts in this picture! whoops 😅–but honestly, if i were shooting for perfection, my fears would keep me from creating this account and posting anything at all. . . . . . #lunchideas#notsaddesklunch #plantbased#lunchbites #f52grams#f52cookbookclub#foodandwine#bonappetit#beautifulcuisines#nourish#onthetable#inthekitchen#buzzfeedfood#instafood#eatclean#heresmyfood#nourish#nourishbowl#buzzfeedfood#vegetarian#healthyvegetarian#cleaneating#feedfeed#organic#eatclean#eatpretty#healthyeating#meatlessmonday#lunchideas

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Nancy Wallack: Which British recipes are hardest to make in the US or Canada? If possible, what accommodation can we make so we have success with these recipes? Or are there some we shouldn’t even try because they would fail or taste so different?

Diana Henry: When I look at the US edition of my books I will sometimes substitute entire recipes if I don’t think they can be cooked there (and will test and write a different recipe). For example, you mostly don’t find damsons there. They’re a small very tart plum-like fruit available here early in the autumn (they can’t be eaten raw, only cooked). People here love them and look forward to them but it’s too hard for you to get them (the internet suggests they grow wild in some areas there but are very rare) and substituting plums doesn’t quite do the trick. I look at substitutions for all individual ingredients. There isn’t a recipe that shouldn’t be attempted by a cook in the US—otherwise, I wouldn’t have allowed it to go into the book.

Past and Future Cookbooks

Natalie Tahereh: I’ve read an article about your introduction to food through your family and you mention that your grandmothers loved to bake. Is this something that you love to do as well and is there a possibility of a baking cookbook in the future from you?

Diana Henry: I love baking, though I never do very complicated things. I just grew up making scones, cakes, tarts, and pancakes. When someone in Northern Ireland is referred to as a great cook what people usually mean is that they’re a great baker—it’s very important there. Cakes were the first things I learned to cook and I still love a Sunday spent baking. I think it’s really therapeutic. I would actually love to do a baking book but it wouldn’t get commissioned here—everyone who goes on the Great British Bake Off tries to get books commissioned so it’s a pretty crowded market! Also, I am not an expert, just a very experienced baker. I have a lot of American baking books—I think you have a great culture of baked goods there too. I particularly love In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley (I think she’s Canadian)—that’s a terrific book.

Lyndsey Fleenor: I was wondering out of her own cookbooks that she’s published over the years which one is her favorite book and why, and which one does she cook from the most?

Diana Henry: My favorite one is my first one, Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons. It does sound as if it was written by someone young (I was about 34 when I started to write it) and it’s strange to hear your voice from an earlier part of your life. It’s an honest, evocative book, though, and very personal. I love it for that.

The books I have written that I most often cook out of are A Change of Appetite (it has such healthy dishes and such big, vibrant flavors) and Plenty (confusingly it has the same title as Ottolenghi’s book—here the same book is called Food from Plenty). It is being re-issued in May in the US. It is a great solid book about using all sorts of cheap cuts of meat, about “sensible” thrifty cooking (there’s a lot of ideas for leftovers) and there are great vegetable and grain dishes, too. I wrote it at the beginning of the economic crash. Everybody was writing pieces about what to do with a tin of baked beans and now to cook cheaply—I felt that there were so many dishes we could cook—if we just thought a bit—such a range of ingredients that weren’t expensive. The recession meant a shift in attitude to cooking (and a good shift—we waste far too much), not a move from “expensive food” to “cheap food.” Plenty is the collection that contains the greatest amount of dishes I’ve been cooking my whole life.

Skip Butter in Baking (Samin Says, Sometimes)

Occasionally, I am absolutely seized by an overwhelming, out-of-the-blue urge to make a chocolate cake—a real cake, with two layers and chocolate frosting like the one Bruce Bogtrotter eats in Matilda, and big plans to eat fat slices cold from the fridge (which is the best way to eat chocolate cake, if you ask me).

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Baking Fats: Butter Versus The World
by Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

I have flirted with recipes here and there, but the one that hangs in my memory like the Ghost of Good Cakes Passed is one my mother made: boxed chocolate cake mix beefed up with boxed chocolate pudding mix, sour cream, and hot coffee, with a slick of marmalade between the layers and orange zest in the chocolate frosting. Part of this is the winning combination of flavors—chocolate and orange, I mean, c’mon—but part of it is in the cake’s texture: Tender and moist and light all at once.

I had never made the connection between the oil called for on the box of cake mix and the cake’s unbeatable tenderness—just as Samin Nosrat, author of the cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, came to connect the dots between carrot cake, olive oil cake, Chez Panisse’s Fresh Ginger and Molasses Cake, and her friend Lori’s Chocolate Midnight Cake: Oil (and specifically, a combination of oil and water), not butter, is the key to super-moist, light-textured cakes. Butter, on the other hand, makes for rich and richly flavored pound cakes, polenta cakes, and other cakes that are just right for a cup of tea in the afternoon.

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Nope, no butter found here.
Photo by James Ransom

Why? Samin turns to science to break it down:

“Oil efficiently coats flour proteins and prevents strong gluten networks from forming, much like soft butter does in shortbread. Gluten development requires water, so this oil barrier significantly inhibits gluten formation, leading to a tender, rather than chewy, texture. As an added bonus, less gluten means more water in the batter, and, ultimately, a moister cake.”

Realizing this helped Samin predict what a cake’s texture might be just by looking at the recipe—and now we can too. Substituting oil for butter in a cake recipe one-for-one may have mixed results; you’ll have to experiment a little if you want to try swapping in a favorite recipe. But while you may not know the exact measurement of oil needed, you will be able to anticipate what the cake’s crumb will be like.

What’s more, making the switch from butter to oil changes things up big time in the flavor department, freeing the cake from capital-B Butteriness. Not like butteriness is bad, of course—but in addition to the textural properties butter lends, it has a distinctive taste that can fog up the mirror for other flavors. Trade butter for a neutral oil like safflower or sunflower or another vegetable oil and the cake’s flavor—sunshiney lemon or deep chocolate or toasty espresso or sweet, delicate coconut—will sing clearly.

And neutral oil is only the beginning: A coconut cake will be made only more coconutty with coconut oil. Pistachio oil would make for a nuanced, curious vanilla cake (especially if some ground pistachios found their way into the batter). And grassy olive oil would play up the flavors in a lemon and rosemary cake. This is another benefit of oil cakes: The oil is yet another flavor variable to play with. If you’re looking for a few cakes to try out a swap (you’re studying!), here are a few to start with:

Tender Dreamboats

Buttery and Better Alongside a Cuppa

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Photo by James Ransom

All April, Kitchen Confidence Camp takes us through the four essential elements of cooking, inspired by chef and author Samin Nosrat’s cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Follow along here.

Bodega Eggs: The Stupid-Easy Way to Make Eggs

There are those things we eat, make, read, and gush over that are just too good to keep to ourselves. Here, we resist the urge to use too many exclamation points and let you in on our latest crushes.

Today: When it comes to breakfast sandwiches, we’re on Pete Wells’s team: There is no better, quicker, easier way to eat eggs than Bodega Eggs.

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I don’t steal recipes, but I do change their names.

Rachel’s Famous Lentils are the filling of Mark Bittman’s stuffed cabbage from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. Sloppy Dans (named after my husband) are Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Jerk Sloppy Joes With Coconut Creamed Spinach. I’m pretty sure I got the recipe for Kitten Pot Pie from Food Network, but I haven’t been able to fully retrace my steps on that one.

So with that, I’ll be the first to tell you that my favorite breakfast recipe is from a blog post Deb Perelman wrote for Cup of Jo three years ago, but I will never call it A Lazy Egg-and-Cheese Sandwich: To me, the obvious name for this dish is Bodega Eggs.

If you’re not from a part of the world where corner stores are called bodegas and thus don’t immediately understand everything about this dish, here’s the gist: When you’re too hungover to do anything remotely useful, you walk for about two minutes until you reach your closest corner store. You go to the counter, order an “egg and cheese,” grab a Gatorade, and by the time you’ve carried yourself back to the front of the store, your sandwich is finished. It is no more than 3 dollars and it’s perfect and every bite is full of melty cheese and it’s the first time (and maybe last time) during the day that you’re happy to be awake.

Until Deb shared her “recipe” for these eggs, I figured you needed a full grill or a very particular type of bodega cat to make it—there just must be some trick that would keep bodegas cornering the egg sandwich market. I was wrong: It turns out you can make this entirely on your own following Deb’s hilariously low-effort recipe. Here’s how it’s done: Whisk an egg or two with salt and pepper and a splash of water, spread the mixture out in a pan like a crêpe, and throw in some cheese (Deb uses sliced cheese, but I grate my own just because). Wait a minute, fold the sides of the egg in to fit whatever bread you have on hand, wait another 30 seconds, and you’re done. Deb skips any extra vegetables or meat because this meal is “all about immediacy,” and I agree completely. And if the GIF makes your head hurt, here’s the process again:

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Now, there are better ways to treat eggs—I understand this. But I’d argue that there is no way to eat eggs this good, this quickly, and with this few ingredients. My husband and I eat this at least once a weekend in the comfort of our homes with our own cats—and usually without the hangover these days. Sometimes.

Photos by Bobbi Lin

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was originally published in April 2015. We’re republishing it today because a Saturday morning is, well, a perfect time to whip up some bodega eggs of your own.

The Mistakes & Mishaps of Beginner Cooks (We’re Guilty as Charged)

No one is born a good cook (though maybe you are the exception?) and this means that all good cooks have learned somehow, somewhere—be it in the kitchen, at culinary school, on the line at a restaurant, or by Mom’s hip.

The corollary is that all good cooks have made (and will make) mistakes. (“The Child is the father of the Man,” a brilliant poet once wrote.)

I polled some of the cooks I trust most at Food52—the people I have difficulty believing were ever beginners—about where novices most commonly go wrong. (Have they noticed me fumbling in the kitchen and bit their tongues?)

When preparing and planning:

  • Not reading the recipe all the way through before you start.
  • And similarly, not preparing the mise (like making sure the onions are chopped, the carrots are shredded, the corn starch slurry is mixed) from the get-go, especially in a fast-paced recipe like a stir-fry.
  • Or assuming part of the ingredient list or method is not critical before you’ve done your research. (“My boyfriend left out baking soda the first time he ever baked cookies from scratch because he assumed leaving out only a teaspoon wouldn’t matter,” Jackson told us. Whoopsies.)
  • Making multiple new dishes when you have guests. Merrill recommends sticking with what you know and trying only one new recipe.
  • And not budgeting a realistic amount of time to make it all happen. This leads to unnecessary stress that can be avoided with an arsenal of make-ahead, hold-steady recipes. (Kristen calls these “your best friends in entertaining.”)
  • For a dinner party, not getting the dessert out of the way first. Otherwise, you won’t get to it, says Kenzi. Or: Just get over it, and give people ice cream by the pint. 

When choosing the equipment:

  • Using too small of a cutting board. Not only will you be frustrated, but you probably won’t have enough room to make the proper chops and slices. (You’ll also make a mess.)
  • Not letting certain ingredients come to room temperature. Cold steak is more likely to cook unevenly; cold eggs won’t reach the right volume when you’re using them to leaven a cake; cold butter won’t emulsify with the sugar in your batter. (At the same time, experienced cooks know when to keep ingredients chilled or frozen—butter for pie dough and biscuits, let’s say.)
  • Choosing the wrong type of pan for the job in terms of size and material. When a recipe calls for a 12-inch cast-iron, a 9-inch non-stick won’t get the job done.

While you’re cooking:

  • Not tasting and seasoning as you go. I have the habit of keeping my mouth shut until the dish is on the table—the surprise! the anticipation!—but when the taste is disappointing (bland or bitter or just too spicy), I’ve robbed myself of the opportunity to fix it.
  • Specifically, not using enough salt. (Have you seen how much salt Samin Nosrat adds to her pasta cooking water? You will not believe it!)
  • Or shying away from fat.
  • Not giving your ingredients due time to cook. Just look at the difference between 30- and 60-minute caramelized onions:
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The Truth About Caramelizing Onions
by Sarah Jampel
  • Adding ingredients to the pan before the surface (and, often, the fat you’ve added) is properly hot. This will make it harder to get a nice sear and develop flavor and caramelization. In the case of stainless steel, it will mean that your food is more likely to stick.
  • The same goes for not letting the oven or the fry oil reach the proper temperature.
  • Crowding the pan when you roast, sauté, or fry.
  • Being afraid of high heat.
  • Turning the meat too soon (before you get a good brown crust or sear).
  • And this can be expanded to general fiddling and fussing: Know when leaving something alone will allow it to finish searing and release (this can happen with tofu just as much as with steak)—and know when you do have to stir constantly (custards, risotto, sometimes caramel).
  • Not letting the meat rest between your masterful cooking and slicing.
  • Overcooking pasta: It will continue cooking once drained and further soften when you add a sauce.
  • Over-mixing sensitive batters. Know when to turn off the electric mixer and grab a spatula for gentle folding motion. More specifics right this way:
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The Most Confusing Recipe Instruction, Debunked & Demystified
by Sarah Jampel
  • Waiting until recommended baking time to check on a cake (or whatever you’ve got in the oven). Merrill recommends peeking in at least five minutes before the first time-marker given by the recipe—and using a cake tester.
  • On the other hand, under-baking cookies and pastry is also a common misstep. “Inexperienced cooks often don’t let their baked goods get dark enough, which develops toastier, more caramelized flavors”, says Amanda.
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Why Toothpicks Are the Best Cake Testers
by Alice Medrich

When panicking serving:

  • Throwing things out if something minor goes wrong instead of trying to bandage it, or letting someone help!
  • Over-apologizing. “I allow myself to apologize once only,” Nigella Lawson told us on Burnt Toast.
  • Not identifying the emergency exits. Like, you don’t have to make every component of the meal. “Pick up the rice, man. It’s okay. Focus on the sauce instead,” says Kenzi, a vocal advocate of take-out rice.

What’s a mistake you used to make but have since put behind you? Tell us in the comments below.

The Saga of the $400 Juicer That Isn’t What It Seems

On Wednesday, Ellen Huet and Olivia Zaleski of Bloomberg published a story debunking the myths peddled by a buzzy invention, straight from the fertile plains of Silicon Valley. Juicero Inc.’s particular fiction was that its $400 flagship product, Juicero, could take single-serving packets of powdered fruits and vegetables and strain them into juice through an internet-connected juicer. It is the Keurig of cold-pressed juice machines, an entirely inessential product marketed as essential.

The problem? A few investors began to realize you could squeeze juice from these packets with your bare hands. Huet and Zaleski put these murmurs to the test with a video that speaks for itself:

The story went very viral very quickly, igniting a PR crisis for Juicero, the once-darling of juice startups. The investigation prompted Jeff Dunn, the company’s newly-christened CEO, to pen a letter on Medium to vouch for his product he holds dear to him. It’s quite the letter, replete with appeals to sentiment (“The value is in how easy it is for a frazzled dad to do something good for himself while getting the kids ready for school,” he writes, “without having to prep ingredients and clean a juicer.”). Dunn refers to juicing as “hacking.” He also neglects to mention the Bloomberg article by name. (Most in the comments section see through Dunn’s quantum leaps in logic, asking why you’d buy this product when it’s possible to make your own juice for much cheaper.)

Embedded within the Medium post is also a video, below, of a Juicero PR rep slicing open the bag with a pair of scissors and reaching into its contents, which look like microwaved bits of Play Doh. It’s meant to deter people from hand-squeezing the juice packets. Never mind the fact that this physical act is far from what the Bloomberg reporters actually did, which was simply apply light pressure to the bag before its contents began dribbling out.

Despite dodging these criticisms and defending the merits of this product rather unconvincingly, Dunn confesses that he’s looking at this as a learning opportunity. And he gets at least one thing right: He’s offering full refunds to displeased customers.

If you’ve got a Juicero, ask for your money back. Salute the work of these reporters. Raise a toast to them—a glass of juice, even. Squeeze its ingredients with your hands. It’s easy, and not that expensive.

Do you own a Juicero? Let us know in the comments.