4. Troubleshooting: If the frosting feels dense, stiff, greasy, or curdled, it is likely too cold; to warm, briefly set over a pan of steaming water, just until you see the edges melting slightly, then re-whip. If the frosting feels soft and loose, it is […]
Month: May 2019
[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] For all the attention cooks give to their knives, it’s a good idea to spend just a little time thinking about what kind of surface those knives are being used on. Cutting board options abound, including many different types of wood, composite […]
I think I speak for all children when I say that dads can be really tricky to shop and cook for. They like what they like, and introducing new foods, new gadgets, new anything, can be risky. Luckily for you, we’re here to help, with recipe ideas and gift suggestions galore. Here’s a look at some of the gifts we’re considering this year. Grab them while they’re still fresh on your mind—the only thing worse than a bad Father’s Day gift is a late one.
Spaghetti con la Colatura Gift Box
Sasha recently wrote an introduction to colatura di alici, the fish sauce of Italy, and since then he’s been making all sorts of recipes laced with it. But my favorite so far has been his spaghetti con la colatura, a simple twist on pasta aglio e olio that adds colatura to the usual olive oil, garlic, and red pepper combination.
You could certainly pick up a bottle of colatura alone for your culinarily minded dad. But to make it easier for him to put this new ingredient to work, why not buy him a spaghetti colatura gift box from one of our favorite Italian-goods purveyors, Gustiamo? It comes with everything he’ll need to make the dish at home. Inside, you’ll find a bottle of the aged fish sauce, rich extra-virgin olive oil, and spaghetti faella, a type of pasta that’s rough and porous, so it’s perfect for soaking up all of that sauce.
If your dad is an avid outdoor cook, churning out grilled burgers and corn on the cob every weekend during the summer months, pick him up a set of GrillGrates to amplify the heat on his current grill setup. These portable aluminum grates fit right over existing grates, their holes allowing just enough hot air and smoke to rise up from below while also trapping the heat underneath, so your dad can expect fantastic sear marks on his next steak. (This particular set is for a rectangular grilling surface, but the brand offers grates to fit most any grill, included rounded versions for charcoal kettle styles.)
For a dad who enjoys imbibing in style, these elegant and versatile wineglasses are bound to please. They’re “universal” glasses, which means they’re good for reds, whites, or sparkling wines. That, combined with their stemless design and the ever-important “dishwasher-safe” label, makes them just as practical as they are attractive.
A Baking Steel
If you want to keep your dad happily turning out great Neapolitan-style pizza all year long, not just in the warm-weather months, he absolutely needs a Baking Steel—even if he already owns a pizza stone. Since the Baking Steel is made of metal, it conducts heat much faster (and retains it better) than stone, yielding a crisp, charred crust and perfectly melty cheese.
A Waffle Maker
A carryover from last year’s Father’s Day recommendations, this Belgian-waffle maker from All-Clad continues to be one of our favorite gifts to give. Maybe because its sleek design means it looks nice on the countertop when it’s not in use; maybe because it produces crisp and airy waffles; maybe because we subconsciously want someone to make us waffles. Pair it with a bottle of good-quality maple syrup as a present for Dad, and you may just find that your visits home are getting a lot sweeter.
A Meat Cleaver
What is it about a big meat cleaver that gets everyone so excited? I’ve seen many of my coworkers, both men and women, stop their work and marvel at our cleaver like it’s a precious newborn baby. Must be the feeling of raw power that wielding such a knife tends to bestow.
Whatever the reason, you can give your dad that same sense of wonder by picking up this meat cleaver just for him. Its balanced weight, sharp edge, and solid construction will allow him to handle all sorts of heavy-duty butchery tasks with ease, and he’ll look (and feel) like a badass while using it.
Spanish-Snacks Gift Box
Speaking from experience, I can say with 100% certainty that there’s nothing worse than a hangry dad. My dad is the sweetest man on earth, but if his blood sugar gets low, it’s a real Jekyll-and-Hyde scenario. That’s why I’m getting him this fancy Spanish-snack box this Father’s Day. It’s filled with a variety of treats and nibbles he loves, including fig cake, Marcona almonds, tapas crackers made with extra-virgin olive oil, and two types of chorizo. Hopefully this will help us avoid future hangry moments; if it doesn’t, I’m taking that chorizo back for myself.
Want more gift ideas? Head on over to our complete Father’s Day gift guide »
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[Collage photographs: Vicky Wasik, J. Kenji López-Alt] Cucumbers, whether fresh or pickled, show up everywhere: layered into sandwiches, tossed into salads, and added to plates as garnish, sometimes cut into fanciful shapes or adorned with decorative edging. They’re also a favorite of backyard gardeners, for […]
[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt, Shao Z.] If I show up at a barbecue and don’t trust the chef, I steer clear of any chicken I see—more often than not it’s going to be mediocre. But grilled chicken doesn’t have to be stringy and flavorless—use the […]
In part two of my far-ranging interview with Washington Post food editor Joe Yonan, we talked about his career in journalism and the ever-evolving world of food media.
Joe told me about his winding path to food journalism. After years of reporting local news, he eventually made his way to the Boston Globe. There, he became travel editor, but found himself yearning to write about food, instead. How did he manage to acquire one of the few coveted roles as staff food writer? He told his editor, “I’m going to leave… if anyone’s listening and you’re able to do this, make yourself indispensable and then threaten to leave.”
At a certain point, it felt like his career at the Globe was stalling. So when the Washington Post came calling in 2006, Yonan listened. “I just said, ‘I really want to do it.’ I mean, it also was more resources, bigger staff. I thought naively at the time that the Post was in so much better shape than the Globe was.”
Little did he know, Joe was about to take on the monumental task of shepherding the Post‘s Food section into the digital age, transferring thousands of recipes from the paper’s archive to its fledgling online database. Since that was shortly after I launched Serious Eats, Joe and I would have long conversations about where food media was going. “You know, Ed,” he said, “I remember your advice having something to do with my mindset back then… I knew what you were up to with Serious Eats… I remember you told me about Twitter. I mean, you didn’t tell me about it, but… I remember asking you. I was like, ‘You know, I don’t know. Should I bother with this? Should I bother?’ And you said, ‘You absolutely should bother.'”
We also got around to talking about my forthcoming memoir, Serious Eater, which Joe had just finished reading on the train up from DC. “It’s so much more dramatic than I had expected. I think for me what resonated was the passion and the drive to make something work in the face of all of these obstacles. I mean, just one obstacle after another. And just the commitment to keep going and making it work no matter what happened.” My thought? It’s not so different a story from his own.
You Could Be on Special Sauce
Want to chat with me and our unbelievably talented recipe developers? We’re accepting questions for Special Sauce call-in episodes now. Do you have a recurring argument with your spouse over the best way to maintain a cast iron skillet? Have you been working on your mac and cheese recipe for the past five years, but can’t quite get it right? Does your brother-in-law make the worst lasagna, and you want to figure out how to give him tips? We want to get to know you and solve all your food-related problems. Send us the whole story at [email protected].
Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce, we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and non food folks alike.
Joe Yonan: I was writing stuff for food. I was on the copy desk, I couldn’t get attention. Sheryl was going on vacation and I convinced them to let me fill in as food editor for one week. And it was several months hence. Sheryl said, “I’ll just line up stories for you and you can… I’ll tell you what we’re going to do, and then you can just edit them all.” And I said, “Could you do me a favor? Don’t line up anything. I’ll handle everything.”
EL: We are back with Washington Post food editor and cookbook author Joe Yonan. You’ve written two cookbooks, you’ve edited a third. You shepherded the Washington Post into the digital age. It’s crazy, you know. It’s pretty impressive.
JY: Oh, thanks.
EL: You know, it’s like when I did my research, I was like, “Wow, man. Joe’s done a lot of stuff.”
JY: Oh, thanks, thanks. Coming from you, that’s actually quite the compliment.
EL: So, you’re in Boston.
EL: You’ve transitioned to the food section.
JY: Yeah, mm-hmm.
EL: And then what made you decide to go to D.C.?
EL: So, what year are we talking about?
JY: So, we’re talking about 2006. I went to The Globe in ’96 and left in 2006.
EL: Right, the year I launched Serious Eats as you know.
EL: Because you…
JY: Yes, yes. Exactly, yes. You know, I had worked at The Globe for 10 years at that point. I had been travel editor, and I had done a stint where I remade a lot of sections at The Globe. That was actually how I ended up getting them to put me in Food, is if anyone’s listening and you’re able to do this, make yourself indispensable and then threaten to leave. That is how you get people to try to…
EL: To pay attention.
JY: … give you what you want.
JY: Or, at least to pay attention. So, Marty Baron was at The Globe at this point, he was the one that really paid attention to my desire to be in food. He’s the one who made me travel editor. But they didn’t… there wasn’t a position, really. So, first-
EL: Right, because Sheryl Julian was the longtime food editor, right?
JY: Yes. Sheryl Julian was the longtime food editor, Alison Arnett was the restaurant critic. There were no other positions. So, first I said… I got an offer, an outside offer after making myself indispensable doing all these other things. And I said, “I’m going to leave and let you put me in food as a writer.” So, Marty put me in food as a writer on a six month basis. And then the six months was up, and he tried to move me back, and so I just did the same thing again. So, I just got another offer and I said, “I’m going to leave, but this time it has to be permanent. You have to put me in food.” So, they put me in food permanently, and it was great for a couple of years. And then I really wanted to be the food editor.
EL: Right, and you were blocked.
JY: I was blocked, and I just, I was used to revamping things.
JY: And there were things that I wanted to revamp about the section, and-
EL: There’s a woman at The Times who just retired, Trish Hall, who was in, I don’t know if you knew her. She was the revamping…
EL: … king or queen of The New York Times.
EL: Real estate, travel.
EL: She had all those sections.
JY: It’s so fun to do that.
JY: It’s super fun to do that, and I really couldn’t do that. And so when the job at The Post came up, I just said, “I really want to do it.” I mean, it also was more resources, bigger staff. I thought naively at the time that The Post was in so much better shape than The Globe was. The Globe, at that point, was really cutting. It was a lot of…
JY: Marty was managing decline. It was very difficult. Morale was in the toilet and I looked at The Post, and it just seemed like this promise land.
EL: The Graham family still owned the…
JY: The Graham family still owned it, mm-hmm.
EL: … majority of the stock, even though it was publicly traded company.
JY: Yep, that’s right. The Graham family still owned it. Lynn Downey, the wonderful Lynn Downey, was the editor. Phil Bennett was the managing editor, and when I went for interviews, they couldn’t have been nicer. They were just the nicest, nicest people I had ever met, honestly. And Boston people by contrast are not always known for being nice.
EL: And newspaper people in general…
JY: And newspaper people in general.
EL: … are not the friendliest, warmest people.
JY: Right. And I was this Southern guy who was relatively gregarious, and I always felt a little out of place in Boston. I have wonderful friends there but I always felt a little bit out of place, and D.C. felt like the South. I mean…
EL: Yeah, because it is.
JY: It’s below the Mason-Dixon Line.
EL: It’s below the Mason-Dixon Line.
JY: It is. I mean, when I was growing up, I thought that D.C. might as well have been Canada, right? I had no…
JY: I had no clue. But from being in Boston, then I was like, oh yeah. Yeah, so I went to The Post in 2006 to edit the food section.
EL: And were you given carte blanche? Because one of the things that’s interesting about that year for me is it was the year I launched Serious Eats.
EL: And the changes were being felt in the food culture and in food media.
EL: That blogs affected.
EL: And were you conscious of that at that time? At that moment, were you thinking, I’m going to steer this into the digital age? Or, were you still thinking… because a lot of people at The Times were like, “It’s still not news till we write about it.”
JY: Right, right. You know, Ed, I actually really remember, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating this. I remember your advice having something to do with my mindset back then because I remember we were still in touch after we had…
JY: … gone on the Pizza Crawl. And I knew what you were up to with Serious Eats, and yeah. And I remember we had conversations, like I remember you told me about Twitter. I mean, you didn’t tell me about it.
EL: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s true.
JY: You didn’t break the news about Twitter to me, but I remember asking you. I was like, “You know, I don’t know. Should I bother with this? Should I bother?” And you said, “You absolutely should bother.”
EL: Well, because I met Twitter’s co-founder Evan Williams, who has now started Medium. He was partners with the first temporary CEO of Serious Eats.
EL: A woman named Meg Hourihan.
EL: And they developed the first blogging software.
JY: That’s right, right.
EL: Which they sold to Google, so they were both millionaires…
EL: … by the time they were 30.
JY: Right, amazing. Amazing. And I remember asking you, and not just about Twitter.
JY: About Twitter I remember you were saying to me, “Do it, and here’s my advice. Have personality, have fun. Don’t just put things out there.” And I remember talking to you about digital media because I remember, and we would talk about The Times some. And I remember saying I didn’t want The Post to be like that. So, yes, one of the very first things that we did when I got there was create a real recipe database that people could search for recipes, and we put thousands of recipes from our archives online and tried to create a space where people could come and filter through the recipes.
JY: That was one of the first things that we did. Now, the problem is as much as I thought that The Post was so much better situated than The Globe, of course all the same factors were at play. The Post was just a few years ahead. So, within the few years, it felt like I was right back where I had been at The Globe.
EL: But you were limited in what you could do to sort of move…
JY: That’s exactly right.
EL: … the food section forward.
JY: That’s exactly right, because we were making a dime on the dollar, The Post was, for advertising. The digital advertising was paying a tiny fraction of what the print advertising was paying.
EL: Right. It still makes one tenth as much money for the same number of impressions.
JY: Right. So, we’re trying to grow the website, right? But it can’t grow fast enough because at that point, we didn’t have a paywall. So, we’re trying to grow the website fast enough to be able to increase the ad rates because we had more viewers.
JY: Fast enough to make up for the drop off in the print advertising.
EL: In circulation, yeah.
JY: In circulation, right? So, it’s this horrible problem.
EL: It’s the ultimate catch 22.
JY: Right, right. And what happened was the Graham family is trying to distinguish The Post. So, what can we do? What is it that can set The Post apart from other papers? And one of the things that they did was say, “Okay, you know what? The Washington Post is going to be 100% for and about Washington.” So, it was double down, triple down, quadruple down on-
EL: Super serve.
JY: Super serve Washington. One of the things about The Post when I went there, I don’t know if this is still… this is probably still true for the print side. That The Post was known for, was it was the highest circulation paper that had the level of market penetration that it had. We had much deeper market penetration than The Times. So, the percentage of people in the D.C. area that subscribed to the physical Washington Post…
EL: Right, was huge.
JY: … was higher than any other city in the country.
JY: But obviously, there’s problems with that model. And it took Jeff Bezos, and Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Post to really help everybody realize that.
EL: Right, and it’s interesting because one of the things that the Graham family did is they decided to diversify, right?
EL: So, they bought Newsweek.
JY: Yes, exactly.
EL: They bought Stanley Kaplan, the test.
JY: Oh man, that’s right.
EL: Remember that stuff?
JY: Oh, I tried to forget that, Ed.
EL: It’s like many other publicly held but privately run.
EL: Like The Times, all the attempts at diversification failed.
EL: It must have been difficult trying to shepherd this food section knowing what’s going on.
EL: And knowing that there’s only so much you can do until Bezos bought the paper. And what he did, and he’s a complex guy, we don’t need to go into that stuff.
EL: But he must have put the wind back into your sail.
JY: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. And yes, he’s a complicated figure, but he invested smartly in the paper, in engineering and development. And he lifted the shackles of the for and about Washington mantra from the paper, and we wanted this. It wasn’t like anyone was arguing with this, we all wanted it. I was doing national food stories as much as I could. I was finding little D.C. angles to slip into national food stories.
JY: To try to make sure that nobody noticed that-
EL: You were finding the loophole the same way you found the loophole…
EL: … when you went shopping for your mother.
JY: That’s exactly right, I’m a loophole guy. But he made us realize that the only way to survive was to build scale. And the only way to build scale is to appeal to as wide of an audience as possible, right? So, that’s what we started doing again, and to really focus on scale. And also one of the big things that we did that we had never really done was pay a lot more attention to the digital headlines, to… there was more of a social media strategy. Before that, it was all-
EL: Right, and they gave you… A lot of papers, there would be this divide. Like, “Okay, you run the digital food side and you run the print food side.”
JY: Right, exactly.
EL: It’s like, that never made sense to me.
JY: No, it was terrible. When I first went to The Post, the website was across the river, man. It was a different division of the company.
EL: Yeah, that’s crazy.
JY: It was crazy. So, we had merged before Bezos bought us, so we were sort of prime for this. But yes, when I first went there, I would edit a story. A reporter would write a story and just the story, and send it to me. And I would edit just the text, and I would send it along to a copy editor, and they would write a headline. And a photo editor would find a photo and put it on it, and then once the website started getting integrated, we had these production editors who would try to dress it up. Well, guess what’s happened?
JY: I mean, now it’s basically back to my old days of community journalism. I do everything now, which is awesome.
JY: That’s how I want it. I mean, I have a photo editor.
EL: Yeah, yeah.
JY: And we have photographers, and we have-
EL: You have people.
JY: I have people, but I’m still putting the package together now.
JY: So, and it makes me… I need to think about, who is this for? What audience is this for? How are we reaching them? Is this… are we positioning this story to get an audience through search, through Google Search? Or, are we positioning it to be passed along through social? Are we trying to do both?
EL: What’s fascinating is you’re not an entrepreneur by inclination, and yet you found yourself doing entrepreneurial thinking.
EL: Within the confines of bigger organizations.
JY: That’s right, that’s right. I just don’t get maybe the payoff…
JY: … that you might get if you were a successful entrepreneur like you, Ed.
EL: I don’t know about that. It was crazy, and I don’t think you want to live through what I lived through. So, somehow you found time to write a cookbook called Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One .
EL: In 2001.
EL: Which you didn’t take a leave, I believe. I can’t remember if you did, or maybe you did just a very short one.
JY: Very short.
EL: And what I found so interesting about the cookbooks is… they’re, in their own way, quite personal and revealing.
JY: Oh, yeah. Mm-hmm.
EL: It’s like you didn’t shy away from it. What’s it like cooking for one?
EL: And is it lonely? Is it not lonely?
JY: Right, right.
EL: And I assume it has to come from your personal experience, it has to be autobiographical.
JY: Yeah, yeah. It totally was. Well, I’m married now, but I was single for a really long time. And one of the things that I wanted to do with that book, which sort of grew out of the column I was writing for The Post, was really say to people… it actually can get kind of emotional. But to say to people, “You know what? You’re worth it.”
JY: People would always say to me, “Why would I go to all the trouble to cook for myself when it’s just me?” And I always would say, “Why wouldn’t you? I mean, you’re the most important person…”
JY: … to cook for.”
JY: But yeah, so I tried to really inspire people to have fun and think about it in a different way. But also, yeah, I didn’t shy away from this don’t get caught up in this idea that you’re not important enough, you know?
JY: Really try to celebrate yourself.
EL: And even for the second book, which was 2013, which was Eat Your Vegetables, it sort of talks about your path to vegetarianism.
EL: And you did take a leave, I remember talking to you about it.
EL: It was like, “I’m going to go live with my brother in Maine.”
JY: My sister and brother-in-law, yeah.
JY: Yeah, yeah. It was amazing.
EL: And you went up there and you were actually gardening, right?
JY: Yeah, yes.
EL: You were raising, growing vegetables.
JY: They grow almost all their own food on an incredible piece of property. You should really try to see it some time.
JY: I would totally send you by there if you’re ever in the… My sister would love to meet you.
EL: It’s in Maine, right?
JY: In Southern Maine, in North Berwick. It’s about a couple hours north of Boston. Went up there partly to work on the book. I also, I had had this… well, frankly, I had laid somebody off at The Post. It was the first time I had to actually tell, have that conversation.
EL: Probably the most painful thing you can do.
JY: It’s the most painful thing you can do, and it was around budget time. And I thought to myself, I don’t want to be here during the next budget season. I don’t, I can’t do this again. Simultaneously, I had just had a really traumatic experience where my beloved dog died very suddenly and unexpectedly in my apartment.
EL: Oh my God.
JY: And then at the very same time, right around the same time, the only place that I really was having, finding any solace at the time, was this community garden I had been in for a few years. It was this beautiful, 20 year old, all organic, 80 plot community garden. And the landowners decided to live up to the Joni Mitchell song and to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.
JY: So, I didn’t want to be at work. I didn’t want to be at home, and I couldn’t be in the garden. And I was like, I have to get the hell out of town. I have to.
JY: And so I was simultaneously talking to Ten Speed about another book, and I just was like, I want to go live with my sister. We’re very close and I want to go live with her, and if I can’t garden here, I want to learn how they do it. And so that was why.
EL: Which is even harder in Southern Maine given the climatic conditions.
JY: Oh my Lord.
EL: So, you actually took a leave because I remember you appointed a temporary replacement for you.
JY: Mm-hmm. My deputy editor, Bonnie Benwick, took over the section for a year. And yeah, they made it all work and I walked away. And I wrote, I still wrote… was it monthly at the time? Yeah, it was monthly, and I wrote a little…
EL: Dispatches from Maine.
JY: Yes. Single cooking, not really for yourself.
JY: Kind of with other people, yeah.
EL: What I realized in doing the research for these episodes is, the personal stuff you sort of save for the cookbooks.
JY: Yeah, interesting.
EL: More than anything you wrote in the paper. And I don’t know if that was conscious. Probably from what you’re saying, it doesn’t sound like it was conscious.
JY: No, no it wasn’t.
EL: Maybe you thought that that didn’t belong in the paper, or…
JY: That’s interesting. Yeah, I haven’t really ever thought about that before. I think it might’ve just been… I feel like I dabbled in it in the paper maybe, but I think it probably was just that I didn’t have time to write anything of length in the paper. I don’t think I thought that it was inappropriate for the paper, although yeah, it’s interesting. Not inappropriate in general, but maybe not… there wasn’t a natural hump for it.
EL: Got it.
JY: In what I was editing in the food section.
EL: Got it, sure.
JY: How do I make these connections?
EL: Sure, yeah.
JY: But I think part of it might’ve just been that I was… I didn’t have time.
EL: Yeah, for sure.
JY: It wasn’t until I was working on the book that I felt like I had time to do it.
EL: You know, one of the many ways our lives have intersected over the years is one of the first people I hired at Serious Eats was Erin Zimmer.
JY: I know, she’s so great.
EL: Who is the greatest, and she immediately established her bonafides with me by saying she knew you.
EL: And I think you were even giving her some assignments, or…
JY: Yeah, I had just started giving her assignments.
EL: And now Elazar, who works for me at Serious Eats…
JY: Yeah, that’s right.
EL: … is now doing… you were very, because people always talk about, how did I find all these people? It was really through people like you and through blogs.
EL: And it was also the only people I could afford. You know, it’s like…
JY: Right, right.
EL: You read the book. Kenji was like, “What am I doing?”
JY: I couldn’t believe that. I was like, “Oh my God.”
EL: It’s like, this guy is paying me $35 a story and I’m putting my life in his hands.
JY: Oh man. It’s worked out okay for Kenji, but yeah.
EL: Yes, it’s worked out okay for Kenji. And it’s also, and I don’t know if you feel this way, and I say this in Serious Eater. And by the way, thank you for all the kind words about the book.
JY: Oh yes, I love it.
EL: But it’s like the greatest, most unexpected pleasure I got from Serious Eats was finding young, talented people.
EL: And giving them the runway they needed.
EL: To become whatever it is they could become.
EL: And I don’t know if you feel that way about the section.
JY: Of course, I so do. I so do. You know, Ed, I didn’t say this when we were talking about The Boston Globe, but when I decided that I was going to go to culinary school and change my career toward food, I reached out to the two staffers in food at The Boston Globe. One of them did not respond, and I was working at the paper, mind you. One of them did not respond and the other one, remember I was working nights. The other one said, “Don’t quit your night job.”
EL: Whoa, nice. That’s supportive.
JY: Yeah, yeah. I was happy to, at one point become, at least for a short period, one of those people’s boss, which was…
JY: Which was sweet. But I really vowed then that I would never do that to people. That if someone reached out to me that I knew had an energy and an interest in food journalism, I would try to give them some of my time.
JY: Now, you know, and I’m sure this happens to you. I do get a ton of people asking me that, and it’s impossible to give everyone a lot of time. But I try to respond to everybody and when I do find people that I think are interesting and that seem like they have some talent. And they want to put in the work, that’s another requirement, that I really enjoy working with them. Elazar is a joy to work with.
EL: Yeah, and he’s like 21 years old.
JY: He’s so young.
EL: By the time he’s 30, I think he’s going to be the boss of both of us.
JY: I know, probably.
EL: But it’s okay, it’s fun. When I sent you the copy of the book, you actually responded and said, “Oh, it’s great.” So, I have to ask you, what resonated with you?
JY: Oh, man. Well, I think I told you it’s so much more dramatic than I had expected. From the outside, and even though you and I have talked about these things, I certainly wasn’t privy to all of the angst and the crises that you were facing all the time. I think for me what resonated was the passion and the drive to make something work in the face of all of these obstacles.
EL: It was insane.
JY: I mean, just one obstacle after another. And just the commitment to keep going and making it work no matter what happened.
EL: Yeah, yeah.
JY: I thought was fascinating. And the fact that you were, I mean honestly, it’s just every chapter is a cliffhanger because you were always on the cliff.
EL: Exactly. I always say I was never slash raising money.
EL: And so it really was one crisis after another, and as you read about, it was my wife who literally, I was going to continue.
EL: And then she was just like, “No mas.”
JY: Right, right.
EL: “I can’t do this anymore.” So, anyway, I’m so glad that you liked the book because it was… you know, I’d never written a book like that before.
EL: And the idea that I could write a coherent book length nonfiction narrative.
EL: I felt like, you know, I think you’re much… I regard most people as much better writers than me.
JY: Oh, I don’t know about that.
EL: But I just was so amazed that what came out was coherent, you know?
JY: Yeah, yeah.
EL: And at first I was like, “I hope it doesn’t suck.” And now I actually think it’s pretty good.
JY: Yeah, that’s great. Yeah, that feeling right before it comes out especially when you’re like, am I the only… I had this feeling, everything I’ve written, where you think, am I the only person who is going to get this?
JY: Am I the only person who thinks this is cool? Maybe I’m wrong and it’s really bad.
EL: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, for sure.
EL: So, all right. Now, it’s time for the all you can answer Special Sauce buffet.
JY: Oh, I should have studied.
EL: No, there’s no reason to. So, who’s at your last supper? No family allowed. So, your husband can’t be there.
EL: Your many brothers and sisters who are still with us, none of those people, because then people would just say their family.
JY: Nina Simone.
EL: Nina Simone? You already earned a place at the Special Sauce permanent table.
JY: Honestly, do I need to even have anyone other than Nina Simone? I mean, if Nina Simone is at the table, I sort of feel like I don’t know if anybody else needs to be there because I just am going to want to talk to her.
EL: Oh, God. Nina Simone… in the book, as you know, I worked for concert promoters for a few years.
EL: And we actually did some Nina Simone shows, and-
JY: Did you get to meet her?
EL: Yes, and it was really difficult because Nina Simone, if you saw the documentary-
JY: Oh, amazing documentary.
EL: You know, had many issues.
EL: But when she was present and singing, it was the world had stopped.
EL: It was like magic.
JY: Magic. The tone, the tone of that voice. I could hear her forever.
EL: And the way she could penetrate anyone’s psyche.
JY: Yeah, absolutely.
EL: With seemingly simple lyrics.
JY: Yep, absolutely. Just stunning.
EL: Yeah, stunning.
JY: Absolutely stunning.
EL: So, I don’t know. I think I may let you off the hook.
JY: Okay, all right.
EL: I may let you have a dinner for two.
EL: And then you can write a cookbook about dinners for two.
JY: Dinners for two with me and Nina.
EL: With Nina Simone. So, what are you eating?
JY: What am I eating? Oh, at this dinner?
JY: Oh, we’re at the dinner. Oh God, okay, wow.
EL: You could have somebody cooking for you or you could cook it yourself, so…
JY: I could have somebody cooking for me. If I could have somebody cooking for me, I think I’d probably… why wouldn’t I have someone cooking for me? Who is that? Wow, this is a very difficult question. I mean, of course I want to ask Nina what she feels like eating as a host, right?
EL: Because you want to make her happy.
JY: It’s like I want to make her happy, I want to make her happy. Can the person who’s cooking for us also be dead?
JY: Well, it’s Edna Lewis. I want dinner by Edna Lewis with me and Nina Simone.
EL: Okay, you’ve just entered the Special Sauce hall of fame by conjuring up Nina Simone and Edna Lewis.
EL: The famous African American cook who was incredibly influential.
EL: And seemingly every few years gets another moment in the sun.
EL: Somebody writes another bio, somebody updates a cookbook. You know, it’s like…
EL: And I think it’s happening now. I think I got some press release, there’s something happening at the Museum of Food and Drink in Manhattan that’s related to Edna Lewis that I don’t remember how.
JY: They’re reissuing In Pursuit of Flavor.
EL: That’s right.
JY: Which is the first book before Taste of Country Cooking. But yeah, and there was a beautiful anthology out that I had a piece in called Edna Lewis at the Table, I think.
EL: Yeah, yeah.
JY: Edited by Sara Franklin, yeah.
JY: I want Edna Lewis because I never got to eat Edna Lewis’ food direct, so…
EL: I did once.
JY: Did you?
EL: At Gage and Tollner.
JY: Oh, great. Yeah.
EL: And I was like, you know, “This place is a tourist trap.” And I didn’t know shit at the time, and then I was like, “This is good.”
JY: That’s so great. I mean-
EL: Yeah, because she was the chef there for a couple of years I think.
JY: That’s right, yeah. That’s right.
EL: So, that’s awesome. So, what do you cook when there’s nothing in the house to eat?
JY: Oh, tacos.
EL: Because you always have tortillas.
JY: I always have tortillas, and I always have cans of beans, and I always have eggs, and I always have sweet potatoes, and I often have pickled onions in the fridge, and I always have salsa that I made. So, I make tacos out of, I roast sweet potatoes or microwave them if I don’t have time.
JY: And I cook some eggs. Fried egg, sweet potato, pickled onion, salsa taco is kind of awesome.
EL: It’s like your West Texas roots.
JY: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
EL: Do you have a guilty pleasure?
JY: I don’t really believe in the guilt, but…
EL: Okay, that’s good. Besides our mutual fondness for Mr. Goodbars.
JY: Yes, yes. Mr. Goodbars. I like everything. What is something that’s sort of low brow that I like? I like… well, you know I eat bivalves.
JY: That’s one of my exceptions. I eat oysters, muscles, and clams because I don’t think they’re sentient, and other reasons. But I really like smoked oysters out of the can.
EL: That’s good. Well, you know there are whole-
JY: It’s kind of low brow.
EL: You know there are whole tapas restaurants in Barcelona.
EL: That serve only canned seafood.
JY: Only canned seafood, yeah.
EL: I know, it’s… and I went to one, it was awesome.
EL: So, what’s on your nightstand now, book wise?
JY: Oh, what’s on my nightstand? Well, Serious Eater was just on my nightstand. I brought it with me.
EL: I appreciate that.
JY: Yeah, I’m not lying. This is not just for you, it really was. I was trying to read it. Not trying to read it, I was enjoying reading it. There’s a book, My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing is a book that I got because it was recommended for people who liked Gone Girl, and…
EL: Got it.
JY: …. The Woman in the Window, I’ve sort of been getting into those sort of thrillers lately.
EL: Are you a Laura Lippman fan?
JY: I have been, yeah.
EL: Yeah. She’s my wife’s client, and I’m reading her new book.
JY: Oh, great.
EL: Which I think is called The Lady in the Lake, I could be wrong.
JY: Oh, yeah. No, I think it is.
EL: It’s great.
JY: Is it great? Okay.
EL: It’s amazing.
JY: All right, okay. I’ll get it.
EL: She’s from Baltimore, so you know…
JY: Yes, of course.
EL: Some people call Baltimore and Washington one market. I think it’s definitely two markets.
JY: Definitely two markets.
EL: So, who’s had the greatest influence on your career?
JY: The greatest practical impact? It feels horrible to say this, but it’s Marty Baron.
EL: I was going to say, I was going to suggest that.
JY: I mean, it’s Marty Baron because when I was at The Globe, the story that I didn’t get to tell a little bit earlier, I’ll try to make it quick, is that I was writing stuff for food. I was on the copy desk, I couldn’t get attention, and Sheryl was going on vacation. And I convinced them to let me fill in as food editor for one week, and it was several months hence. And Sheryl said, “I’ll just line up…” I love Sheryl, by the way.
JY: Sheryl said, “I’ll just line up stories for you and I’ll tell you what we’re going to do, and then you can just edit them all.” And I said, “Could you do me a favor? Don’t line up anything. I’ll handle everything.” And so I ended up doing this crazy reader cook off, sort of Iron Chef style.
JY: And it was a production. We actually did it at my culinary school…
EL: That’s awesome.
JY: And did this huge package, and Marty really loved it. And he gave me a shot at being travel editor after that.
EL: That’s great.
JY: If that hadn’t happened, I don’t know where any of this would’ve gone.
EL: And now he’s at The Post.
JY: And now he’s at The Post.
EL: And of course, people know them from the movie Spotlight.
JY: Right. He’s really, honestly, the best editor on the planet.
JY: What can I say?
JY: He really is.
EL: He’s a friend of my brother. I have a brother who’s a conductor, somehow became friends with Marty Baron.
JY: Oh, great.
EL: I don’t even know how, but okay. So, it’s just been declared Joe Yonan day.
JY: That is so nice. I didn’t know you had the ability to do that, Ed.
EL: All over the world.
EL: So, what’s happening on that day?
JY: Wow, what is happening on Joe Yonan day? Oh my God, okay. Well, people are eating completely plant based for this day.
EL: I don’t know, I might have to ascend this question.
JY: Okay, maybe you can have some cheese.
EL: No, no, it’s okay.
JY: But people are eating a lot of beans, Ed.
EL: That’s good.
JY: That’s my next book, it’s about beans.
JY: Yeah. My next book is about beans, coming out next year. But people are eating a lot of beans, people are listening to a lot of really great music. They’re listening to a lot of Nina Simone.
JY: Just to take us back, Amy Winehouse. Basically, I’m curating everybody’s playlist for the day, so that’s fun.
EL: Didn’t you love the fact that they let me put it in the Serious Eats playlist?
JY: I love that. I love that, I really wish that I had taken the time to download the playlist and listen to it while I was reading it. I may have to do that and read it again.
EL: Yeah. It’s pretty cool because actually what Penguin has done is they’ve created the Serious Eater playlist on Spotify.
JY: Oh, that’s great.
JY: So, I can just grab it.
EL: Yeah, yeah. You can just grab it.
EL: So, wow. Okay, this is really cool. Well, I can’t tell you how much fun this has been. And just because you named Nina Simone and Edna Lewis, for those reasons alone…
JY: I’m so glad.
EL: … this has been a great time. So, thank you for sharing your Special Sauce with us.
JY: Oh, thanks for having me.
EL: Joe Yonan. And by all means, subscribe to The Washington Post even if you don’t live in D.C. because it is worth every cent to subscribe to The Washington Post. I say that as a subscriber.
JY: Thank you.
EL: And it’s really important, actually.
JY: Good journalism is not just worth paying for, but it needs support.
EL: Yes, exactly. And just buy one of Joe’s books, and we can’t wait for the beans cookbook to come out.
JY: Thank you.
EL: It’s really been a pleasure, and so long Serious Eaters. We’ll see you next time.
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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] Carving a rack of lamb—whether pan-roasted or sous vide—isn’t as simple as sliding a knife between the bones. Whether you’re dividing a larger rack into smaller ones before cooking (like, say, turning an eight-bone rack into two four-bone racks) or slicing individual […]
3. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Stir in lentils, tomatoes, chicken stock, and a healthy pinch of salt. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-high and simmer […]
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article by Max Falkowitz ran in 2010. It has since been updated with additional copy by Elazar Sontag.
Flavor profile: Earthy, pungent, musky, and peppery.
Goes well with: Gamey meats such as lamb or venison.
Try it in: Indian, Chinese, Mexican, North African, and more cuisines.
What to cook: Beef chili, spiced Bangladeshi eggplant, pork chile verde.
Storage: Stored in an airtight container in a dark cabinet, ground cumin remains fresh up to three months, whole cumin up to one year. Discard and replace when fragrance is difficult to detect.
For best results: Toast whole seeds over medium-high heat in a dry skillet until just fragrant, then grind. Bloom ground or whole cumin in hot oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds, before adding the rest of your ingredients to the infused oil.
Cumin has an unmistakable flavor, at once earthy, musky, gamey, and slightly spicy. And for more than 5,000 years, humans have been grinding it, toasting it, and adding it to their food. On ancient Greek dinner tables, it was commonplace to find cumin positioned right next to salt. It was the other seasoning cooks and diners couldn’t live without. And not much has changed since then—all these years later, we still add the spice to many of our favorite dishes.
In the 7th century, traders spread cumin from Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean across North Africa, and eastward on their trade routes to Iran, India, China, and Indonesia. Hundreds of years later, Spanish conquistadors brought cumin to the Americas, where it became essential to Mexican cooking, and where the spice is still heavily cultivated—it’s a crucial spice in our tacos al pastor and carne asada recipes.
Wherever the spice traveled, it became crucial to the cuisine it was introduced to: In Morocco, cumin features prominently in ras el hanout spice blends, used to season all sorts of marinades, stews, and tagines. In India, it was added to the garam masala that flavors curries, chickpeas, and countless other Indian dishes. The near-worldwide use of cumin is a testament to just how easily the spice mixes with and complements an endless array of vegetables, meats, and other spices.
How to Buy and Store Cumin
Aromatic cumin seeds come from a bushy, flowering plant, native to the Eastern Mediterranean, though India now produces and consumes the largest portion of the spice. Its wispy fronds are similar to those of its cousins, anise, carrot, and parsley. The seeds are harvested after the plant’s stalks have dried, and the fruit pods containing the seeds crack open. From this point, the cumin seeds are cleaned of any remaining dirt, and dried further before they’re packaged.
When you’re shopping for spices like cumin, it’s ideal to find a grocery store where the spice is selling out and being restocked frequently. Look for stores catering to cultures where the spice is in high demand. If you have an Indian grocery store in your neighborhood, go there. Since it’s hard to know when a grocery store last restocked their spices, this gives you the best chance of getting a fresh batch. Online retailers like Snuk and The Spice House are also reliable sources of fresh spices like cumin.
Buying whole cumin seeds is a great call, even if you intend to grind them before cooking. The whole spice keeps much longer in a cool, dark cupboard, and its flavor will be more pronounced if you grind it moments before cooking. That said, there’s plenty of good quality ground cumin on the market, too, if you don’t have the time or patience for the whole spice. If you opt for the pre-ground spice, buy less of it, so you don’t end up with a pound of stale, flavorless cumin on your hands.
Spend some time taking inventory of and organizing your spices so you don’t forget about the cumin you bought three months ago, finding it again only after it has lost its magic. Kept in an airtight container, the whole seeds will last for about a year, while the ground spice loses fragrance and flavor after about three months. If your whole cumin doesn’t smell like much when you crush a bit between your fingers, you’ll know it has started to lose its oomph. A sniff test will also give you a good sense when ground cumin is ready to be tossed, or is on its last legs. The spice won’t go bad, exactly, but after it has lost its intensity, it’s worth replacing.
Buying whole seeds offers an additional advantage in that some recipes specifically call for them, both because the whole seeds offer up some textural pleasures while also contributing the spice’s unique musk and bitterness to the dish. In addition, when you bite down on a seed, those unique qualities are all the more discernible. That said, we do also use the ground seed in plenty of spice mixtures and dishes, so we keep a good spice grinder and a mortar and pestle on hand.
How to Cook With Cumin
When cooking with whole cumin seeds there are two critical choices: how to heat them (to extract their oils) and when to add them to a dish. How you initially cook the spice determines how it will flavor the end result.
To keep the flavor more confined to the seeds, toast them over medium-high heat in a dry skillet until fragrant, then remove them to a plate or bowl so they don’t keep cooking. To infuse the entire dish with cumin’s flavor, bloom the seeds in hot oil until they begin crackling and popping, before adding additional ingredients. Watch them carefully as they cook, as small spices burn easily. If you do burn cumin seeds, toss them out and start again; there’s no rescuing bitter cumin, and its powerful flavor will ruin a dish.
Cumin added at the start of a dish—a common method when making a curry or rice pilaf—forms an earthy, spicy backdrop, but long cooking kills cumin’s subtleties. When tossed in at the end, it works more like an herbal garnish. Try adding the toasted seeds to roasted potatoes or vegetables along with some coarse salt. Or drizzle cumin-infused oil into a bowl of carrot soup in lieu of olive oil, along with a dollop of yogurt. To really make this spice the star of a dish, start with some toasted or fried cumin and finish with more of the same.
One of our favorite quick weeknight meals revolves around this fragrant, punchy spice. We start by browning fresh sausages like merguez or chorizo—both of which usually contain cumin—in a skillet with a little oil. Once the sausages have taken on some color and rendered some of their fat, we remove them from the pan, and bloom whole cumin seeds in the flavorful oil. When the seeds begin to snap and pop, we add green lentils, crushed tomatoes, and chicken stock. We simmer the lentils, uncovered, until they are nearly tender all the way through, and the cumin has been given a chance to flavor the tomato-and-chicken-stock cooking liquid. A generous bunch of slightly bitter dandelion greens get stirred into the mix, where they wilt before we nestle the sausages back into the pan to finish cooking. Garnished with a handful of cilantro, it’s a comforting and perfectly balanced dinner which comes together in minutes, and reminds us exactly why we always have a full jar of cumin seeds in our spice cabinet.
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[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt] Burgers are about as fancy as I get at most cookouts, but if I’m really celebrating I’ll ditch the ground beef and break out the steak—it’s hard to look at an open flame and not imagine a perfectly charred slab of […]