Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The essence of good cooking, #SeriousSandwich

Almond poppy-seed pound cake with lemon neufchatel. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 Chef Emeril Lagasse works with his culinary team to produce his cookbooks, like his newest, "Emeril's Kicked-Up Sandwiches," (Morrow, $24.99) When I ran into problems baking the Almond Poppy Seed Pound Cake with Lemon Neufchatel, Kamili Hemphill from Emeril's culinary team came to the rescue and I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about creating the recipes for cookbooks like "Kicked-Up Sandwiches."

Q. What is the process for selecting and testing the recipes for the book?

A. Well ,when Chef Emeril begins a project, he already has a list of new recipe ideas (or old favorites) that he wants to be a part of it. As the testing process goes along, some ideas will stay the same and make it into the book and some ideas will change into something better… and every now and again certain ideas or recipes will get dropped if they just don’t measure up to the others. Then, when he gets to a point where he can step back and look at the list of recipes that are completed, it is easy to see where the gaps are. He will then brainstorm with us, the culinary team, to come up with additional ideas to round out the collection.

 It’s a very organic process and the book really kind of writes itself as we go along.

 Testing involves actually cooking recipes as well as writing them several times and using ingredients we are able to gather from grocery stores or farmer’s markets. We stay away from getting ingredients from restaurant purveyors because the recipes are for the home cook. Once the recipes have been cooked, they are evaluated for taste and flavor, texture, authenticity, appropriateness for the project and visual appeal.

Almond poppy seed pound cake. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Q. Do you have any tips for getting the best out of Emeril's recipes?

Hmmmm, good question. That really depends on the recipe. You have to be able to understand which ingredients in the recipe contribute to its essence, no pun intended. Successful cooking relies heavily on technique, an understanding of ratios, and a bit of understanding in regards to chemistry.

 The wonderful thing about a well-written recipe is that it should eliminate guesswork on the part of the cook by being able to describe to the cook what he or she should be looking for.
 Descriptions that include how long certain steps may take, appropriate temperatures, measurements, size of pan, specific cooking tools, specific ingredients, etc. One of the most important pieces of advice I give to people who are cooking from a recipe is to read it through several times before beginning to make sure they can understand the recipe. A person should be able to imagine it.

 Practice is essential when it comes to cooking. At its very core, it is a craft. 

 I would certainly recommend that a person cook a recipe as-is first before making substitutions. That way a person can judge from their own experience what can be successfully changed. It takes a very experienced cook to make that determination by just reading a recipe. Now, I’m sure you know there are a lot of bad recipes and badly written recipes out there. So really, you have to try them first, and then adjust.

Almond-poppy seed pound cake. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Q. I'm working on improving the pictures for my blog, do you have any tips for making food look better on the plate and page?

A. Well, good pictures are many times a matter of taste. Chef Emeril’s taste regarding food photos definitely involves authenticity. He likes pictures of his food to be as natural as possible and photographed while it’s still fresh, i.e. photographed immediately. You will notice that you might get a glimpse of steam, or see that the cheese is still melty, or recognize sheen from the olive oil, or you might notice the delicious beauty in food where every cut or dimension isn’t exact. 

 It should look real… and good enough to eat. 

Close-up photos usually work well so that the viewer can focus in on the food and not be distracted by other things. Also, for you, since photography is an expression, think about which photos of food you like and why. Then incorporate those things into your own work. (They should be) your own expression.

[A note on baking the Almond Poppy Seed Pound Cake - this is a terrific cake, but it must be baked according to the directions. Use cake flour and sift it before measuring. It can be made without the poppy seeds, but it's much better with them. They're like freckles, and what kid isn't cuter with freckles?]

Kamili Hemphill on the shoot for "Emeril's Kicked-Up Sandwiches." by Steven Freeman.
  Thanks, Kamili, for taking time to share your knowledge with my readers and me!

Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer. 
With the exceptions of Emeril's book cover, that belongs to Morrow Cookbooks, and the picture of Kamili Hemphill, provided by Steven Freeman.

If you love cookbooks like I do, you gotta follow The Secret Ingredient Blog from Morrow Books. 

This post is part of #SeriousSandwich, a cookalong to celebrate the publication 
Emeril's Kicked-Up Sandwiches.
 For more great #SeriousSandwich posts, follow #SeriousSandwich on Twitter.


Anonymous said...

What a fascinating post! Kamili thank you so much for sharing your experiences perfecting recipes--you are a poet and a philosopher.

Amanda said...

It's great to hear some insight from someone who has experience testing and writing recipes - such great advice for food bloggers and anyone interested in writing recipes for others!

Kimberly said...

Great post!

Jennifer@ Peanut Butter and Peppers said...

Great post!! The bread looks perfect!!

Unknown said...

Very cool behind-the-scenes peek!

Unknown said...

I totally agree with Emeril on the close up photos. I don't like seeing a lot of background in my photos, probably because I'm a new photographer and don't have a full set to work with. I really like how you put this together!

damenola said...

It's really nice to get advice about approaching a new recipe straight from the source. It seems like a basic concept, but it's easy to forget that you are far more likely to be successful when you follow the directions the first time. I'm looking forward to more posts by you Kamili!