In the online recipe empire, Epicurious is the culinary equivalent of Alexander the Great, an online conqueror of our weeknight stockpots in unprecedented proportions. A press release for the just-released The Epicurious Cookbook even dubs the entity a “digital food brand,” not merely a website, with over 200,000 recipes from “premier brands in food journalism, chefs, cookbooks, and users.”
The very sort of brand one might speculate would be fully ensconced in the digital cookbook camp in this post-Gourmet magazine era. And yet even as a digital food brand, Epicurious is vying for a 400-page permanent presence on our cookbook shelves. So much for the demise of cookbooks, at least in our immediate cocktail hour future.
Get the review, and a recipe for sweet potato salad with spicy peanut dressing, after the jump.
The cookbook, by Tanya Steel and “the editors of Epicurious” (we applaud her for giving them credit) promises “more than 250 of our best-loved four-fork recipes for weeknights, weekends, and special occasions.” Yes, that means you can also find these recipes for free online — a pretty fantastic irony to ruminate on while you flip through those “extreme granola” and “quick paella” recipes. But as there are more than 200,000 recipes in the Epicurious database seeing them in print is a relief of sorts.
The cookbook is arranged by season, with breakfast, starters, mains, sides and such within those Fall/Winter/Spring/Summer confines. The seasonal arrangement means if you're looking for dishes to make with the current Southern California produce offerings, you'll need to turn to the “Summer” chapter (stewed corn and tomato with okra, baked zucchini fries) as often as the “Fall” chapter (mushroom-fontina quiche, beet salad with fennel and hazelnuts).
It's a curious organizational angle for a cookbook that stems from a computer database with an extremely efficient search engine, as part of the appeal of the website is the quick access to information. If you're looking for an idea for supper in the book, you'll need to flip through the “mains” section in four different chapters — not exactly speedy. That's partly why we find that the season recipe arrangement works better when following a single chef's kitchen journey rather than when we're looking for everyday recipes. Then again, it's a vast improvement on simply typing “chicken” in the massive Epicurious database (as of print, 3,162 results).
Wondering what home cooks like yourself (maybe it actually was you) deemed the best 4-fork Epicurious recipes? Spicy mac and cheese with pancetta, deviled fried chicken, tuna kebabs with ginger-chile marinade, coffee-rubbed cheeseburgers, kitchen sink frittata, and peanut butter-fudge brownies are among the contemporary all-American fare. Most are fairly straightforward technique-wise. The editors seem to appreciate that most nights, you want to get that warm tofu with spicy garlic sauce (p. 315) on the table post-haste.
On another note: If you're a frequent user of Epicurious, you've probably been sucked into the dozens of reader recipe comments. Online, they're not always helpful, as they might convince you not to make a recipe, or to tweak it so much you spend twice as long making those red wine-braised duck legs (p. 345). It's a reminder how broad the definition of making a recipe “as written” has become. On the website, many recipe comments start with a phrase like, “I made this recipe as called for, except…” (A fun 3 p.m. work diversion: Scroll through online Epicurious recipe comments looking for the changes readers made after saying they followed the written recipe as written.)
Here, as with this recipe for sweet potato salad with spicy peanut dressing (a handy do-ahead Thanksgiving idea), that mountain of comments is absent. The editors only had the space to pick one reader comment (thank you, print media, thank you), so it doesn't sabotage your overall recipe impression. All the more reason that we hope, dear God, that cookbooks are not dead anytime soon.
Sweet Potato Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
From: The Epicurious Cookbook.
“This summery way to serve yams is great with hoisin-glazed ribs or pork chops. Experiment by swapping the spuds for rice to create a filling vegetarian meal, or serve the creamy dressing as a dip for chicken satay.”
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
4 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon peanut butter
2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons light brown sugar
2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups sugar snap peas, cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
1 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/3 cup coarsely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1. Whisk the vinegar, soy sauce, mayonnaise, ginger, sesame oil, garlic, peanut butter, chili-garlic sauce, and sugar in a medium bowl to blend.
2. Add enough water to a large saucepan to reach a depth of ½ inch. Bring to a boil; add the sweet potatoes and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain; cool.
3. Mix the sweet potatoes, dressing, peas, and green onions in a large bowl. Season the salad with salt and pepper.
4. Sprinkle the salad with peanuts and serve.
“I made it as it called for, except that I used light mayo and threw the dressing into the blender. I doubled it, and didn't think I'd have enough of it the way people were eating it.” A cook, Chicago, Illinois
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