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The Piglet2017 / Quarterfinal Round, 2017

My Two Souths  vs. Simple

My Two Souths

Asha Gomez

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Simple

Diana Henry

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Judged by: Silvia Killingsworth 

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Silvia Killingsworth is the editor of The Awl and The Hairpin. She has previously worked at The New Yorker and Condé Nast Portfolio. She is the series editor for the forthcoming Best American Food Writing series from Houghton Mifflin. She lives in Brooklyn and is trying to expand her cooking repertoire beyond ice cream and pizza.

The Judgment

Living and cooking in New York City, where countertop space is at a premium, one doesn’t acquire too much dedicated kitchen equipment. I have always viewed a stand mixer as a suburban indulgence (a comically tiny version of those industrial-size dough mixers in pizza kitchens), and besides, who hasn’t made a pie crust from scratch only to realize the best substitute for a rolling pin is an unopened bottle of red wine? But the exceptions New Yorkers do make to these restrictions are reflective of their individual cooking styles (mine are a Vitamix, a Baratza coffee grinder, and an ice cream maker). I can make more excuses, but let’s just have it out: Before I participated in this tournament, I did not own a mortar and pestle.

It’s not that I deny the distinction between fresh and dried spices, it’s just that most of the things I cook and bake call for powder, and bodegas everywhere sell salt and pepper dispensers with built-in grinders. As for anything that ever needed a good crack or a mashing, I never saw the need for an ancient stone tool taking up space in my cupboard, particularly when the aforementioned wine bottle would do in a pinch. I knew right away by looking at the covers of Diana Henry’s Simple and Asha Gomez’s My Two Souths that this would no longer fly—the former has that rustic, just-so vibe that just screams “farmhouse with no electricity,” and the latter says it quite literally in its subtitle: Blending the flavors of India into a southern kitchen. The inside cover page is a mortar and pestle next to some artfully arranged whole spices.

I dove into My Two Souths first, wary of complicated spice blends, and learned that Gomez found an unusual path to food-world renown. She is a fifth-generation Roman Catholic from the southern Indian state of Kerala, and grew up eating true port-city cooking from a kitchen where “kodampuli, asafoetida, and cambogia arose from cast-iron griddles and clay cooking pots.” She later moved to New York, attended Queens College, became a licensed aesthetician, and settled in the American South, Atlanta, where she opened an Ayurvedic spa. (Stay with me here.) While running the spa, Gomez began sharing her home-cooked meals with her clients. A resulting supper club of Indian-American fusion turned into a short-lived but widely acclaimed Atlanta restaurant, Cardamom Hill, which gave way to a “culinary event venue” and patisserie called Spice to Table.

My Two Souths asks for an investment upfront, in both ingredients and attention (and for me: a mortar and pestle). After the biographical introduction, there is a section covering the basics involved in creating the “sour, pungent, and camphoraceous” flavors of Keralan cuisine. Asafoetida and curry leaves sounded intimidating, but were not terribly difficult to track down, especially in New York. Ghee and coconut milk have entered the mainstream and can be found at most grocery stores. You can see why I thought Asha Gomez would be the complicated one—Indian food is famously alchemical, involving many dozens of spices in a single dish, but her recipes are surprisingly simple (with the obvious exception of curry and gumbo). 

 

The book is organized like a chronological menu, from day starters to desserts and including “tea time,” though many of the plate lunches (pork vindaloo with cardamom cornbread, Kerala fried chicken and Low Country rice waffles) could work just as well for hearty dinners. Egg bhurji could easily be written off as “just scrambled eggs,” but it had three more ingredients than you’d ever get around to including, because when you’re scrambling eggs you’re probably not in the mood to chop shallots, jalapeño, and cilantro. Sometimes you just need that extra push to make your sad weekend breakfast into a confidence-building exercise. 

I don’t tend to think of baked goods as breakfast items so much as breakfast desserts, but I had a go at some blueberry-lime muffins to give away to friends. The muffin batter turned out sticky and slow to cook, an issue that was easy to ignore because of the divine crumb topping—flour, sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon, and mace. I have never before had occasion to make that magical crumbly substance that tops coffee cakes, but now that I know its secret (butter), I am conflicted as to whether or not it should be legal as an ice cream topping (early research points to yes). 

But the greatest coup of this entire exercise was Gomez’s Tellicherry buttermilk biscuits, which should frankly be The Standard Biscuit Anywhere That Biscuits Are Served. They’d go perfectly with and enhance any dish where plain biscuits are called for, from fried chicken to gravy to Thanksgiving dinner. Gomez advises doubling the recipe and freezing half; I heartily suggest tripling it. Pastry flour is absolutely required, but you will use it up in no time making many dozens of these biscuits. The combination of a fresh, fluffy baking-powder puff with the sharp heat of a cracked peppercorn is unbeatable—even the steam smells peppered.

For the most part, Gomez’s recipes are just simple enough: Her weeknight fancy chicken and rice is a true miracle of a one-pot dish, a descendant of arroz con pollo, with the rice restored to its signature Iberian yellow with turmeric rather than saffron. Cardamom pods and star anise give flavorful depth, and dried apricots, sliced almonds, and that worthy cilantro make for the most un-boring staple of a weeknight dinner. (It is crucial never to skip the cilantro, even when re-heating leftovers; a bright-green garnish will always give you hope.)

Sometimes, Gomez’s recipes seemed too simple, as though she might be leaving something out for ease of communication, or so as not to overcrowd the page. I would make her fresh thyme fish cakes again tomorrow if I knew how big to make them (the recipe said to “Form 8 cakes,” but they struck me as too large and I spread them into nine), and how much to brown them in the fryer versus in the oven. Still, any hot fish cake straight from the oven is delightful, though my own executions needed salt and pepper to taste. They also left me wishing for a creamy tartar sauce, perhaps shot through with more Keralan flavor.

Diana Henry’s Simple, on the other hand, has thought of everything—almost to a fault. Indeed, she has an entire offset section titled, “a bit on the side,” dedicated to sauces and relishes, which Gomez could have used more of. Nearly every dish has a cream sauce, like roast potatoes with watercress and garlic cream, or roasted eggplants with tomatoes and saffron cream. Henry has been in the business of “simple” cooking for over a decade—this book is a follow-up to what was published in the UK as Cook Simple and in the US as Pure Simple Cooking. (I would read an entire book on the subtle differences in US versus UK book marketing, from titles to cover art—Simple is rendered lowercase here, and uppercase there. The cover of the former has a vibrantly colorful photo of honeyed sausages with blackberry and caraway slaw, whereas the latter has has more muted pork chops with mustard and capers in a, you guessed it, cream sauce.)

I loved that Henry had an entire section dedicated to eggs, complete with a ballpoint pen doodle on a picture of a pale blue ovoid. But here is also where she lost me: The very first recipe in the book is for egg and salmon donburi, essentially a deconstructed salmon-avocado sushi roll with some scrambled eggs, down to the toasted nori garnish. This manages to be simultaneously simple and fussy, which is the general vibe of the whole book. Henry’s food is also unapologetically English. She writes that a salad of cucumber, radishes, and cherries with rose petals is “like eating a garden,” and compares the size of fregola to hailstones. She’s also funny, writing of creamy flageolets, “they’re not Michelin star but they’re satisfying, the kind of thing a chic-but-harassed French woman would make.”

 

And by the way, that blue egg was a Cotswold Legbar, one of her staples along with Buford Browns. Knowing your hens’ species is nice work if you can afford it, and Henry’s is the kind of simplicity that only money can buy. To be fair, she does acknowledge this in an aside:

"I care about the quality of the food I eat, and about its provenance, but I also try to be realistic about what people can afford. When it comes to flavor, though, there are some foods about which I cannot compromise: pork, butter, and eggs are the three I would prefer not to eat at all if I couldn’t get the best, as I know I will be disappointed with them."

I am all for spending a few extra bucks on very good staples, but where her recipes aren’t expensive, they can be complicated. The main investment that Diana Henry asks for besides a well-stocked larder is fuss. Her recipes on average have twice as many ingredients than Gomez’s. She’ll have you cut radishes into matchsticks; a subsection about “no-hassle appetizers” within the Salads chapter indicates that most of the salads are in fact a bit of a hassle. Her introduction also includes a subsection on “unusual ingredients,” like miso and pomegranate molasses. This is not home cooking as I’ve ever experienced it, but a certain kind of show-off home cooking—everyone has that one friend who actually uses kohlrabi and tamarind paste at home, but I am not that friend.

I have always subscribed to the theory that you order at a restaurant something you would not otherwise make for yourself, whether because of the unusual ingredients or complicated execution. Many of Henry’s recipes reminded me of ABC Kitchen dishes, especially the cumin-coriander roast carrots. (Don’t get me wrong; I love ABC Kitchen, but I’ll almost always pay a premium for someone else to do the fussing.) The carrots were actually riffed from an April Bloomfield recipe; in fact, a good number of Henry’s recipes are adaptations—she is a known and relentless tinkerer, testing hundreds of recipes per year. Melissa Clark wrote in The New York Times, “To say Ms. Henry is highly prolific is to understate the case.” Henry even adapted her New York takeout noodles from The Times and a salad from Food52 (hello). The connective tissue of this book is not so much an obvious theme, as with Gomez’s, but Henry’s ingenuity. After testing several recipes, I realized I’d rather invite myself over for lunch at Henry’s than make her food at home.

In her introduction, Henry writes that she thinks and shops for food in terms of building blocks, often with proteins at the center, though today, in the Age of Ottolenghi, we now lean more toward whole grains and vegetables. I had a difficult time finding a vegetable or salad recipe I wanted to make, because her dressings are almost always sweet, and include honey or superfine sugar, which is not to my taste. I settled on broccoli with harissa and cilantro gremolata. Her recipe calls for purple sprouting broccoli, with optional substitution or broccolini or cauliflower. I went rogue and used a big old head of plain green broccoli. A gremolata of lime, harissa, and garlic made for a beautifully well-rounded zest that also packed some heat. And I am grateful for the addition of harissa to my criminally understocked armory.

Overall, Henry’s flavors were big, as the subtitle promised, but her food was not effortless. The best stuff I made from Simple was more straightforward, with fewer ingredients and more focus—one twist rather than three. My favorites included orzo with lemon and parsley and a goat cheese and roast grape tartine. And so the winner here is Gomez, who showed me from first principles the origins of heat and spice on the most basic level: The sheer genius of coarsely pestled pepper folded into a basic buttermilk biscuit. What could be simpler than that?

And the winner is…

My Two Souths

My Two Souths

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Do you Agree? (139 comments)

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3 months ago Erin Aguayo

No point in belaboring the inadequacies of this review, but I just brought home Simple, and it is by far the most exciting book...I would say on my shelf, but I don't plan on shelving it until the end of summer. So beautiful, so fancy looking, so easy to make.
I own so, so many cookbooks, and I cook from one nearly every day. This one is exceptional. I marked nearly half the recipes in the book, and am so excited to have new, beautiful, truly simple ways (at least, simple assuming you know how to cook and enjoy it) to use our gorgeous local produce and foraged things here in Vermont.
I read the book this afternoon over coffee, and couldn't wait to get started, so I made the linguine all'amalfitana--bucatini, walnuts, Aleppo pepper (my adjustment--all the pepper flavor, none of the heat the kids dislike), anchovy, olive oil, parsley, and pecorino.a pantry meal, so I didn't even have to run to the store to try out the book.
The recipe is similar in concept to various pastas I've made, but still notably different and unique. I did toast the walnuts first, which is my standard practice anywhere a nut is to stand alone without further toasting. Even the young kids loved it and asked for it in their lunches tomorrow.
In a few weeks when the markets have all the Spring things, I can't wait to try cucumber, radish, and cherry salad with a white wine vinaigrette that involves--heavy cream! A couscous salad with pea shoots and violets (both in my garden or yard by next week)
This book is a rare combo of pretty things that overlap in the ven diagram of cooking with things you can actually get/already have and things you really want to eat.
Reviews were enthusiastic, but somehow didn't mention all the things that really excite me about the book. Recipes are well-designed to use produce that will all appear at the same time at my local market, meaning there is a season for most of the recipes.
When was the last time you read a cookbook with a pasta section where you wanted to make every single thing--and none of them were just a bunch of crap over pasta because the author thought "I need a pasta section!"? So many cookbooks are just reheating other people's recipes, and by now I feel jaded and annoyed at reading the same thing over and over again. This feels fresh. I've made things a little like this, but never This, and for that I am grateful.

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3 months ago Diana Henry

Diana is a British food writer and columnist, and the author of ten books, including the James Beard Award-winning ‘A Bird in the Hand’. She gathers inspiration from all over the world and loves home cooking more than any other kind.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. I am thrilled it's working for you. I wish there were violets in my garden!

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5 months ago Isadora

I can only comment on Henry's book from which I have prepared one dish, following the directions with great dedication: Pugliese Fish Tiella. The potatoes and rice never cooked enough to be edible, even when I left the pan in the oven for 30 minutes past the suggested 45 minutes. I fished out the potatoes and had to finish them in the microwave and that was still disappointing. Ms. Henry touted the recipe as so easy that the disappointment was magnified. Now, I am hesitant to trust the other recipes.

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5 months ago Diana Henry

Diana is a British food writer and columnist, and the author of ten books, including the James Beard Award-winning ‘A Bird in the Hand’. She gathers inspiration from all over the world and loves home cooking more than any other kind.

Dear Isadora,
I am really sorry to hear this, though I have also had two messages to my website today - about this very recipe - saying that it had been very successful.. Are you sure your oven is getting to the temperature it says it does? I now have a thermometer to make sure the temperature on mine is correct as most domestic ovens aren't terribly reliable (they can also change temperature during the cooking period). This recipe has been cooked often by me, was further cooked by the tester and then also tested by the book's editor, so it has gone through several pairs of hands. I don't know what could have happened as I was particularly concerned that this recipe worked precisely because it is so simple. Your potatoes need to be very finely sliced and the stock needs to reach the boil before you transfer the dish to the hot oven. I am mystified why - if it was at the right temperature - this dish didn't cook in 45 minutes. Could anything else have been the problem?
Best wishes,
Diana

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5 months ago Elissa Altman

A confusing (and disheartening) review, which feels to me far less about the books at hand than the judge's judgiest judgments about what constitutes everything from simplicity to an original recipe to the implied "tweeness" of everything from stone-age tools to the British-inflected writing of one of the authors. Who is British. (Actually, Irish-born and living in London.)
There is not one New Yorker with a kitchen the size of a postage stamp who owns a mortar and pestle? Or a stand mixer, which she relegates to suburbia (where I now live; I used to live in Manhattan and owned several mortar and pestles of varying sizes, along with an electric coffee grinder for when I didn't feel like pounding using my stone-age tools; the former didn’t grind them but instead pulverized them to a powder much like what the judge says she finds in her local bodegas)? From the outset, the judge makes it very clear where her allegiances sit: no stone-age tools for her. Instead, an expensive Italian coffee grinder ($229 on Amazon?), a Vitamix (mine cost almost $600), an ice cream maker (I'm guessing not the hand-crank, faux wood-barrel variety of my childhood). None of which one would find in a “farmhouse with no electricity.” Anything that calls itself overtly simple --- the very title of Henry’s book --- seems to put a bee in this judge’s bonnet. Except when she called some of Gomez's recipes too simple, which she found suspicious.
But to the books: Why wouldn’t a reader be in a mood to chop shallots, jalapeno, and cilantro if one is making scrambled eggs? Otherwise, they’re just scrambled eggs, which can be delicious (especially when slow-cooked in another stone-age tool: a double boiler), and if I, as a cook, neophyte or not, can infuse simple scrambled eggs with these flavors and elevate the hum-drum, why wouldn’t I? Why would the first recipe in Henry’s book “throw” the judge? Because it was Asian in style when the author is largely known for the use of Levantine ingredients? Why would Henry’s description of fregola, comparing them to the size of hailstones, seem to so irritate the judge that she would call it out? Henry, historically, is known not only as the creator of stellar, interesting, and multi-layered dishes that reflect the culinary fabric of the international communities in which most of us now, thankfully live; she is also a spectacular writer, and arguably the heir apparent to (the very British) Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David.
As to the issue of riffing: cookbook writers do not live and work in a vacuum. None of us do: we are all influenced by the worlds in which we live and work. If a cookbook writer decides to include a recipe for steamed basmati rice, are they then riffing on Madhur Jaffrey? When I make aioli in my mortar and pestle, am I riffing on Richard Olney? Riffing only gets dicey when the author doesn’t point to its originator with an attribution: I applaud Diana Henry for including in her headnote that she "fiddled around with a recipe shamelessly stolen from April Bloomfield"; many cookbook authors do not attribute to such a clear degree. I do not yet own Gomez’s book --- I look forward to buying it and cooking from it; it sounds terrific --- but if the judge made it a point to mention riffing, how could the judge not also point to Ottolenghi’s famous, cardamom-laden, one-pot chicken and rice dish, probably the most widely cooked from Jerusalem, that made it to the front page of the NY Times food pages (also the subject of a NYT video by Julia Moskin)? The two are very similar in vibe, although Ottolenghi’s did not include fruit or turmeric. My Two Souths also reminds me of one of my favorite books of a few years back, Suvir Saran’s American Masala, in which the New Delhi-born author includes recipes that largely had their roots in the American South (where his partner is from), then tweaked some of them with the addition of Indian flavors, thus reflecting the couple’s home kitchen where their two cultures are blended. (There is also a wonderful egg recipe in American Masala that calls for jalapeno, curry, and chiles, much like Gomez's scrambled egg recipe, the combination being an Indian culinary trinity.) Again: two different books by two different people writing on the same subject. There will always be crossover, certainly. But for the judge to mention the act of “riffing” with such an accusatory lilt and without context left, as Ian Rose said below, a bad taste in my mouth. I would have hoped for a more even-handed, balanced, fair approach to the judging in this regard.
I have already cooked from Diana Henry's book; I look forward to cooking from Asha Gomez's as well.



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5 months ago Elissa Altman

Correction: Henry's headnote for the carrot recipe in question reads "An idea shamelessly stolen from New York-based chef April Bloomfield and slightly fiddled around with."

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5 months ago ian rose

As a British reader this review left a rather bad taste in my mouth.

I'm not sure why a type of British egg is less a reason to dislike a book than "My Two Souths" basing a recipe on Carolina Gold Rice, in fact of the two "My Two Souths" is far more dependant on geography to sell its concept.

Perhaps despite her New Yorker credentials the reviewer is a bit more Trumpian than she would like to admit.


I don't disagree with the outcome of this piglet, "My Two Souths" is a very good book as is "Simple", it's not Diana Henry's very best book but any DH book is sublime.

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5 months ago ian rose

As a British reader this review left a rather bad taste in my mouth.

I'm not sure why a type of British egg is less a reason to dislike a book than "My Two Souths" basing a recipe on Carolina Gold Rice, in fact of the two "My Two Souths" is far more dependant on geography to sell its concept.

Perhaps despite her New Yorker credentials the reviewer is a bit more Trumpian than she would like to admit.


I don't disagree with the outcome of this piglet, "My Two Souths" is a very good book as is "Simple", it's not Diana Henry's very best book but any DH book is sublime.

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5 months ago Elizabeth George

Dear Food 52, what's the point of a poll with an option of calling for a rematch if you're not gonna do anything about it. This review was so badly written and illogical. If there should be a rematch for any round it should be for this one.

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5 months ago Nina Koritchneva

I find it hilarious that Diana Henry is commenting on her cookbook's reviews in this typical British passive-aggressive tone. I live in London and I only buy American cookbooks (and even then I'm very picky about about what goes on my shelf). I also have spent quality time figuring out where to find the best ingredients in London; the eggs she name-checks are the fancy packaged ones from organic shops like Whole Paycheck, not the best tasting ones from the farmers markets FYI. Just checked the 'Simple' book on Amazon UK and again the snarky responses from the author on well balanced reviews - complete turn off. But she's so nice and sweet when you agree with her! And yes finding exotic ingredients is a pain, even if they are available at Whole Paycheck and the like. It's more of a pain finding shelf space for them even though we have a big fridge and a spacious kitchen. Have you seen those under the counter fridges they have in most London flats? The ones that couples live in? My two souths appears to be much more interesting as a cookbook so completely agree with this result.

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5 months ago Diana Henry

Diana is a British food writer and columnist, and the author of ten books, including the James Beard Award-winning ‘A Bird in the Hand’. She gathers inspiration from all over the world and loves home cooking more than any other kind.

HI Nina,
Burford Browns and Cotswold Legbar eggs are widely thought to have a great flavour - that's why people buy them. They are more expensive but I wouldn't call them 'fancy packaged' eggs, and eggs are a cheap form of protein so I don't mind spending more on them. They comes in boxes, like all eggs, they just happen to brown or blue boxes. I'm not the only person who buys them for flavour. They also come from a good company, who practice good animal welfare. There's nothing wrong with buying eggs from farmer's markets (and there are plenty of 'fancy' overpriced farmer's markets around) but I've just found Clarence Court eggs to be - consistently - the best. I also go through a lot of eggs so usually buy them a couple of times a week, and the markets are only on at the weekend. I promise you I don't buy anything just because they're 'fancy'. I honestly buy ingredients because they taste good.

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5 months ago Nina Koritchneva

I know what both of them are, and they're not the best in my opinion. There is a nice blue colour to one of them which looks good in photos I'm sure. My issue is not so much name-checking the fancy eggs, but the tone of the responses to fair criticism and the expectation that people will buy (processed, sugar-packed) exotic ingredients to prepare what is billed as 'simple' food. Having flipped through the cookbook preview on Amazon I can most certainly say that it's not simple food, instead it is glossy magazine food for the Instagram generation.

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5 months ago petalpusher

Ah Nina. I believe passive aggressive behavior is pretty much a human highlight with no geographical ownership. To make such a statement reflects more on your heart and mind. It's not a matter of political correctness, only a detail of not appearing totally rude. No matter what your economic background may be, no one can afford to be rude.

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5 months ago Elissa Altman

Wow. Yes. Well said indeed.

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5 months ago Nathalie Seguin

Ya know, I get it: every judge has his/her own personality, writing style and sense of humour (sarcastic, hidden, dark...). I have enjoyed all the reviews thus far, appreciating the takes on books from well-seasoned (pun intended) authorities to the self-proclaimed novice cook. However, this review did nothing to express proper judgement on the virtues of two books pinned against one another in this competition. As well, it was so narrowly limited to life in the center of the universe aka NY City, it made me feel like an outsider who really should not even bother being interested in anything related to this competition. But in the end, this really isn’t about me right? It is about discovering the virtues of a book whose sole purpose in life is to elevated all of our senses and in the end, be satisfied with the process and the end result. This review should be scrapped as a decision maker between those 2 books. I call for a rematch :)

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5 months ago Chris Rata

Do we need to call a wambulance for Ms Henry? I'm sure it sucks to have your book knocked out, but the selection of judges seems to represent the range of skill of cookbook users. Not everyone has chef quality or even professional training as a cook- this will account for varying results. That seems to be what happened here, and in some of the past judging cases this go round. It seems quite unedifying for Ms Henry to openly seek solace -multiple times- among those who wanted her book to win here. Chin up. You wrote a great book. Who cares what ONE person said about it??

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5 months ago Sonnenstern

I don't think that the majority of the readers here, myself included, have a professional background in cooking. We all started to cook because we love delicious food and enjoy the process to get there. And for the critic above, in germany we would say "Der Ton macht die Musik": It's not what you say, but how you say it. And honestly, this would bother me more than loosing as well.

And for the skill necesarry for Ms Henrys cookbooks I would say, as long as you are able to read, all the recipes are easily achieveable for everyone.

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5 months ago petalpusher

Wambulance? Thank you Chris R.

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5 months ago jenniebgood

Chris - I just followed you because you said one of the funniest things I've heard in a long time. I cannot wait for the opportunity to use "wambulance" in my next conversation about some of my whiny colleagues next week!

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5 months ago Suzanne

I truly don't care who won, but I thought this was the most disappointing review so far. The review itself was inconsistent, illogical in its evaluation criteria, inaccurate in multiple places, structured confusingly, and poorly edited. Also really pretty useless in terms of actionable info.

A minor, yet ilustrative example: A commenter below relayed the fact that "Every British supermarket tells you the breed of chicken right on the carton, and they are many and varied." Which perhaps shows that the reviewer's snarky comment about "knowing your hens’ species is nice work if you can afford it" says more about her own lack of cultural awareness than it does about the cost of factual information. Too bad she evidently wasn't able to afford a little more of the latter herself.

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5 months ago Darcie B

From the outset, this review rubbed me the wrong way, but it took a bit for me to realize why. At first, I thought it was a generational thing – the author appears to be about 20 years my junior, and as a frequently crabby peri-menopausal woman I thought I was merely having a “kids these days” moment. But upon further reflection, I think the review reflects the author’s lack of knowledge of the world beyond the confines of New York City weirdly coupled with a populist affectation.
In the beginning of her often supercilious review, Killingsworth says that Simple has a “just-so vibe that just screams “farmhouse with no electricity,” and the latter [My Two Souths] says it quite literally in its subtitle: Blending the flavors of India into a southern kitchen.” What is “quite literally” supposed to mean? That all kitchens in the South are rural and rustic? Gomez lives in Atlanta, which is in the top 10 metro population areas in the US! It appears that Killingsworth holds an ill-formed view about both the South and suburban areas. This conceit is sprinkled throughout the review with comments like stand mixers being “a suburban indulgence”.
This apparent belief that anyone living outside the city is beating rocks together in a candlelit cabin is absurdly juxtaposed with a populist attitude. Killingsworth knocks Henry by chastising her for knowing the breed of her chickens, by saying the recipes are “show-off” home cooking, and by taking a subtle dig with the substitution of “plain old green broccoli” for sprouting broccoli. She thinks sprouting broccoli is a bridge too far yet she believes curry leaves are accessible, a baffling contradiction. She also falsely asserts that Henry’s recipes have “on average have twice as many ingredients than Gomez’s.” I looked through the ingredient lists for 10 random recipes from each book (using Eat Your Books, which excludes common pantry ingredients like salt), and Henry’s recipes averaged 7.18 ingredients to Gomez’s 7.36. It feels like Killingsworth just didn’t like the title of Henry’s book and therefore strained to portray Henry as effete and pretentious. The alternate theory is that Killingsworth suffers from guilt about her own urban, apparently upper-middle-class position. Either way, the review is callous and condescending.
I haven’t cooked recipes by either author so I came to this review without any preconceived notions, but the review directly contradicted what little I know about Henry through articles I’ve read. If I based my opinion of her from this review, I do not think it would be accurate. The review did, however, make me happy that I recently purchased of four of Henry’s books at a secondhand shop. I look forward to making unapologetically English food with my comically tiny version of an industrial-size dough mixer.

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5 months ago Dana V

And I would happily run through a fregola-sized hailstorm to sit at your table, Darcie B! (If I can be so bold as to invite myself over :)

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5 months ago Darcie B

The more, the merrier!

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5 months ago Diana Henry

Diana is a British food writer and columnist, and the author of ten books, including the James Beard Award-winning ‘A Bird in the Hand’. She gathers inspiration from all over the world and loves home cooking more than any other kind.

I'm coming too! Thank you, Darcie B, both for your comments and your astuteness (though never describe yourself as 'crabby peri-menopausal' - we're just all getting wiser as time goes on...not crabbier)

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5 months ago Darcie B

Duly noted. Some days I feel much wiser than others!

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5 months ago Diana Henry

Diana is a British food writer and columnist, and the author of ten books, including the James Beard Award-winning ‘A Bird in the Hand’. She gathers inspiration from all over the world and loves home cooking more than any other kind.

Well, you're on form today! ;)

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5 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Darcie, I could not have said it better myself. I've been thinking about this one for a few days; you've captured so much of what's been spinning through my mind. I've concluded that, sadly, I learned more about the reviewer than I did about the books. I think I'll just leave it at that.
I've been an admirer of Ms. Henry and an avid user of her recipes for years. "Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons" is one of my favorite cookbooks -- though it's so much more than a cookbook -- ever. Read it and see for yourself. I bought "A Bird in the Hand" when it was a Piglet contender; I recommend it not just for the recipes, but for the possibilities it offers. Nearly all of the (generally easy) components in Ms. Henry's recipes work brilliantly when adapted for other dishes. In her writing and her cooking, I feel like I've found a kindred spirit.
And Darcie B, I like the cut of your jib!
Cheers, and Happy Friday, everyone. ;o)

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5 months ago Elissa Altman

Shove over, ladies: I'm bringing the wine.

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5 months ago Shem Aronofsky

So interesting. I started reading this review and was perplexed over a kitchen aid being a "suburban indulgence" but she has an ice cream maker??? This idea got stuck in my teeth and I couldn't let it go. Then I kept reading.

The tone got snarky. I felt like she really took a turn into the nasty when she hammered Henry for knowing the breeds of chickens her eggs come from but what really sent me over the edge was the "show-off home cooking". Talking about that friend how actually uses kohlrabi and tamarind paste.

I love to cook. I have cooked and baked for decades. I have lived in apartments and I know live in a spacious farmhouse (it has electricity, btw) and no matter where I was I had a well stocked kitchen. Now in my farm house I have a large walk in pantry and yes, I have pickled my kohlrabi from my garden and there is tamarind paste in my pantry. I blog about my cooking adventures and have suffered a lot of ridicule for "showing off". I can say first hand that it has nothing to do with showing off. It has EVERYTHING to do with enjoying to share my passion and discovery. Heck if I can encourage someone to try something new great!

Was so offended by the second half of this review I had to skim read the rest of it. I wasn't going to comment because I knew I would rant. Then I got to the comments and saw the greater majority share many of my thoughts.

It's one thing to not be a accomplished cook and be asked to review cookbooks for Piglet. It's another thing entirely to obviously dis on those who love to cook and seek out great ingredients. I sincerely hope this reviewer is not asked back for future Piglet contests.

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6 months ago Sarah

This piglet review has been bothering me all day. I've come back to it several times to read the comments (yes, yes, I know, no life, etc). I haven't cooked from either book, but this review really rubbed me the wrong way. "Henry has thought of everything, almost to a fault." Where's the fault? The reviewer doesn't specify. The comment about curry leaves being easy enough to find in New York, but miso and kohlrabi being "show-offy" is absurd -- I've lived in multiple major cities and curry leaves are one of the FEW ingredients that I frequently do have trouble finding unless I can make my way specifically to an Indian grocery, which in both DC and Chicago is quite the trek. I can get miso at any local grocery store. And then all of this subtle snark about the purple broccoli with suggested substitutions of broccolini or cauliflower -- a vegetable which is easily as accessible as broccoli but apparently flummoxed Killingsworth? I just don't get it.

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6 months ago Inko

I love the Piglet and look forward to reading the reviews every day. There have been reviews before that I quibbled with (not enough recipe testing etc.) but this was the first one that I didn't even want to finish reading. It was unkind. I didn't have a horse in the race - both of the books look interesting to me and I would have been happy for either to win. But I agree with many other commenters that the review was mean spirited and poorly written.

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6 months ago Diana Henry

Diana is a British food writer and columnist, and the author of ten books, including the James Beard Award-winning ‘A Bird in the Hand’. She gathers inspiration from all over the world and loves home cooking more than any other kind.

Thank you Kathryn, jy2nd, mrs.butter and healthier kitchen,
You have all been very kind to write (and very empathetic too). I am - honestly - very happy for My Two Souths to go through. It is a great book - I was given it as a gift the last time I was in New York - and it has more of a story than Simple does. It is unusual and original. I do, however, think the review is mean-spirited in the extreme and, as has been pointed out, just plain inaccurate. But that generally says more about a reviewer than it does about the subject under review. Congrats to Asha. And a cheer for decency, in whatever we write and whatever we do.

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6 months ago shrnngnt

I never used to understand how people got so upset over Piglet reviews... until I read this one. It was ridiculously, needlessly harsh. Your book is beautiful, and I know I'll use it often.

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6 months ago Katie Heathershaw

Diana I have so many cookbooks I had forbidden myself from buying more, then discovered the Piglet, and Simple in the round 1. It looked right up my street and I had to buy it! It is a wonderful book and littered with sticky notes marking dishes that are in our future! We have already enjoyed the Avocado and Salmon tartar on toast, and last night's dinner triumph was Korean Gochujang chicken with pickled cucumber. So delicious. I don't find the ingredients to be fussy at all-part of my normal store cupboard here in Multicultural Melbourne! Your style of cooking is also very suited to exactly what I love to cook and eat so thank you for that, your beautiful book, and your gracious responses to the review.

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6 months ago Megan

Simple is the first book of yours that I have cooked from and I will buying more! I love that you waded into the comment section and have enjoyed reading your exchanges with others here. Thank you for your wonderful recipes & your lovely book!

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6 months ago Melina

I love A Change of Appetite, it came to me just as we were trying to change our diets. I've read your comments here on Food52 and you are always so generous to others; however, this comment is so gracious and classy! Thank you for your wonderful recipes and for being so kind and elegant.

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5 months ago ChefJune

Diana, I am not familiar with either your book or "My Two Souths," but I was appalled at the turn of tone when the reviewer got to your book. I'm a cookbook author, and I know how I'd feel if someone took that kind of diss to my book. However, her comments made me want to read and cook from your book. I love that you know what kind of hens your eggs come from. I'm with you!

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6 months ago Kathryn

After looking through Simple it was littered with sticky notes- I live in the South and after going through my two Souths there were a few things I thought looked interesting but it was certainly not as exciting or full of stickies as Simple. I and by partner work 70 h weeks and we don't find Diana's recipes trying or to hard to execute- everything can be found in the local Food Lion and if you cook a variety of cuisines I expect you to have most ingredients for these two books. We are also vegetarian and still bought Simple after our library test run because there is so much excellent vege fare in there!

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6 months ago jy2nd

As someone who owns over 300 cookbooks I don't buy easily now -- I usually "preview" a new book via the library. On checking out Simple I started tagging recipes that I would like to make. When I realized that I had 38 sticky flags after just one go through -- things I really will make -- I bought the book. There is nothing fussy about this cooking. I cannot believe someone who is going to edit a series on American food writing complaining about cutting up carrots. Get a cheap mandoline - it's a basic tool (she considers a Vitamin a cooking tool after all) and will do the job in seconds. Cutting ingredients properly is necessary to them cooking properly and to the appearance of the dish. And to characterize the use of pomegranate molasses and miso as "show-off cooking" is beyond belief coming from a Food 52 contributor. I live in the western part of Michigan and can get these two items at my local Meijer supermarket (not a font of exotica). The egg donburi can be accomplished with two pans -- one for the rice and one for the rest. What, pray tell, is so daunting about setting some rice to cook and meanwhile cutting up some avocado and onion, poaching or steaming some fish and scrambling an egg. I plan to use my rice cooker and my small cast iron skillet for all the rest. Eggs are comfort food and this sounds particularly lovely. I do wish I had access to some of the fish that she does, but there's some intriguing salmon and cod recipes. And I confess I hate peas (which Henry seems to love), but they could be left out of almost any of the recipes where they appear. Her writing and recipes remind me of Nigel Slater's work and that's a real compliment. I will be enjoying this book for a long time.

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6 months ago Kathryn

I have to say I agree. I preview books at the library and Simple was littered with sticky notes after perusing it - I and by partner work 70 h weeks and we don't Find Diana's recipes trying or to hard to execute- We are also vegetarian and still bought Simple because there is so much excellent vege fare in to

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6 months ago healthierkitchen

I am usually not one to think that people should necessarily be "nice" when writing these, and I have laughed at past reviews that others have called mean spirited, but I will agree here, with those that think this review is heavy handed. Of course there's got to be a "winner" here, as it's a contest. But this sentence particularly seemed unnecessarily sharp, and perhaps a little too clever for a supportive cooking community such as this: "This is not home cooking as I’ve ever experienced it, but a certain kind of show-off home cooking—everyone has that one friend who actually uses kohlrabi and tamarind paste at home, but I am not that friend." While obviously an author has to have a thick skin, I think this one sentence takes the review into a different territory with what feels like an ad hominem attack on the author. Ms. Killingworth could have more gracefully written this decision - she does know Ms Henry is Irish and lives in UK right? Whatever we feel about colonialism and appropriation, the pantry there is an International one and Ms Henry has been writing cookbooks using a broad range of ingredients for at least a decade. I have to wonder, given the tone of the review, if there is a subtext to why she so viscerally dislikes Simple.

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6 months ago Kathryn

I think tamarind paste is pretty mainstream if you do any SE Asian cooking - I was similarly perplexed

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6 months ago mungo

This might rival Gabrielle Hamilton's ridiculous takedown of Dorie Greenspan as my least favourite Piglet review of all time. I don't have either Simple or My Two Souths, but this review is just silly. You can't judge if a dressing recipe is sweet without actually making it. A bit of sugar or honey often just rounds out the acidic flavours in a dressing and helps it emulsify. And, seriously, someone who considers a Vitamix a cooking tool, but a KitchenAid extraneous? What?

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6 months ago Diana Henry

Diana is a British food writer and columnist, and the author of ten books, including the James Beard Award-winning ‘A Bird in the Hand’. She gathers inspiration from all over the world and loves home cooking more than any other kind.

I am reluctant to echo Meatloaf but - really - 'you took the words right out of my mouth'

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6 months ago Kathryn

I am quite shocked by this reviewers attitude Diana. I preview books at the library and Simple was littered with sticky notes after perusing it. We are expats living in the South and I was a bit meh about my two souths but there are some interesting recipes in there that prove to be delicious. This reviewers attitude is such a disappointment. I and by partner work 70 h weeks and we don't find your recipes trying or to hard to execute- We are also vegetarian and still ultimately bought Simple because there is so much excellent vege fare in there too. I think Simple is a fabulous book we will cook from often. Thank you Diana for writing such a lovely book- in my book you're a winner

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6 months ago mrs.butter

Killingsworth says she can't find any vegetable dish she wants to make because "nearly every dish has a cream sauce, like roast potatoes with watercress and garlic cream, or roasted eggplants with tomatoes and saffron cream." Not true! I went back and counted 22 recipes in the Vegetable section, exactly three of which include a cream sauce. Seriously, 3 out of 22 recipes does not come close to "nearly every dish." WTF?! And for the record, I am an unapologetic lover of cream, and am happy for those dishes included in Simple. This weekend, I made the Pates a la Cevenole - like an exotic macaroni and cheese made with mushrooms, chestnuts and gruyere - and it was fantastic. It was a breeze to put together but came out tasting like something you'd have to book a ski vacation in the Alps to taste. My teenagers and my husband could not stop raving about it.

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6 months ago shrnngnt

I completely agree! This was a horrible review that was both mean-spirited and inaccurate. Nearly every dish has a cream sauce? Um... no. Even going through the entire book, I found maybe five recipes that had anything close to a cream sauce. A tablespoon of cream or scoop of yogurt is not the same thing as a cream sauce. The review also makes it sound like most of the recipes are lifted from another source. I counted 15 recipes that were either a modification of another recipe or an attempt to recreate a dish Ms. Henry had at a restaurant. It seems as though the author went out of her way to give credit where it is due and then got slammed for it by the reviewer. I know that the Piglet is meant to be a conversation and not a competition, but having an honest and accurate conversation would be nice. It's not that I object to the winner, but I do object to the alternative facts. I've never met an Indian cookbook that I wasn't willing to bring home and jam into my sagging bookshelves, but I came out of reading this significantly less inclined to buy My Two Souths. If I can look at one book and see that the reviewer's negative comments are way off the mark, then why on Earth would I trust her positive estimation of the other book?

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6 months ago Diana Henry

Diana is a British food writer and columnist, and the author of ten books, including the James Beard Award-winning ‘A Bird in the Hand’. She gathers inspiration from all over the world and loves home cooking more than any other kind.

Thank you, shrnngnt, that is EXACTLY what I try to do! (Give credit where it's due). Too many food writers pretend that things were just plucked from their own heads - I do originate ideas, but I also think that food writers are collectors and curators of recipes (as Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David were). And part of the interest is where a dish comes from, what inspired you, where you ate, or who gave you a recipe. I absolutely believe in crediting both sources and the inspiration for a dish. I travel a lot, I eat out a lot, I have friends who are chefs or great cooks - it all goes into the pot, so to speak, and to me that is one of the joys of both cooking and eating.

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6 months ago shrnngnt

I do think almost anyone reading your books can see that. It's unfortunate that you ended up with a reviewer that couldn't. Although, as you mentioned earlier, that says more about the reviewer than it does about your book.

Oh, and a few more things... Since when is "It tastes like a garden." a BAD thing? And why knock someone from the UK for sounding like they're, you know, from the UK? And what's with saying that a recipe from one book needed a creamy sauce but complaining about the other book's creamy sauces... Blergh. This review bugs me.

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5 months ago Elissa Altman

Amen Diana.

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6 months ago Sonnenstern

I really didn't like the mood this review carries. Me as a home cook do like, even sometimes during the week, some fussing in the kitchen. Not to show off, just because I love to cook and the (oftentimes meditative) way of making something really delicious after a stressful day. I enjoyed reading the Piglet critics so far, both from experienced and once in a while cooks. But reading a review from a person who one could think despises cooking? Very disappointing.

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