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Texas Book Festival 2017: Meat and Veggies - Gail Simmons and Mark Bittman

Gail Simmons

The popular Top Chef judge had been contemplating a cookbook for several years, but it took a trip to Singapore during the filming of season seven to convince her that it was finally time to share her wealth of recipes with the public.

"I did this incredible food tour of about 16 or 17 different Singapore street food stalls one day," Simmons recalls. "And there was this one dish with hokkien noodles that captivated me. I couldn't get it out of my head, but when I came home to New York I couldn't find it. I realized the only way to eat this dish and curb the craving was to figure out how to make it myself."

That's exactly what she did. Her first order of business was resolving how best to take the original recipe and simplify it so that it made sense for an American kitchen while still maintaining the authentic flavors.

"The biggest hurdle with that recipe was an Asian citrus fruit called calamondin," she says. "You can't buy it in the States fresh because of FDA laws." In order to make the dish legally, but still true to the original flavor, Simmons did some tinkering and found that a mix of lime and orange juice did the trick.

"It was with that dish that I realized, I'm doing this all the time with all different foods and recipes. I want to share it," she says. "That moment when I figured out the hokkien noodle dish gave me confidence in my own recipes."

In Bringing It Home, Simmons shares 100 original dishes that she cultivated from her travels across the globe. While ingredients for the Singapore-style hokkien noodles and the Vietnamese omelet with shrimp and fried scallops might seem intimidating, each of the book's recipes is clear-cut and leaves little guess work for even the most novice chef.

"If you take the time to read through each recipe before you start and are prepared and focused, then any dish in the book is doable, no matter what level you're at," Simmons says.

The hokkien noodles and the Vietnamese omelet are among the book's many recipes that are accompanied by a beautiful photo of the finished dish. "Pictures guide the reader while they are cooking as to how the finished dish should look," Simmons says. "They also make it appealing, so the reader wants to make it again and again.

Mark Bittman

Bright, full-color photographs are a new addition to Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition.

"There was clearly an audience that we were missing with the first edition and that's people who want their cookbooks to be beautiful," Bittman says. "So we took a look at the original book and thought, ˇ®We could do a great job by scaling back a little of the comprehensiveness and adding what amounts to beauty.' "

In addition to pictures, the cookbook features updated recipes that include less eggs, cheese, and other dairy and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

"When we set out to do the original, I said, ˇ®I don't want to do the Moosewood Cookbook for the 21st century," Bittman explains. "Not that I don't love the Moosewood Cookbook. I grew up with it, but what Moosewood did, among other things, was take meat out of recipes, and put in eggs, cheese, and dairy. I didn't want to do that. But then, a year or two after that book came out, I looked at it and I thought, that's exactly what we did! This book has way too much eggs and dairy in it."

Not to worry. Eggs and cheese are still a part of the new edition. So are recipes for smoothies, veggie burgers, pancakes, and every kind of tofu you could imagine, including fried tofu wontons with chives.

"I'm not advocating a 100% plant-based diet," says Bittman, who is vegan up until 6 p.m. every day. "I'm just saying, people should all be eating more plant-based food. I'm not saying, don't eat meat, I'm not saying, don't eat animal products. I'm just saying, eat less, eat better."

Equipped with the recipes from both Bittman's and Simmons's new books, eating better shouldn't be too difficult. But eating less? That might be impossible.

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