Monday, January 26, 2009

The Cook's Book

A Million years ago, my mother hired a professional to paint and paper our kitchen...my father had many wonderful qualities...home repair and renovation - not high on the list. I was 16 and, after watching him do his magic, I decided to paper one straight wall in my bedroom. After all, he made it look so effortless. Right! Well...after many hours, lots of sweating and grunting - think Lucille Ball - and voila!... a less than perfect job (bubbles under the paper, pleats, glue on the outside, patterns not lined up). I came to the conclusion that he made it look effortless because he had been trained and had doing it for years.

I often find the same is true when watching some chef on TV, or read a book written by a trained chef. Everything looks easy, until you get into the kitchen. Now the problem is solved. Whether you've just started cooking or you've been doing it for years, there are things we don't know.

The Cook's Book is brilliant. It's edited by Jill Norman (she also edited Herbs & Spices that I love) who got together some very famous professional chefs like Charlie Trotter, Michael Romano, Dan Lepard, Ken Hom and other experts with impressive resumes.

Frankly, I don't know how to begin telling you how fantastic this book is, so I'll just jump in and share some of the random things I learned by quickly flipping through the book.

Did you know that when storing vegetables (there's an entire page):
  • you should keep greens and other delicate vegetables away from tomatoes which release ethylene gas that causes green vegetables to wilt;

  • potatoes should not be kept in the fridge because the cold temperature will break down their texture and flavor.
Any idea what "tourner" means? It's also called turning and is common preparation technique for preparing root and tubor vegetables like carrots, turnips and potatoes. The vegetables are shaved into classic seven sided oval shapes (you know that they say..."a picture is worth a 1000 words - well 3 pictures tells this story best).

The vegetable section (put together by Charlie Trotter with a great intro) walks you through trimming, washing & drying and cutting vegetables of every shape and size, hearty and delicate. The chapter then moves on to different vegetable families and how to deal with them from cleaning, to storing and preparing - gourds (summer & winter squashes - really need different handling; roots and tubers; shoots & stalks like artichokes and asparagus (two of my favorite veggies and now I know how to prepare them like a pro); pods & seeds; mushrooms and fruit vegetables (like avocados).

There are charts for each section - how to store, temperatures & ways to cook everything in that section. It goes without saying that there are some awesome recipes too. Seriously, I can't wait to try the Summer Fruit Tabbouleh recipe (page 323) when the weather warms up. It's in the Grains & Beans section- 20 pages of tips, techniques and recipes (all with photos to help you).

For the adventurous and world travellers (at least in the kitchen) there are great sections on Indian, Thai, and Chinese cooking; an entire section on pasta and dumplings from around the world. Don't even get me started on fish, meat or baking. All those hard to explain instructions are accompanied by great photos.

Know the difference between braising & stewing? roasting & baking? Want to learn how to really impress everyone with your carving skills? Preparing and cooking fish and seafood a mystery? Now they don't have to be. I know I'll be using this book often, both as a great resource...and to whip up the mouth-watering dishes as well.

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