Thursday, July 9, 2009

Notes on Cooking

You'd be hard pressed to find a food related book on my shelves (and there are more than 200) that do NOT have a recipe. Even Ruth Reichl's wonderful books like Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table has some recipes.
So what would someone like me want with Notes on Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft you might wonder. Whether you're an experienced cook or just recently discovered that the kitchen can be more than a fridge and a microwave to heat up those frozen dinners....this is a must have book.

It's filled with fabulous gems of cooking wisdom from Lauren Braun Costello who learned her craft in the kitchens of some of the world's most renowned chefs.

It's a little book...small enough to have a permanent spot on your counter top. In the 135 pages you will find 237 short tips about everything from the obvious to the "wow! I never knew that!" and "so THAT'S why....!"
She has the notes organized by theme that demonstrates real kitchen logic even in the presentation of each gem. I especially love the "flavor Lexicon" at the end of the book. Perhaps now I can use some words other than juicy, delicious and scrumptious when I write about the dishes I create.

I thought I'd share just a few of my favorites...they're all great, so it was hard to choose.

It goes without saying that we all KNOW we should really take time to actually read a recipe through before starting to make it, but, if you're anything like me, you have (on more than one occasion, for me) found yourself halfway through a recipe to discover that the last-minute meal actually requires overnight marinating or some key ingredient you were sure you had...and don't!

The very first chapter in the book is called "Understanding the Recipe" and the first four notes are actually about reading the recipe....
  • 1. really read it with no distractions, making mental inventory of equipment, ingredients and timing;
  • 2. read it again thinking about the finished dish - flavors, aromas, textures;
  • 3. read at least three similar recipes (she gives examples) so you can decide on which way to go; and
  • 4. although you can vary many of the ingredients to your taste, if it's in the title, leave it alone - "Don't make Boeuf Bourguingnon if you don't like beef. See what I mean about obvious? But how often do we do something similar and then are disappointed in the results.
There are chapters on tools & equipment (probably most important of which - cook for the kitchen you're in - life is very different in a tiny apartment kitchen to a state-of-the-art celebrity kitchen), procurement & storage (do not use metal for storage and don't defrost on the counter - she does explain all of her ideas), mise en place (my favorite thing to do...prepare all the ingredients before you actually start to cook - 11 tips in this section alone).

Sections on Building Blocks (12 really interesting notes....did you know that "there is a fixed sequence to sensory experience of consumed food...first food smells and looks. Before the tongue identifies texture, it feels the temperature....") and Temperature are so informative, I hardly know where to start...but my biggest learning from the Temperature section is this - never jump food more than one temperature state at a time! And I'm only at page 44!

Appendixes or appendices (both acceptable ways to spell it, by the way) provide a list of classic combinations - like fresh cherries with basil and black pepper (I'm drooling); cooking essentials; and even a list of books she recommends to continue our education.

I know I'll be reading and rereading this book often. What about you?


Christie's Corner said...

I love this kind of book. Much more useful than some of those "weighty tomes" I have in my library. I'll have to keep my eye open for this one!

Ruth Daniels said...

Definitely worth it. So much insight, packed into such a little book!

C said...

Wow, forget the library, I should be coming to YOUR place for cooking related books!! What a collection! Oh, and thanks for the info on that book!

jonathan said...

Maybe you're just right. A true chef wouldn't recipe, they need the mental of a chef who can make creation that is innovative and original.

♥Deeba @Passionate About Baking♥ said...

My kind of book Ruth. Will be my benchmark when I try to wrie a book myself one day! ♥

Liliana said...

This book will definitely become part of my never ending cookbook collection.

Great review!