I love to read. And when I read it’s not for the purpose of escape as much as enjoyment. A well crafted sentence or phrase can send me reeling into near ecstasy. When I read such a phrase I have to write it in my journal. Sometimes I’ll memorize a good line. But more times than not I’ll just smile and wait for the next gift in my reading time. That being said, I read just about anything. I’m not one to linger too long in one genre, though I do fall back to spirituality as the default of my life. Just about everything in my life points me to the spiritual connections we all have. Food is no exception. And it goes without saying that I read cookbooks the way most people read a novel.
These days food has become quite the hot topic and cookbook writers and publishers are paying attention. The dry list of ingredients have given way to sassy commentary (see the Veganomicon) and some cookbooks are actually stories with recipes included (see The Language of Baklava). The limits are being tested all the time and I’m enjoying the show.
I have a my fair share of cookbooks. I use every one of them and I read each and every one of them, not from cover to cover, but with a certain idea in mind. And so it is that I find cookbooks a constraint on my creativity and my dietary needs. Lately I need to cook without dairy. I also have an eye on keeping my cholesterol down, so eggs are on my list of items to experiment without. But unless I buy a specialty cookbook (and I have some good vegetarian/vegan ones) there’s not much wiggle room from the standard general cookbook. But I’ve found a book that is a key to my understanding of cooking and baking.
Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio holds the key to my challenges. A grand proclamation since I haven’t read the book yet but I do own it now. I was walking to work this week and listening to another podcast and there was Mr. Ruhlman talking about the structure of cooking. Ratios. He suggests that we spend too much time with out heads buried in cookbooks that we are missing the essence of the experience. And I’ve been guilty of burying my head in a cookbook. Didn’t I just confess that above?
Once, I was invited to dinner and I insisted on bringing a dish to add to the menu. A Mexican feast. The hostess asked me to make Spanish Rice. No problem! I got out one of my cookbooks (Moosewood) and found a decent, healthy version. But I was NOT paying attention to the food. Just the book. I was literally on autopilot. What I didn’t realize was that the page has flipped forward to a different recipe and I showed up with a broccoli cheese casserole! I was embarrassed, they laughed and I learned a valuable lesson in paying attention. That was nearly 30 years ago. These days I improvise with my food on a regular basis. Sometimes with wondrous results. A few bombs have resulted. But I never really thought about the structure of how foods come together in my kitchen. But this book, by its title alone, has opened my eyes to what I have been missing.
To make bread dough you need 5 parts flour: 3 parts water (plus yeast and salt)…. 5:3! That means I can make a bread dough recipe to any size I like and not feel restricted by the need for 4 1/2 cups…
Pancakes: 2 parts flour: 2 parts liquid: 1 part egg : 1/2 part butter…
Stock= 3 parts water : 2 parts bones…
Is your brain whirring right now? Are the pieces falling into place?
I love On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, and Alton Brown makes me giddy with the science of cooking. And NOW Michael Ruhlman has given me the key!
I’ve waiting for so long for this! Heaven must be just around the corner. (Ask me what’s for dinner and you’ll know!)