Sunday, January 31, 2010

Understanding food

Nice column in the Oregonian about the gradual dumbing down of cookbooks. Here is an excerpt:

Bonnie Slotnick, a woman who owns a rare cookbook shop in Greenwich Village, was quoted in an article about the uptick in culinary cluelessness, saying:

"Thirty years ago, a recipe would say, 'Add two eggs.' In the '80s, that was changed to 'beat two eggs until lightly mixed.' By the '90s, you had to write 'in a small bowl, using a fork, beat two eggs.' We joke that the next step will be: 'Using your right hand, pick up a fork and. ...'"

The solution in the course is to bring Home Ec classes back to the schools. I think there is something to this. I certainly well educated by most standards but I can be flummoxed by some recipes. I just lack the education. The clear, educational cookbooks of Mark Bittman and those from the people at Cooks Illustrated, but I lack a certain foundation.

Thanks to the kindness of Neill, I now have a book I will be reading for a long, long time, Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. This book explains the history of food as well as the science. You see, for example, where cheese comes from, how it is made and how it develops. This helps you understand how to better use it as well as how it might react when you cook it. This isn't the kind of book you sit down and read, instead you turn to it time and time again as you build your understanding of how to use food and to cook. There are a few books you keep for your lifetime, not for nostalgia or for their looks, but because you can use them, this is one.


HLK said...

I, too, was a benficiary of the NBK. What a great book. I love a book that you can pick up, open to a random page, and dig in. It is absolutely fascinating to read about the chemical reactions, the reasons food tastes how they do, the reason some things mix and others don't - reminds you that science is all around and actually practical. It also gives you a new appreciation for the unbelivable [insert your choice: miracle/coincidence/evolutionary wonder/intelligent design] that is our planet and its species.

Tripp said...

Exactly so HLK.

I went to a chocolate festival this weekend and I was thinking that having this book on a Kindle would be great. Look at some crazy combos (like the almond bacon brittle I saw) and you could get really wise on some flavors right away.

I think one of the best use cases for the Kindle is going to the grocery store with a cookbook up and available. I hate it when I go with a recipe in mind and then realize I am looking at $40 in ingredients for one meal. With the whole cookbook with me, I can switch it up lickety split.

Citizen Reader said...

Hey, however it's working out, I salute you in your endeavors to learn cooking. I agree that the cookbooks of Mark Bittman are a wonderful place to start. Do you have his "How To Cook Everything"? I just got it and am finding it very nice and basic.

And wow, you could handle looking up recipes and using your Kindle in a grocery store? Evidently I am not enough of a multi-tasker. When I am grocery shopping it is all I can do just to make it in and out without killing any of the dopes who park their carts in the middle of the aisles and who stare at the yogurt displays as if it's the most important decision they'll make all year.

Tripp said...


I have Bittman's Vegetarian How to, as my wife rarely eats meat. I should probably get the other one as I would love to see what he has to say about meats.

Now, IF I would have a Kindle and it is a big if as you know my many concerns, this would be my way to do it. I tend to shop at weird hours in a store with really wide aisles. So no worries. When I go to the social/eco market, no way, far too crowded.

And really CR, haven't you ever puzzled over whether to go for the lemon or the pomegranate mango?