Thursday, May 10, 2012

Our Favorite Cookbooks

Good evening everyone! We’ve been trumpeting our support of Jamie Oliver and his Food Revolution initiative all week long (partially to help raise awareness for the upcoming Food Revolution Day on May 19th, partially because we feel it’s a great cause). The most basic principle that Jamie’s Food Revolution is built on is teaching others to cook their own healthy meals at home.

On the surface, that seems utterly simple right? Sure, just pick up a cookbook and follow along at home. I know from experience that even if the mindset is in the proper place, it can be hard to find the right place to start. Maggie and I were there two years ago. We had made the decision to begin cooking for ourselves and eating healthy, but how do we go about STARTING on that path?

Through some trial and error, Maggie and I made our way from novice chefs to cooking enthusiasts who have no qualms about going “off the grid” (I.E. without a recipe) and making our own dishes. Tonight, we’re going to provide a few helpful hints for those of you who are looking to start your own cook-at-home movement. We’ll give you some starting cookbooks and some recommendations for the ‘next steps’ to take as you gain more experience. Hopefully it will help some of you gain the ambition to cook at home. If you’ve already found that ambition (hooray) maybe it will give you a new cookbook idea or two. Let’s get started:

First Steps:

When you’re new to hobby or craft, you want something that will ease you into the field. There are a multitude of books for any hobby that act as “entry points” for whatever passion you’re trying to pursue. Cooking is a little harder to find an entry point. Obviously you don’t need instructions to make grilled cheese (let’s hope not) but you don’t want to cut your chops on “Coq au vin” either.

That’s where this cookbook comes in:

We’ve championed Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution cookbook on this blog countless times for good reason. Jamie’s approach to his recipes is that cooking should be fun and relaxed. He shies away from a lot of the technical cooking terms and breaks things down to easy to understand steps. His recipes are simple in premise and are fairly easy to execute. You won’t need fancy equipment or a $100 skillet to recreate the dishes you see on each page. Best of all, each recipe is actually delicious – making the learning process even more rewarding.

Each recipe (even desert) is composed with healthy eating in mind. Once you start trying Jamie’s recipes, you’ll quickly lose any notion you may have had that healthy eating has to taste a certain way.

I picked up Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution cookbook with little more knowledge beyond the ability to mix box pancakes and boil water. Through simple practice and repetition, I developed confidence in my cooking ability and began to learn how certain flavors blend and how ingredients interact. Yes, there were failures and sometimes the end result looked nothing like the original picture, but I was learning. If you’re looking for an easy entry point into the world of healthy cooking, you can’t go wrong with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

Stage Two

Alright, let’s say you’ve cooked your way from cover to cover of the Food Revolution book. You’ve mastered each dish and you’re looking to expand your horizons – where do you turn now?

We’d recommend the Complete America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook (2012 Edition). This food bible has every single recipe that the master chefs at America’s Test Kitchen have made on the TV…Ever. You read that right, a decade’s worth of cooking in one book.

The recipes in this book are much more complex, which is what prevents it from being a great starter book. However, there are a multitude of techniques and concepts here that a novice chef will love being exposed to. You’ll learn everything from brining to braising, from best butcher cuts to prepping a mango – for the at home cook that knows the basics but wants to further that ability to something more, this is the book for you.

The best part of this cookbook is the success rate. These recipes are tested countless times by professional cooks. They fine tune each dish until it is the most efficient and delicious result that they can achieve. Essentially, as long as you follow along with the instructions, you will not create a bad recipe.

Getting Good At This:

You’ve mastered the art of brining. You automatically create a mirepoix before starting any soup or stew. You can craft any variant of rue necessary and could trim a pineapple with minimal effort. You now could classify yourself as an “at home chef” and not feel silly saying it. You’re good at this, so good that you’re starting to invent your own recipes. Where do you go from here?

The next book we’d recommend is The Flavor Bible. This unassuming little book will become your best friend when you start creating your own dishes. If it’s a flavor, this bible has it and will tell you what other flavors pair well with it as well as which ones merely coexist and which combinations to avoid.

This book allows those crazy concepts to turn into tasty reality, while keeping you from mixing ingredients that sound great in your head – but turn out to clash worse than polka dots and stripes. (I’ve been told these clash, I’m no fashionista – so if polka dots with stripes are ‘in’ this year, forgive me).
It’s not a cookbook and there are no techniques or tips amongst its pages. It’s simply a guide showing you which flavors truly get along.

Master Chef:

You’ve read and mastered everything above, including an assortment of other cookbooks. Friends and family ask you for advice on what food groups to pair and you’re expected to be making the main dish at the next company get-together. For all intents and purposes, you’re a chef. Amateur chef, hobby chef – the title doesn’t matter – all that matters is that when it comes to cooking, you’re the go-to person.

So, if you’ve mastered everything and feel comfortable, there’s clearly nothing more to read, right? Wrong – you can always learn new techniques and find new and exciting recipes. If you find yourself longing for more information – the definitive place to turn as an experienced chef is to this book:

The Professional Chef. The Professional Chef is actually a textbook produced by The Culinary Institute of America. It’s fairly technical, really heft (10 pounds easily) and is not exactly cheap ($40-$100) but it is the be-all, end-all of culinary references.

This book has everything you could ever possibility need. Shopping for an obscure mango? This book has a shopping guide, uses and instructions on how to prepare said mango. It also has cutting techniques, cooking techniques, preparation techniques and – oh yeah – recipes.

This book is built to educate those going into the culinary world as a profession and it assumes you have a basic (if not moderate) understanding of cooking and the culinary world already. (Thus making it an advanced book) However, if you feel comfortable taking on any kitchen task, this behemoth of a book will be a great kitchen aide for many years to come.

These were obviously just a few of the many opportunities available to you as you begin cooking at home or look for ways to expand your horizons. By all means, don’t feel like you have to go out and buy these certain books or even follow this path. This was simply the path we seemed to take over the past two years. All four above listed books are great references and aides for that at home chef of every ability level. Here’s hoping that one of these books sparks a passion, gives you a new idea or just allows you to learn something new.

That’s all we have for you this week. We’re back on Monday with another trip Around The Culinary World, followed by another full week of recipes. Until Monday,


No comments:

Post a Comment