Tag Archives: Alton Brown

My Cook Book Dilemma, Or Why Cook Books Make Me a Little Squidgy-Feeling These Days, Part: The Second

6 Aug
cookbooks

I wonder how many basic cook books actually focus on the hows and whys...

So, my best friend that I’ve never met, Linda, left a comment yesterday over on fb.  Here it is:

I love my cookbooks. I read them like novels. A really good cookbook writer brings much more to the party than merely recipes. You can learn the culture of countries, the history of their food and why certain peoples eat certain foods. I adore heirloom recipes and enjoy reading the memories associated with them. Call me sappy – I like knowing that the cake recipe presented was handed down from someone’s grandmother who was conducting a secret love affair with Calvin Coolidge and served him this particular cake post coitus.

As usual, Linda made me laugh and think.

And then, I received a comment on Ye Olde Blogge from Jessica.  Here’s what she said:

If you have any pointers to cookbook titles that actually explain the whys of different ingredients/techniques/etc I would be most obliged if you could share, I’ve been having a hard time finding cookbooks that don’t have exactly the problem you’re describing. And you should definitely consider writing a book! Forget the recipes, I just want a book about cooking techniques, I can find recipes a dime a dozen…

Okay, so here’s the dilemma:  I agree with Linda that cook books are an endless source of culinary and cultural history, but I also agree with Jessica that recipes are a dime a dozen and that basic cook books should focus on the science and process of cooking.

I love to read cook books that focus on a particular state, country or region.  I love to look at the beautiful, full-color photographs and drool and drool.  I own quite a few of those Coffee Table-type cook books, and I’m becoming reacquainted with them now that I’m finally Unpacking.  I’m still looking for the anecdote about the post-coital cake.  I will find it one day–maybe in the First Ladies’ Cook Book

I also have more than my share of basic cook books that cover everything from Soup to Nuts, as it were.  I already railed against BH&G for awhile yesterday for leaving so many questions unanswered.  For keeping us ignorant of the basics of cooking.  Sure, there’s a Glossary of Terms so I can look up sauté, but I can’t find what mirepoix or soffrito is or how to make one and why they are important.  I can look up weep and find out what it means, but it doesn’t tell me why it Happens.  And, get this one:  it tells me that a dash is 1/16 of a teaspoon and I can measure out a dash by filling a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon 1/4 full.  Seriously?!  If I measure any less than that, I might start splitting atoms and cause a Monumental Explosion.

Ahem.  On to Jessica’s question.  She wants to know if there are, indeed, any cook books out there that teach How to Cook as opposed to just What to Cook.  Aside from my as-yet-unwritten book, of course.

The answer is “yes.”  I will only comment on the books that I own, otherwise I’m not Being Fair.  For some great basic cook books that teach the hows and whys, try:

There might be others, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind.

I must be off now to Clean the House.  We are having some friends over for dinner, and I have made a Yummy Vegetabletarian Meal for them.  Because the wife is a Vegetabletarian, and I am nothing if not Accommodating.  Next up, the Mopping of the Floors and the Cleaning of the Bathrooms.  Yay.

You Want Me to Eat What?!

12 Dec
We've trusted him in the past, but fruitcake?!

We've trusted him in the past, but fruitcake?!

My name is Jenni, and I like fruitcake. (“Hi, Jenni!”)  Here’s my story:

Five years ago, the Beloved and I were watching Good Eats on The Food Network.  The Beloved is an AB devotee.  The episode was about fruitcake.  We looked at each other, shrugged, and started to watch.  Yeah, it looked pretty good.  All of a sudden, and quite out of the blue, the Beloved looks at me and says, “I think I’ll make this this year.”  I gaped at him.  “Huh?!”  “Seriously.  It sounds good, and I’m going to make it and give it as presents.”  Wow.  This was new.  Up until then, the Beloved was perfectly content to reap the benefits of my kitchen goings-on.  Who was this man sitting next to me on the futon?!  “But, why fruitcake?!” “It sounds good,” he repeated.

Obviously, what AB proposed was unlike the sticky Claxton bricks that were passed around in my neighborhood.  (The Claxton Co. is in Georgia.  We stopped there once on a back-roads trip up from FL to NC.  They suggested we serve it in very thin slices. Chilled.  ‘Nuff said).  No, he proposed a moist, boozy cake filled with booze-soaked dried fruits and some toasted nuts.  You can see the recipe here.  I will give you a moment to peruse it……………………………..Oh, good.  You’re back.  Wow, that’s a long list of ingredients, huh?!

I want you to know something about my Beloved.  He is an Exacting Man.  It’s endearing and excruciating at the same time.  Me, I just want to judiciously sling some stuff together.   I almost never measure spices, and there he is, counting out allspice berries.  I had to walk away.  The first year he made this cake, he could only find golden raisins and dried cherries in a mix.  He actually separated the two, shooting for exactly 1/2 cup of dried cherries!  Again, I walked away.

He has made this fruitcake five years in a row, now.  People look forward to it.  I even bought stickers that say, “From the kitchen laboratory of The Beloved.  Merry Christmas!”  He makes big ones and small ones.  He wraps them and ships them all over the country.  He starts baking at the end of September.  I’m not kidding.  The longer these things sit around (in our closet in airtight containers), and the more brandy you spray on them, the better they are.

His technique has evolved over the years.  Slowly, he is coming around to my way of thinking:  if the recipe calls for a total of 4 cups of dried fruit, it doesn’t really matter the proportions.  What matters is the flavor profile.  If you don’t like currants, leave them out.  If you like dark, mysterious dried fruit, add some chopped prunes.  This year, he changed up the soaking alcohol for some of the batches.  He also made a few cakes with mostly dried apples and apricots.  He used cinnamon and nutmeg as the spices.  They are da bomb.

We eat any version of this fruitcake toasted in the toaster oven. We smear cream cheese on it.  This is the best way.  I highly recommend it.

One caveat for playing fast and loose with AB’s recipe:  different dried fruits soak up different amounts of liquid.  The aforementioned apples drank the liquid with a straw, so we added a bit more to compensate.  Otherwise, have fun, and don’t be afraid of fruitcake.  Be afraid of bright green chunks of pineapple and abnormally red, translucent cherries, but don’t be afraid of fruitcake.

And that’s my story.  See you for the meeting next week.  There’s coffee and fruitcake in the back.

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