Sunday, December 20, 2009
Alison received her first Chef Stripes, and learned that hot ovens need to be respected.
Ellie learned that Baking Soda and Baking Powder are not interchangeable, and we are doing a second batch of cookie dough.
Trish learned that it is OK to dry dishes when the stovetop is on, but don't put plastic things near the back!
I learned that it's better sometimes to just watch Dr. Zhivago . . .
Amy Adams was wonderful in Enchanted, and she's a redhead. I have a thing for redheads. I started to cook because of a redhead.
Jane Lynch? My sister didn't know her. Sorry Yinnie, if you don't know Jane Lynch you are watching the wrong movies. She is great.
Then there is Stanley Tucci. If there is a cook out there who doesn't revere him and Tony Shalhoub for Big Night, I will show them how to break down a carcass on their carcasses.
No, my worry was trying to parallel Julie and Julia with My Life in France. Look, I loved lurking at Julie's blog (I still do) and enjoyed Julie and Julia, but the comparison of the two stories seemed like comparing Mastering the Art of French Cooking to the Rochester Hadassah Cookbook. Both are inportant to my culinary life, but not equal in their impact.
I was wrong.
The movie was delightful, the acting and script. What got to me was the penultimate scene, the one pictured above, where Julie Powell leaves a pound of butter at the Julia's Kitchen display at the Smithsonian. I giggled when I read it. I cried when I watched it.
I suddenly realized what I had missed before in the Julie/Julia story. I remembered the importance of Julia to my cooking, and realized that Julie basically served as a representative of all the lives Julia touched! A pound of butter left on the altar of Saint Julia.
Thank you Julia.
And thank you Julie.
ANDREW Z. GALARNEAU, Food
1. I wish that small-scale farming, animal raising and dairy operations would grow from a niche market to a sizable part of the nation's food system. Making cheese, curing ham and growing vegetables can become lifetime careers for people if there are customers willing to support them. That can only happen if enough shoppers begin to understand the value of variety, flavor and supporting the local economy.
Tastes great, creates jobs, gives everyone more choices. What's not to like?
2. The U.S. government would reorder its approach to federal food spending, cutting down or ending subsidies to politically powerful food-related industries like sugar, corn and corporate farms. Figure out the fairest, most effective way to spend the money on food for the hungry instead; it's a better investment.
3. I wish the City of Buffalo would sink some development money into restaurants that a community needs, instead of those that are politically connected. Like, say, a solid full- service Chinese place with its own roast meat counter, like Greater NY Noodletown on the Bowery, or Congee Queen in North York, Ont. Or how about tax breaks for a fully capable Ethiopian place, or Mexican tacqueria?
I'd add a wish that people would realize that food is not medicine, a lifestyle choice or financial issue. Food is joy, food is family, food is life. And life's to short to eat bad food!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Or not. If you can accomplish a task with one button push rather than two there is a difference.
This is prompted by what I hope will be a lively discussion, between Michael Ruhlman and James Peterson over measuring by weight vs. volume in baking, that started on Facebook. (For the record I am with Peterson on flour (too many variations even with a single brand. It's one of those are where experience is the best measurement) and Ruhlman on just about everything else.) Now I am a big fan of digital scales in the kitchen, but this seemed a good opportunity to tear in to the "tare" debate.
To quote Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Many educated cooks recommending features on a digital scale, including Michael and Alton Brown suggest that you look for a "Tare" or zero function as if they are the same. Michael, who despite what must be an overflowing inbox is unusually gracious in responding to my e-mails, said: "zero function and tare are the same thing no?".
Proof #1: This my scale, a horribly expensive Edlund E-80 I picked up at a restuarant auction for $10 because it had no cord (works well and is quite mobile on a 9 volt battery, or could work on one of those universal cords, but why?). It has both a Tare and a Zero button. Michael's own more affordable scale also has both. Why would a manufacturer give you two buttons that are identical when they can charge you the same but save money on the extra button? We'd never know the difference
Proof #2: They work differently.
The zero is so easy to understand a caveman could do it. Turn scale on. Put container on. Press zero. Scale goes to zero. Add 500g stuff. Press zero. Scale goes to zero. Add 300g stuff. Press zero. Scale goes to zero. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. This is the function useful for the cook.
The tare button has a different, specific task. My Dad's 1941 edition of Webster's defines tare as: "A deduction of weight, made in allowance for the weight of a container or vehicle". Useful for portion control or at the Wegman's Olive bar where the chek'em'out person can correct for the weight of the plastic. But that's not optimal for cooking. Turn scale on. Put container on. Press tare. Scale goes to zero. Add 500g stuff. Press tare Scale goes to . . . combined weight of stuff and container. You basically have turned the tare function off. Press tare a third time and it will re-tare to zero. But that is an extra button push.
Considering that if you boot up with a container on the scale it automatically tares, the tare button is acually redundant. YMMV, but that's what I tell classes.
So is this a difference that makes no difference? Weigh in!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
The dish is basically meat and Sauerkraut. The wurst was from Spar's, as usual. I added some slab bacon (both as lardons and just in hunks), and some Canadian bacon. Somewhere in freezerland is a smoked pork hock that would have enjoyed the company, but I couldn't find them. Oh bother. Some juniper berries and caraway seeds.
The wines were dry Rieslings, both for cooking and quaffing, but not Alsatian though. I am a homer, and used wines from the Finger Lakes
What made this meal special was the company. Our friend Georg was in from Albany and over for supper. Oh, and this was made with my first batch of home-cured sauerkraut, and Choucroute is ALL about the kraut!
Monday, December 7, 2009
Anyone who works in a restaurant deserves respect. It doesn't matter if you are slaving on the line trying to keep your fluid levels up while the instant read on your shoulder reads 14oº, or just trying to get that caked up crud off the silver before it goes back to the front of the house. Chef, line cook, prep cook, salad bitch or dish dog - all are worthy of respect.
There is a special place in the pantheon for the cook who manages to parlay his/her skills in the kitchen "empire". You can lose the quality by spreading youself to thin (see, English, Todd) or simply crash and burn (see, DiSpirito, Rocco). But by doing this you may get an appearance on a television show. Maybe a nationally syndicated one. Fine. You have done your work and made your bones. So don't frak it up by repeating one of the oldest cooking canards around - especially in front of your son. YOUR SON!
Two weeks ago Richard Sandoval , owner of like 14 reastaurants, was on the PBS show Chef's a Field, with his son, spouting the calumny that one sears the meat to seal in the juices. It doesn't work that way!
This is not applying a lit torch to a recently hacked off limb to cauterize the bleeding (I love that scene in The Vikings when Erik frees Ragnar's hands and gives him his sword so he can die fighting as a Viking. Then Aella hacks off the hand that freed Ragnar).
There are just too many signs that this belief is a false assumption - ending in the pool of jus that collects on the cutting board after your perfectly cooked strip steak has rested (you are resting your steaks, arent you?). Sop some of that up with a piece of nice crusty bread and tell me those juices were sealed in!
You don't have to trust me. In the culinary world where opinions are the rule, there is one voice that is pretty universally accepted. The voice is that of Harold McGee. "Searing does not seal in the juices" The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore at page16. Argue with him at your own peril.
Now don't take any of that as meaning you shouldn't get that cast iron skillet smoking hot and flop that slab of beef in it. Plenty of good things happen (see, Reaction, Maillard).
But, when you get yourself on a syndicated TV cooking show, know the basics of our craft.
That means you too, Emeril!
Here endeth the lesson.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The second of my cooking classes consisted of a reading of Skippyjon Jones, Lost in Spice, an examination of foods native to the Americas - especially chillis - and a lesson in the making of Guacamole. (Note to self - add a molcajete to your wish list for demos.)
The kids ate my salsa, but thought the guac looked gross (though they loved it when I faked a sneeze on the towel I had cleaned up the avacado with).
The parents dug right in though!
Friday, November 20, 2009
We cannot resist. Once every 15 years or so, a product arrives too soon, but with promise. The other 14 produce swill. The 09 vintage is less than swill. It is nothing.
The vinegar vat is awaiting, and we are switching to a nice Argentinian Torrentes!
It is the first in a regular series of kids cooking events. Next up is a lesson in Mexican cooking and a reading of Skippyjon Jones, Lost in Spice tomorrow morning.
We will be starting adult classes in January, with a program on Julia and Julia, featuring My Life in France and Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
But, Suzy Q's is damned good for northern Q. I like their attitude (we do it slow, and if we run out we close early). I like the frendliness, and the lack of pretense. Mostly I like the food. Pictured: my pulled pork, Memphis style. Big and stuffed enough to be lunch tomorrow!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
L to R: Astronaut L. Gourdon Cooper, Grandma Gourdon (after my Grandmere) and Chief Engineer Gourdi LaForge, Thunderbird 4 pilot Gourdon Tracy, Charles George "Chinese" Gourdon of Khartoum, and Chef Gourdon Ramsay because he's supposed to be an enourmous schwanzstucker.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The question is: do I scan it and add it to my official cookbook collection?
To market, to market, a gallop a trot . . .I firmly believe that every community deserves a vibrant public market, but with apologies to those who grew up here the Broadway Market isn't it. It hasn't been in the over 30 years I've been aware of it. Whether it ever was as I have been told, or just memories of childhood filtered by the passage of time, I cannot tell. What is certain is that the combination of urban flight and the rise of of the supermarket have combine to eliminate many traditional public markets.
They are not all gone. Cleveland's West Side Market has been around since 1840, and is still going strong. I plan to get there if I am ever in Cleveland when it's neither New Year's nor an event I am cooking for. My favorite, for now, is the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia (Pictured Above). You can get prepared foods here, from Amish to Chinese, and sundries of all types. But, the best stuff is fresh: Meat, Produce, Poultry, and especially the Fish. It is so fresh you can have breakfast mere feet away from a fish counter and smell nothing!
Unfortunately, many places are not so lucky. We cannot even get fish that fresh at local fishmongers.
Still, there is some hope. We do have a variety of smaller farmer's markets in the area. They are only open, at best, a few days a week, but the least of them are worth patronizing.
Our favorite is the North Tonawanda Farmers Market on Robinson Road. It's open Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 7 to 1. Saturdays are the best - the most vendors are there. There is a decent array of seasonal fruits and vegetables at fabulous prices. Do browse before buying as prices vary. The photos at right give you an idea of it.
There is just something missing.
Andrew Galarneau did a nice overview of farmers market's in Western New York by county back in the BuffNews back in June, but the article also highlighted local meat producers/purveyors. We have local eggs and poultry, and plenty of dairy products - cheese, yoghurt and more. If we could find a way to entice these good folks to show up at the farmer's markets, I think I'd be one happy pup!
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
For a couple of years we have been promising the girls a stop at Earl's Drive In on Route 16 in Chaffee, NY. The first time we thought about it was on the way back from our August '08 camping trip to Allegany. But, they had just reopened and were not taking plastic ( the cash was gone after a week of camping). The next time was on the way back from this year's camping trip, but Daddy was seriously under the weather.
So, on Columbus Day, we thought we'd head down that way, check out a sundries store in Machias that Trish had fond memories of. Well, we had to pass Earl's on the way to Machias, and they are closed on Mondays. A curse of the Southtowns. We have run into the same thing with Coyote Cafe and a favorite used book store in Hamburg.
Then we went to the sundries store which now caters to home plumbers and hunters. The fun is gone. We passed several other eateries that would meet our needs - all closed on Monday. We came across a poultry farm on 240 south of OP, but the main store was closed on Monday - though we did score some great locally grown garlic. Eckl's - closed on Monday, too.
But, El Canelo was open, and we enjoyed!
A special thank you to Donna Ruhlman, wife of what's his name. It turns out that the geeks in 16 Candles were right, and "Ohhh, black and white would just capture the moment"! When it comes to food photos!
Sunday, October 11, 2009
The last days of apple season are upon us, cider and jellies and jams are being made, but the pickings are slim in the orchards. The weather of late has been lousy, so we delayed our annual picking session knowing that many of our favorite varieties were pretty much done for the year.Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
- Robert Frost
In an omen of our success, I unearthed a saved copy of my friend Andrew Galarneau's article in the BuffNews about local U-picks. The girls used it to stuff the scarecrows they were making this morning. It didn't matter.
No matter how much we discuss other options, we alwaws end up at Murphy Orchards in Burt. It's a known quantity. They have pigs and goats and cows and ducks and chickens to feed. There are horses at an adjacent farm that love getting fed an apple.
It was actually a stop on the underground railroad.
The Northern Spys were really good, and we even found a few of the last of the Macs. Best of all, Mrs. Murphy herself gave me permission to snag a couple of hunks of fruit wood cuttings for this seasons smoking need. So for dinner, I pan-fried a couple of chops from that wonderful half-pig I bought this fall, with some fresh applesauce - no sugar needed, with some spaghetti squash we bought at the NT farmers market last week.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
If you are bitter at heart, sugar in the mouth will not help you - Yiddish Proverb
I am getting annoyed during my daily cup of Morning Joe, and it's not because Pat Buchanan is yelling way too early in the morning. No it's because of two ads running all the time - Big Food apologist's efforts in one way or another to convince us that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a wonderful thing to load your diet with.
The first commercial is from SweetScam.com, which is in turn one of many scam sites run by the Center for Consumer Freedom which in turn is run by Berman and Company - a PR firm. CCF is sponsored by Big Food, Big Beverage and Big Tobacco, among others. It has taken stands against lowering the blood alcohol content for DWI, against smoking bans in restaurants, and in favor of trans fats and mercury laden fish.
Now these mega-industries have a voice that shoud be heard, but the lady doth protest too much, methinks. It reminds me of Martin Short's character Nathan Thurm with his ash dangling cigarette, or these guys from King Corn.
The first ad features a faux police line-up with a sugar cube, a bear of honey and a corn stalk (representing HFCS). The tag line is that a sugar is a sugar. The problem is that the argument is specious. Yes, for the most part a sugar is a sugar, but that's not the real argument against HFCS. Sure some may misinterpret it, but the real argument is about our total corn policy. We are growing megatons of otherwise inedible corn, paid for by our Federal tax dollars, that make HFCS both ubiquitous and insidious because it's artificially cheap. That is just one issue of a broad topic that has been dealt with by better writers than I, Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle among them.
The second ad comes from a group called Americans Against Food Taxes. It features a middle class lady with two kids. She is driving a Ford Something in good shape. The neighbor's vehicle is in good shape too. In short, a nice middle class, if older, suburb. The punch line is that a penny an ounce pop tax may not matter in Washington, but it does in real America. Lady, if a 35¢ increase in the cost of a 2 liter bottle of pop is gonna have that much impact on your food budget, you shouldn't be buying it anyway. It is a luxury, not a food necessity.
The problem is that the other side is also disingenuous. If taxing pop and juice drinks is a way to raise revenue, deal with it as that. If, however, it is trying to improve health, picking on those two is not enough. There are sugars everywhere. Start by eliminating corn subsidies, and make healthier stuff more available. Then we may be able to spend less on medicines to treat the result illness.
How about a "Dumb Choices" label.
OK, I am out of big "ous" words. It's just food for thought!
Nothing like trying to get your kids to eat good food, especially when you have one who won't eat the crust of crappy bread - the only bread she eats - unless it's toasted. But she will eat lox and an everyting bagel on Sundays.
I have no answers, and I am not sure there are any, but keep exposing your kids to good food and please don't treat food like medicine! YMMV
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Thank you for your thoughtful, if terse, compliment on my first submission in you BLT contest. I'd refer to it here to refresh my reader's memories, but in a senior moment I overwrote the original post. But in pictures it still lives! That vile concoction of pre-cooked bacon, bagged iceberg, pink imported tomato, and Miracle Whip. Served with Lays Stax™ potato "crips" and Vlasic® "Kosher Dill" spears it was a delight only the American palate could appreciate! You can see a slideshow by clicking the photo at right.
Here is the real submission, and like every assignment from grade school through law school, I am cramming at the last minute!:
The Bacon: When you announced the contest, I saw everyone reaching for belly - whether from Niman Ranch or the local market. I wanted to do something different, and after briefly considering curing and smoking a hunk of butt, I settled on a nod to our neighbors to the North (and West) and got a lovely hunk of local pork loin, raised the way pork should be raised.
The brine was sweetened with Grade B maple syrup from Kist Maple Farm in Boston, NY, and the smoke was provided by pear wood from my Mother-in-Law's yard (And you can see Canada from her front porch).
The Lettuce: This is the only thing I didn't have a hand in producing. I live in a town house with a postage stamp sized yard, I can grow some tomatoes and peppers. The herbs do great, and I even do some leaf greens like mizuna and oak leaf. Head lettuces don't work here. But, what I used is locally sourced - as in two doors away, where my friend Tim (also a culinary professional) has a better view of the sun. A tasty crisp bit of Romaine.
The Tomato: These came from my limited garden space, and from my last batch of Roma seeds from Shepherds Seeds before they disappeared. Unlike many, I prefer a plum for sandwiches - more meat per slice. Yes, I know there is more Umami in the seed sacs, but on a sandwhich - I like the meatiness of a Plum.
The Bread: I went a a whole bunch of different ways with this, but as the deadline for the competition was extended, I realized that it fell on the second day of Rosh Hashanna. Of course my mind fell to Challah, especially since my Shiksa wife insist that well made Challah is the perfect base for a lovely sandwich with leftover ham!?
I love Challah - the almost brioche - which makes perfect French Toast. Its sweetness seemed the perfect foil for the smoke and salt of the bacon and the condiments. Instead of a loaf, I chose individual rolls shaped in the traditional Rosh Hashanna "crown".
The Condiment: My basic mayonnaise gone south of the border. These were my own Jalapeno chillies, smoked in a stovetop smoker, and dried to chipotles in a 145 oven. I skipped the mustard in making the mayo in the processor (2 yolks, 1 whole large, 1.5 cups of neutral oil or so) and substituted the juice of one lime for the vinegar. At the end I stirred in the chipotles and a bit more fresh lime juice. Sub-lime!
The Pickle: A true Kosher Whole Sour Dill, with the addition of a couple of cayenne chillies for a kick. My wife finds them too sour, but it reminds me of the debates my grandparents had between new dills, half sours and whole sours.
The Chips: Or rather the fries. In keeping with the Latin American theme, I was going to do plantain chips, but the green plantains were not as green as they were supposed to be. So - fries. They were double fried sprinkled with a mixture of dried Ancho chilli powder and dried lime zest - and horribly good with a bit of the mayo!
Ellie liked it! So did we all!
Sunday, August 23, 2009
We liked it a lot.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Firing up another man's grill for the first time is like being the first to sleep with his bride on the wedding night. It's just wrong. - Scotty Harris
Trish and I are picky about our friends, and for some reason they are mostly scattered far away - from Hudson, NY to Hudson, Ohio, and beyond. No knock to our other friends, but we seem to spend the most time with the ones in Hudson, Ohio.
We generally see Susan and Brian twice a year - New Year's there and in the summer either here or there. All you need to know is that when we get together we giggle from start to finish!
Their daughter Angela is a few months younger than Alison, and the three girls are fast friends. Just don't let them put on a show. Really. It's "like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick".
So when they called and asked for my help in doing BBQ'd ribs for 50 at a celebration of Angela's First Communion, it took me less than a millisecond to say yes. I was especially happy when he said he had arranged to rent a BBQ rig - 'cause I hate cooking on outdoor gas ovens.
Now Brian doesn't do things halfway. You can catch a glimpse of his landscaping work in the photos below, but they don't do his yard justice! He has created a waterfall that ends in a Koi pond. He has shifted tons of rock some for creating raised vegetable garden for Susan to till. He has cisterns to collect rainwater and uses that to irrigate the gardens. So I wasn't surprised to find about 80 pounds more charcoal than we'd use, and both a chimney starter and an electric starter. And I prepared the same way. A big batch of my dry rub. Four sauces - Standard KC, Vinegary (also used as a mop), mustardy, and a NY Grade B maple syrup and chipotle one.
But, he's going to use that charcoal. Friday morning, the "BBQ rig" was delivered. Long and about 6" deep. The kind you use to grill chickens on for a school or church fundraiser. I am not sure that I actually said "Houston, we've had a problem", but it was that kind of moment. We told the guys to put that thing back on the grill and went shopping. Brian had the brilliant idea of buying a floor model (no assembly) - we did so at Home Depot and rented a truck to get it home. (I love that he had to put $.25 worth of gas in the truck to return it!).
But, here's the thing. Susan had picked up a hunk of Prime rib eye that I carved into steaks. Brian had to go pick up his Brother and SiL for supper. He asked me to fire up his grill for the first time.
I couldn't do it. It was just wrong.
Dinner came out great, as did the BBQ. But that is another story!
Sunday, June 21, 2009
His memorial will be at the Millspaugh Camerato Funeral Home at 139 Jefferson Heights in Catskill Tuesday from 4-8. Masonic Service at 7:30.
The funeral will be Wed at 11am at Millspaugh, and internment in Cedar Park Cemetery in Hudson.
Memorial donations can be made to the Masonic Medical Research Lab or the Kiskatom fire department. To those friends wanting to send mail, I have addresses, but in the interest of privacy please email me at the contact address on my blog (View My Complete Profile).
Thursday, June 4, 2009
HERB gardens don't grow overnight. Oh you can stick a plant in the ground, and have herbs to use through the summer, and the annuals don't really make it - even if you shake the seeds on the earth - but a true herb garden works on its own. It grows, it changes, it fights.
After 5 years its finally taking off. Forget about the culinary uses - it looks great. I will use it, preserve, make lots of vinegar for gifts. Don't worry, anything that isn't used for cooking is saved and used to add to aromatic smoke for BBQ and other smoking tasks.
Still, watching the honeybees in the chive flowers just makes me smile. I wonder where the hive is . . .
Ellie is becoming a real cook. She recreated her lemon/key lime meringue pie this week. But. this time we only had to provide her with pie pan and pie weights. She made, rolled and docked the dough, and made the custard filling and meringue. . We did assist in getting it in and out of the oven - but this was her baby.
Finally, if you like frog legs, maybe you should try raising them at home.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
This morning was the usual bagel breakfast with lox and mimosas.
So why do I bring you this information. Because among these great meals was a lunch on Saturday we will long remember. Ellie had been raving about Suzy-Q's Bar-B-Que Shack for weeks, and she is developing a taster to be trusted. You can see menu here, but it is an abridged one - it dosen't have the details, or the humor, of the actual menu.
All you need to know is stated on the real menu:
You walk in the door and smell the smoke, and are heartily welcomed. Ellie had the piglets. Trish the Lil' Hogger, and I had the Pulled Pork, Memphis style. Alison had grilled cheese. She is a work in progress.
We SMOKE fresh every day. We will close earlier if we get hit hard and run out of fresh cooked BBQ. Your best bet is to call ahead, 'cause when it's gone it's gone, and so are we.
It was wonderful. Great, now I have no excuse for not visiting my mother-in-law!
Thursday, May 28, 2009
When commenting on someone else's blog, keep it brief and to the point. It's their show and their space. If you need to say more, send an e-mail. They might respond. They might even invite you to go ahead and post your comments regardless of length. I have even tighter rules for Facebook comments.
If you need even more space - use you own blog, and tip the original author to your own post as a courtesy.
A little more that a week ago, Michael (may I call you Michael?), posted this simple query:
Question from 60 y.o.: what's best learn to cook book. Not recipe book but teach yrslf book?I responded with two suggestions. As I read through the of the posts though, I had the feeling that the respondents were missing the distinction between a cookbook and a book that that teaches one to cook. But as I did not want to sow the seeds of discord, I decided to send my thoughts in an e-mail to Michael:
Joy is a recipe book. As much as I admire its place in history, and I own three different editions, it's the kind of book that got me into trouble the first time I "really" cooked.I got a response from Michael and he said that I inspired him to do a blog post on the subject. I am sure I wasn't alone. He did. Please read it here.
I didn't want to get into it on Facebook, but I really get the question. I taught myself how to cook this way. After a disastrous attempt while in law school to impress a redheaded nursing student from Bowling Green with my non-existent cooking skills, I went to a used bookstore in Toledo. I told the lady I did not want a cookbook, but a book that would teach me how to cook. She sold me Mastering 1 and 2, and Pepin's La Technique.
I may not have done a Julie Powell, but I spent years using the basics studied. You don't have to turn pro like me to put those lessons to good use. If someone asked me the question you were asked, the recommendations would be what I put on Facebook: Julia's "The Way to Cook" or Jacques and Julia's "Cooking at Home" Plusses and minuses to each. YMMV.
But, he didn't stop there. He asked about the future of cookbooks, a topic that deserves more than just a blog comment. That's the reason for this post.
Thought 1: All cookbook authors, from the 4 star Chef to the home cook, must be required to read Jacques Pepin's essay The Anatomy of a Recipe from his marvelous Chez Jacques. Others have written of this, but no one else has spoken more eloquently on the difficulty of translating ones own skills and tastebuds in to the printed word. Not to mention the variations in ingredients.
Thought 2: Because of No. 1, the cookbook of the future should have a greater ratio of prose to recipes. You cannot keep reinventing the wheel. Tell me the whys and wherefores of how you chose this particular approach. Talk about variations, and what might cause things to go wrong. Tell how to fix the latter.
Thought 3: Focus on a more narrow topic. The General Purpose cookbooks never die, they just get updated and reprinted. And while you are at it, tell me why I need another book on whatever that topic is.
Thought 4: More Voices. One of things I love about the Jacques/Julia book is their interplay. Their distinct voices can be "heard" (in my head, at least) in the simple colloquy over black vs. white pepper. Now I mean a real collaboration, not just a collection of different cooks' recipes. Think of a joint effort between Michael and Alton. While that is intriguing, I don't think it's sustainable.
Which brings me to my Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and the Future of Cookbooks:
Thought 5: 42
No, it's interactivity, with the collaboration coming from the people who buy the book and are using the recipes. Here is how I see it working, using Michael's Charcuterie as the template.
Sherman, set the wayback machine to 2005. On the day Charcuterie is released a website goes up hosted by the publisher. It is monetized by advertising paid for by the companies listed in the sources section of the book, as well as other retail sources of the equipment needed. KitchenAid any one? This will pay for site administration and initial moderation of the site. Ultimately the authors might find volunteer moderators from friends, food bloggers, or regular posters who exhibit restrained reasoning.
There would be active links to the authors' blogs that show recent entries. While Michael and Brian wouldn't need to participate regularly, a drop by on occasion would be a good thing.
Most important would be the comment threads. There would be a general thread for people to talk about Michael's hair or how cute Brian looks in his Chef whites. The bulk of the threads will be based upon the specific techniqes and the specific recipies contained in the book.
So, if a person (let's call him "Snotty") tried out the recipe for sopressata and the result was perfect but so sour that it was almost inedible (worked well in baked beans though), he could go to the website. Someone else may have had the same problem. Someone may have a solution. You see "Snotty" was comfortable enough to e-mail Bob del Grosso to confirm his suspicions of what went wrong. Most people don't have that option.
The bottom line is that the cookbook of the future won't be just about selling books - it will be about creating a community.
Here endeth the lesson.