As a self-taught chef, I am constantly on the lookout for books that will expand my training. Traditionally, books published by culinary schools have been written to accompany classroom instruction making them poor tools for independent learners. Francisco Migoya of the Culinary Institute of America takes a different approach to his books and his latest is certainly a winner for serious students of pastry.
Books in the category: textbook/technical guide
At a certain point many foragers grow hungry for bounty beyond mushrooms and cattails. They seek meat – raw and wild – yet making the leap from acorn gatherer to elk killer is a daunting one that seems beyond grasp. Hank Shaw’s Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast narrows that gap with an entertaining, informative and approachable perspective on all forms of wild dining.
If a book’s worth can be measured by the number of dog-eared pages, then Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work could turn around the international financial crisis. In fact, my copy has so many turned page corners that I’m expecting a ‘Cease and Desist” order to arrive at my home any day now. Well over 75 pages are marked as requiring my re-reading and note taking. And lest you think I’m a chronic book destroyer, a quick scan of my most favorite and used books show less than ten dog-eared pages in any one book. This is one worthy book for anyone who cares about the inner workings of their food or for anyone who wants someone to do the homework for them so they can simply follow instructions and put out great dishes.
In a period of enormous culinary innovation, often involving clever, insightful or entertaining combinations of ingredients, we bring you a feature about many of the books (and a few websites) that focus on pairing foods and flavours. Where many people have been familiar with the pairing of wine and food, these books instead look at flavour combinations in the kitchen.
Ever wondered why one flavour works with another? Or lacked inspiration for what to do with a bundle of beetroot? The Flavour Thesaurus is the first book to examine what goes with what, pair by pair: a reference book that will immeasurably improve your cooking.
The National Trust’s (UK) book on apples is probably everything a good British gardener would need to develop an orchard of delicious lesser-known apple varieties. One of a series of useful little books, this volume covers some history of the apple, culinary and cultural, the supposed health benefits, origins of various cultivars old and new, and horticultural tips for growing trees in various settings. This is a valuable and charming book for British readers and for curious fruit growers and apple lovers in other places.
Now in its thirteenth edition, this classic text is the resource for learning how to prepare and serve quality food in quantity. This book provides reliable quantity recipes and methods for planning, selecting and preparing menus for all types of food services.
The Modern Café is an excellent guide and inspiration for culinary professionals and those aspiring to have a great café. Beautiful photographs and informative side boxes generously fill the pages. The knowledge is invaluable, the recipes are fresh and exciting, and the business acumen could move you from failed restaurant to the star of your community.
This contemporary introduction to cooking and food preparation focuses on information that is relevant to today’s aspiring chef. It emphasizes an understanding of cooking fundamentals, explores the preparation of fresh ingredients, and provides information on other relevant topics.
The Healthy College Cookbook is intended for American college students with no knowledge of cooking and perhaps little time. The 300 recipes range from simple healthy breakfast dishes to desserts, with a good range of savoury dishes between. The range of recipes feels modern (though maybe underseasoned) and the advice is very helpful, making this a useful and tasty book, though perhaps a little dry for some students. A good gift for many students or young people living alone.
Basic ice-cream books are fairly common, but informative or innovative ones are few. Lola’s Ice Creams & Sundaes has been hailed as a welcome addition to the innovative side of things and I’m happy to agree. This attractive book by Morfudd Richards, owner of the UK’s high-class ice-cream van Lola on Ice, presents a very good range of delicious and inspiring recipes and some flawed explanation of the knowledge needed to become a confident and creative ice-cream maker.
Lobel’s Meat Bible from the eponymous butchery in New York promises “All you need to know about meat and poultry”. It’s a bold promise and the book doesn’t deliver. This visually attractive “bible” is both very informative and incredibly disappointing.
Hilary McNevin’s Guide to Fish is a handy, modern reference for Australian consumers. Not only does it provide helpful information about sustainable species, buying and cooking tips, but also a great range of interesting, tasty recipes for each of the fish presented. Although you could always wish for more detail, this book achieves what it needs to within its clean, compact format.
Planet Cake is the book from the famous Sydney boutique cake shop of the same name, renowned for its elaborate sugarcraft creations and celebrity customers. The book promises beautifully decorated cakes that are “fabulous, professional, and easy”, and it seems to deliver in most respects, combining Planet Cake’s distinctive decorative style with good base recipes. The chapters of this book are very well structured, making it easy for beginners or more advanced decorators to find their way around. Whilst no-one would pretend that becoming a cake decorator is a simple feat, for the motivated home cook, Planet Cake can give you the tools to get there.
Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio promises a lot. He seeks to teach home cooks about the basic relationships between ingredients that form the basis of so many preparations – from custard to bread to sausages to mayonnaise. Bread, for instance, is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water. These relationships, ratios or “codes” for combining ingredients, are more fundamental than the specific weights and volumes of today’s flood of “new” recipes.
I was excited in anticipation of this book, but was greatly disappointed with the outcome from this otherwise good author. Ratios are a great approach to reviving cooking “sense”, but they require skill in definition and explanation. Somehow Ruhlman’s sense for communicating about cookery didn’t conquer the demands of explaining a mathematical relationship clearly to a range of possible readers. It was never going to be an easy task, especially when trying to apply chef sense to something which domestic cooks have largely forgotten. Nonetheless, despite its failings, the existence of this book is truly valuable and can be of utility to certain readers – those who are already familiar with ratios in cooking, perceptive novices who need no visual material, and perhaps some others who might want to explore their own understanding of cooking fundamentals.
The Seafood Handbook is a well-illustrated and easy-to-read guide of 210 species of seafood in North America, and is a great resource for buyers of seafood, or even your everyday seafood fanatic. However, parts of the introductory chapters, “crash courses” in the seafood industry and seafood handling, are poorly written and seem to evade issues that people who are serious about the seafood business should care about.