Fuchsia Dunlop, one of the best contemporary writers about Chinese cookery, has delivered an outstanding work of “simple Chinese home cooking”. Accompanied by delicious photography by Chris Terry, it is hard to imagine anyone wanting to leave this book unused in the kitchen.
Books in the category: basic skills
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.
Belinda Jeffery is an Australian author who has published other collections of her recipes and contributes regularly to delicious magazine. She has had a long history working in various media and as a chef and teacher.
The Country Cookbook chronicles her move to the country, the hinterland behind Byron Bay in northern New South Wales and, in her words, is both a celebration of and a thank you for the kinder and simpler life she and her husband have found away from the city.
This book demonstrates what is best about cooking in Australia – access to an amazing range of fresh produce and flavour influences from all over the world.
Aimed squarely at the teenage market, The New Students’ Veggie Cookbook addresses not just what a young vegetarian should eat, but also how to keep fit and healthy while doing so. The book covers the basics of setting up a kitchen, stocking a pantry, offering helpful and very clear instructions on how best to chop an onion, boil an egg and, interestingly, how to store food.
Over the past few years publishers Phaidon have been establishing a presence in the cookbook market. “The Silver Spoon For Children” is their first move into the area of cooking with children. Often, books in this area of cooking, like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Family Cookbook”, are written for adults as a guide to teaching children how to cook. This book’s approach involves having a child read it, and then prepare the recipes with the aid of an adult. By simplifying the recipes to their essence, and using large pictures and bright colours to grab attention, this book is one that has a great chance of engaging young minds.
The book takes its recipes from “The Silver Spoon”, and is aimed at children aged at least nine years old. The recipes have been tested by children, so parents can be reasonably confident that the recipes will work. As someone who has not been impressed by Phaidon’s cookbooks, this one has been surprisingly good.
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.
Hugh Garvey and Matthew Yeomans are the creators of the popular gastrokid.com website. The book, like the website, is focussed on cooking for families. While there is an emphasis on simplicity and the use of fresh ingredients, the authors strongly encourage their readers to try new foods. They believe that parents should not prejudge what their children will or will not eat, and that finicky tastes are something to be expected. As a parent of two children, it is an attitude that I agree with. The book’s recipes cover the day’s three main meals, snacks, and picnic food. Many of the recipes are designed to allow children to be involved in the preparation, with the pleasing consequence that techniques are often simple and quick. The book is littered with bits of trivia and tips, and overall, it is a package that many families will find very useful.
In Notes on Cooking, Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich provide us with 217 insights into what it takes to be a good cook – what they call a “concentration of the culinary craft.” Though each item is brief, most are immediately useful, insightful, and will have an impact on your kitchen habits. It makes an excellent gift for the starting and intermediate cook, but even experienced cooks will benefit from reflecting on the wisdom in it.
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.