Weekend Special -- Cookbook Corner
This weekend Fork in the Road is kicking off a new series focusing on cookbooks and other food-related volumes that have appeared in our in-boxes recently.
Ratio: the Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, by Michael Ruhlman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), 231 pages, $26, pub date: April 2009
This is a book for brainy cooks. It says it isn't a cookbook, and the slender size of the volume seems to bear that out. Instead, it's a series of formulae intended to express the essence of recipes. For example, pie dough requires flour, fat, and water in the ratio 3-2-1. Yes, there are some recipes, too, including ones for chicken stock and veal stock, both much more complicated than the ones I use myself, and plenty of dessert recipes, for angel food cake, caramel sauce, etc., but all illustrative of his ratio approach to cooking. Ruhlman has already written a dozen books, including The Making of a Chef and The French Laundry Cookbook. The drawback of the volume is that it's completely retrograde in its purview - everything seems to be French (or at least Franco-American) in its underpinnings, as if the myriad cuisines of the world did not exist.
Beef: And Other Bovine Matters, by John Torode (Newtown, CT: The Taunton Press, 2009), 256 pages, $34.95, pub date: Feburary 2009
For anyone you know obsessed with beef, this is a must-have volume. It functions as an atlas of beef (including descriptions of breeds and cuts), a lavishly illustrated coffee table book that your beef-loving friends can page through as they wait for their hamburgers to be done, and a recipe book. If the book (originally published last year in England) has a vice, it lies in its Anglophilia (use of tallow in dessert recipes for plum pudding and mince meat, things that Yanks have long forgotten; main course recipes for steak and kidney pie and Cornish pasties, etc.) The chef tries hard to counter that with recipes for Indonesian rendang, Sicilian arancini, and, of course, lots and lots of French recipes adapted for English tastes. The book still might be called The Roast Beef of Olde England.
Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads, by Nancy Baggett (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009), 210 pages, $24.95, pub date: February 2, 2009
The technique of using less yeast, not kneading the dough, and then letting it sit for a long, long time has been around for a while, espoused by such oven luminaries as Jim Lahey and Nancy Silverton. This volume seeks to popularize the use of this technique, from traditional "Old World" breads (French walnut, Swedish rye, Scottish oat); to sweet, yeast-risen dessert breads; to newfangled concoctions like brown and wild-rice crunch bread. Some of the recipes come off a little weird, but this is more or a less a volume for the beginning baker, and its strengths like in the wild-ass breadth of the recipes. There's even a section on pizzas that includes a sauce recipe, obviating the need for a pizza cook book.