Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reading Cookbooks

I realize that I have come at this topic many times in my posts and wonder whether there is much to say about the topic. I own quite a number of cookbooks and rarely do I use the cookbooks for their recipes. Sometimes there is a germ on an idea or a technique, flavour combination or menu suggestion that starts me going. That is not to say that I don't rip off a recipe and make it my own, just that I rarely cook it as stated.

The question remains on why do I have so many and why do I continue to read cookbooks? Not so strangely, a cookbook that I was reading provided me with some insight into this compulsion.

I was reading Ivan Ramen and here are a few quotes that I pulled from it.
"I don't really open a cookbook to cook from it, and I don't know if many people do. I read cookbooks because I want to know why someone cooks the way they do, how they arrived at their recipes. It doesn't matter if the recipe is complex -- molecular, whatever -- or a simple one. It could be a pancake recipe, but I want to know why the author's excited about it. This book will teach you how to make an authentic bowl of Tokyo ramen, but I also encourage you to stray as much as you want from the recipes. This book is not intended to be a set of rules, but rather a window into a world I tumbled into years ago and have happily dwelled in ever since." p.3
If you can jack into the excitement of the author then you get an insight into the food and thought processes. Now, the only cookbooks that I buy are ones that make me think differently about the subject. Okay, not totally true. I sometimes buy them if they redefine what a cookbook is and does.
"Becoming a better cook is all about finding the best way to use what you've got on hand." p.135
This is really what I do at home. I don't care so much for going out and buying special ingredients for a particular meal only to have leftovers that just sit in the fridge. I'll boil extra potatoes for a Sunday meal so that I can make smashed potatoes in the oven for the week or use them as topping for a cottage pie. There doesn't have to be much in the fridge to make a meal.
"I generally find cookbooks that require a lot of specialty pantry items incredibly annoying, but the resulting dish is worth it, and you can always use components of this ramen in other dishes." p.165
Sometimes there is a recipe that calls out to me and requires extra effort. Mostly, I save those recipes for dinner parties. Nope, I don't try them before because I trust my ability to fix things. If it doesn't turn out, then it is an experience.

Ivan Orkin does point out that the reality of cooking other people recipes is that different kitchens and different cooks following the same recipe will get different results. I used to call this difference 'love'. When someone asked me why my recipe for whatever tasted so different than theirs, it was always the love I added. Flip, but an explanation. So, recipes might not be the reason for a cookbook.

To go back to Ivan Ramen for a second, in his actual recipe steps, he talks about his love of ketchup when discussing how much ketchup to add to rice. It's moments like these in cookbooks where you can begin to understand the author and by extension understand the cookbook. Another good example is the Joy of Cooking which has changed over the years from being a kind of compendium of what every good wife should know to feed her family and throw a dinner party to something of a replacement for home economics. In fact, many of the early cookbooks were aimed at the lady of the house to teach her home management, especially the training and maintaining of cooks and the kitchen.

Cookbooks have come a long way. They continue to evolve and continue to keep my interest. That makes me think of something else and when I have finally formed that idea, this might not be the last post on reading cookbooks.

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