Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cooking Tips

One time when I was at a book sale, I met a gal who bought cookbooks not to cook with them, but simply to read them.  She sincerely enjoyed reading cookbooks.  I had never looked at cookbooks that way before.  I have always skimmed recipes and have tried to glean the essentials so that I can get to the meat of the information I need.  But, I started thinking about it and now I try to read cookbooks more closely.  I'm not always very good at it, but I've found several I enjoy.

I love Ken Haedrich's stories in his soup cookbook, Soup Makes the Meal, and his cookbook PIE.  I used to have another pie cookbook that shared the history of pie in the United States.  I had no idea before that about the cultural significance of pie and how much it is a part of our food history in this country.  The older I get, the more I seem to appreciate and enjoy learning about history.

Another type of cookbook that is simply fun to read are books of tips for cooking.  This week I received two cookbooks in the mail filled with kitchen tips and techniques from the publisher of Fine Cooking Magazine.  The first was published a few years ago.  It is titled How to Break an Egg.  There are numerous tips from the editors, contributors, and readers of Fine Cooking Magazine.  Some of them are tips I'd do and others aren't.  But, they are all very interesting!

Here are a few examples...  I appreciated the explanation of molasses.  I just puzzled last week about the difference between blackstrap and dark molasses.  Right above it was information about storing maple syrup--which I've had an issue with.  You need to store it in a glass container, not plastic container.  And if it gets mold in it, boil it and then restore in the fridge.  I hate to admit this, but somehow our plastic syrup container did get mold in it and I wish I had known this then!  I also want to mention that the way they crack a cooked crab is the way we do it in Maryland--I've seen several books get it wrong.  The pictures were great for that section!  There is also a section of baking problems--cakes, pies, and breads.  I need this quick reference.

You can flip it open to any page in the book and just start reading.  If you know someone that isn't able to focus and read long books but enjoys reading, this would be a great gift.  I have a friend with a medical condition that diminishes her attention span and as I'm sitting here, it occurred to me that she might really enjoy reading this book.  It would be a wonderful gift for someone in the hospital, someone visiting someone in a hospital, or someone who has to wait for a lot of doctors appointments when all you have is do is sit.

This book is one that you want to sit on a couch with and just pick up for fun.  It's a great coffee table book.  Keep some post it tabs nearby so you can mark the pages you want to come back to frequently.

The only thing I'm not so crazy about with this book is the formatting.  The formatting in the illustrated section is great.  But, for the rest of the book, the formatting simply isn't especially eye catching.  You have to read the pages to really find the information you want.  In the second book, the formatting is improved and more easily navigable.  The section I wish was also expanded was the substitution section.  It is quite short and didn't include a few of the substitutions I use most of the time, like for Tomato Paste (an equal amount of ketchup if it's only a few tablespoons or less).  But, all in all, this is a fun book to sit down with and read.

Then this week, they published a sort of "sequel" called How to Squeeze a Lemon.  For the most part, the information in this book is new and not a duplicate of the first book.  The sections I noticed that are duplicated are the substitution information and the charts for problems with baking.   But, there is some extra information in the substitution charts, though it's hard to tell because the information is formatted differently.  The formatting makes the information in this book easier to navigate with your eyes and it's easier to keep your place on the page.

There is helpful information in there like a two page discussion on the difference between thickeners (flour vs. tapioca, vs. cornstarch).  There are helpful charts on food safety and an easy to use chart on how long to store foods.  In the first book, there is a discussion on how long to keep leftovers.

Just as when I read the first book, I found a lot of interesting tips.  One was to store a pepper mill in a ramekin so it doesn't get pepper everywhere when it isn't in use.  Another I read was to use a paper plate as a funnel when you have to grind spices to add to a recipe.  Grind the spice on the plate (you really do need all that space to catch the spice!) and then fold it into a funnel to pour it in.  I don't want to share too many tips, but I want to share two examples to show that the ideas could be useful.

If you like the first book, I'm certain you'll like the second.  The formatting makes it easier to use.  But, again, keep some post it tabs nearby when you read it, so that you can mark your favorite pages!

There are a lot of kitchen tip books out there.  We bought one a few years ago by Cooks Illustrated that had a lot of illustrations.  I enjoyed reading it, but never really used any of the tips.  I think I'm going to get a lot more use out of the tips in these two books.  I miss the illustrations, but the information is more helpful and that makes these books much more handy to own than the one we've been keeping on our shelves by Cooks Illustrated.

I think I'd give them both 4.5 stars.  I do really like them, but I don't quite love them.  I think the formatting could still be improved to make them easier to look at and read.  But I like the information in them.

Please note that I received complimentary copies of these two books from The Taunton Press for review.

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