Sunday, January 26, 2014

Here's what's coming...

I've been toying with this idea for a while.

I like to read all sorts of books, but especially literary fiction, history and gastro-writing. And when it comes to the last category -- books about food -- I don't just mean M.F.K. Fisher, Ruth Reichl, Michael Pollan and the like -- people who write about food (more than they do recipes). I'm also referring to actual cookbooks, which I have been known to read from front to back, as you would a novel.

It's also no secret that I like to cook, but I'm a little bit sheepish to admit that even though I have been working at becoming a competent cook for a while, there are some basic skills that I still haven't mastered well enough to just whip something up without consulting a recipe. And it bothers me when I have to refer to a cookbook in order to accomplish simple tasks that should be committed to memory.

As it happens, I have several cookbooks in my library that address just that sort of deficiency. Alice Waters's In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by HeartMichael Ruhlman's Twenty: The Ideas and Techniques that Will Make You a Better Cook; Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything; and (my favorite) Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace all take on the task pretty directly, but there are other books that also deliver instructions on various basic cooking skills (Jenni Ferrari-Adler's Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant : Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone and Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef come immediately to mind).

I've read them, and cooked from them, but I'm thinking that I might like to make a study of them. Every general cookbook I've ever read has a recipe for a simple roast chicken. That means there could be hundreds -- or thousands! -- of roast chicken recipes out there. Or maybe there's just one and everyone includes that recipe when they're assembling a book. Honestly, how many ways can there be to simply roast a chicken? But at the same time, if you're writing a basic cookbook, how can you not include a recipe for a simple roasted chicken?

And that's the sort of thing that I want to find out. Pull six or eight cookbooks off the shelf and compare how each author tackles some basic skill, and then become a master of it myself.

And then last week, I ran across this list at Food5220 Essential Dishes Every Cook Should Know. And then it struck me. I should do this as my next blog project! Maybe not Food52's list, exactly, because while there are some good ideas on the list (tomato sauce, salad dressing, pesto), there are a few things that I don't really care about being able to improvise (chocolate bundt cake). But between that, all the books on the shelves in my kitchen, and so many wonderful blogs out here in the aether, I should be able to keep myself (and maybe a few others) entertained for a while this year.

So, there you have it, and stay tuned. I have a project I need to finish up by this coming Friday's deadline and then I'll get to start on something new...

(and I might even start with that roast chicken... or take requests...)  :-D


Keera Ann Fox said...

Good basics! With those, you'll never go hungry. Makes me want to try, too. :-)

alice said...

I'll be happy to have company! I'm hoping to get my project mostly finished today, so I can do some reading, writing and cooking later this week!