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Veal Stock -- a personal reflection

182 posts in this topic

Well, certain ingredients are going to be harder or easier to find depending on where you live. I bet you have a much easier time finding bones for moose stock than we do in NYC. :smile:


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Oh, and for what it's worth... having read "Making of a Chef" and "Soul of a Chef," I would give any of Ruhlman's books a place in my queue. He's earned that from me, just as I'll watch any movie the Coen brothers put out. I don't always like them, but even their failures are more interesting than most others.

I read a great many food-related books. Some have been more valuable than others, but even one nugget, or one train of thought that might not otherwise have occurred to me, makes even the tedious ones worthwhile. And Michael's are never tedious.


Fat=flavor

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Brave Old World

by Chris Amirault aka chrisamirault

It's a strange gambit to model your essential cooking reference on William Strunk and E. B. White's Elements of Style. For one thing, you tempt readers to invent drinking games in which players seek sentences that follow or violate the style book's dictums, applauding the well-pared "All other knives are nonessentials" and giggling over -- deep breath -- "If you've salted and cooked your meat properly, the dish will taste better than the fancypants dishes at your favorite French restaurant -- rich and mushroomy and meaty, with great body and, from the butter, smooth texture and lusciousness -- because it is fresh and made a la minute, and because it came from your kitchen."

Whatever Elements of Cooking lacks in Strunk-Whitean precision it makes up for in bravado. Like fatter forebears such as Larousse Gastronomique, Elements promises definitive answers on pressing culinary questions of the moment. Like the context for Larousse, however, the moment in question may well have passed. Ask yourself: when was the last time you ate "fancypants dishes at your favorite French restaurant"?

Though living in an era in which old and new media illustrate fascinating new techniques shortly after they've been revealed and the reach of both professional and amateur chefs is truly global, Ruhlman expresses a deep desire for the good old days when a list of "the elements" could be frozen in time and "cooking" meant Continental cooking. Covering topics from pate a choux to the concept of a recipe, the book proclaims its version of the plain facts in strident declarations that would, in tone if not in syntax, make Strunk and White beam. Why you'd want to look up "Recipe" in a reference I do not know, but if you do, you'll be told that "Recipes are not assembly manuals" and then given a manual for how to read recipes: "Do it over again. And again. Pay attention. Do it again."

Ruhlman never wants you to forget that these elements are serious business, the foundation for all that is good in cooking, and nowhere is that clearer than in the opening section on le fond itself, veal stock. Though dozens of books have stressed the importance of veal stock for many decades, Ruhlman's insistence on his mission blinds him. When he states that "one has to travel all the way back to 1970 to find a cookbook author properly expounding on the notion of veal stock," he must be excepting Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, Julia Child's Way to Cook, and The Gourmet Cookbook, in which Ruth Reichl uses Ruhlman's own recipe for the stuff to expound, we surmise, improperly.

Of course, the insistence on veal stock as The One Thing is both deeply parochial and deeply familiar. When he declares that "the bones of beef result in an unpleasant bone-gelatin flavor," he doesn't just toss the pho bo out with the bathwater. He also reveals that his commitment to French-derived cuisines allows no culinary or even gustatory relativity, and the book's focus on wobbly categories such as "essential" and "refined" allows for definitive judgments about what's in (composed salad) and what's out (soy sauce), judgments that to this reader seem out of touch with our times.

Taken as a whole, the book suggests less Strunk & White than Dumas on Food, the slim edition of the French author's 1873 Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, a book whose declarations about the objective truths of cuisine are just as biased as they are stentorian. If you are amazed, along with the author, that most humans wouldn't put veal stock in the same category as the Goldberg Variations or Plato's cave allegory, then let Ruhlman be your Beatrice. If you're confused by the taxonomy itself and, given our exciting era of cuisine, by the need for claims of categorical superiority at all, then take a pass. The Elements of Cooking leaves me in just that state of confusion, unclear as to what counts and doesn't count as elemental, and unsure that we need yet another reference detailing the culinary traditions of the Western world, no matter how handy and slim.

<div align="center">* * *</div>

The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.

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Brave Old World

by Chris Amirault aka chrisamirault

. . .

The Elements of Cooking leaves me in just that state of confusion, unclear as to what counts and doesn't count as elemental, and unsure that we need yet another reference detailing the culinary traditions of the Western world, no matter how handy and slim.

The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.

See - here's my problem. If we take this sentence and strike through the word "Western" and insert the word "Asian" or "Mexican" (you choose the ethnicity) all hell would break loose about our lack of political correctness. Why is there something wrong with trying to maintain the traditions of one cuisine whatever its ethnicity? Perhaps we need people like Michael to stand up for Western culinary traditions lest they get lost in our effort to shed our ethnocentricity and embrace everything that isn't Western.

I confess that I have not yet read the book but intend to as soon as I get a copy but I can still applaud Michael for standing up for Western traditions. We do not need to denigrate one tradition in order to support another whatever it may be.


Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Never call a stomach a tummy without good reason.” William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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The Elements of Cooking leaves me in just that state of confusion, unclear as to what counts and doesn't count as elemental, and unsure that we need yet another reference detailing the culinary traditions of the Western world, no matter how handy and slim.

See - here's my problem. If we take this sentence and strike through the word "Western" and insert the word "Asian" or "Mexican" (you choose the ethnicity) all hell would break loose about our lack of political correctness. Why is there something wrong with trying to maintain the traditions of one cuisine whatever its ethnicity?

There's nothing at all wrong with trying to maintain the traditions of one cuisine. But the book isn't called "The Elements of French Cooking" or even "The Elements of Western Cooking." It's called "The Elements of Cooking."

If the book claimed to be merely a compendium of advice and opinions about one cuisine, then it could get away with its focus, as far as I'm concerned. But the book seeks to state (I quote from the dustflap)

the essential knowledge of the kitchen, ... what every professional chef knows instinctively[.] [H]ere is all the information -- no more and no less -- you need to cook[.] You'll learn to cook everything[.]

That's not a claim to cuisine-specific information. That's a claim to universality.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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If the book claimed to be merely a compendium of advice and opinions about one cuisine, then it could get away with its focus, as far as I'm concerned. But the book seeks to state (I quote from the dustflap)
the essential knowledge of the kitchen, ... what every professional chef knows instinctively[.] [H]ere is all the information -- no more and no less -- you need to cook[.] You'll learn to cook everything[.]

That's not a claim to cuisine-specific information. That's a claim to universality.

Oh, come on. This is deliberately obtuse. It's not like you, or most of us, don't know where Ruhlman is coming from. If we're going to be like that then maybe we should retitle Child's The Way to Cook as Maintaining the French Culinary Hegemony for Beginners? :wink:

(ETA a little winky thing, in case anyone couldn't tell that my tongue was in my cheek here.)


Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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It's not deliberately obtuse at all. I believe that it's wrong to claim that the only elements of cooking worth knowing these days come from the French/continental tradition. That's not to say that the tradition isn't worth knowing. Heck, his veal stock recipe is a good one, as my freezer can attest! But there's too much good cooking out there that isn't in that tradition and that is for me part of any good professional or amateur cook's repertoire.

There are models for that sort of book, too. I'd point to The Cook's Book, edited by Jill Norman, which attempts to recognize both new techniques and non-Western cuisines as essential elements to a cook's battery.

What can I say? I hoped for and expected more from this book.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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So, The Elements of Cooking (In the French Tradition)?

It sounds like you wanted a book that Ruhlman wasn't writing. Are you basing your review on your expectations, or on what it is?

ETA that, while I haven't read it yet (waiting on Amazon.com to deliver...), the Strunk and White conceit appeals to me.


Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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I'm basing it on a comparison of what the book is and what it claims to be: a compendium of the essential elements of cooking. It's a compendium I find lacking for the reasons I stated above. But, hey, YMMV (ETA: when you get and read the one you ordered!), as can be seen by the variety of responses here!


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Well, I have my copy, I have read it, and I find most of the criticisms above disingenuous and, frankly, [it is starting to appear] premeditatedly (is that even a word?) snarky.

Based on some of the comments above, anything short of a weighty, all-encompassing tome, will fall short of the mark and that is completely out of the scope of, and missing the point of, this book.

I think we all know the author's formal training is CIA which is, largely, French-based, as is all 'formal' (note indirect quotes) culinary training. Hence the baseline. On what other basis would you suggest he lay the foundation for this book?


Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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Nothing whatsoever in my review was disingenuous. I meant everything I wrote, and I'll bet that Ron, Dave, and Rachel would say the same thing. That we don't all agree is a sign that it is, in fact a book that we all read from our own perspectives. If you'd like to point to a specific statement that is insincere or snarky, I'll be happy to try to explain whatever I've written. Such explanations aren't likely to lead to agreement, though!

The claim that all formal or 'formal' (I'm not sure of the distinction) culinary training is largely French-based is both inaccurate and a good example of some of the problems I had with the book.


Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I'm grooving on this debate -- it's what I live for. But I deplore the questioning of the motives of my reviewers. Because the publisher not only agreed to but wanted reviews, I chose five people I knew I could trust to read close, write well and keep a deadline. They worked hard, wrote well, met deadline. It's inappropriate to question their motives -- there are going to be legitimate differences of opinion about this -- or any -- book. Please confine future comments to the substantive issues surrounding the book. Personal attacks, innuendo or suchlike will be dealt with according to the member agreement. These are smart, good folks, doing what I asked them to do. Exploring this format exposed them -- and me -- to a whole lotta grief. In my position here, controversy and crap stick to me like sugar syrup. It's part of the job. But as editor, I cherish my writers, I know them, and I admire them for sticking their necks out. Thank you Chris, Ronnie Rachel and Dave. Next up, Steven Shaw.


Margaret McArthur

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1912-2008

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The claim that all formal or 'formal' (I'm not sure of the distinction) culinary training is largely French-based is both inaccurate and a good example of some of the problems I had with the book.
I'd like to see this idea expanded. Are there many culinary schools in the US that don't base their instruction on French? This is probably my training and bias speaking, but I wouldn't question that claim. In fact, I would wonder that it needed to be spelled out at all.

I wonder what they call a mirepoix at those schools?


Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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This is what I meant by wobbly categories. If "formal" means "continental" or "French," then you've answered your own tautological question; if by "schools" you mean CIA, J&W, etc., then you've done the same.

But if you expand your frame of reference, there are Chinese, Indian, German, Mexican, Italian, Moroccan, and Japanese culinary academies all over the globe (to name a few), as well as several in the U.S., that offer formal instruction in those cuisines and techniques, each of which has a distinct set of foundational skills, methods, and dishes. My point is precisely that we live in a much smaller world these days, and the best chefs draw from global traditions. Why limit the scope when defining the essential elements if they don't?

As for mirepoix, my guess is that mirepoix means mirepoix throughout the international cooking world, just like bhuna and dashi do. I don't think anyone's proposing kicking the French tradition and all of its terms out of their kitchens. Again, I reference my own freezer! :wink:


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Even at the CIA, in the B.P.S. curriculum, in freshman year second semester there are required courses on "Cuisines of Asia" and "Cuisines of the Americas," and in senior year there are required courses on "History and Culture of Asia" and "History & Cultures of the Americas." There's also a required Italian cuisine class (indeed, there's the whole Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine) and the required "Cuisines of Europe and the Mediterranean," which includes units on the Middle East, Spain, Italy, and Eastern Europe (and France). These courses are part of the curriculum because the CIA considers a basic understanding of the cuisines of the world essential for today's culinary professionals.

On the mirepoix question, the idea of an aromatic base for soups, sauces and stews is something just about every culture has come up with. Here's a good summary by James Peterson that appeared in Fine Cooking. Some examples of other cultures' equivalents of mirepoix:

A Catalan sofregit (soh-frah-ZHEET) starts with a slow sauté of onions in olive oil and is then enriched with tomatoes. A Spanish (or Castilian, to distinguish it from Catalan) sofrito, used to flavor classic rice dishes and rich braises, will usually include onions and garlic, and sometimes peppers, like its Portuguese equivalent, refogado (rah-foh-GAH-doh); tomatoes are often added.

and

When you move on to the Eastern cuisines, you'll notice that cooks from non-European traditions work with a wider and more varied palette of aromatic vegetables and spices. A typical Indian base mixture for a curry may contain onion and garlic, hot chiles, and chopped ginger. And just before liquid is added, sophisticated hand-blended curry powders are added and quickly sautéed to release their fragrance. Indonesian cooks have an especially exotic base mixture—called bumbu—that includes shrimp paste, powdered galangal (an aromatic rhizome similar to ginger), and kemiri (or candlenut), an oily nut that gives a particularly unctuous texture to Indonesian stews.

I think Chris made a fair point. I don't necessarily agree with the whole point -- I think the world can always use another book on classic cookery -- but I do think there's a disconnect between the book's proffer and what it delivers. Which is not to say that what it delivers is bad. You'll find that my review, still to be published (though written a few days ago), is mostly favorable.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm basing it on a comparison of what the book is and what it claims to be: a compendium of the essential elements of cooking. It's a compendium I find lacking for the reasons I stated above. But, hey, YMMV (ETA: when you get and read the one you ordered!), as can be seen by the variety of responses here!

I bought Elements last week, and hadn't started reading it when I began reading the reviews here. I wondered - not too hard, because I've read and loved Ruhlman's other books - if I'd be disappointed by Elements.

Well, I needn't have worried. I started reading it this week, and I love it. As several people have said above, criticisms here seem to be of a book that Ruhlman wasn't writing. Elements is clearly intended as a compact, useful, opinionated (ah yes, it does say that on the leaf!) discussion of some elements of cooking, and it is perfect for what it is. It's clearly not intended to be encyclopedic, and I think it's foolish to critiize it because it isn't. If I want the long, thorough version, I'll turn to McGee or the Professinal Chef - if I'm looking for quick, useful information, I'll grab Elements.


"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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It's clearly not intended to be encyclopedic, and I think it's foolish to criticize it because it isn't.

It's neither foolish nor defective in any way to hold a book up to the standard it sets for itself. Ruhlman has characterized the book as "everything I think cooks need to know in the kitchen." I think it's entirely reasonable -- nay, required -- to evaluate whether a statement like that makes sense.

The book promises as follows:

. . . Not only does this book deconstruct the essential knowledge of the kitchen, it also takes what every professional chef knows instinctively after years of training and experience and offers it up cleanly and brilliantly to the home cook.

With hundreds of entries from acid to zester, here is all the information -- no more and no less -- you need to cook, as well as countless tips (including only one recipe in the entire book, for the "magic elixir of the kitchen") and no-nonsense advice on how to be a great cook. You'll learn to cook everything, as the entries cover all the key moves you need to make in the kitchen and teach you, for example, not only what goes into a great sauce but how to think about it to make it great. . .

Normally I might be inclined to say that those statements, from the publisher, are marketing puffery that Ruhlman doesn't really endorse. However, the "everything I think cooks need to know in the kitchen" claim, penned by Ruhlman, seems to run along the same lines as the jacket copy.

So I don't think the book delivers on that basic promise. Does anybody? Elements is enjoyable and useful in many ways, but "you'll learn to cook everything" is not one of them. In that sense, yes, some folks are indeed criticizing a book Ruhlman didn't write.


Edited by Fat Guy (log)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Decoder Ring

by Steven Shaw aka Fat Guy

Most cookbooks are part of a big con designed to keep amateur cooks in the dark. The high priesthood of cookbook editors has been sending a loud and clear message to homemakers for a century: “You can’t handle the truth!” In the Elements of Cooking, Michael Ruhlman breaks the code of silence. If he and the rogue editor who allowed this book to happen go missing, look for them underneath the remaindered cookbooks at the Barnes & Noble Distribution Center in Jamesburg, New Jersey.

The most enjoyable part of Elements, for me, is the front section of opinionated essays. With each revelation about real professional cooking, the conventional wisdom comes crashing down. You need to make and use stock; there are no shortcuts. You need to add ten times as much salt to your pasta water as you’ve been using. Recipes are not gospel. Ruhlman writes:

Recipes are not assembly manuals. You can’t use them the way you use instructions to put together your grill or the rec room Ping-Pong table. Recipes are guides and suggestions for a process that is infinitely nuanced.

Ruhlman is a champion of salt, and makes an even stronger case for salt than he does for stock:

It is true not just for cooks in professional kitchens, but for all cooks in all kitchens, everywhere: learning to salt food properly is the most important skill you can possess.

No surprise, then, that salting food is one of the first things taught in culinary school. When my instructor judged my soup to be flat he told me to take out a ladleful and salt it, then compare the two. This would help me to understand what he called "the effect of salt," he said. You don't want to taste salt in the food -- that means it's been oversalted. You want it to taste seasoned -- meaning that it has an appropriate depth of flavor and balance, is not pale or insipid.

Elements is not a traditional cookbook. It is, rather, a tongue-in-cheek decoder ring for other cookbooks. It simultaneously helps home cooks not take cookbooks too seriously, and cook more seriously from them. It’s a book that needed to be written.

I do have some issues with the implementation of Elements’ great concept. I think there’s a tension between the encyclopedic proffer “Translating the Chef's Craft for Every Kitchen” and what in reality is a quirky, personal ramble through a thin slice of the culinary world. I was put off in places by what Publishers Weekly has, I think correctly, described as Ruhlman’s “finger wagging,” and also by what came across to me as bursts of affected staccato machismo, for example, “Wrong. How to salt food. It's the most important skill you can have,” and “How to perfect a good recipe: Do it over again. And again. Pay attention. Do it again.”

But these are quibbles. Elements is a book to celebrate. It is that rarest of things: an honest cookbook.

<div align="center">* * *</div>

The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.

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To the point of the excerpt, veal stock demi-glace is a staple in the home kitchen and is rightly an exceptional foundation. Way back when dating, finding this in my now wife's fridge was a moment of great satisfaction (and relief).

The book is on the holiday list so will wait to see what Santa brings (and hopefully penned in the Heights). That and hopefully some anitique marrow spoons.

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Well, we are certainly getting a foodie's slant on this book.

I was considering purchasing four - seriously. Each year I gift every one of my children with a cookbook or a food/reference sort of book. This is my evil plot to insure that someone will be able to feed me decently when I am old and toothless. Veal stock would do well in this application.

I'm wondering if I shouldn't go straight to McGee for them this year? Or will reading "Elements" stage them for McGee next Christmas? I mean, McGee is sort of intimidating.

They need something - as they have become dependent upon "Mom cooks that" sort of lazy eating. I would like for the eventual grandchildren to eat well.

Is this book Freshman material?

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I think that's an excellent question, Anne, and one that none of us can probably answer effectively, given that we're hardly first-years around here. I'd like to know what the rest of the folks think. My two cents:

It's hard to tell if the tone and scope would be a problem for your charges, and the lack of illustrations would hamper a lot of the information for some. Its level of detail regarding the French tradition might strike your fam as a bit off base when, say, they find seven (or nine, depending on how you count) entries that start with "Beurre" but can't find "Beets."

The book is nothing like McGee, as Ruhlman makes clear. I think it's far more approachable than McGee: the categories are fewer, the research less detailed, and the overall feel more useable for a newer cook. But I think that the book doesn't give a new-ish cook all of the tools needed even for the topics covered.

Here's a good example: the one-page entry on "fat." Unlike McGee, Ruhlman doesn't require that you go through the index and several different pages throughout the book to get the information you're seeking (and you don't get a lot that a newer cook wouldn't want). Ruhlman covers many of the basics connected to flavor, cooking, the unsatur/satur/hydrogenated categories. However, like many entries, it's missing a crucial (one might say elemental) point: the importance of fat in producing the Maillard reaction when browning food on the stove. That's a lost opportunity, and particularly essential for those starting to cook who are prone to "save calories" by using insufficient amounts of fat in a thin, non-stick pan and likely to scorch their proteins instead of brown them.

edited to fix spelling error and clarify -- ca


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Anne, I see this book as being a possibly helpful addition to a basic library, so I think it depends on what other books you've given them and where their interests lie.

I don't think it's anything close to a main text for a beginning cook; the information is too random and is not always reliable.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
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I think that's an excellent question, Anne, and one that none of us can probably answer effectively, given that we're hardly first-years around here. I'd like to know what the rest of the folks think. My two cents:

It's hard to tell if the tone and scope would be a problem for your charges, and the lack of illustrations would hamper a lot of the information for some. Its level of detail regarding the French tradition might strike your fam as a bit off base when, say, they find seven (or nine, depending on how you countt) entries that start with "Beurre" but can't find "Beets."

The book is nothing like McGee, as Ruhlman makes clear. I think it's far more approachable than McGee: the categories are fewer, the research less detailed, and the overall feel more useable for a newer cook. But I think that the book doesn't give a new-ish cook all of the tools needed even for the topics covered.

Here's a good example: the one-page entry on "fat." Unlike McGee, Ruhlman doesn't require that you go through the index and several different pages throughout the book to get the information you're seeking (and you don't get a lot that a newer cook wouldn't want). Ruhlman covers many of the basics connected to flavor, cooking, the unsatur/satur/hydrogenated categories. However, like many entries, it's missing a crucial (one might say "elemental") point: the importance of fat in producing the Maillard reaction when browning food on the stove. That's a lost opportunity, and particularly essential for those starting to cook who are prone to "save calories" by using insufficient amounts of fat in a thin, non-stick the pan and scorch instead of brown.

The Maillard reaction is a type of non-enzymatic browning which involves the reaction of carbohydrates (simple sugars) and proteins (amino acids). More specifically, is actually a complex series of reactions between amino acids and reducing sugars, usually (but not always) at increased temperatures. The reaction is responsible for changes in color and flavor in foods.

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I don't think it's anything close to a main text for a beginning cook; the information is too random and is not always reliable.

(emphasis mine) Do you mean the information isn't accurate?

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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