This cookbook was reviewed by Carol – a non-blogging member from Canada.
I love reading cookbooks! Reading recipes can transport me on an armchair food journey ending in salivating taste buds and is often punctuated with a resounding “YUM.” My tastes have evolved and changed in many facets of my life including cookbook styles. Thankfully, this has been aptly matched by a growing trend in cookbook publishing. No longer are cookbooks simply volumes of recipes interspersed with close-ups of food and a few glossy pictures.
Today’s modern cookbook is evolving into more prose-like missive, complete with explanations as to why the recipe is important to the author or what technique can be honed from a particular preparation. This is one reason why I enjoyed Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty so much as he takes this one step further. In Twenty, Ruhlman puts forth a manifesto of the most essential twenty techniques needed in the kitchen to make you a better cook. This is an educational experience indeed! Even the look and feel of Twenty mimics the size and page weight of scores of textbooks familiar to students all around the world.
Ruhlman is a well-known food journalist and cook who earned his stripes in 1999 when he wrote The Making of a Chef that details his chef training at the Culinary Institute of America Chefs. As well, he is contributor for Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry” and his online blog has many followers to whose comments he regularly responds. What is refreshing about Ruhlman is that he looks at cooking as a continuous educational journey. He admits when he is wrong, poses questions to which he does not know the answer and has a refreshingly self-deprecating humor.
He explains in his forward that Twenty not only seeks to identify and describe techniques, but to discuss why they are important. He demonstrates, through recipes and photography, how the techniques work and how they can inspire today’s cook in the modern kitchen. His first chapter begins quite simply with Think and then proceeds to take us through – Salt, Water, Onion, Acid, Egg, Butter, Dough, Batter, Sugar, Sauce, Vinaigrette, Soup, Sauté, Roast, Braise, Poach, Grill, Fry and Chill. Some of these techniques are not processes, but rather ingredients or tools. Moreover, he believes that using these tools appropriately is a technique to be learned and honed. Each technique is described and well discussed, and some are even photographed, step-by-step - like making mayonnaise three ways, i.e. with a mixer, blender and immersion blender. Further, he highlights cooking tips in call out boxes and has special sections for sub-techniques, such as brine under Salt and stock preparation under Water. Ruhlman is a big advocate of homemade stock versus store bought cans or boxes, to the point he advocates using water instead of a process stock. There is so much great information in Twenty that I know I will refer to it again and again.
To demonstrate this arsenal of techniques he uses 100 recipes. Some of them are building blocks for other recipes in the book. Marlene Newell, of CooksKorner, tested the recipes for accuracy and has since set up a Twenty forum for thread chats to discuss readers experiences with the recipes in the book. As part of my testing, I decided to make “Carol’s Twenty” – that’s right 20 recipes. My favorites include:
The recipes instructions are clear and succinct and when accompanied by step-by-step picture instructions, abundantly clear on what the final product should look like and dare I say… idiot proof? And more to the point, with the exception of the made from scratch Layer Cake, most of the recipes are doable on busy weeknight evenings, albeit a little rich. With that said, there is no mention of health or nutritional values.
Ruhlman’s Twenty reaches the reader on many levels – a textbook, a how-to book, and recipe book. While it would be incredibly helpful to the novice home cook, it may be a little intimidating for someone wanting only to follow a recipe. It is the aspiring home chef that is best served by this work. Twenty reexamines the fundamentals and provides us with an opportunity to “understand the infinite nuances that contribute to making something good, and what elevates the good to the great.” These words of encouragement in the Epilogue are well served for those seeking to leave the recipes behind and cook or bake intuitively and instinctively – a concept not loss on our Daring Kitchen Members!