The Flavor Bible

flavor-bible

“This book will be your companion in the kitchen whenever you wish to create deliciousness.”

— The Flavor Bible

Wednesday is the one year anniversary of the publication of The Flavor Bible. James Beard Award-winning authors Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg asked us to mention something here, and I am happy to do it. The Flavor Bible has been incredibly helpful and influential to my cooking. It was just over a year ago that I moved out of campus housing and into a place with a personal kitchen. For someone who was comfortable with basic cooking techniques but looking to move away from the

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recipes, The Flavor Bible was, well, a godsend.

The book is organized like a reference book. After a lovely introduction to the components of taste, ingredients are included in alphabetical order with a list of complementary ingredients. So when you're looking at that rotating spice rack wondering what the heck marjoram is used for anyway, you can easily find a wealth of information and hopefully be inspired to use it one day.

The Flavor Bible undoubtedly improved my culinary improvisation skills. A cookbook can only contain so many recipes, but this isn't a cookbook. This book offers limitless possibilities. Next time you want to create a crazy ice cream flavor, find a savory use for macadamia nuts or decide whether tarragon would help or hurt your dish, make sure you consult The Flavor Bible.

Past references to The Flavor Bible:

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Risotto Three Ways

Risotto had been on our list of things to make for some time, and a few months ago the slow-motion shots of a Venetian chef flipping risotto on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations finally compelled us to buy arborio rice.

Since then, we've had three very successful risotto endeavors.

Our first effort was a knockout taste-wise, but too ugly to stand alone in a blog post. (The internet can be cruel.) Then Sycamore chef Mike Odette let me borrow his risotto cookbook, which had great information and fun stories, along with delicious sounding recipes. A few notes:

  • “Risotto is a simple dish, with relatively few ingredients. Consequently, each element gets its share of the limelight and sparkles individually on your palate.” — ie. Use butter, homemade stock and real Italian cheese
  • Risotto doesn't like shortcuts. The stock must be added a cup at a time so it is slowly absorbed by each grain. “Continue the game of add, stir, and wait, until the rice is just slightly resistant to the bite.”
  • “Good raw materials. Simple cooking procedures. No unnecessary frills. That's what Italian cooking is all about.”

Before Michael left, we finished off the arborio rice with our highest quality risotto yet. Homemade stock, a whole stick of butter, saffron, shrimp and scallops, and real Parmesan Reggiano.

Continue reading “Risotto Three Ways”

‘Beard on Food’ and Sardines on Toast

beardJust after the James Beard Award semifinalists were announced, I decided it was time to learn more about Beard himself. I made a special trip to the university library to check out one of his books. I’ll add that in seven semesters at Missouri I never needed a library book for class, but since starting this blog, I have checked out nine books and browsed many others on the second level of the West Stacks.

Anyway, back in February I picked up Beard on Food (an unpleasant title to anyone unfamiliar with the man who might have been the first celebrity chef). The book is a collection of his favorite columns and recipes, starting with the

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perfect hamburger and ending with Saltimbocca all’Emiliana, a delicious-sounding dish with spinach, veal scaloppini, prosciutto, sage and Marsala.

The essays were all written before 1974, which means they are filled with reminders of how much has changed over the years. We’ve come a long way since the time when wasabi needed to be called “green Japanese horseradish.” Today nearly anyone will answer “yes” to Beard’s query, “Have you encountered pita?” And let’s be thankful that avocados are no longer called “alligator pears” and are not “a very expensive delicacy.”

At times Beard is quite funny. My favorite line being: “Two of my best friends are a stripper and a zester. In case that raises some pretty wild visions, let me hasten to say that they are not girls but gadgets, and I couldn’t do without them in the kitchen.”

You can tell Beard was a man who had profound appreciation for food. Many of his columns are dedicated to a particular ingredient, and he kept his recipes simple enough for each to shine. One essay was called “The Sardine, a Small Miracle.” He talked about one of his favorite sandwiches, “homemade bread, well-buttered, spread with mashed sardines, a few drops of lemon juice, and a thin slice of onion, eaten with a glass of beer or wine.”

sardines-on-toast

I thought about sardines. In my head I didn’t think I liked them, but then I wasn’t sure if I ever really had them. Did I actually dislike them? I decided to buy a tin and find out.

I followed Beard’s recipe for wined sardines on toast. If I was going to like sardines, it was going to be with butter, onion, garlic, wine and lemon, that’s for sure. Turns out all those things are delicious with the little fish, and my friend Marissa agreed. She didn’t think she liked sardines either until actually tasting them this way on homemade bread. So if you’re on the fence, as we were, I feel this could open your horizons. And it would probably make the late James Beard proud.

Continue reading “‘Beard on Food’ and Sardines on Toast”

Cherry Almond Brownies

I used to have a pile of more than a dozen cookbooks near my bed. Most were library books, some were Michael’s, one was chef Mike Odette‘s. When the semester ended it was time to return them all. I was left with two books of my own:

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone” and “Brownies” …how appropriate.

“Alone” is a compilation of personal essays on solitary cooking and eating. I love creative non-fiction, and this book was filled with touching stories, witty writing and very different perspectives on how people deal with food when they’re by themselves. (I’ll write more about the book in another post, but I recommend it highly.)

Brownies is a recipe book Michael got me. I imagine that with him gone, I’ll be wanting to make that comfort food a lot more often.

Here’s a brownie recipe I made while he was still in town — cherry almond brownies. And check out more of what we’re reading here.

Continue reading “Cherry Almond Brownies”

The Flavor-Principle Cookbook

I love to flip through cookbooks, but lately I’ve been more interested in food theory — books about ingredients, techniques, flavors, etc. Besides not being able to stick to a recipe to save my life, I prefer to learn the concepts behind cooking. It’s like that saying: Give a gal a fish recipe and she’ll eat for a night. Teach her how to cook it and she’ll eat for a lifetime. Or something.Flavor Principle Cookbook

I found an incredibly interesting book in the university library called The Flavor Principle Cookbook. It discusses the flavor principles and cooking techniques of several cultures, and then offers examples of traditional dishes and unique ways of combining ideas from different regions. This seems progressive for 1973.

I loved reading about the flavor principles from each culture, noticing the overlap and slight differences among them. For instance:

  • Olive oil + tomato + garlic = Southern Italian
  • Olive oil + tomato + saffron = Spanish, Southern French
  • Olive oil + tomato + mixed herbs (thyme, basil, oregano) = Mediterranean, Provencal
  • Olive oil + tomato + cinnamon and/or lemon = Greece, Balkans, Middle East

You can almost draw a map and follow the cuisine.

Continue reading “The Flavor-Principle Cookbook”