I picked up two new cookbooks recently: Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking and Giada Di Laurentiis's Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes. Food Network connections aside, these are two very different kinds of cookbooks. Both are useful in their own way, but meet very different needs.
The Alton Brown book is more or less a textbook on baking. It is there to tell you about basic technique and try very hard to get you to be a better baker. Mr. Brown does this by taking first taking a few chapters (yes, this "cookbook" has chapters that you should read ahead of time) to discuss equipment, ingredients, and their relationships in the baking process. Why does this recipe call for eggs? What role does fat play in making a good biscuit? Why should you measure baking ingredients out with a scale? Mr. Brown tells you the answers to these and many more questions. After that, the book is organized into small groups of recipes that use one of six major mixing methods (Muffin, Biscuit, Creaming, Straight Dough, Egg Foam, and Custards). The recipes are not especially unusual, or interesting -- this is a book about technique.
For a baking novice, I think this book is a godsend. It's clear, concise, and well illustrated. It tries to teach me how to bake... which is something I don't yet know how to do very well. (everoboto is a baking goddess who I want to be like when I grow up.) Based on what I'm reading in this book, I'm yearning to try to bake my Grandmother's home made bread as well as improve my biscuit and custard making.
Ms. De Laurentiis's book eschews this approach of concentrating on technique. Her book instead concentrates on a set of simple recipes to convey a sense of the everyday possibilities of the Italian-American table. Laid out in terms of courses and components (Antipasti, Sauces, Starches [Pasta, Polenta, and Risotto], Entrees, Cantorini [Side Dishes], and Dolci [Desserts]), the book attempts to teach a cuisine more by immersion than anything else.
I share the opinion with other commentators that this book has a major flaw: it is more about Ms. De Laurentiis than the food. Almost all the pictures are of the author, and not the food. The descriptions also have a little left to be desired; nothing in the book is horribly complex to prepare but some additional commentary about techique and consistency would be very welcome. That said though, I think this is a book I will used to add some Italian accents to the cuisine of the geek household. Alas, it will probably not be the last Italian cookbook I buy, only a waystation to better and more complex recipes.
I will close by mentioning a cookbook that doesn't exist, but that I would have to pick up and read if it did: Gourmet Magazine's Vegan Cooking
With Ted Nugent. The good people over at McSweeney's Internet Tendency offer a tantilizing glimpse into the brainstorming meeting that might be used to develop such a book. I'd love to hear The Motor City Madman say "That's where you're wrong, chief. Plenty of people eat badger. I had badger for breakfast, actually." Oh yes.
on 2005-05-17 at 12:24 p.m.
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