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Ruhlman's Twenty: 20 Techniques 100 Recipes A Cook's Manifesto
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347 of 373 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
When I saw Ruhlman's Twenty being offered through my book club last month, I had to wonder if I really wanted this book. In my house over 1000 cookbooks reside, taking up space, filling bookcases, spilling out everywhere, so I am getting really picky about what I bring in the house. could this book be something I wanted or needed? I am considered a good cook, I've read Pepin's La Technique and La Methode, would Ruhlman's Twenty actually bring something new to the table? Ha!

I'm such a huge fan of Ratio I decided to give Twenty a chance. It's a big beautiful cookbook and the first thing I noticed was the pictures! Beautiful, in focus, of the food, and the techniques being described. For example, there is a recipe for candied orange peel, the recipe is on one page, and on the facing page are pictures showing the four stages and how it should look at each stage. For someone like me who prefers visual learning this is amazingly helpful. Making mayo? there are two pages showing the emulsifying steps using a hand whisk or an immersion blender ( a trick I actually found in Ratio, and went from broken mayonnaise to beautiful lush mayo just using his technique and recipe)

At first I felt a little cheated, The first chapter is "thinking" Really? thinking as a technique? But then I read what he had to say. In 30 years of cooking I cannot tell you how many times I've boiled over milk while getting it to boil for a recipe, and never once did it occur to me that I had just changed the liquid ratio by how much I lost in the boil over- and then blamed the recipe for it not turning out right. Maybe it's intuitive to other people, but that really drove home why he had a chapter on thinking, and I got over the eye rolling first impulse I had "be one with the sauce, visualize the roasted chicken" and realized this is good stuff.

A lot of the recipes will become staples, and while he gives great techniques nothing here is especially frou frou, this is not only a book that can teach, but it's one that after you learn the technique the recipes are delicious and great for cooking from again and again.

There is a lot to learn, it's really not all been said or done before, or maybe it's just how Ruhlman presents the information, so clear and easy to understand.. The candied orange peel was delicious! As was the roasted cauliflower with brown butter, Halibut poached in olive oil, and the to die for French onion soup. I can't wait to make more recipes and I have pictures and well laid out recipes to help me learn something new, even after 30 years of cooking
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212 of 237 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I am a big fan of -- his books and his blog. Time and again, I have seminal moments of my life as a cook that involve his work.

So it is no surprise that I stayed up late one night to read TWENTY and then immediately started in on the recipes. The book is nothing short of brilliant.

And let me tell you why you should pay attention to my review.

I know the fundamentals of cooking. I went to culinary school and graduated at the top of my class.

And I know recipes. I actually wrote recipes for chefs for 14 years in my work as a restaurant publicist for 14 years. Most chefs, you see, can't write a recipe so I would have to get the ideas from them and then write up the actual process. Once, I got a "recipe" from a rather famous chef that was written on a bevnap. It said, "take veal, make ragu." I had to translate that into something for the NYT. I did, I sent it in, and the Food Editor wrote back to tell me that the recipe "from the chef" was the best recipe he made all year.

So, I have some cooking cred.

And yet, I am learning from TWENTY. A lot.

I am not sure if this is an awesome book for absolute beginners. Though there is enough instruction in there that a smart person who pays attention could, in fact, use this as a 101 book. But I do know it is *essential* for anyone who thinks they are a competent cook and is confident in their kitchen abilities.

Buy it. Now.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
sorry for the rhyme, but honestly, if you are serious about creating very good food in your home then this is the book that will catapult you forward. ruhlman's style of writing is a pleasure to read and you will learn an incredible amount about how to cook food properly to make delicious meals. just read it cover to cover. this book is a wonder. truly. buy it now. (i'd trade 20 of my top favorite cook books for this one)
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I decided to wait until I'd made several things from this book before I reviewed it. Currently I've made lemon confit (though it'll be 10 weeks before I can use it!), pizza dough, bacon-and-egg pizza, roasted shallots, and coq au vin.

The pizza was brilliant, even though I managed to overcook it a bit at all possible stages. I am hankering to make it again. Both the pizza itself and the crust are dead easy, and taste wonderful! The crust is crisp, but not at all like a cracker; I have some in the fridge to make tomorrow, because as written, it only takes 3 hours- that's great! but doesn't leave time for the dough to ferment. It'll be interesting to taste how it is after fermenting for a couple of days in the fridge. For the pizza as a whole, the balance of cheese, bacon, and eggs is just perfect and very crave-able.

The lemon confit was really easy to make, too. I can't use it yet because it requires 3 months curing, but it worked well. I've done 2 jars: one is conventional lemons, and the other is Meyer lemons. The recipe calls for 2 pounds of salt and one of sugar for 5 lemons; that seems excessive, since mine are going well with 9-10 lemons and 3/8ths the amount of sugar, salt and water.

The roasted shallots are like candy; I could eat them all day, but heroically refrained because I need some for the coq au vin, which we just ate and which is rich and flavorful and amazing. It did take me closer to 2 hours than 1 hour to make it, but it's so worth it; it's the best coq au vin I've ever made.

But- I didn't buy this just for the recipes. I really love Ruhlman's thoughtful approach to cooking, and the text parts are what I am valuing as I'm reading this. It is not a book of recipes; it's a considered approach about HOW to cook. If you like Cook's Illustrated, Ruhlman is definitely someone to read.

My only quibble: more and more, ambitious cookbooks seem to be vying for coffee-table-book status: they are getting huge and heavy and unwieldy. This makes them harder to read- and this one needs to be read- and harder to cook from. I do not care for this trend.

Still- I'm about a third of the way through reading it (albeit with difficulty), and have learned a lot from the text- and the recipes I've tried have been spot-on, and I want to make them all again soon.

Edited to add: This book is a game-changer. I have been a really competent and skillful home cook for years now. These recipes rev it up at least an order of magnitude. While most restaurants cannot out-cook me at my previous level- I really doubt that much of ANYONE could outcook these. Totally BRILLIANT.

Another addition: I have just made the French onion soup. WOW. It is delicious and brilliant, though i wish he'd warned me that caramelizing 8+ pounds of onions would take not just "hours" but 10 or so hours! It's very worth it, though; I adore caramelized onions, and this soup emphasizes them. I do recommend adding the optional wine vinegar at the end; the brightness accents the sweetness of the onions.

I look forward to trying more recipes from this! Both the recipes and the text are making me a more thoughtful and knowlegable cook.

Addendum: Several months after writing this, it has become one of my favorite cookbooks. The pizza with bacon and eggs is one of my favorite recipes ever- and the pizza crust is excellent for a basic NY-style pizza as well (Ruhlman also has an excellent simple tomato sauce that works great for this, as well as for a simple pasta).

My husband and I just enjoyed the simple Coq au Vin for probably the third time- it's pretty easy, and tastes gorgeous. The sauteed mushrooms are simple but utterly perfect. I've only made a smattering of the recipes, but every single one of them has been perfect! and the text is thoughtful and helpful when one wants to understand coking, and not just follow recipes.

This is the only book that i bought not only in dead-tree, but also for my Kindle-and I don't regret that redundancy.

VERY recommended for a thoughtful or ambitious cook.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is in one word "Excellent". I previously purchased Ratio which I use for many things as a reference and it's an excellent one, but Twenty is so much more. Between the excellent tips, techniques, and recipe ideas (and I say idea in that you're encourage to make every recipe your own) and the amazing photography by his wife Donna Turner Ruhlman which is not only artistically enticing but well thought out to give you the feel that you don't have just a book you have a kitchen companion. I've been reading a few pages every night, using post-it flags to mark what I wanted to try, but gave it up quickly because I was just putting one on almost every page. I've already made the "Perfect Roasted Chicken" which indeed, to me, was just awesome... finally crispy skin all over the chicken! I'm sure I'll have more things to say as I try more of the concepts, but if you're even considering buying this book, do it. It will definitely be my Christmas gift to family and friends.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I rent most books from the library and have culled my significant cookbook collection down to just those that actually make it to my kitchen to help me learn more about cooking. I've been cooking professionally since 1999 so I read a lot of cookbooks and I try a lot of recipes. One of my pet peeves is poorly written recipes; and they abound. I'm already a fan of Michael Ruhlman since meeting him personally at a convention for personal chefs that I hosted as CEO of Personal Chefs Network in Charleston, SC. I've been an avid fan; following him like a stalker online and learning so much more about my craft. His first book, The French Laundry Cookbook changed my idea about cooking and sits on my desk today as a reminder of the profound effect it had on my cooking career.

As soon as Ruhlman's Twenty came out, I purchased it and was amazed at what I found and Donna's photography is simply amazing. To me, this book is equal to attending culinary school for the price of a book. My Cookbook Club is now cooking our way through it and I'm proud to say one of my friends actually made bacon! Everyone should be able to say, 'I have a friend that made bacon!. The Dutch Oven Bread has led to an obsession and I can't stop making it. What I love most about his writing is well. written. recipes. that actually WORK in the home kitchen! Thank You. Thank You.

Michael, thanks again for supplying the culinary scene with another great work. You are indeed a lucky man to have found your niche so successfully. Cook on!
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I like his work, but I expected the photo descriptions for more of the tricky stuff. I was surprised to not see browned butter step by step along with other techniques you would want to see. I found his descriptions to be on the vague side, and clearer time frames for various cooking and baking steps are important and missing here.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I'm new to this author and have little to compare to his previous works. I only own about 10 cookbooks, including canning recipes. Most of what I cook is by seasonal availability, convenience based on what's in the house at any given time, or what I have a "taste" for that day. I was raised by depression-era southerners who can make an amazing meal out of almost nothing, but nearly everything is fried and served with gravy. After leaving home, I became a vegetarian and now, with true pastured meat available, I have started eating meat again. All of that to say~~I can create a lovely meal from just about anything and make just about everyone happy with it. Not necessarily gourmet all the time, but I'm known as a great cook among vegans and carnivores alike.

Having said all of that, I love to create in the kitchen, but I don't have a lot of formal education when it comes to cooking. I guess I thought of it like this~~I also like to hike, but I don't need a lot of books on how to put one foot in front of the other, I'm more of a get-out-there-and-learn-as-you-go type of person. Ruhlman's 20 changed all of that. I sat down last night and read it cover to cover. It's that interesting. I think this author is no doubt an amazing chef, but more importantly, he's a great teacher and that's what draws me to his craft and this book. Technique becomes more important the longer we do things, because at some point it's time to put books aside and really dive in. He's a rare author in his ability to take someone back to basics and teach you WHY you do the things you do, rather than just giving you one more recipe. I felt it was geared toward those of us who cook intuitively, rather than by rote. If that's your style, you'll like this book.

In terms of nuts and bolts details~~The recipes look interesting and the pictures are beautiful. This book is heavy, sturdy and I think will last well in the kitchen. The pages are sturdy and glossy and don't fold over when the book is standing up. There is variety in his recipes, which I like. I think his fried chicken recipe looks like a lot of extra work but I'm going to try it. The southerner in me says soak it in herbed buttermilk overnight like my grandmother did, and then do the usual fry prep, but we'll see.

Bottom line~~ Think of this as more of a Zen of Cooking type book than a book full of standard recipes, or even new recipes. It's accessible to beginners and seasoned cooks alike, and can be used by those who favor veg or omnivore. I think anything that can make us slow down and create a new mindfulness in any activity is a wonderful thing. But for those of us who love to cook and love putting that love into the meal itself, this book is a must have.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Ruhlman seems to write cook manifestos about cooking. I'll admit, I've not gone near his other books, but Twenty, Ratio, and The Elements Of Cooking are all amazing because they talk so eloquently about the how and why of cooking without bogging down in misleading details.

Edward Espe Brown wrote about the problem misleading details in his most recent cookbook. The real problem is that cookbook editors require impossible things, such as an exact time it will take something to cook. Exact times don't exist, though, and much of the basic knowledge on cooking isn't basic knowledge anymore. In the old days people learned how to cook and much of the basics could be omitted. In a modern kitchen, those basics are gone. Few people it seem know how to tell when something is going right, or going wrong.

Ruhlman's previous work, Ratio, set a high bar. I'm not sure this one quite reached the bar, but it comes close. The book is about twenty things about cooking that are important. And it comes with recipes!

Probably the most notable thing in this book is the section on salt. I'm an anti-salt person, myself. Around the time I was 30, a doctor pointed out that a dislike of seafood and an aversion to salt could mean an iodine allergy. I already knew I had an iodine allergy, but it suddenly clicked that if I got non-iodized salt that maybe it wouldn't make food taste like death. But thirty years of life without salt are hard to put behind me. To me food that has been salted just tastes like salt, and salt tastes like death (even without the iodine). But I found the descriptions of what pasta water should taste like to be eye-opening. And salty water for cooking vegetables needs to be different still. Slowly but surely I'm learning to like salt (which I'm doing mostly for the benefit of other people who eat my food because they complain bitterly if the salty pall of death doesn't infest every corner of the meal).

I'm unhappy with the paper they used to print this. It's a Chronicle book, and I'm seldom happy with the feel of that companies books.

But as far as content, this book is great, and I'm certain it will be an important and long lasting voice in culinary art.
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335 of 455 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
It's ironic that the first chapter of Ruhlman's Twenty is titled "Think"; he obviously didn't do nearly enough thinking while writing this book. His premise, that there are only a handful of cooking techniques one needs to know, is sound, if unoriginal (James Peterson said the same thing in his 2007 book "Cooking"). But right away he starts to go wrong - most of his "techniques" are not techniques at all. He seems to understand that on one level, yet with an illogical flurry worthy of Humpty Dumpty in "Through the Looking Glass," he conflates actual technique (poaching) with ingredients (eggs) and even complex preparations (soup).

It's not that I think acid, salt, eggs and water are unimportant in cooking; Ruhlman is right in putting them front and center. But when he insists on calling ingredients and recipes "techniques" he creates unnecessary confusion - both in his writing and in the structure of the book as a whole.

Take eggs, for instance. If he treated them as an ingredient, then the egg section would have such recipes as poached eggs, scrambled eggs, deviled eggs, and perhaps angel food cake (which relies on whipped egg whites for its structure). Instead, because he can't figure out the difference between ingredients and techniques, the egg chapter contains scrambled eggs, but poached eggs are in "Poach"; deviled eggs are in "Chill" and angel food cake makes an appearance in "Sugar." Trying to guess where any particular type of recipe will end up a dizzying exercise in futility. Meatloaf is in "Water" because it's cooked in a water bath, but while his cheesecake is also cooked in a water bath, that recipe appears in "Eggs." A recipe for grapefruit granite shows up in "Chill" but lemon-lime sorbet is in "Sugar."

Confused writing is one thing. But Ruhlman is also sometimes flat out wrong. In "Water," for instance, he stresses over and over again that water always boils at 212F/100C. Anyone living in Denver, Salt Lake City or Peru can tell you this is false, as can anyone who's ever cooked with a pressure cooker. Also in Water, he gushes over the capacity of water to dissolve flavor molecules, but in his enthusiasm, he goes on to say that "the same thing doesn't happen with oil, or with any other liquid." Actually, yes it does; oil and alcohol both dissolve taste molecules. In the salt chapter, he says on one page that 40 grams of salt in a liter of water gives you a 1-percent solution (it doesn't) and yet on the next page he says that 50 grams in a liter gives you a 5-percent brine (it does).

On the positive side, the photos are great, as far as they go. But why have a photo of salting a chicken, which I think most people can figure out, and not have photos of trussing a chicken (which he doesn't even bother to describe) or boning out a chicken breast (which he describes, but not well)?

Overall, this is a book that with more care could have been very useful. But as he wrote it, it's frustrating and sloppy. Ruhlman would have done well to heed his own advice: "Pay attention."
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