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Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work Hardcover – December 28, 2010
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2010 The husband-and-wife culinary team of H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa use chemistry, biology, and a host of creative cooking techniques to produce the uniquely delicious recipes found in Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work. Building their book around the science of food preparation, Kamozawa and Talbot cleverly explain why quickly freezing fruits and vegetables best preserves their texture, which woods produce the most flavorful smoke, and why folding dough, rather than kneading it, is the key to making easy artisan bread. The recipes encompass the traditional and the exotic--from Roast Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese, to Grilled Potato Ice Cream and Red Cabbage Kimchi Cracklings. Prefacing every section with a fascinating look at the science behind the scenes, Kamozawa and Talbot's thoughtful and tantalizing book allows foodies, chefs, and home cooks of all skill levels to cook with intelligence and confidence. --Lynette Mong
Q&A with Authors Aki and Alex
What inspired you to write Ideas in Food?
Aki: We were out in a remote corner of Colorado opening a boutique hotel and restaurant and it was taking longer than expected to get things going. We were doing some cooking but lacked that inspiration that you get from cooking for a restaurant full of people. Our GM at the time introduced us to the idea of a blog and suggested it might be something we would be interested in exploring. I checked it out first and thought it would be fun. Six years later, here we are. Who’s your favorite author? Chef?
Aki: That’s an impossible question because there are so many of both. Some of our favorite chefs are people we’ve been lucky enough to work with or get to know like Tony Maws, Spike Gjerde, Wylie Dufresne, David Chang, Johnny Iuzzini, Daniel Patterson, Michael Laiskonis, Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, Marco Canora, Tony Conte, I could go on and on. Beyond that we are inspired by chefs around the world, we are inspired by reading menus and websites, places we’ve eaten and so many different things. Frankly there’s no list we could put together that would be long enough to cover everyone who we find inspiring although the people listed above are incredibly generous and forthcoming with their knowledge and experience and that is always a gift. As for writers, that list is equally long. I can say that in my youth, before I ever worked in a restaurant, the writers who I read first and stayed with me the longest include MFK Fisher, Laurie Colwin, John Thorne, James Villas, John T Edge, Roy Andries de Groot, Jane Grigson, Pierre Franey, James Beard, Nicholas Freeling, Madeleine Kamman, Calvin Trilling, Raymond Sokolov and Mimi Sheraton. I’ve always been a reader. You can only cook from three cookbooks for the rest of your life. What are they and why?
Alex: Madeleine Kamman’s The New Making of a Chef, Shirley O. Corriher’s Cookwise, and to be totally immodest I would choose our book. We’ve actually been cooking from it since we got a copy of the galley. What’s your favorite book? Why?
Alex: The latest edition of On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. Aki: It’s the one book to rule them all. How do you come up with your recipes?
Alex: Recipes come together in a variety of ways and they are not always calculated. Our past, present and future are essential in directing the paths we take. Flavor memories and life experience guide our inspirations. Think about grilled lobster. I remember sea breezes and too much sun, the smell of seaweed and the aroma of drawn butter. All of these memories are touchstones in the creation of a new dish. Today we know about the different muscle fibers in a lobster and we can use this knowledge to cook each part to delicious succulence. So we combine our inspiration and technical knowledge to come up with something new and delicious. What’s one food item or implement you couldn’t live without?
Alex: Since there are two of us we will take salt and a sharp knife. We share pretty well. What does your kitchen look like?
Aki: It’s a traditional home kitchen with all the usual suspects from a great coffee maker to an electric range (can’t have gas where we live) but tucked away in what used to be our garage is our workshop and library stacked with books and more unusual cooking equipment from immersion circulators to nitrogen tanks and a CVap. What’s your favorite childhood meal? Adult meal?
Alex: Childhood meal would be mac and cheese and my favorite adult meal would be macaroni and cheese with truffles. Aki: I had a lot of favorite childhood meals and unsurprisingly there is a list in my head without one particular meal standing out in my mind. I was lucky to have a lot of good food in my life and for me the best meals were almost always occasions shared with people I loved and was very comfortable with so the company was as important as the food. That is equally true of my adult meals, great company can overcome bad food and the most amazing meal cannot triumph over an uncomfortable atmosphere at the table. If you could cook for one person, who would it be?
Alex: Steve Jobs What has been your biggest kitchen mishap?
Alex: Depends on the day. Fill in the blank: My guilty pleasure is ________ Alex: Starbucks Eggnog Latte Aki: Haagen Daaz Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream, straight from the carton with a spoon. My superpower wish is: ________ Alex: I would not need any sleep. That would make me a heck of a lot more productive in my day. Aki: The ability to motivate and inspire the people around me to stay on track and not lose focus because that only makes them stronger. I need more: ________ Alex: Shelf Space in the kitchen to store all my junk. Aki: Time to get things done.
From Publishers Weekly
Though it's not an all-purpose cookbook, this volume by Kamozawa and Talbot, the Ideas in Food bloggers and "Kitchen Alchemy" columnists for Popular Science, could easily be an everyday reference tool and a source of go-to recipes for anyone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen. The authors break down the science behind correctly and deliciously preparing everything from bread, pasta, and eggs (including soft scrambled eggs; hard-boiled eggs, and brown butter hollandaise sauce) to homemade butter and yogurt. Most recipes fall into the "Ideas for Everyone" category, which composes about the first three-quarters of the book; the final section is "Ideas for Professionals," which explores trendy molecular gastronomy topics like liquid nitrogen--used to make popcorn gelato--and carbon dioxide, a necessary tool for making coffee onion rings. Straightforward prose and anecdotes with personality keep this from being a dry food science tome. And accessible recipes for such dishes as a simple roast chicken, green beans almondine, and root beer-braised short ribs mean it never gets too lofty. (Dec.)
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words such as hydrolysis, retrogradation, proteolysis, etc. Second, I found myself having to read some sections over and over and in order to decipher them: for example, the recipe for making mozzarella. Lastly, statements are made with no attempt at explanation: for example (page 43), why does faster cooling make smaller ice crystals? I did learn some things (I had not known about Carnaroli rice) but the book could have been so much better.
The book is organized broadly into two parts, firstly for the home cook and lastly professionals. The techniques in the second part are not necessarily more difficult, but simply address newer food products and applications such as "meat glue", liquid nitrogen and carbon dioxide which most home cooks would not likely have on hand. However, Aki and Alex make them so familiar and understandable in their explanations that I'm left to believe that some will be as common to us as baking powder and gelatin someday.
The home cook section covers such topics as how to perfectly cook eggs, make no knead bread, fresh pasta, pickling and preserving, making vinegar from scratch, fruits and vegetables, ice cream, making fresh cheeses and a ton more! What I liked most is that unlike most cookbooks which just give you the "how to", Aki and Alex explain in simple detail why each step is taken in the recipe so these topics are truly demystified once and for all and you are left feeling like you've grown to be a more confident cook and not just followed someone's instructions.
I've only had the book a few days and I've already "cryo-blanched" some Kale to great effect (this is simply using a foodsaver vacuum sealer to vacuum seal raw kale leaves, freeze them and rethaw them so the process tenderizes the vegetable without cooking and destroying the nutrients.) I couldn't believe how easy it was.
Another great technique is their explanation of "pre-hydrating starches", which again in practice is simply soaking rice or pasta for a few hours in cold water (or any other flavored liquid!), draining it then cooking normally but in less time. When this is done the starch cooks quicker, and allows for the addition of extra flavor via the soaking liquid, really cool!
I have read my fair share of cookbooks and in terms of value for your investment I can't imagine a better pick than this book. There is so much knowledge, explained with such finesse and enthusiasm, this is definitely a rare find. I thank the authors for their contribution and hope they keep the ideas coming! :)
Aki Kamozawa and H. Alex Talbot are the pragmatic culinary uber duo from Ideasin Food.com and the Kitchen Alchemy column of Popular Science magazine. Their kitchen pedigree includes Clio in Boston and a slew of smaller kitchens and consultancies. In the modernist cyber kitchens, Alex and Aki are royalty.
The much anticipated Ideas in Food comes in at 320 pages with zero pictures, sketches, drawings or even graphical imagery. That's right! This book, the sister of the blog, as know for its rich stimulating photography as its cutting edge techniques, has left the artistic creativity to the reader's imagination. Instead, it hones in on the science of creating great food. And Aki and Alex bring the reader this science in such a friendly way that even the most science phobic among us will be able to understand why eggs cook the way they do.
But with Harold McGee and Hervé This books and the countless food blogs (paramount among them: CookingIssues.com) that examine food science, where does Ideas in Food fit in? Having read pretty much every food science offering, I can say that this is the densest and most accessible of them all. McGee and This offer more lab sterile approaches to food science where their findings are undisputed and readily disseminated. You can't go wrong with either. CookingIssues is more experimental and up-to-the-minute, but at the whim of its authors' fancies. Ideas in Food starts with the basic principles but quickly races down roads guided by their own creativity. What good is it to learn the best way of making pasta if you don't do anything interesting with it? Where McGee and This's lecture circuit is the classroom, Kamozawa and Talbot's is in the kitchen.
The book is divided into two sections: Ideas for Everyone and Ideas for Professionals. The Ideas for Everyone section includes seasoning and preserving, bread, pasta, gnocchi and risotto, eggs, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and meat and seafood. The Ideas for Professionals section includes hydrocolloids, transglutaminase, liquid nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Possibly because I work with the professional additives that they cover, I did not find the professional section overly useful (with the exception of carbon dioxide which rarely gets coverage) with the exception that it provides a succinct summary of the various hydrocolloids. However, the Everyone section was ripe with new and refined ideas.
With no fuss, Aki and Alex throw out tip after tip. For example, they state that in frying "We use rice bran oil for frying because it has a high smoke point and a clean, neutral flavor, which means that fried foods tend to cook evenly without burning or absorbing any heavy flavors from the oil." After reading this I switched my restaurant's oil over to rice bran oil and we haven't looked back. Really, rather amazing stuff - how did I not get the memo on this earlier!? And transfat free!
In regards to brining, "We don't generally wash fish and seafood; instead we soak them in a 5 percent salt solution for ten minutes. This soak coagulates exterior proteins, firms the flesh, and extends the shelf life of the fish." When considering the best way to have pasta cook quickly, "The answer was a cold-water soak. This technique almost completely separates the hydration and cooking processes. We know that starch needs water to cook properly. A cold-water soak, at a 4:1 ratio of water to pasta, allows the starch to slowly absorb the water that it needs to gelatinize." Page after page of tips and techniques that are not esoteric, but down-to-earth useful.
Ideas in Food also offers 100 recipes ranging from scrambled eggs to root beer braised short ribs. Nothing crazy and fancy, just food that you're likely to attempt at home. And while the authors may mention the use of the expensive professional gadgetry in the introduction to the recipes, none is required to attempt the recipes in a home kitchen.
Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work is a worthwhile book for your library. It is said that humans only use 10% of our brains, and if you only use 10% of this book, your meals will still be richer for it.
I took off one star from my review for how the science behind the techniques is presented. It comes across as slightly wishy-washy, although not necessarily incorrect. What I mean by that it that it doesn't seem like the authors have a complete understanding of chemistry they are presenting, so they chose to couch the explanations to accomodate a less informed audience.
For context of my point of view, I have a background in biochemistry and have worked in the pharaceutical engineering business for 13 years so I have high standards for scientific information.