A few of you kind souls came to my rescue and sent in suggestions for things to cover, but first, i feel it necessary to address the ones that are not covered in this column. To the person who wants a review of Fat Albert’s, the next time I manage something other than 40oz of coffee for breakfast, it’s at the top of the list. To the person who wishes i’d leave food writing to the talented professionals, I know it’s you Roger: you have offended my honor and I challenge you to a duel. To the girl who sent me panties… as touching as that gesture is, it’s creepy, especially by e-mail.
One kind soul suggested I publish my bagel recipe. I’d love to, but that’d be plagiarism, since it isn’t really mine but from a fantastic cookbook called The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. In order to make his bagels, you have to absorb a hundred pages of wheat wisdom and gluten grandeur from the sage of sourdough before even beginning the exhaustive process. This, however, is a great topic by itself: my columns are equivalent to culinary chicken scratch. What a lot of you need is good, structured advice from a professional. Enter books like Reinhart’s (actually he has 4 or 5, and they’re all good), the words of the experts. I know that the thought of intense lucubration preceding dinner will get Reedies more than angsty, so I’ve assembled some print and web sources that will help you answer all those questions you’ve never bothered to ask because you didn’t know where to look.
The Cookbook section of a bookstore is a strange experience: there are dog-eared copies of Fanny Farmer, a million copies of the Frugal Gourmet (his career nose-dived after his michael jackson-style sex scandal) and the antiquated advice of Reed reject James Beard (he was kicked out for being openly gay, of all things) to the newest celebrity cookbooks, which– like all products produced by celebrities– are shamelessly produced and are best evaluated on the ‘shill continuum’. Then there is the Food porn. Food porn belongs on Jan’s coffee table, not in a kitchen. I have a few food porn books, like Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Jeff Alford. It is one hot book, but i’ve never made a recipe from it that i liked.
The really useful ones are hard to find: they are intermixed with the aforementioned poseurs and paperbacks. For those of you who have yet to master Top Ramen or kraft dinner, I recommend How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. The name is self-explanatory. I’m not in love with this book; i actually disagree with a lot of it, but my problems are pedantic. Bittman has a food column in the New York Times called the Minimalist. He hasn’t been laughed off the page, so he can cut muster with the haute cuisinaires of Manhattan.
I am physically incapable of suggesting any bread books other than Reinhart. The man is a fucking genius, and his methods will make your grandma start calling you when her starter doesn’t rise right.
If you’re one of those people who won’t let it go until you understand the how and the why of every dietary debacle, head straight for On Food and Cooking by Howard McGee. It is the bible of food science. Yes, i see the irony in the last sentence.
As for sweeter baking methods, i’m not the person to ask. But Gastro, you’re thinking, what about good vegetarian cookbooks? There aren’t any. They’re worthless. how to make meatless cuisine is the dumbest thing ever. Want vegetarian food? leave out the meat. You don’t need your own cookbook. Vegetarian cookbooks are infamously poorly researched, and are pretty much guaranteed to leave you with unpalatable products. The Millennium Restaurant Cookbooks, however, are fabulous, but they have a steep learning curve, so they’re not recommended for people without a vita-mix and a food dehydrator, which none of you have.
I really can’t take more of the Quest’s precious inches with more specific recommendations, so i’ll point you to the internet experts:
http://www.egullet.org is an online community full of food-experts of all varieties, people who think they are, guest Q&A luminaries (most recently Eric Asimov) and foodies of all denominations. The moderators and management do a pretty good job of containing the floating ego-blimps, and their online ‘culinary institute’ is a great resource for learners.
http://www.epicurious.com: This is the base community of Gourmet Magazine. i hate them. you don’t have to.
I love cooking, at http://ilx.wh3rd.net/newquestions.php?board=98 is a nice, small place to ask silly questions. For restaurant reviews/recommendations, there are three places I go:
http://portland.citysearch.com (a great source for the practicalities too, like directions)
Call for help: I am embarking on the rather exhaustive process of creating a good list of restaurants for those graduation dinners. Anyone with recommendations or opinions on restaurants that should (or shouldn’t) be on the list, send ’em all my way!