The Titus 2 Homemaker blog deals with the nitty-gritty of life in the trenches as a Christian homeschooling mama attempting to live a healthful lifestyle. The blog offers commiseration, encouragement, and practical ideas rooted in what she is learning on her own journey.
I can’t believe this recipe has been sitting on my hard drive for so long! Two years ago I was required to “healthify” a recipe for a class. Since most of our family recipes are already altered, healthier versions of mainstream counterparts, I asked some friends what they would like to see remade, and this strawberry Jell-O salad was one of the requests. I opted to make it gluten-free while I was updating it to use real food ingredients.
The “before” recipe is this Strawberry Pretzel Jell-O Salad from Cooks.com. A lengthier version with photos is shown below the quick, printable version of the recipe.
Mix first four ingredients and press in bottom of a 9"x13" pan. Bake at 350 degrees (metal pan) or 325 degrees (glass pan) 8 minutes. Let cool completely.
Whip the cream cheese in a small bowl until soft and creamy. In a larger bowl whip the cream until it forms soft peaks that collapse. Scrape in the cream cheese and continue whipping on high speed until it forms stiff peaks. Beat in the stevia/sugar. Spread over the crust and return to the refrigerator until the gelatin is ready.
Mix juice and gelatin until the gelatin is dissolved. Add strawberries. Stir together, then refrigerate for 5-10 minutes, ‘til thickened, but not set. Pour over cheese mixture. Chill.
*If you want a stronger flavor, you can start with more and boil off some of the water first, to condense it; however, be aware that this will increase the total sugar content of the recipe.
I mentioned aquafaba once in a post about beans. I don’t know how someone stumbled across this, but it’s a pretty amazing thing — especially for those who are allergic to eggs. See, eggs have some fairly unique properties. They play numerous roles in most of the recipes they’re found in, and they’re pretty difficult to substitute without losing at least one of the qualities they provide in any given recipe. Until aquafaba.
Aquafaba is, literally translated, “bean water.” It’s the liquid left over when you drain a can of beans (usually garbanzos/chickpeas), or after you cook beans yourself at home. And amazingly, it has many of the same properties as eggs when used in recipes. This book — Aquafabulous— shows you how to use aquafaba in the context of a vegan kitchen.
The book starts with an introduction to aquafaba. This is only a few pages, and covers what it is, how much to use, etc. This is followed by a few pages of “the vegan pantry.” This doesn’t list every possible vegan food, but it does hit some highlights of both “core” ingredients, and some less-common ones or those significant for adding flavor. These sections are followed by the recipes, which comprise the bulk of the book.
Recipes are in seven categories: basics, breakfast, snacks & appetizers, salads & sides, mains, baked goods, and desserts. “Basics” are what I like to refer to as “building blocks.” Essentially, they’re recipes for ingredients. The first recipe in this section is for homemade aquafaba, and it offers three methods: stovetop, slow cooker, and pressure cooker.
Most of the remaining recipes in this section aren’t really aquafaba-related; they’re recipes for things like plant-based milks (or “mylks”) that round out the vegan kitchen. (Although chickpea milk is a handy counterpart to aquafaba, giving you something to do with the actual beans left over after straining off the “bean water”!) There are several other aquafaba-containing recipes in this section, though. Aquafaba Cheese, Herbed Nut Cheese (with aquafaba and almonds), Roasted Garlic Mayo, Coconut Bacon (I’m not sure why this has aquafaba in it, since most coconut bacon recipes I’ve seen don’t — and are already vegan), Aquafaba Meringue, and Marshmallow Fluff.
The breakfast section contains all the old standbys, including those which are typically “eggy,” like French toast, crepes, and breakfast burritos. Pancakes, waffles, etc. also make their appearance.
Snacks and appetizers include roasted chickpeas, energy bites, and several varieties of hummus and other vegetable dips. There are a variety of salads, but nothing that especially stands out. However, Grown-Up Tater Tots are a pretty intriguing recipe. They’re a vegan take on cheese-stuffed tots. Mains include everything from soups to Chickpea “Chicken” Salad, curry, pulled jackfruit, cashew chickpea alfredo, and meatless loaf with miso gravy.
Baked goods also cover a variety, including pizza dough, pie crust, zucchini & banana breads, muffins, crackers, and cookies. Desserts is a surprisingly long section — the longest in the book, I think. It includes five pies, meringues, pavlova, five cakes, several doughnuts, marshmallows…and over a dozen more.
The variety of recipes in this book is, indeed, fabulous. I love how outside-the-box it gets with things like “scrambled eggs” and “chicken salad.” I’m not typically one for “substitutes,” but these use wholesome ingredients which, if good in these applications, can be good options in their own right and add some variety to the diet. (I don’t, for instance, buy into the whole “mashed cauliflower is a good substitute for mashed potatoes” thing. Mashed cauliflower is nothing like mashed potatoes. But it is good. As mashed cauliflower.)
I’m not going to lie, though, I was disappointed that there was so little about aquafaba in the book. Most of Robert Rose’s cookbooks have a significant section at the front that’s full of information — about a particular diet, a particular ingredient, etc. So given an entire cookbook about such an unusual ingredient as aquafaba, I expected more than just three-and-a-half pages about it in the front of the book.
So, TL;DR* — it’s a good book, but it isn’t quite what I expected.
*too long; didn’t read — another way of saying “here’s the short version”
When I’m in the car, I like to listen to country radio. It’s not all good, but it seems to have a higher percentage of edifying songs than any other station. (It also happens to be the most local station, so the advertisements, etc. are for the local businesses, not the closest big city, etc.) Yesterday, as I was coming back from dropping my kids off for a practice, I heard one that’s a classic example of those make-you-think-about-the-important-things songs: “Five More Minutes,” by Scott McCreery.
Five More Minutes
The verses describe different occasions in life when we wish things could last a little longer, highlighting (among other things) how those occasions shift throughout the years as we mature. The chorus includes this clip:
Wish I had me a pause button
Moments like those Lord knows I’d hit it
And give myself five more minutes
It got me thinking…of course we don’t have a pause button in the sense he’s talking about. We can’t make those moments stretch out any longer. But might we be able to use a “pause button,” of sorts, in the sense of capturing a freeze-frame? Stopping briefly to look more closely at a single moment instead of letting it just roll past?
What Would You Pause?
What moments from the past 24-48 hours would you pause? What moments are worth capturing as a snapshot? Can you maybe take a few minutes to write out a little description of what’s on your mental screen of those pause-worthy moments — so you can come back to them later? So you can savor them and be reminded of the good things? (I’m challenging myself here, too!)
Having spent most of last week (and the early part of this week) talking about books for teaching us grownups to cook, let’s talk about kids’ cookbooks. Most children’s cookbooks, in the interest of simplicity, rely heavily on processed ingredients. That’s not particularly helpful for teaching kids to cook. It’s really not helpful for feeding them nutritious food!
Although there might be others, after having done a good bit of poking around, I found these three that seem to be pretty good. They’re also very different from each other, so different ones will meet different needs.
I don’t feel the organization of this is quite as straightforward as Cooking at Home. It’s bright and colorful and energetic — good for keeping kids’ attention — but probably a little harder to follow for the more linear thinkers among us. It’s divided into two sections: learning the basics, and recipes.
The first section talks about food safety, essential kitchen equipment, and essential techniques. Techniques start with basics like knife skills and mise en place (gathering ingredients together), then move on to cooking methods, building flavors, and “how food fuels your body.” This seems to be better-rounded, overall, than Cooking at Home (note that flavors are discussed!), but it seems to be somewhat less orderly and intentional, and is a bit skimpy on the techniques, in my opinion. (It hits some of the big ones, but they’re kind of all there together in a mishmash.)
This portion is very well-written, and would be great to hand off to a child who also has access to a knowledgeable cook for asking questions, gaining great context, etc. This section seems to be designed less as a standalone section, and more as an introduction to some basics so the recipes are more accessible.
The recipes comprise about 135 pages of this 191-page book. Recipes are laid out clearly, with title, yield, ingredients, then instructions. Ingredient abbreviations are not used, which is helpful for newer cooks. Some recipes have variations added onto the end, and/or “safety first” tips for things to watch out for in that particular recipe. A few recipes are followed by “think like a chef” sidebars that encourage creativity of flavoring, or alternative variants of the recipe.
As you can see in the photo above, there are also other tips and bits of information occasionally tossed into the mix.
This book is, for the most part, for older children. It isn’t one you’re going to get a lot of use out of with your preschooler or kindergartener.
ChopChopa book I stumbled across online. This is a more mainstream book, overall, and definitely better than The Young Chef for younger kids. It’s bright and colorful and visually appealing. (In fact, it’s apparently based on a magazine, which I’d never heard of before. Knowing that, the magazine formatting is apparent.)
This isn’t something you can just hand off to your kids, though; expect to join them in the kitchen. There are a few recipes children might be able to do on their own (depending on age), and these are marked. Along with the time and yield, each recipe is marked according to whether an adult is needed.
ChopChop is more of a recipe book than a how-to-cook book, but it’s a good addition to the kitchen bookshelf.
Neither The Young Chef nor ChopChop is a whole foods cookbook, per se, but both emphasize cooking “from scratch,” so any non-real-food ingredients (such as white flour or canola oil) can be readily substituted.
The Nourishing Traditions Cookbook for Children
The Nourishing Traditions Cookbook for Childrenhas a cover that looks just like the other Nourishing Traditions books. To be honest, when I saw this cookbook, I thought, “How boring,” and didn’t think there was any way a child would be interested in it. But I ordered it anyway. Don’t judge this book by its cover, folks! The inside looks nothing like the outside.
(That’s the end of the basic scrambled eggs recipe and the start — obviously — of the Mexican Scrambled Eggs recipe, which is a little awkward, but it lets you see a couple different parts of the recipe layout.)
It’s actually a really great book — especially for younger children. The sections each start with a little bit of information, written in a conversational style to the child, about where their food comes from, what makes for good quality, etc.
It does a good job of touching on or hinting at issues like free range vs. battery chicken eggs, while staying age-appropriate and not getting overly political or scary.
Unlike the other cookbooks, this is an entirely whole-foods cookbook. In keeping with the Nourishing Traditions…well, tradition, there are even ferments included!
Butter is Better
The Secret’s in the Soup
Soak, Sour and Sprout
Meet Your Meat
My Healthy Lunch
What’s for Dessert?
I don’t agree with every single detail of Nourishing Traditions, and there are a few minor details here that I don’t agree with, either, but I’m very impressed with this book and if I only ever had one cookbook for my children, I’d want it to be this one. (Moms who are new to this way of cooking might benefit from its simplicity, too!) It’s unfortunate the cover is so un-kid-friendly, because I suspect a lot more people would buy it.
The Flavor Bibleis a pretty unique book. It contains three chapters, but the first two are largely introductory, with chapter three comprising the bulk of the book.
Chapter one talks about the elements that comprise flavor. It’s part information, part relevant quotes from noteworthy chefs.
Chapter two talks about the experience of eating, and how the context (weather, culture, function, etc.) determines what we eat. (To impose my own examples, the idea is that SuperBowl snacks will be different from a summer picnic, which will be different from a New Year’s dinner party.)
Chapter three, which spans 340 pages, is the heart of the book. This entire book (well, almost — I’ve already told you what’s in the first 34 pages) is comprised of “flavor affinity” charts. Numerous foods — from achiote seeds to zucchini blossoms — are listed in alphabetical order, and each is accompanied by a list of other foods that go well with it. In some cases, there are “flavor affinities” listed: groups of several foods that go well together. (For instance, the allspice listing includes “allspice + beef + onions” and “allspice + garlic + pork.”)
Frequently-recommended pairings are bolded, and very common pairings are bolded and in all caps.
In some cases, other cooking notes are included, like the seasonality of a given vegetable, the “volume” of its flavor, or particularly suitable techniques for preparation.
And it’s not just individual foods (although they comprise the bulk of the listings). Various cuisines are included, such as “West African” and “Japanese.” Seasons are included. Particular flavor types are included (for instance, “sour” or “warming.”)
Scattered throughout (but located near the relevant foods) are brief quotes from professional chefs about particular pairings, or recipes in which they use particular ingredients.
This is obviously not a “cookbook,” per se, but a reference resource to help creative cooks branch out. It can be helpful for those new to flavor pairings, to help us avoid putting together disgusting combinations. And it can be helpful for more experienced cooks who want to get a bit more adventurous.
There is also a Vegetarian Flavor Bible. I haven’t seen it, myself, but the Amazon reviews suggest it has a good deal to add to what this book offers, focusing on plant-based foods. (It’s vegan, apparently, but seems to have a lot of information about how to get creative with grains, beans, etc.)
Like Techniques of Healthy Cooking, Cooking at Homeis from the folks at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Unlike that book, this one is not specifically focused on “healthy” food, but it’s also written for home cooks rather than professional chefs. Although I wouldn’t say either book is better (not even for a home cook, necessarily), they are very different. If you’re looking for a start-to-finish, teach-you-how-to-cook book, this one is probably a better choice.
Cooking at Home is divided into eight sections:
Stocks, Soups, and Sauces
Steaming, Poaching, Simmering, Boiling, and Braising (moist heat methods)
Grilling, Broiling, and Roasting (dry heat methods)
Sauteing, Pan Frying, and Deep Frying (more dry heat methods, ‘though all fat-based)
Cooking Pasta, Grains, and Legumes
Salads and Sandwiches
Breads and Desserts
There are a couple of obvious advantages to this book. One is the general presentation. While Techniques of Healthy Cooking was packed full of relatively small print, with a lot of technical sidebars, etc., Cooking at Home has a lot of white space and a clear, simple layout that looks more approachable and less overwhelming. Information is presented in a clearly linear, progressive fashion, so you can read in order from one page to the next and know you’re getting the information in a practically logical order.
The other obvious advantage is the lessons. There is some information here, to provide context and lay the informational context you, as a cook, need. But there are also clearly-labeled “Chef’s Lessons” that provide step-by-step instructions for preparing the food at hand. In most cases, these include photographs so you know what things should look like. Sidebars containing “expert tips” are unfussy in appearance, and set off from the main text so as to avoid adding unnecessary complexity to what a completely novice cook is learning.
Recipes fall at the end of each section, after the relevant information. So a typical section looks something like this: general introduction, introduction to thing one, basic equipment for making thing one, chef’s lesson for thing one, introduction to thing two, basic equipment for making thing two, chef’s lesson for thing two, etc. — with “expert tips” sidebars scattered throughout. Then recipes for the section.
There are also periodic sections introduced with additional skills/information that are necessary, but not quite so directly; these are set off by a darker page background. These include, for example, how to cut vegetables and how to prepare peppers.
You could conceivably complete each chef’s lesson in order, and you’d have an excellent technical foundation by the end of the book. This is where we see the book’s strength as well as its weakness. Cooking at Home focuses on techniques — and tackles them well — but it really doesn’t address the more artistic aspects of food: developing and balancing flavors, recognizing what foods go together, etc. This and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat would pair very nicely.
The recipes here are very basic, but they build. For example, the soups section starts with vegetable, chicken, and fish stocks, then chicken broth and clear vegetable soup. Later in the section you’ll find Tortilla Soup, Beef Noodle Soup, Thai Hot and Sour Soup, Wonton Soup, Sopa De Albondigas, and Cream of Tomato Soup, all of which are built on stocks & broths.
This book, then, provides an excellent foundation but has the potential to be rather boring, in and of itself, so it’s probably something you’ll want to use alongside (or prior to) something else.
I had a major “light bulb” moment this week. (You know how in the cartoons, a light bulb goes on over someone’s head?) I have several areas of my computer that I think of as “working” files, where the folders contain to-do’s, projects in progress, etc. Let me give you a couple of examples.
I have two homeschooling folders. One is a “reference” folder, and it contains all the worksheets and ebooks and articles and such that I’ve collected over the years and want to have on hand to reference. The other is a “current” folder, and it contains the things we need for this specific school year.
Another folder on my computer is a “to print” folder. I store things in there when I have a lot of things that need to be printed and either I’m currently out of ink/waiting on more, there’s a lot to print and I want to get extra ink first, or I plan to send something out to a commercial printer as one bulk order.
But there’s a problem…
The problem is, I can never remember afterward whether I copied the items to those folders (and can therefore delete them when I’m finished using/printing them), or if I moved the items to those folders (and therefore need to move them back to their archives when I’m done with them). Usually I copy them, but if I’m not certain, I have to waste time checking. Also, it can take up a lot of space to store a lot of things that way!
And there’s a solution…
Perhaps this was already obvious to everyone else, but it just occurred to me this week that I can use shortcuts in these folders, rather than copying or moving the originals. The shortcuts (but not the actual files) can be deleted when I’m done with them, and since a shortcut clearly indicates it’s a shortcut, I’ll know I’m not deleting the original file.
How to Use a Shortcut
You might have read that and thought, “well, duh” — either because it had already occurred to you or because, like me, once you had heard it, it seemed so obvious you wondered why it hadn’t already occurred to you. But maybe you thought, “huh?” and wonder how to make this work, so let me walk you through the “to print” example.
Important note: I’m using a Windows computer. Mac seems to have a similar mechanism, called an “alias,” rather than a shortcut, but I’m not Mac-savvy, so I can’t explain how to work with it.
First you need to create the shortcut. Right-click on the file you want the shortcut to go to, and select “Create shortcut.” (It’s near the bottom of the menu that pops up.) A new “file” should appear in the same folder, named Original Filename – Shortcut.
Now you want to move that shortcut to the “working” folder. There are a couple different ways you can do that. If you have both folders open in separate windows, you can drag-and-drop the shortcut from one folder to another. Left-click the shortcut, then, while still holding down the mouse button, drag the file over to the other folder. Let go of the mouse button to “drop” the shortcut.
I usually cut and paste, because keyboard shortcuts make that easy. Select the shortcut. Now hold the Ctrl key and hit the X at the same time. (Ctrl-X). This will “cut.” Then place the mouse cursor in the destination folder and Ctrl-V to paste. (If you ever want to copy, instead of cut, Ctrl-C does that. But you don’t need that for our purposes today.)
So now our destination folder looks like this:
Double-clicking the shortcut will open the file just like double-clicking the original file would. (If you send it to an outside printer, though, you’ll need to email/upload them the actual file, not the shortcut.) When you’re done printing the document, or at the end of the school year when you’re done actively using the file, etc., you can simply delete the shortcut. Now the folder is clear, and the original file is unchanged.
Techniques of Healthy Cooking, by the Culinary Institute of America (the CIA, ha!), is intended for professional chefs-in-training. Don’t let the small image size mislead you; this book is a tome! Think “college textbook,” and you’ll have about the right size, shape, and weight. Just because it was written for “official” culinary students, though, doesn’t mean you can’t use it at home!
Unlike some of the other how-to-cook books, this one doesn’t focus only on cooking, but also spends a good bit of time on menu planning for healthy eating. Sections include “healthy eating patterns,” “healthy ingredients,” “the techniques,” and “developing healthy recipes and menus,” before getting into actual recipes.
I’m not crazy about their idea of “healthy,” which is the typical mainstream “low calorie, low salt, low fat” thinking. However, there is, for the most part, an emphasis on real, whole foods, and there’s a lot of information in here that’s very useful, such as estimated daily calorie needs by age and gender (all the way down to and including preschoolers). This type of information is not always easy to find in a straightforward format. Just read some of the details with a grain of salt (no pun intended). This first section about healthy eating patterns is chock-full of information, but it does get a bit “science-y,” so some readers might find it overwhelming.
The same is true of the section that follows, about healthy ingredients. There’s a good bit of information about different food-quality considerations, such as sustainability, organic, free-range, biotech, irradiation, etc. and a lot of it will simply be more than the average home cook is interested in reading. However, there’s practical information, too, like what temperatures to store various foods at (and how to store some trickier types of produce).
And there’s an excellent overview about a lot of the “whole ingredients” available. The photos in this section are especially fascinating to me. For instance, there are full page spreads of produce by color, so you can see a wide variety of green foods, or orange foods, etc. all together. There are pages of grains and grain products, so you can see them side-by-side. Not 100% of the ingredients included are things I’d consider healthy (margarine — ugh!) but most are, and this is a really great way to get exposure to some varieties of things you might not have seen before. (This section makes the common error of treating “folate” and “folic acid” as interchangeable terms. Leafy greens do not contain folic acid; they do contain folate.)
Section three is “the techniques,” and is further divided into general cooking guidelines, and techniques for vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts & seeds, and fish, meats, and poultry. This section is the highlight of the book. Dry heat and moist heat techniques are covered, with brief step-by-step instructions for how to do each one. The other sub-sections include information pertaining to each individual category of food. The vegetable section, for instance, includes (among other things) instructions for working with leafy greens, and a discussion of vegetable purees. The section about grains has a full-page chart of ratios (of grain to water) and cooking times for various grains (29 different types/forms). There’s also a small sub-section about developing flavor, although I’m not sure how helpful it will be for a complete novice.
The healthy menu planning section is probably of limited usefulness to most home cooks. A lot of time is spent on the idea of giving customers what they want. There are portions about reducing fat, salt, sugar, and alcohol, which may be helpful if you’re trying to adapt recipes, because they explain the functions of those ingredients.
Surprisingly, almost 2/3 of the book is comprised of recipes. The selection is not at all what I would consider a basic one; on the contrary, its primary benefit seems to be in the variety it offers, from savory Indian crepes to southern-style collard greens to Vietnamese summer rolls. In all honesty, most of these foods are not things my children are likely to eat, so I would consider this an opportunity to see the possibilities more than an actual, use-it-every-day cookbook.
The book includes a nice glossary.
All in all, this book definitely has its uses, but if I had to pick one single text for someone new to learn to cook from, it probably wouldn’t be this one.
If you’ve been around for a while, you’ve heard me talk about “conscious competence” — the thing that happens when you have to work to learn something, so you know how you did it. Dana White is not one of those Born Organized folks. In fact, she has really struggled with clutter in the past, which is why she’s able to be so incredibly helpful to the rest of us who struggle.
In Decluttering at the Speed of Life, Dana tackles the idea of decluttering in general, but also specifically from the perspective of having to fit it in to our lives and our days.
Have you ever pulled everything out of a closet to clean, declutter, and reoorganize, only to run out of time and have to stuff it all back in — a more jumbled mess than when you started? Or sorted a roomful of stuff into piles, only to have a child fall off the swingset and need to be taken to the emergency room, so you come home to a disaster?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve had project after project turn out unfinished, at best, or even a worse mess than what you started with, ruining your motivation to try again the next time.
Dana’s simple method for tackling things without creating that big mess is so simple it should, perhaps, be obvious, but it wasn’t, at least to me. In fact, it’s counter to virtually everything I’ve ever been taught. But it makes perfect sense to my easily-overwhelmed, easily-distractible self.
Decluttering vs. Cleaning or Organizing
One key point to note is that decluttering is not the same thing as cleaning or organizing. These things are related, but they’re distinct. Decluttering at the Speed of Life does not address these latter two things; only decluttering. There are a couple areas where this causes a slight difficulty for me.
For instance, when Dana talks about containers setting limits on things…I understand the underlying point, but if the area isn’t organized already; I don’t know how to determine what size containers are appropriate for what. This isn’t Dana’s fault, obviously, but it is an example of the book’s limitations.
Overall, though, I found this to be very refreshing. It was encouraging and without condemnation. Like Hello Mornings, the refrain is to simply get started, and move toward better, not to worry about the past or perfection. Full of grace, but without much room for excuses.
Decluttering is, like mornings, something that has been difficult for me due to health, but this has given me hope, where other resources have been discouraging or overwhelming. (I run out of the physical stamina to do simple things like carrying things back to where they go, so burning out was inevitable with “big projects.”) Not only is her method small-but-scalable — something I desperately need in this season; the section near the end about helping people declutter gave me some very specific insights into concrete ways others can help. (This is also something I’ve been dragging my feet on, because I didn’t know how to incorporate help with this particular task.)
I actually was reading this book while monitoring a sick baby, and got so inspired I emptied almost an entire shelf of stuff to get rid of, within 15 minutes of reading the book. I obviously wasn’t in a position for a whole “project” at that point, but was still able to make visible progress. That’s the point.
If you’re struggling with clutter, I’d encourage you to read this book. Much of Dana’s method sounds counter-intuitive at first, but makes a lot of sense when you stop to think about it. It will shift your thinking about clutter and help you believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Decluttering at the Speed of Life comes out on February 27, but you can pre-order it now.
This week, let’s talk cooking. As I’ve been working toward my course launch, one of the things I’ve needed to do is find some additional resources for certain topics. “How to cook” is one of them. I did a little bit of research and bought several books to look over — which I’ll review over the next few days. This book — Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat — I didn’t buy. I’d read a couple of Amazon reviews that led me to believe it might be rather…twee, so I skipped it. But as it turns out, our library has it, so I was able to borrow and read it. And I should’ve bought it.
It is different from other cooking books. It is exuberant and laced with personal stories and not a dry “textbook”-type approach. I think that was the point. The author clearly believes that experiencing food is much of what creates a great chef, and she seems to be creating that sense of “experience” as much as is possible through the pages of a book. I’m not much for fluff, but I didn’t find this fussy; I found it…descriptive. As if the author were drawing me into her environment to see and touch and taste and smell along with her — something I think is instrumental to her method of teaching.
As the title would suggest, Samin breaks down the four major concepts of salt, fat, acid, and heat. These are key elements experienced and professional chefs control and balance all the time, but which are rarely spelled out in such a straightforward way. (That is, great chefs all know they do these things, but rarely does anyone say, “salt, fat, acid, and heat are the keys to good cooking.”)
The first half (roughly) of the book is devoted to these concepts, with each getting its own substantial section. There’s plenty of description and explanation to help the reader understand how the element works and why it matters, including anecdotes of the author’s own discoveries of the element at work (or scenarios where it was flubbed and resulted in a flopped dish!). There are also guides to help you put each one into practice, such as lists of foods that are good sources of salt, fat, or acid.
The second half (roughly) of the book is recipes. That’s it, just recipes. But they’re a good set of basic recipes to provide a framework for practicing the skills learned in the first half and a jumping-off point for recipe creation when you’re not quite confident enough to start completely from scratch.
I’m not sure if Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat would completely stand alone for someone with no kitchen experience. It doesn’t major on individual kitchen skills like knife skills and that sort of thing. But for someone who has basic kitchen skills and simply lacks the familiarity with food and how to mix and match and balance it intuitively, this is an excellent resource. (It would be a great one for moms to work through with our older children, too!)