Suzi's Blog

The Culinarian: A Kitchen Desk Reference

book cover
There is a special class of books that warms the heart of true foodies: the kitchen companion. These are reference books, not cookbooks. They are filled with facts and figures that answer the questions that can randomly arise in only the mind of  food-obsessed individuals.

“Food –obsessed” is an adjective and complement. If someone uses that term against you as a slur, you should immediately pelt them with your emergency supply of M&Ms.

Oh, yes, you do. Somewhere in a coat pocket, there’s one of those little bags to tide you over just in case the subway halts between stations.

Well, I always carry one. And I suggest you do, too.

And, if the subway should halt, and you have time to read, then you should be toting around The Culinarian: A Kitchen Desk Reference by Barbara Ann Kipfer. The odds are that the almost four thousand entries in this book with both entertain you and answer just about any of the wild questions that pop up.

For example: sweetened condensed milk. Marco Polo claimed the Tartars on the plains of Asia had something like this a thousand years ago. But where did the modern variety come from? An American, Gail Borden, had the idea in 1852. He was crossing the Atlantic on an upscale ship — they had cows for fresh milk — but on a stormy voyage — the cows became seasick and there was no milk. Mr. Borden wondered how milk could be canned and thus available under dire circumstances. [It does seem that Mr. Borden also had a bit of a sweet tooth.]

On a more practical note, The Culinarian provides excellent descriptions of culinary terms, like braising. Our grandmothers knew exactly what it meant. For later generations raised with microwaves, “braising” can actually be foreign and even intimidating.

This is a fun book to read with every page containing information: some of it pure background [like that condensed milk] and some of it very practical. The section on frying has a half dozen essential tips to achieve excellence. For example, you should use only tender cuts of meat for shallow frying. Salt the meat and let it stand for 5 minutes before you fry. The salt will draw juices to the surface and those juices will caramelize during the frying process.

Let’s see: carmelization = flavor + sweetness. I wonder if Mr. Borden ever tried to …

This is a delightful book, conveniently small in height and width, but almost two inches deep and filled with thousands of things you’ll really want to know. Things in fact you should know.

Looking ahead, The Culinarian is a stocking stuffer any foodie would be thrilled to receive.

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