onion sets, a dining table, and cookbooks in the kitchen

I still haven’t planted the three onion sets, one yellow, one red, and one white (pictured above), that I bought last week from our local feed & hardware store. I’m not quite ready yet to shake off winter, but if I want to harvest full-sized onions in spring, I guess I’d better get cracking. Tomorrow, once today’s storms have passed, I’ll decide where to clear some of the mulch from the raised bed and plant the sets there, and maybe plant one of the sets in a container as well.

Inside, I’ve got several books, some rented and some newly purchased, sitting in stacks on the dining table. For some reason, I like to sit at the table in the kitchen to read. Even though the hard wooden seat of the old colonial captain’s chair is not very comfortable, the warm light from south-facing window is nice. Sitting at the sturdy formica-topped table where I grew up eating, and where family and friends have sat for many years, holds the comfort of good memories for me.

The majority of the books stacked on the dining table are, of course, cookbooks. These days, the cookbooks I’m most interested in are the ones with more information on the how’s and why’s of cooking than just recipes. Along those lines, I’d like to share the three main cookbooks I’ve been reading through, learning from, and experimenting with lately. If you want to get better at feeding yourself, you cook as much as you can, but it’s also helpful to feed your mind.
In Fort Worth, The Black Rooster Bakery makes exceptional breads, and its baker and owner, MarcheAnn Mann, is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute’s bread baking school in New York. When I came across The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking, newly published by the French Culinary Institute in New York, I couldn’t wait to get it and read it. It’s specifically written for anyone who wants to get completely immersed in every aspect of bread baking. Among the things covered in the twelve chapters are techniques, tools, mixing, shaping, proofing, baking, pre-ferments, and making classic breads from around the world. If you’re serious about baking bread, it’s a great book to learn from.

Just before Christmas, I ordered Ruhlmans’ Twenty, by Michael Ruhlman, from a large online retailer. About a month later, the retailer cancelled my order because the book was still back-ordered and they couldn’t get any more books from their supplier. That’s how popular this book is. Fortunately, there were still a couple of copies at the local book store, so I finally picked one up. The concept of Ruhlman’s Twenty is that that there are twenty essential things to know in cooking, and that learning these things can help you be a much better cook. Each chapter, twenty in all, begins with a short narrative on a technique or function of a particular food or element, and then uses it in recipes with accompanying photos. Chapter titles are Think, Salt, Water, Onion, Acid, Egg, Butter, Dough, Batter, Sugar, Sauce, Vinaigrette, Soup, Sauté, Roast, Braise, Poach, Grill, Fry, and Chill. I would add one more chapter-Eat.

I first read about Shirley Corriher in a post from the blog Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore on the cooking website Food52. Shirley is a cookbook author with experience as a biochemist, and her cookbooks explain the role of ingredients and why things work or don’t work in cooking. Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, is one of two cookbooks Shirley has written on decoding and solving problems that occur in the kitchen. Food subjects covered in the seven chapters include bread, the role of fats, eggs, sauce, fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood and fowl, and desserts. Full of easy-to-understand, detailed information, Cookwise can help you get creative and have successful results with all those crazy ideas you have in the kitchen.

Hopefully, those onions will get planted soon. Meanwhile, I’ll be reading at my table, and as always, following my muse in the kitchen.

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