Tuesday, July 04, 2006

How to Cook Everything

I used to have the unfortunate predicament of working in a bookstore. Even more unfortunate was my position in charge of the section which included cookbooks, which meant that not only did I receive an awesome discount on them, but I had time to slowly leaf through them, drooling over the pictures and soaking up idea after morsel after crumb. The bookstore is where I fell in love with Ina Garten, but it's also the first place where I was introduced to Mark Bittman.
Last night, while I was making the custard for my first ever Vanilla Malt Ice Cream, I had lots of questions about the scalding of the half and half, as well as when exactly the custard mixture was done...my recipe was hopelessly vague, and I really didn't want to make it twice. So I turned around and asked "What does Mark Bittman say about this?"
After some perusal, I heard the answer.
My recipe read:
Return mixture to double boiler and cook, stirring until mixture thickens slightly and coats the spoon.

While the most excellent Mark Bitman writes:
Cook over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, until the mixture reaches 175 to 180 degrees F, or is slightly thickened; do not boil. (There will be a thick coating on the back of a spoon, one that will hold the outline of your finger after you pass it through.)

I like recipes that give me specifics - I need them the first time. Like a good teacher - they hold your hand for a bit, show you signposts that you can recognize for yourself when you're on your own, and then you learn to adapt the recipes for yourself. They teach you a smidgen of technique in easy-to understand language.

I ask Mark Bittman's opinion on lots of things - he has never failed me once. Sometimes we just sit down on the couch, this big yellow book and me, and figure things out together. How to Cook Everything is my Joy of Cooking.

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