September 4, 2009
I recently woke up thinking about a recipe I used to make when I first started to experiment in the kitchen. It came from a cookbook that my mother had gotten sometime in the early 80s from Cooking Light magazine. Along with the usual "light" recipes, the book had an entire chapter on microwave cookery. Though I was still too young to mess around with the stove, my mom let me go to town with the microwave (once I understood that metal things were off limits, that is).
There was an easy lemon pudding cake that quickly became my favorite. It was a kind of souffle that relied on stiff egg whites for height and just the teensiest bit of flour. I made the pudding cakes all the time that year until I was able to graduate to box mixes and the oven. I don't think I thought about those little lemon cakes again until the other day when they reappeared for no reason at all. I called my mom and she promised to look for the book. We stopped by the house for dinner a couple weeks ago, and found the book sitting on the kitchen shelf. I excitedly flipped through the pages right to the recipe for lemon pudding cakes. There was the picture I'd remembered, and the page...well it was filthy! Crusts of long ago flour and sugar and a rip where the paper had glued itself together. It was the only page in the book that looked like that; the surest evidence of a favorite recipe.
We all have books like this, sticky and splattered with frosting from that cake we made grandpa on his 75th birthday or the splatter of cranberry sauce from the first time mom let you help with Thanksgiving. Seeing that messy and beloved page made me wonder about the stories in other people's cookbook pages, and so Sticky Books, a new weekly interview column here on Always Order Dessert, was born.
Each Friday, a different food blogger or will share his or her top three favorite cookbooks with my readers. Sticky books are a badge of honor for the home cook, sometimes even more memorable than the album full of snapshots, and so I'm excited that so many incredible bloggers have been willing to share them with us. If you have experiences with the books that these bloggers mention, I invite you to leave them in the comments, and please don't hesitate to tell us about your own sticky books.
Sticky Books: Marc Matsumoto of No Recipes
Marc Matsumoto started his food blog No Recipes nearly two years ago. Based on the philosophy that cooking is 50% technique, 40% inspiration, and 10% ingredients, he strongly believes that armed with a handful of basic techniques and a little inspiration, anyone can make a tasty meal from even the most derelict pantry.
When I sent Marc the questions for this feature, he told me about a new event that he just launched on his blog called Blog Away Hunger, which is meant to raise money for the World Food Program. The WFP gets food aid to the people that need it most, and with one in seven people on Earth suffering from chronic hunger, they need all the support they can get. He's inviting everybody to participate in this event by simply creating a meal that costs less than what you'd normally spend, post about it on your own blog or website, and then donate the money you saved to the WFP. You can check out Marc's blog for more details.
And now, in Marc's words, his top three Sticky Books:
Marc: Since I don't cook with recipes, my most used cookbooks tend to be reference books where I can quickly look up information on ingredients and basic techniques.
1. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
This is my "stickiest" cookbook. It doesn't contain any recipes, but it holds within its blessed binding, answers to nearly any food related question you may have. Like "How is soy sauce made?" or "What do cell walls have to do with the mealiness or meltingness of fruit?". This is the Webster's of the culinary world.
2. The Best Recipe by the editors of Cooks Illustrated
What I love about the folks at Cooks Illustrated is that they take scientific rigor and apply it to food. Through a documented process and iterative testing, they figure out the best way to do something. As with anything that comes out of a lab, their recipes tend to lack soul, but what it lacks in character is more than compensated for with rock solid techniques and play-by-play details.
3. Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji
You won't find any drool-worthy photos or nostalgic stories here, but if you want a reference book on Japanese ingredients and cooking, this is the only English language book that will meet your needs. Like Julia Child, with her tome: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Tsuji opens the door into the mystical world of Japanese food with her book.
Have you cooked with any of Marc's favorite cookbooks? Tell us about them in the comments! And remember to check back next Friday for the next edition of Sticky Books.