Today is the 1st birthday of my favorite cookbook, The Flavor Bible, which is actually a reference book/guide to ingredients and flavors. It’s a book I use constantly that has had a tremendous influence on my cooking. In fact, I’m not including a new recipe in this post as there is evidence of The Flavor Bible all over the blog: Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with Cherry Mousse, Mediterranean Stuffed Ball Zucchini with Lamb, Seared Sea Scallops with Purple Asparagus, White Wine Sauce and Balsamic Glaze, and so many more.
Already a fan of their previous books Culinary Artistry and What to Drink with What You Eat, I was excited last October when I found out Page and Dornenburg were going to be signing copies of their latest book at the Green City Farmer’s Market. I got there early and was so excited and a little anxious about meeting them. They were role models for me, afterall. It turns out I was being silly as they were two of the nicest writers I’d ever met.
Luckily, there wasn’t a line so they had a few minutes to chat and it wound up being a very interesting conversation, at least for me. It started when I shook hands with Page and she immediately asked if I was “in the industry,” which I am. She then asked if I was a pastry chef or baker, which I’m not, although this encounter was during my pretzel bread phase. I asked Page how she knew, and she said it was because of my grip and that part of my hand was stronger than most. She explained that assessing peoples’ handshakes was something she did on the book tour to keep herself entertained. Let’s just say that I now pay more attention to handshakes when meeting new people.
Since then the The Flavor Bible has been invaluable to me, spending more time off my bookshelf then any other book. I’d classify it as an intermediate level book for cooks because it’s important to have a strong cooking background in order to use it effectively.
So how does the Flavor Bible work? Essentially it’s an alphabetical list of just about every ingredient imaginable – although I don’t think it had bitter melon. It tells you the best ways to prepare the ingredient (i.e. roast, braise, saute, etc.) and then provides a list of other flavors or ingredients that pair well with it. The list includes a coded ranking system: bold caps with * = “marriages made in heaven”; bold caps = highly recommended pairings; bold = frequently recommended pairings; and plain text = recommended pairings.
After the pairings is another list of “flavor affinities,” or rather a string of three to six ingredients that go together very well, followed by dishes featuring the main ingredient attributed to accomplished chefs.
A great example of The Flavor Bible in action was when I made Mint Pea Soup with Greek Yogurt. I remember being excited by the fresh peas I’d found at the farmer’s market but was having a difficult time deciding how to use them in a way that would really highlight the sweet flavor of these peas.
So I turned to The Flavor Bible and found that the techniques recommended to cook them were boil, braise, saute and steam. Okay, I would boil the peas then puree them into a soup. But what other ingredients should I use?
According to the book there were plenty to choose from, 79 in fact. I then noticed that mint was both bolded and in caps, meaning it’s a highly recommended pairing, and that sounded very good to me. Knowing I was going to make a soup, the next step was to choose a liquid and I found “stocks: chicken, vegetable” in bold, so I made the choice to go with chicken broth. Now for the aromatics… garlic (bold), ginger (plain text) and white onion (bold).
Finally, I needed an ingredient to finish the soup. Cream would be a standard choice but is an ingredient I avoid using (yup, that whole lactose thing), so instead I went with yogurt (plain text). In this case I felt confident in my ingredient list so didn’t feel the need to cross reference, but sometimes I do that.
Now that you know about my favorite cook book, please tell me what is your favorite cookbook? Is it a new book that has a lot of fun recipes? Is it one that has been in your family for generations? Was it written by a famous chef? By a TV star? Does it contain beautful food photography?
What makes your tummy grumble?