When I started this blog, I promised 'Good Eats, Good Reads and Great Destinations.' Our time in Europe and our recent trip out West has made it easy to deliver on the destinations and I feel like I've shared a few good recipes and restaurants, but it's been brought to my attention that I have yet to share a single good read. Well, that's a great shame because there are so many good ones to recommend. Indeed, with such a wealth of choices, it's hard to even know where to begin!
"The Flavor Bible is as useful to anyone who cooks asa Thesaurus is to anyone who writes" - Karen Page
My first selection isn't really so much a book to curl up and drink tea with (though you certainly could - and I periodically do!) as it is an excellent reference volume for the kitchen. The Flavor Bible labels itself the "Essential guide to culinary creativity, based on the wisdom of America's most imaginative chefs" and is, in essence, an intensive course on ingredients and their interactions, with a few personal interviews from chefs and some tips on technique. Have you ever wished you could combine ingredients with flair and abandon? Ever dreamed about effortlessly concocting that perfect combination of savory and spice? The Flavor Bible puts these skills at the fingertips of even the most inexperienced home cook.
The real heart of the book is the alphabetical index of flavors and ingredients; each element is listed with other complimentary foods or flavors, called 'affinities' as well as information as to the season and taste of the ingredient in question. So, if I look up 'salmon,' our dinner for tonight, I would discover that it pairs well with apple, horesradish and rosemary - as well as a host of other things - and lends itself to being baked, braised, broiled, grilled, marinated, panfried, poached, roasted, sauteed, steamed, seared and eaten raw.
In my experience, the Flavor Bible is at its most useful when I'm innovating, have brought home some strange ingredient or other, or am trying to use up ingredients I have left at home. Often, I'll consult the book just before I'm about to put together an unlikely pairing or when I'm looking for ways to spice up some of our old favorite recipes. One evening, for example, I had a spare mango in the kitchen. I looked it up and discovered that its flavor is enhanced by vinegar and basil and that it pairs well with tuna - voilla! balsamic-basil-and-mango salsa over tuna steaks for dinner!
The book details all the usual combinations (ham with asparagus. chives with eggs, nutmeg with cream, etc.) but is also a wealth of unusual and unexpected pairings. Did you know, for example, that the flavor of blueberries is intensified by cinnamon, or that bay leaves will punch up the pumpkin flavor in your soups and baked goods? In some cases, the book also warns of possible flavor clashes, as in the case of coffee and lavender, or oysters and tarragon. The Flavor Bible is full of such fascinating and useful tidbits.
Even if you're not not an innovator in the kitchen, or you've been blessed with an instinct for food combining, the Flavor Bible is a useful guide. Thumbing through it's pages provides a fascinating look at the science and chemistry behind the things we eat, as well as a small glimpse into the minds of some successful chefs. For those interested in finding out more, there's an excellent little video on the book's Amazon page, as well as a large batch of customer reviews - you can add my endorsement to the list!