I'm going to try to run today!!!
(ya know, just sayin'...)
"The Flavor Thesaurus" by Niki Segnit (2010)
Contrarian that I am, of course my favorite cookbook was written by a marketing specialist who admits she'd never even peeled a potato until she was 20, has no photographs and most of the recipes are two sentences long or tell you to look it up on the internet. It's ingenious and it's fun to read. It gets me thinking about what I want to cook and eat - that, I think, is the measure of a good cookbook.
The book is set up in chapters of one particular food, grouped by some basic characteristic, such as roasted or cheesy. Under each food is a list of flavors that can be paired with it and her impressions of each pairing and how one can possibly combine them in a recipe, with examples. Her descriptions are priceless; for example, black currant and chocolate is "dark as Finnish goth poetry, but not as popular;" she then mentions two British firms that have tried that combination in candies. I was looking for pairings of fruit and chocolate and found she warns you that a lover's gift of chocolate-covered strawberries will leave you disappointed, and she explains how one has to poach pears in vanilla and add hazelnuts, if you want to cover them in a light layer of chocolate. I want to argue many of her statements, but in the end, I usually agree.
She doesn't cover the more exotic of flavors. Passion fruit gets mentioned only in passing and, after mentioning Mario Batali's fascination with fennel pollen, says how to get a similar flavor without access to such a rarefied product. This is a book for the common cook, for those who don't want to get bogged down with details, but want to make something they'll enjoy tasting.
It's the unexpected combinations that always fascinate me. Who would think that asparagus and orange would work together? She, in her typically opinionated way, eschews white asparagus as bland and has me kicking myself that I leave the tiny feathery fronds of my garden asparagus until they've grown a few years, when they are the ones that have the most intense asparagus flavor. For a recipe, she simply explains how to make an orange reduction and add it to a hollandaise - if you don't know how to make hollandaise, you could look it up - and you just pour the sauce over the stems.
Now, time to lace up the running shoes. Wish me luck.