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April 11, 2024

  • Poetics of April
    As we enter into the poetics of April, also known as national poetry month, here are four voices from well to lesser known. The Tradition – Jericho Brown Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Brown visited the last American Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP 2024) conference, and I loved his speech and humor. Besides […]
  • Barbara Marie Minney in Perrysburg
    Indie bookstore, Gathering Volumes, just hosted poet and (transgender) activist, Barbara Marie Minney in Perrysburg To celebrate Trans Day of Visibility, Minney read from her poetry book – A Woman in Progress (2024). Her reading depicted emotional and physical transformations especially in the scene of womanhood and queer experiences. Her language is empowering and personally […]
Spring Housing Guide

“Ruhlman’s Twenty” inspires creativity, good start to a meal

In my humble opinion, most cookbooks suck. Many provide faulty recipes, contain little explanation regarding technique and have such wimpy spines that pages fall out after one use. Even worse, quite a few cookbook authors assume home cooks don’t know how to hold a knife, let alone use ingredients that aren’t pre-packaged or meats that are on the bone.

That said, I do hold several cookbook authors in high esteem: Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver, Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg. And definitely among this group is Michael Ruhlman, a fantastic food writer, a distinguished “Iron Chef America” judge and author of nine books, including “Ratio” and the widely read “The Soul of a Chef.”

His newest cookbook, “Ruhlman’s Twenty,” is a thoughtful masterpiece that presents twenty techniques or cooking essentials in 20 chapters and well over 100 recipes that practice these fundamentals. Ruhlman explains in-depth the logic behind each technique and its importance in the kitchen. The beauty of each chapter’s foreword is it serves as a lesson to those new to cooking or as well-written reminders to those with advanced skill levels.

For example, I’m smitten with the “Water” chapter. Water in the kitchen seems like a no-brainer, but the way Ruhlman writes about water shows a respect that is refreshing and sincere. He writes, “In its omnipresence, its seemingly unlimited nature, we tend to overlook it for what it is: a miracle ingredient we use every day. Water, like salt, is essential to the maintenance of life, and in the kitchen it is equally important as both ingredient and tool.”

Following Ruhlman’s reflection on water, he discusses the scientific “behavior of water,” direct and indirect cooking methods, cooling and freezing, brines and flavor extraction. Each segment contains articulate consideration that highlights water’s function in the kitchen and how home cooks can attain greatness through water’s versatility.

To test the correlation between the chapter’s foreword and its recipes, I tried my hand at the Weekday Coq Au Vin. The recipe’s narrative is completely clear because of the accompanying step-by-step photographs of the recipe’s instructions. Never did I wonder if my onions were too brown; I just consulted the pictures to see if my onions were similar in color to Ruhlman’s. Donna Turner Ruhlman’s photographs are beautiful, but more importantly, they show cooks how a recipe unfolds, something that really sets “Ruhlman’s Twenty” apart from almost all common cookbooks.

Roasting is by far one of my favorite cooking techniques, so I was quite excited when I started reading the chapter on roasting. However, I was less than enthusiastic about the flatness of the Spicy Roasted Green Beans with Cumin. The recipe needed acidity and crunch; I wasn’t happy with it at all. However, the failure I experienced with Ruhlman’s recipe gave me an opportunity to practice what Ruhlman preaches- that I could adopt this technique and develop a recipe on my own, which I did with much success.

I preheated the oven to 450. Then I heated an iron skillet over high heat, added rendered bacon fat to the pan and then flash-fried thinly sliced garlic. When the garlic became fragrant, I added a couple of pinches of homemade dried dust to add heat. I added a pound of freshly steamed green beans to the skillet and gave it all a quick stir before tossing it in the oven for 20 minutes. Halfway through the roasting, I added a large pinch of salt to the skillet, and before serving, I added a small handful of roasted almonds. There weren’t any leftovers.

I was blown away by how Ruhlman’s recipe gave me a base to work from and inspired such off-the-cuff creativity. It was a testimony that his approach is completely effective and that the first chapter on thinking is a must-read before delving too intensely into the book as whole.

Since my victory with my version of roasted green beans, I’ve become obsessed with “Ruhlman’s Twenty.” I flip through it with my morning tea before yoga, and I read it intently before I turn off the lamp by my bedside at night. It’s a well-crafted, intelligent cookbook with a sturdy spine and ribbon bookmark that, thankfully, will withstand years of use.

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