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Book Review: From Scratch

December 2019/January 2020 Issue
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From Scratch: 10 Meals, 175 Recipes, and Dozens of Techniques You Will Use Over and Over
by Michael Ruhlman (Abrams)

It began with a BLT. Ten years ago, James Beard award-winning author Michael Ruhlman challenged his blog followers to create their own bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich entirely from scratch. From the bread to the spread, all the elements had to be homemade. That challenge—and the inspiring submissions that it elicited—became the kernel for this ambitious and thoroughly charming book. Ruhlman takes a deep dive into 10 much-loved staple meals, including roast chicken, lasagna, and the BLT that started it all.

His thesis is simple: “… by exploring several familiar, staple meals, we can learn just about everything we need to know in order to cook, well, anything.” How then, you may ask, do 10 meals become 175 recipes? The answer: There’s more than one way to peel an orange. From 10 foundational dishes, Ruhlman creates myriad variations that range from “seriously from scratch” to “lightning version.” Add to that a cornucopia of sauces, sides, and elements that can be chopped and changed in infinite ways, and you easily find your way to
nearly 200 recipes. Ruhlman does his best to give you a taste of just how many variations on a theme there can be. It’s an eclectic, exciting way to look at food, and it underscores the truly dynamic nature of cooking. This is a cookbook that won’t be pinned down as a mere collection of recipes.

That’s why it was such a delight to find that the recipes themselves were worth their weight in gold. There are many journeys to take in this book, and mine began with the “from scratch” version of Roast Chicken Au Jus with Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans. Why? Because I think roast chicken is the best way to judge a chef ’s skills. I’m happy to report that Ruhlman gets it right. His subtle tweaks made the recipe wildly successful, and I’ll be adopting them in my own kitchen.

This is the book I want on hand during cold winter weekends when I’m looking to do some project cooking. It’s also the book I want at my fingertips for quick midweek meals. That’s an impressive feat in the cookbook game.

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