Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


REVIEW by Jason Bell

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking
by Michael Ruhlman
Scribner, reprint edition. September 2010
Paperback 272 pp.
ISBN: 978-1416571728

Although for many Americans the holiday season brings kitchen anxiety—how to feed a host of guests with dietary restrictions and food dislikes galore—I relish the opportunity to challenge myself behind the stove. When tasked with making turkey gravy, I minimize complexity. I already have the critical flavoring agent, the turkey’s own juices. In order to thicken the gravy, I decide to use a roux, a mixture of flour and fat. Instead of an ordinary (and grossly voluminous) cookbook, I open my copy of Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio. A true roux aficionado, Ruhlman discusses the paste’s finer details—to toast or not to toast—in his memoir The Making of a Chef. Not surprisingly, Ruhlman devotes an entire chapter in Ratio to describing the correct proportion of flour to fat. The entire purpose of Ratio is, after all, to provide the essential formulas for preparing infinite dishes.

There are a mere 33 ratios in Ruhlman’s slim volume. With these simple fractions, however, Ruhlman teaches a calculus of cooking. To create cookie dough, follow the rule of one, two, three: one part sugar to two parts fat to three parts flour. Introducing nuts, chocolate, or fruit into the equation radically alters the outcome; even varying the sweetener from white sugar to brown opens new spectra of coloration and crispiness. Falling into five categories—doughs and batters, stocks, meat, sauces, and custard— Ruhlman’s ratios enable the home cook to replicate thousands of recipes.

In fact, Ruhlman suggests that “ratios liberate you,” that they unlock the constricting chains of recipes. Recipes may actually “hurt you as a cook,” whereas “ratios free you.” Initially, Ruhlman seems to present himself as a Zen master standing against worldly sins: his stance seems laced with exaggeration, and his insistence on executing all ratios with a scale feels frighteningly rigid. Yet, reading Ratio as an integral component of Ruhlman’s previous works—a reading Ruhlman actively endorses in his introduction—reveals his admirable goal: pursuing the craft of good cooking, and then transcending the good to search for perfection. Ruhlman is ultimately interested in the aesthetics of cooking, the beauty underlying the essential parts of hollandaise sauce, the wonder in watching an emulsion form.

On my first attempt, the roux fails to come out perfectly, rather lumpy and thick. Nevertheless, it works, the gravy thickens, and dinner progresses with none the wiser. I am not yet a great cook, probably not even a good one, but I am beginning my journey towards perfection, with Ratio as my guide.

February 17, 2011