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Mathematics in the Kitchen & What We Eat Really Does Matter

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Written by Heather Jones   
Thursday, 30 July 2009

ImageThis spotlight is going to be a little different from what we usually do at Project Foodie.  Normally, we spotlight books that we totally love; ones we hope you will enjoy just as much as we do.  So how is this spotlight different? I'll be blunt - I didn’t love these books, but they cover topics that I think many people will find both interesting and beneficial.  In other words, these books are worthy of discussion and many of you will probably love them, just not me.  

Why don’t I love them you may wonder? Well the main reason is probably because they are such a departure from what I’m used to seeing from these two authors and although I’m very open minded, and realize that people need to grow and focus on new things, it really bugged me that they wanted to do something “different”.  I felt the same way when one of my favorite mystery authors up and decided that she wanted to start writing paranormals…the nerve of her.  The two books I’m talking about are “Ratio” by Michael Ruhlman and “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman.

Writer Michael Ruhlman is one of the most well respected writers today.  He wrote the infamous French Laundry Cookbook, not to mention the bestselling “Making of a Chef”, which was re-released in March.  His “Elements of Cooking” has become a kitchen staple for serious home cooks everywhere.  With such an impressive resume I shouldn’t be surprised that he wants us talking numbers in the kitchen and I’m not just talking about quarter cups and teaspoons. 

The idea behind "Ratio" is a good one, free yourself from following recipes by understanding the ratio components in a dish.  For example, the ratio for bread dough is 5 parts flour: 3 parts water.  Don’t get me wrong I get it, 5 ounces of flour and 3 ounces of water, 20 ounces of flour and 12 ounces of water, but I have to tell you if I can’t remember the recipe for Guacamole without looking it up from time to time I don’t expect to be able to remember any ratios.  I personally like following recipes, I like having someone tell me exactly which ingredients to use and what to do with those ingredients.  Still, having said that, "Ratio" is ideal for those who have a real head for numbers, for those cooks who really like to fly by the seat of their pants in the kitchen, those who don’t like how restricting recipes can be, and those who are obviously more creative behind the stove than I am.  The ratios are also great for those who love to bake and for those who are a little more cerebral in the kitchen.  For all Mr. Ruhlman’s talk about ratios, (Mayonnaise is 20 parts oil: 1 part liquid including the yolk), you may be surprised that he doesn’t leave us hanging in the recipe department; try the Lime-Peanut Vinaigrette or the Vanilla Ice Cream with Maker’s Mark bourbon.  Maybe one day I’ll grow up and really give these ratios a try, in the mean time, for those of you that are ready to stop being slaves to detailed recipes, this book is definitely for you.

Next up is “Food Matters” by New York Times columnist and James Beard award winning author Mark “The Minimalist” Bittman or as Mario Batali calls him “Bitty”.  Not being able to write a glowing recommendation for Mr. Bittman is painful for me because I am his number one fan (cue the scene from Misery). One thing that has to be said is that whatever Mr. Bittman does, he does it well.  He is most well known for his simple yet delicious recipes that appear weekly in the New York Times and in his nearly dozen cookbooks. He has made countless individuals remember that cooking is supposed to fun, not a chore and definitely not hard. 

Some time ago Mr. Bittman discovered, like many people of a certain age do, that his health wasn't the best and he decided to do something about it.  Once he got a real handle on his own health and started seeing the pounds melt away he decided to write about it. At the same time he was becoming, as many of us are, increasingly concerned about the quality of food in this country.  Mr. Bittman decided to take the bull by the horns and use his voice to educate people about what they are eating; not just how to cook it.  Mr. Bittman basically picks up where Michael Pollan left off with the additional advantages of teaching us how to be healthier and lose weight. He believes that if we eat the Food Matters way, which basically consists of three meals and a snack each day, less meat, and lots of whole grains and vegetables then we will reduce our risk of many long-term or chronic diseases, lose weight, save money, and help stop global warming. 

Honestly, as I sit here writing this I realize there is no downside to this book other than I was a little taken aback because this is not what I have come to expect from Mr. Minimalist.  Have I tried this new way of eating? Well, no. Should I? Absolutely, even if it means annoying the heck out of my husband who thinks there is nothing wrong with his eating habits or caloric intake. I have tried some of the recipes in this book and they are the same easy, tasty dishes that I've come to expect from Mr. Bittman. The Vegetable Pancakes (see recipe below) is one of my favorites, and right now I'm especially enjoying my summer zucchini with a little dill and ginger combination. 

Fellow foodies what I'm saying is this:  Don't be like me, look beyond the covers and don't give your favorite Cookbook authors a hard time (figuratively) when they decide to introduce us to something new.  Like it or not, Ratios could be a liberating thing for you in the kitchen and as Mr. Bittman has reminded me, Food really does Matter. 

Vegetable Pancakes

From Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes by Mark Bittman. Published by Simon & Schuster; December 30, 2008

Makes: 4 servings
Time: At least 30 minutes

A surefire way to get anyone to eat any vegetable, these crisp babies are delicious as a side dish, alone as an appetizer, or served on a bed of Nicely Dressed Salad Greens as lunch.

Root vegetables are most common, but you can use whatever looks good to you, alone or in combination: zucchini, yellow squash, winter squash, corn, or chopped scallions; even spinach or chard is good (just cook it, squeeze it dry, and chop it first). And consider tossing in a tablespoon of fresh herbs or spices.
Sweet potato and corn benefit from a bit of cilantro, zucchini comes to life with dill, and ginger or cardamom will warm up winter squash beautifully. Serve with Olive Oil Drizzle , a sprinkling of Parmesan or chopped nuts, or any salsa.

  • About 1 1/2 pounds grated vegetables, peeled first if necessary (3 cups packed), and squeezed dry
  • 1/2 small onion, grated; or 4 scallions
  • 1 egg or 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup white or whole wheat flour, more or less
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive or vegetable oil or butter for greasing the pan

1. Heat the oven to 275°F. Grate the vegetable or vegetables by hand or with the grating disk of a food processor. Mix together the vegetables, onion, egg, and ¼ cup of the flour. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a little more flour if the mixture isn't holding together.

2. Put a little butter or oil in a large skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, drop in spoonfuls of the batter, using a fork to spread the vegetables into an even layer, then press down a bit. Work in batches to prevent overcrowding. (Transfer finished pancakes to the oven until all are finished.) Cook, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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