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Courier Article by Sean Davis
Monday, August 10, 2009

American Psyche Gets the Once Over Many Times

If there is one defining fixation that ties all humanity together it is our fascination with food. From fast food to fine cuisine, we Americans are particularly fortunate in the many options we are allowed. Perhaps it is time we refine our choices, and come to a better understanding of the food we eat.

In "Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking" author Michael Ruhlman breaks down cooking into a master's approach to the mathematics of cuisine. With only a bare minimum of ingredient ratios one can create any culinary concoction. Bread is made of five parts flour to three parts liquid. A pie dough is three parts flour to one part liquid to two parts fat. With these ground rules one can begin the journey to kitchen mastery with variations on the most basic of recipes.

A return to basics is also a characteristic of "Rustic Fruit Deserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies and More." With recipes like Caramel Peach Grunt and apple pandowdy, Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson use traditional recipes to showcase the satisfying option of simple desserts. A rhubarb fool or an upside-down sweet cherry cake may be what's called for after dinner tonight.

If gluten- and sugar-free is your thing, look no further than "Babycakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York's Most talked-About Bakery" for your dessert needs. Author Erin McKenna promises healthy sweets without losing the taste and texture of traditional treats. From chocolate frosting to carrot cupcakes each recipe is classic in concept, but modern in design. Ingredients include xanthan gum and agave nectar as often as flour and salt, and as a result may not be as inviting to everyone.

One American dietary main staple most of us can agree on is a tasty sandwich. Burgers or cold cuts are what most may envision, but some in the culinary world believe they should be taken a bit more serious. "'wichcraft: craft a sandwich into a meal- and a meal into a sandwich" is Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio's answer to leftovers four-star restaurant style. The creations presented to the reader are high brow comfort food. No simple sandwiches are found here as each one finds its source in world class restaurant seconds or sous chef improvisations. Marinated eggplant with chickpea puree, roasted peppers and watercress or a pb & j made with rhubarb jelly, take your pick from the many complex creations.

Another book of high-brow meals is "The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook: A Year in the Life of a Restaurant." After deciding to leave the L.A. restaurant scene, Michelle and Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson opened their new business with the intention of creating great food from great ingredients. Coastal cuisines coupled with organic, sustainable fair bring to life complex recipes distinct to California. This need for quality ingredients seems to be of the utmost importance to many consumers in recent days.

Taking this concern for food production seriously, "Food, Inc.: How Industrial Food is Making us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer- And What You Can Do About It" presents essays from leading organic industry leaders. A spin off of a documentary of the same name, this companion book presents further opinions and advice from industry professionals with views on food source biofuel, running an organic farm, or insuring your child's proper nutritional levels. Each expert points to the problems we face with our current food system and the promise they see in their respective areas.

"You are what you eat" is what I have heard throughout my life. The ingredients we use to make our foods are the first line for guaranteeing a healthy, satisfying meal. With a little know how and ingenuity, we can create dishes far beyond our expectations. With a little leg work, we can guarantee the health and safety of our loved ones, as well as ourselves.

Sean Davis is a readers' advisor in the Reference Services Department at Central Library.