Saturday, August 8, 2009


Okay...I've been talking about this Ratio book a LOT lately so I thought I'd take some time to actually write about it. I wasn't originally intending on writing book reviews, but it seems relevant so I'm going to try it out.

I have this weird guilt when people compliment my cooking, or say I should open a bakery, or restaurant etc. I really don't believe that I'm an exceptional cook by any means, and definitely not a creative one at that. I'm a recipe follower, and I can say with very little hesitation that the main reason why I'm good at cooking and baking is because I am really good at following instructions. Seriously. I never understood why people COULD NOT cook, because what could you possibly do wrong? Just follow the instructions. Use well reviewed and received recipes and cookbooks so that you at least know the writer knows what they're talking about. But follow the instructions, and you can't be that far off from your desired end state.

The problem with this way of cooking is that it becomes difficult to develop your own style, and the dishes you make are limited to the recipes you use. I've been increasingly trying to get away from this obsessive recipe-following lately in order to become a better cook, and not to have that "I'm a fraud" feeling about my cooking.

Ratio was a really fantastic book for someone like me. Ruhlman outlines several simple but useful weight-based ratios for making all sorts of things. By knowing the ratio of main ingredients that is involved in, say a loaf of bread, you're then freed from following specific recipes, and trying to figure out how to scale them properly. You start with the basics, then add to create different variations on very fundamental dishes.

In five main parts, Ruhlman covers the simple ratios behind such basic concepts as bread dough,chicken stock, mayo and custard. And by removing the fancy techniques and ingredients that clutter up many recipes out there, he makes it sound SO EASY. I've never even thought of making my own mayonnaise before, as it seemed difficult and intimidating. But can I whisk oil, egg yolk and water together? Sure! Why not? In every section the constant thought running through my head was "But I could do that! I should make that!"

I should point out that the ratios in this book are almost entirely based on weight, not volume. I don't actually have a kitchen scale yet, so I've never really cooked by weight before. However, Ruhlman really emphasizes the usefulness of this concept. By using a scale, you don't necessarily need to measure ingredients separately before adding to the bowl - you can simply add items directly to your mixture until you have the appropriate weight. And that makes sense to me - less dishes to wash! A scale is definitely the next item on my "to buy" list. And either way, Ruhlman does include the "recipes" for all his ratios with a volume conversion so that you can make everything in the book without a scale.

So overall...I think you can tell that I enjoyed the book. It was simple, concise and really gets you thinking about how many things you can really make at home in the kitchen. If you're a compulsive recipe follower like me, I would really recommend reading this book. And once you've mastered the basics, there are so many variations that allow you to be creative with these concepts and make your own recipes!

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