Monday, April 13, 2015

The Cook's Essential Kitchen Dictionary: A Complete Culinary Resource

The Cook's Essential Kitchen Dictionary: A Complete Culinary Resource
Publisher: Robert Rose (2014)

I am a total trivia nut. When I find myself intrigued by a certain subject or hear the mention of  something I’m unfamiliar with, I’m almost immediately gripped by the need to find out not just the definition, but to learn everything I can about it. Encyclopedias, compilations of articles or anecdotes, web searches and documentaries are my brain’s bread and butter – especially when it comes to the culinary world. As a foodie who always loves to try new techniques and cuisines, I often come across an ingredient that holds vaguely familiar meaning, but that I’m not confident enough to use without some background digging. Other times, I know “what” an item is but cannot describe it adequately, which makes writing recipe descriptions tough!

Enter The Cook's Essential Kitchen Dictionary: A Complete Culinary Resource by Jacques Rolland. This new, completely revised edition has thousands of definitions for all sorts of culinary terms, along with a wealth of historical background for many words and even in depth explorations of varieties within a blanket term (such as Apple (p. 25-27), where Rolland creates an inset to describe a host of cultivars from braeburn to winesap). For me, these insets are the true eye-candy in this book, consolidating items that could have been strewn alphabetically throughout the Kitchen Dictionary into one handy place. That said, the whole compilation is excellently cross-referenced and in perfect alphabetical order, making last-minute lookups (did I really just read Spotted Dick (p. 358) on that recipe card?) a breeze. The book is not illustrated in any way, but Rolland’s precise and descriptive writing colours in the pages in a way no photography could. Paging through, I can almost taste the Zuccotto (p. 416) Rolland mentions, and it’s enough to cause me to want to look up a recipe!

As well as answering spur of the moment cooking questions, the Kitchen Dictionary is simply a fun “did you know” type of book to read and absorb. Flipping through the pages reveals interesting tidbits of historical and cultural background for not only dishes but ingredients, tools and cooking methods. I never knew there was such a story to the humble, now-common Pineapple (p. 298) – from it’s close botanical relationship to Spanish moss to the fact that royalty in Spain and France at one point refused to eat it. Likewise, I had no idea that one of the flavouring agents in cream soda and vanilla ice cream was the extract of a certain iris flower root (Orris (p. 279). History buffs will get a kick out of many of the listings in this book too, and the breadth of information Rolland includes makes this work relevant in almost every country or cuisine.

Whether you adore finding out about the world around you as much as I do, need some clinchers for trivia night at the pub, or simply need an answer to one of the kitchen’s “what is that?” queries, The Cook's Essential Kitchen Dictionary: A Complete Culinary Resource lives up to it’s title and more. You’ll be surprised what you didn’t know about what’s on your plate!

Available on Amazon

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