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Ratio by Michael Ruhlman

October 13, 2016

Happy Artober! Let's celebrate with a book about food math that is so cool, even a nonmath person (like me) will love it!


October is Artober month here at the Nashville Public Library. There are lots of exhibits and programs featuring art at your local libraries. Check the calendar for all the fun event listings. Now, while I love arts of all kinds, this month my blog posts are going to be dedicated specifically to the Culinary Arts. I could talk about cook books and chefs all the time on this blog, but I try to mix it up to show that I really do read other things. But this month, I’m letting the culinary genie out of his (or her) bottle!
I’ve have mentioned Michael Ruhlman before on this blog. It started when I first read his book, The Making of a Chef and then moved to discuss his cookbook featuring The Egg. Today I’m going to talk to you about his book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. Let’s make Ratio our word of the day, shall we?
I got my start in the baking world, so I thought you always had to use a recipe in order to cook. In baking, this is partially true, because you do need the correct ratio* of ingredients in order for bread to rise properly or your cookies to not run across the baking sheet. But in cooking, you don’t really need a recipe. You can just start with a general idea of where you want to end up and adjust as you go.
Wait – what is the difference between baking and cooking? 
Ok, that’s a fair question. Baking tends to be more flour-based items, usually sweet, but not always – things like breads, cookies, and pies. Things you put in the oven and bake for a time. Cooking tends to be more savory items like meat, fish, eggs, pasta, veggies. It can be put in the oven, but nothing has to rise or get puffy. I didn’t go to culinary school, so there is probably a more precise definition, but that will get us where we need to be for today. 
So in his book, Michael Ruhlman (who did go to culinary school, sort of) dispels the notion that you need a recipe to bake. Instead, he has catalogued the ratios* needed to make cookies and pie crust and pate a choux – which is the basic batter for eclairs. My favorite recipe, er I’m sorry, I mean ratio*, is that of pasta. Pasta is a 3:2 ratio* which means that for every three ounces of flour I need two ounces of eggs – which is about one egg. Once you know the basic recipe, you can scale up, or down, to a certain extent, as needed. I either do 6:4 or 9:6. Someday I’m gonna do 15:10, but today is not that day.
I’ve tried other recipes and I liked the cookie recipe but I didn’t care for the bread recipe. It was too dense. Check out our October 5 Popmatic Podcast where I talk about my favorite loaf of bread. Up next on my To Learn list is pate a choux. It seems tricky but I think I can do it. And with Ruhlman’s help, I definitely know where to start.
Happy ratio-ing*…
:) Amanda
*Ah! Word of the Day.

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Amanda is a classically-trained pianist who loves to read. Like any good librarian, she also has two cats named after Italian cities. Amanda spends her free time sitting in Nashville traffic, baking, and running the Interlibrary Loan office at the Nashville Public Library.