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Wouldn't it be great to get rid of all those sagging shelves in your kitchen filled with cookbooks that might have just one or two recipes in them you actually use? Wouldn't it be amazing to take all of your recipes with you on vacation instead of struggling to remember whether it was a teaspoon or a tablespoon of cumin in your favorite chili dish? Amazon wants to solve all of those problems and more with its new electronic reader, the Kindle.
And it almost works. The only problem is, there aren't a lot of recipe-based electronic offerings to download at the moment. That is, unless you're on a diet, and then you'll find an abundance of choice. But judging from the cookbook choices that are available, the Kindle's possibilities are tantalizing.
Amazon's much-ballyhooed "electronic paper"
really is all that. Not only is it easy to read in most lighting situations, but it has the uncanny ability, after a few minutes, to drop away from your consciousness and let the words speak for themselves, just like real paper does. You also can adjust the size of the print, make bookmarks, copy or highlight sections of text and make your own notes. It has a seriously long battery life, and if you suddenly crave enchiladas at four in the morning, you can immediately download a Mexican cookbook and get going (instant grocery delivery technology is still in the theoretical stage).
In fact, Amazon's built-in Whispernet wireless technology is probably the most amazing thing of all about the Kindle. I took it all over town and found a connection everywhere I went. And I mean everywhere -- at the gas station, in the car-pool line, even waiting at the light at the intersection of Meadow and Monument.
The only problem is the price. At $399, it's going to have to lose the white casing (too dirt-friendly for hard use) and toughen up. I didn't actually drop my Kindle, but I'm guessing that would be a bad idea. I don't think spills would be a good idea either, and that makes the whole Kindle/cooking process a bit too trying for everyday use.
Once Amazon's cookbook catalog beefs up (see the following reviews of six books that can be downloaded for $9.99 per title) and the price drops just enough so that I don't cry when I splash marinara across the screen, the Kindle will become a real temptation for those of us afflicted with a weakness for culinary gadgetry. You know who you are.
Downloadable Cookbooks for Chefs on the Go
The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman (Simon & Schuster, 2007). Don't know what laminated dough or myosin is? Are the terms mousseline and brunoise giving you fits? Any questions you might have about ingredients, equipment or technique are deftly and succinctly explained in this exceptionally useful book of culinary terms.
Skinny Bitch and Skinny Bitch in the Kitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin (Running Press, 2005 and 2007). You've seen these books dominating the nonfiction bestseller lists and probably wondered what they're all about. Some people find Freedman and Barnouin's scatological tough talk hilarious and refreshing; the rest of us feel like swearing right back at them. Less a diet than veganism in disguise, the recipes range from oven-fried "chicken" made with seitan and a club sandwich made with vegan turkey and vegan bacon to more interesting things like spaghetti squash with spicy braised greens, raisins and pine nuts.
The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger (Taunton, 2008). This isn't a diet book either, although all of the recipes are healthy and packed, as they say, with nutritious goodness. They're also packed with flavor, and despite an excessive amount of salad recipes (31 in all), there are lots of great things to try, like cowboy steak with coffee and ancho rub, and chicken pot pie with phyllo crust. Healthiness, in the skillful hands of Krieger, becomes a surprising bonus instead of an unpleasant chore.
Mission: Cook! by Robert Irvine with Brian O'Reilly (HarperCollins, 2007). Irvine is the burly British star of the Food Network show Dinner: Impossible. His book is a lot like his show: full of hair-raising anecdotes about feeding massive quantities of people with little or no time for preparation. Some of Irvine's claims have been called into question recently, but the recipes in this book make it clear he's got what it takes to make lip-smackingly good food.
The Union Square Cafe Cookbook by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano (HarperCollins, 1994). I was happily surprised to see one of my old favorites available for download. Meyer and Romano still have some of these dishes, like the yellowfin tuna burgers with ginger-mustard glaze, on the menu in New York. Along with a rotating roster of butter-laden mashed potatoes with extra ingredients like basil, eggplant and fennel, each of these utterly reliable recipes has stood the test of time and proven why the Union Square Cafe routinely wins the top spot in Zagat's dining guides.