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Food Pairing Bible Every Cook Must Have

A treasure trove of flavorful ideas helps in creating the perfect flavor pairings

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Are you a recipe follower? I was and it made me envious of people who could just peruse their pantry and whip up something from nothing. My partner does this with success most of the time. Although his recent chipotle sauerkraut, arugula, blue cheese and refried bean burrito was an epic fail, too many competing flavors. Luckily, I had a smoothie for lunch that day.

This bible preaches the joy of devising tasty flavor combinations. - LISA SIPE
  • Lisa Sipe
  • This bible preaches the joy of devising tasty flavor combinations.

Cooking off the cuff used to scare me because I didn't want to make or eat anything that tasted bad. Staying in my comfort zone, I would only slightly modify recipes when I knew my flavor combinations were solid, like subbing pecans for pine nuts in pesto.

This was my life until I discovered "The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs" by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I found it through an obsession with cookbooks, I'm always looking to add to my collection. A side note here for my fellow cookbook lovers, the Deschutes Public Library is your friend. See if they have the cookbook you want to buy and if they do take a recipe or two for a test drive before you purchase. This has saved me cash and shelf space.

"The Flavor Bible" changed my life as a home cook. Foods and cuisines are listed in an index from A to Z. When you choose a specific food, Page and Dornenburg give you an overview (season, taste, weight, volume, techniques) and flavor affinities. If you choose a specific world cuisine, say Middle Eastern, common foods are listed: almonds, fava beans, feta cheese, chicken, etc.; as well as a list of flavor combinations like cilantro, cumin, ginger and red pepper. Just with those cuisine cues you could pan roast some chicken and make a side dish or sauce with cilantro, cumin, ginger and red peppers.

Researching specific foods is how I typically use the book. For example, since the leaves are showing hints of changing color I wanted to come up with a slice and bake cookie recipe using cranberries for the coming fall season. The Flavor Bible tells me the season for cranberries is autumn to mid-winter; they are sour with a light to medium weight, meaning they have substance and wouldn't make a light dish, and have loud flavor essence so they will stand out. If I was cooking them fresh, I should boil them. When looking at their recommended list of matching flavors any unbolded item was recommended by a number of experts. Bold means an even greater number of experts highly recommend, and bold caps is a "holy grail" pairing, the most highly recommended by the greatest number of experts. Who are these experts? Page and Dornenburg traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada interviewing dozens of creative chefs and other experts on their most recommended pairings, as well as gathered data from those experts' restaurant menus, websites and cookbooks.

After looking at the flavor pairings for cranberries I choose the holy grail ingredients, lemon and orange juice or zest and sugar for my cookies, as well as pistachios and raisins. To apply this to my recipe I use orange flavored dried cranberries and pistachios in the dough. Then I use citrus again but in a sweet glaze to dip the cookies and finish them off with freeze dried grapes that I crush into purple sprinkles. I discovered the freeze dried fruit idea from Beca Lyne-Pirkis while watching "The Great British Bake Off."

Besides the lists of pairings, "The Flavor Bible" is packed with so much more information about great cooking from the basics of how taste, mouthfeel and aroma create flavor to cooking seasonally and insights from chefs who work at world-renowned restaurants like Le Bernardin. Honestly though after one read through I use it primarily for the flavor pairings. It's my go-to reference guide, like a dictionary or thesaurus. I use it so often I keep a digital copy on my phone so I can research at the grocery store.

What I find truly crazy is that this book, and Page and Dornenburg's vegetarian version of "The Flavor Bible," are under the radar. When I've asked fellow foodies if they've heard of it they say no. Put it this way, the first cookbook given to me was "The Joy of Cooking." However, I will be gifting "The Flavor Bible."

Cranberry Pistachio Slice & Bake Cookies with Lemon Glaze

1/2 cup unsalted pistachios, shelled
1/2 cup dried orange flavored cranberries
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
Freeze dried grapes, crushed

Soak pistachios in water for 30 minutes (this makes them easier to cut later), drain and dry while making the dough. In a large bowl combine the butter and sugar until fluffy, add egg until combined. Add flour, pistachios and cranberries, mix until the dough becomes stiff. Place the dough on a floured work surface and knead until combined. Divide the dough in half, roll into a two inch log, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or silicone baking mat and cut log of cookie dough into 1/4 inch rounds and place them 1/2 inch apart. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool.

To make the glaze combine confectioners sugar and lemon juice. Dip cooled cookies in glaze, place on a wire rack and sprinkle with crushed freeze dried grapes.

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