As I begin to travel this week to promote my new book, I want to give away five personalized signed copies. But I want something from you. An “ah-ha” moment.

Earlier in the month, promoting my appearance at Butcher & Larder in Chicago, owner Rob Levitt asked people for just such a moment, a revelation, a moment when you tasted something, combined two uncommon ingredients, used a tool in a new way, that changed the way you saw food, the kitchen, cooking.

I’ve had many, and they’re always a thrill. I write about one in the new book, the time my chef instructor at the CIA, Michael Pardus, tasted my cream of broccoli soup and said, “This is good. But I want you to take this back to your station and taste it again. Then I want you to take a spoonful and put a drop of white wine vinegar in it and taste the difference.”

I did. A single drop changed that soup from fine, just OK, to very good if not better. It was a lesson that would apply not only to broccoli soup, or soup generally, but to everything. The importance of acidity and the ability to use it (Technique #5), would become something I’d consider in everything I made, from soups to stews to sauces, to sandwiches, to meats and fish, to whole composed plates, even to sweet things (I add cider vinegar to butterscotch sauce, for instance, just a few drops, all about balance).

I want to know what your ah-ha moment is. Four people who leave their ah-ha moment in comments below will be chosen at random this Friday (sorry Canada, it’s too expensive and headache making to ship across the border, so this is only for US residents, alas; take small comfort though that the book is dedicated to a Canadian!). Leave a working email (it won’t bet published or used in any way other than to contact you, promise).

The fifth signed copy will go to someone very clever indeed. I’ve included in the book THE twenty techniques I believe a cook needs to prepare virtually anything in the kitchen. But I left one out (on purpose). The first person who comes up with it, gets the fifth copy. If no one does, check back and I’ll give some hints, but I’m hoping someone figures it out.

I’ll be in Chicago this week as mentioned, also doing a demo at The Chopping Block, followed by an open signing from 1:30 to 2:30.

But if you miss those events, and even if you don’t, join me at Publican, one of my favorite restaurants, this Wednesday evening where Paul Kahan, one of my favorite chefs, and his staff have created a special menu, and where I hope to hold court with as many people as possible who care as much as I do about cooking! I’ll be there from 7 to 10—hope to see you there. (Call 312.733.9555 to reserve a spot; it’s not listed yet on their site but I will indeed be there.)

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465 Wonderful responses to “Ruhlman’s Twenty Giveaway:
Win a Signed Copy (Ah-Ha!)”

  • Joey T

    As an amateur cook and baker, I think that one Ah Ha technique that I found makes a huge difference is the creaming method. Many, including a previous version of my own ignorant self, simply dump all of the baking ingredients into a bowl, mix and hope for the best. Incorporating the fat and sugar together prior to mixing the remaining ingredients aerates the butter and helps with lift when the mixture is heated. It pretty much embodies the phrase “Light and Fluffy”.

  • J.

    My Ah-Ha, use the best ingredients possible. Freshly picked vegetables, meats, and especially fish. If you have ever eaten a Wellfleet oyster pulled from the water you would not dare add cocktail or Tabasco sauce. Fresh and clean like the ocean. Oh, the missing technique must be curing,…..right?

  • 'Sri' Anne Shelton crute

    My ah-ha moment not only taught me to make everything taste way better, but to boost the nutrition in my family’s meals: really great bone broth. I’m not talking about the thin stuff that you make by just passively boiling bones, nor the crap labeled as stock or broth in the grocery store. I mean the stuff that jiggles like jello when it has been in the fridge, carefully made just at or below a bare simmer, with the right acid to get the collagen and minerals out of the bones. Then, using that to make not just soup, but rice, as the liquid for every little steam-stir fry, every everything! Wine to deglaze then bone broth to add saucy liquidity to the dish. Yum.

  • Annie

    My Ah-Ha moment was a pinch of salt in anything sweet would enhance the flavor to another level, rounding out the flavor of the dish.

  • DJ

    My favorite Ah-Ha moments are when I’m at a restaurant eating or drinking something truly amazing, and I realize that I can duplicate it at home. I whip up the recipe in my head as I’m indulging and then I often master it on the first try.

  • Michael Kolodziej

    I was always disappointed when deep-fried stuff like dumplings or tempura etc. would come out soggy and full of oil rather than crisp. I once tried a recipe in a cookbook for bulghur dumplings and wanted to get them done quickly as guests already arrived. One of the guest was rather impatient and came into the kitchen nagging me for food, looking through cupboards and fridge for a quick snack before I served the three-course meal (cheeky!). I was distracted and soon the bulghur dumplings disintegrated. I gently moved my guest into the living room requesting her to have just a little bit of patience. After a trip to the pantry to get more oil and discarding the rather unsightly bulghur and oil broth, I started fresh. The rest came out fine, but I wondered what has gone wrong. After some searching on the internet I found out that it has to be done in small batches. Since the temperature of the food that is going to be fried is considerably lower, it will bring down the temperature of the oil. The dumplings needed the intense heat of around 350 degrees Fahrenheit to crispen up on the outside and keep everything together. If it is done in large batches, the heat of the oil will obviously drop and it is not hot enough to create a crisp outside. Rather disappointing that the importance of keeping the right temperature and ensuring this by frying smaller batches was not mentioned in the cook book. I am rather impatient with most things, but this incident has taught me that letting things take their time certainly pays off.

  • Mage Bailey

    Julia Child in the ’60′s. Her beef burgundy woke my taste buds to a new level. Who could have imagined this after Germanic mutton and heavy dinners. Then breads. I never knew what yeast breads could really taste and smell like. Now in my seventies and rereading your first two volumes, I’m led to try cooking again. Nothing successful yet, but my kitchen sparkles when I am done.

  • Victoria

    This will make me really sound like a plebe, but I had been cooking for a LONG time when I realized that in order to keep meat from sticking to a pan (I don’t use non-stick pans), the pan has to be hot before the meat is added. Duh.

  • Victoria

    My ah ha moment was when after cooking for a LONG time, I finally figured out that the pan has to hot when meat is put in to sear.

  • Garth

    Salt. That was something of a bad word growing up and as I learned to cook. It is hard to remember THE moment but learning to use salt is the single most important skill a cook can have.

    My favorite moment was at culinary school making some archaic reduced vinegar sauce. I tasted it with the chef and I recoiled a bit and said, “well, it doesn’t need salt.” I reluctantly added the handful of salt and re-tasted…I don’t need to describe the difference but that was the moment I realized I had to pay more attention to the signals my mouth was sending.

    OK, another one–a salt tasting in bake shop and understanding how bitter and metallic iodized table salt is. Why don’t more at-home cooks understand that?

  • Roy Jensen

    My “ah ha” moment..fresh quality herbs and spices.. toss out the 3 year old quart tin of dried oregano and get some fresh high quality stuff.

  • JD

    The first time I tasted Roquefort cheese. The possibilities of food have never been the same for me since. I disappeared completely and only the cheese remained.

    The missing technique? Imagine. It is the hardest one by far.

  • Bruce Bennett

    My A HA moment with tomatoes that I grew up hating my entire life was when I tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper and thyme and oregano and slowly roasted the sh*t out of them for like 2+ hours to concentrate their flavors. I found I could make sauces with this or just eat them like candy. So useful in so many ways.

  • BrianShaw

    My ah ha moment was when I realized that there is nothing unsanitary about tasting food as it cooks, and tasting EVERYTHING at every satage of cooking leads to better food.

  • Abbe

    I’m having trouble thinking of one universal ah ha moment, so here’s one that came from Charcuterie – I could never get a sausage to cook the way I wanted it to in a frying pan because it was too hot, too fast, overcooking on the outside, etc, until duh, you pointed out what works.

  • Gwen

    Always, always, always use a hot pan to ensure a crisp texture when cooking meat. Works on chicken, steaks, and eggplant parmesan.

  • Tom

    A double ah-ha; both earl May,1971 in Paris during our honeymoon. The first, lingering over a meal; I don’t think I’ve had fast-food since. The second was in Montmarte in a restaurant’s gravel courtyard. We were alone having had a nice lunch lunch. Unasked the proprietor brought us a bowl of beautiful fat strawberries and a good wedge of Roquefort. I think I thought, strange. But, when I tasted it was extraordinary. I was impressed with the possibilities of combing different tastes.

  • Dustin

    My ah-ha moment was finally learning how to make a great French omelet. It’s all about the right heat and the right pan.

  • YS

    Brining poultry or pork adds a ton of moisture and flavor, ensuring greater success during high stress holidays and entertaining.

  • Paule-Marie

    Mine was when I gave up iodized salt and started using kosher salt. My food tasted better and didn’t taste salt, just more flavorful. Along with that goes unsalted butter when I bake. Ever so much better.

  • Carolyn Z

    Earlier this year, we discovered how delicious a chicken could be roasted in a clay pot. It’s so easy. Soak the clay pot, put in veggies, and a salted and peppered bird with fresh herbs. It’s kind of old-fashioned I guess, but I sometimes want maximum results with minimum effort. That’s the most recent ah-ha. Before that is no-knead bread with fast-acting yeast.

    Enjoy experimenting and that will encourage your intuition. To me that is number 21!

  • AC

    I had never really cooked anything but eggs and instant ramen until the age of 23, when I got a girlfriend whose only food-making habit seemed to be preparing lunch sandwiches. I suddenly grew tired of eating that, eating out and buying pre-made microwavable food. One randomly motivated day, I went to a bookstore, picked a cookbook with pictures of food I wanted to eat, and immediately went to the market to get ingredients. I followed a simple recipe that began with sauteing onions, and that was it. From that moment, I’ve gradually learned how to cook all kinds of dishes that both my girlfriend and I love, many of which begin with heating up some onions.

  • Kevin McD

    Started working at German beer hall about a year ago. When I started I was put on spatzle duty because no one else wanted to take on the job. The chef showed me the tecnigue once and sent me sailing, hovering over the boiling water for 40 minutes every other day sliding the spatzle press back and forth to make the batter fall through those little holes I constantly refilling the little 10oz. cup that held the batter. After weeks of sweaty messy spatzle making I knew there had to be a better way to make large quantities of this stuff. I went searching and came across an old school pot strainer with the same size holes. My kitchen buddies tried talking me out of using the tool, including chef, but I went for it anyway. Ah-ha. This old strainer fit right on the rim of the water pot, held 5 quarts of my batter, brought the batter closer to the water which created a longer spatzle noddle(good thing) and I was done in five minutes. The pot not only worked amazingly but I put out a better product. Cant beat that. I moved up in the kitchen since then but still continue to cook spatzle in my vintage pot strainer today.

  • Josh Kantor

    My Ah-ha moment came when I realized that food unites people. I was studying abroad in Rome and ate at as many local joints as possible. There was this incredible food store called Volpetti which sold the best products found in Italy. I went in almost everyday to try something new, be it a special pecorino aged in a cave, or prosciutto from a different region. The owner, Emilio took a liking to me and we started a routine – try a few products, eat a couple suppli and then give him carte blanche to create a panino for me. We became so connected through these interactions that he offered to take me to his hometown of Norcia to see the curing process of their famed prosciutto. It’s still the fondest memory of my time there and we exchange emails often.

    Is technique 21: Curing/Preserving?

  • John Pula

    Raw. The missing technique is when to leave things raw, and how to serve things raw (from salads, to tartare).

  • Nancy Mulvany

    My latest ah-ha moment resulted from a mistake. I had a bowl of warm rice, onions, and a few shrimp. I added a splash of fish sauce and soy sauce. I reached for the bottle of my home-made hot sauce intending to add a few drops. Instead, I grabbed a bottle of the same size, Fee Brothers’ Orange Bitters. As I added a few drops, I realized immediately what I had done. Oh well. I mixed the rice dish and tasted it. The Orange Bitters added a simple, but distinct flavor. I liked it! Since then I have been experimenting with the bitters. Orange bitters (in moderation) and shrimp is quite nice.

  • Liz Gutman

    SALT! When I realized the importance of salt in everything – especially in pastry – I couldn’t believe it. The difference between something that’s not seasoned, and something that’s seasoned perfectly, never ceases to amaze me.

  • John Lazzara

    My most recent Ah-Ha moment was the realization that understanding technique reduces waste. I can’t begin to calculate how much food I threw out over the years because I didn’t have all the pieces I needed to fit into a familiar recipe puzzle. I find that I view our pantry and fridge more like a restauranteur these days, constantly planning and strategizing to make sure that nothing goes to waste.

  • Matt W.

    My “Ah-Hah!” moment came the first time I put salt on a slice of tomato, and the way it made the flavors explode. My related Ah-hah moment was from trying to put too much salt on my mom’s cooking to improve it, and that there’s too much of a good thing…

  • Jessica / Green Skies and Sugar Trips

    Arugula and Tomato….. its fucking magical!

    Without tomato, the arugula is too nutty for me, but with tomato, it transforms it and changes it and somehow takes away from the nuttiness of it, and brings out more of the pepper…. fucking magic! :-)

  • Troy Banks

    My ah ha moment was probably finishing dishes with fresh herbs. Having my herb garden in the spring/summer is amazing, and nothing beats finishing off a dish with some fresh herbs. Just the flavor and balance they can give to a dish, amazing.

  • DairyStateMom

    Ah-ha: Kosher salt. I’d been reducing salt in cooking for years. This summer my husband and I ate at Harvest in Madison, WI (YUM!). I ordered the appetizer of heirloom tomatoes, spectacularly colored and even more spectactularly flavored … because they’d been properly seasoned. I tried it at home on my own tomatoes, and to quote the 14-year-old, “It feels like a whole bunch of flavors having a party in my mouth.” Salt is MAGIC for cooking and eating.

  • Elizabeth Forney

    Making a rack of lamb the other night with my boyfriend we paired it with fries and a homemade mayo. We wanted more than just plain mayo and were looking around our spices when I remembered we had lavender. We put that next to the rosemary and just smelling those two next to each other was our aha moment! Lavender rosemary mayo was thus born and it is good!

  • Melissa D

    My a-ha moment was realizing the overwhelming importance of contrasts in food. With my photography background it was always understood that a delicate balance of lights and darks in a composition create so much of what we consider pleasure, visually. As I’ve learned to be more comfortable in the kitchen recently, it suddenly occurred to me that successful dishes are made most pleasurable through contrasts as well – a pinch of salt in a sweet dish, a light crunch to excite a soft dish, a contrast of color to draw you into a plate. Same techniques, different medium. Still an art form.

  • Bill Palmer

    I combined orange marmalade with barbeque sauce to use for a dip with scallops wrapped w/bacon and,Ah Hah! It was delicious.

  • Rick Givens

    For me, it was roasted pork loin and maple syrup. Fall time and flavours have always been my favourite. One evening last year, while cooking dinner for my family, I realized I was low on ingredients. I never thought before of combining the two, and now I can’t imagine not doing it. From there I began using other fall time flavours like pumpkin and cinnamon. What it did was introduce me personally to the concept of sweet and at the same time savoury foods, and I began looking into other ingredients to pair together.

  • Joe Brown

    My moment really was a little introverted. While mixing mortar on the jobsite in downtown Cleveland, I realized that if I made the brick mortar a little more like the “Miracle Bread” no-knead bread dough, it would be easier on the brick masons. Not to mention on my ears and ego.

  • Julie

    My biggest ah-ha moment in cooking had to be when I realized I actually can cook! I was working as a bartender at a restaurant at the time and up until then nothing I made was ever any good. All I had ever made decently was sausage egg and cheese.

    I realized part of learning to cook is not starting with the hard stuff (which is all I had ever done), it’s putting together easily prepared foods for a great flavor combination. Once you learn the easy stuff, the hard stuff isn’t quite so hard. 6 years later, I cook almost every night and I love it! And because of the internet I learned to butcher a duck and render the fat.

  • Chris

    My ah-ha moment was the time I actually cooked pasta al-dente. I had finally figured out the right amount of tooth the pasta needed before draining and incorporating the sauce. It changes the entire dynamic of the pasta having that extra texture.

  • Haverly

    A-ha moment – rolling out my pie crust between saran wrap. My dad would have never approved, but it insures my crusts don’t stick to the pin or the counter. Bingo!

  • Justin

    My a-ha moment came the first time I pickled something myself (pickled onions). I realized I could create a whole different set of flavors in my kitchen.

  • Mike

    The first time that I had a pear and brie crostini. My mind was totally blown by the fact that you can pair two totally different foods and have this enormous amount of harmony between the two in your mouth. Extremely eye opening and really made me start thinking about the food I eat.

  • AR

    Poached egg on meatballs. No idea savory non breakfast things could taste so much better with runny yolk.

  • Adam

    My Ah-ha was an effort at making asian chicken wings….they came out terribly, like if teriyaki sauce was a meat, it was just pure salt, no balance. It gave my gf and I the knowledge that we wouldn’t always succeed perfectly and that the process of becoming a better cook involves failure as much as it involves success.

  • Ed Andrews

    This past weekend I was making lasagna in the style of Emilia-Romagna. Simple, elegant and rich. The bechamel and ragu were done. The only thing left was to make the pasta. The problem was that I was running out of time. I don’t like using store bought pasta when I can avoid it, but time was short and guests were arriving sooner than I’d like. I told my wife the dilemma. She said she’d read somewhere that you don’t need to boil fresh pasta prior to assembling the lasagna. Really? Yep. Well, AH HA. That will save me just the amount of time I need to make pasta and get dinner on the table just in time for our guests. I’ll never forget that one.

  • Melissa

    I’ve had so many but I guess the one I use over and over is when I made Cooks Illustrated High Heat Roasted Butterflied Turkey – I had never brined before but everything about that recipe was an AH HA moment – the brining, the chilled drying, the butterflying and the high heat. It turned out the most perfect turkey ever so I have used those methods for all sorts of poultry dishes since first using that recipe in 2001 for Thanksgiving. I’ve adapted the brine for different flavors including my verson of Nashville’s famous ‘Hot Chicken’ which has way more flavor than the traditional hot chicken because of the brine. I never looked forward to the Thanksgiving turkey until then.

  • Tracy O'Cinneide

    My “ah-ha” came to me when I was about 17 when I discovered I didn’t have to follow a recipe exactly. I read a recipe and get “other” ideas from it. BTW, butter makes most everything taste better!

  • Karen

    My “ah-ha” moment came when my mother became very ill, I realized that none of her recipes were written down. The Thanksgiving before she passed away, I asked her to talk me through the preparation of the turkey, her delicious beef brisket and how to make ruggalach. She wasn’t very good at remembering amounts – her typical responses were “enough” or “until the dough feels right”. Today, my ruggalach is in high demand every holiday season – I make around 500 pieces to give out to my friends and family – each piece individually rolled…the way my mother did it.

  • Tracy O'Cinneide

    One of my first “ah-ha” moments came to me when I was about 17 (I guess). I had discovered that I did NOT have to follow a recipe to the exact. I read them and gather my own ideas and techniques to this day. “most everything tastes better with “real” butter”…

  • James Gass

    My aha moment was when I realized that Ruhlman is too cheap to send 4 books to Canada, but he’s quite happy to accept reams of free content from his followers.

  • Andrea

    Discovering how much better homemade ice cream tastes and how easy it is to make.

  • Julie

    Tasting Buffalo Mozzarella for the first time was truly an Ah-ha Moment for me. I couldn’t understand how something so incredibly wonderful could so quietly exist.

  • Laurie

    My 2 1/2 year old granddaughter is very picky about what she eats. This spring she helped plant our first vegetable garden. My ah-ha moment came when she picked her first tomato and eat the whole thing. She proceeded to pick and eat an onion, green pepper, and green bean, all things that had been yucky before. The ah-ha moment is still continuing. Returned from North Georgia with a bushel of wonderful apples. She has helped me make apple sauce, apple crisp,a great apple bunt cake, and freeze the the rest for later. Her part was of course the most important part, turn the handle on the apple peeler and make sure the apples stayed in the lemon water. When her mommy brought her over yesterday the first thing she wanted to know was, “Grandma are we going to make today.”
    The best ah-ha yet!

  • Mike

    My ah-ha moment came as a student in a pastry certificate course I was taking – the day we learned the difference between baking powder and baking soda. You’d be surprised at how many recipes use them incorrectly (well, YOU probably wouldn’t). I have not looked at a recipe the same way again. I guess the real lesson was that, if you know your ingredients, you can read recipes more critically.

  • Colin

    ah-ha: how sugar turns up the brightness in savory dishes without adding sweetness. I guess McDonalds figured this out decades ago, but for me it took a friend telling me to put just a tad in my tomato sauce and tasting it come alive.

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