How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food Special Edition with CD-ROM Book Review

Rating: 10 Quills

When I moved overseas, it was without benefit of the four major food groups: microwave, frozen, delivery, and instant. When I went to the market, I stood in awe of the bustling women with their shopping bags full of fresh produce. They knew what to do with it! They knew good from bad! For me, anything that wasn’t brown, moldy or crusty had the potential to be good. I had no idea what I was about when in a farmer’s market.

Through the help of those kind-hearted market women (food is a universal language), my friends, and How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, I came back to the US ready to handle anything. Farmers market? No problem. Homemade pizza crust? No problem. Spaghetti sauce from garden tomatoes? Bring it on! Give me a bunch of veggies and some basic staples and I can whip up a passable, no, quite decent meal. I won’t buy brains or tongue, here or there or anywhere; but that doesn’t matter, because Mr. Bittman doesn’t include such specialty recipes. You’ll have to head over to the Joy of Cooking for that stuff.

I’ve purchased How to Cook Everything twice now. My first copy was left overseas, broken binding and dog-eared, for others like me who found themselves in a strange country and not sure how to go about feeding themselves. I ordered my new copy before our return to the US so it would be waiting for me when we arrived.

Imagine, me–who only thought yeast was something to see the doctor about, making my own pizza crust. With confidence, I may add. Or rolling out pie dough. It may not be pretty, but that’s not the fault of the recipe or the many diagrams on how to roll out and crimp the dough. It sure was tasty though. Hand me a pile of tomatoes and I can produce Basic Tomato Sauce in twenty minutes plus thirteen different versions when that gets boring. Got some frozen chicken cutlets? You’ll find eleven variations of a basic recipe. Fifteen ideas for pizza toppings and six ways to make pizza crust more flavorful mean there are no more excuses for delivery. There is even a “Boiled Water” soup recipe: water, garlic, bay leaf, salt, pepper, bread, and cheese. What could be easier than that?

Mr. Bittman has a way with words and explains everything in clear, simple, easy to understand terms. He emphasizes natural ingredients and fresh food and veggies plus simple techniques to prepare them. In the introduction, he discusses the five distinct elements of good cooking, and why simple is best. There are chapters covering equipment, techniques, menus, quick recipe index, glossary, fifty cookbooks he’d rather not live without, mail-order sources, a list of illustrations (top notch, by Alan Witschonke), and a full index. Each of the nineteen recipe-related chapters (including the basics of appetizers, soups, fish, poultry, beans, vegetables, desserts, and beverages plus specialty chapters covering eggs, breakfast and brunch dishes; sauces, salsas, and spice mixtures; or pizza, bruschetta, sandwiches, pitas, and burritos) starts with an introduction to that section covering the basics, what to look for, how to store, etc.

This version comes with a CD. I used it once then put it back. I had a hard time figuring out how to get it started and how to exit. The information on it is useful, you can even figure out whole meals. It’s got fifteen thousand searchable recipes and eighty guides including instructions for carving a turkey and making bread. I like that I can create my own recipes, or shopping lists, or nutrition profiles. I just don’t use it much. I prefer the book!

Having this book is like having your own personal instructor right in the kitchen with you. For the culinary-challenged like me, that’s a great feature. And the more advanced chefs will simply enjoy How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food.

Reviewed by Susan
© June 2006

Note: This review was originally published at Novelspot.

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