Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cookbook Review: How to Cook Everything, 1st edition

I have avoided picking up this book for a number of years now because it seemed kind of trendy to me; I tend to prefer basic, somewhat old-fashioned cookbooks to the more trendy and exotic. However, when I finally did pick up this book at my neighbor's house, I was hooked!!

How to Cook Everything has come out in a new, 10th anniversary edition, and that is on my Christmas list. I'll have to review it separately because it's apparently fairly different in actual recipe details. But the philosophy is the same and that is really the key here.

Mark Bittman seems to share my philosophy of cooking precisely: good food should be served all the time; gourmet food can be enjoyed on occasion and it should be done well, too, but ordinary, daily food can be tasty and simple and straightforward to make (and everyone should be making it this way)! He cites the well known adage that perfection is the enemy of good enough, and he applies that to our daily cooking. When we strive for perfection, we miss out on "good enough"--which is perfect for ordinary, daily cooking. I used to strive for perfection and stressed myself out (and those around me) in the process. Since I've had children, my cooking has become simpler and simpler: basic meals done well. Now, I roast chickens frequently, pull the meat off and serve it leftover the next day, and make stock with the carcass. I like to make biscuits and bread from scratch, but will pair them with a basic soup or some other simple meal (instead of adding homemade bread to a long menu list of equally complicated items).

Bittman gives 1500+ recipes in his book; there are many exotic ones, but there are more than enough everyday, homey recipes. He encourages the home cook to get creative, to substitute, to adapt recipes. He frequently includes a number of variations for the more basic recipes and also provides a number of sidebars with such titles as "10 Chicken Dishes that can be served on greens" in the Salads section or "10 Cookies Kids Can Make" in the cookie chapter. He gives suggestions for using leftovers, particularly vegetables, and gives lots of tips for cooking well with minimal effort and fuss.

If I could sum up, this cookbook seems to be a Joy of Cooking that is Better Homes and Gardens in style/types of recipes and from a More-With-Less philosophy (sort of; he doesn't espouse the M-W-L religious background to truly having more with less, but he does promote simple cooking and efficient use of ingredients/leftovers). It's worth checking this book out from the library and cooking from it for a week or two to see what you think! You might, like me, immediately want to rush out and buy it! I think it will move its way quickly to my top 5 cookbooks.

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