Good Cooking Book Review: May 21, 2000
How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson, New York: Broadway Books, © 2000
Having been married to a
professional chef for over twenty years, I am well aware of a "great
divide": home cooks like me depend on recipes and may have been taught to
use them by rote, while professionals understand cooking techniques and concepts
to an extent where they can dispense with specific measurements and ingredients,
and are able to improvise. I'll
never forget the first time I asked my husband for a recipe for pizza dough that
I could use with the children at my day care center---it listed ingredients, but
had no quantities or even procedure! Many
years, and one successful joint restaurant venture, later, I have come to
understand this approach. Now, a
new book has arrived which explains this in a clear and helpful way so that
cooks who have been dependent on recipes can free themselves and adapt dishes as
they wish, once they grasp the concepts.
Pam Anderson's How to
Cook Without a Book is a cookbook with traditional recipes, but it is much
more than that. It explains a particular cooking technique, presents a range of
foods which will work with that method, and offers recipes and variations which
give the sense of the possibilities of the technique. For example, the sections on omelets and frittatas discuss
the whys of the basic techniques, and suggest many variations on the theme.
Each chapter has a somewhat corny, but helpful, little rhyme to assist
the cook in remembering the basic technique:
"Tilt pan and cook till eggs no longer run.
Fill and fold, then cook till barely done."
With chapters covering
everything from hors d'oeuvres to a range of entrees to stir-fry dishes, there
are items for all tastes. In
addition to helping the reader become a more flexible cook, Anderson attempts to
streamline so that dishes can be produced quickly for the busy person rushing
home from work to get dinner on the table.
Although the recipes I tried were not quite as quick as described, they
were certainly not intimidating or complex. She also helps the reader think
about how to use what's on hand, rather than feeling the need to do large-scale
shopping for a particular dish. There is a section on desserts with helpful
suggestions, and even though most cooks agree that baking requires fairly
precise scientific measurements, Anderson still manages to present several
items, such as fruit tarts, with a number of variations.
Although I think that
someone who is fairly new to cooking could make good use of this book, some
basic techniques would be helpful to know in advance in order to take full
advantage of this different, helpful new resource. An added bonus is Anderson's sense of humor, which makes it
very readable, even if you're not about to use a recipe.