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How to Cook without a Book

Ricks503's picture

Came across this review of this book by Pam Anderson.


 


Any Comments?


=========================


In my experience, there seems to be two basic types of home cook: Type A cooks, who follow recipes to the letter, and Type Zen cooks, who just feel their way along with whatever impulse floats their boat.

Type A cooks see the other type as undisciplined and lacking in technique, while Type Zen cooks think that Type A folk need to loosen up.

But now there's a book that seeks to bridge both worlds by promising to teach you how to cook without an instruction manual. The title, "How to Cook Without a Book," seems to be either a contradiction in terms or a Zen koan.

It is neither.

The book appears to be written for busy people who want to cook but just don't feel "creative" enough to whip something up from whatever is in the house, or who don't have enough time to give to everyday cooking.

Pam Anderson attempts to demystify the essentials of what goes into basic, homey recipes that require either little preparation or frequent use of the term "from the freezer to the oven." The French Laundry cookbook this ain't. I'm not saying it should be, but on the other hand, there does seem to be something missing.

While trying to bridge the work-a-day world with old-fashioned "dinner on the table at 6" cooking, Anderson relies too heavily on semiprepared foods (such as salsa and various sauce preparations), yet scrupulously avoids prepackaged foods that would yield basically the same result.

For example, she suggests using canned tomatoes plus various additions for a pasta sauce that tastes like nothing more than a doctored-up version of Prego. In another recipe, she substitutes spaghetti for rice noodles in her version of pad Thai. That's a bit too homey for me.

Anderson uses the classic technique of cooking schools, in which a "master recipe"is taught to learn the techniques involved and then the variations are added to give character and individuality to the final variation.

One recipe that produced mixed results was Quick Ravioli. The recipe wasn't quick and the dish -- although it tasted good … didn't particularly look or taste like ravioli. With the ravioli master recipe, Anderson substitutes wonton wrappers for pasta sheets, and the result is something between Peking ravioli and chow fun noodles.

While wonton wrappers are indeed a time-saver over making your own pasta dough, the amount of time it took to stuff ravioli by hand made this a fairly impractical dish for weeknights unless you make the stuffing ahead of time.

One cooking technique that I will definitely borrow is the way Anderson roasts a chicken. Reminiscent of pressed chicken, she cuts out the backbone of the bird and flattens it on a baking sheet (she calls it a shallow roasting pan) and then rubs the seasonings under the skin to flavor the meat.

Roasting the chicken like this on high heat cuts cooking time nearly in half, and the result is beautifully moist and flavorful meat with all parts nicely done and crispy skin that is near perfection.

While some of Anderson's shortcuts, like this one, are quite useful, the feeling of the book is almost patronizingly simplistic. The little mnemonic-like rhyme at the beginning of each chapter, which is supposed to help you remember the basic thrust of the technique, is irritating and not very helpful.

The other glaring pitfall is the confusing organization of the recipes and inconsistent instructions. For instance, the recipe at the end of the variation of the roasted chicken calls for an addition of potatoes and tomatoes that have been "prepared" prior to adding them to the roasting dish. Unfortunately, the cook is neither told how to prepare them, nor sent to instructions elsewhere in the book.

Cooking times of recipe variations were also inconsistent, in some cases stating a specific time in the master recipe, then giving a range of cooking times in a subsequent variation.

Because of the shortfalls, this is one of the most annoying cookbooks I have encountered. Even though Anderson has some nifty shortcuts, the simplistic tenor will bore most cooks with even a modicum of experience, while the confusing and sometimes contradictory instructions will frustrate a novice.

Overall, any book by Marion Cunningham would do you better -- and without the rhyming.



1 - measure the board twice, 2 - cut it once, 3 - measure the space where it is supposed to go        4 - get a new board and go back to step 1

 

 

" There'll be no living with her now" - Captain Jack Sparrow

mrsminik's picture

(post #62652, reply #1 of 10)

"Because of the shortfalls, this is one of the most annoying cookbooks I have encountered. Even though Anderson has some nifty shortcuts, the simplistic tenor will bore most cooks with even a modicum of experience, while the confusing and sometimes contradictory instructions will frustrate a novice."


I can't believe this scathing review; I LOVE Pam Anderson's  books.....I use "how to cook w/o a book" often....


 


.....interested to hear how others feel. 


 

MadMom's picture

(post #62652, reply #2 of 10)

Obviously, this is a case of "different strokes" because I love this cookbook and give it and have recommended it often for novice cooks. 



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MEANCHEF's picture

(post #62652, reply #3 of 10)

First let me say that I have not read the book, but I support the concept completely.  All too often people are "recipe" driven and seem to miss the point of learning how to cook.


Maybe Glenys and I harp on this concept to the point of annoyance, but in order for a cook to reach the "next level" it is very important.  I guess my first introduction to the concept came when I was in culinary school and Madeleine Kamman made a point of tell us that we were total fools if we thought we were going to graduate, go out into the culinary world and come up with a "new" recipe.  She was pretty emphatic that there were only 118 (I forget the exact number but this is close) in the world and they have all been invented already.


Her point was that a braise may be a unique recipe, but what you are braising, how you are flavoring etc etc does not make it a different recipe.  Essentially Beef Bourguignon and Cog Au Vin are the same recipe - just different protein and different flavor packets.


I guess what I am doing is supporting the concept.  It is unfortunate that she did not present it in a way that grabbed you.


 


Glenys's picture

(post #62652, reply #6 of 10)

I read the review several times and again I had to wonder who actually reviewed the book. The comment on the spatchcocked chicken made me wonder if they'd just crawled out from under a rock, or maybe they were under the brick, not the chicken.
"
One cooking technique that I will definitely borrow is the way Anderson roasts a chicken. Reminiscent of pressed chicken, she cuts out the backbone of the bird and flattens it on a baking sheet (she calls it a shallow roasting pan) and then rubs the seasonings under the skin to flavor the meat.

Roasting the chicken like this on high heat cuts cooking time nearly in half, and the result is beautifully moist and flavorful meat with all parts nicely done and crispy skin that is near perfection. "

If someone doesn't know this technique, how do they review a cookbook?

schnitzel's picture

(post #62652, reply #7 of 10)

Look here:
http://www.epinions.com/book-review-55FC-6D9ABA1-395AF924-prod2


~Amy W     Cooks Talk T&T Recipes

"The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."  —Julia Child
Glenys's picture

(post #62652, reply #8 of 10)

You'll be so proud, Oh Queen of the Links, I actually googled and found it! Thanks though. Put everything into perspective didn't it?

schnitzel's picture

(post #62652, reply #9 of 10)

Put everything into perspective didn't it?


I'll say.

And I'm so proud of you! ;·)


~Amy W     Cooks Talk T&T Recipes

"The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."  —Julia Child
CulinaryArtist's picture

(post #62652, reply #10 of 10)

I have not read this book either, sounds intriguing.  Once had a book from a chef in New England, can't remember ***t these days, but it was called the Blue Strawberry cookbook. It was more a journal of disaccoiated chat in which he tells you to add a little of this and a little of that and do this with it and then later if you don't have this then us some of that, etc.  Really was funny.


My theory to cooking was always to read 8 books for same or similar recipes and close them and go to the kitchen!  Frustrates my wife who is an excellent baker, because she treats it like the science it is and follows a recipe to the dot on the page. She frequently tells me to write down what I'm doing so that I can duplicate it next time!!  And my answer is usually, I'll remember and if not the next time will at the very least be a new adventure!


Cooking is about satisfying the senses and sometimes that means 40 cloves of garlic and sometimes it means a small minced clove will do! 


 


Jimbo the TRAVELING CULINARY ARTIST

Jimbo the TRAVELING CULINARY ARTIST

http//:www.travelingculinaryartist.com

Glenys's picture

(post #62652, reply #4 of 10)

I would love to know who critiqued the book for a simple premise, I think a great critique has balance, and this does not.

If anyone understands recipes and food in most cook's home kitchen, there's a huge difference between the concept of purchasing a container of "salsa fresca" and Pace Piquante. That in itself is such a naive or lame comment, I have to ignore it.

Perhaps there are gaps in execution but I still believe for those who cook with unbridled abandon, this book gives them an understanding of technique versus recipe.

Since I posted this, I telephoned Pam at a class to ask for an answer: what would she change in the book, taking into consideration it's more than five years old and much printed material since.


Edited 9/22/2005 10:32 pm ET by Glenys

Syb's picture

(post #62652, reply #5 of 10)

I bought this book (found at a used book store).  I think it would be good for a new cook.   It gives a formula for each type of dish and encourages the reader to go on from there and be creative with the non-essential ingredients.  It has a basic recipe for a frittata, for example, with a page and a half of discussion on technique.  Next, twelve variations are given with brief instructions.  After the recipes, Anderson summarizes frittatas by stating the main steps (5 in this case).  If you look at that part first, you can quickly see exactly what you're getting yourself into. 


The silly rhymes are no doubt meant to help one remember the procedure, but the bulleted steps at the end of each section are much more helpful.  I can only guess that she really enjoyed coming up with her rhymes, or she wouldn't have wasted her time on it.


I've enjoyed reading some of the basic recipe instructions, thinking that some of it might stick in my brain and make me feel more confident to try something other than my old reliables when cooking in someone else's kitchen without my recipes.  Anderson often gives approximate proportions for ingredients for which proportions are fairly important, (but in most cases they really aren't too critical).