It is one of the worst comments made about someone who is a rotten cook: “They don’t even know how to boil water!” Well, if you have never done it, or if you have never seen what it looks like--boiling water--then one of the most basic techniques in food preparation can produce a bad, if not inedible, meal. And, if the inexperienced cook mistakes simmering water for boiling, and puts in pasta or rice, the end product will be a globby mess of starch.
For over twenty years Mark Bittman has been nudging, pushing and cajoling people to do their own cooking and has been demonstrating that good home cooking is easy to do, nutritious, less expensive and tastes better than pre-packaged or most take-out foods. In his latest book, which is better than the 2003 edition, both novice and experienced cooks will learn how to do just that and with a minimal amount of stress and time. This is an indispensable book on the basics of cooking with fabulous good-tasting food that everyone can prepare if they follow his instructions.
The format of the book is superb with exemplary photographs of the basic food preparation techniques; check out pp. 24-25 for those photographs of boiling and simmering water. The recipes list basic ingredients, step-by-step directions; tips and variations and all on a two-page spread with generous spacing of text so that everything is clear and direct.
For experienced cooks there may not be many new recipes, however Bittman offers great shortcuts for some classic recipes and these are not short on quality or taste, only the time needed to cook them: Shortcut Macaroni and Cheese, pp. 186-187; Oven-”Fried” Fish Fillets, pp. 350-351; Garlicky White Bean Soup, pp. 148-149. And for those who think they know everything about cooking eggs, check out Egg Basics, pp. 50-51.
This is not The Joy of Cooking which is still the American bible of cooking and encyclopedic in coverage, nor is it Bittman’s own How to Cook Everything, the 1998 or 2008 editions. However, this is for the new cook, the tentative and fearful cook, and for those who consider themselves failures in the kitchen--well, maybe let Mark Bittman show you how to get started. And it is also for those among us who have allowed their stoves to gather dust; allow Bittman’s enthusiasm, encouragement, and direction to light a fire in your kitchen.
This is a highly recommended book for holiday giving or any type of present--even for yourself. So pay attention to Bittman, and do yourself, family and friends a favor--cook something!