Review: How to Cook Everything

How to Cook Everything CoverMark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything taught me how to cook. I don’t mean the type of cooking where you slavishly follow a recipe step-by-step without much thought to what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. I mean the type of cooking where you look at what’s in the fridge or in the market and figure out how to make a tasty meal out of it, without consulting a recipe at all.

How to Cook Everything is packed with dead simple recipes that teach the basic techniques for cooking various ingredients and leave lots of room for the cook to improvise. From Bittman, I learned how to saute chicken cutlets, pan-sear fish steaks and boil beans. I also learned how to make a simple tomato sauce for my pasta, a basic vinaigrette for my salad and a good pan sauce for my sauteed chicken or pan-seared fish. And I picked up useful tips, such as how to create a “creamy” soup with a pureed potato base and no cream at all.

The recipes are short, simple and to the point; the ingredients are fresh, unprocessed and widely available. Following most recipes, Bittman suggests all sorts of variations, such as how to turn an Italian-style spinach and egg soup into a Chinese-style egg drop soup just by changing a couple of ingredients. Read the recipes, cook them, riff on them, and pretty soon you will have learned how to cook by osmosis and actually doing it.

Of course, Bittman’s book isn’t perfect. It does its best to live up to the title, but some of the recipes are so simple as to be lacking a certain something. A few of the baking recipes I tried just didn’t work. But on average, the recipes are trustworthy and reliable. Once you’ve tried several, you’ll probably be ready to stretch yourself with more challenging cookbooks. But if you come home tired and want to throw together a quick and tasty dinner, this is the tried-and-true workhorse to turn to. (Cooking times are provided for each recipe; I wish every cookbook would follow suit!)

In short, when people who have barely cooked anything ask me what cookbook they should get to start their collection — or what cookbook should be their collection — this is the one I always recommend.

A small sampling of my favorite recipes from How to Cook Everything are:

  • Cream Cheese Spread
  • Marinated Cheese
  • Sour Cream Dip
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Cabbage Soup
  • Garlic Soup
  • Japanese Noodles with Stock
  • Spinach & Egg Soup
  • Winter Squash Soup
  • Spicy Coleslaw
  • Orzo Risotto-style
  • Pasta with Broccoli
  • Pasta with Gorgonzola Sauce
  • Stir-Fried Chinese Noodles with Vegetables
  • Apple Bread
  • Potato-Stuffed Flatbreads
  • Oven-Fried Catfish
  • Salmon Roasted in Butter
  • Spicy Grilled Shrimp
  • Chicken in Lemon Sauce
  • Chicken with Horseradish Sauce
  • Pan Bagnia
  • Bean Cakes
  • Spanish Tortilla
  • Chocolate Mousse
  • Tiramisu
  • Soy Dipping Sauce
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3 thoughts on “Review: How to Cook Everything

  1. […] every recipe or nearly every recipe in a cookbook. For some cookbooks, like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything or The New Best Recipe, this isn’t really practical. These gigantic tomes better serve as […]

  2. Reflections on Change « Simply Cooking 8 February 2008 at 10:48 am

    […] to mention Mark Bittman’s new blog, which I am really enjoying. Bittman is one of my favorite cookbook authors; I have several of his books, and I’m always giving his books as gifts to get my friends […]

  3. […] you don’t know who Mark Bittman is, he wrote the essential kitchen reference, How to Cook Everything, as well as a nice little cookbook I’m cooking now full of very simple and quick recipes, The […]

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