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From Barnes & NobleHow to Cook Without a Book
I would guess that it was being asked basic cooking questions one time too many that set Pam Anderson on the road to writing How to Cook Without a Book: Recipes and Techniques Every Cook Should Know by Heart. It is certainly a fine follow-up to her very successful The Perfect Recipe, Getting It Right Every Time. With these two books, Pam Anderson is well on her way to becoming the Fannie Farmer or Irma Rombauer of our time. These are no-nonsense, get-to-the-heart-of-it cookbooks that lead the inexperienced home cook on a direct path to learning how to cook simply and well every day.
Anderson tells us that she grew up surrounded by good Southern cooks—cooks who made their meals by sight and feel, without the help of a recipe or any other guidelines. They cooked what they knew, in the way they knew how to cook it. As soon as she was able to help, Anderson was assigned a job, and she learned by doing. Of course, the ingredients and equipment available to her teachers were a fraction of what today's cooks have to choose from. Plus, most of the women were homemakers whose main job was to run their households and manage their children—quite unlike most of today's home cooks. To help a new generation of cooks to cook without a book, Anderson has devised a rhyme for every technique. For pasta, "Heat fat and garlic, cook for two. Add canned tomatoes, simmer for a few." For Salads with Vinaigrette, "Consider single vegetables for salads when you shop. Nothing beats steamed asparagus, for example, with vinaigrette on top." And for the most difficult category, desserts, "There is no one technique for quick dessert, and certainly no one rhyme, but anything is possible with a little money, work, or time." With just a little thought, a beginning cook can memorize the alphabet of basic cooking techniques much as one learns nursery rhymes.
Reading How to Cook Without A Book really is just like having your mother or grandmother in the kitchen with you. It is filled with very simple recipes, many with interesting variations that can be made every day with little effort and little time. In a chapter called "The Right Stuff: Stocking the Refrigerator, Freezer, and Pantry," Anderson lays out the basics of cooking without a book. A well-stocked pantry is where it all starts—in fact, Anderson tells us that "one of the signs of a successful working cook is the number of times she food shops." With the guidelines in this chapter leading the way, there is no reason why you could not cook a well-rounded meal every day (even after working, picking up the kids, throwing in the laundry, walking the dog, and exercising!) To quote the author, "My learning to cook without a book was a slow process, one I'm still learning. Although I think dinner is important, and our family eats very well, I don't spend hours in preparation. Like the rest of the work force, I usually turn my attention to dinner each night at the last moment. I take shortcuts whenever I can, and rarely have much more than thirty minutes for weeknight dinner preparations." Her technique for putting dinner on the table with some amount of ease came about over years of dissatisfaction with eating out or ordering in. "We began to develop our own way of cooking without recipes, internalizing basic cooking techniques and memorizing simple formulas that worked for the way we ate during the week." How marvelous that she learned this well enough to pass it along to other cooks. As so many home cooks struggle with the nightly decision of what to eat for dinner, how to manage breakfast with everyone trying to get out of the house at once, and what to pack in the lunch boxes to eat sensibly at lunchtime, I am sure that How to Cook Without a Book will become the home cook's handbook. With it, we will all be able to join Anderson and her family in saying, "Set the table. We're eating dinner at home tonight."