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The Improvisational Cook

The Improvisational Cook

3.2 7
by Sally Schneider

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“Schneider weans home cooks off their training wheels and provides a springboard from which they can leap out of the box, craft their own distinctive dishes, and let their new instinctive and creative juices flow.”
—Mario Batali


Everyday meat loaf, roast chicken, and cornbread become inspired new dishes in the hands of The


“Schneider weans home cooks off their training wheels and provides a springboard from which they can leap out of the box, craft their own distinctive dishes, and let their new instinctive and creative juices flow.”
—Mario Batali


Everyday meat loaf, roast chicken, and cornbread become inspired new dishes in the hands of The Improvisational Cook. Sally Schneider, bestselling author of A New Way to Cook, encourages home chefs to be creative and daring, to “cook out of the box,” in order to create their own culinary magic. Encouraging freedom from strict recipes and set lists of ingredients, The Improvisational Cook is the ideal cookbook for anyone who has ever considered pairing prosciutto with roasted peaches or putting parmesan on french fries.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As she did in A New Way to Cook, Schneider offers an original, practical and well-executed plan for improvisational cooking experimenting, cooking creatively, playing with ingredients and recipes, and "relinquishing total control and allowing an idea to develop organically." She presents ingredient-inspired recipes followed by several improvisations, or variations: a simple Herb Salad morphs into Spring Salad with Pea Shoots, Tarragon, and Chives; Cilantro Salas with Fragrant Peanut or Sesame Oil; Salad of Cress, Pine Nuts, Pears, and Chives; and Doctored Mesclun Salad. The Sage-and-Garlic Popcorn precedes derivatives for Brown Butter Popcorn, Caramelized Shallot Popcorn, Rosemary Popcorn, Smoky Bacon Popcorn and White Truffle Popcorn. Each anchor recipe features an "understanding" section that explains key ingredients or techniques. For example, a section within the Crackling Corn Bread recipe discusses cornmeal, fats in breads, buttermilk, flavorings and the basic cornbread formula. Readers can then use the ingredients and techniques with confidence and knowledge in myriad ways. Photographs are too few and far between; more images would enhance this volume and inspire experimentation. But overall the format is a creative way to teach readers to think more like chefs. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
O Magazine
“...teaching the reader to think like a chef.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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8.90(w) x 7.28(h) x 1.16(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Improvisational Cook

By Sally Schneider

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006

Sally Schneider

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060731648

Rosy Baked Apples

Serves 6


6 large Granny Smith or other good cooking apples

Juice of 1½ lemons (about 4½ tablespoons)

½ cup red currant jelly

1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1⁄3 cup water

3 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons crème fraîche or heavy cream, lightly whipped


Prepare the apples. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Starting at the stem end, peel the apples halfway down. With the tip of a paring knife, score the remaining skin vertically (in the direction of the stem) with 8 equidistant cuts. Using an apple corer or melon baller, scoop out the core to form a tunnel that goes from stem to blossom end. Arrange the apples in a baking dish.

Dress the apples with the sweetener and flavorings. Drizzle the apples with half the lemon juice. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the currant jelly into the cavity of each apple, followed by some of the butter and a little of the remaining lemon juice.

Add the basting liquid to the pan. Pour the water around the apples and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons currant jelly. Sprinkle the apples with the sugar. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake. Bake, basting occasionally with the pan juices, until the apples are verytender, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat to 475°F, and bake 10 or 15 minutes longer until the apples are glazed and golden. Serve warm with some of their syrup and crème fraîche.


Baked Apples with Rosemary and Pine Nuts

Serves 4

Since I envisioned serving rosemary-scented apples both as dessert and as an accompaniment for roasted meats and poultry, I wanted to slice them in a way that would work for either. So I halved the apples crosswise through the equator to reveal the pretty flowerlike pattern of seeds. They are especially good with pork roasts and chops, instead of applesauce.

Cut a ¼-inch slice off the stem and flower ends of 4 medium to large Granny Smith apples or other good baking apples, and discard. Cut the apples in half crosswise though the circumference. Butter a baking dish just large enough to hold the apples in one layer; arrange the apple halves seed side up in the dish. Drizzle 4½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1½ lemons) over the apples, followed by ¼ cup wildflower honey. Dot with 2 teaspoons unsalted butter. Pour ¼ cup each dry white wine and water around the apples. Nestle three 2-inch fresh rosemary sprigs and a 2-inch strip of orange zest, finely slivered, among the apples. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake 35 minutes. Turn the apples over, cover, and bake, basting occasionally, 30 minutes longer.

Uncover the apples, turn them again, baste, and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until very tender and nicely glazed. If the wine is evaporating too quickly, add a little warm water.

Serve as is or as a savory accompaniment. To serve as a dessert, place 2 halves and some syrup in each of 4 shallow soup bowls. Scatter 1 to 2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts over each serving. If desired, spoon some crème fraîche or ice cream alongside.

Baked Apple Sorbet

Serves 4

This surprising sorbet requires no ice cream maker. Baked apples are simply peeled, chopped, and frozen, then pureed in a food processor; the apples' abundance of pectin makes them creamy. It's worth making a double batch of baked apples, one to eat warm and one to turn into sorbet a few days later.

Prepare Rosy Baked Apples. Cool the apples, then remove the peels. Place on a cutting board and coarsely chop and remove any seeds. Spread the apples on a cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze. Up to an hour before serving, puree the apples in a food processor, scraping down the sides occasionally, until you have a creamy sorbet. Add fresh lemon juice and superfine sugar or honey to taste, if necessary, to brighten the flavor and process briefly. Serve at once, or pack into a container and freeze. To make a Baked Apple Soft Ice Cream, blend in crème fraîche to taste.

Smashed Baked Apples with Brûléed Marshmallows

One evening I skinned and crushed the flesh of some leftover baked apples and made this gratin with the chunky roasted pulp; just-this-side-of-burned marshmallows make a molten caramelized topping. It works fine with just about any baked apple recipe, such as Rosy Baked Apples or the Roasted Apples on page 86.

Use this formula for as many apples as you have: For each apple, you'll need 3 large marshmallows and about 1 tablespoon chopped fresh lemon segments (½ lemon's worth, see Peeling and Sectioning Citrus Fruit, page 353).

Remove the skin from the baked apples and coarsely mash the flesh, removing any seeds. Transfer to a flameproof casserole and warm over a medium flame. Toss with the lemon segments.

Slice each marshmallow crosswise into thirds and arrange on top of the apples. Just before serving, place under a preheated broiler, 3 to 4 inches from the heat source, and broil until the marshmallows are dark brown with tinges of black.

Baked Applesauce

Leftover baked apples make fine applesauce. Remove the peels and seeds and coarsely mash with a fork for a chunky applesauce, or puree in a food processor for a smooth sauce. Adjust the flavor by adding additional sugar, a pinch of salt, a squeeze of lemon juice, or a few drops of apple cider vinegar. Serve warm or cool.


Excerpted from The Improvisational Cook
by Sally Schneider
Copyright © 2006 by Sally Schneider.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Sally Schneider is the author of A New Way to Cook, recently named one of "the Best Food Books of the Decade" by the Guardian, and founding editor of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle Web site. A former chef, Schneider is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table. She has written for numerous publications, including Food & Wine, Saveur, Real Simple, Metropolitan Home, and Self. Schneider has won four James Beard awards and two IACP awards for her books and magazine writing.

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Improvisational Cook 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
A_J_O More than 1 year ago
I own shelves and shelves full of wonderful cookbooks, but this one is hands-down my favorite. Her techniques are so easy to follow (and memorize, so I don't have to open a book every time I cook). Not to mention, her recipes yield really amazing meals. I make her fragrant herb salt constantly, through all the seasons. She also makes it very easy to switch up ingredients as the seasons change. I cannot live without this book!
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