Cookbook Season: Some Good Basics, Part I

There are a LOT of actual, physical cookbooks in my domicile, and while I have divested myself of some, I love just picking up a book and surfing through.  Yes, one can surf on the Net for specific ingredients, but sometimes I get more inspiration by just doing curious random check-ins on the books in my home.   I’ve accumulated a good variety here.

Cookbook Reviews

I figure here I’ll go through some general cookbooks that are fairly recently published, just for fun and a change of pace.  I consider them overview books, technique books.  I am going to chop this discussion up into several posts through December, so we don’t go on and on and on and on in one overlong blog entry.

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I’ve purchased three Cooks Illustrated cookbooks, and three James Peterson cookbooks, and I do recommend them.  I’ve also included The Flavor Bible, sort of to tie things together.

The list: 

  • Cooks Illustrated, The Science of Good Cooking: Master 50 Simple Concepts to Enjoy a Lifetime of Success in the Kitchen (2012).
  • Cooks Illustrated, Perfect Vegetables. (2003)
  • Cooks Illustrated, Meat Book: The Game-Changing Guide that Teaches You How to Cook Meat and Poultry with 425 Bulletproof Recipes (2014)
  • James Peterson, Vegetables. (1998)
  • James Peterson, Fish and Shellfish: The Cook’s Indispensable Companion (1998)
  • James Peterson, Sauces. (1998)
  • Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs (2011)

PS, I’ve had a problem setting up an Amazon account for credit – when I get that fixed, I’ll retroactively link to their Amazon pages.  Right now, it’s not a priority.   

The three Cooks Illustrated cookbooks are produced by America’s Test Kitchen.   The other titles they have don’t particularly interest me, but they do have a large variety of other books available.  One critique I’ve heard is that some of the books repeat over-many recipes from others of their books.

There’s a Paleo book, but I’m more fascinated by Paleo authors who take their inspirations from around the world, and aren’t trying to make frequent Paleo-ified breads and sweets.  As for as their comfort makeover book, that book approaches makeovers from the low fat/high carb perspective, which doesn’t suit me – besides, one person’s comfort food is another person’s run-and-hide-from food, and vice versa.  (How many people do you know that regard beef tongue as a serious comfort food???  Well, you sort of know me, by pixel at any rate!)  Manicotti?  Eh.  Meh.  So, I regard the term as non-informative.

THE SCIENCE OF GOOD COOKING:  One great thing about the Cooks Illustrated / America’s Test Kitchen crowd is that they do a lot of taste and technique testing.   They also, as evidenced by The Science of Good Cooking, investigate the why’s of how a certain technique works, or does not work.  They’re not shy about informing you.

This particular cookbook is divided into 50 concepts, which are explored as principles and then with defining recipes. We should all know by now, “Resting Meat Maximizes Juiciness”, but others will probably be more obscure:  “Green Vegetables Like it Hot – Then Cold”.  “Salt Makes Meat Juicy and Skin Crisp”.  “Rinsing (Not Soaking) Makes Rice Fluffier”.  There are also concepts for those who like to bake and make sweets, but I will seldom use those concepts.  But they’re there, for those who will, and maybe for an odd day that I do.  I recommend this book:  there will be something new for everyone, even if it’s not the same something.  The concepts will also help start you on the way to creating your own recipes, grounded in basics.

There are illustrations of techniques, but no photos, alas.

cookbooks gg meat science-

MEAT BOOK: Just as with Catholics during Lenten fasts, this book doesn’t consider seafood as fish.  There’s the James Peterson book for that.   They cover beef, pork, lamb, veal, chicken and turkey – but I have other books that refer to game meats, and duck.  And you can cook goat the way you’d do lamb.  They also don’t consider offal, their loss – but the book, quite frankly, is plenty big as it is!!!   One could even say it’s… meaty….

So, yes, this book is very comprehensive on techniques, nearly all of which I’ve found useful (that I’ve gotten around to trying.  They do recommend grinding your own meat, which now that I have a larger kitchen, I’ll be purchasing a meat grinder.  You know the quality of your meat, and you can pick the cut  your particular needs desire.  (At this point, I don’t buy ground meat unless I know it came from one or two animals – so, I am strictly local in my ground meat purchases.  This also means I can have medium rare hamburgers, something I stopped eating back in the Crack in the Jack major health scare days…  I attempted Gardenburgers in defense, but please, if I eat a veggie burger, it’s gotta be real food, not contain a kitchen-sink list of ingredients which combined pretend to taste like meat… I’m fine if my veggie burger tastes like nicely-seasoned beans and mushrooms!)

I like the fact they discuss just about every cut of beef, pork or lamb – in tables, they list the cuts, the flavor and tenderness levels (no, they won’t always coincide), any alternate names, and best cooking methods for each cut.  Very useful reference.  For each recipe, and you can consider them example recipes in many cases, they tell you why their preparation works.

I also appreciate, don’t use Italian dressing as a marinate.  It generally makes your meat mushy.  Unless you make the dressing yourself, it also generally comes with a bucketload of ingredients that were the sort of thing that has encouraged me to become my own chef:  I really do like knowing what’s in my food!

However, I’m really not on board with this poultry brining thing.  Simply put, I don’t like salty chicken. While I may use (low sodium) soy sauce or teriyaki sauce for that Asiatic feel, it’s the umani glutamate taste I’m after. Otherwise, I simply don’t use salt on poultry.  Well, one time I ruined a perfectly good heritage turkey by brining it in salt.  I even rinsed the thing off as fully as I could (which Meat Book doesn’t suggest), and while the meat was tender as all get out, it was so salty I barely could eat it.  And yes, I brined it “right”.  Reluctantly, I didn’t save the carcass for bone broth.  I just couldn’t.

I do understand that sugars will help brown up meats faster and better.  But aside from some Thai recipes and the like, my tendency is to use tart ingredients – lemon, lime juice, flavored balsamic reductions – to serve the same purpose.  Nothing wrong with adapting a very valid principle to your personal taste buds and concerns!  (I didn’t lose 40 pounds and improve my triclyceride profile by adding simple sugars to my meats and veggies!)

Some of the “world cuisine” foods seem a bit off to me, but that’s probably because I live in a good metropolitan area with access to nearly all the rare ingredients, and Cooks’ Illustrated rightfully wants people living just about anywhere in the country to be able to find most of the ingredients.  (This is why I have a large stash of cookbooks for regional and world cookery.)  A few years ago I attempted an oven-cooked chicken tandoori, from a recipe gathered from an Indian cook whose other recipes have always had me salivating… it didn’t work.  Theirs won’t really work, either.  Ovens just simply don’t get hot enough.  Most of us don’t have tandooris (nor do I), but I’ve been able to approximate the taste on the grill.  Of course, apartment dwellers often can’t have grills, so I applaud the effort, but the methodology Cooks Illustrated goes through to help approximate the experience – even if you are cooking it in the oven:  Definitely marinate your chicken in the yogurt mixture for at least half a day!  (And these days, you can find turmeric just about anywhere.  Add it!)  On the other paw, I’m glad they didn’t add in “food coloring” which unfortunately a lot of Americanized Indian restaurants do nowadays.

There are some really spot-on pork ideas, recipes and concepts.  Roasting a Boston “butt” is going to be more flavorful and tender than roasting a pork tenderloin – such a fine line between underdone and dry!

The book does have a small grilling section, but for more extensive grilling skills, consulting a Steve Raichlen book will stand you better.  But if you just want the basics… they’re here.

I do recommend this book, despite my reservations on brining (PS, I do salt my beef and pork, and well, ham comes brined…)  A lot of people are indeed fine with brining poultry; it’s just not for me.  And I’ll note that even Christopher Kimball on that America’s Test Kitchen TV show often disagreed with the conclusions of the suite of taste testers his own people hired.  No book is going to get it 100% “right” for everyone – the value in this particular cook book is that it provides ideas and reasons for cooks, beginners and proficient, to consider in upping their game in the kitchen.  It is both a jumping-off point for a technique or more you may have never before considered, and a good background for home use.  And, it’s plenty big, even without showcasing duck!

Again, no photos (other than the cover), but there are illos.

cookbook g-g meat-

(Next up: Both of those vegetable cook books…)

This blog post has been brought to Fiesta Friday’s Link Share.


About goatsandgreens

The foodie me: Low/no gluten, low sugars, lots of ethnic variety of foods. Seafood, offal, veggies. Farmers' markets. Cooking from scratch, and largely local. The "future" me: I've now moved to my new home in rural western Massachusetts. I am raising chickens (for meat and for eggs) and planning for guinea fowl, Shetland sheep, and probably goats and/or alpaca. Possibly feeder pigs. Raising veggies and going solar.
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2 Responses to Cookbook Season: Some Good Basics, Part I

  1. Wow, thanks for the list and reviews! I’m always on the look for cookbooks of interest.

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