I’ve been getting loads of requests to do book reviews this summer, so I’m especially grateful to my wife, Kerri, for helping me keep apace this week!
“Food is never really finished until you talk about it.”
-Notes on Cooking
I consider myself a good cook. I can read a recipe or improvise, and as long as I’m in the kitchen preparing meals for my friends and family, I’m happy. When I’m not in the kitchen, I can often be found on my patio with a glass of wine, reading about food. Therefore, I was excited to peruse Notes on Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft by Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich. This tight volume of indispensable instructions for making your way through the kitchen gives a no-nonsense approach to cooking for the novice or “seasoned” chef.
I have to admit, however, that I was slightly skeptical at the idea of being told what I can and cannot do in my own kitchen; therefore, I was glad to see the authors remind readers that cooking is a process best learned through trial and error. Although these notes are voiced assertively, they also empower the cook to make his or her own choices in the kitchen. This is most clear in note number 99: “Don’t let a machine do your job. You are the cook; it is your fire, your blade, you hands, your finesse that provide the meal’s soul.”
Although I read these notes in order from beginning to end over the course of a leisurely summer afternoon (and, yes, with a glass of wine), the authors suggest that the book can be read in any order and at any pace. If you are planning a brunch, you may want to review the chapter on dairy and eggs. Looking for the perfect cut of beef? Turn to chapter XIII before you head out to the butcher. The table of contents presents clear and concise descriptions of each note.
The afterword to the book begins by reminding us of how hectic life can be and that the kitchen can be a therapeutic place. Sure, we all make mistakes when we cook. My husband has been a kind critic of some of my worst disasters. However, that square space between the stove, the pot rack, the refrigerator and the sink is the place that feels most like home to me. If you don’t have years to learn your way around your own kitchen, Notes on Cooking is a good place to begin.