The Austin Chronicle

Yummer Reading

By MM Pack, June 8, 2007, Food

What's a Cook to Do? An Illustrated Guide to 484 Essential Tools, Tips, Techniques, & Tricks

by James Peterson

Artisan, 422 pp., $16.95

In this season of graduations, weddings, and showers, have I got a great gift book for you to bestow upon loved ones who are leaving the nest, setting up housekeeping, or just plain wanting better kitchen skills. This little volume is a bit like the first week in culinary school: Rather than providing recipes, it imparts universally applicable tips and techniques that make cooking and learning to cook infinitely easier.

Author James Peterson has had an illustrious career teaching and writing about preparing fine food, including the definitive Sauces, the 1998 James Beard Cookbook of the Year. In this new book, he deconstructs a lifetime of professional culinary experience into hundreds of concise, quickly accessed bites of useful information that explain and simplify all kinds of kitchen tasks. These range from utter basics like how to break an egg, wash lettuce, or peel, slice, and chop just about any vegetable to more advanced tasks like how to cook a pot roast, make quick mayonnaise, or carve a turkey. In addition, Peterson offers lots of ideas for cheating with style, such as choosing the best store-bought piecrust or doctoring canned broths for maximum flavor.

The book is organized into 10 chapters (and a comprehensive index) that lend themselves to easily locating answers to the question at hand: vegetables and fruits, poultry and meats, pies and tarts, and tools, techniques, and advice, etc. Many of the techniques and processes are helpfully illustrated with step-by-step color photos taken by the author.

As an afterthought, there is a brief chapter on dining and restaurant etiquette that succinctly addresses burning issues like how to pour Champagne properly, where to put your napkin when leaving the table, and how to order wine in a restaurant.

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