On Reading A Recipe -
Turn off the television, don’t answer the phone, just sit and read it through. Make a mental inventory of the sort of equipment you need, the cooking techniques required, the ingredients you have on hand. Note the stages of preparation, and get a sense of appropriate timings.
This is the kind of sage advice you find in Lauren Braun Costello’s new book called Notes on Cooking – A Short Guide to an Essential Craft. The quote above comes from her chapter on Understanding the Recipe and is exactly the advice I try to give my readers at The Reluctant Gourmet web site and the Reluctant Gourmet blog all the time. Lauren just says it a little more succinctly than I do.
This is not a book full of wordy chapters but instead there are 217 short “notes on cooking,” like above, each filled with culinary insight that can help you be a better home cook. Here’s another one I like in The Cook’s Role chapter:
Work from your Strength. Don’t try to master everything. Become known for a few dishes, perhaps even the near perfection of one. Discover your obsession, then make yourself a slave to it: the mastery of a traditional dish, the combination of ingredients that have never before met, precision in presentation, devotion to a culinary heritage, the introduction of color where it never before existed.
Isn’t that just great advice?
The other 215 “notes” are broken down in categories titled:
- Tools & Equipment
- Procurement & Storage
- Mise en Place
- Building Blocks
- Stocks & Sauces
- Bread & Pastry
- Dairy & Eggs
- Wine & Spirits
- Repairing Food
The author, Lauren Braun Costello, developed her skills under some of the world’s most renowned chefs and is now a private chef and food stylist for television shows including The Early Show, The View and CNN’s dLife.
Lauren is a graduate of from The French Culinary Institute where she received a Grand Diploma in Culinary Arts with distinction and was awarded a Les Dames d’Escoffier Scholarship. Boy do I hope Lauren reads this and wants to be interviewed for my Novice2Pro page.
Dorothy Hamilton, the founder and CEO of The French Culinary Institute in New York City, wrote the Afterword. It’s short, just like the “notes” Lauren presents us, but if you are a foodie like me, her words will hit home.
In the marketing material sent to me with Notes On Cooking, Chef Lauren says, “There is a bounty of exceptionally good recipes out there. But the best recipes alone do not teach much. They just outline a procedure. We wanted to fill the gap. We wanted each reader to turn to any page in our book, follow any one of the notes and become a better, wiser, more skilled cook.”
I like that.
The reviews for Notes On Cooking come from some pretty big names in the industry.
- Jacques Pepin says, “Concise, focused and sensible…full of useful advice.”
- Chef Daniel Boulud says “Indispensable advice, experience, and know-how. A superb addition to the library of any passionate cook.”
- One of my favorite cookbook authors, James Peterson says “An abundance of tips, ideas and caveats. the list of food adjectives is one I’ll refer to myself and the list of recommendations is indispensable. the food airings are the most insightful I’ve ever seen. Work well done.”
Not bad press from the heavy hitters of the culinary industry. Me, I keep a copy on my bed stand so I can read a few “notes” each night before going to sleep so I have dreams about cooking.
Let me leave you with one more “note” from Notes On Cooking -
On Repairing Foods
Dull Food? -
Brighten with acid or salt. Enrich with fat. Restaurants use animal fat and salt to enhance flavor. Vinegar, lemon jice, finishing oils, butter, and sugar are also old standbys.