Those of you who know me know that the closest thing I have to a personal recipe book is a binder full of well-thumbed take-out menus. (Looking at a webpage is not the same). Cookbooks are for people who cook, and I am not one of those people. I have a bad habit of putting something on the stove or in the oven, then wandering off and picking up a book, which I read until the smoke alarm goes off. Now that I’ve moved from big city to small town, though, my options are limited. I cannot rely on my landlord and downstairs neighbor to feed me regularly, no matter how much he loves to cook. Henri, truth be told, has a much more active social life than I do. So I’ve attempted to move beyond takeout, prepared meals, and microwaveables. I’ve developed a morbid fascination with cooking shows, where I’ve learned that it is much easier to set a frying pan of food on fire than it is to put it out, and that any chef who says, “this is a very simple technique” or “store-bought is fine” is lying to me. I’ve also started looking at every cookbook that comes into the library. Frankly, most are beyond my skills, though I have sent a few Henri’s way, with recipes bookmarked here and there. My skills lie at the level of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything – the Basics. I purchased my own copy after following his directions for putting hot hardboiled eggs into an ice water bath to make them easier to peel. Life-altering! I thought that would be my one and only, but I now have in my hands a lovely, reassuring volume titled Salt Fat Acid Heat, Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat.
According to the author, “Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious.” Well, she’s never seen me in a kitchen, but as long as she was giving me the benefit of the doubt I decided to keep reading. Nosrat goes on to discuss what she calls “The Four Elements of Good Cooking,” the salt, fat, acid and heat of the title. She defines, explains, gives examples, and teaches you how to do some basic troubleshooting. The science of cooking is discussed, in a straightforward way that won’t cause terrifying flashbacks to high school chemistry classes. After this, you move on to Part Two—Recipes and Recommendations. This starts with a helpful section on Kitchen Basics, with advice on choosing tools, where not to skimp on ingredients, and how to slice, dice and chop. After this, you move into recipes. If you’re not sure where to start, the author includes a section called “Cooking Lessons” which provides short lists of recipes that highlight specific skills. These are great for a beginner, or for someone who wants to master a certain element of cooking they’re not as familiar with. Per the author’s recommendation, I am not trying to cook anything before reading the whole book. When I do, I’ll probably start with one of the simpler lesson recipes.
Overall, I would recommend this for beginning to intermediate cooks, the collections of public libraries of all sizes, and as a gift for those about to set up housekeeping. The tone is conversational, the content is well-organized, and the illustrations by Wendy McNaughton are both easy to follow and charming.
I am beginning to believe I can actually learn to cook!