This is the book I liked well enough to buy twice. I have a hard copy and an electronic copy. I love the electronic copy because I can do a key word search and find just about anything I want quickly (it really does hit on “everything”). I have the hard copy because it’s great for simply perusing for ideas. I like picking it up on the weekend in my home kitchen and just randomly reading tips and tactics. Some of them I knew, some of them I have observed but never properly learned, some of them are new ideas that motivate me to get out the utensils and ingredients and start cooking!
How to Cook Everything, Simple Recipes for Great Food, by Mark Bittman is one of those basic—dare I say classic—cookbooks that every cook should own. It’s not a flash-in-the-pan book that gives you beautiful pictures around a theme or the latest trend. I like cupcakes as well as anyone, but they aren’t a staple at the table; this book is about those staples.
Yes, it’s a big cookbook, and that can be somewhat intimidating. But not nearly as intimidating as going into the kitchen unprepared. This is the book that prepares you. It tells you the basics of equipment, and when to use what. It’s immensely practical, with statements such as, “I can’t get enough of them, but you probably need only small, medium, and large bowls to start. Stainless steel bowls are cheap and extremely useful. Some people (like me) use them as serving bowls as well. If you want attractive serving bowls, buy them, but don’t use them for mixing, because you will inevitably chip them.” See? Practical.
There are things in this cookbook I will never venture to make, like Braised Cauliflower with Curry and Tomatoes. But it has a recipe for Hot Cross Buns, which I’ve always wanted to make, and a section on “The Basics of Quinoa,” which I need in order to use up the massive amounts of quinoa I bought on a whim. It’s a cookbook that does not assume you know the process, and doesn’t make you feel dumb because you don’t.
This is the cookbook I turn to when I want to verify how to make Salmon Roasted in Butter, and it gives me some alternatives, like Cold Poached Salmon with Lime-Ginger Sauce. It gives me the basics of grilling pizza, so when I see a YouTube video where someone throws some dough on a grill, I can read up on how long it should be cooked, what the right thickness of the dough should be, and whether to close the grill or leave it open. If you want to know how to choose a mango or macerated dried fruits, this is the book for you. It’s got a recipe for Baked Beans (and you thought you just opened a can, didn’t you?) and the Basics of Ripening Fruit. Get the picture? It’s How to Cook Everything.
The book is divided into easy sections, starting with Equipment and Techniques and moving into the typical Appetizers, Soups, Pasta and so on. It has a whole section on Eggs, Breakfast, and Brunch Dishes, and a chapter entitled, “Fifty Cookbooks I’d Rather Not Live Without.”
This is not a book filled with beautiful color photographs, meant to inspire you as you plan your menu. It is, instead, more of a manual that you’ll turn to time and time again as you implement your plan.
Mine is an earlier version, but you can get the updated one at Overstock.com.
And, you can get the vegetarian version, “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” here.