The Competent Cook: Essential Tools, Techniques, and Recipes for the Modern At-Home Cook by culinary instructor Lauren Braun Costello, is a delight.
Even experienced home cooks are not necessarily well-trained cooks. Many people have been doing it “the hard way” since they first picked up the wrong knife—and held it incorrectly.
Are you an experienced cook? Can you articulate the difference between baked chicken and roast chicken? Do you know why you should trade in that American-style rolling pin (with handles) for a French style (no handles)?
There are many “ahas” that will enlighten those who enjoy cooking. It’s easy to end up with better knife skills after reading the book.
Are you a fledgling cook? This book is as good as taking cooking classes—and better than some of the classes we’ve taken, because there’s more detail.
We are now an even more competent cook!
We only wish that the 250-page book contained more instruction from Ms. Braun Costello and fewer recipes: The “teaching” ends on page 95. While we understand the desire to provide the basic recipes (from Caesar salad to apple pie) that enable one to practice the techniques, there are more than enough recipe books on the shelf and fewer books about technique. The recipe section could have been improved with mini-course prefaces; for example, how to work with pastry dough (without proper instruction, most people overwork it, toughening the dough).
Some recipes do contain valuable tips. For example: When making a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato, insert the tomato slice between two cheese slices. This both helps to keep the bread from taking in moisture from the tomato, and helps the cheese melt more evenly since the slices are closer to the heat source.
We never thought of that! But now, thanks to Ms. Braun Costello, we’ll be making a better grilled cheese sandwich.
Buy a copy for your favorite graduate or anyone would enjoy learning some new tricks.
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