by Sybil PrattOctober, 1998
Kitchen Credos for chefs old and new
Rosemary Carleton Brown strongly believes that kitchen chaos can be contained and conquered. To that noble end, she has written the ultimate guide for the organizationally challenged and, unfortunately, that includes most of us. Rosemary Brown's Big Kitchen Instruction Book has all the strategies and game plans you need especially if you're among the millions for whom the end of a work day segues directly to the beginning of a meal-making evening.
Most of us have to do too much in too little time, often in too little space. So, if the smoke signals coming out of your kitchen are an S.O.S., Rosemary has an answering S.O.S. of her own that spells success, not distress--Streamline, Organize, Systemize. The first four chapters spell out her S.O.S. for solving chronic kitchen problems, from littered drawers to menu management and beyond. Hints on clearing clutter, expanding space, and making the most of what you've got are accompanied by detailed lists of what you need and why you need it for cleanup equipment, cutting and spreading tools, pots and pans, bakeware, ovenware, cooking utensils, tools and gadgets, tableware, serving utensils and accessories, containers, consumables (foil, toothpicks, etc.), refrigerator paraphernalia, and, if you can believe it, more. Then, we get to stocking and arranging the shelves in the refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and cabinets having the necessary ingredients on hand can be the key to quick, but creative, meal prep. Now, you're ready to systemize, that is create a logical process for dealing with recurrent chores, and what's more recurrent than the ever-turning meal-wheel planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning up, then starting all over again? Once you systemize, the wheel greased with a basic repertoire of menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner plus shopping strategies and time saving tips will spin smoothly.
A Food Facts section, with its extensive lists, charts, and tables offering solid guidance for making all kinds of food-related decisions, makes a fine finale. Sandwiched in (and this sandwich has a big filling) are the meat and potatoes of this book, Rosemary's recipes culled from her years of experience, ranging from timeless basics, such as tuna noodle casserole, to newer, ethnically-accented entries, such as a spicy tortilla soup. Her goal is to put some joy back into being in the kitchen, and I think that she's done it.
Marc Bittman, whose weekly food column "The Minimalist" appears in the New York Times, has strong beliefs, too. He wants us to celebrate the simple, to see cooking as a rewarding craft that anyone can learn and practice. How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food has everything going for it and everything to convince a cook or a wannabe to go back to real basics, real food made with fine ingredients and without undue fuss. Bittman also wants us to forget the two dirty words of American cooking convenience and gourmet. One exchanges flavor, nutrition, and tradition for supposed time-saving advantages; the other often makes us obsess over, rather than enjoy, a truly gratifying aspect of daily life. So toss those take-out menus and take up Bittman's simply explained approach to making things from scratch what you'll serve up will be hard to match. Big isn't in this title, but it wouldn't be a misrepresentation; this is a big book, over one thousand pages with over fifteen hundred recipes, as well as advice on essential equipment and cooking techniques. Bittman calls this a basic cookbook and, with much modesty, says that accomplished cooks will find little new here. I, immodestly, consider myself an accomplished cook, and I've found much that is new and if not new, so well presented and introduced that I was eager to try his versions and his tempting variations.
The recipes begin with Appetizers and move on through 18 more culinary categories. There are savory soups, super salads, pastas with improvisational pizzazz, glorious grains, foolproof fish, plenty of poultry, all matter of meats, sweet treats, omelets and quiches to egg you on, sauces, and a bevy of beverages, all seasoned with sidebars crammed full of intriguing menu options. Bittman says that simple, straightforward and broadly appealing were his guidelines for selecting the recipes here, and these admirable adjectives could just as easily describe this wonderful addition to the cookbook shelf.
Sybil Pratt is an avid cook.