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Cooking Know-How: Be a Better Cook with Hundreds of Easy Techniques, Step-by-Step Photos, and Ideas for Over 500 Great Meals Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 30, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (March 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470180803
  • ASIN: B0031569N8
  • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 8 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,571,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Knowing how to cook has challenged lots of men. Women, too. What most people learn is a specific recipe: how to make this pasta sauce, or that loaf of bread. What about learning how to cook in general? And not just the 'how' but the 'how come?' That requires a technique book.

What you'll find in this book is an alphabetical list of sixty-five recipe-driven, technique-centered explications that build out into hundreds of dishes.

Armed with the knowledge of the simple mechanics of a dish, the five or so steps it takes to make it, you can walk into the market, find what's fresh (or on special), bring it home, and have dinner on the table without any worries, any overly romantic pretensions, or any cookbooks piled on the floor: fresh every time—and your way, too.

Exclusive Recipe Excerpts from Cooking Know-How: Gratin

A Visual Guide to Preparation

1) For the best gratin, peeled Russets should be sliced as thinly as possible.

2) A gratin is a layered casserole; the potato slices perform the same dividing act noodles do in lasagna.

3) The potato slices, kept in water to halt discoloration, are placed in an overlapping layer in the baking dish.

4) The liquid—here, cream—is poured over the casserole, moistening the top layer as it soaks into those below.

5) As a gratin bakes, press down occasionally with a large spoon to scoop up juices that then baste the top layer.

6) Those juices will brown the potatoes as the casserole bakes.

7) Garden Vegetable Gratin
Gratin Recipe
Makes 8 side-dish servings

A layered potato casserole, a gratin (French, grah-TAN) is named for both the technique and the dish it’s baked in: a fairly shallow, oval, oven-safe baking dish. Nonetheless, you can make it in a standard 9 x 13-inch baking dish, more in keeping with standard American kitchenware. Perhaps this use of a standard baking dish is why the casserole’s gotten hitched to “scalloped potatoes” in the United States. In fact, the real thing is less thick, has no cheese, and is more a center-piece for the potatoes themselves.

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350[dg]F. Peel and thinly slice 3 pounds Russet potatoes, place them in a large bowl, cover with cool water, and set aside.

Russets are the best varietal for the best gratin. Sometimes called Russet Burbanks, they’re an American hybrid with white flesh, brown skin, and plenty of natural sugars; they are also full of starch, making them quite fluffy when cooked. That starch will also make a gratin exactly what it is: a casserole thickened with the potatoes’ starch, sort of a potato version of Risotto.

The potatoes need to be cut into slices about 1/8-inch thick--cut lengthwise, to boot, so the strips are as a long as possible. There are three ways to do this:

  1. A sharp knife. You need a hefty knife, no cleaver of course, but a chef’s knife for sure. The weight of the tool will help keep the slices even; your steady hand will keep them thin. If you haven’t sharpened the knife in a while, now’s the time to get out the sharpener--or at least get out the steel and hone the blade. Slice off about 1/2 inch from one pointy end of the peeled potato, so it will stand up on the cutting board. Now spray the knife blade with nonstick spray so the starchy potato doesn’t stick to it. (You may need to do this several times during slicing if you notice pieces sticking.) Slice down in slow, steady, thin cuts, about as thick as a piece of elementary-school construction paper. Remove each slice before making the next.
  2. A mandoline (pronounced MAN-doh-lin but not to be confused with the stringed instrument, a mandolin). This kitchen tool is an angled plane with an adjustable, razor-sharp blade; items are run repeatedly down the slope and over the blade, thin slices falling through the crack and onto the counter below. Set the blade to [1/8]-inch thickness and use a food grip to run the potatoes their long way over the blade, thereby making long, thin strips. Unlike the technique for using a knife, there’s no benefit here in going slowly[md]indeed, it’s a hindrance. Instead, run the items across the blade at a good, steady clip, pressing down gently but firmly so they come in contact with the blade. Do not attempt to slice the potatoes without using the food grip; many a person has shorn the skin off their fingers thanks to a mandoline (and probably to a mandolin, too). Cheap knock-offs are sometimes sold without the safety grip; invest in a higher-end, professional mandoline or work with a metal glove that can resist the blade.
  3. A food processor fitted with the 2-millimeter slicing blade. Place a potato in the slot, turn the machine on, and use the plunger to press the spud down over the spinning blades. You won’t be able to get long slices; the potato will have to go in short end first. And the food processor will “juice” the potato somewhat, its moisture leached out of the whacked-open cells. Still, it’s hard to argue with convenience.
    Put the potato slices in water to leach a little of their starch and help them remain white, rather than oxidizing to a pale brown in the open air. But not too long because too much starch will be lost. Just keep them in the water while you make the following vegetable sauté.
Step 2: Heat 3 tablespoons fat in a large skillet over medium heat.

In general, if the gratin will be made with milk or cream, use unsalted butter; if it will be made with broth and/or wine, use either olive oil, an untoasted nut oil, or a neutral oil like canola or vegetable oil. However, a broth-based gratin made with butter is silky and smooth; a milk-based gratin with olive oil is light and less palate-drenching. Just remember that the fat you use will also probably be the one dotted or drizzled over the dish just before baking. In all cases, stay away from toasted nut and seed oils. And that all said, many a traditional French gratin is made with duck fat, then dotted with unsalted butter. Wow.

Step 3: Add 4 cups packed diced aromatics, a mirepoix; cook, stirring often, until softened, from 3 to 8 minutes.

The mix here is entirely dependent on what you want the final effect to be. Treat all these vegetables as the “spices” of the gratin. How about shredded Brussels sprouts, diced onion, diced zucchini, and shredded carrots? Or a shallot and one or two peeled, cored, and diced apples? Or some chopped, stemmed chard with about 2 ounces chopped bacon? All these bring new flavors to the gratin--some sweeter (carrots and the like); others, more bitter (like Brussels sprouts and chard). None will be used to excess; all must be cooked until almost ready to eat so they continue to dissolve in the casserole as it bakes.

Wet vegetables--sliced mushrooms, diced summer squash--must give off their moisture over the heat; dry, hard vegetables--carrots or seeded winter squash--must be diced into very small pieces so they’ll cook quickly. Oddly, 2 cups diced onion and 2 cups sliced mushrooms will actually take longer over the heat than 1 cup diced onion and 3 cups diced carrot because of the difference in moisture content, the time it takes for the mushrooms to give off their liquid. Since leafy greens are mostly air, you’ll need a double amount because of the way they cook down over the heat. Chopped, they fill the pan too full; add them in batches.

Yes, you can make a gratin with tomatoes, but they must be cooked down thoroughly so as not to water-log the casserole. In truth, if you want a tomato taste with the potatoes, it’s easiest to add tomato paste or sun-dried tomatoes in the next step.

Step 4: Add some minced garlic, perhaps a chopped flavoring agent like pitted olives or sun-dried tomatoes, and up to 2 tablespoons minced herbs and/or 1/2 teaspoon dried spice--as well as 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; cook for 30 seconds to warm through. Then layer the vegetables and the drained potatoes in a 10-cup au gratin dish or a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Garlic is almost irresistible with potatoes; just make sure it’s minced so it doesn’t dot the casserole with nose-spanking bites. Also consider other flavorings: a minced, seeded fresh chile; some sliced sun-dried tomatoes; a dab of tomato paste; a minced, jarred, roasted red pepper; some minced peeled fresh ginger; chopped, pitted black olives; or even a minced anchovy. No more than 1 or 2 tablespoons of any, just as a flavoring. This is a potato dish, after all. Everything else is ornamentation.

Fresh herbs work best--parsley, rosemary, oregano, or a simple combination--but there’s no reason not to pair them with a little dried spices, particularly the sweeter ones like ground mace, grated nutmeg, ground ginger, or ground cumin.

Once you’ve got the vegetable medley softened and aromatic, layer the casserole. Start by blotting the potato slices dry on paper towels to remove any moisture that will increase the cooking time and leach too much liquid into the casserole. Place an overlapping layer of slices in the bottom of the baking dish. Then spread 1/4 to 1/3 cup vegetable mixture over the potatoes. There’s no reason to get crazed over amounts, but remember that this is not a true layer as in, say, a lasagna. Rather, this is a flavoring to the potatoes.

Keep layering, pressing down and compacting as you build the dish, overlapping the slices and using small amounts of vegetable filling each time. There’s no way to say exactly how many layers you’ll make: the potato slices may have been different sizes and there may be slightly different amounts of the vegetable mixture, depending on which vegetables you used. When you see you have enough potato slices for one more layer, add the rest of the vegetables, spread them evenly over the slices, and top with an overlapping layer of these last potato slices.

Step 5: Pour 4 cups (1 quart) milk, broth, or an enhanced version of either over the contents of the baking dish; drizzle or dot with 2 tablespoons fat. Bake uncovered, basting occasionally, until golden and most the liquid has been absorbed, about 2 hours.

Either milk (regular, low-fat, or even fat-free) or chicken, beef, or vegetable broth (avoid fish broth) can be enhanced with up to 1 cup dry white wine, dry sherry, dry vermouth, or heavy cream. However, bear this in mind: too much wine and the dish will be too sweet; too much cream, too heavy.

The fat that goes over the top of the dish is most likely the same one you used to cook the vegetables. However, feel free to mix it up: unsalted butter to cook the vegetables and untoasted walnut oil over the top layer of potatoes; olive oil for the vegetables, unsalted butter over the top.

Gratin Recipe Variations


Creamy Potato and Leek Gratin

Savory Potato and Cabbage Gratin

Potato and Brussels Sprouts Gratin

Curried Potato, Cauliflower, and Pea Gratin

Garden Vegetable Gratin

1. Thinly slice, cover with water, and set aside

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

2. Heat

3 Tbs unsalted butter

3 Tbs olive oil

3 Tbs olive oil

3 Tbs unsalted butter

3 Tbs unsalted butter

3. Add and cook

4 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, washed carefully, and thinly sliced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 pound green cabbage, cored, halved, and thinly sliced into shreds (see page 000)

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 celery rib, thinly sliced

1 pound Brussels sprouts, cored and thinly sliced into shreds

4 ounces shallot, diced

1 small head cauliflower, trimmed, cored, and chopped into small florets

2 cups fresh shelled or frozen peas

4 ounces shallot, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

1 small zucchini, diced

1 cup fresh shelled or frozen peas


4. Add, then layer with the potatoes in the baking dish

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbs minced tarragon

1 tsp salt

½ tsp ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbs minced parsley

1 Tbs minced oregano

1 tsp salt

½ tsp ground black pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

2 Tbs minced peeled fresh ginger

1 Tbs curry powder (see page 000)

½ tsp salt (if none is in the curry powder)

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 Tbs stemmed thyme

1/4 tsp grated mace

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

5. Pour on, drizzle or dot, and bake, basting often

3 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

2 Tbs unsalted butter

4 cups (1 quart) chicken broth

2 Tbs olive oil

3 cups chicken broth

1 cup dry white wine

2 Tbs unsalted butter

3 cups vegetable broth

1 cup coconut milk

2 Tbs unsalted butter or ghee (page 000)

3 cups chicken broth

1 cup heavy cream

2 Tbs unsalted butter

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this unconventional, friendly cookbook, Weinstein and Scarbrough, the authors of the Ultimate cookbook series, have selected 65 basic savory dishes that, taken together, make up a diverse, international repertoire of nightly dinners. A How to Use section orients readers to the particular style of the book and some important considerations for translating the general explication to the specific recipe. Each general dish, be it a bean soup or tagine, begins with a description of the basic technique, with photos illustrating each step. Included in the description are suggestions for the cook who wants to improvise with different spices or needs to use up that lone parsnip in the refrigerator. Following the recipe is a chart with multiple variations: eight different versions of enchiladas (including turkey and walnut) or eight different meals cooked in parchment packets, such as ratatouille-style fish and Japanese-style chicken. The recipes are structured without being fussy and the majority are relatively easy. This is a welcome rarity, imparting a useful, innovative framework as well as the confidence to depart from it. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 45 customer reviews
It's a great read with wonderful pictures and delicious recipes.
Kenneth Knott
Instead it is a book that teaches technique using a basic recipe but then gives several variations to make it unique.
Books and Chocolate
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has even the slightest interest in cooking.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Montgomery on March 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This cookbook rocks!! Finally I have found a cookbook suitable for my husband, the man who thinks he can cook but can't, the man who refuses to follow directions, and the man who wants a picture to go with every situation in life. This cookbook has it all. It breaks down the recipes into easy to follow, understandable steps, and even tells the rule-breaker in your life how to break the rules and get away with it: by giving him variations. Fancy that! I'm also sending it to my son in college who is teaching himself to cook on the internet, because even techies need a hard copy, especially when the pictures are so mouth-watering. Two thumbs up.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is a fabulous resource for anyone who wants to learn to cook, develop their basic cooking skills, and expand their cooking chops beyond their present comfort zone. I sure wish this book had been in my hands when I began cooking just over a year ago. While I did learn a lot by watching good cooking shows on the Food Network, this book has many wonderful benefits that I will use as I go forward.

Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough have provided a way for us to see dishes as families of dishes and exactly how they use the same cooking process despite some differences in the proteins, vegetables, spices, and liquids.

As just one example, you can look at the Vindaloo recipe. Since the dishes are organized alphabetically you can easily find this dish in the back of the book. The recipe begins with a bit of a background on what a Vindaloo is and proceeds with the five cooking steps you will use in making the dish. As you read through these steps you will develop a strong conception of what the dish is and how it is done. Then you get a table that lists the five steps in a column and the varieties in rows. You get recipes for Vinaloos with lamb, duck, chicken, goat, pork, veal, venison, and beef. These tables are very easy to read and make it easy for us to see the similarities and differences between the recipes and we get a better sense of why the different proteins use different approaches.

Each section also contains side-boxes with helpful tips that are relevant to that recipe and can be used in many other cooking situations. The book focuses on helping you develop your repertoire of cooking techniques. There are many instructive sequences like the three photos and tips on how to make a chile paste (on page 91) as part of making chili.
Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S. Benefiel on August 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I ordered this cookbook about a year ago and it has become my cooking bible. It is literally the best cookbook I have ever owned. The format is easy to read and easy to use. I love the fact that this book teaches you the technique for a recipe and you can use your own creativity to make the dish your own. Many other cookbooks use ingredients that are hard to come by or unrecognizable to the home-chef, this book uses easy ingredients and is super easy to follow. The curry recipe is one of my favorites. I have used this technique more than a dozen times.

I wish these 2 would write another Cooking Know-How book so I could continue my culinary education.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Rosemary M. Wargo on June 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
this is a perfect cookbook for anyone, new or experienced in the kitchen. the format is perfect and makes for a quick check on how to prepare a dish. I have been cooking for many years, taken loads of cooking classes and am considered a good cook, but I use this book repeatedly. Great buy!!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Charlie on March 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
From the very first chapter, it's clear this is no ordinary cookbook. The authors do a splendid job of breaking down the creation of absolutely fabulous dishes into simple, manageable steps. And the bonus is they show how each technique can be applied to so many exquisite variations. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has even the slightest interest in cooking.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By spiral curl girl on August 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I don't cook. For me it is a chore, not a hobby or an art. But one must eat, and therefore I picked up this book from the library new books display. Love it! I might even end up loving to cook. Have to buy it.
I have never been fond of reading directions or following recipes. This book explains why certain ingredients are used. How to work with different types of foods. What all the cooking terms mean, in detail and why you do it that way. From that information, you know how to cook the dish and how to improvise on new tastes for the same dish. If you aren't creative, don't worry. Each recipe includes a chart with about ten different recipes based on the same basics.
True, many of the recipes are often sort of fancy. I am pretty sure I am never going to stand for an hour stirring a risotto or make (or eat) an escabeche (cold vinegar fish). But it also includes the secret to perfect mashed potatoes, how not to have a gummy beef stew, how to balance the flavors in a stir fry....
Left brain reasoning meets right brained creativity.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Knott on September 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Like many I collect cookbooks.. I've got dozens I've never so much as cooked a single recipe from. Others that I've got one that I return to again and again. And a precious few that are my standards. My go to book...

Well this is the new standard. Broken down by traditional dish, this book teaches step by step with detailed instructions on how to reproduce the masterpieces. And they leave with a dozen suggestions on how to vary it in real significant ways.

I'm not the best book reviewer, but all I can say is this book is one you'll use. It's a great read with wonderful pictures and delicious recipes. You love the food and actually learn to cook more confidently.
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