on December 3, 1999
"How to Cook Everything" is one of the more useful cookbooks I've owned. Each type of food has a "Basics" section that includes lots of preparation tips. The recipes themselves are detailed enough for beginners, and not so esoteric that you have to make a trip to a specialty grocery store every time you want to cook something. Especially helpful are the suggestions for expanding on each dish. For example, after the basic Chicken Kebab recipe, there are four modifications, including Chicken Kebabs in Yogurt-Cumin Sauce.
I'm relearning the way I prepare even the most basic things, like sandwiches and scrambled eggs. Who would have thought scrambled eggs could be so good? And the Pan-Grilled steak has weaned me from the backyard grill forever. No other cookbook would warn you that "clouds of smoke will instantly appear; do not turn down the heat." That bit of fear that your fire alarm will go off at any second just adds spice to the whole cooking experience.
The breadth of this book is amazing. Besides having nearly every type of Western cooking you can imagine, it also has recipes from Japan, India, Thailand, and... you get the idea.
There is one drawback -- this book has no photos, just a few hand-drawn illustrations. However, the book is so big that if it did have photos, it would cost much more.
on November 7, 2008
I got my copy of the new edition of How to Cook Everything the other day and am beyond thrilled. I own the old yellow edition and have cooked from it far more than any other book, so I knew the new book had a lot to live up to. Well, it by far exceeded my expectations. While the book still feels familiar, it also feels new and improved. The essential recipe sections beginning each chapter are a great way to find the basics. But even the basics have changed. For example, Mark's roast chicken recipe, which I've used and liked in the past (though I still love Barbara Kafka's) has changed. He suggests you heat the pan before putting the chicken in and placing the chicken breast side up (instead of side down as he suggested in his old book). The heat of the pan helps cook the thighs faster so the breasts don't dry out. It worked perfectly the first time I tried it. Beyond the basics, there are just so many new recipes in here. The variations, lists, and charts that Mark is famous for seem even more plentiful than before, and there are tons of beautiful new illustrations. I'm so excited to cook with this new edition and foresee a day when it's pages will be stained with grease and flour just like the old edition. But I still can't get rid of the old one. It's like a good friend. I'll just put the new one on the shelf right next to it, red by yellow, and know that I can always count on them.
on February 14, 2000
I had a tough time deciding on a simple "star" rating for Mark Bittman's giant yellow cookbook. On the one hand, I haven't been consistently impressed with every single recipe I've tried. I've certainly had better luck with Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook or even with Joy of Cooking when I really want something to knock my socks off. The recipes alone get three or three and a half stars. All are good, few are spectacular.
On the other hand, some of the recipes really are quite excellent, and even though I'm a more experienced cook than many twenty-going-on-thirty-somethings, I find that the depth of reference information in How to Cook Everything is really outstanding. There are pages and pages on such topics as whether or not to presoak beans, how to shop for fish, and at least one nice basic way to prepare just about every vegetable under the sun. For depth of background and reference, Bittman deserves five stars.
All in all, I would actually say this is a good addition to most kitchens, even for those with more experience than those at which the book is obviously aimed, and if you comb through all the recipes carefully you'll probably find plenty that is worth cooking.
on January 4, 2001
I love cooking but after years of disappointment, I stopped buying cookbooks for several years. So many cookbooks nowadays are so "gourmet" oriented, their recipes may be fun for weekend cooking endeavors, but did not help an everyday cook like myself.
I read the recipe collections put together by church, realtors, and so on, but so many family recipes call for canned cream soups and mayonnaise ... they didn't turn me on either. One day, I went to a bookstore, just to see what is out there, and I fell in love with this cookbook. I cannot agree with the author more about today's misconception of cooking "from scratch" in this country. It can be much more easy and fun than many of us may think and this cookbook teaches us how in plain English. They are so simple, you may wonder why so much fuss was made in other cookbooks. I tried the recipes for "Clam Chowder", "Stir-fry Cabbage", "Brownie", "Apple Pie" and so on within a few days after purchase, they are all so easy and delicious, and my family loved them too. (Especially, I will never buy a box of brownie mix again!)
In short, this book brought "joy" back to my cooking and I am thankful for the author.
One more factor to mention: the fonts and layout of this book are excellent, it is very easy to read.
on March 27, 2000
As someone who is learning to cook only late in her life, I was apprehensive and embarrassed about asking simple basic questions of friends and family. Perceiving this, my parents gave me this cookbook, and voila! -- I can cook!
With step-by-step instructions on everything from cookware, ingredients, buying, preapring, cooking, and serving, there's nothing this book can't handle. It provides recipes to prepare foods in the simplest ways, all the way up to complex gourmet dishes. And it covers every imaginable food -- if it isn't in here, I can't imagine where you'd find it.
The language is straightforward and encouraging, with appropriate editorializing on the author's preferences, and the layout is clean and easy to read. I can't say enough good things about this cookbook -- it never leaves my kitchen counter.
This book is not only a wonderful resource; it is a rather significant achievement. The book is useful and helpful for beginning and developing cooks as well as a handy reference for experienced culinary professionals. Much of this usefulness flows from the way Mark Bittman has organized the book around 102 Essential Recipes. He then shows you other dishes and variations that build on or can be adapted from the core recipe. For example, on page 508 he has a nice recipe for Baked Macaroni and Cheese (which I made and my family loved). He then provides four variations and then six mac-and-cheese combos. So much of learning to cook is developing the ability to see how dishes relate to each other and gaining a sense of what you can do with them even without a specific recipe or permission from some authority to do something different. You gain understanding and freedom through experience and seeing connections. This book fosters the development of this understanding and way of looking at food.
You can tell the core recipes because they have a white star inside a red circle by the recipe title. The author also uses three other handy symbols (all in red circles). F means that the meal is fast and can be made in less than thirty minutes. M means you can make the dish ahead (or at least to significant degree of completion) of when it will be needed. V means it is a vegetarian recipe.
I like the way Bittman takes care to explain things to the reader without condescension. He assumes that someone using the book will need to know, for example, what basic pots and pans he should have or what her basic set of knives should be. Every beginning cook needs to learn how to use knives safely and what core ingredients should be in their pantry. Bittman explains all this and so much more. He also uses helpful diagrams to explain to how carve chickens, prepare fish, peeling and deveining shrimp, dice veggies, and so forth. The book also has many tables to help you get at the core types of ingredients such as apples, spices, herbs, and so much more. This is a cooking resource, not just a collection of recipes.
The way the author writes the recipes is especially helpful. He does not use the cryptic shorthand seen in so many recipes. The steps he provides are careful explanations of not only what you should do, but they also include explanations of why you need to do it and if something might be unclear he also tells you how to do it. Sometimes he even includes alternative approaches in the steps of a recipe. The recipes read as if he were talking to you as a friend and sharing with you so you can share in the fun he is having. Each recipe also tells you the yield in servings and the amount of time you should plan on spending to make the dish. He also lets you know when most of the time making the dish is actually in unattended mode.
You should also go to the back of the book for some other handy resources. These pages all have a red edge. He offers a series of menu ideas for Breafast and Brunch, Lunch, Dinner, and Celebrations. He also lists the 102 Essential Recipes on page 974 and 975. He then provides his own top 100 fast recipes, his top 100 make-ahead recipes, and top 100 vegetarian recipes. On page 982 he provides a list of specialty resources you can use for items you might need if they aren't available in your area. Of course the book has an index, which is extremely useful. Inside the front and back covers are some handy bits of conversion and temperature information.
Does the book really tell you how to cook everything? Pretty much. Remember, this isn't about cooking every possible dish in the universe, but of providing ways of handling a vast range of ingredients to get wonderful and easy to prepare dishes. I didn't find dishes with foie gras or caviar in the book. But they might well be there and I just missed them. However, it is insignificant either way. This subtitle is spot on: "Simple Recipes for Great Food" and that is what you need to know in approaching this wonderful book.
I recommend this to everyone who loves food and wants to begin cooking or develop their repertoire of dishes from the few they use over and over again. Take the plunge and you can thank me later. This book would also be a terrific gift to kids and grand kids setting up their own house or apartment. Learning to cook will not only be cheaper than eating out or ordering in, it will be far healthier. And it offers much more opportunity for healthy socializing than the usual stuffing of faces in front of a glowing tube.
Strongly and fervently recommended.
Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Ann Arbor, MI
on November 17, 1999
As a long time collector of cookbooks - not planned - just can't stay away from them - I feel I have a little knowledge of what is out there. (I've been buying cookbooks for almost 40 years) My personal impression of this book is that if you can only have one - this should be it. The author not only gives you a list of ingredients and instructions but other information as to why you do it. The little block at the very beginning explaining about high altitute cooking is fantastic. The basic recipes followed with variations is very helpful. It is definately a book of all seasons - not gussied up with fancy photos, but has clearly drawn illustrations on how to do things from kneading bread, the proper way to cut up a chicken to variations on trimming an artichoke. I found recipes in this that I've been looking for for years, things my Grandmother used to fix. I've also found recipes for dishes I've never heard of from fancy international foods to great simple vegetarian dishes. And all the great tips! Written in such a way that it's like Mark Bittman is standing beside you walking you through everything. With this 900+ page book in hand - if you can read, you can cook. And feel good about it. Great gift idea for anyone who eats. I love it!
on November 21, 2000
This is a wonderful all-around cookbook, much easier to follow than the "Joy of Cooking". Cooking has always been my passion, but my creations were always fairly complex, adventurous dishes ... I never really learned how to make simple, every day meals. This book really helped me out with that! This would be a perfect gift for someone who has recently moved out on their own or for the single guy who needs a break from frozen pizzas! Even if most of the book were useless (which it is not), it would be a worthwhile purchase simply for the section entitled "28 Meals You Can Prepare in the Time it Takes to Boil Pasta" ... the recipes in this section are all simple, require usually less than 5 ingredients and can be prepared in just a few minutes. There are wonderfully detailed explanations in the books about simple, time-saving cooking techniques, as well as the reasons why certain things are prepared the way they are, so that the cook will have a better understanding of what they are doing. I would recommend this cookbook to everyone!
If you have room in your heart for only one cookbook, this is the one. With 2000 recipes it really does have everything. With variations. It's got vegetables from A to Z, with several recipes for each, primers on meat, fish and fowl, on stocking the kitchen and preserving your tools.
Bittman, author of the Minimalist column in the New York Times, has overhauled the original to reflect the changing times. Almost half the material is new, showcasing more international dishes, more vegetarian fare, and a tighter organization. Best known for keeping it simple - fine food, with minimal fuss - Bittman would like to see the home cook spend an hour a day cooking but most of these dishes can be made in half that time.
If the dishes are inspirational, the organization is breathtaking. Organized by course, each chapter begins with "essential" recipes, the "building blocks," and icons accompany every recipe, indicating fast (under 30 minutes), make ahead, or vegetarian. Charts and sidebars abound, offering ideas for using different techniques with similar ingredients or the same technique with different ingredients.
As always with Bittman, the watchword is variation, the goal is inspiration. Cooks of all levels of experience and interest will spend hours with this book and never run out of new ideas and new tricks.
on February 8, 1999
" 'Convenience' is one of the two dirty words of American cooking... the other is 'gourmet'. ... The gourmet phase, which peaked in the eighties, when food was seen as art, showed our ability to obsess about aspects of daily life that most other cultures take for granted. You might only cook once a week, but wow, what a meal." (from the introduction to the book)
This is an encyclopedic guide to cooking delicious food at home, from scratch. I got tired of spilling things on the library's copy of the book and finally bought my own. Everything I have made has turned out beautifully: an Asian-flavored green soup, puttanesca sauce, chicken adobo, gingered carrots, pears poached in red wine, and bread pudding, just to name a few.
The recipes use few convenience foods, but almost all the ingredients can be found in any supermarket. They are delicious, and most importantly, doable. Even the dishes that have only three or four ingredients, and there are lots of them, turn out to be more than the sum of their parts. Many basic recipes (e.g. grilled whole fish, stir-fried noodles, apple pie) are wonderful on their own but also feature variations for those who want to dress their food up. There are authoritative but not stuffy sections on equipment and technique, as well as some nice meal-planning suggestions ("Twenty fish dishes for fish haters," "Twenty-nine crowd-pleasing Thanksgiving side dishes you may not have thought of"). Look no further: there is enough great cooking and eating in this book to last a lifetime.