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VINE VOICEon October 13, 2009
My jaw hit the floor when I saw this book. I have the French version and I had no idea that Phaidon was working on one of their now-classic spruced-up translations. If nothing else, Phaidon has the cookbook thing down by now -- this is a typically beautiful cookbook, with stunning photography and illustrations derived from the blocky line art typical of books from the 50s and 60s.

The original book is certainly not a learner's book; if anything it's more of a complement to something like Mastering The Art of French Cooking, to be used as a reference after working through the more technique-oriented books. Comparisons to Joy of Cooking are apt; while very few books on the market are quite as ambitious as Joy (which has a level of information density that is intimidating even by most professional standards), Mathiot certainly cast her net wide for traditional French cooking, even adding a few foreign recipes (one situation where the book sadly underachieves). This book does take some liberties, fleshing out some of the recipes for overseas audiences and adding the now-traditional selection of specialties from overseas French chefs (including, among others, Daniel Boulud, but sadly fewer other A-listers than you'd expect).

What does irk me, though, is something I thought Phaidon had abandoned with Vefa's Kitchen -- the practice of translating all the measurements into American terms while dropping the metric measurements entirely. Overall, though, if you're a fan of Phaidon's international cookbooks, or Phaidon's books in general, "I Know How to Cook" makes for a rather nice addition to the bookshelf.
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on October 13, 2009
Last July, the Washington Post excerpted a recipe from Ginette Mathiot's French classic and, in the covering article, compared it a French "Joy of Cooking" and compared it the books of Julia Child. On the strength of that article, I ordered the book, and my copy arrived yesterday. I am going to enjoy cooking from it. It is a classic of great depth and we can be thankful to Phaidon for publishing this huge volume. And yet, in my opinion, it is not quite what the Post article touted it to be. It lacks the extraordinary technical precision of Julia Child and "Joy of Cooking." Nor, do I think that, as an introduction to cooking technique, it can be compared to Madeleine Kamman's "New Making of a Cook." The closest American comparison I would make to it is the classic "American Woman's Cookbook," which was my mother's cooking bible and the cook book I first learned to cook from. As a collection of recipes, the Mathiot book deserves a place of honor in the kitchen. Yet the book suffers from some odd editorial shortcomings. As a translation from the French, ingredients are given in equivalent U.S. measurements (mostly by weight); but straight metric conversions lead to odd amounts in the ingredients columns. For example, one recipe calls for 4 1/4 ounces of bacon, 9 ounces of chestnuts, and 1 1/4 cups of Madeira. Readers would have been better served by a list of the original metric amounts and a parallel column that recalculates the recipe in more standard U.S. measures--as for example the U.S. editor of Elizabeth David's books has done with her British measures. Secondly, there is no French-to-English glossary; and, in some cases, trying to find a technique known by a French name is hopeless. Where is "poele," for example? Equally annoying is the lack of information about some ingredients or ingredient substitutions. Recipes often call from creme fraiche, an ingredient not as yet found in many U.S. markets. It is easy to prepare at home, but no instructions are given. Readers should also be aware that many of the recipes call for main ingredients not easily found--for example, where does one get hare? Finally, the many photos on matte paper are not particularly inviting. Yet with all these limitations, I hope this book will sell well enough for the publishers to invest a little more editorial effort in a second edition. As good as this book is, it hasn't quite made it all the way across the Atlantic. We need a U.S. edition, not just a U.S. translation.
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on October 30, 2009
Let me preface this by mentioning that I already own and use a number of well-known titles on French cooking, although these books are more along the lines of haute cuisine restaurant cooking. Among my cook book library you will find Jacques Pepin, Paula Wolfert, Elizabeth David, and Michel Roux to mention a few, and I utilize their expertise frequently. Having said this, I really enjoy having "I Know How to Cook" as a resource that has allowed me to "fill in the blanks" of my french cooking choices. Many of the recipes are easier, yet not simplistic or overly minimalized. As the editor asserts, it is the spirit of French cooking to create maximum flavor out of a small set of the freshest ingredients available. In addition, the recipes are written with both economic and dietary considerations in mind.

If you enjoy French cooking, it is a worthwhile resource to have this book; it expansively covers so much material that I was pleasantly surprised when I first opened it, and am still excitedly planning ahead for meals yet to be cooked. Of particular note (not to mention the over 1,400 easy-to-follow recipes that don't take all day) is the section of menus by celebrated chefs (40+ pages), and the menu planning section based upon seasons of the year.
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on December 26, 2009
As a chef who teaches people to cook in their homes, I look at a book like this from 2 perspectives. From a professional standpoint, it is a good reference book. I will have it on my shelf, and occasionally turn to it for inspiration, and less often, a basic technique reference. In flipping through it, I found numerous instances where the information was flat-out wrong. I am not sure whether that is a translation thing or just because it is a book written by someone who never really bothered to test the recipes in the first place. The book is being touted as the French cookbook that every French home cook has turned to for generation after generation. I am not sure that that is really true. As someone married to a French person with a whole lot of family in France that have never even heard of it, it seems to me like a good marketing scheme.

For amateur cooks, I can only say that this book might be kind of worthless. It really does assume that you know a lot. All in all, if you like collecting cookbooks, it is a good one to have on your shelf.... just don't count on using as you would a normal cookbook.
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on October 26, 2009
The most valuable information in this book can be found between pages 14-37 (cooking methods, wine, seasonal items, flavorings, spices, and glossary), and between pages 914-929 (author's kitchen advice, menu planning, picnic planning, dining etiquette, table setting, and recipe notes).

The recipes between pages 38-913 have been so "modernized" and "simplified" by the "team of international cookery experts" that they are essentially stripped of all flavor. Every recipe I've tried has required considerable alteration to bring it to life, including adjusting cooking temperatures and times to avoid charcoal.

If you want to try some GOOD french recipes, check out the "French Farm House Cookbook" by Susan Loomis, or even the 'diet' book "French Women Don't Get Fat" by Mireille Guiliano. Many family favorites have come from these two books. "I Know How To Cook" was supposed to expand that list of favorites, but was a complete waste of the full bookstore price of $45.
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on October 14, 2009
Either this is one poor translation or everyone in France has a culinary knowledge they hardly need this book to help them with.

Do you know what it means to lard a roast? The recipe for roast beef in "I Know How To Cook" tells you to do so without explaining how or why. The ingredients listed on the side of the recipe call for small bacon-cubes while I have never seen anyone lard beef with anything but long strips of fat pulled through the meat on skewers. But there are no directions on exactly how to do it. Or even what a lard skewer looks like.

Do you know just how much batter to put into a madeleine mould? This book won't tell you. I guess you're expected to know. You're also expected to know that you should leave a mound of the batter in the center of the mould if you want your madeleines to have their characteristic hump. Oh, the book also doesn't mention that you should refrigerate the batter for at least a half hour before using it either. Or to thump the edge of the pan against the side of the counter when you take it out of the over to loosen them. None of this is in the book and all of this is important in making madeleines, one of the most treasured little cakes in France.

I could go on and on. The entire book is like this. It just assumes you already know how to do everything. Quaint, yes, but it reads like a cookbook from the 19th century when the house cook already had the necessary skills and just needed some direction and ingredients. Don't let the hip graphics fool you. Except for a some exotic things you'll probably never see in many other cookbooks (Tripe Parcels Provencale, anyone?), this is not much of an addition to my culinary shelf.

If you're already a pretty good cook, I see no reason to shell out $30 for this book. You don't need it. Check it out of the library first or leaf through a friend's copy to see if it's for you. If you're a beginning cook, this book will leave you completely in the cold. Don't even think about it. Get yourself a copy of "Julia's Kitchen Wisdom" and "The Joy of Cooking" and start there.

When they called this one "I Know How to Cook", the author wasn't kidding. But aren't cookbooks supposed to show us how to cook?
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on October 21, 2009
Received "I Know how to Cook" after a very impatient wait. Have to say I am very happy to finally have a cook book that represents how the French really cook. Like one reviewer said, there are a lot of egg recipes. Tons of fish too. Even quite a few interesting pasta recipes as well as make your own yogurt, cream cheese and more. The only thing that bothered me was the lack of vegetable recipes. The French really know their vegetables and hoped they would play a bigger role. Julia Child has a lot more vegetables in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

I know many will gasp... but I if I needed to think of an American counterpart, I would compare this with "Betty Crocker's Cookbook," not "The Joy of Cooking." The recipes are very basic and has about the same depth of information. So if you are familiar with that level of cooking, "I Know How to Cook" shouldn't be too much of a problem. The big difference, no canned anything, everything is fresh. But still, most are doable even on a busy week night. I am going to guess that, like Betty Crocker, "I Know How to Cook" is aimed more at working class families where Mom has to make dinner after work rather than spending a day of leisure that women from the more genteel classes of a bygone era get to spend.

For a complete French library, add "The Complete Robuchon" very similar but the recipes are more modern (not to mention taught me to make the best fried eggs.) and to hone your techniques "Le Cordon Bleu's Complete Cooking Techniques." with these three you'll be cooking home-style French in no time.
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on October 7, 2009
If you want to cook french like Julia Child all of a sudden because you saw that movie, you're never going to be able to cook, anyway, so don't bother. Go buy "Mastering the Art", put it on your bookshelf where it looks nice and warm up a Hot Pocket.

But if you want to actually learn how to cook, or if you already cook and love Marcella Hazan but wish there was a french version so you could learn about how french people really cook and eat, "I Know How to Cook" is for you. It's immediately accessible but incredibly deep -- good for learning, good for mastering, good for getting a different, broader, more useful sense of french cooking than I'd always been presented.

I cook constantly, I've had this book for a week, and it already feels as familiar as any cookbook I've used. I've cooked out of it every night, and I'm enjoying it and learning tons about techniques and french cuisine. And the results are great. Seriously, I can't say enough about this book.

Again, no disrespect to "Mastering the Art" -- it's great, but that's restaurant cooking that doesn't make sense for me or, I would guess, most people most of the time. "I Know How to Cook" is a book for everyday use, and also, it's beautiful -- just great to look at and really easy to read -- the layout is awesome and the chapters make a ton of sense.

And there's -- I swear to you -- 20 pages that are just preparing *eggs*. Not like, things with eggs, just *eggs*. Three simple recipes a page, for 20 pages. Like, that should tell you the whole story right there about this book -- simple, but incredibly deep. It's a great book for getting good at the simple things, or learning how the french put those simple things together.

Because, cooking an egg, man -- that's *cooking*. It's the Othello of cooking, know what I'm saying? If you do know what I'm saying, you'll totally love "I Know How to Cook". Buy it.
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on January 18, 2010
I spent the weekend whipping up some recipes from this book, which is truly a delight to read. I'm not unfamiliar with French food, and I have actual cooking stains on my copy of "Mastering the Art," but this book introduced me to some tasty dishes I've never heard of.

But it's important to remember, it's not only an old set of recipes, it's a very old-fashioned cookbook. Meaning, it expects you have already watched your mother and aunts cook most of these dishes, and need only a basic outline and a list of ingredients. More than that, though, it's clear that few, if any, of the recipes have actually been tested. Some of them just don't work.

Specific examples might help.

Last weekend, I prepared chicken with terragon, mashed celery root and Vichy carrots. The celery root and carrot recipes worked perfectly, with delicious results. However, the chicken with tarragon was another matter. It calls for stuffing a whole chicken with ground pork, veal, bacon and tarragon, then trussing the chicken, browning it in butter and bacon fat, then cooking it on the stovetop in a covered pot with a little water.

You don't have to be a Cooks Illustrated subscriber to read that recipe and know right off that a meat-stuffed chicken will simply not cook properly in a stovetop pot. The chicken finishes cooking while the stuffing is still raw. But I wanted to start by following the recipe exactly, and that's what happened, as an instant-read thermometer and bloody juices both confirmed. I stuck the pot, lid and all, in the oven to finish cooking. At the end, the chicken was overdone, but it was so basted by the meat fats and juices that it still seemed moist. Most importantly, the flavor really was terrific. So, I'll make it again, but now it's up to me to find a better technique: boning the chicken first, just using partly-boned legs and putting the stuffing in the empty thighbone cavity, cooking the stuffing first, or whatever. It's worth the effort, because the flavor really was that good.

I also made rabbit with prunes, potatoes dauphinois, and peas paysanne. The cooking times on the rabbit seemed off--either too long or too short! The potatoes came out perfectly, but the pea recipe called for twice the water necessary. I had to remove the peas from the pan with a slotted spoon. Again, though, all the flavors were delicious.

Perhaps the biggest howler I found was a recipe for poached pears that called for only 1/3 cup of red wine. How do you poach pears in a small pool of wine at the bottom of a pot? I guessed this was a type for "3 cups," and indeed, made that way, the pears turned out wonderfully.

Looking back on what I've written, I realize that I've made the book sound almost useless. It isn't. If you already know how to cook, and you are looking for a rich source of ideas for French comfort food, it's fantastic and fun to cook through. But if you're looking for thoroughly-tested, thoroughly-proofread, step-by-step techniques, stick with Julia.
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on February 20, 2010
If I could only have 2 general cookbooks it'd be Better Homes & Gardens for American and this one for a fascinating European perspective. The design is perfect -- amusing illustrations and a pleasure actually to use because of the quality binding and paper. The recipes and kitchen ideas are very different from the American I've always known, and it was a lot of fun to discover them. And I adore its historical background, even though this is an updated edition -- I can pretend I'm living in Paris in the 1930s! Two notes -- I actually purchased the British edition, which perhaps avoids the problems Americans are mentioning with measurements (though it requires owning a decent kitchen scale). Also, I think that any problems with blandness would be due to how many foods in American big grocery stores are less flavorful than those purchased directly from farmers as is more common in France, and also the fact that French butter, salt, etc. is more flavorful -- so you do need to pay attention and taste what you come up with, and only try say a vegetable recipe when you have found fabulous vegetables.
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