Most helpful critical review
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Nice idea book, but not without flaws
on November 6, 2014
First, the good. I like the recipe selection in this book: a nice mixture of American comfort food, European classics, and other international dishes (mostly Asian). I tend to use cookbooks more for ideas about what to cook than for the specific recipes, which always need to be adjusted anyway; my ingredients and equipment are not identical to what the recipe testers used. So from that standpoint, the book is a success. Skimming through the book, I found a bunch of dishes that I'd like to cook over the next few weeks.
Most of the recipes are fine; if you want to make something like clam chowder, gumbo, or pot pie, Waltuck's recipes look very standard (and he tells you when he puts his own twist on something). He also sometimes adds small technical steps that improve the end product without adding too much prep time. So far, so good. But the book also frequently ventures into Chinese, Thai and other cuisines, and these recipes seem much weaker. To his credit, Waltuck doesn't claim authenticity. But if you're going to make, say, red-braised pork, or Thai duck curry, why not just look up the standard recipes for these dishes instead of these uncanny valley versions? Waltuck's deviations from the standard versions don't seem like improvements; they just come across as if he's cooking a cuisine he's less familiar with. (Which is no insult to Waltuck; nobody is an expert in every world cuisine.)
One other slight annoyance with the book is the lack of a proper table of contents. Especially on an electronic device, it'd be nice to have a clickable list of recipes in each section, rather than just the index at the end. Instead, the table of contents just lists the sections (soups, seafood, poultry etc.). This reduces this book's value as a skimmable idea repository.
In short, this is a nice book if you don't know what you want to make and need inspiration. For American and European dishes, these recipes look just fine, if unsurprising. But if a dish from somewhere else in the world catches your eye, consider looking up another version from an expert on that particular cuisine.