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The Improvisational Cook Hardcover – October 10, 2006

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Fix-It and Forget-It Revised and Updated by Phyllis Good
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Cookbooks (October 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060731648
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060731649
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. As she did in A New Way to Cook, Schneider offers an original, practical and well-executed plan for improvisational cooking—experimenting, cooking creatively, playing with ingredients and recipes, and "relinquishing total control and allowing an idea to develop organically." She presents ingredient-inspired recipes followed by several improvisations, or variations: a simple Herb Salad morphs into Spring Salad with Pea Shoots, Tarragon, and Chives; Cilantro Salas with Fragrant Peanut or Sesame Oil; Salad of Cress, Pine Nuts, Pears, and Chives; and Doctored Mesclun Salad. The Sage-and-Garlic Popcorn precedes derivatives for Brown Butter Popcorn, Caramelized Shallot Popcorn, Rosemary Popcorn, Smoky Bacon Popcorn and White Truffle Popcorn. Each anchor recipe features an "understanding" section that explains key ingredients or techniques. For example, a section within the Crackling Corn Bread recipe discusses cornmeal, fats in breads, buttermilk, flavorings and the basic cornbread formula. Readers can then use the ingredients and techniques—with confidence and knowledge—in myriad ways. Photographs are too few and far between; more images would enhance this volume and inspire experimentation. But overall the format is a creative way to teach readers to think more like chefs. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“...teaching the reader to think like a chef.” (O Magazine)

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 23 customer reviews
Not only is the book beautiful to look at, the ideas are great too.
N. R. Saltman
This book was a revelation and very helpful for me: as I cook a lot and often have to deal with what is present rather than what is available at the store.
What Ms. Schneider has is a great way with presenting her principles.
B. Marold

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
`the improvisational cook' by notable cookbook author, Sally Schneider is an inspired approach to a fascinating aspect of cooking. It is notably superior to the one other book I have reviewed on this subject, `How to Cook Without a Book' by Pam Anderson. Unlike Ms. Anderson, Madame Schneider is aiming at high end cooking rather than quick or easy cooking.

Ms. Schneider's precepts are not original. Her suggestions have appeared here and there in hundreds of other books, most notably in `How to Think Like a Chef' by Tom Colicchio' and in several different books by the Brits, Nigel Slater (`Appetite', `the Kitchen Diaries') and Nigella Lawson (`How to Eat'). Even if you do not consult these books or other similar books, you will acquire an understanding of Ms. Schneider's principles by simply cooking on a regular basis, working with a wide variety of recipes from at least two or three different cuisines, preferably including one native (such as Italian, Mexican, Polish, Jewish, Southern, Pennsylvania Dutch, or whatever) to cooks in your immediate family. This is due to my belief that learning how to cook well is very much like learning how to play chess. All good chess instruction books are little more than collections of games with commentaries on the techniques used in each game.

What Ms. Schneider has is a great way with presenting her principles. Her basic approach is an odd admixture of the `Julia Child' model of master recipes with the `Elizabeth David' approach (especially in her earliest books) of minimal information on precise measurements. Surrounding this is a special emphasis on paying attention to and thinking about the taste and smell of ingredients. If you don't think this is important, watch the combatants on `Iron Chef America'.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By rodboomboom HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on October 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Break free from recipes by learning techniques and then how to expand them to additional dishes. For example, leeks with hazelnut oil expanded to leek noodles with creme fraiche and hazelnut oil to steamed asparagus with hazelnut oil, creamed swiss chard with hazelnut oil, roasted potatoes with hazelnut oil and hazelnut dipping sauce for steamed artichokes.

This aids in the matching of techniques with different ingredients, combining of ingredients and flavors, extension of basic recipe, etc. The improv is an experimental and learned thing, which takes willingness to fail/succeed. This book is an aid in all that, providing some attempts of the author which one can springboard from.

This is nothing new in cookbook world however. Ming Tsai for one has been ahead of the curve here, coming out with his wonderful version of this three years ago: Simply Ming: Easy Techniques for East-West Meals.

Schneider's efforts though are not to be bypassed, as she provides her creative approaches and encouraging examples to take the home chef to the next level of learning to reach out on one's own in creating recipes from scratch building on previous utilized dishes/techniques.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful By JFMP on January 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a book on improvisational cooking only inasmuch as Schneider's own improvisations. If you, like me, bought this book thinking that it would provide the basis for your own improvisations, you'll be disappointed. Schneider 15-odd pages on mixing flavors will only enlighten if you haven't figured out by now that ginger mixes well with oriental dishes, that thyme goes well with poultry, and that salt and pepper are seasoning staples. What follows after these no-brainers is a typical recipe book with Schneider's own "improvisations."

Her recipes look interesting, but this is not at all the book that the title would seem to imply.

For much deeper and helpful insights into improvisational cooking, pick up instead Shirley Corriher's Cookwise.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Eric Olson on December 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"The Improvisational Cook" is my favorite cookbook. The style appeals to me because I learned to cook using what was in the larder, which forces improvisation. And it fills a vacuum which has often bothered me: all the great cooks eventually talk about going into the market to see what looks good and cooking from there, but almost none close the loop on how to take advantage of that great-looking salsify, or those gorgeous tomatoes, or the perfect melon.

Author Sally Schneider takes unrehearsed cooking to a new level, by engaging the reader in a conversation about the process of improvisation, with plenty of examples (including exact recipes for those who aren't quite ready to let go of the safety net of the tried and true -- and variations for those who are). It is marvelously freeing to connect with a cook who loves the moment of discovery as much as the moment of delivery. One example is her garlic and fried sage infused oil, which led me to the discovery that I too, can make infused oils (and even vodkas!) that work.

But the star example is her base recipe for Chocolate Wonders, which is almost guaranteed to provoke the response, "These are the best cookies I've ever had!" Duly tested, duly proven by actual responses from recipients of our Christmas cookie packages. These ARE the best chocolate cookies in the world. That recipe and the improvisational alternatives she provides is alone worth the price of admission.

But to me, the lasting value of the book is the empowerment she provides by giving us a way of thinking about cooking, that allows us to cook in the moment.
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