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81 of 83 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
`What's a Cook to Do?' by cooking teacher extraordinare, James Peterson is the best handbook of cooking techniques I have seen due to its excellent organization, the quality of the advice, and the great good humor of the author. This ranking includes placing it above a similar work, `Julia's Kitchen Wisdom' by the legendary Julia Child, which is no mean feat.

The book falls into a rather small niche of culinary works. It is not a `scientific' work like those from Alton Brown (`I'm Just Here for the Food') and Shirley Corriher (`Cookwise'). It is also not a formal manual of professional cooking techniques like Jacques Pepin's `Complete Techniques' or the author's own `Essentials of Cooking'. The best recent book in it's category is the issue from `Fine Cooking' magazine, `How to Break an Egg', which I liked quite a bit, but Peterson's book is better. If you are a `foodie', you will want both, but if you feel you only want one, Peterson's is the one to get.

The major reason lies in the fact that as in all of Peterson's books, he writes with the kind of good humored common sense which engenders trust in his advice, even more than his impressive resume as a chef, author, and teacher. The best symptom of this common sense is revealed when his advice is simply more accurate than that offered in `How to Break an Egg' for example. Both books correctly warn against leaving a stock in the dangerous temperature range that encourages bacterial growth. But, on two points, Peterson's advice is superior. First, he more correctly identifies the upper range of the danger zone to be 140 degrees Fahrenheit rather than `Fine Cooking's 120 degrees. Second, Peterson points out that as long as the stock is above the danger point, applying coolant is a waste of ice. The trick is to apply the cooling just as the stock reaches the danger point, in order at that time to bring it down as quickly as possible to the safe 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Speaking of stocks, Peterson visits the old chestnut about freezing stocks in ice cube trays and storing them in the freezer. The problem with that is that to maintain a reasonably sized stockpile, you need a pretty large freezer. His solution is to have the stocks reduced to a light syrup, at about 1/15th of their original volume, then freeze the goodies in trays for making miniature ice cubes, so a teaspoon sized cube will reconstitute to more than a quarter of a cup of stock.

Like Julia Child's little book, Peterson's work has a fair share of complete recipes for those really important skills which you should really learn by heart. This includes recipes for stocks, biscuits, crepes, omelets, marinara sauce, pesto, pie and tart pastry, meringue, breaded veal cutlets, and cheese puffs. While many of these recipes may not be as complete as you may find in `Mastering the Art of French Cooking' or even Peterson's other books, they almost always bring out the essentials, and sometimes, a few surprises. In the summary of the meringue technique, for example, he points out that the best way to begin is not as one may expect (fast). The best thing to do is start slowly. And, he suggests that you will get more out of your hands before they give out if you start with your weaker hand and switch to beating with the stronger hand when that gets tired.

Peterson does repeat a few things from his `Essentials of Cooking', such as the technique for tying up a salmon steak, but I didn't see a lot of repetition. He is also not afraid of contradicting his earlier works, as when he gives advice on roasting a duck. In his `The Duck Cookbook', he gives a recipe for roasting a whole duck, but in this book, he suggests that the best tactic with duck is to disassemble it and roast its parts individually, as the fatty breasts require much different time than the leaner legs. Similarly, he points out that the best technique for roasting birds in general varies greatly by the size of the bird. It is best to brown very small birds in a saute pan first.

The finishing chapter is almost whimsical, as it is a few pages on etiquette at the restaurant dining table.

The photographs accompanying the tips are generally excellent, although they are a bit on the small size. The competition generally has none at all, so Peterson steals a march there as well.

His opening chapter on cooking tools is excellent, but it is not as complete as, for example, Alton Brown's excellent treatise on cookware, `Gear for Your Kitchen'. All his advice is sound, and very professional, especially when he recommends some serious gear such as a food mill, china cap and a drum sieve.

The only major weakness I found in the book is that it had no bibliography. There are few tools in the kitchen better than good advice about which books to go to when you want to know a particular skill. But then, the competition had no bibliography either.

Lastly, I simply found this book enjoyable to read from cover to cover. You can't beat that!
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is really an instructional book in 'tips' format. It's not really a collection of 'helpful hints.' To me, it resembles books such as such as Craig Claiborne's Kitchen Primer or Julia Child's Kitchen Wisdom, or even Anne Willan's The Good Cook (a much larger book).

Even if you already know how to chop an onion or peel a tomato, this book can be extremely helpful. For one tip, Peterson categorizes herbs as either watery and oily. For another, he tells you what type of pork chops should be braised rather than sauteed. His advice can be unconventional (telling you to skip the browning stage when making a stew) or middlebrow (suggesting the use of jarred mayonnaise as a starter when making homemade).

Recipes are embedded throughout, although they're so under-written as to barely qualify as recipes. This is actually beneficial, as it encourages you to develop your cooking instincts and think for yourself. That being said, I have found I wouldn't mind a bit more information when trying some of his baking recipes.

Nonetheless, this is a great book, and I wish it were written years ago.
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40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2007
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I have other James Peterson cookbooks which I love, and I ordered this
because of the existing 5-star reviews. This book is tips from his other
cookbooks, taken out of context. This information might be helpful to
an ambitious advanced beginner, but is too much for a rank beginner.
Experienced cooks might find a tip or two that's useful - unfortunately,
they will also find plenty of other tips to disagree with as well.
The photos are good, but in far too many of them the pans and trays full
of ingredients are not the quantities that a home cook would deal with.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2009
Format: Paperback
I was disappointed in this book. It feels like something the author spun out in a hurry just to make a few bucks by capitalizing on his well-known name. Suggestions were very general and not explained well at all; no detail about how to perform specific tasks. It could have been a good book...it just doesn't seem like the author had his heart in it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I found this boook mentioned in a magazine and looked it up here on Amazon. I read the reviews. I then went to the bookstore to take a closer look at it. It is as great as described before me, so I will not repeat what everyone as already said. I gave the books I ordered as gifts to 4 very young, new cooks (male and female)and they were thrilled. I've been cooking over 40 years and learned a thing or two myself. I highly recommend it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is a great little reference book. In fact, it has more step by step info than I had expected. I often forget that I have it and can use it along side with my cook books, or even in some cases in place of a cook book. I found the best way to use it was to go thru each topic quickly and try to remember what info it offered so I would remember to pull it out when I faced a particular cooking situation. It's improved my cooking, not just the outcome, but the ease of actually doing it. I'm not an expert cook and perhaps the contents would be less important to someone more experiences. I think this is perfect for someone who enjoys cooking and would like to be better at it and learn some more basic techniques.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I own the physical copy of this book and I love the simplistic way it describes different cooking techniques and terms. The book itself is accurate, colorful and offers layman's terms definitions to every day cooking questions.

The digital format is much less to be desired. It's clunky, ugly and does not do the book justice.

IMO, Amazon needs to step up it's digital format for cookbooks. I purchased a similar cookbook on Google Play and it was like holding the real book! All I can say is I most likely will not purchase this type of book from Amazon again.

IMO, stick with the physical copy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book has a lot of information in it, but it is not for the experienced cook. Yes, there are a couple of hints that everyone might have overlooked through the years of being an exprienced cooked but most of it is just the for the beginner cook.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
In a world where so much of the American food experience comes from a can or a box, people can miss learning about real cooking growing up, and there's a place for a book that explains a variety of topics that experienced cooks take for granted. This book contains concise descriptions of procedures and norms from how to carve a roast (and how to roast it in the first place) to where the wine glasses go, which pots to buy, and several ways of making pie crusts-- just a few examples out of 484 entries. It won't teach you how to cook, but I think it would give a beginner a good survey of techniques, tools, and terminology to get cooking quickly, or provide a quick lookup to remind yourself on a particular operation. Mr. Peterson has done a good job with this book. The only caution I'd give is that, since it is a survey and covers a large set of information, it can be brief; some topics you may want to research further even though the basics are covered here.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I really like this kitchen book. There are ten sections: Tools, Techniques, and Advice; Eggs, Cheese, Pasta, and Rice; Vegetables and Fruit; Shellfish and Fish; Poultry and Meat; Broths, Soups, and Sauces; Pies and Tarts; Cakes, Batters, and Custards; Beverages; and Etiquette. There are tips on how to julienne leeks, pit an apricot, buy shrimp, roast a chicken, make any cream soup with a blender, choose a cake pan, make a simple frozen soufflé, make perfectly clear ice.... The book has a few good recipes, and it is extremely helpful for simple techniques and tricks. I gave this book five stars because of the amount of information it has. Additionally, the index is amazing! This book would make an awesome gift for someone who wants to learn how to cook, is moving into their own home, and/or for a first cookbook (it has some basic recipes).
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