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In an era of outfitted home kitchens and food fascination, it's no wonder home cooks who never learned the fundamentals of the kitchen are intimidated. Twenty years ago, James Peterson could relate, and so he taught himself by cooking his way through professional kitchens and stacks of books, logging the lessons of his kitchen education one by one. Now one of the country's most revered cooking teachers, Peterson provides the confidence-building instructions home cooks need to teach themselves to cook consistently with ease and success. COOKING is the only all-in-one instructional that details the techniques that cooks really need to master, teaches all the basic recipes, and includes hundreds of photos that illuminate and inspire.


James Peterson
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Ten Speed Press
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Ten Speed Press
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Ten Speed Press
Ten Speed Press
Recipes brought to life with 1,500 step-by-step color photographs
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There are so many 'complete' cook books out there. Then there are the professional cooking pieces that aim to educate and enlighten the cooking student. There are topic-specific books that drill through a specific ingredient, region or cuisine. James Peterson's Cooking is quite neatly, all of those wrapped in a visual stunner studded with definitive elements of the principles of really good cooking.

I like technique-heavy books. A memory full of recipes does not a good cook make. Rather, technique suits a cook to conquer any moment in time. Technique is that tool that defines a repertoire; any ingredient in any situation can be tackled with the right grounding in technique. To learn the way to handle food from a book requires excellent verbiage and appropriate photographs or illustrations to assist in the visual learning department. We eat with our eyes, so why not learn in the same way?   Cooking is rich in step-by-step photographs, to the tune of some 1500 pictures. Many of the photos are of the illustrative variety while others clearly demonstrate the process of a particular fundamental. There is great value in seeing about what I am reading. Visual exploration, if you will. The up-close photographs, for example, of shallot mincing and artichoke treatment do well to demonstrate necessary knife work. The more subtle captures of step-by-step provide a glimpse inside the kitchen of how to bread a chicken breast, sauté scallops, fillet a round fish and make brioche dough, to name a few. Peterson clearly understands that sometimes we all need just a little something at which to look, to get some reassurance or, at the very least, to compare with our own efforts.

There are layers of culinary knowledge surrounding James Peterson's Cooking beyond just an amalgam of recipes. The cooking methods section alone is worth the $40 price tag. Illuminated in a mere eight pages, the Ten Basic Cooking Methods provide a glowing explanation that render Cooking that much more of a useful tool than that of an oft-not utilized dust collector. Chefs and home cooks alike get so wrapped up in what food isn't, we just jump into some convoluted mishmash of ill-inspired food that resembles, well, not much of anything. The Methods section builds a hearty foundation to keep us grounded. Mind you, this is not just a directory of ways to prepare food; Peterson is better than that. This is an atlas of food preparations; a tour of methods that can apply to a variety of foods. Succinct and appropriate, I am glad he started this book with a crystal clear rendering of what we are supposed to do with food.

The crux of Cooking is, of course, the recipe collection. "Recipes to Learn" number around 600. The compendium runs the gamut from starters like a country terrine to soups, salads, eggs, beef, vegetables, sauces, breads, custards like Crème Caramel and everything in between. The photographs of finished products are great, but the in-process captures make the recipes that much more functional. The recipes are scaled for home size quantities with noteworthy attention to flavor. While lacking weights to assist in scaling for larger quantities, the versed cook grabbing for Cooking should have little distress in making the jump from home quantities to those more appropriate for quantity preparation. As opposed some contemporary high-end cookbooks as of late, the ingredients do not relegate a cook to breaking the bank, but rely upon pantry standards and the effort of the cook. Peterson's frank approach is a welcome repast to the barrage of drivel that crowds the shelves and airwaves.

The anecdotal diatribes fit well to allay a textbook feel. Peterson's reflections are not as much opinion as they are historical and cultural artifacts that have carried over into our kitchens. His verse on Chowder, for instance, is a happenstance reflection on the Manhattan versus New England specimens, and the merits of both varietals. The interludes do well to promote Cooking's accessibility; it reads well and makes sense as it goes.

While of great heft, Cooking is well garnished to keep even the most intimidated of cooks well engaged in the lessons Peterson has to offer. This large tome functions well as a very good reference for the skilled kitchen navigator as well as a valuable tool for a cook that is getting beyond 'add water and stir.' It is not a rudimentary book for the uninspired. Rather, Cooking is for the serious foodie that wants to go beyond the very basics. Certainly, 500-plus pages are not nearly enough space to cover everything and anything related to cooking, but it sure comes close.


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