How To Ck Everything

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Joined Nov 29, 2001
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman is perhaps the worst cookbook we've ever owned. We have not made a single recipe out of it that has worked as written. .

My husband (Zombiechef) says it should be called, How To Cook Everything Except Anything With Butter and Sugar because it's primarily the desserts that fail the most miserably. I think it should be called How To Cook Everything If You Already Know How To Cook Everything because if you can spot the mistakes in the recipes, you might actually get one of them to work.

In his quest to make recipes "flexible" Bittman gives so many options on ingredients that the recipe can't possibly work. Baking and some desserts are so heavily dependent on chemical reactions that the "options" he proposes make recipes unstable. For example: One cup cake flour does not react the same in a recipe as one cup of all purpose flour. The protein content of cake flour is much lower. A recipe using cake flour can withstand a good deal more beating because barely any gluten develops. Your end product will not be tough and rubbery. There is much more gluten in all purpose flour. A cake made with all purpose flour must be mixed gently and only till all ingredients are combined. No further. If you overmix a cake with all purpose flour, you get a gummy rubbery disk.

In any case, the book is sitting in the trunk of my car. We're waiting till we get a fireplace. It's going to be the first thing we burn.
 
846
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Joined Nov 29, 2001
Unfortunately, not every cookbook author tests each and every recipe. Martha Stewart is notorious for this. There are occasions when cookbooks are published and the unsuspecting public is duped into thinking these recipes are tested.

What bothers me about this is that there are home cooks who have a recipe flop and think they're lousy cooks. I'm confident enough in my skills to know when a recipe is the problem, and not necessarily what I did to prepare it.

Years ago, I tried a recipe out of Woman's Day Magazine. I know this is not the pinnacle of culinary standards but the recipe looked intriguing. It was for a cornbread-topped tamale pie. I followed every instruction to the letter, yet the topping remained like mush. It was then I realized that the recipe for the topping contained no leavening! I wrote to the magazine to tell them of their mistake and instead of admitting it and printing a correction, they defended the recipe!! I felt bad for any other people who prepared this recipe and blamed themselves for what was the magazine's mistake.
 
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Joined Jul 24, 2001
Dear Chiffonade

I very much appreciated your post! I think it's time that people talk about hundreds of lousy cookbooks that they are useless even as coffee table books...
In Greece there is a joke about Chefs that they post false recipes ON PURPOSE.
 
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Joined May 11, 2001
I use this book and I've had some success; however, I rarely follow the recipes exactly. I usually just use the ingredients list for inspiration. I like the book more for the info rather than the recipes. It's good for looking up how to prepare items that I've never tried before. The dessert recipes always looked questionable to me, so I never tried them. Another thing I really don't like about this book is that it's too big and poorly bound, so pages are falling out everywhere.

Anyone have other cookbooks that they think are terrible?
 
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Joined Nov 29, 2001
It surprises me that chefs would give bad recipes on purpose instead of just declining to share a recipe. However, here in the US, if you get a recipe from a private citizen there's every chance something will be purposely omitted - especially if this is a type of food that might win a prize at a fair. People are fiercely competitive at 4H fairs, state fairs, etc. and they wouldn't want anyone getting a leg-up on the blue ribbon they won last year by sharing that award-winning recipe.
 
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Joined May 26, 2001
When I've gone to professional presentations on "How to publish your cookbook," the speakers have had the same message: publishers expect the author to test the recipes and make sure they work. Which means that the author has to go to the not-inconsiderable expense of paying for multiple sets of ingredients for each recipe, and the labor and time to make it, and re-make, and re-re-make, as many times as necessary to get it right. Because the publisher won't to pay. So ask yourself before you buy that next cookbook: Can I trust this author to have been willing to spend any expected profits on getting it right, or do I think s/he is just trying to make a buck the same way the publisher is?
 
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Joined Mar 13, 2001
Martha Stewart was slapped around enough to finally learn. I see quite an improvement as she has continued to publish.


:rolleyes:
 
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Joined Nov 29, 2001
At the end of the day, the name on the book in the most prominent spot is the author's. It's a shame that authors seem to be exempt from the standard of honor held to by other professionals.

Any work that bears my name has my responsibility for it attached to it.

BTW, threads getting "off topic" is just the nature of the beast" of discussion boards. At the Taunton Publishing Fine Cooking discussion board called Cook's Talk, we simply refer to them as "tangents." No **** jumps up and demands that we start new threads or move conversations. If one lively discussion begets another, all the better.
 
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Joined Apr 30, 2001
Why wouldn't you test every recipe that you put into your cookbook? How could any chef recommend recipes that s/he hadn't tested her/himself?

I always imagined that if I put together a cookbook, it would be of recipes that I knew and loved....not stuff that I didn't even know if it worked. In fact, that [and the fact that I found that someone else had done something similar] is what has stopped me from working on a book I had planned on my philosophy of bread dough...

I thought that I would call it The Philosophy of Dough...wouldn't that have been cute?
 
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Joined May 11, 2001
Martha Stewart has no excuse for NOT testing the recipes that get published in her name because she most definitely has the resources. The more money Martha Stewart, Inc. makes, the better the recipes should be?
 

isa

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Joined Apr 4, 2000
There is no excuse to test recipes for a cookbook. Recipes should be tested by more than one person. Sure the authour is to be blamed for not testing the recipes. The editor and publisher are also to be blamed for not having enough respect for the readers to try out the recipes.
 
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Joined Dec 5, 2001
I recently attended a workshop where a well-respected cookbook author stated that most cookbooks have two to three recipes (at most) checked in a test kitchen due to costs. That is so completely frustrating after spending $30.00 on a new cookbook. What could be done to change this?
~Portia
 
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Joined Jul 24, 2001
They do not test the recipe???? :eek:
This is as if you write about criminal courts without having ever stepped a foot in the court.
Would you like to have a lawyer of this kind?
 
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Joined Oct 27, 2001
It is utterly ridiculous and very worrying. Rather like taking French lesons from a teacher that doesn't speak French. It also makes you really think before you buy a book. I suppose I've been lucky. The food magazines that i buy garantee that they've tried the recipe - The BBC Good Food Magazine actually has different readers as the trying and testing comittee to check a recipe.
And why should a publisher pay for the food to be tested? They don't pay novelists to gain experience to write their novels! What complete immorality. I shall continue to be very careful about whose books I buy!!
And Nancy, if you ever do write The Philosophy of Dough, please let me know and I'll buy it! I trust you to have tested the recipes!
 
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Joined Jul 24, 2001
Rachel, the devotion, wit and professionalism of Brits cannot compare with ANYONE on the globe...
 
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Joined Nov 29, 2001
It's good to know others agree that recipes should be tested before being published. When you publish a recipe for someone to follow, you imply by its very publication that it works. Regardless of costs involved, the author has the responsibility to ascertain whether or not a recipe works before he or she advises someone else to follow it. I wouldn't give anyone a recipe without knowing it worked - because if it failed, I know that person would lose respect for my cooking ability and/or question my friendship.

If a doctor signed on to do an operation he or she didn't know how to do, they'd call it malpractice and misrepresentation.
 
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I think it's a bit of a leap to equate the responsibilities of a cookbook author with a doctor's. However, I agree that cookbooks should be well tested. As I am a professional recipe developer and tester, this area interests me greatly. I own a copy of How to Cook Everything and use it as a basic source from time to time. The recipes, for what they are-a basic outline of traditional American cookery, work just fine when I've made them. I use the recipe for pizza dough often. I have not, however, used the dessert recipes at all.

Recipe and cookbook writing and testing is a slippery area. Generally, the best cookbooks are those in which the recipes were tested (hopefully multiple times) and edited by people other than the author. Many cookbook writers (especially chefs!) assume that their readers have more skills, equipment and understanding than they really do. I've tested and edited recipes written by chefs that from the beginning were impossible to understand what the end result was supposed to be. All kinds of factors influence the success of a recipe. A few uncontrollable factors are: the kind of stove used-gas or electric? (medium-high heat varies considerably), the temperature and quality of the raw ingredients, the method by which an ingredient (especially flour!) is measured, the depth of a pan, altitude! and ambient humidity of the environment (a huge factor- especially with baking.) When testing a recipe for a cookbook, having objective testers helps identify possible problems, but cannot guarantee that every person who makes it will end up with the same result.

Cookbook writers are also at the mercy of their editors and publishers. There is little money to be made by writing a cookbook!!! Read again, there is little money to be made by writing a cookbook! The time required to write one is enormous; freelance testers and editors, not to mention stylists and photographers must be paid. Deadlines imposed by the publisher must be met. The market is saturated with cookbooks; publicity and success of a cookbook is due to the author's willingness to publicize it-not anything the publisher does. The best one can really hope for is to use a cookbook as a marketing tool for yourself or your organization-it's a very effective one.

Success also depends on how effectively an author understands the needs and expectations of their target market-something many chefs don't put much research into. The more narrowly a target market is defined, the more understandable and useful the cookbook can be. Chefs often have unrealistic expectations from cookbooks that are written for the homecook-vice versa, homecooks buy cookbooks written for chefs use and wonder why nothing comes out right.

This is a very long winded way of asking for a little leniency as far as Mark Bittman is concerned. Look carefully at whom he is writing for, I think he does a darned good job at making good food accessible to the larger public.

PS-I do not know or work with the man, but look forward each week to his column in the NY Times.
 
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Foodnfoto put it very well.....I've been a member of a professional culinary society for about 5 years....We have receptions for visiting cookbook authors when they are on tour...Patricia Wells, Sheila Lukins, Mollie Katzen, Danny Meyers....the set up is usually a few dishes from their cookbook made by a member then about an hour and 1/2 or so having them talk about how they chose to write their book and answer questions from our members.
A couple of years ago a writer came through Roade (?) wrote 4 or 5 cookbooks, nothing special REALLY. They were low-fat using canned shtuff and mixes. She had lost an outrageous amount of weight and had pics in the book of her before and after. The first cookbook she self-published and kept reprinting when necessary...but this woman went to church dinners and talked, she'd travel to little towns and did signings at "the" book store and talk on local radio shows, carting these books in her trunk.
The second book same thing, the third book....publishers came to her and she sold out on QVC in record time and sold like 100,00 books....she knew her audience, she had EASY recipes, she PROMOTED the fool out of her books and they skyrocketed.
This story stuck with me more than the others....just real plain common sense....and alot of very hard work.
 
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Joined Jul 24, 2001
I was waiting for foodnfoto to answer since she ( she person I think) deals with culinary books but I found shroom's post very informative too and right to the point.

I know It's not right to compare a doctor's prescriptions with recipes but blunt thought may seem, cooks and doctors are enjoying the same reputation these days , so why to expect less from Chefs?

I know that always there is a good reason for mistakes and from these posts I learned a lot about the role of editors.
But still... it's not the editors but the chefs that they put their signature under those bad recipes.

Doesn't the signature value at all or it is that important to see your name printed even under something average?
 
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Joined May 6, 2001
It got a 4.5 out of 5 possible stars on Amazon. I think we could all go over there and change it. ;)

I use it for information and inspiration mostly. The "how to choose produce" stuff is one of it's better features. My binding is falling apart too.:mad: And, The "savory" section contains the only workable recipes in it. With his other books, I check them out of the library instead of buying them.
 
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