I've decided to start a series of blog posts dedicated to books I have read that relate to Modern Home Economics, and this post is the first installment!
The book I will be reviewing is Where Cooking Begins: Uncomplicated Recipes to Make You a Great Cook by Carla Lalli Music.
I tend to borrow new cookbooks I want to read from the library, so I can read them and see if they are really something I would add to my collection. If I absolutely think I'll be referencing things in the books many times (like, say, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat for the techniques or My Paris Market Cookbook for not only the recipes but also the Paris addresses) then I will put it on my "to-buy" list. If I think there are a few recipes I'd like to make but wouldn't necessarily need to buy the book (one only has so much bookshelf space...), then borrowing it from the library ends up being the perfect solution because I can make the recipes I want to try without giving up valuable shelf space.
I'm having a hard time figuring out if I would reference this book enough to justify buying it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it (yes, I read cookbooks like I read novels) and I think it has some great instruction. I also felt really inspired to be more creative with my cooking while reading it, which might be worth referencing from time to time. Let's see if writing this post helps me narrow it down for myself.
Cooking begins when you feel the spark, when you know what you're hungry for. Shop in person for the food that excites you. Shop small. Shop often. Go online to get the ingredients that barely change with the seasons or that come in a box, bag, can, or jar. Purchase only what you have room to store. Cook what you buy; finish it up. -Carla Lalli Music, Where Cooking Begins
This book is clearly laid out, and I really love the way that she presents the ideas and the recipes. She talks about how she has moved from shopping once per month to only bulk shopping for specific things like grains and baking supplies (she says to do a haul from your local grocery store or even order these things from Amazon Pantry or Amazon Fresh). This leaves all the highlights of a dish, like meats and produce, a necessity to buy more often which means they are more fresh and inspiring to cook with. I've actually been shopping and cooking like this for a while, and I really can't imagine doing it any other way. I'm glad there's a voice like hers out there advocating for this because I think it really does change the way we relate to our food.
She also has very clear instructions on essential techniques - sauté, pan-roast, steam, boil/simmer, confit, and slow-roast. Each of these techniques comes with a clearly photographed guide on how to do it step-by-step, followed by 12 examples of things you can cook using that technique. This section actually kind of blew my mind. For example, in the confit section, the dozen things to try include not only traditional things like turkey legs and chicken thighs, but also parsnips, leeks, lemon, and garlic! She makes it really easy to just follow the technique while using whatever ingredient sounds good to you that day.
The recipes are well written and simple, but they pack a big flavor despite the simple ingredients. Some recipes can be quickly cooked for an easy weeknight meal (like her "chicken cutlets with spicy coconut dressing"), and others are more of a labor of love (like her "my way duck confit"). There are recipes for everything from breakfast to grilling to pasta to dessert, too.
She does offer ideas and recipes that work for both vegans (or vegetarians) and meat-eaters, which is nice. Most of the recipes include meat, but I think any non-meat-eating person would still find value in this book, especially in the techniques portion. All the recipes look good, too. I have only made the "fried grains with bacon, mushrooms and kimchi" recipe so far, and it was definitely a keeper.
All in all, I think this is a great book for anyone wanting to learn how to cook from intuition, a beginner cook wanting to refine cooking techniques, or a home cook wanting to spice up their routine in the kitchen.
I guess writing this post didn't really help me decide if I want to put this book on my "to buy" list, though. I think I would really enjoy re-reading it every couple of years, but I'm not sure if that would really warrant giving shelf space to it. Maybe I'll start a new list: "To re-read every few years".
What are some of your must-buy, definitely give this book shelf-space cookbooks? Let me know in the comments below!
A note on some of the links used in this post: I think it's always best to support your local community by buying items from a locally-owned store like a hardware store, bookstore, or kitchen supply store, but I understand that you can't always find what you need or don't always have time to shop around, so I have included the links above for your convenience, and as an example of the item if you don't know what it is!
I'd also like to let you know that most of the links I use are affiliate links. This just means that if you end up buying something that you like by clicking one of the links, this blog makes a small commission. You can read more about how these links work and why I use them by clicking here.