There are as many kinds of cooks as there are people in this world, but nonetheless, we can still be grouped into rough categories. One of these categories is people who grow bored or impatient or frustrated when they have to follow a recipe. And this is not a small, select group either: How to cook without recipes is one of the more popular requests we get here in The Kitchn. So when The No Recipe Cookbook: A Beginner's Guide to the Art of Cooking came across my desk, I was excited to explore its potential as a source for recipe-free cooking.
• Who wrote it: Susan Crowther
• Who published it: Skyhorse Publishing
• Number of recipes: None! Well, there are a handful towards the back of the book, but obviously with this concept the emphasis is not on recipes.
• Other highlights: The author of this book, Susan Crowther, is a graduate of the CIA and the owner of her own catering company, so we're immediately assured that she has a very experienced understanding of the fundamentals of cooking. She's a home cook, a parent, and a professor of nutrition, too, so she also understands what it means to get a healthy meal on the table every night. She passionately believes that while many cookbooks today offer recipes, what people really need is basic instruction on how to cook. In the introduction she says:
Cooking is not about knowing how to follow perfect recipes. Cooking is about knowing how to cook. Following a recipe still chains one to a recipe, and this is where our frustration emerges. I think that intuitively we understand this. That is why cookbooks gather more dust than use.
The book is divided into several chapters, all containing the word 'basic.' Starting with Basic Philosophies, she discusses Mise en Place, the Seven Virtues of Cooking (common sense, imagination, intuition, conservation, cleanliness, patience, and love), and her Ten Top Tips in the Kitchen which include KISS (keep ingredients simple, sweetheart), Precook, and Observe and Retain.
From there, Crowther schools us in Basic Ingredients, Basic Procedures (salads, vegetables, grains, fruit, soup, marinades, and sauces), Basic Beverages, and Beyond the Basics, which goes into baking. There is a lot of useful instruction here, including several charts and tables that offer at-a-glance information.
The style is casual and chatty, as if Crowther was your best pal or culinary grandmother standing next to you in your kitchen. Which brings up an important point: Ms. Crowther's personality is very forward, in a humorous and encouraging way, and it is a big part of the tone of this book. I would suggest using Amazon or the book's website
to sample the book to see if it's right for you before purchasing the book.
The book is charmingly illustrated with watercolor paintings from the author's mother and mother-in-law as well as the Brattleboro Senior Center Water-Based Media Group, located in the author's hometown. There are occasional photographs from Julie Fallone.
• Who would enjoy this book? This would be an excellent book to give to anyone who is just starting out in the kitchen, such as college grads and new apartment dwellers. It also is good for anyone you know who would like to understand the fundamentals and basic techniques of cooking which underlie all recipes.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: The No Recipe Cookbook by Susan Crowther
• Visit the author's website: Susan Crowther
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Images: Dana Velden)