So I was excited to receive a review copy of Susan Crowther's instructional guide, The No Recipe Cookbook. Crowther's book is not at all a conventional cookbook, since true to the title, there are no recipes.
Instead the book is written in a very conversational tone with a series of questions and answers that cover many of the important techniques you should master in the kitchen. Some chapters are based around specific ingredients and how to use them. Others revolve around top 10 lists of meals, ingredients, condiments, herbs and spices, giving tips on how to work with them.
Helpful charts can inspire you when you've got "cooker's block" in the kitchen or are staring into your spice drawer or refrigerator trying to figure out what to make for supper. I wish I'd thought long ago of organizing my spice drawer by flavor combinations instead of alphabetically. The "tangy" section should contain basil, dill, cilantro, sage and mustard. Allspice, anise, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, nutmeg and ginger should be grouped together as "sweet." Cumin, thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, oregano, tarragon and turmeric are "pungent." Arranging them this way allows you to experiment with substituting spices to create a whole new flavor profile in your old favorite dishes.
I'm a fan of Michael Ruhlman's book "Ratio," where he teaches home chefs to memorize the basic proportions of water, flour, fat, etc., to whip up a bread dough, a pie crust or a vinaigrette without having to consult recipes. Do you think those contestants on Iron Chef already had a recipe in their head for jackfruit fritters? No way. They just know how to make a fritter dough and have a good idea of how much of any additional ingredient to add to work with the basic recipe.
The No Recipe Cookbook has many helpful ratios and tips, including some for (gasp) baking, which I always thought required a laboratory precision. It's an entertaining read from cover to cover, and hopefully some of the tips will stick in my regimented head. Regardless, it's always nice to consider another way to do things.
In a fortunate mistake, the publisher accidentally sent me two copies, so I'd like to give one away. So how about a little contest? In the comments below, give us a quick sentence on your philosophy in the kitchen. Are you a regimented recipe follower like me, or a free spirit who tosses flour like rose petals at a wedding and never writes anything down? I promise we won't hold anything against you, and I'll draw a winner randomly from the comments this Thursday, Aug. 29, at noon. Good luck and feel free to unshackle your creativity in the kitchen!