Some weeks ago, I visited a museum gift shop that had copies of Jane Hornby’s book, What to Cook and How to Cook It (Phaidon Press, 2010). Every copy of the book I saw (and had seen up to this point) was shrink-wrapped, and as someone who once worked in retail, I recalled how I so despised those customers who saw fit to rip the wrap off the book because they were overwhelmed by curiosity.
Anyway, this meant the the book was and would remain a mystery for me, because I couldn’t tell by the cover information if it was a vintage reprint or something completely new. Online sources resolved that question for me, but I still had little on which to proceed, so my curiosity grew. The museum copies tempted me further, but I would argue that $40 is a lot to sacrifice just to answer a question, especially since I’ve got a slew of cookbooks at home already.
As the Fates would have it, however, something wonderful happened the very next day.
I visited a local bookstore (some people hang out in bars, others in gyms; I hang out at bookstores), and in the clearance area was a single copy of Hornby’s book, sans shrink wrap, but otherwise untouched – that was offered for just three dollars. Of course, I had to grab it, and did so before even examining the contents. I just reasoned that my curiosity could now be satiated, and regardless of what she’d included in her work, I could either apply it to my own kitchen, or give away the book. It’s just three bucks, after all. Unfortunately, with my schedule, I was unable to even find time to page through the book until this weekend.
I was pleasantly surprised. Hornby’s book is designed more for people who don’t know their way around a kitchen; I half wish that there’d been more copies because knowing what I know now, these would make perfect gifts for graduating college students who think that cold Pizza Hut pizzas and egg noodles represent the pinnacle of epicurean development.
When I worked as a technical writer, we would have called Hornby’s book “idiotproof,” a term used for instructions that were so clear and comprehensible that it was virtually impossible to screw it up. In this instance, each recipe – there are about 100 of them – is laid out in a similar fashion. Clear photos describe and show exactly what ingredients one should have before beginning to cook, how to prepare the ingredients during each phase of the operation, and . . .
. . . what each dish should look like when finished. That’s really important because a good number of cookbooks only tell you what it should look like, but provide no photo. With this, there’s no guessing. See these photos of her Chicken Satay? I’m half-tempted right now to run out and buy what I need to make this, and I’m not even a big fan of half of the ingredients. The photos alone make this cookbook a keeper, whether one is well-acquainted with meal preparation or not. Hornby references what I would call “common” dishes – it’s not focused on any particular type of cuisine, just general items that we might have on any day of the week. I am still investigating a lot of what she’s presented here, so I don’t know how well the recipes lend themselves to vegetarian or vegan tastes; I’m guessing not well at all, even with modifications and substitutions. As I’ve said, however, I’m still at an early point in the book.
I was complaining some weeks back about wanting something ‘new’ to eat. Well, Jane Hornby has definitely given me some ideas. What to Cook and How to Cook It is a marvelous cookbook that will probably see a lot of use at my house this summer.
I can’t wait.