Some time ago, Michael Druzinsky, an acquaintance of mine who is a composer, emailed his friend Mark Bernstein, who created the idea-mapping softwear Tinderbox, to ask if he’d mind talking to me about his very interesting software. Michael forwarded Mark’s reply: “Sally Schneider’s book, A New Way to Cook, changed my life. I’ve given it to lots of people. I’d be delighted to meet her.” Wow. There is NOTHING like a good unsolicited compliment. Then I discovered that Mark had devoted a blog post to the A New Way to Cook, unsolicited. Mark GOT the book so well, I’ve excerpted his post.
I happened across Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cookin a chain bookstore one day, just about three years ago. It’s very big and very broad, and The Joy of Cooking is clearly not far from its mind.
But while Joy of Cooking is a vast collection of recipes, A New Way to Cook is trying to explain a much smaller core of ideas, expressed in the form of recipes with variations. We have, for example, a core recipe for “braising small fish” or “rustic fruit tart”, and then examine a host of ingredients that we can add or subtract — and the changes that these additions and subtractions will require. In the fruit tart, for example, we might use apples or pears or strawberries (less water, more flour, add rhubarb) or blueberries (try a little thyme) or raspberries (even frozen — add more flour because they’re wet) or reconstituted dried apricots. It’s all the same idea.
And that’s a powerful idea, especially because a generation of home cooks raised to respect recipes can easily forget how forgiving food can be. Some things (baking) must be measured and timed, but tasty ingredients are bound to taste good whatever you do.
Schneider also recognizes that a generation of US cooks have grown up with a weird, religious antipathy to fat, which became to us what unclean foods were to our ancestors. But fat is also one of the things that makes food worth eating. It can make you crazy.
Schneider solves this brilliantly: fat’s just an ingredient. An expensive ingredient. You aren’t going to eat lots of fat, so you’ve got to make it count: you want the fat you eat to be the tastiest, freshest, most wonderful fat you can get. Schneider has you hoarding the fat from your duck, to be doled out carefully over weeks or months for cooking potatoes. You use less fat because you’ll run out, and you really enjoy the fat you use.
I’m proud to say that A New Way to Cook was voted one of The Guardian’s Best Book of the Decades. And even prouder that it and The Improvisational Cook have resonated in all sorts of people’s lives, due largely to their focus on helping people improvise while providing solid recipes. A New Way to Cook and The Improvisational Cook make great gifts and are available from Amazon.
In time for the holidays, here’s a round-up of recipes from the book to be had for free (just a fraction in the books 750+ pages; many would be perfect for the holidays). — Sally
- Grilled Miso-Glazed Fish Fillets and Steaks
- Cranberry Walnut Conserve
- Big Bean Soup with Little Nibbles
- Sweet and Savory Quinces in White Wine and Honey
- Chive French Toast
- Real Jell-O
- Fool-proof Flaky Butter Pastry
- Roasted Winter Squash Slices
- Warm Beet Juice Vinaigrette
- Basic Vanilla Bean Syrup
- Vegetable Ragout
- Parmesan Crisps
- Warm Bean Salad with Fresh Herbs and Olives
- Warm Olivada (Warm Crushed Olives)
- Warm Spilling Fruit (A Guide to Improvising)
- Composed Soups (A Guide to Improvising)
- Herb-Scented Tuscan Pork Roast
- Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Roasted Garlic
- Prunes in Armagnac
- Celery Root and Apple Puree
- Wild Mushroom Ragu
- Roasted Root Vegetable Hash
- Peppers Roasted with Garlic and Anchovies
- Peppery or Bitter Greens with Seasonal Fruit and Roasted Nuts
- Duck Breast with Thyme-Infused Honey and Balsamic Pan Sauce
- Frisee with Walnuts and Balsamic-Sherry Vinaigrette
- Boneless Leg of Lamb Stuffed with Crushed Olives
- Chicken Liver Pate with Golden Raisins
- Rustic Rosemary Apple Tart
- Lemon-Scented Olive Oil
- Foolproof Roast Turkey