Not everyone has the opportunity to learn to cook the way I did, from my Mom who is expert in preparing old-fashioned Southern comfort food. But even with this background, I had and have much to learn because my palate and curiosity took me beyond my culinary roots.
Learning to cook is an essential skill which should be taught to all children and the best way to learn to cook well is at the hand of a seasoned chef or accomplished cook. But in the absence of a mentor, a fine substitute is a well-executed cookbook.
The Culinary Institute of America Cookbook (Lebhar-Friedman Books, 2008, 311 pages, $40) is the kind of guide that makes learning to cook a pleasure. Like the Institution it represents, this cookbook pursues excellence and provides culinary knowledge for a full range of home cooks - from the novice to the very experienced.
With gorgeously styled food photos by Ben Fink, there are beautiful examples to inspire kitchen adventures.
I wish I'd had this cookbook earlier in my culinary explorations since it leaves nothing to chance. One of the wonderful aspects of this guide to cooking is that it details basics which are often overlooked in other cookbooks. For instance, an entire chapter is devoted to preparation, providing insights to food shopping, standard kitchen equipment, food storage and establishing an essential pantry. This chapter too is loaded with tips that may seem second nature to a cook adept in the kitchen, but which offer sage advice to a fledgling cook.
Divided into eight chapters, the cookbook covers Beverages and Snacks, Appetizers and Salads, Broths and Soups, Pastas, Casseroles and Light Fare, Main Dishes, Vegetables and Side Dishes, Egg Dishes and Griddle Cakes, as well as Baked Goods and Desserts.
In addition to the standard fare - Grilled Tuna Nicoise and Osso Bucco Milanese - one expects to find in a classic cookbook, the CIA Cookbook offers a broad spectrum of international dishes too.
I was delighted and surprised to find a recipe for Bibimbap, a Korean rice dish, and a modified version of Tom Yum Goong featuring rice noodles, which is described as Thai Hot and Sour Soup, in the guide. There were the ubiquitous French and Mediterranean dishes, but also a number of Latin American, North African and Carribean influenced recipes as well.
I love the depth and range of this cookbook, which makes users feel as if they are insiders accessing the vast knowledge imparted in the classrooms of the Institute itself.