Review: Stirring the Pot
Every weekend, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it is incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.
I’ve really been a huge fan of Tyler’s in the last 6 months or so. I find his show to be interesting and very watchable and his cookbooks to be accessible with some really solid recipes. Plus, he is the kind of guy that I could see having a beer with. In fact, I would even offer to pay.
Let’s get organized!
A fair number of cookbooks have at least a small section on how to organize your kitchen or equipment you might need. Tyler spends more time on this than most. 36 page of the book, or about 14% of it, are dedicated to organization and equipment. This is with good reason.
He makes a really interesting point at the start of this chapter:
“When it comes to cooking, all kitchens are the same size. You can only chop mushrooms in a 3-inch space. A standing mixer only takes up 12 inches. A cutting board only takes up 24 inches. You can only stand and chop in 4 square feet. It’s not the size of the kitchen you’re working in, it’s the way it is laid out.”
As someone who cooks in a pretty tiny kitchen, I can attest to this. It is definitely important to be organized and it is something I could improve on.
Tyler spends a few pages discussing the idea of a pivot triangle which is the technique that most restaurant kitchens are designed around. A chef should only have to pivot on one foot to reach their cooler (fridge), their cutting area, and their heat source. Otherwise known as the pivot triangle. This is only marginally helpful unless you happen to be redesigning a kitchen. In my kitchen for instance, I can move my fridge to for the triangle. It is where it is.
Freezer, fridge, and pantry
I really liked the next few pages which detail how to organize and properly store food. One of my favorite tips is on how to properly freeze meat. There is a lot of tidbits of info in these few pages. If you take away one thing from these pages though it is this rule: FIFO. First in. First out. Organize your meals around that and you’ll be alright.
Following this there are a few pages on equipment and techniques which are also helpful. There are some nice diagrams on important subjects like how to actually sharpen a knife.
Cooking by Technique
I’m a bit on the fence about how Tyler organizes the recipes in this book. He chose to organize them by technique. So there is an entire chapter on roasting, braising, frying, baking, and so on. While this looks good, I’m not sure how practical it is for me. I rarely find myself saying: “I really want to steam something today. Let me browse a number of steamed recipes.” I think that I prefer books organized by ingredient, but that is just me.
For this book, I just flip straight to the index if I ever need to find a recipe because it is very thorough and makes up for the lacking chapter structure.
Ok. The recipes
So far I’ve talked about everything in this book except the recipes and Tyler’s blue-steel gaze on the cover. But let’s stick with the recipes. In short, they are great. I’ve used this book for this recipe and this one, just to name a few. The recipes in this book are thorough, very straightforward, and delicious.
One thing that this book does right that I really like when done right is photography. There are at least half page recipes for almost all the recipes in the book and a good number have full page photos. This, of course, cuts down on the actual recipe number in the book, but the ones that are there are very quality.
The new and the old
Tyler does a great job in this book of mingling the new with the old. There are really solid recipes for things like yorkshire pudding and coq au vin. At the same time there are some really fresh recipes like California bacon and eggs, potato gnocchi with braised chard and pomegranate brown butter, and a crazy recipe with cheese tortellini stuffed inside acorn squash.
If I’m being a devil’s advocate, which sometimes I am, I would note that both this book and “Dinner at my place” have very similar layouts and styles. They both happened to be released very close to each other. It would have been cool if he would have just combined them into one book and saved his fans a few bucks. But who am I to comment on the intricacies of the cookbook publishing world.
In summary, this is the exact book I would expect from Tyler. Each recipe brings tons of flavor to the table which is what he is known for. The photos really help visualize a recipe and the writing is crisp and helpful. If you can get past the fact that the chapter layout is a bit haphazard and that he might be trying to fleece you, it is a solid resource.