How to Cook Everything

May 2020

I learned how to cook from How to Cook Everything in a way that gives me the freedom to be creative. This new edition will be my gift to new couples or for a housewarming; if you have this book, you don’t really need any others.
Lisa Loeb

(Rather than my usual notes, this more of a retrospective on a cookbook I’ve read many times.)

I bought Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything fifteen years ago, when I moved to Nashville and started medical school. It’s a fantastic all-in-one kitchen reference: it covers ingredients, techniques, tools, and recipes. Most chapters include some general notes on prepping and cooking each ingredient, and the recipes usually highlight different approaches and cuisines. For years, I’d go to the grocery on the weekend, buy a few cheap, seasonal ingredients, and cook one recipe each night. Cooking the same ingredients in different ways—and returning to favorite recipes often—built my confidence in the kitchen.

These days, I leaf through the book when I’m in a cooking rut, but I rarely use the recipes. Because they prioritize approachability, the final product falls far short of more ambitious recipes from Cook’s Illustated, the Food Lab, or a specialized book or blog. In my kitchen, How to Cook Everything is a victim of its own success: Bittman’s approach to food is how I improvise, so my standards for recipes are now higher.

I still gift this book to new cooks, hoping that they’ll eventually outgrow it.