Old-School Cooking Whizdom

"A recipe is like a road map," writes chef Lauren Braun Costello. "A road map shows you where to go and how to get there, but does not teach you how to drive."

(Photo courtesy of RCR Creative Press)

This is how Costello and her writing partner Russell Reich kick off their new book, "Notes on Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft."

And this is why I'm devoting today's space to an itty-bitty book that can fit inside a purse.

A graduate of the French Culinary Institute and a veteran of several high-profile kitchens, Costello abstains from the same ol' recipe show-and-tell. Instead, she and Reich dish up a stick-to-your-ribs collection of kitchen aphorisms -- 217, to be exact -- that reveal the hows, whys, whens, whats and heart and soul of cooking.

A mix of the pithy ("Preside happily over accidents") and the practical ("Use wet measures for liquids, dry measures for solids"), "Notes on Cooking" is a laundry list of kitchen dos and don'ts organized into 19 chapters that represent the multi-faceted aspects of playing with food. I wouldn't call it a CliffsNotes version of cooking school or a restaurant apprenticeship -- as nothing replaces practical experience -- but what a boon this little volume would have been when I donned my chef's whites for a living.

Beginning home cooks: This is your lucky day. Old kitchen dogs: We all can learn new tricks -- or stand for some brushing up. This is one book we all can chew on for the rest of our cooking lives.

My favorite of the 217?

26. Eat. Just as a good writer must read, a good cook must eat. Know the experience of receiving and consuming food at least as well as you know the experience of preparing and serving it.

P.S. Costello and Reich have just started a blog.

This week marks the last supper for A Mighty Appetite. My final installment will be Friday, July 10. For details on where to find me next week and beyond, e-mail me.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 7, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Cook's Library
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I will miss you! There is not a lot left of the Washington Post worth looking at anymore. :(

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