Salt early and taste for adjustments along the way. Use separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables. Cut vegetables evenly so they cook evenly. These instructions could probably be found in the Culinary Institute of America standard-issue textbook The Professional Chef, but I pulled them from a different source, Lisa Jervis’ Cook Food: A Manualfesto for easy, healthy, local eating. The skinny, 130-page “manualfesto” is a training manual for beginning home cooks with an an organic and activist bent.
I worked as a line cook during college, and although I know my way around the kitchen pretty comfortably, I found Cook Food to be a good refresher on some useful techniques (deglazing pans, pressing tofu), and it also has some great recipes.
Jervis starts by listing all of the necessary kitchen-building tools and ingredients, from the pantry to the spice rack, offering tips for the thrifty shopper on what pans and tools should and shouldn’t be bought used. Along the way, she offers some useful tips on technique, including some basic instructions on how to cook grains, the various ways to cook vegetables, and some tips on seasoning. Veteran cooks can ignore much of this, but for rookies, most of Jervis’ explanations will be invaluable. The back end of the book includes 20 of Jervis’ original recipes, and a handful of “nonrecipe recipes” (tips for snacks and other easy-to-make foods).
Jervis isn’t a chef by trade; she’s a prominent feminist who founded BITCH magazine. Her activist side shines through occasionally in Cook Food, when she writes about food politics, advocating for organic, unprocessed foods, but she steers clear of proselytizing. The book is most useful when Jervis addresses some of the more pragmatic issues facing home cooks, like how to eat organic, ethically-produced food on a tight budget.