Quadrille Publishing, €9.99 each
Anne Willan, founder of prestigious French cooking school La Varenne, makes a rather large claim in the title of this cookbook. Asserting that she can teach someone how to cook everything - and in such a slim book, too - is surely asking for trouble but 'How to Cook Absolutely Everything' follows through on its promise. Photographs of food at various stages of doneness - mainly undercooked, perfectly cooked and overcooked - with accompanying text that explains details of colour and texture give a surprisingly good idea of how to cook the ingredients covered here.
With chapters ranging from fish to fruit, sauces to pulses, 'How to Cook Absolutely Everything' manages to fit a wealth of information into well under 200 pages. Under the egg chapter, for instance, techniques covered include boiling, poaching, frying, baking, scrambling, soufflés and how to make both rolled and flat omelettes. Each of these sections start off with a paragraph about the technique or ingredient - including rescue tips for when things go wrong - and the pictures underneath give a visual representation of the wrongs and rights.
Although Willan includes several recipes for readers to experiment with their new-found knowledge (in the apple section, Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin looks particularly good), there just aren't enough and occasionally, as with the batter puddings or meat stews sections, the ideas and illustrations are enough to send you looking for an appropriate recipe. Which leads us on to the companion book, 'Best Recipes for Absolutely Everything', and Cherry Batter Pudding or Clafoutis Limosin and Spicy Lamb Stew with Almond and Coconut. Each book is so enhanced by the other, however, that it begs the question, why didn't Quadrille Publishing just print the two books in one? Then rather than skipping between 'How to Cook...' and 'Best Recipes...' for instructions in 1) how to make caramel and 2) a recipe for Peaches and Ice Cream with Salty Caramel Sauce, it would just be a matter of turning the pages.
While 'How to Cook Absolutely Everything' is a true education to read and 'Best Recipes for Absolutely Everything' has a selection of wonderful recipes, this is a situation where, if both books were combined together, the result would be far greater than the sum of the individual parts. A missed opportunity.