Twelve Recipes is a beautifully written, informative, and very personal mix of memoir and cookbook. Ostensibly, a collection of recipes based around 12 basic skills a person needs in order to increase overall cooking. But at its heart, it’s about the cook’s family, his children growing up, and life transitioning for his family when his son goes away to college. It’s a mixture of diverse ideas that really shouldn’t work but does effectively due to a great balance of pathos and technique.
The chapters/topics of the book are a bit surprising at first glance but make more sense when they are read. The basic techniques are: toast; eggs; beans; salad dressings; pasta with tomato; pasta otherwise; Rice, polenta, mashed potatoes; roasted chicken; braising; grilling; three sauces; cake. A foreward, introduction, and universal conversion chart round out the book’s contents.
The introduction is both history and tips. A chef sending his son off to school and realizing that his son could use a better understanding of cooking techniques. That segues into a collection of overall rules for general cooking (from tasting to leftovers). Cooking and cutting techniques as well as needed tools are discussed as well. I really like how Peternell gives both the right and the poor way things are done as well as good vs poorer tools. It’s not just about the best way to do things but also the ways we often sabotage the taste or quality of what we cut by shortcuts or poor technique/time management/quality of food decisions.
The recipes start out with general discussions before transitioning into cooking and then several recipes based upon that initial simple recipe. As an example, toast starts out with discussing the best toasting methods (thin, thick, and what to put on them). It then segues into variations – what to put on the breads and then options such as croutons and sprinkling crumbs. It sounds simple but there is a lot packed into every chapter.
The tone is wonderful – friendly, accessible, humorous, encouraging, and very personal. I like the Chef’s blend of great tips and wry humor especially (e.g., from the chapter on eggs: “Take egg scrambling, for example: there may be a moment when cracking the eggs directly into a hot skillet and then scrambling them in place is that sweet spot, the right if not the best thing to do, but I honestly can’t imagine when that would be – while camping, maybe, or if an earthquake is bringing the walls down on a very hungry you. Even then, I think it would be best to take a breath, gather yourself, and while letting the pan cool some, grab a bowl and stand in the shelter of a doorway while you fork the eggs to a froth”). There are bon mots throughout that make this such a fun book to read while also filling in the holes we all have from most having learned to cook at home.
This is definitely a great gift for a grad going away, of course, or a young, newly married couple. But it is also so practical and enjoyable a read that I think there is definitely something here for everyone. There are photographs throughout but the heart of the book is definitely in the beautiful writing and solid cooking information. There is timeless information here.
This comes as a highly recommended book by me – one I think makes a great gift to friends and family (and one my husband will likely thank Chef Peternell for increasing my own cooking skills).
Reviewed from an ARC.