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Cookbook Review: Done by James Peterson

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Fast review: Never overcook or undercook anything ever again.

James Peterson has some serious cooking chops; he has won seven James Beard awards and is the author of fifteen books. So it’s no surprise that his cookbook Done is a life saver in the kitchen. In it he tackles more than 85 of the trickiest foods using look, smell, sound, and feel to determine when each is perfectly done. Chock full of color photographs with corresponding numbered instructions, the book is indispensable for anyone looking to master this fundamental yet difficult aspect of cooking.

With everything from pork chops to risotto, this book can elevate any home cook’s technique to a professional level. Pick up a copy and prepare to be amazed at the difference in your meals now that they are cooked to perfection.

Who’s kitchen would you find it in: ex-vegetarians learning to cook meat, home cooks looking to elevate their food to the next level, those who prefer to skip the recipe to look at the pictures

Nuts and bolts

Cooking times are downplayed in Done, with attention turned instead to the color of the juices or the jiggle of a yolk. As Peterson says “cooking may be the only art form that requires all the senses”. Basic techniques such as sautéing and frying are touched on in the opening pages, along with advice on determining doness for each method.After the basic introduction, he then dives in to sauces, a stumbling block that can make or break a dish. With Peterson’s guidance you can ditch the pre-made junk and learn how to make your own staples; such as clarified butter (ghee), mayonnaise, and salad vinagrettes. The next chapter focuses entirely on how to cook eggs, a delicious but finicky ingredient that can go awry in an instant. Directions for tender poached eggs, fluffy omelets, delicate soufflé, and properly beaten egg whites are all outlined in meticulous detail. Say goodbye to rubbery hard boiled eggs and sad watery quiches!

Roots, vegetables, rice, and beans are grouped together in the following chapter. Learn to cook potatoes every which way-from steamed to roasted to fried. Peterson shows you how to blacken roasted peppers so they are incredibly tender and flavorful, as well as how to blanch green beans to crisp perfection. And he doesn’t forget the ever daunting challenge that is risotto, demonstrating in seven simple steps that well-executed risotto is within everyone’s reach (and can actually be made ahead of time).

Seafood is another intimidating domain broken down in Done. Boiled lobster can now be made with confidence at home, along with seared tuna, sautéed salmon, and steamed mussels. This is especially useful because fresh seafood can be costly and overcooks easily. The chapter on poultry is great for anyone concerned about food borne illnesses, since chicken is often the culprit. Whether you are cooking for a crowd, your kids, or just yourself it is important to cook poultry to a safe degree of doneness without sacrificing flavor. Peterson guides you through roasting a whole chicken, sautéing chicken breasts, and frying chicken pieces. He also addresses the annual Thanksgiving turkey debacle!

Two proteins that are commonly overcooked to dryness in both professional and home kitchens are confronted in the next chapter. Done will help you make the juiciest pork and lamb dishes you’ve ever tasted. Starting with bacon and sautéed sausage, Peterson works up to roasted rack of lamb and braised pork chops. The following savory chapter attends to one of America’s favorite protiens : beef. From it you will master the perfect grilled porterhouse, most tender pot roast, and a safely cooked hamburger. Last is the chapter on breads and sweets, because a meal isn’t compete without dessert! Become at ease with technique focused dishes such as whipped cream, buttercream frosting, caramel, and cream puffs. Thanks to Peterson, cakes, pies, and more need never be over or under baked again.

What to make

At home instead of dining out: hollandaise sauce (p. 32) with poached eggs (p. 44), rice pilaf (p.89) with sautéed duck breasts (p. 144), grilled porterhouse (p. 166) with sautéed mushrooms (p. 74)

To impress your foodie friends: simmered artichokes (p. 77) with aioli (p. 28), shrimp tempura (p. 102), osso bucco (p. 182), zabaglione (p. 194)

As your signature dish: quiche Lorraine (p. 52,), grilled whole fish (p. 114), beef stew (p. 170), bread pudding (p. 212)

Done is by James Peterson. Shop our full line of cookbooks here!

Photo credit : David Arn