It is never easy to review cookbooks since they are so different from normal books. I decided that I had to read The Chef Next Door because I have been a fan of Amanda Freitag for several years, since I first saw her on the Food Network. She has always had such a kind and knowledgeable demeanor, and I knew that her expertise would translate into a fantastic books. I was not wrong.
I should start by saying that I am not the typical reader for a cookbook like this. I am a vegetarian, and even the thought of fish or anything seafood makes me squeamish. But I do have people in my life who enjoy meat, and I figured that I might be able to learn something from this book. I am one of those people who likes what I like, and it works for me, but I feel bad for my husband who can only eat spaghetti so many times per week. I am a terrible creature of habit, and I read this book hoping to learn a few tips that might help my poor husband out when I decide to cook for him.
I really liked layout of this book a lot. It has full color photos that are taken in an artful manner (similar to a photography book), and the chapters are arranged according to different styles of cooking. There is a chapter dedicated to the basics of cooking: going over simple secrets such as roasted garlic, roasted tomatoes, and basic risotto. Then there is a chapter on sauces, marinades, and other flavor secrets. There are also the typical chapters such as one on salads, one on dinner, and one on desserts; there is even a chapter on “the scary stuff” that talks about everything from oven-roasted lobster (*shiver*) to hearty gnocchi and, my favorite, corn souffle.
Each chapter starts with a little blurb by Amanda that serves as a sort of forward for the recipes ahead, followed by an index page with the different recipes and their page numbers. Her instructions are clear and easy to understand, and she often includes several photos to show the food prep as you go along.
Now for some criticism. I was under the impression that this was a book that should appeal to a typical, average-Joe home cook, like myself. However, I found that most of the dinner recipes were not something I would be interested in trying to make (there was a lot of seafood in the book), and were things that my husband would not be interested in eating. I might be a bit sheltered, but I have never known anyone besides a true chef who has cooked duck at home, let alone duck breast with pine nut relish. I don’t hold this against Amanda too much because, as I have said, I am a very picky eater. But some of these recipes are a bit intimidating and not realistic for a typical home cook. I would have loved to see some more ordinary foods transformed in extraordinary ways, such as more chicken and maybe some more vegetarian dishes.
That being said, I was very impressed with this book. The end of the book has this adorable section for different meal suggestions, such as “Backyard BBQ” and “Romantic Dinner” which include several different dishes from various parts of the book followed by their page numbers. It gives you a really fantastic idea of meal compositions and how you could throw them together (something I always struggle with).
My favorite part of the book by far was the dessert section. While I did have trouble finding entrees that I would want to cook, I had no trouble with the dessert section. Absolutely everything in it sounds delicious–and I typically am content to just scoop some ice cream or eat candy to satisfy my sweet tooth. Some recipes included in this section are coconut macaroons, dark chocolate mousse, cocoa carrot cake with cream cheese icing, and chocolate truffles. Yum.
In conclusion, it is very obvious that this book was put together with a great amount of time, care, and consideration. There is a lot of pride that shows through on the pages, and if you are an adventurous eater (or cook), then this is a book for you.
Holly has a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science and owns a small business with her husband selling fleece and hand-spun yarn. When she is not spinning yarn, she does freelance work as a graphic design artist and is highly involved in animal rescue.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow Cookbooks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.