Top critical review
Good dish ideas, shockingly bad design. Ok for intermediate cooks.
Reviewed in the United States on November 12, 2021
- Good dishes that are fun to experiment with and practical for home cooking
- Disappointingly small section on microwave recipes (despite the title)
- Inconvenient book organization
- Very ugly (would not recommend as a gift, but good if you want some more ideas and light guidance for cooking at home)
- Very meat-heavy (especially beef)
I am a longtime listener of Dave Chang's podcast and was super excited for this cookbook after hearing about his experiences cooking for his family at home (make it acceptable to eat, easy to clean up, and less prep work). In particular, I was really excited to learn how to better use my microwave because Dave Chang talked about how much faster and easier it is to cook with a microwave if you really know how to take advantage of it.
Overall, I agree with the philosophy of the book. The recipes encourage flexible cooking, experimentation, and it's easy to make the recipes your own. Because the recipes are relatively simple and don't have measurements, they're easy to remember and bring into the regular meal rotation. I have enjoyed the ones I've made - they've all been pretty tasty! The focus is on making food that tastes good at home, rather than worrying about making sure the food is authentic, so it feels low-pressure. It fits with the style of inexact, spontaneous cooking of never being able to get the same results twice, but it all tastes good.
Learning how to make chawanmushi in the microwave was amazing and something that will definitely be a go-to for me. (Note that if you make this, you need to use ~2.5x the amount of liquid Priya recommends or the egg will be very dry, illustrated by their chosen photo of the dish in the book)
That said, I would NOT recommend this book to a beginner cook. Since most of the recipes don't really give measurements or even tell you what heat setting to cook things on, it is very easy to overcook meats or overseason if you're not already pretty confident in the kitchen. This is really meant for someone who is comfortable experimenting with and changing up recipes.
A couple other notes on the recipes themselves - I was really bummed that the microwave section was so small! There are only ~10 microwave recipes which just seemed really misleading given the book title calls out the microwave. Also, would just note that this book is very very meat heavy (especially beef), so if you're vegetarian (I'm not), there won't be much to cook from here.
Cons - Usability, Design, and Aesthetics:
The book organization is pretty bizarre where the expectation seems to be that you will read it like a textbook, in full. You cannot just open to a single recipe and get all the information you need. Techniques are often consolidated in their own section rather than being in the recipe itself, and many times, there is no mention of where to find the relevant information in the recipe.
The design is very unpleasant from a readability standpoint. I like the recipes but am a little bit pained everytime I open up the pages. There are a lot of really odd design choices like blocks of white text on a yellow background (or vice versa), or black text on a dark green background. I was in my living room and had to turn up the brightness on my lamp because I was straining my eyes to read the text. No good.
The photos are also kind of mind-boggling for me... they are very consistently pixelated, low-resolution, and out of focus. I understand that Dave and Priya wanted the food to look authentic to what someone would make at home, so they opted not to use a food stylist. But my issue isn't with the layout of the food - it's with the image quality. It's a bummer because the dishes taste great when making the recipes but they look so unappealing. I attached some examples here, but the low resolution issues may not be as noticeable on the small images. Trust me - full size on the page, it's very apparent.
I will definitely continue using this book and the recipes, but would NOT recommend getting this book as a gift for anyone (especially for someone who appreciates aesthetics or design). (The Lucky Peach cookbook is a good alternative for a nicer looking but still pretty easy and useful recipe book if you're looking for something similar to give as a gift).