Cook the Book: 'A Twist of the Wrist'

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This installment of Serious Eats's Cook the Book series features a collection of recipes that just might change the way you think about cooking at home. A Twist of the Wrist isn't another Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade tome or a Rachael Ray rip-off. It's by Nancy Silverton, one of the greatest pastry chefs and bread bakers this country has ever produced. And when she talks about food, we should listen. And this is what she has to say:

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While writing this book, I felt as if I were on a mission. It came about as a result of a sort of reality check on my part, an awakening that started a few years earlier, after I read a review by Amanda Hesser in the New York Times of a cookbook in which the author used packaged ingredients to create quick, easy meals. As Amanda pointed out in the review, the author's premise was to get people in and out of the kitchen as quickly as possible so they could do something enjoyable—like talk to their husbands or play with their children. Anything but cook! I happen to enjoy cooking and feeding the people I love, so I was disappointed—although, I admit, not terribly surprised—to realize that this was where Americans' heads were in terms of cooking. It was as if we were back in the fifties, before women were "liberated" from the kitchens that enslaved them.

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The truth is that many people—at least the majority of the people I know—really don't cook much at all. Home Meal Replacement (HMR), better known as takeout, is the fastest-growing segment in the food industry. I see it in L.A., among my friends, for whom stopping by the grocery store to pick up a piece of fish that was grilled twelve hours ago or roasted vegetables that have been sitting out half the day has become the modern version of "cooking at home." We've moved so far away from the kitchen that I felt that what people needed was a gentle, realistic way back.

Enter the jar! And enter A Twist of the Wrist, a collection of recipes that takes advantage of high-quality premade ingredients to create entrées that have the same complexity of flavors and textures as ones you'd be served in a restaurant.

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I come from a school of cooking in which anything that is viewed as less than fresh from the farm;anything that is not straight from the earth; anything prepared, frozen, packaged, or preserved; anything not made with the very best ingredients, by loving hands, is considered if not downright evil, a total cop-out. Which means that in the past, if I were writing a recipe for chicken salad, the first step would be "roast the chicken," followed by "make the mayonnaise." For me to write a book in which a jar of mayonnaise is even mentioned is revolutionary. But it's a revolution that I felt had to happen.

The goal of my so-called mission is to show people a way to create satisfying meals with a minimum of effort and time so that they will be encourage to cook at home more often. I think there's a level of satisfaction and pride that comes from preparing a meal for yourself and your family and friends—that you can't possibly get from dumping a container of food on a plate.

This book is more than just my invitation and "permission" to open up a jar. It is an invitation to think in a totally different way about cooking. It is my welcome into a world where packaged and fresh items, combined in creative ways, are not compromises, but inspirations. And it is my invitation to you to get back in the kitchen.

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I have known Nancy Silverton for 15 years now, and for someone whose bread recipe takes 14 days to make, A Twist of the Wrist represents a seismic shift in how she thinks about food. What she doesn't say because she is strangely modest, is that Nancy Silverton has perfect pitch when it comes to food. That is, she has the greatest palate I have ever seen in action, and a food bullshit detector second to none. As Mario Batali is quoted on the back cover of the book, "Nancy Silverton is the high priestess of delicious."

So every day this week we're proud to highlight a different recipe from A Twist of the Wrist. Our first recipe from the book will appear shortly.

And because Serious Eats is on a mission to encourage more people to eat delicious food as often as possible, we're giving away 5 copies of Silverton's book. More details to come later today. [Update: Here are the details. Enter to win!]