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The Improvisational Cook

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  295 ratings  ·  37 reviews
“Schneider weans home cooks off their training wheels and provides a springboard from which they can leap out of the box, craft their own distinctive dishes, and let their new instinctive and creative juices flow.”
—Mario Batali


Everyday meat loaf, roast chicken, and cornbread become inspired new dishes in the hands of The Improvisational Cook. Sally Schneider, bestselling
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 10th 2006 by William Morrow Cookbooks (first published October 1st 2006)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  295 ratings  ·  37 reviews

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May 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cooking, domesticarts
Ooooh, I really like this book. Steve made the most wonderful chicken from it (and yes, I ate a little), while I made some gorgeous white beans with crispy sage. Uh, yum!

I've returned it to the library, but I'll probably have to check it out again.

I really appreciate the improvisational approach, but that was my style anyway. I can't remember the last time I faithfully followed a recipe (Steve, on the other hand, is a recipe follower). I tend to just work with what I have, use cookbooks for id
Apr 27, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: cooking, nonfiction
I like what she says about improvising, but on a more basic level the dishes she gravitates towards aren't as appealing to me. There's very little about beans, and surprisingly there seems to be much more meat than vegetable dishes. So for a vegetarian or someone who eats more vegetarian food, this is a book worth getting from the library rather than the bookstore.

I also think this book shines when it is systematic, as in the section on ingredient combinations where she basically says "what grow
Bglassman Glassman
Jun 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Serious eaters and occasional hosts, who are not adept chefs.
I suffer from total performance anxiety in the kitchen. This book alters the way I approach a meal, and a set of recipes, and makes it possible to do really interesting things with what is at hand. Most important, it does what PowerPoint does -- it provides templates that you can fill in. Serious chefs, like serious communicators, don't settle for PowerPoint. Nor will they settle for The Improvisational Cook. But for the rest of us, who would like to be able to throw something good together when ...more
Meghan Armstrong
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This cookbook has rocked my world. I read it like a novel. There are very few photos, but my mouth was watering with every page. Despite the fact that there are tons of recipes in this book I wouldn't make, I feel truly inspired by all the possible improvisations that begin within. The entire dessert section is phenomenal. I can't wait to try a bunch of these ideas this summer and fall, when the produce is fresh. ...more
Kate Peckham
Jun 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: foodstuffs
This book is in my kitchen, out on the shelf. I refer to it several times a week when I'm cooking. I love it. It has given me permission to be creative in the kitchen. I always thought I couldn't cook until I gave myself permission to fail. This book gave me a whole new perspective. I have a special place in my heart for any book that can do that. ...more
Jan 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cooking-food
So far, I've learned that I am not a lazy cook that just uses what's on hand instead of heading to the store... I'm an improvisational cook! Now I just have to learn more of the techniques in the book. ...more
Ann Quinn
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Love it. I've ordered it from Better World Books, to have a keeper copy. Great ideas, great inspiration to get away from recipes. ...more
Nov 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Apparently Sally Schneider is well known as a contributor to "The Splendid Table" on public radio and as the writer of the syndicated newspaper column "The Improvisational Cook." As I have never heard the programme nor read the column, I had to take Chef Schneider on the words she committed to this ample book. The organization of the text is difficult to understand. She describes one of her favourite dishes and then explains a variety of ways in which it can be changed by adding and/or deleting ...more
Apr 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
“The metacookbooks that take this tack are up against a challenge: It’s hard to teach intuition, which in truth can only fully arise through experience. But it is possible to come close. Sally Schneider’s The Improvisational Cook does a passable job of this, but reads a little too densely for a book about being spontaneous. “
Juli Anna
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: cookbooks
Nothing special. I like the concept behind this one, and perhaps it would be a good place to start as a beginner cook. But most of the recipes were so basic that I can't foresee myself using any of them any time soon. ...more
Nov 21, 2020 marked it as to-read
Shelves: food, atlantic
Jul 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
"Much of the process of improvising involves cultivating a mind-set - open, associative, resourceful - that spurs ideas and lets them flow. It's being willing to ask: What would happen if? ... Then you just go ahead and try out your idea, experiment with an open mind and without fear of the outcome, the mess you make, and the possibly imperfect results. This flies in the face of our notions of what cooking is "supposed" to be and look like - a stylist setting, an orderly series of events, one fo ...more
Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2012, cookbooks
+ side: detailed explanations on how one can improvise a basic recipe such as almost homemade mayonnaise and salt-roasted trout
- side: no pictures of any of the recipes. All we get are some photos of ingredients which if you were cooking Asian or Middle Eastern, would be necessary but since the author stays safely within the confines of North American/European fare, I would have preferred photos of the dishes themselves. Also, I didn't find many of the recipes all that appealing. For one thing,
Oct 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: cooking
I really only skimmed this for recipes, so my review is incomplete, but here goes. I like Schneider's approach of breaking down recipes into (A) methods and (B) flavor combinations. For me, though, there was a lot I already knew and some things that didn't really interest me. I do hope to try some recipes, but I'm already so accustomed to improvising that I'll probably use the ideas just to tweak what I'm already doing. For beginning or less confident cooks, this could be a great way to jump to ...more
Sep 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
This a great cookbook. I hated to return it to the library last week. It has the kind of recipes that can set you off on culinary adventures of your own. And because the basic recipes are so simple, you might not even need the book in the kitchen while you are cooking. it might be the only cookbook in my collection that could avoid the inevitable food stains!
Jul 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
Rechecked multiple times from library. Will p/u a used copy soon. Love the creativity this inspired in me. I'm usually much more comfortable cooking from a recipe, but this gave me some "ground rules" and creates a comfort zone where I feel I can safely experiment. ...more
Mar 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a great addition to your bookshelf in the kitchen. If you are like me and use recipes as a guide rather than a prescription, this is the book for you. So many great ideas to bring your cooking to the next level.
Nov 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This cookbook works from my basic philosphy of cooking: understand the basics of a recipe and then experiment with lots of versions. The slow roasted pork is wonderful!! I also love her slaws, and slow roasted tomatoes.
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cookbooks-i-own

A great concept for a cookbook. Following a recipe and then using the techniques and flavor profiles to improvise with ingredients at hand. I've already tried a few of the recipes with great success.
Nancy Schechtman
Jun 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Terrific! This is what I try to teach my students. Think outside the box. Use what you like and what you have on hand.
The book is basic and full of information. Great book for cooks who are trying to venture out.
May 29, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: from-library
What grows together, goes together. We know.
Jan 20, 2008 added it
since i refuse to follow recipes but sometimes like to flip through cookbooks when i feel like i have been eating the same thing too often--this woman is smart and creative
May 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully written, eye-opening cookbook about how to cook as well as what to cook.
Jul 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cookbooks
Lots of great ideas in this one by a former Martha Stewart-kitchen cook (I believe, might need to double check that).
Superkirsten Hudson
Sep 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
yum. what grows together goes together. since i'm a haphazard cook, i love reading about general ideas rather than recipes with no flexibility. ...more
Jan 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I LOVE this book. the recipes are simple but taste delicious and aren't boring. I bought this for myself a week ago online and am waiting for it to arrive so I can start cooking again! ...more
Mar 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Great book. Simple, quick recipes. Well-written. Good weekend book. I love the fried egg-asapargus-parmigiano.
Jul 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
Makes me really wanna cook. Thats what a cookbook should do.
Mar 05, 2010 marked it as to-read
Shelves: food
Checked out from the library. Barely looked at. Thought M would like it, but he never got around to looking at it before it needed to be returned.
Mar 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: food-cookbooks
Interesting to browse through, but didn't really find anything I want to try. ...more
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