Home » Main Dish Recipes » “How to Cook Without a Book” (Plus a recipe for Chicken with Sauternes, Fig, and Pistachio Pan Sauce)

“How to Cook Without a Book” (Plus a recipe for Chicken with Sauternes, Fig, and Pistachio Pan Sauce)

How to Cook Without a Book, by Pam AndersonYour Two Lazy authors have traveled very different routes to their love of food and cooking. I won’t go into great detail here, since you can find our stories on our About page and in our first post, but the nutshell version is that Robin grew up cooking while I got my kitchen legs later in life. It wasn’t until my thirties that I went through the transformation from a confused, though eager, recipe-follower to someone who’s pretty comfortable and competent in the kitchen. I remember clearly that dawn-like period during which friends and family started referring to me as “a good cook.” Really? You’re excited about coming over for dinner? You want this recipe? Why, this is an interesting development.

So what happened? Well first, I began to notice that some of the best and most inspiring dishes I encountered were also some of the simplest. It became clear to me that there didn’t seem to be any direct relation between difficulty of recipe and enjoyment of meal. (This is, in fact, the guiding principle behind The Lazy Gourmet.) I also grasped a couple of basic rules—salt adds flavor, let the oil get hot, caramelize everything—that gave my culinary skills a boost. As I became more comfortable in the kitchen I cooked more, learned more, experimented more, got more positive feedback from my diners, and so on.

Around this time I picked up How to Cook Without a Book: Recipes and Techniques Every Cook Should Know by Heart, by the sexily-named Pam Anderson. The title alone told me it was exactly what I needed. The book’s primary message is to time-constrained homemakers (offering game plans for nightly meal prep and lots of time-saving tips) but for me it was an ideal beginner’s handbook. Instead of providing written-in-stone recipes, Anderson explains how to make basics like soup, pasta, frittatas, and pan sauces—and then suggests creative variations that can be made on each. She explains how to sear meat, describes the endless possibilities of the stir-fry, and stresses the rewards of homemade salad dressing. As a newbie cook, these tips and insights inspired me to think more creatively and loosen my dependence on instructions.

If you’re teetering on the brink between culinary confusion and capability, How to Cook Without a Book might just give you the push you need. Here’s one of my favorite dishes from the book. (Anderson explains the steps and techniques more instructively, but to be concise I’ve distilled it into traditional recipe format here.)

Yield: 4

Chicken with Sauternes, Fig, and Pistachio Pan Sauce

Adapted from How to Cook Without a Book, by Pam Anderson


  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 4 boneless chicken breast halves
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ cup Sauternes or other sweet dessert wine
  • 8 large dried figs, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios


  1. Heat the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in an 11- to 12-inch skillet over low heat.
  2. While the pan is heating, sprinkle chicken breast with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high. When the butter stops foaming and starts to smell nutty, arrange the chicken breasts, skinned side up, in the skillet.
  4. Cook, turning only once, until chicken is a rich golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove chicken from the skillet.
  5. Add the Sauternes and figs to the hot skillet and boil until liquid is reduced to about a ¼ cup.
  6. Tilt the skillet so that the reduced liquid is at one side of the pan, and whisk in the remaining tablespoon of butter until the sauce is smooth and glossy.
  7. Spoon a portion of the sauce over each chicken breast and sprinkle with pistachios. Serve immediately.


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By on March 30th, 2011

About Robin Donovan

Hi, I’m Robin! I am a full-time food blogger, recipe developer, and cookbook author. I spend my days cooking, writing about, and photographing food.

I’m the author of more than 40 cookbooks, including Ramen for Beginners, 5 Ingredient Cooking for Two, Sushi at Home, The Baking Cookbook for Teens, and the bestselling Campfire Cuisine.

My food writing has also been featured in major print and online pubications including Cooking Light, Fitness, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and other popular publications.

More about Robin

More posts by this author.

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