Awhile back I was suffering from a bout of writers block and my dad sent me a list of ‘things he would like to know about’. The list is wide ranging, from the every day to the profound, his thought was that any one question could be expanded into a post here on ETWT. I tucked it away for a future moment where I felt stuck for a topic. Like today. So here goes, answer #1:
Cooking. How did you learn and what else would you like to know?
By osmosis. When Rucha & were in our teens, mom asked us to start making dinner one night a week each. The way I remember it, there wasn’t any instruction, she just kind of threw us in the deep end and said ‘swim!’. Which led to scrambled eggs and toast being on the menu on my night. Every week. For months.
My first year away from home at university I lived in a Halls of Residence, but the following year my friends and I got a flat. I can still vividly recall standing in the kitchen, sun pouring in through the dusty window pane, my mom walking me through her recipe for spaghetti sauce on the phone. That was the first real meal I made. I must have picked up enough basic skills from watching her to have the general outline of what to do, and I learned the rest from trial and error.
Most of what I make these days is pretty basic – salads, soups, tacos, roasts in winter, the occasional Indian inspired dish. I have my own tomato-based sauce recipe for pasta now, though it’s a vegetarian one. I discovered braising two or three years ago, which I love. I’m not much of a baker, though I went through a phase of making bread and muffins when we first moved to Raleigh and I wish I had more time to do that now.
I was kind of entranced by the movie Julie & Julia; the idea of working one’s way through a comprehensive tome like the Art of French Cooking, learning new skills along the way appeals to me. But if I’m honest I’m not much of a technician in the kitchen, more of an improviser, rarely making the same thing the same way more than once. Out of the two of us K is the one who has the drive to learn a culinary method and then perfect it by practicing it over & over, as anyone who has had his ribs lately can attest. I do use cookbooks (the first one I owned was The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen) but I don’t usually follow recipes exactly,rather using them as a kind of guideline (ala Mark Bittman).
This is one of the recipes that I’ve fallen in love with lately. It’s from the blog 101 Cookbooks which I turn to pretty regularly for dinner inspiration. I’ve made it a couple of times with brussels sprouts and a couple of times with napa cabbage and it’s equally tasty. When making it with cabbage I used apple cider vinegar instead of lemon juice; inverting the proportion of acid & fat to help soften and flavor the meatier leaf. Not having hazel nuts to hand I’ve also substituted pumpkin seeds or toasted pecans.
If I had a little more time on my hands I would love to learn to can and pickle. I follow Ashley English’s blog Small Measures off and on; her book Canning & Preserving is on my wish list but my friend Betty also recommended The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich and Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving.
What about you? How did you learn to cook? What technique or method would you like to try?