I consider myself a pretty good cook, somewhat knowledgeable, willing to try new ingredients, methods, and maybe some small appliances (like a spiralizer) but not too expensive these days. For example, I will never do sous-vide, but my son has, so I know about it.
It began when I got married. I liked liver; my husband did not. He agreed to eat liver if I cooked it twelve different ways. I had no idea there were twelve ways to cook liver. I owned one cookbook. The Betty Crocker Cookbook was my kitchen bible, with pictures. It taught me how to make bread, and meet loaf and brownies and chilli con carne, but only one way. I went to the library and began to study cookbooks. (Very methodical, always a student.) I cooked liver twelve different ways, including liver soufflé. I didn’t know soufflés were supposed to be difficult. Amazingly, mine rose. I found methods and results that i liked better than the one I knew. It doesn’t help now. It’s hard to get calves’ liver in a store. I order provimi liver when I find it in a good restaurant.
The other condition that made me a cook was my writing. I needed a place to work so I I turned the dining area in my first few homes into a writing space. Without a dining table I had to be innovative with the food I offered to guests. I used TV tables and they wobbled under pressure so I couldn’t serve meat that required strenuous cutting. I experimented with casseroles and interesting combinations. When I say experimented, I don’t mean I made things up, but I got pretty good at ad libbing. By the time we had an entire separate dining room, I was committed to exploration. We couldn’t afford to travel so I discovered other countries and lifestyles in my kitchen.
I like variety. I like to learn: new ideas, words, recipes, whatever. I made a quiche Lorraine when I thought it was just an onion pie. I made paella before I learned how to pronounce it. When I took over our family Christmas dinner, I never knew what we were having until the December issue of Gourmet magazine was published. And of course I had to learn what to do with my sometimes esoteric leftovers, hence my specialty, a necessity, I might add, because I couldn’t afford to throw out food. No one can or should.
So even though I live alone with a tighter budget than in the past, I still like to try new tastes and creative combinations of food. I’ve reached my limits, though. Here’s a brief review of a new cookbook that will show you how daunted I am.
Titled “Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors” by Diana Henry, the book is distinguished not only by the number of recipes but also by their originality, “particularly in the creativity of her ingredient combinations.” She seasons with Kashmiri chiles, saffron, grape must and tamarind (I use saffron); she garnishes with pomegranate seeds, fresh mint, dill and parsley (okay, I’m good with those) and “drizzled with prodigious amounts of sour yogurt, her flavor pairings are intelligently conceived without being pretentious.”
The review cites a few recipes: Sweet Potatoes with Yogurt and Cilantro Sauce; Breton Tuna and White Bean Gratin; Lamb Chops with Dates, Feta, Sumac and Tahini. I pass.
i said I used to travel in my kitchen, yes, to Greece and Scandinavia and of course to France. But here’s another new cookbook that you need a visa for as well as a passport: “Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and Kurdistan” by Naomi Duguid.
I won’t be going there.