People always ask me, where did you learn to cook? The answer is simple, really, and quite obvious – in the kitchen. There is no substitute for being in the kitchen and getting your hands dirty. Just try stuff and think about it – use common sense. I began to cook in my junior year in college – in Vienna. Believe me, it was no great stuff. I knew about three recipes and we ate those a lot. To this day, I won’t make pasta with cheese and egg because I had it so much in Vienna. But I just made a lot of pasta, as I still do. Pasta with mushrooms, pasta with broccoli, pasta with tomato sauce, pasta with anchovy sauce. Then, after college, I moved to New Orleans for the summer. I did not have a job, but I did have a copy of Pierre Franey’s 60 Minute Gourmet. That is the book I recommend to everyone when they ask me for recipes. The reason that the book is so good is because it teaches you basic techniques.
Whenever I get a new cookbook, I want it to be one that will teach me something. I like to get the best cookbook about a regional cooking style. I have Fanny Farmer, The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Clayborne, The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan, New Orleans Cooking by Paul Proudhomme and the Joy of Cooking. Those, so far, are my classics. Next year you will see recipes inspired by James Beard and more Mexican dishes because I have asked for some of these cookbooks. I eschew those trendy tomes such as the Silver Palate Cookbook. You know why, because with a good foundation, I can make up recipes like those. They can give you ideas about new ingredients like olives and capers, but I’m not crazy about olives and capers, and Laura hates olives, so I can’t make that stuff anyway. Plus, most of the flavors don’t seem to blend in that food. There’s no harmony to the flavors. So get yourself some basic cookbooks and check them out. When I want to make something, I’ll get out all my cookbooks and pour through them for ideas, take what I like from each of them and come up with my version of this or that.
I also love to look at the newspapers for recipes. The first thing I do after I look at the sports page is to check out the recipes in the magazine section. I don’t have a box or anything, I just keep them stuffed in an old notebook. It’s a real mess, but I know that I have my recipes in there. There are lots that I have not yet tried, but someday…
I also like just plain old home cooking – bit portions of good basic food. But be sure to cook it right – don’t over cook the meat – Dad. Be sure to use fresh vegetables when possible and serve decent wine with the meal.
I hope that the forthcoming Recipes I will be posting weekly in my blog can teach you something. If nothing else, don’t be afraid of cooking.