This summer I had a chance to do something wonderful.
I spent a morning in Grandma Kathy’s kitchen learning to bake bread. To some that may sound like no big deal. For someone like me, whose college roommate once said that I could only cook “what I can unwrap and stick in the microwave”, it was huge.
I took 19 photos of the lesson – capturing each step and nuance so I can replicate them in my own kitchen. Few things in my life have made me as proud as producing these four loaves.
Now, I’m emboldened by my morning spent in a Ohio kitchen. Why? Because I learned the tricks and cheats from a pro. My photo copied recipe page from Grandma Kathy is covered in notes.
A few of my favorite cookbooks have pages that look similar. Ingredient substitutions, cooking temperature and timing tweaks, and even reminders about what pans to avoid litter the margins of the best dishes to come out of my kitchen.
Thanks to the internet, there is no shortage of recipes and culinary inspiration. For me, inspiring turns overwhelming in a hurry if I make the mistake of googling a dish. On my continuing quest to become a better home cook, I know that I don’t need more cookbooks. What I need is to do more of what I did this summer with Grandma Kathy – learn the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of cooking.
To make that leap from assembling to creating.
In a stroke of fortunate timing, someone contacted me and wanted to know if I’d like to take a look at a book called Notes on Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft. Now how could I pass that up?
But I was a bit confused when I was told that this book, this book about cooking, contained not one single recipe, but rather, the rules and notes for culinary success. Curious and a bit skeptical, I poured over the book immediately after receiving it. My road from inept college student to scratch bread baker has been hard won – I consider myself to be a “foodie” and fairly knowledgeable in the kitchen and at the market. I was convinced that I would learn very little.
It will not surprise you to learn that I was wrong.
Apparently my hard won road has been paved with some pretty basic mistakes. But don’t let me give you the impression that Notes on Cooking is all high-brow finger wagging. Hardly. I was able to put some of the simplest notes to good use right away and with great results. For instance, I didn’t know that reheating at a high temperature would warm my leftovers without cooking them further or that room temperature is not, in fact, the right temperature to serve red wine.
Since the holiday season is upon us (and I’m in full gift-idea-generation mode) I highly recommend this book as a gift for the foodies in your life. My friends and family certainly don’t want for cookbooks, serving ware or kitchen gadgets, but I’m confident that unless they’ve been schooled professionally in culinary arts that they’ll take away plenty of useful lessons from Notes on Cooking.
Disclosure: Notes on Cooking was sent to me by the publisher. I genuinely enjoyed it, see a boat-load of value in the book, and decided to share it with our readers. Cool?