Cooking The Books

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“…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” 
~ Julia Child

True words Mrs. Child. Wether you have been educated in the finest culinary schools in the world, or just cook daily at home, you must practice in order to be good, and that means you must COOK.  Some people say they “can’t cook” and you may be thinking “that’s me”  or “yeah Aunt Mary can’t boil water…”.  This could be true.   I could cook everyday and go to culinary school and never be an incredible chef like some I know.  I do believe that people are born with a predisposition towards culinary greatness.  It’s the same for anything.  A famous athlete.  A rocket scientist.  A surgeon.   Most people who are truly great at what they do, were blessed with a talent for it.

But no one just walks onto the Olympic field, saunters into NASA or picks up a scalpel saying “hey I was born with a talent let me have at it!”  No.  They practice.  They commit time and energy.  Make sacrifices.  Never stop working or learning so they can take their talent and shine.  The same with incredible chefs.  They may have been born with a gift, but they didn’t just walk into a kitchen one day and create a masterpiece.  They learned by practice, studied in school or out in life through mentorship.  They burned things, left out key ingredients, collapsed soufflés. They practiced to become great.

As I have stated, I am not a professional chef, I just play one in the kitchen.  I love to cook.  I am actually pretty decent at it.  Am I great? Far from it!   Do I have a lot to learn?  Volumes! The question is, how far do I want to go?

I don’t plan on ever becoming a professional chef.  I am not enrolling in a culinary academy.  I know people in that competitive, cut throat, 16 – 18 hour a day world and my personal opinion is that its best to start younger than I am. I don’t have the energy or desire.  I am 40 for goodness sake!  Now….granted Mrs. Child was around my age when she discovered her passion and became one of the great chefs of our age…but she was doing it at a different time. She had an amazing supportive husband, no children running around and she was living in PARIS for goodness sake when she began.  Besides, she was driven and fearless – going out and making a name for herself in a field where women were non-existent and expected to cook at home.  She dominated and planted the seeds which would grow into the food revolution, changing the way Americans cooked and ate forever.

I may sound like I have a little cooking crush on her.  Maybe a little.  She is an inspiration.  Her book is a must have for the shelf of anyone even halfway serious about learning to really cook.  Which brings me to the point of this posts.  Chefs can create dishes right from their heads.  I mean watch Top Chef.  They have to come up with things on the fly, and their culinary knowledge makes that possible.

For the rest of us.  Cookbooks.

1 1/2 years ago we had to move out of the house we were living in rather quickly.  We meaning my Mother (Nonna) and I.  My Grandmother had passed a few months back, and the kitchen just wasn’t the same. In the chaos of packing, purging some of her things and clinging to others….we had some people helping us. One day I came home to find the cookbook collection had been packed away.  I was sad but I didn’t panic.  Half of them were mine, and the other half were Gram’s, which I planned to claim for my own.  Mom and I ended up moving into separate apartments in the same building and massive amounts of furniture and things were put (dumped) by movers into 2 storage units.  Over the year I began sorting through and bringing what I could to my small furnished apartment, slowly rescuing some of my kitchen equipment, some that had been living in storage since my move from California May 2010.  I began the search for my cookbooks.  As time went on I was getting more and more panicked they weren’t there.  We had one unit full of furniture and art, the other full of boxes and “stuff” as we purged over the year and I finally made it through every box…they were nowhere to be found.  I realized that they may have been inadvertently put in the pile of boxes that we gave away.

I was crushed.

Then a few weeks ago – magic!  A friend was helping me move what was left of the furniture down to the other storage unit so we could save money (storage – THAT’s the business to be in!) and ALLLLLLLL the way in the far back corner, underneath our antique dining table that was covered in a packing blanket……

CookBookBox

I was SO HAPPY!  I couldn’t WAIT to get home and open it!  In the box were most of my cookbooks AND some unbelievable finds from Gram’s collection!

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I bought these on a trip to Bali. After 2 amazing weeks of culinary delights I wanted to try my hand at some dishes myself.  You can see the post it notes sticking out of them.  I do this for ones I want to try, and then makes notes on them after I have.

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I was SO happy to see this again! Jersey Sis is a publicist like I am and she worked for the agency that was promoting the Dos Caminos Cookbook so I got one for Christmas that year!  You may have figured out my love for cooking Mexican by my Fish Taco post.  This book has some amazing recipes I can not wait to try.  Can we say Mole Sauce anyone?

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Yup. I did the RAW food thing for about a year when I lived in California.  It’s not easy to do full-time (so I was about 75% Raw)  I felt and looked great for a while.  Then I didn’t.  Note: eating raw fish almost daily increases your mercury levels in a big way and can eventually make you sick.  Yeah I overdid it and Doc ordered me to stop and no more raw fish for a YEAR!  Sad.  It DID start me on juicing though. Food & Wine books were gifts with my subscription.  Sopranos Family Cookbook was a gift as kind of a joke. For years Sunday nights were dinner and the Sopranos at my house.  The binder has hundreds of recipes I clipped out of magazines for many years.

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I even have “food books” that are not cookbooks. I highly recommend than handy little “Salt, Lemons, Vinegar and Baking Soda” book.  Did you know Salt can help you chill a bottle of white wine in half the time or less?  Neither did I. You can bet I am going to use THAT nugget though!

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More books I had been missing.  How to Break an Egg is another book FULL of tips, tricks and techniques. However the real finds were the few that survived from Gram’s collection.

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These are all from the 1960’s.  The Emily Post Cookbook.  The Ladies Home Journal Cookbook.  The New York Times Cookbook – and the all famous Larousse Gastronomique, a first edition of the first English translation printing!  It may be THE encyclopedia for French Cooking but it’s not your typical recipe book.  I think this is more of a reference for chefs who are already masters.  To me it’s about as easy to comprehend as the schematics for a space station, but still very cool. These are more for interest because I seriously doubt I will need to know how to make Aspic.  I mean seriously, what WAS the deal with Aspic in the 1960’s?  Everything under the sun was covered in gelatin and the photos look like a dish you would be served in a horror movie. .  Zia won’t be boiling any bone marrow in the near future I can promise you THAT!

The following are my FAVORITE finds.  These are from the 1930’s and I can only assume they were my grandfathers.

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Being an Exotic Drinking Book or around the world with a jigger, beaker and flask

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Being an Exotic Cookery Book or Around the world with Knife, Fork and Spoon

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The above really takes the cake for me! “The author discovered that gathering material for an exotic book on cookery was pleasant as well as technically informative” Ha ha ha ….oh you think? Classic.

Their were a few volumes missing that I KNOW we had on the shelves while I was growing up, and then I realized that my mother’s cookbooks were not here.  They never were.  They were part of the collateral damage of a divorce and got lost along the way.  So with $30 in Amazon.com gift certificates and the discount for opening an amazon card I purchased the following.

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Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Joy of Cooking are the updated versions of the ones I know we had and were used in my house in the 1970’s.  The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters was something I just wanted to read.

So now I have my cookbook collection back, and will be adding to it as the years pass I am sure.  I know we live in an e-book age and that you can find recipes on Pinterest for virtually anything, but nothing beats a real honest to goodness cookbook in your hands, particularly ones from masters.  So what am I going to do with all of my new cookbooks?

Well I have decided to treat them as Textbooks to self teach.  I know Julie Powell already capitalized on doing it with “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and her Julie/Julia project back in 2002.  Talk about a great idea at the RIGHT time! You go girl.  I am however going to start using these books, some classic, some ethnic and some new to expand my cooking knowledge and experience, while converting as many recipes to Gluten Free as I can.

It will be a challenge and I am sure I will make mistakes, but that is how you learn right?  I will NOT however be giving myself a year deadline.

I may be a bit nutty but I am not full-blown crazy.

Yet.

Nom Nom

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  1. […] received that cookbook many years ago as a christmas gift and I am SO happy I got it back after the “great cookbook disappearance fiasco of 2012-2013″ .  There are a handful of recipes in the book I make time and again, along with many I have not […]