Over here in Single Housewife land, I’ve been reading my way through The Family Meal, an amazing-looking cookbook that I highly recommend for intermediate cooks of comfortable income.
Nothing makes for pleasant reading quite like a good cookbook, in my mind. You can soak in new techniques, passively contemplate new tastes of new dishes — you can do a lot of reading without actually getting around to any cooking, if you’re not inclined to cook on a given day.
Well, I’ve been reading The Family Meal since December or so, and I finally decided this week that I was going to take the plunge and make one of the dozens of three-course menus in the book. To market I went and bought a couple things I never or rarely had before — leeks and mint, for example.
The menu’s recipes (vichyssoise, oven-roasted lamb, and chocolate truffles) had me a bit outside my comfort zone. My sense of timing was off; since I’d never made these things before, I didn’t know exactly when to start each phase of each dish or whether it would all come together at the right time. The vichyssoise in particular was a source of anxiety. I wasn’t sure the soup would cool in time; I was uncertain about the texture of a cold, potato-centric soup; and who on God’s green earth puts a whole, hard-boiled egg into a bowl of cold soup, anyhow?
Cookbooks can be invitations to adventure, especially if they center around a new ingredient or cuisine to explore — and especially if it contains recipes for dishes you’ve never tasted before.
Making such a recipe for the first time is a bit like playing music by sight; you don’t have any idea what it’s supposed to sound like, but you follow what’s written the best you can. Perhaps it turns out lovely and you play it again and again until you know it by heart. Perhaps it jangles your ears and nerves and you never play it again.
But the exploration and the adventure is critical to being a really good cook, I think. To grow beyond what you’ve been taught, beyond the comfortable experimentation with familiar techniques and ingredients, is the only way to broaden your repertoire and perfect your artistry.
Fortunately for me, the soup-lamb-truffles menu came out perfectly (the set-by-step pictures and menu timeline were a great help). Even better still, I had a fortuitous visitor arrive in the nick of time to help eat and enjoy it all. And I was surprised to discover that the panic-inducing vichyssoise was the most delicious part of the whole thing.
Try, my little housewife friends, to pick up a magazine or cookbook or a blog post this week and plan a meal around something new, unexpected, potentially disastrous, but definitely not boring.
In cooking as in life, growth can be painful and traumatic, but it is the only way to avoid stagnation.