When I was a little girl, we cooked from two places: the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, and my mom’s recipe box. With five little kids in the family, we weren’t the most sophisticated diners, although we did eat together at the dinner table every single night. We’d help Mom peruse The Cookbook, begging her to try new recipes like One-Pot Spaghetti, Cheesy Potato Bread, and Cowboy Caviar. But usually she’d cook something from her recipe box: German Meatballs, Creamy Broccoli Chicken, Homemade Macaroni and Cheese. My Norwegian grandmother lived in our basement, and occasionally she would whip up an exotic feast to nourish the whole family: Lefse, Potato Balls, Flötegröt. She died nearly 20 years ago, but I still cherish her handwritten recipe cards, tucked away in my own tiny collection of recipes. And on Saturday mornings, it was my dad’s turn to cook. He made truly bizarre Wholewheat Pineapple Pancakes, but I loved them, although my favorite Saturday morning breakfasts were (and still are) Popovers, and Poached Eggs.
As I’ve matured, so has my palate, and throughout this past decade I’ve accrued a small collection of cookbooks to buttress my tastes. When my oldest brother Dan returned home for Thanksgiving after he’d grown up and moved away to Vermont, he brought home The Joy of Cooking and set out to brine a turkey. I made a Cranberry Conserve: “This is a luxurious form of cranberry sauce, with uncommon beauty, texture, and flavor,” writes the authoress, Irma Rombauer. It was a revelation.
Cooking adventures ensued! I lived in Rome one Spring, and became obsessed with The Silver Spoon and Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. That was the Spring I made hand-made ravioli with friends for the first time, and my roommate Alexis showed me how to sear and then slowcook a rump roast with nothing but salt & pepper, oil, and red wine. Continue reading