Anyone who follows me on Twitter or FaceBook may know by now that I love to cook. I’m not very artistic. But, cooking for me has become an outlet for creativity (as well as for spending time with my 5 year old who loves to help me knead dough). This is a somewhat new development as I have tended to follow recipes in the past. But, two books are helping me to move beyond that – Ratio: the Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking and The Flavor Bible.
Ratio is helping me to learn some very basic aspects of cooking. I’ve been learning to make homemade bread (5 parts flour; 3 parts water [plus yeast and salt]) and homemade pasta (3 parts flour; 2 parts egg) without looking in a book. To cover my pasta I’ve learned ratios for making sauces (1 tbsp starch thickens 1 cup of liquid) without looking at a recipe. Last week I made a homemade batch of pasta dough (which is a dream to knead – kind of like squeezing a stress ball) stuffed it with havarti and made a simple sauce with cream and bacon. Went a little overboard with the cream, but still a very tasty meal that was enjoyable to make with my little girl helping me. When you eat homemade pasta, it makes you think “Wow this is the texture pasta is supposed to have.”
In addition, now that I am learning some of the basics, The Flavor Bible is helping me to build on that to become even more creative. This book basically lists out every type of food, seasoning, cuisine … that you can think of and tells you which flavors have an affinity for one another. It is difficult to explain just how fantastic the book really is. I cannot imagine the amount of work that must have gone into it. But, the other night I was just messing around and saw that almonds have an affinity for honey, vanilla, and lemon. So, here’s what I did with what I had on hand. I started with some vanilla ice cream. I toasted some almonds and threw a few of them on the ice cream. Then I took about a half a cup of honey added a teaspoon of almond extract and a dash of lemon juice. I drizzled a little bit of that over the ice cream and almonds. Then I grated just a tiny bit of lemon zest … The only part of this that was a mistake was the lemon juice. Next time I’m sticking with just lemon zest. And, instead of almond extract I think I’m just going to drizzle with honey and shave a little almond paste over it along with the lemon zest. But, I digress.
At any rate, despite what I think I could have done better, I would have thought that my daughter, who normally does not want anything touching her vanilla ice cream, was going to die. It was very, very good, much better in my opinion than just squeezing or spooning store bought syrup over the ice cream. On top of that it was fun trying to create something that would taste outstanding and to think about what I’m going to do to it next time to make it taste even better.
Of course, I don’t think I’ll completely abandon using recipes. But, in the future I think I will be able to use a recipe and see a way of improving it. Or, taste a dish and try to think about what it might need to make it taste better.
If cooking interests you too, I would highly recommend that you check out these books: