Food and Art. Food and Art. I’ve swung dizzily between them for so long that occasionally they’ve intersected. For example, I’ve kept a set of food journals since 1983, from the days when my office shared space with the clothes in my closet, incorporating pretty pages with pretty good recipes.
The thing about cooking is that recipes are ethereal; they practically float away an hour after you’ve cooked something terrific, one little ingredient that made all the difference, or one little step like cooking the onions high before lowering the heat to add the garlic, then adding a splash of sake. So the impetus for my diaries was to capture all that deliciousness before it evaporated.
It started with just recipes; then I added photos and the occasional illustration. These food journals have served me well, and I recommend the practice to anyone who loves to cook. It’s a way to look at your life through the food you’ve served and the friends you’ve served it to.
FILING SYSTEMS: I went from tossed-salad-brain to being so organized it made not one, but two accountants ooh and aah. The filing system I developed for my recipes replaced a kitchen drawer stuffed with clippings from newspapers and magazines, some string, pens, and a few piquant Chinese cookie fortunes. Of course, now we save recipes on the computer. Still, it makes me happy that, even though I have hundreds if not thousands of clipped recipes, I can put my hands on what I’m looking for in five minutes or less.
I bought three Rubbermaid lazy susans, and store my spices on them … alphabetically. That may qualify me as an obsessive-compulsive, but I guarantee you it saves so much time and frustration.
Another thing I did was empty out all my kitchen cabinets. I’m short, so any time I needed to find something, I’d have to drag a step ladder over to dig into the mysteries of my stuffed cabinets. Now I have wire shelving and everything sits out and clearly announces itself.
My favorite taste is salty plus sweet; milk duds and popcorn, Vietnamese eggrolls and Nuoc Cham (fish dipping sauce), stuffed cabbage in a sweet tomato sauce. Good, but not good for you. Maybe we’ll find out one day that smoked foods keep you from getting headaches, and more than 30 minutes of exercise per day lowers your resistance to colds.
My latest favorite cookbook is In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark. It’s from 2010 and I bought it used on Amazon. I want to make most of the recipes in this book. Fabulous! Many years ago I wrote a cookbook proposal based on my food journals, got a big NYC agent and all. But the timing wasn’t right for a complete unknown, as it was the same time as celebrity chefs were being born. I wanted to sell the cookbook along with detailed instructions on organizing your kitchen and keeping a kitchen journal. The chapters had titles like: If Colette Came to Lunch, Thanksgiving in a Mountain Cabin, You’ll Always Be My Baby: Smooth Foods. (Note to self: self-publish cookbook.)
If you’re a great home cook or a professional who’s ready to give up a secret recipe to share with the world, please let me know so I can write a FATKO (From the Kitchen Of:) about you. I’d like to take some photos and share how you have your kitchen set up, who taught you to cook, favorite cookbooks, and how a particularly wonderful recipe evolved.
Below is my go-to Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, along with game-changing secrets I got from the New York Times.
The original recipe is from “Secrets to Great Choc Chip Cookies,” but I’ve made changes. Before baking these, make sure you have plenty of milk on hand. I like my cookies super crisp, so I bake them until they’re really dark tan. If you like soft cookies, just reduce the baking time. Secrets from the New York Times: