There are some books in your kitchen that sit there because they were presents, or the cover enticed with possible bites that would fill your life. Maybe you liked the photographs, or you were on a brief kick to eat more healthfully. Any reason could be true. But still, you know the books — the ones you never open. Maybe you made one recipe, once, and you knew you’d never be able to stomach that book again. It still sits there, but you’ll never use it.
The Flavor Bible is not that book.
Since we bought this book, back in October, I’m pretty sure it has been opened every single day. I tried to take a beautiful photograph of it, but there’s no taking away the smudged fingerprints and dented corners. We are often holding this book in our hands.
Years ago, this book would have intimidated me. There are no recipes. Every food is in alphabetical order, rather than being organized by type or style of cuisine. Before I met Danny, I would have looked at this book and put it away.
But he has taught me how to cook from feel, from experience, rather than from recipes alone. (I still use recipes, most of the time, but now they are only starting points, a gun going off toward the sky. I’m not nearly so straight-backed examining them, as I was before.) For that reason, this book is invaluable.
It’s pretty funny, actually, watching Danny try to follow a recipe. A few months ago, when we were finishing up the first draft of our book, I asked him to make dinner with a recipe that looked good, to see how recipes are written, to judge what he wanted. He tried. He did. When I came into the kitchen after putting Little Bean down to sleep, I saw him hunched over the dishwasher, peering at the paper, scratching his head. He turned toward me. “I can’t do it. I can see what she wants. But I want to do it differently.”
He’s the jazz musician. I’m the grammar teacher. I laughed and told him to go on his own.
That’s why this book works for him, and more and more, for me now too.
Say you bought some ramps at the farmers’ market (they’re coming here soon), in your eagerness to celebrate spring. But when you are home, you realize — you have no idea what to do with them. Look up ramps in this book. What you’ll find is a list of other foods that go particularly well with ramps: asparagus, bacon, butter, carrots, chicken, chives, cream, cured meats, etc. Some of the foods are in bold, meaning they go particularly well with ramps: Parmesan cheese, pasta, new potatoes. Hm. What to make?
Well, Danny has taught me to think creatively. It’s April, so we want something light, not like the pot roasts and meatloaf nights of February. What’s for dinner? What about rice pasta with roasted asparagus, sauteed ramps, prosciutto, and Parmesan cheese? Or, grilled halibut with black pepper-ramp puree? Or warm polenta with morel mushrooms and a creamy ramp sauce?
Actually, I’m hungry again. Those are all just ideas from looking at the ramp section of this book.
As well as listing ingredients that blend well with the food you have chosen, the book also offers suggestions of the season each food grows in and techniques that work well with it. Really, there’s no way to go wrong.
If you are, unlike Danny, only able to cook with a recipe in front of you, this book may feel overwhelming. However, spend a little time with it, and you might just put those recipe books away. (Or at least at the other end of the kitchen.)
Would you like a copy of this book? We’d like you to have it. Leave a comment here, telling us about cooking in your kitchen, and how this book might help. By Friday, we’ll pick a winner, randomly. The wonderful authors, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, have agreed to send along a copy to whoever wins.
In addition to the book, we’re having a giveaway on knives. The good folks at Messermeister read this post I wrote on their knives, and they would like to give some to you. In fact, they’re giving away a chef’s knife and kitchen scissors set. Leave a comment about that here as well. We’ll have two winners this week!