With the latest cooking project around Maria’s household . . . The girl, thirteen, has expressed a desire to learn to cook. She can actually already turn out a classic vinaigrette, microwave a quesadilla, scramble an egg and produce a tomato salad with basil picked from the garden (and she knows how to identify the basil plant) which is probably a better arsenal than that with which many college students are armed. And she has started to learn her way around a knife and has naturally good hands with dough, perhaps because of several years of “Clay on the Wheel” at the Ann Arbor Art Factory. She has to be coached through the lighting of the gas burners, though, and has dropped a pan on the floor on occasion because the use of potholders does not occur to her and handles do, well, get hot. And we have been sadly deficient in some of the basics. She does not, for example, know how to cook up a pot of pasta, although, oddly she could probably get pretty far in making fresh pasta, having helped her father do so several times.
I’m of course naturally inclined to encourage this interest (the boy — four, next week! — knows he can con me out of almost anything by telling me he wants to be “a cooker” when he grows up). And having read Michael Pollan’s NY Times magazine article last week about the demise of home cooking (with which I’m not sure I entirely agree — see Michael Ruhlman for some kitchen-counter-thinking), I’m more determined than ever to get my kids into the kitchen. So, to the point, I want to get Naomi a good first cookbook and am struggling a bit with the choice. There are some nice looking teen starter cookbooks, a wealth of college survival cookbooks (and I remember my nineteen year old self poring over one such book in my first apartment — that and Laurel’s Kitchen ), and then there are the classics: The Joy of Cooking, The New York Times Cookbook, and, of course, the currently trendy Mastering The Art of French Cooking (which I myself have never cracked). I’m torn between the quick start that might be offered by inspirational glossy photos and simplified preparations and the last-a-lifetime value and basic education offered by the sturdy handbooks. My early 1970’s Joy of Cooking is in three pieces now and sits next to my husband’s inherited 1961 Craig Clairborne’s NYT Cookbook annotated by his mother with helpful comments such as “ugh — do not make again.” Both books gets pulled out at least once every couple of weeks.
So I ask you, what books got you going as a cook? If you were thirteen and starting to plan a dinner for and with a friend, what would be your menu planning resource? I want something that will both inspire and last. Thanks in advance for any suggestions. I hope the interest holds in the fickle adolescent mind, and we’ll have some early cooking adventures to report soon.