On Actually Using My Cookbooks

Kitchen Diary: Emily in Los Angeles

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Although I love cookbooks, it has been years since I've regularly cooked from them. With some exceptions, I generally regard cookbooks (and food blogs, for that matter) as inspiration and reference. I flip through them at my desk, on the couch, or in bed but rarely use them in the kitchen. I probably have the most pristine cookbook collection of anyone I know! Over the past few weeks, however, I have really been diving into some new cookbooks, getting them dirty, and learning a thing or two.

As a longtime cook and recipe developer, I have my own habits, from the way I combine flavors to my go-to cooking techniques. However, during my recent foray into cookbooks I have been following recipes to the letter. Sometimes this feels awkward as I try to decipher what an author means, or irritating if I just want to do it my own way. Yet I'm rediscovering the value of patiently following along. And like trying a new workout, it ultimately feels good for my brain and body. I am pulling out long-forgotten ingredients or tools, doing things in different sequences than I'm used to, trying new flavor combinations. I'm compelled to be mindful of every step.

Whether a cookbook author's methods are better or worse, faster or slower, or simply different from mine, the experience of following recipes is so worthwhile. It doesn't even matter if it's a recipe I adore (za'atar on eggs!) or something I'll never make again. I simply appreciate the opportunity to step into someone else's perspective on food and culture, all from my own kitchen. I feel like I'm becoming a better cook and recipe writer as a result.

I do still hyperventilate a little when I get food splatters on my cookbooks. I'm trying to remember that they are evidence of learning and living, right?

What about you? Do you actually use your cookbooks? Do you mind getting them dirty?

(Image credits: Emily Ho)

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