my mother let me use her kitchen!

ok, ever since i’ve decided to learn how to cook, my M.O. when i go visit my parents in new jersey has been to think of ways to use my parents’ kitchen, which is infinitely superior to mine. to begin with, their oven works. so does the stove. there are acres of counter space, and a large sink, loads of random cooking utensils, pots, pans and even baking surprises, like muffin pans or biscuit cutters or ramekins or creme brulee dishes. my mom inevitably gives into my plea and says yes, i can cook.

but for me, like for sam seaborn, it’s sort of an honorary thing. mom likes to cook almost as much as i do and she’s got that sort of innate cooking sense that 50s housewives used to have, so any recipes i bring home are usually discarded by the time we hit the supermarket. i tend to take shameless advantage of having someone around to demonstrate a technique or an idea, and if my mom isn’t as good as my uncle mikey, she’s still no slouch when it comes to a meal.

i expected this weekend to be no different than any other. my major goal was to commandeer enough counter space to work on my entry for SHF#29. anything else, i decided, would be a bonus. but much to my surprise, mom let me take the lead. we chose a menu out of the new spanish table: lamb shanks with garlic and wine, starting off with a chorizo tortilla and three-meat albondigas (spanish meatballs). i did the mise en place, i made the meatballs. mom carmelized some onions for the lamb while i preheated the oven and simmered some sauce (again for the meatballs). we teamed up in bafflement as we tried to understand the braising technique for the lamb--the lamb needed to be cooked, uncovered, for almost two hours and that was before the braising liquid even got added! but the lamb, the garlic, the onion and the pimenton she added (i wish i had thought of that last one myself) all melted together into a perfect early-spring stew.

and this book, oh. my. goodness. i picked it up used for $2. i’d been reading about it in various places across the blogs and joe, the new washington post food editor, raved about it for his new year’s eve menu. when i saw it listed so cheaply i took it as a sign--but accidentally sent it to new jersey instead of to d.c. i practically had to pry it out of mom’s hands, she loved it so much, and it only took me a few minutes of flipping pages to understand why. the variety of recipes is astounding, and most of them are relatively easy to make. there are all kinds of ingredients used, and a lot of the recipes would seriously benefit from my proximity to the farmers market come warmer weather. i’m already drooling over the basque cherry cream pie, for instance, and several of the salads.

but above all, i’m smitten with the variety of foods presented in the book. it’ll keep me cooking all spring, all summer, all fall and all winter with no complaints whatsoever. it’ll also make it much harder to get through my cooking “wish” list, since i’ll have to add practically every recipe in there to it!

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