Entries tagged with “Hows and Whys”.


Last month, Michael Ruhlman challenged food bloggers to join him in thinking about why we cook. His post has received over 200 comments and has inspired many blog posts in response. Here is mine.

Why I Cook

I cook because I love to eat. At the heart of all my reasons, my cooking is primarily an extension of my deep love of food. Eating involves my senses - the sight of the food, its aroma, its heft in my hand and texture in my mouth, the sounds it made as it was prepared - all of this before it even reaches the deep ocean of the experience of taste. Cooking literally feeds my joyful affection for food.


I cook because I like to work with my hands. I relish relating to the world kinesthetically; when I cook, I manipulate ingredients with my hands until they become something else, something wonderful. Everything I create a work is cerebral, words on a page.  Cooking lets me make something I can touch and feel and experience more fully.

I cook because I need a creative outlet. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t created things. Drawing, painting, dancing, sewing, knitting, acting, writing, building, quilting, beading, sculpting…it has always been something. As I have noted here many times, I often work long hours. This leaves me with little time for hobbies, especially during the week. Since we have to eat, I have always felt like cooking dinner each night kills two birds with one stone. I get to spend time doing something I love, and it happens to fill our bellies at the end. Win-win.


I cook because there are endless lessons to learn and skills to master. In some ways, the world of cooking presents an impossibly steep mountain that reaches into the heavens. But I set out for a climb anyway, knowing I won’t ever reach the summit. I teach myself new techniques and concepts along the way, and every success pays dividends.

I cook as a way to relate to people. Food is a way to show love, affection, friendship, kindness. I feel like I can express my support for those close to me so much more eloquently through a well-timed chocolate babka than I can with words. When I cook for others, the food speaks for me. It tells them that they are worth my time, worth the effort.


I cook because it fascinates me. Cooking is the perfect storm of science, art, and magic. There is so much to know about the physical and chemical properties of my ingredients; the more I learn, the more enthralled I become. This was what first attracted me to baking (well, that and the wonder of frosting). Combine a whole lot of nothing - flour, water, yeast, salt - and end up with a crusty loaf of bread, one very special something. Add the hearty beauty of roasted garlic and fresh herbs, and that simple bread becomes something unforgettable, craveable. Cube it, toss with tomatoes and cheese, douse with oil and vinegar and a beautiful panzanella jumps out. There are endless combinations and variations on limitless themes, each more delicious than the last. When I step into my kitchen and begin to cook, I feel as though I’m trying to throw my arms around a glorious expanse of wonder and discovery. With each new dish, my enthusiasm grows. I use cooking to feed both my belly and my soul.

What about you? Why do you cook?

(Keep reading Salty Spoon Challenge, Month 2…)

Is there anything more effervescently exciting to send out into the world than an invitation? Regardless of the event, I find a certain kind of lime green, spine-buzzing energy every time I nudge one out for consideration.  By saying to your recipients here, come share this with me, you open a piece of yourself to them and wordlessly communicate your (hopefully) very best intentions.  It’s a magical practice and I hope I never tire of it.

So I am very, very excited to invite you today to join me for the coming year in the Salty Spoon Challenge.  Each month, I will pose a new kitchen challenge that is designed to help you adopt the basic habit of cooking for yourself.  We will start small and build from there.  The challenges will be cumulative; part of each month’s new challenge will be to maintain the goals of the preceding challenges, unless otherwise indicated.  We’ll do this for a year.  You can join any time.  You can quit any time.  All you have to do is try.  The challenges are open to anyone and everyone, regardless of experience.  The point here is not to follow a specific learn-to-cook curriculum, but rather to increase your skills and comfort in the kitchen by challenging yourself with one new parameter a month.  As we work through the challenges, we’ll think critically about how and what we feed ourselves.  At the end of a year, we’ll have made incremental but meaningful changes to our approach to our food.

The challenges will begin on (or around) the first day of each month.  There will be a post on the Salty Spoon home page announcing the challenge, and the Salty Spoon Challenge page (links at the top right) will list links to past challenges.  We can discuss ideas, tips, progress, and frustrations in the challenge post for the current month - comments will always stay open.

There are hundreds (thousands?) of food blogs in this vast internet of ours. I am proud to be a part of such a vibrant, expansive community.  In a bout of January reflection, I gave extensive and serious consideration to what exactly I want to bring to this landscape.  I thought about why I started The Salty Spoon in the first place: to help inspire other busy people to get in their kitchens and start cooking.  I thought about how I felt about cooking when I was living in my first apartment after college.  The thought of preparing the majority of my meals for myself was overwhelming.  I liked to bake, but that was about it.  My arrival at my present state of cooking most of my food at home came gradually, over a period of several years.


Looking back, I wish I had taken a more purposeful approach from the beginning.  And that’s what I’ve decided to offer you through the Salty Spoon Challenge - a purposeful approach to adopting the habit of cooking for yourself.  Stick with it, and in a year you will find yourself in your kitchen more often, preparing better food, and enjoying it.  We’ll get there, I promise.

Let’s start with a few guidelines.  First, stay positive.  Cooking is about learning, thinking, experimenting, and indulging.  I do not accept the statement “I can’t cook.”  If you can read and follow directions with a basic helping of common sense, you can cook.  This isn’t about turning out Michelin-worthy covers for 200 dinner guests; it’s about feeding yourself good food at home.

Second, be open to new ideas.  We’re going to share our experiences with each other here, and we have a lot to learn from each other - myself included.  One of the things I love most about cooking is its essential, communal aspect.  Let’s help each other grow as cooks.

Finally, have fun with it.  Push yourself, but don’t get bogged down in the details.  There is no shame in simple food as long as it’s good food.  Make what you love to eat.  If you aren’t an experienced home cook, or you’ve found yourself in a cooking rut that has left you bored and uninspired, get ready to surprise and delight yourself.  There is an indescribable satisfaction in the ability to think of something you really want to eat, turn to your kitchen, and make it.  Explore, stretch, enjoy.

Are you ready?  Let’s cook something.
Keep reading Salty Spoon Challenge, Month 1…)

Spend the better part of 27 years following an academic calendar and you’ll suffer a few years of being taken unaware by the holidays.  That’s my excuse, anyway.  It has been over two years since I graduated from law school, and I’m still a bit lost when it comes to taking note of the advent of Advent.  Throw in the fact that I live in a land of two seasons (very nice and nice) and I’m perpetually surprised by the emails and phone calls from my family asking what I want for birthday/Chanukah/Christmas.  Even though I loudly lamented the lack of time to shop, the end of fall semester was an easy way to mark the coming holidays.  If you are one of those lucky folks with an internal calendar, I suspect you already have your shopping done and can totally disregard the rest of this post.


For those of you who suffer like me, here are a few gift ideas to round out your holiday shopping.  Scrambling for night 8? Nothing says “I did NOT forget!” like presenting someone with an envelope containing a screen shot of the things you ordered.   Looking more along the lines of kitchen equipment and gadgetry? See my Kitchen Equipment page for ideas.  Full disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates program, and receive a small percentage of the purchase price for Amazon purchases made through this site.  Wondering what the picture of creme-filled vols-au-vent has to do with gifts? Nothing. I just didn’t want it to go to waste. Now, on to the gifts!

Ratio - for everyone with an iPhone and a kitchen

As I have previously mentioned, Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio is an essential addition to any home cook’s library. By breaking recipes into 32 fundamental ratios, Ruhlman arms you with the tools to go beyond recipes and launch into your own universe of tinkering and experimenting with your cooking.  As if the book were not enough, he has recently released an iPhone app by the same name that includes the 32 critical ratios, each complemented by a calculator that adjusts the ratio according to your inputs. It has a save feature, and allows you to add notes to your recipes for later recall.  Out of all the recent attempts to marry classic concepts with new technology, this might be the very best union yet.  At $4.99, it’s also a fantastic buy.  I’ve included a link below for the book; consider giving them as a pair.

Zingerman’s - for everyone with a mouth

This isn’t so much a specific gift recommendation as it is an introduction to my very favorite gift source. For the uninitiated, Zingerman’s is a magical deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan that boasts a robust mail order business.  If you find yourself in Ann Arbor, do not leave until you have stopped by the deli on Kingston.  If you have more time and feel like serious restaurant indulgence, the Zingerman’s Roadhouse takes comfort food to another level.  Let me put it this way: the Roadhouse introduced me to the donut sundae concept, and I have never looked back.

Gift-wise, zingermans.com is the end-all, be-all resource for the foodies on your list, or anyone who falls into that difficult has-everything-they-need category.  They carry everything from cheeses to baked goods to cured meats to rare and wonderful vinegars.  The customer service folks are kind and knowledgeable - if you find yourself unable to make a decision, give them a call and they’ll be glad to help.  Here are a few of my favorites, but this is just the tip of the tasty Zingerman’s iceberg.

Gingerbread Coffeecake
Cookie Sampler
Peppered Bacon Farm Bread
Chocolate Sourdough Bread
10-year Aged Balsamic

Agrodolce White Balsamic Vinegar
French Roast Coffee
Scones and Tea for Two
Arkansas Peppered Bacon

Ice Milk Aprons - for the woman who loves simple, classic things

In a world of disposable everything, it is refreshing to find people who design products with future generations in mind.  The lovely folks at Ice Milk Aprons are enchantingly enamored with the concept of heirlooms and have fashioned their beautiful aprons as such.  Available in full or half lengths (mine is pictured below), these gorgeous aprons are meant to be loved in your kitchen, then passed along for new lives in generations to come.  Each apron comes in an heirloom kit, complete with a tag to hold its owners’ embroidered initials and recipe cards for your most treasured creations (which come in handy even if you, ahem, happen to store your recipes in a decidedly unromantic, electronic form, like someone I know).  One of these days, I’ll post a picture of myself actually wearing my beautiful apron.  Such an occurrence will require a combination of foresight and daylight that has yet to manifest in the Salty Spoon kitchen.  In the meantime, enjoy the way it looks on a vintage Madame Bust:

Photo courtesy of Ice Milk Aprons

Photo courtesy of Ice Milk Aprons

OXO Mini Measuring Cup - for the usefulness quota inherent in every stocking

Some of the most profound workhorses in my kitchen happen to be the smallest.  This 4 tablespoon liquid measuring cup by OXO is one of those little workers - I use it almost every time I cook, especially when I halve or quarter a recipe and need an eighth of a cup of liquid.  Yes, you can always remind yourself that 4 tablespoons equals a quarter cup, but it’s nice to have the same measurement spelled out in several, easy-to-read units.  This isn’t one of those gifts that will knock the recipient’s socks off right away; soon, though, they’ll find themselves stunned and barefoot.



If I were to write out a list of every good cookbook with which I’m acquainted, the post would be unmanageable. Instead, here are a few favorites and a few recent finds that I think are particularly delightful.

Sunday Suppers at Lucques - for anyone seeking a bit of simple elegance

The Craft of Baking - for your favorite baker

The Grand Central Baking Book - for your other favorite baker


craft-baking grand-central

Betty Crocker: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today - for the novice who doesn’t know where to begin

The Flavor Bible - for anyone looking to learn more about flavor profiles

Ratio - for the anyone looking to reach beyond mere recipes




This Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the publication of  The Flavor Bible, a book that should hold a prominent place in any curious cook’s library.  I’ve previously mentioned it here and here.

Recipes are lovely, and I can’t possible buy or read enough traditional cookbooks in this lifetime.  But there is another side to cooking that I think is just as important for cooks, especially home cooks, to explore.  It’s the improvisational side.  The process that starts with a blank slate of a clean kitchen and comes to life with one or two ingredients - something that looked particularly good at the store that week, a memory of a favorite dish, a scene from a movie, a song, a mood.


To make something edible out of this process, it’s important to have a basic grasp of cooking fundamentals - how to saute, how to poach, how to steam, how to broil, etc.  But it’s also critically important to have a way to get your hungry head around the flavors before you begin, lest you waste perfectly good chocolate chip cookies by sullying them with mint (hypothetically, of course).   Authors Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg help guide this process by providing (though what can only have been a Herculean effort) an index of ingredients and the flavors that best compliment them.  Need a hand figuring out what to do with the basket of figs that called out to you at the farmers’ market?  Turn to page 162 and see the 70+ flavors that will best compliment them (personal favorite: goat cheese).

My own improvisational process has benefited greatly from The Flavor Bible, and I’m happy to help Page and Dornenburg celebrate the anniversary of this wonderful text.

As you may have noticed in the Artisan Bread recipe, I occasionally specify using Kosher salt.  I will be the first to admit that I regularly ignore some of the specifics when it comes to particular ingredients listed in a recipe.  Unless there’s a really compelling reason, I generally don’t pay attention when a recipe wants me to use, say, a specific brand (this is somewhat likely to be the result of sponsorship, rather than an indicator of particular suitability).  It’s not that I don’t like to be told what to do (apologies if you are in a room with anyone who has ever met me and their shrieks of laughter are making it hard to concentrate on reading), but I usually try to make reasonable substitutions to avoid buying near-duplicates of things I already have in the pantry.

However, there are times when the specified ingredient is so specified for a reason.  When you are asked to use Kosher salt, do.  As you can see below, left, table salt is made up of very fine grains.  Kosher salt, on the right, is made up of much larger flakes.  As a result, a teaspoon of table salt is a lot more salt than a teaspoon of Kosher salt.  If you are out of Kosher salt and a recipe is calling for it, you can use table salt so long as you reduce the quantity by about a third.


Sodium chloride is sodium chloride.  Many, though not all, of the differences people perceive between various sorts of salt (sea, table, Kosher, etc.) are more about texture than taste.  And some salt textures are more suited to performing different tasks – the weighty nubbins of fleur de sel are a better garnish when  you want the salt to hold its shape, for example.  The good news is that salt is generally pretty inexpensive, so you can try several different kinds and go nuts.

For the curious, the salt in the salt cellar pictured in the masthead is sea salt.  The salt cellar itself is part of the Match pewter collection.  Its tiny spoon is pretty much the cutest thing you’ve ever seen, hence the site name.