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.
Even in this modern world of non-stick everything (hell, I have non-stick pants, which is a story for another time), it is often helpful to have some sort of oil in a sprayable form to keep everything slipping and sliding in all the right ways. Yeah, I’m essentially talking about food lube, but let’s keep our eyes on the ball.
I am a former Pam devotee. It’s readily available at any grocery store, it’s inexpensive, and it requires exactly zero futzing in order to make it work. Pam is fine for many things, and if that’s what you happen to have on hand, it will totally suffice for much of your lubing needs when it comes to my recipes.
The problem with Pam and its ilk is a function of the delivery method. In order to make that nifty aerosol action work properly, the cooking oil we want is accompanied by propellants we don’t. Please understand, this is not a fussy I Don’t Eat That stance; my objection to propellants is purely from an equipment maintenance position. The propellants in cooking sprays aren’t separable from the spray output. While this does nothing to the taste and texture of your food, they get all the hell over whatever cookware you are trying to lubricate. Do you have a cookie sheet that has become increasingly coated with golden brown crud? Do your silicone baking pieces have inexplicable sticky, gunky bits all over the edges? That’s baked propellant, amigo, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That shit just loves to land on your bakeware and singe itself into molten, messy poop, and any amount of scrubbing that would remove it will also remove half of the host. Propellant crud is, for practical purposes, forever.
So what to do? I use a Misto*. Actually, I use two. It charms me to no end that John and I both came to this marriage with a Misto in hand. We use one for olive oil and one for vegetable oil. I believe they come with labels upon purchase, but those are long gone, so I tell them apart by smell; John tells them apart by lucky guessing, as his sense of smell is, um, retarded.
One benefit of Pam and the like is the absolutely even, whisper light spray of oil that it reliably delivers. Conversely, while you can learn to control the output of the Misto to be as light or heavy as you like, the uninitiated can also end up with a sloppy squirt of oil where you intended a light mist. I can live with the tradeoff, but I am also fastidious about my silicone bakeware and love olive oil, so the occasional unintended heavy squirt doesn’t bother me.
And I must now go quietly die in a corner, as the temptation to run amok with all the squirty imagery in this post is just about killing me.
*I swear up and down, six ways to Tuesday that this product used to be called Mr. Misto. However, upon a foiled attempt to find anything productive or useful when Googling “Mr. Misto”, I discovered that the official product’s name is, in fact, Misto. But the website also includes the prominent tagline “DISCOVER THE MAGIC!” so I think anything is possible here.