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My helpful kitchen stash 

By MIMI BECKER

Community columnist

 I have a small area in my kitchen organized for baking tasks. The flour, sugar, cornmeal and other large-quantity ingredients are located in one cabinet, just above the work surface and the smaller bits, such as spices and infrequently-needed ingredients, are in another. Measuring and mixing equipment is arranged in drawers below. The work space is between the fridge and the stove, making access to all necessities just inches away. A scratch cake can be mixed and baked moving barely a foot. The area still needs some fine tuning, but it works.

While somewhat less well arranged, another area is set up for the preparation of main course items, like a roast or soup.The flavorings, large pans and pots are handy to the stove and the sink. The fridge is just a couple steps away.

Cooking has become more than a way to provide a meal for your family. Never mind that people have done so for millennia, some folks act like they have just discovered the concept. To add inspiration to the mid week meal, a multitude of cooking shows are available to walk the adventuresome cook through the steps.The internet abounds with at least a dozen suggested ways to cook every dish you may find interesting. Famous chefs and others write cookbooks which actually get published.  

I do love cooking shows; the good ones take the time to explain the processes before whipping the finished product out in a blaze of yummy words and expressive bites.

The internet is a handy resource for quick information, such as definitions of terms and explanations of ingredients. Multiple recipes are accompanied by ratings and comments more likely to confuse and overload my choosing. Who cares what Susie from Akron or Sam from Philadelphia did or did not find helpful.   

I own over 80 cookbooks; I still buy them, and people give them to me as gifts. When I travel, I search for a bookstore. My target shelves are those with books by local writers and local, or regional, cooks.  

I read cookbooks. My favorites are those which tell the story of the country, or person, explaining the basis or philosophy behind their cuisine. Some cookbooks are chosen for their particular topic. I have two beautiful and in-depth tomes on everything I ever wanted to know about bread. There are several selections which include the history and development of European cooking, with updated recipes and methods designed by well-respected master chefs.

Admittedly, I do have selections from persons who are not generally considered cooks, people who gained their place in history in settings outside the kitchen. One is by a renowned and beloved poet. At a recent meeting, the program included a selection of her work, which reminded me just why she was so treasured by so many. 

I revisited her cookbook. It reads like a life story. She could, by the end of her life, likely pay someone to cook for her. Yet, to the end, cooking was the expression and commitment to her roots. The recipes are unpretentious, accessible and work in a home kitchen. A kitchen which is just a regular home kitchen with regular equipment and ingredients you can find where you live, or good substitutes.   

I cook from cookbooks. The best ones for daily use are the tried and true. I have had them so long and used them so often, the pages are stained and torn, maybe even stuck together from the last session on the cooking counter. Some of the section tabs are broken off. 

My top two go-to books have been printed for years. Periodically, I think I should get new copies. Truly, some might consider my long-used copies to be health hazards. But, when I search for replacements, the new versions don’t always include some aspects I have come to count on. 

 I do have some cookbooks which I keep for just one recipe. Many years ago, a good friend gave me a copy of a compilation of common recipes from European countries. The focus was “country-style” cooking and the recipes had been translated for general, modern use. I have often referred to the source to check the authenticity of an interesting dish. However, I absolutely always use its recipe for carrot cake. It is virtually a one-bowl, fool proof method creating indestructible batter to turn out the most delicious cake, bread, muffin — whatever you want — carrot delight. It is not healthy. Country cooks didn’t concern themselves with such, as they cooked from the farm and then worked it off on the farm. 

Life is hectic, perhaps more so in retirement as there are opportunities and interests which were not a priority when the schedule was centered around the lives of multiple little individuals.  There are stretches of days when I barely turn on the oven, at least not for something thoughtfully prepared. But, then there comes the event which presents itself with inspiration, time and reason to return to the bookshelf. I can satisfy just about any food craving from my stash with tried and true results.