I've been hearing so many good things about Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything books, that I bought both the original and vegetarian versions. I decided to dive into them and re-learn some skills. His casual style makes me feel less like I'm using a text book, and more like I'm getting some pointers from a friend.
I've been creating my own recipes for years, but getting back to the basics has been good for me. I'm reminded that I don't need to over think things, and keeping it simple will usually work out best. If you know me well, you know I have a hard time following recipes. I can't help putting my own twist on something, and asking "what-if" constantly, and changing things as I go. It's the same reason I'm a fashion designer - I'll never be satisfied with anything straight out of the box. And probably, ultimately, never fully satisfied with anything at all! But I see I'm letting you a little too close into my psyche, so I'm gonna back off a little now.
There are so many great ideas in Bittman's books. Everything I would normally Google, I look up in How To Cook Everything, and it's there. Literally, everything. There are so many variations given for each recipe, that as I'm asking "what-if", it's immediately answered post-recipe (for example, if you add fennel, skip the vinegar). The downside is that I'm left feeling like my seemingly original ideas are not so original any more, because Bittman already cooked everything and covered that. I do wish his vegetarian book contained less duplicates from the regular book. But I guess in order to get two books truly encompassing everything on a topic, you're going to have some overlap.
For a while it seemed that I kept going back to the original book. Until I found myself looking to utilize a lonely package of tofu with whatever vegetables I had in the fridge. Tofu is not my star subject. It's just okay. So I looked it up in the HTCE Vegetarian book, and found a recipe for tofu that I happened to have all the important ingredients for.
Braised Tofu with Eggplant and Shiitakes was a hit. Not too saucy, not too dry. I had to skip the chili paste, but that was fine. I didn't have fresh ginger, which was optional anyways. And who keeps grape seed oil on hand? I don't. I used Canola. And everything turned out great! A good solid meal that opened up some fridge space. Thanks again, Mr. Bittman.