Cookbook Collector: Keys to the Kitchen + Aida Mollenkamp Interview

May 13, 2013

If you are new to the kitchen, Aida Mollenkamp's new book, Keys to the Kitchen, is a how-to reference that will guide you through essential cooking techniques and more.  There are step by step illustrations that not only teach but help you visualize the cooking process.  Over 300 recipes are peppered throughout the book, ranging from the basics like butter lettuce salad with tahini-honey vinaigrette and Pimento Mac n' Cheese to the more advanced such as herbed goat cheese souffle and brown sugar pork chops with mango horseradish sauce.  Keys to the Kitchen is a must-have for new cooks that want to learn and master fundamental cooking techniques.

1. What inspired you to write Keys to the Kitchen?

Keys To The Kitchen came about because, through my work, it became evident that there's a lost generation of cooks -- people who know how to eat gourmet food but who are intimidated by the kitchen. Over and over again, I’d have friends and readers ask me the same general questions — things like how to read labels, which cuts of meat are best for which preparations, and recipes for interesting but accessible recipes. I wrote Keys to the Kitchen to provide those answers but in a way that would put you to sleep with factoids or have recipes that you'd tire of after making them twice. The goal is to help people more accomplished and adventurous cooks, whether it’s their first or the one-thousandth time turning on the stove.

2. What makes Keys to the Kitchen different from other technique focused cookbooks?

While a lot of cookbooks are merely a catalogue of recipes, Keys to the Kitchen is what you'd have if a cooking school kitchen reference combined with a contemporary whole foods-focused cookbook. It’s a modern manual to the kitchen because it teaches you how to shop and give you essential kitchen techniques. However, it's much more than that because culminates with more than 300 original recipes, covering everything from something twists on classics like Tomato-Orange Soup and Hazelnut-Cocoa French Toast Sandwiches to Caramelized Fennel Tarte Tatin and Almond Brioche Sticky Buns.

3. What advice would you give to cooks who want to be more adventurous in the kitchen?

Look at every chance you eat, shop for food, or start cooking as a chance for some adventure. Most of us eat three times a day so you might as well have some fun while you're doing so. The easiest way to get more adventurous is to buy one new item each time you go food shopping -- be it a cheese you've never tried or a cut of meat you've never dared to cook -- and then give it a go. While you may come across a few duds, you're more likely to find a lot of new favorites.

4. What three recipes from Keys to the Kitchen would you recommend to a beginner in the kitchen?

The idea of the recipes in Keys is to take classic recipes and give them contemporary whole foods-based twists. So, I'd a few of those classic recipes that are simple enough to be a success but interesting enough to get them psyched to cook more. That said, I'd say a total newbie should try his hand at the Tomato-Orange Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons, Pasta with Fresh Heirloom Tomato Sauce and Burrata, or the Chocolate Chip-Ground Coffee Bean Cookies.

5. What are some staple foods that are always in your pantry?

Because I recipe test at home, I have a pantry that's bursting at the seams with all sorts of stuff However, I'm always stocked with the following: some local honey; dried fruit like figs, persimmons, or dates; some top quality sea salt; a really good Dijon mustard; some miso; Sriracha and harissa pastes; canned tomatoes; farro and quinoa; dried beans; various pickles, and so many types of preserves it's really quite embarrassing.

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