About How I Learned To Cook

Well hello there. I just thought I'd pop by for a sec and see how y'all are doing. More than one of you has asked the question so I thought maybe it's time I drop by to answer that question, and by "that question" I mean, "What the hell happened here?"


To be blunt, I almost died. The day after my last post I was hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism. Several, actually; both of my lungs were completely riddled with clots, and that pretty much changed everything. I was put on medication that severely limited my diet (no alcohol, no greens, no fats, NO ALCOHOL), and as you might guess, a severely limited diet severely limits the recipes one might want to share on one's recipe blog.

Luckily(?) that medication didn't work, and at the end of the summer I almost died AGAIN. And of course I did, because I'm the girl who had chicken pox TWICE as a child. So I switched over to this new experimental drug that has no diet restrictions (YAY ALCOHOL), but as I told Vahid last weekend, that does nothing to alleviate the shitty lighting situation I've got going on in my kitchen. Until I figure out a solution to that problem, all of those half-written recipes I have waiting in the wings will just have to wait some more (wings, incidentally, being one of those waiting recipes).


I thought that while I'm checking in I might as well talk to you about how I learned to cook in the first place, you know, in case that maybe helps you learn how to cook or get more comfortable in the kitchen or whatever it is you hope to accomplish by reading this nonsense. I don't know your life. But I do know mine, and yes, it all started in my mother's kitchen.

As many of you know, my mother is an amazing cook. But she comes from "the old country," and from what I've gathered over the years, people from "the old country" see their children mainly as sources of manual labor. So while I started helping my mother cook at an obscenely early age (I was rolling chả giò before I could talk), I was basically doing all the hard work. Like rolling chả giò. Crushing cornflakes and peanuts. Peeling potatoes. Prepping green beans. You know, all the SEXY GLAMOROUS STUFF.

While I did pick up a few things from my mom, and from all the crazy group meals my friends and I shared in college, it wasn't until I got to law school that I bought my first cookbook. And that cookbook is this cookbook.


I wanted to learn how to cook everything, so I bought a book on how to cook everything. And to this day, it's still the first place I turn to when I want to try something new. The instructions are clear, the recipes are simple, and most of all, they are bare-bones BASIC. In other words, they're the perfect jumping off point for experimentation. My copy of How To Cook Everything is filled with scribbles: ingredients to add, extra steps to up the ante, notes on what worked really well. If you don't have a copy, run out and get one immediately.

When I first moved to DC I didn't have cable, so I ended up watching a whole lot of PBS. (The other day my boyfriend said he'd fight to the death anyone who dared suggest that I wasn't the very first American to watch Downton Abbey. I still watch a lot of PBS apparently.) And while I was watching a lot of PBS, I watched a lot of America's Test Kitchen. Hoo boy, this show. If you want very specific instructions on how to do things, this is the show for you. Their recipes are INSANELY FUSSY; like, they are the polar opposite of Bittman's. But they are really, really great at actually teaching you how to cook. They not only show you how to dice an onion, they explain why it's important that your onion is diced evenly. They get to the science of cooking, and when you understand that, cooking is easy peasy.


It wasn't until I moved in with Mitch and Seth that I got cable, and started watching Good Eats. That thing I said about ATK and the science of cooking? Consider this a graduate course.


So there you have it. I learned how to cook from a book and two television shows. Looking back it turns out this was an incredibly boring story, so if you made it this far, I apologize for putting you to sleep. Maybe I'll bake you a cake or something.


  1. NOT boring! I love this story! I am adding that book to my Amazon wish list!

    One of my resolutions this year is to try a Kat recipe that is a little more complicated then the cornbread casserole and oatmeal cookies, both of which I make many times per year.

  2. I make Kat's recipe of mulled wine every year now. It is a new favorite for all my peeps. 'Hey, can you make that wine stuff!?'

    That first picture makes my heart hurt. I'm glad you are okay now!

  3. I will have to get that How to Cook Everything book if Vahid doesn't already have it. He has so many books, I can't ever remember what they are.

    I'm very glad you did not die. I hope the meds are working so you can make many more recipes for me to drool over on here.

  4. I can't believe you think you could ever be boring. AS IF.

  5. I've never ever been bored by any of your stories. Or your recipes. Or your actual delicious foods. I'm glad you made it through 2013. Here's to a new year of new luck and more alcohol!

  6. Schilbot - Be careful what you ask for; I have some super complicated, three-day long recipes I could inflict upon you ;)

    Ashley - Thank you! That mulled wine recipe IS pretty awesome.

    Sarah - I cannot recommend that book enough. It's my kitchen Bible.

    Jennie - HA! And thank you :)

    H!A! - Good luck and alcohol to you too, friend!

  7. Well, dying twice means living thrice, because living always wins by one. Well, until the end, that is. Then it's a tie. Wow. Good pep talk, Peefer.

    I liked this post. I laughed. Hi kat.

  8. I am relieved you didn't die, as I would miss your words, and your photos, and yes your delicious recipes. So please, no more near brushes with death, even if I am just asking that of you for my own selfish, selfish reasons.

  9. Just ordered that book! Whoo!

  10. Viruses can't destroy anything that's pickled, so START DRINKING. I do science, so you know that's not hyperbole. Probably.

    Also, if I could obtain the correct plumbing and then convince Alton Brown to impregnate a post-operative dude-turned-chick, I'd totally have his babies. I have his books and will someday get all of his DVDs because when you combine cooking and science, then you officially had me at 'hello', so to speak.

  11. Peefer - I liked your comment. I also laughed.

    Vahid - I was mostly cleared to travel yesterday so hopefully we can get drinks soon!

    Jennie - Yay! Let me know how you like it!

    Sir - I know this is probably sacrilege, but I'm finding that Alton Brown has become increasingly insufferable in his old age. Or maybe I'm just getting crankier. Who knows.

  12. Kat, I agree. He's becoming more and more douche-y as the years pass, which is why I try to focus on the past where he's concerned. So, maybe my opportunities for sex change operations leading to baby havin' where he's concerned have past me by. Woe.

  13. Certainly not boring, and I'm so glad you're with us here in 2013. I hope you are as well as possible, and getting better every day. I will have to check out that book, although your copy, with all the notes and things will definitely be better than mine.

    1. Why thank you, and happy new year!

  14. Very pleased you have not passed. I love your choice of books. I've always liked the "Joy of Cooking" as well.
    Best of luck and Cheers.
    Who wants to live without alcohol anyway...

  15. I miss you. I love you! Never leave me!!

    I've never in my life even perused an Alton Brown cookbook, but if it helped you become the cook you are, I'm putting it on my library list for the summer. :)

  16. Holy crap! I'm a terrible blog friend to have just seen that you almost died five years ago! (I'm very glad you didn't die, btw.)
    If you still want to do that cooking blog, I think I can help you with some lighting suggestions.