When I started out as a cook (that is, cooking for myself, rather than cooking to learn, from my mom), I didn’t have much of a repertoire. This should not come as a surprise; I didn’t have much of a repertoire as an eater, let alone as a cook.

So almost every recipe I saw contained exotic ingredients that I’d never tried before, and that I had to buy especially, for a recipe.

The first cookbook I ever bought was Dad’s Own Cookbook:  Everything Your Mother Never Taught You, by Bob Sloan, who as far as I am concerned, wrote the definitive book to give to a college student moving out on her own and having any sort of interest in cooking whatsoever.  It contains recipes for familiar food, made the way it should be made.  Basic food, basic recipes, probably about a million miles beyond the level of cooking most kids have done at home before.

I walked away from that with two recipes:  Chicken Soup and Lasagna.

And a love of garlic.

Fresh garlic.

I had to nerve myself up to buy fresh garlic, that first time.  And sausage that wasn’t breakfast patties.  And fresh mushrooms.  And ricotta.  And spinach.  And when I put the lasagna in the oven I almost passed out from worry that the noodles weren’t going to cook through.

O please o please o please…

But the important thing was the garlic.  The first time I smelled fresh garlic on my fingers, I smiled.  So that’s what vampires are afraid of, I thought.  Fools.  And then I tasted it.  Holy Mother of GOD.  And then I sauted it, and tasted it again.  A whole new food.*

Ever since then, I’ve been trying to invite new ingredients into my palate.  (You have to be able to taste something in order to know how to cook with it.)  Sure, you can cook with the same ten or fifteen or twenty ingredients for the rest of your life, but how will that make you happy?  Trying new ingredients can suck (candied grapefruit peel), but that’s part of the gig:  how to deal with tastes you don’t like.  Finding out what tastes you don’t like – and finding out what tastes you brainwashed yourself into deciding you didn’t like, but that are quite nice, when done well.

Are you afraid of new ingredients?  Me too.

But being afraid?  Meh.  I have the Internet on my side.  Where could I go wrong?

*You know what vampires are afraid of? Pickled garlic. YUCK.