When we first started putting the "fine" in our cooking, we relied on a few classic cookbooks.
We started off with the Irma Rombauer Joy of Cooking that Tim's mother gave him, and the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook that Ruth's college roommate gave her as a graduation present. Eventually, we added The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne and The Master Cooking Course by Claiborne and Pierre Franey.
But the most intimidating volume was our 1961 edition of the first volume of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Whenever we wanted to make a special meal, we pulled out our copy of Julia or Craig & Pierre and threw a dart at something that sounded delicious.
When Tim's dessert-loving mother came to visit in the early 1980s, Tim made Julia's chocolate mousse ( p. 604). The recipe was a bit fussy, but the mousse tasted terrific—especially the crunchy bits of ground coffee, which added complexity and texture.
Only when we made the mousse a second time some months later did Tim realize that the recipe's "4T of strong coffee" called for brewed coffee rather than ground coffee. It was a novice mistake, made in the stress of preparing a grand meal in a small Washington apartment.
But it worked. To this day, we like the contrast of the tiny granules of coffee beans and the soft mousse, and the strong flavor they provide. Not all of our mistakes have ended so happily—sometime we'll share the story of Ruth's tofu apricot mousse—but this one was a keeper.