I explain why the book is so miraculous in more detail in my Trib piece. You should definitely click on that article to see how the book works, because it will change your life no matter what your level as a cook. And it will give you back your courage, too, especially if you have been discouraged in previous culinary endeavors. (Hmm: I love watercress, I love turmeric: how about watercress-turmeric ice cream?!)
I like to pick up the Flavor Bible (subtitle: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs) often, for inspiration; I also like to read it in bed, which is a bit odd since it has no plot.
Just look up the ingredient you're obsessed with (for me, right now, it's apples), and take it from there. By the way, the croque monsieur sandwich included in the Tribune piece was inspired by Ina (and don't pretend you don't know which "Ina"), and the salad, which is fabulous, is my own invention.
Karen and Andrew are charming and brilliant; with good reason, they are particularly proud of the fact that Grant Achatz, the enigmatic and exquisitely innovative Chicago chef who created the restaurant Alinea (and whom I interviewed in his kitchen a couple of years ago for Men's Vogue), has called the precursor to this book, Page and Dornenburg's Culinary Artistry, "My most used cookbook."
Already, this morning, I've used The Flavor Bible to decide what to do with my slightly raggedy apple surplus. I opened the book to Apple, of course (Season: autumn Taste: sweet, astringent Function: cooling. . . . Techniques: bake, caramelize, deep-fry, etc); checked out the dishes that a few famous chefs mention as favorites (Caramelized Apple Sundae with Butter Pecan Ice Cream, from Emily Luchetti, of Farallon, in San Francisco, for instance); then decided that I'm going use the apples to make a dense buttery cake, or maybe a sour cream cake, with a bit of chopped candied ginger and chopped apricot.
At least, I think I am. I have all the ingredients here (which I'll admit influenced my decision). I may be barking up the wrong tree, but those ingredients are complementary, so I know the flavors will be nice. There is not a single recipe in this book, which is part of its charm--the possibilities seem more endless!--so the vehicle is up to me.
And I love that task. I'm checking all my cookbooks (Sarah Raven's In Season looks especially promising) for something to base my cake on. And I'll let you know how it goes. Cheers.