My kitchen gospel is this: everyone should have one company's-coming dish they can make very, very well, even under trying circumstances. That covers office parties and potlucks. I believe in a very short shelf of cookbooks -- Betty Crocker and the Joy Of Cooking, and that does it for me. Learn to improvise after that. Stay away from fads and, face it, you simply cannot low-fat and low-cholesterol every dish on earth. Eat less. If the entree is upscale, serve a simple dessert; if the entree is pedestrian, serve a supreme dessert.
My favorite things to cook
For myself, I'm a bachelor now, I like casseroles and one-dish meals. With close friends, I like a grilled menu and beer in the back yard. For a dinner party: (1) keep it intimate and manageable (six or eight guests) and (2) don't over reach. That is, no more than one complex dish, the rest should be simpler, but with a nicer than norm presentation.
My favorite family cooking traditions
My dad's mother had great recipes, mostly traditional Southern, some from her White House Cookbook, circa 1920s. My dad was a restauranteur and cooked quite well. My mother, an Iowa girl with a German heritage, was great in the kitchen. Food was always a prime interest, and my parents let us kids start in the kitchen early on.
My cooking triumphs
I love to duplicate a favorite restaurant dish at home. Mostly, it's a matter of educating your palate so you are able to taste every ingredient. Knowing techniques and visualizing the process helps too. My most satisfying success was a sweet Bourbon Sauce from Jungle Jim's in Rockford, Ill. The chef wouldn't share his recipe. Now, that's just stingy.
My cooking tragedies
Oi vey! Such mistakes I've made! However, practice makes perfect, they say, and occasionally there's a happy accident. Meantime, just eat your mistakes. I'll never forget Julia Child dropping a dish on the floor whilst trying to turn it out onto a serving platter. My worst errors (When will I ever learn?) have been attempts at an ambitious new recipe with guests on the way. A tried and true favorite is so much smarter.