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Sunday, December 4, 2011

If You can't Stand the Heat

I have a massive beef with cookbooks. I've been cooking a lot more over the last couple of months and whilst I am more than competent with the basics, I feel the need to try new things and attempt to improve my craft. I like variety and I don't mind having a go at something a bit different: exotic even. However, I have no natural flair for culinary pursuits. The limit of my gastronomic innovation is the addition of chopped mushrooms to the mince and jar pasta sauce. And so I turn to cookbooks.

There are several problems with many cookbooks: they are written in chefinese, they use ingredients which you can only buy in Bolovian street markets, and the instructions are so vague that the novice may as well be trying to prove Pythagoras' theorem on the back of a beer coaster.

If your kitchen pantry is not stocked as well as the shelves of Woolworths or Coles then it soon will be if you try to follow the recipes found in their respective advertorial cookbooks and brochures. And I haven't mentioned the fact that the portions which you end up with aren't sufficient to feed the family of pet mice in your office, let alone the human stomachs you are trying to fill.

Somebody has probably already written it but I am still waiting for the perfect cookbook. You know the one with chicken instead of spatchcock or quail. Mushrooms don't have to be fresh shittake which you have to travel to Japan to buy. There's no mention of Jerusalem artichokes, tagliatelle, witlof, pancetta or pimento stuffed green olives. Four maryland chickens won't feed a single teenage boy so the fair dinkum cookbook doesn't pretend that the whole family will be satisfied. The cookbook I am looking for tells me whether to use Riesling, Chardonnay, Semillon or Sauvignon. It doesn't just say white wine. It doesn't say season to taste, or cook the meat to your liking. It doesn't say process the flour and polenta briefly. It warns you about soggy bottomed pies, and tells you how to avoid them because even though your children like soggy bottoms, you still feel like you've failed.

The bottom line is that, as a slave to recipes, I am at the mercy of chefs who speak a foreign language, chefinese, and who don't overcook or undercook anything. Cooks who evenly multiply ingredients, cut things up just right, and don't murder roast pumpkin salads with lethal doses of parsley.

My success rate is running at about 50%. Everything is edible but sometimes it's only possible to eat after including a prayer for protection with my prayer of thanks.

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