So let’s talk about The Great Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells with Anne-Marie Ramo for a moment. Just got this book a couple of weeks ago, there is a new bookstore in town and cookbooks are the only physical books I still buy. I don’t trust my tablet in the kitchen with me, I just don’t. The cover price of the book is $40, but I didn’t pay that. I won’t tell you what I did pay, but suffice to say the cost was dear and some people will never be the same. One day, those poor people may learn to forgive.
It’s rare that you can look at the cover of the book and be able to think “I bet there isn’t a single vegan friendly recipe in there.” And yet, there are a couple of sauce recipes that fit that term, so there you go. As far as a book calling itself The Great anything, I am a believer in the old adage that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Well, the book is over 600 pages long, and has a range of recipes that go from simple little one pot meals to more complex things like home cured bacon and handmade sausage. This may just deserve the “Great” moniker. There are also a good amount of information on how to buy meat, which is something people take for granted. If you’re going to cook seriously at any level, you get to a point where you need to be selective, you need to know what cuts of meat look like, how they react to different cooking methods and so on. Even if you’re cooking vegetarian, one tomato is not as good as another and avocados are leather skinned beasts of mystery. There is more to this than simply grabbing meat and throwing it at the oven. You need to turn the oven on too.
Now, I have made goulash before, because I am a man of the world and have done many things. I won’t go into the many things right now, because there is a question of appropriate time and place. However, you can rest assured that I am a man who knows a hawk from a handsaw. I had not made it quite like this though, and I had not made the error I made this time before. The mistake still haunts me, to this day. One day, I will strip off my clothes and stand naked before The Gods and ask them to forgive this fallen shell of flesh, but it is not this day.
See, there is a thing in some cookbooks call The Optional Ingredient, and I have always said not going for what they put on the page is the act of a coward. I am a brave man, and thus I put the hot Hungarian paprika into the dish. And lo, I was brought low by my hubris and have been humbled. I put the spoonful into my mouth and Toyo-Uke-Bime herself appeared before me and demanded an explanation as to what exactly I had done. Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that much, I mean… it was just a little too spicy. It was otherwise good, just a little too hot. Point is, you can skip the hot paprika and go for the normal stuff.
So let’s talk about those dumplings. There is a great quote about dumplings and I think it would be appropriate to share it here… “Real dumplings, proper dumplings when they are properly cooked to perfection, proper dumplings should not bounce!” — David Lister. I did not make proper dumplings. I had forgotten the face of my father and I overworked my dumpling batter. This time it was Hestia who turned up with a stern “Dude, what the hell?” because… dumplings are also water and flour… and thus bread? I don’t know. Listen, when you talk to them later, you can ask each of these gods why they chose to turn up and berate me for my cooking. So basically, they tasted pretty good, but my dumplings were stones that had super hot spicy stuff poured over them. Needless to say, it was not my finest hour, but I got by and lived to tell the tale.
And of course, if I hadn’t said anything, you would never know. Because it looks fantastic, and that’s all you’ll get on the internet. If you hung out with me, you could eat this sort of thing, but you don’t so you can’t. I am not responsible for your poor life choices.
It was a birthday this week? I made two things and photographed them on the same plate without thinking and went with it? It’s summer and we need a Giant Sized Issue like the old Marvel system? This is one of those things. That’s the introduction, that’s the whole thing, that’s all I got. If only Jack Kirby were here to draw the cover. We could use it, because I forgot to photograph the cover for Cooking School Italian, which is no great loss because it’s just a nice, but somewhat basic, photo of some ingredients. You’d be able to see that if you clicked the link. It’s not a bad cover, it’s actually a very good photo, it’s just not something you’re going to want to frame and point to and tell people that picture changed your life. Or maybe it will, I don’t know what changed your life. I tell you what? Here’s a link to the cover. Did it change your life? Well, did clicking that link waste a lot of your time? So there you go.
Cooking School Italian was actually bought at about the same time, if not the same trip as Cook’s Bible, which goes for fourteen cents on Amazon and has a two star rating. I get it, the book is a little basic for a thing purporting to be a bible. Although a bible (small B) is technically a book that is made up of other books, edited for content. The Soup Bible from a couple of weeks ago is a proper bible, but as it is not religious is probably not a Proper Bible. Unless Soup is something you take so seriously as to be religious about it. Where was I? These are both from a company called Love Food, which is itself an imprint of Paragon Press. I only mention this because it appears these are original books to Paragon, because as we will see in the following weeks and months, several of these books get bought of up and reprinted by numerous companies over time.
I wanted a steak and some potatoes for dinner that day, so I chose the two dishes in the title. I also chose to photograph them very dramatically because it was that time of day and the light was good. Now the steak was steak, and I very much liked the Pizzaiola sauce, but Syd is rarely impressed with tomato sauce. I didn’t blend the tomatoes, preferring the chunkier look we have in the photos. The Stuffed Baked Potatoes are just twice baked with a fancy name. They did call for blue cheese, which I had never tried in a combination like this, but will do again. The recipe asked for either cheddar or blue, but I went half and half, and that worked well. I also put the ham bits on top instead of working them into the potato and that worked less well because they got a little burned. Not so burned so bad we couldn’t eat them, but more than is preferred.
Now I am going to talk a moment about steaks. I like medium well to well done, depending on my mood and the cut of meat, I will even take medium some times, but I rarely like rare. That’s my thing and as I’m the one that has to eat it I would rather cooked to my liking. One too many cheap steaks were served to me at a formative time of my life and chewing disgustingly raw meat like it’s bubble gum will put you off rare for life. True story, I didn’t eat steak for three years because bad cooks and atrocious cuts convinced me I just didn’t like it. This is one of the reasons I generally cook my own food, and why I rarely order steak at a place I’ve never been to before.
I have since learned how to pick a good steak at the store and what cuts are probably going to give the best experience and how to spot a place with good steaks and can sometimes even go for a flat medium. Sadly, it would take longer than I have, and more diagrams and photos than I want to link today to explain the process. One thing I have found over the years is you can make a good steak by rotating more than once. Don’t listen to the one side and then the other guides. Do two minutes a side and then flip, if you want well done, just do it more times. This has always worked for me. Additionally, if you are cooking for people who like well done and people who like rare, put the rare steak on the heat last. That way, everyone’s food will be done at the same time. I know this sounds like really basic stuff, but you’d be amazed the people who have treated this like a bolt of inspiration, so I thought I’d mention it.
There is a book that I inherited when my mother died called The New Complete Book of Cookery, and it comes from a company called Tee Vee Books. Wait… what? TeeVee Books? What the hell is that? Can’t find a hell of a lot on the internet about this. There is literally no author, there is a forward that only mentions The Editor, like they’re The Mysterious Package Company or something. The copyright is to a Paul Hamlyn PTY LTD, which is in Australia and… that’s about all I know. Book was printed in Japan, I’m out of fun facts about this book. Seriously, Unless you want a link to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, I am pulling the ripcord on the factual part of this paragraph and diving into Speculation Bay. The name makes me think this was ordered through a TV commercial. Order now, operators are standing by, but wait, there’s more, sort of thing.
The internet seems to think there was once a slip cover to this book, but that’s gone long ago and all we have is this red leatherette. Something that bugs me about this book… the title on the spine is upside down. LISTEN! When you place a book on a table, with the cover facing up, the title on the spine should be situated so you can read it. Almost all books get this, why can’t The New Complete Book of Cookery? Answer me 46 year old book! This is also one of those books where there are a total of ten glossy pages so there are very few pictures of the food,. There are also very short recipes. That shot? That’s the whole thing. Nothing in life will prepare you for a four sentence recipe. I’ve found more detailed instructions in recipes from the back of soup cans.
So I had these four lamb shanks, and I had NO idea what to do with them. Now some of you, the cynical ones, are thinking I began grabbing books at random and frantically pawed through them. I just want to you know I am deeply disappointed in you and your cynicism is destroying us from within. No, I grabbed this book at random, opened the book at random, and my eyes landed on this recipe. Because when I go to pick something at random, I roll a Natural 20. If you’re nerdy enough to get that joke, you’re too nerdy to give me shit about dropping such a nerdy joke. Choke on it.
So, here’s the thing. I was going to let this sit in the crock pot while I went to work that day, because I multi task, you know? But that did mean I would need to have juniper berries… on hand… or would have to get them at 9:30 at night when I decided to set up my mise en place. Juniper berries are apparently contraband. I went to three different places, but none of them are the damn international shops that closed at 9. However, after the Gazpacho Disaster, I said we’d play Calvinball and so we shall. Gin works in a pinch and you KNOW that I had some of that on hand. Don’t judge me. Also I was cooking in a crock pot so I was already faking my way through.
So I quick seared the meat in the oven in the morning, put it in the pot with all the pre-cut, pre-weighed, pre-selected stuff. And then I left for like 9 hours with driving time included. Now, I don’t know about you, but my crock pot has two settings. They aren’t even low and high, they are just dots on the surface. I went for number two and hoped. The only problem turned out be that the meat slid from the bones like… oh… I am trying to come up with a metaphor that doesn’t ring as just total filth. Point is, there was no shape or form left to these to be plated, so I did what I could with what was left. This is why the plating is so bad. Harsh language would have caused these little guys to fall apart. Then I made some gravy and potatoes and we were all set. You will noticed mashed potatoes and not rice as the recipe says. Screw you The New Complete Book of Cookery, your title is upside down on your spine and I’m playing Calvinball!
Also, I am aware the plating looks ugly because brown meat on a brown plate is less than appealing. I am doing something about the brown plates. You’ll soon see.