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.
So I have a copy of a rather large cookbook called The Soup Bible, and again I believe it to be an amalgam of other cookbooks that have been gangbanged into existence by smashing multiple cook books into each other, Large Hadron Collider style, and then excising everything not soup. As a result of such thins, we are going to have the occasional error, like a DNA molecule that hangs on and still causes us to have an appendix long after the usefulness has gone. Like an appendix, sometimes the whole thing gets infected, and then swells, and explodes, and kills you. Errors occur, things lurk, horrors exist in racial memory like the understanding of weird gods the world forgot. I don’t blame Consulting Editor Anne Sheasby for the recipe, only for its continued inclusion.
I’ve used The Ultimate Soup Bible before, and have made gazpacho a fair number of times, so I know both of those things are good. It’s this one recipe, actually it’s down to one step. After I had cut the ingredients down to small pieces and deposited them into the container, the crazy bastard who wrote this recipe (credited as A. Alhazred) then required it be dumped into a blender or food processor and then blended until “well combined but still chunky” and at that point it basically became a nameless horror from beyond the void. The colors were off, the texture and flavors were off, it became a bowl of fail. Had I simply stepped away from the precipice, had I only looked into the abyss and not let the abyss look into me, had I but resisted the madness. But no, when they came for the bowl of gazpacho, I said nothing because I was not a bowl of gazpacho. Syd said it tasted fine, and maybe it did, but you can’t prove it by me. She agreed that it was wrong, but she ate it anyway, because she is beyond concepts like good and evil.
I cannot express the level that blending the mixture turned what could have been a good soup into a horror show. Even pop music couldn’t save us. I haven’t done a lot of editing on these photos, the pale looking mess is not a result of bad photography. Do not adjust your set, the soup controls the horizontal, the avocados control the vertical. Yeah. There is also something about avocado salsa, but we’re not even going to talk about THAT walking nightmare. I have not yet mastered the art of picking an avocado, ‘nuff said. So go ahead and skip this one, maybe go for one of the other 399 recipes the book boasts. Of course, at this point, who can tell if one of those others isn’t also an eldrich horror? This, my dears, my darlings, is why faith still exists.
Do not let an error dissuade you from experimentation my friends. A single dark demon from the dungeon dimensions is not the end of the world. Do not despair my lovelies! Let not one set back hold you down. It’s not over! Nothings over until WE say it’s over! Was it over when the marshmallows had been undercooked and I was left with nothing but a mess of green goo that tried to eat a child? NO! Was it over when the two turduckens just wouldn’t cook through? NO! Was it over when… oh hell I don’t even know. There have been a lot of errors in the past. This time though, the error was in following the recipe and not my heart. The idea was to follow the instructions though… and that failed us. Okay, let’s go full Calvinball!
I had to bribe Pitching Wizard into the photo through the use promise of booze.
So this week’s cookbook is “The Best of Waffles & Pancakes” By Jane Stacey. A friend of mine named Suze gave me this book one… Birthday? Christmas? Arbor Day? VEWPRF? Halloween? Some gift giving time. She’s a wonderful person and there was a time when having a personal brand seemed important for reasons that don’t make sense anymore when I try to think of them. There was a time when I would talk about waffles like they were a holy item. There was nothing more spectacular to me than a plate of waffles. But something changed you guys, something died inside me and I try to pretend that it’s just maturity taking root, but the reality is that I would give almost anything to get idiotically excited about a plate of waffles again. Since my ancient branding involved waffles, it was of course natural that someone would get me a cookbook. Well, Suze did.
It’s a pretty good cookbook, and has a fair amount of recipes that you can shift and adapt. It’s just… well… here’s the thing. They aren’t messing around when they tell you this is a best of collection. This is a super slim volume, as you can see in the photos of my two co-hosts. Yes, we have Pitching Wizard, we will always have Pitching Wizard, but there is also a bottle of Zombie Killer from B. Nektar, which I quite enjoy. The point is, that is not a thick volume, it comes in at just under 100 pages. There is a catch all crepe recipe, and a base pancake and waffle recipe that can be adapted for any purpose though. They didn’t waste time, space or paper in the production of this book. Recipes are well laid out, and this one has separate list of ingredients for the relish that goes with the cake. Had I paid a little better attention, I wouldn’t have made my fatal mistake.
I try to make things to the book the first time I make them. If I am trying a recipe out, I will make it exactly to how the writer said, so I can judge if it’s good or not. If you ever want to adapt, that’s fine, but the first time make it to the book. The reason is, if you don’t love it, then you know it’s not because you substituted sour cream for heavy cream and threw the balance of liquids off. Speaking of throwing off the balance and making the dish go wrong… I put balsamic vinegar in the cake, rather than in the relish. I lost focus for that one fateful second. I let my mind wander. I have no excuse and can only throw myself on your tender mercies. I noticed I had made the mistake, so the relish got it’s vinegar, but so did the cake. The result is that my cakes were not a crisp on the outside or as light as they should have been. I am not a down-home cook, I don’t think I ever made a fritter in my life before this experience. However, I have eaten some and “chewy” should not be the adjective that leaps to mind. So I screwed up a little, but that’s on me.
The resulting dish tasted good though. There was a good balance between flavors, and the relish worked quite nicely with the steaks we had along with the cakes. So not a perfect effort, but probably the next time I make these I’ll do better. When will I make them again though? In a year or two? I have a lot of cookbooks to go. That’s sort of going to become a problem . If the family likes something, when will we ever get to eat something twice? I guess I’ll worry about that later, for now the case calls to me and I must go and pick another book. Another recipe must be made and another photo shoot and post written.
Let’s make this simple, I own a lot of cookbooks. Like a lot of people who cook, I would just buy them and put them on my shelf and go on my merry way not noticing that books would rather pile up. Oh, how they pile up, I have given a few away, lost a few, had a few appear without my ever have remember obtaining them, and now have about 55 or so. I say or so, because we are still finding new books. The other day, Syd came to me with a cookbook I had never seen before. Here is a look at most of them, more books have been discovered since this photo was taken. Yes, the damn things have been multiplying since this weekend.
The real tragedy is, many of these books have never rated even a cursory glance from me. That all ends today. Today, we cook! Well, this week we cook. Yesterday. I cooked this yesterday. I’m getting ahead of myself. Years ago, a friend of ours decided they would have to cook at least one dish from each of their books. Today (yesterday) we begin this challenge. We begin with a simple chicken dish taken from the following book. The rules are very simple, I tell you what the book is, how I got it, a brief overview of the recipe and how I found it. Points will be handed out at the whim of the judges. Whoever had the most points at the end will be declared both the winner and the King of Christmas in July. That will either lead to human sacrifice, or me kissing a girl’s hand saying “Fifty Watts per channel, baby cakes.”
Chicken in Herb Crust, from Chicken: Over 400 Fabulous Recipes For All Occasions Edited by Simona Hill. We got this book in about 2006, when Holly was still around and the idea of buying what amounts to a compilation of all the cookbooks Barnes & Noble was publishing made sense for $10. They basically took all the chicken recipes they had, and found the imaginative title of Chicken, because otherwise you might mistake it for a series of lamb dishes. It’s actually a good cook book, and laid out exactly how I like them. A good, representative color photo of the dish, ingredients down one column and relatively easy to follow instructions. I don’t turn my nose up at a book without illustration, but it helps to be able to look at a photo and see how badly you’re screwing up.
This is pretty easy as recipes go. I made it without deviation, hesitation or repetition save for one minor bit and I’ll mention that. You spread some mustard onto some chicken breasts, you press bread crumbs into the mustard (they should be herbed crumbs, but I bought Italian bread crumbs which come pre-herbed, because I only have so much time in my day) and then you drizzle butter over everything to make a nice crust and pop it into a 350 oven for half an hour or so. Or if you’re me, you put it in at 425 for 25 minutes. I find speeding chicken along seems to get me less loss of juice. I say seems, because I have never broken out the Bunsen burners and done a real scientific test.
And you get this…
The chicken was moist and yummy, and the rice was certainly a side dish. That’s a little mess of my own, I cooked some bacon and put it in the rice cooker with the rice. I then put in the remainder of the peppers and tomatoes from Sunday’s omelet. It went with the chicken pretty well, but it wasn’t much of a player on the plate. I won’t say it did nothing, but it… could have done more. If it wasn’t just some thrown together mess, if I’d planned just a little better, it could have been a contender… it could have been somebody.
And so we ate, and everyone agreed it was good. Next week, there will be another book and another recipe, unless I hit one before then. This was going to be a weekend project, when I would have time to cook and photograph. But I was here, the chicken was here, the bread crumbs were here. I figured I could talk my way out of this one. We shall see. And next time, there will be photos with a better camera than my cell phone. But hey, at least The Pitching Wizard approves.