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.
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.