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.
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.
Blorenge, a Mountain in Wales.
Curple, a strap on a saddle that hangs under the horses tail.
Gorenje is a Slovenian fridge manufacturer. (A Slovinian said I can pronounce it like that because I A) am pig ignorant and B) have a great ass)
and Hurple is a sort of limping hop.
So yeah, shit rhymes.
Brothers & Sisters
A Tale of The Weirdo
By Brett N. Lashuay
April 14th, 2003
It looked like an island in the sky, like some perfect version of Laputa. The dark rock, which made the bottom, was smooth to the touch and looked like the sort of stones one used to get in Warner Brothers cartoons. This was a rock that Wiley Coyote would look desolately into as it came ever closer to obliterating his afternoon.
Above the yellowish stone was still the field, and the brook of cool clean water coming from no source and flowing towards no pond. It simply started at one end and ran through to the other end. The grass here was actually green a lush emerald, and it as tall and verdant. There were small white butterflies, which fluttered lazily through the soft air, going about their affairs. One might almost think that this was merely a patch of one reality that had been temporarily displaced into our reality. One might think anything though, so perhaps a more definite statement should come.
The Weirdo and Lucifer walked through it, standing near a tree where the grass grew a little shorter. They looked at a hill, which The Weirdo had made when this place had been built. It had grown up around him, as an idea of perfection.
“You know how wrong it would be to build anything here?” Lucifer asked.
“No.” The Weirdo said. “You have to make something.”
“Yes.” The Weirdo said. “Those fields always seemed to me to be too open to the elements.”