Friday, September 01, 2006

The Joy of Cooking (Not.)

(Yeah, I'm back. Where I've been will have to wait for another day, because I actually have a topic in mind....)

So I have an unfortunate addiction to cookbooks. Which is sad, because I hate to cook, and they inevitably just end up sitting on my shelf representing the needlessly chopped up trees of the world, while I resort to butchering my mother's spaghetti sauce recipe or overcooking some chicken.

The reason I hate cooking is that I'm terrible at it, and no amount of will or effort mitigates that. I can't taste something and recreate it just by using the Force. I can't embellish a recipe by adding a dash of this and a pinch of that, without making everything taste like a mixture of sawdust and too much salt and look like the brown and red sprinkles my elementary school janitors used to clean up the mess when a student vomited. I can't listen to a list of ingredients and intuitively combine them in ingenioiusly tasty ways (see vomit sprinkles comment above).

Actually, I can barely follow a recipe that spells every step out for me, and when I do, I have about a 50-50 chance of over- or undercooking said recipe, even with an idiot-proof listing of cooking times. All I can say is, God bless the Schwan's man and his dinners in a box.

Despite my complete and utter failures as a cook, every time I see a really nice cookbook--one with yummy recipe titles, beautiful pictures, and pretty, pretty fonts--I'm always, and I mean always, taken in by the promise between those covers. Maybe this is the one that will finally make me love cooking. (I had a roommate once claim cooking was "relaxing." Yeah, about as relaxing as downing a vat of Jolt cola and jumping into the tarantula tank on Fear Factor. )

(OK, maybe not that bad, but still....)

Maybe this is the one that will help me inject some variety and, oh, flavor (other than too much salt) into my dishes. Maybe this is the one that will be completely and totally idiotproof, so I can't screw things up.

Unfortunately, after many years of assembling what is now an entire pantry shelf full of cookbooks, I haven't found The One. But I still hold onto the dream.

This time, I bought Gordon Ramsey Makes it Easy. Did I mention that I'm about 87.5% more likely to be suckered into buying a cookbook if it contains the phrase "makes it easy" or "made simple" or "fast and delicious" in the title? Cooking for Kitchen Idiots? That's me! Bring it on! Anyway, you may know good old Gordo as the f-bomb dropping Scot from the hit summer reality show, Hell's Kitchen, where he's head chef over a bunch of dubiously talented wannabes competing for their own restaurant. It's a fun show, and I have to admit, despite his abusive behavior toward the contestants, I've been rather taken in by both Ramsey's passion for cooking and his tacit promise that even the most slackjawed yokel can make amazing food,if they just follow his directions. If Ramsey could help sweaty, puffy Tom the unemployed misogynist from Brooklyn churn out a tasty fish entree, why couldn't this book help me? I'm not sweaty, and I'm fairly intelligent (and not misogynist), so it could happen, right?

So here's the cookbook. On my kitchen counter. Mocking me. I spent money on it, so now I guess I need to try a recipe. But unless it's a dessert (which, for some unfathomable reason, I always get right), I'm doomed to rubberize it, turn it into charcoal, or accidentally drown it in salt. Or, I'll just crunk everything up altogether by forgetting to buy fresh rosemary and trying to avoid another trip to the hated grocery store by substituting a bottle of dried rosemary and some green onions. See? I suck.

Even though I know I'm doomed to failure, there's a part of me right now that's still made happy by this cookbook. I haven't crunked up anything yet, so deep inside, I can still believe that Ramsey is going to turn me into a cooking genius. I love the idea of making Maggie his spiced breakfast bread, or the fresh macaroni and cheese with crimini mushrooms. I'd like to try the wild mushroom risotto that's gotten so much airplay on the Hell's Kitchen show. ("Polly, your *BLEEP*ing risotto is a *BLEEP*ing *BLEEP* of *BLEEP*!") And maybe, if I just follow the directions, the broccoli soup would turn out to be tasty enough that I could cram a vegetable into Maggie's stomach without her realizing I'm cramming a vegetable in there. Marin might like it, too.

There's also a charming section on cooking for kids. (Fish cakes with eyes! Pasta with bacon and peas! Cut-out cookies!) And all of his talk about buying organic vegetables and fresh, bakery bread makes me believe, just for a moment. I BELIEVE I can cook. I can!

(I so can't.)

Speaking of ingredients, there are some weird ones in there, which helps to narrow down which recipe I'll choose to butcher. Baby octopi? Fresh eels? Blood sausage? BLECH. I'm also wondering what the crunk creme fraiche is. Some weird UK thing? Some secret ingredient that only cake-eaters know about because it's only available in expensive cake-eater grocery stores to which I am not privy? I think I may need it for the breakfast bread.

Anyway, I'll keep you posted. Once I get up the courage to watch my dream die, once again.


Sharron said...

You know--together, we could ruin an entire meal! I have one Cookbook now--The Spice Cookbook (out of print) and the only reason I have it is because it as a recipe for Molasses cookies that I can actually make. Anything else I try...let’s just say it’s sad and leave it at that.! Whoever I marry better like takeout...

Tracy Montoya said...

Or had better like cooking himself! I always tell Jose in our next life he needs to be a master chef.

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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