Books – From the frying pan ...

2011-11-25 11:44

When I was about 11 years old, I burnt a pot while boiling water for tea on a Primus stove. And last month, more than two decades later, I finally learnt how to boil an almost-perfect soft-centre egg. These are my two culinary defining moments.

I have a masochistic relationship with the kitchen. The more rejection I get from it, the more I want to be in it.

I watch cooking shows religiously: Masterchef, Top Chef, Nigella’s Kitchen, Hell’s Kitchen ... you name it.
As a confirmed hater of mornings, I incredulously eyeball the chefs walking around the market at ungodly hours choosing fresh produce.

I admire their dextrous fingers as they peel, chop, mix, mash and whip ingredients while prepping for a dish.

And then there are the cook books I’ve started collecting. It’s nowhere near a great number, but for someone whose stove sees action maybe three times a month, I’m pretty impressed with my stash. And when a few such books landed on my desk ... well, who was I to refuse?

After all, just less than a year ago I shelled out tens of thousands of rand to renovate my tiny kitchen because I was convinced it was the kitchen’s fault I couldn’t cook.

Playing in my new, shiny kitchen with these handy cookbooks was finally going to reveal the domestic goddess within. Ha!

I started off with Ideas magazine’s IDEAS: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year. The cookbook was hefty enough to make me feel like it offered substance.

And the meals – organised by month, with seven recipes a week – looked delicious, nutritious and not too difficult to make. I delved into the first week of November.

I like seafood so I decided to go for the low-GI saucy fish bake. I read the ingredients, but I should have read the method as well, because I was going to face one of my biggest fears – making cheese sauce from scratch.

I nailed the rice (yay!), sautéed the mushrooms and steamed the spinach. But needless to say, I was undone by the cheese sauce.

Result? Instead of a fish bake, I had rice, steamed spinach, mushrooms and a piece of store-bought roast chicken from the night before. Good thing the hake fillets had stayed in the freezer.

Next came ENJOY! Cooking with Anita & Deon Meyer.

I interviewed Deon once after being impressed by his crime-writing prowess, so I was curious as to how his and his wife’s cookbook was going to translate.

I was tempted to try the egg and ham bowls, but I chickened out. I went for the whole kernel corn soup instead.

I had to instinctively adjust my measurements because the food here is made to feed six people.

The recipe is straightforward – frozen kernel corn, spring onion and garlic vegetable stock all boiled then later blended.

I skipped the semolina because I don’t know what that is, but was generous with the sprinkling of tortilla chips and cheese. It came out quite tasty. A little bland, but edible.

I was so impressed I decided not to jinx it by trying out any of the other 75 recipes in the book. So I moved along.

HELP! There’s a Stove in my Kitchen by Annabel Frere (Random House Struik) was next. I was feeling good about this. With Frere’s book touted as “recipes to the rescue”, I was sure I’d nail any recipe here.

I eyed the baked potato recipe, but after considering the catastrophe that was my last attempt at this, I decided to stay away.

So I went for something easy – nachos. They looked so good in the picture, I was virtually slobbering. And what could possibly go wrong with piling cheese on chips and letting the whole thing melt in the oven?

I did as the recipe advised but added some prawns because the dish looked boring with no filling.

While the cheese melted, I prepared guacamole from scratch. It might not have looked picture perfect, but I enjoyed it. That’s more than I can say for the nachos.

They looked dry, shrivelled and utterly miserable coming out of the oven. I picked at them for a bit before shoving the dish back into the oven, and ended up eating my guacamole with crackers for dinner.

The next evening I opened the oven door to find the previous night’s failed attempt. I picked up three chips with sad, dried cheese and prawn, and shoved them in my mouth. Bad move.

I’m now recovering from a bout of E.coli and can’t stand the smell – let alone the taste – of food. So it’s back to switching off the stove, filling up with canned soup and nursing my bruised and battered colon.

But mark my words ... this war is far from over.

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