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This is why people think they can't cook. - It seemed like a good idea at the time... [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
terribleturnip

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This is why people think they can't cook. [Apr. 30th, 2008|09:51 am]
terribleturnip
So, I have this wall of cookbooks and I occasionally feel the need to justify the space, the dust, the stress put on the structure of the house, so this weekend I pulled out a casserole cookbook that I bought a couple of years ago. I have a nostalgic fondness for casseroles, having grown up on them, but often find they seem more work than "normal" unlayered food. I sort of like to cook things once. To have to cook them, then do something to them, then cook them again....my ADD has kicked in and I'm off to ride a bike.

But still, this past weekend I was actually home all weekend and thought now would be a good time. Plus I had some fabulous shrimp and asparagus from the famer's market and I spotted this casserole that called for that, plus artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and parmesan.

So, I poached the shrimp that day to retain their freshness and picked up the remaining ingredients. And last night, thought, oh, I'll run home, just toss it together and throw it into the oven to bake off while we do yard work.

Except my achille's heel with recipes is that I often fail to read them through. AND, I don't know, rather than just use the recipe as inspiration and make it as I thought it should be done, I followed the recipe to the letter. The former cookbook buyer for a gourmet retail store took control and I went through this recipe as if I were evaluating this book for national roll-out. Plus I was on the phone the whole time.

By the time I had peeled the shrimp, I was bored. Then blanching the asparagus, and sauteeing the mushrooms...really, why the hell didn't I stop right there? I had a brilliant dinner. Perfectly poached shrimp that just needed a little finishing in melted butter. Toss the asparagus and shrooms together, top with the Parm, put the asparagus hearts on salad and boom -- 15 minute dinner and perfect.

But the pigheaded Dane insisted on layering them as instructed in a casserole dish, then making a white sauce. Only I was in the middle of a difficult phone call, so I actually followed the recipe and a tiny, sane part of my brain said, whoa, that must be a typo -- 4 Tbs of butter and 3/4 cup of flour, that's way too much flour. But I was busy trying to keep focused on the phone call, and figured there'd maybe be a lot of liquid coming on down the page...but there wasn't. So, now I'm cursing, and fishing paste out of the pan, so I can add the measly amount of liquid, thinking, you know how to make the sauce, why didn't you just make the sauce...hang up the damn phone and pay attention.

And despite my KNOWING that it would be better to mix all of the ingredients with the white sauce and then top with Parmesan...I was once again, strangely passive, as if I hadn't spent the last 10 years of my life cooking professionally. I swear, it was like the 8 year old in me was thinking "Hey, just how wrong can this go?"

The good news is, it tasted fabulous. Well, duh, cream, butter, shrimp, asparagus, artichoke hearts, cremini mushrooms, and parmesan cheese. It looked like crap and took forever. But, in a way, that's okay, because in my head I've already reinvented it as an au gratin and I know it will be an awesome meal.

But I'm just thinking of some poor bastard who follows this recipe and thinks "God, I suck. I can't cook for beans." It's so sad, really. If only I had time, and someone would pay me to do it, I'd develop an "idiot-proof" seal, reviewing cookbooks carefully enough so that you could go into the book knowing that as long as you followed the directions, it was going to come out good. And if it didn't...hang up the apron and back slowly out of the kitchen.
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Comments:
From: kudrasslipper
2008-04-30 02:35 pm (UTC)
This is why I like Cooks Illustrated. I always look at recipes in other books/places and go... "well THAT doesn't look right," because I'm such a great cook and I know everything there is to know. Right?! So I change the recipe and it doesn't turn out right and I'm incredulously surprised. As if it weren't my own stupid fault. But in Cooks, they take the time to tell me about all the other ways they tried it in order to convince the control freak in me that I need to just let it go and follow the god damned directions. *LOVE* them.
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2008-04-30 02:59 pm (UTC)
Hmm. They're actually a bit TOO control freak for me. I've got several of their cookbooks, but sometimes they just overthink things. On the other hand, it WILL come out right if you follow the directions. And there's a lot of merit in that. The famous coconut cake is based a good deal on their recipe, the cake, not the icing.

Plus, while I agree with most of their reviews, sometimes I wonder what the hell were they thinking. We broke up after Chris Kimball reviewed clay pot cooking and dinged the clay pots because they cooked a chicken breast poorly. Der. That's not what they're for. That's like using a pressure cooker to boil water for tea, ya moron.

I'm not very forgiving, am I?
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[User Picture]From: lowlandscot
2008-04-30 03:15 pm (UTC)
I'm not very forgiving, am I?

Jeez, you're not. You're some sort of Cookbook Calvinist. I could forgive Christopher Kimball most any food heresy just because the Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecuing has turned me into that rarest of females: one who gets to set off ginormous fires in the Weber because, dammit, she's just better at it than her husband. That and the secret of baking a perfect loaf of bread in a cast iron dutch oven. He has my yearly subscription for life if he never publishes another decent recipe.

I also really love it when they go uber-geeky and interview the food chemists.
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[User Picture]From: pyratelady
2008-04-30 04:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, I think you would really love Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food. Lots and lots of science. It's pretty cool.
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[User Picture]From: lowlandscot
2008-04-30 06:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah, his books might be good. I can't watch his show for more than five minutes, though. I always end up yelling at the TV for him to sit the eff down and take his Ritalin.
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2008-04-30 02:40 pm (UTC)
heh

I threw away my casserole cookbooks after the Short Cut Chicken Manicotti episode of 1989.

Not precook the manicotti but gently pour liquid around it in a fervent prayer it will cook eveningly once stuffed - stuffed with mostly non moist ingredients at that?

ummm no. Plus the seasonings were just 'off'. Into the burn barrel it went.

I will say that does sound like a lovely au gratin style dish and believe me if you idiot proof a cookbook first, I will most definitely purchase it ;)
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[User Picture]From: thatliardiego
2008-04-30 02:47 pm (UTC)

Cooking.

Meat + Fire = Dinner.
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2008-04-30 02:53 pm (UTC)

Re: Cooking.

That's like having sex in the missionary position all of the time. It's good. It can be more than good. It......

Sorry, lost in the moment.

But variety is also good.
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[User Picture]From: thatliardiego
2008-04-30 02:56 pm (UTC)

Right.

Poultry + fire

Marinated poultry + fire

Marinated poultry + smoke = fire

Fish + fire

Basted fish + fire

Basted fish + smoke + fire

I won't even get into the smoked pizza...
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2008-04-30 03:48 pm (UTC)

Re: Right.

Okay, fine. But it's all still sex in a BED.
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[User Picture]From: thatliardiego
2008-04-30 03:50 pm (UTC)

Re: Right.

Aren't we both getting a little old for that trapeze?
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[User Picture]From: im_geva
2008-05-01 02:45 am (UTC)

Re: Right.

You're never too old:

http://www.slumberparties.com/productdetail.cfm?ProductIDCode=336

It's the answer to that question, 'what shall we do tonight?'
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2008-05-01 12:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Right.

Nah. But I AM old enough to insist on a safety harness....
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[User Picture]From: chellebelle74
2008-05-01 02:21 am (UTC)
I can't tell you what an epiphany it was the first time I realized it was the recipe and not me. Now, I still don't consider myself a wonderful cook by any means (I'm just average at best), but it's nice to know I'm better than a piece of paper, no matter how glossy it is or how many fabulous pictures it has.
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[User Picture]From: lowlandscot
2008-05-01 01:41 pm (UTC)
Existential casserole ennui and nausea is even worse:

October 10 -- I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes, in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely. Today I tried this recipe:

Tuna Casserole
Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish
Instructions: Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.


From Jean-Paul Sartre's Cooking Diary
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2008-05-01 01:54 pm (UTC)
omigosh, that's hysterical. Reminds me of a skit we worked up in high school -- picture the Odd Couple, one person a la Sartre, the other (played by me, shocker) all carpe diem and no nonsense. Worked it up after we did Ionesco's Bald Soprano. The guy would be all navel-gazing, world-weary, contemplating the futility of...and I'd come on, all purposeful, and put a party hat on him.

Funny as hell to us...our audience didn't quite know what to make of it. Oh, I can see one written around the casserole dish...

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