Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander (2004 edition)

From the favourer: "Steph is the 'go-to girl' for all food-related matters. My kitchen bible."

*Warning to vegetarian friends, this blog entry contains photos/video of a recipe using meat*

Given that this book is somewhat of a doorstop, I thought that rather than reading the entire thing (which could take years in itself, especially if I read every ingredient measure), I would instead randomly open the book, read the introduction to whatever foodstuff section was being featured, and then pick a recipe from the chapter to cook for Paul and I, with accompanying photographs and videos of our success/dismal failure/burning the house down.

This whole random recipe choice thing seemed a great idea. So, we sit down on the couch the night before our weekly supermarket shop, and I open the book in my lap. I've opened it at the 'nectarine' section.

"Nectarines," I say.

"That's not really a main meal," says Paul.

Amendment #1: we will cook from any section of the book that will actually provide us with dinner, rather than just, say, a sauce.

I open the book again. Brussel sprouts.

"I hate brussel sprouts," says Paul.

I open the book several more times. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. I heave the book at Paul:

"You find a good one!"

He opens it, first time, at duck. Duck! I love duck. We'll roast a duck. Paul is all in favour.

Then he turns the page to the photo of a cute and friendly looking (live) duck. Paul's eyebrows go up. He looks at me with big liquid eyes.

We're not having duck. Sigh.

Amendment #2: We will not eat any animal that is pictured in a cute and friendly way opposite the recipe.

How many times are we going to have to 'randomly' open this book? Paul has another go. Kangaroo! They have kangaroo at our local supermarket! And there is no cute picture of a kangaroo on the following page. We're set. Maggie Beer's barbecued kangaroo with anchovy vinaigrette and soft polenta.

The Cook's Companion is always a wonderful read - I've found myself in past times reading whole sections describing, for example, how to open an avacado. It's just so nice to read! I advise you to keep it on your coffee table, pick it up in spare moments, read yourself into a ravenous stupor (and then probably order a pizza because like us your fridge contains a lettuce and some raw chicken wings for the cat).

So I read the whole section on kangaroo and wallaby before starting, and learn that the meat is best served pretty rare. This suits me fine. It also provides some information about the methods of kangaroo farming/hunting which are, I think, intended to comfort the squeamish. This is interesting but unnecessary for me; I think that if you choose to be a meat eater, you should be under no illusions about where your food came from, what its origin looked like, and how it was brought to you in its pretty polystyrene presentation.

We buy our kangaroo, all the other ingredients, and are ready to cook.

Uh oh:

The olive oil can is empty! The local supermarket is shut already. I sniff the olive oil then compare my sniff to the peanut oil (only other oil in the house apart from fish oil. We're not using fish oil). Peanut oil will have to do.

Many vital pre-cooking operations ensue:

Some of the instructions leave me a little unsure. I'm making a half-size recipe for Paul and I.

"What's half of 3/4 of a cup?" I ask Paul.
*sip of wine*
"It's too hard," says Paul. We continue cooking for a bit.

"WAIT!" yells Paul, "It's 1/3 of a cup! Isn't it? Hang on, no it's not..."
We conclude with "bugger it" and chuck in 1/2 a cup.
Sally forth!

The polenta & vinaigrette dealt with, we move on to the kangaroo fillets. I've decided to obey the instructions to the letter (except for the olive oil thing, but that was an accident. Oh, and except for the inclusion of mint. I hate mint. It's a strange thing to hate. My other ingredient dislikes are equally unlikely: balsamic vinegar, walnuts, melon and bananas. One day my fellow librarian Aimee brought a salad to work to share. It comprised melon, mint and balsamic vinegar. I had to leave the room). Fillets are to be sizzled for 45 seconds then roasted for 4 minutes. Paul is appointed timer.

"How long to go?" I say, a little while into the roasting.
Paul frowns at his watch. "I don't know," he says.

I try to turn them over with a fork. They're stuck! Paul comes to the rescue, aided only by a spatula. ("Where'd you get your neat spatula?" "SPATULA CITY!")

Fillets are finally removed from oven.

Now the recipe informs me we have to rest the fillets on a warm plate.

Warm plate! We don't have a warm plate! Why didn't it say, earlier on in the recipe, "you will soon need a warm plate"? Action stations:

On the home stretch now...serving time...and the result? NOM NOM NOM:

The final verdict:

Hooray for Stephanie Alexander! Zzzzzzz......