Welcome to The Incompetent Cook, a cooking blog with a difference.
Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach will road test a new cookbook each week, picking a starter, a main, and a dessert to cook.
He’ll report back on how the dishes fared in his cripplingly unskilled hands.
This week’s challenge for The Incompetent Cook….
Asian Beef and Vegetable Lettuce Cups
Chicken and Chorizo Paella
New York Cheesecake
If you missed the the inaugural installment of The Incompetent Cook, let me surmise my position in the world of food. I like it. I love it.
But cooking it? Well, that’s where the relationship tends to break down.
And like any pro-eater/anti-cooker, I love a chinese takeout. And I love San Chow Bow. The raw exoticism of crisp lettuce combined with that delicious rich mince. That $12 charge for two cups of lettuce, not as good, but an important component all the same. So when I saw the recipe for Curtis’ take on the classic chinese starter, I knew it was for me.
Easy is a word that gets thrown around a lot in cooking. But this is easy. 500g of mince and a healthy serving of hoisin sauce with a couple of choice spices made me happy. Carrots, onions, lettuce and spring onions made my mother happy. After browning the mince, then adding the veggies and sauce and spices, I was done.
Well, sort of. It appears my hands were not designed for something as delicate as making lettuce cups. My hands have been the subject of unfavourable comparisons throughout my life. Booktopia’s Romance Specialist Haylee Nash once described them as ‘peasant’s hands’, while another friend recently compared them to ‘the tiny hands of a chimp’.
After some careful chopping and peeling, I have lettuce cups. Terrible lettuce cups, but lettuce cups nonetheless. And with a pinch of salt the mince and veggies went in. And it was SENSATIONAL! Probably the highlight of the entire meal. I enjoyed the carrots. And that says something.
When I was 18 I travelled to Spain. Broke, I found myself killing time with two activities. Watching The Simpsons in Spanish (Los Simpson), and eating Paella. Good times. And as I trawled through the hundreds of recipes in What’s For Dinner, I saw the Paella, and I got excited. Then I saw the chicken and chorizo, and I felt a little faint. This was the dish for me.
Miraculously I had a risotto dish in my cupboard. I don’t know how or why. My only guess is some gastronomical equivalent of Field Of Dreams (if you buy the ingredients, the cookware will come). Rice, capsicum, onions, chicken stock, chicken drumsticks, chorizo, spices (including smoked paprika which made me weak at the knees, why did no one tell me about it earlier?).
Oh. And Saffron.
As an incompetent cook, I rarely buy spices outside of chicken salt. I’ve never bought Saffron. And let me say this. It is like gold dust. If anyone knows where I can get Saffron that doesn’t require mortgage repayments, please pass the info on.
Brown the chicken, brown the chorizo, brown the onions etc. Add the rice, and then pour in that delicious chicken stock. Put in the oven, and look what came out! Brilliant.
The recipe says it serves eight. I queried this initially. Believe me. It serves eight. It is a monster, and the chicken drumsticks, even on their own, are brilliant. Another tick for Curtis Stone.
Cheese. Cake. Cheese. Cake. When I was a child, the very combination of those two words freaked me out, I won’t lie. Even I, so lacking in intuition that once I parked my car at work only to discover I forgot to wear shoes, found it counter intuitive.
But now I love cheesecake, so my announcement to friends that I was cooking one for this blog was only met with, ‘you cook?’.
And it is dead simple, although I was alarmed at how much low-fat cottage cheese it requires. With a quick mix all the ingredients combined perfectly, and the base….
Ah, the base. Gather round while I tell you a story. A story of a dumpy young man on the search for digestive biscuits.
Like everything in this terrific book, the crust of the cheesecake is easy. Butter, sugar, and digestive biscuits.
So when I wandered down to my local supermarket imagine my surprise when, of the 34,583 varieties of biscuits they had, there were no plain digestive biscuits. So I went against the recipe. I had to buy chocolate digestives. My heart sinks just writing this.
I don’t want to libel the supermarket involved, let’s just say the names rhymes with ‘Woolworths’.
So the crust was a little on the moist side, a little on the chocolatey side, although after baking it held up. And, with the help of Curtis Stone, something magical happened.
This Incompetent Cook, brought in a cheesecake for Booktopia. This Incompetent Cook, who in the past has burnt water, baked for staff.
And the staff loved him for it. And by loved, I mean stopped mocking me for my inability to cook, albeit for the duration of the meal. A fine result. Thank you Mr Stone.
The meals I cooked were sensational. No bones about it. And while there were a few pricey ingredients (again, I’m looking at you, saffron) the meals fed me over an entire week, and that’s saying something.
With meal planners for the working week, accompanied with a keen eye on the time each dish takes to prepare and cook, What’s For Dinner strikes me as one of the most flexible cookbooks around.
Whether you’re cooking for a family, or want quick and easy meals for lunch and dinner, Curtis Stone won’t steer you wrong. While he is now a world famous chef, it appears he hasn’t strayed far from his humble routes in suburban Melbourne.
An accessible, easy to follow cookbook. If I can follow it, believe me, you can too.
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. His hobbies include talking too loud in cinemas and singing the wrong words to songs. One day, he will be a better cook.
You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
Follow Andrew: Twitter