Monday 7 February 2005


I think I know why some people can't cook: because few enjoy following directions and/or reading instructions. Trust me, I'm a technical writer - even I don't bother reading instructions I haven't written. I was watching "Friends for Dinner" a few minutes ago, which is a cooking programme about regular schmoes like us cooking a meal coached by celebrity chefs like Gary Rhodes (who drives me mental, but that's another story). As I was watching this episode, it struck me that even though the recipe was clear about how to prepare the item, the person doing the cooking only half-read the instructions - with disastrous results. Then again, it also struck me that in another recipe she followed, the instructions were poorly written. It was for a pastry crust that could either be used for savoury or sweet tarts. She wanted to make a crust for a strawberry tart, followed the instructions step-by-step, and it was only when she got to the very end of the recipe that she was instructed to add sugar if the pastry was to be used in a sweet dish (i.e. she was supposed to add the sugar before the pastry had been formed). Of course by then, it was too late and she had to start again.

On the most part, cooking is not rocket science. Recipes need not be complicated, overwhelming people with a twenty step cooking process. It's easy to lose track between steps, particularly if they're numerous. Don't tell people at the end of the process about something important they should have done at around step 2. Don't state the obvious, but do state the necessary. I think that once a person has successfully followed enough recipes, they will become more confident improvising or at the very least, remembering the basics to do it again on their own. Give a person a complicated recipe that turns out to be a disaster, and they won't venture beyond beans on toast.

So on that note, I leave you with this fantastic recipe for French toast I made this weekend. Love him or hate him, it's a Jamie Oliver recipe and it's dead easy - which is why I have a lot of respect for him. I think he's made cooking a lot more accessible to those who would normally run screaming from the kitchen. Right so, warm a frying pan over medium heat, and butter two slices of bread on both sides. Mash a banana and mix with some fresh blueberries (or any fruit you want, really) and a bit of sugar. Dip the buttered bread slices in a beaten egg and let the excess run off. Place one slice in the pan, put the fruit filling on top, and place the other slice of bread on top of the fruit filling and press down slightly. Cook for around 2 minutes (lift an edge with a spatula and make sure it's not overcooking), and flip and cook on the other side for a further 2 minutes. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or if you're a piggy like me, drown it in maple syrup. Shove it down your gob at the table while your husband walks by and says "That looks good. Is there any left?" Respond by shaking your head and continue shovelling the French toast into your mouth.

Serves 1.

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