Monday, February 8, 2010

Hostile recipes

We're a garlic-loving household. Around here, a dinner without garlic is nearly unthinkable. There was a time, however, when neither of us could stand the stuff. It was 1985. We had purchased the original Moosewood cookbook and were cooking our way through it when we came upon the recipe for calzone: homemade dough, ricotta cheese, egg, and garlic. Twelve cloves of garlic. We pondered that garlic. Really? Twelve cloves? Well, why not? This was a respected cookbook written by knowledgeable cooks and therefore trustworthy.

Or not. Our apartment smelled like garlic for almost two weeks. The curtains, the carpet, even our bathroom towels reeked (despite several runs through the washer.) We were in a small apartment with little room to spare for strong odors. Add the fact that I was substantially pregnant and susceptible to scent...well, garlic was banished from our diet. I couldn't cook with it again until 1986, after our child arrived.

Cookbook writers usually make an effort to publish recipes that are accurate in their measurements, ingredients, and processes, but sometimes something goes awry. Perhaps the proofreader was having an off day when that calzone recipe was vetted and it should have called for two garlic cloves. I had a hard time trusting the remaining Moosewood recipes, and the garlic incident inspired us to coin the phrase "hostile recipe."

I grew up in a family of cooks. My grandmother was a terrific seat-of-your-pants cook. She could make a tasty meal out of anything. I have to say, though, that in Grandma's later years she was sometimes a little too creative, especially with Jell-O. (One never-to-be-forgotten Jell-O dish included ketchup, mayonnaise, onion, and salad shrimp.) Mom was a more traditional cook and kept a book full of her favorite recipes, but she was adventurous, too. She made things that were rarely made from scratch in my friends' homes, things like deep-fried onion rings and doughnuts.

With all of that cooking going on around me, it was no surprise that I ended up having fun in the kitchen. I like to cook but baking is my favorite. I love playing with bread dough, trying out things like croissants and puff pastry, and baking cookies of all kinds. Ah, cookies. My very first cookie-baking experience was with the Tollhouse Cookie recipe on the chocolate chip package. My cookies came out looking like cowpies. I tried Mom's Better Homes and Gardens recipe. Cowpies again. For years, I could not bake a chocolate chip cookie. They always looked like cowpies, in varying degrees of cowpie freshness depending on the recipe. I finally found a friendly recipe online, ten years ago. Now my chocolate chip cookies are photogenic. Some would suggest that the problem was with me rather than the recipes. I don't think so.

I once owned The Joy Of Cooking. It was a fine cookbook except for one thing which drove me mad - the recipes weren't always complete on the page. I don't remember which recipe finally sent me over the edge but I do remember that I had to go to five different sections of the cookbook to accomplish one supposedly-simple dish. Hahahaha. Hostile Cookbook.

Overheard on Twitter: For the past 20 mins the sweet hummed notes of the Inspector Gadget theme have been drifting down the stairs.

Next time: unhappy hipsters. Stay tuned.