Clueless in the Kitchen

I have bought – and I’m not even kidding – at least seven copies of Clueless in the Kitchen, by Evelyn Raab. I keep handing it out to friends and family because I love it so much. So now I’m going to take a minute to rave about it here.

This is the cookbook that taught me to cook. It’s aimed at teenagers heading out to live on their own for the first time who haven’t ever cooked for themselves before, so the tone is casual and encouraging. The recipes are simple, and every one I’ve tried has been incredibly tasty.

The cookbook starts with a section called “The Kitchen – A Guide to Alien Territory” that includes instructions not only on stocking your shelves, but on how to defrost the freezer and unplug a blocked drain, and the care and feeding  of your refrigerator, among other useful skills. There is also a whole section about skills for facing the grocery store.

The recipes start with “How to Boil an Egg” and “Pancakes Not from a Box” and progress from there. The cornbread, tunaburgers, and Curry-Glazed Chicken recipes are staples in my house. And there’s an Egg-Free Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake recipe in the book’s companion, The Clueless Vegetarian, that is so ridiculously easy I make it all the time.

My cooking skills have progressed beyond the basics by now, but I still go back to this cookbook again and again. After more than ten years of hard use, my copy is stained and dog-eared, but it comes with me every time I travel or move for work.

And when I went in search of links for this post, I discovered that there is now The Clueless Baker: Baking from Scratch. I’m going to have to grab a copy of that the next time I’m in the bookstore, clearly.

Laura Ingalls, here I come

Today is another day spent in the kitchen. Not mine, this time, though. My mother’s. And there’s something about helping my mother cook a huge holiday dinner, peeling potatoes with a dish cloth stuck into my waistband for an apron, that sets me daydreaming.

I read a lot of historical fiction as a child. All the Laura Ingalls books, all eight Anne of Green Gables books and just about all the rest of L. M. Montgomery’s young adult fiction, Janet Lunn’s The Root Cellar, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and its various sequels, several books by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The list goes on and on. And girls helping out in the kitchen came up at one point or another in all of them. It’s part of a cultural tradition that stretches back centuries, and for all that my feminism has been on the rise this year, I feel very connected to my roots at times like these.

And very privileged that helping out in the kitchen is a choice, not a requirement of my gender. It’s what keeps the whole notion so romantic.

Jamie Oliver’s Asian-Inspired Turkey Salad

I was in the UK for four months earlier this year for work. There’s an ad on television there for Just Eat, which is a website that centralises take out food – you visit the one site and you can order food there from any of the restaurants that are a part of the scheme. Their slogan is “Don’t cook, just eat. Leave cooking to the professionals,” and in their ads, stereotypical ‘chefs’ from an assortment of restaurants (Italian, Japanese, Burger Joint, etc.) come to the houses of people who are cooking to stop them, usually with threat of physical violence.  Continue reading