It's no grind for a seasoned cook

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The Independent Online
I have been looking at the new Delia Smith cookery book and I am not surprised to find that it suffers from the same grievous fault as almost every other cookery book. In other words, it describes excellently the way Delia Smith cooks but it has almost nothing to do with the way that you or I cook.

Shall I give you an example? The other day I was doing a recipe out of a book of hers, and came to the simple instruction: "Now add some black pepper - just give a few turns of the pepper mill into the saucepan and stir in." I picked up our pepper mill with my wet hands and gave a few turns. Nothing came out. I shook the mill. No sound was made. It was empty. I went to find the peppercorns. They were not in their usual place. I vaguely remembered my wife saying that she was going to put them in a safer place from now on.

What I could not remember was where. I hunted round the larder till I came to a small pot of what were clearly peppercorns, if quite big ones, and filled the pepper mill and gave a few turns.

Later, when tasting the dish I had made, my wife said: "Is it my imagination, or does it taste of juniper berries?"

Yes, I had managed to grind a few juniper berries into the dish, mistaking them for peppercorns. I admit it. But I feel Delia Smith should have warned me against it. In fact, there should have been a whole series of hints in the book, telling me to label peppercorns, telling me how to distinguish between pepper and juniper when in a hurry, warning me to replace pepper when the wife tries to move it, and so on.

Well, if Delia Smith cannot do it, I can. Today I am bringing you the basic rules of kitchenwork as perfected in my kitchen over the years, and none of them, as far as I know, ever mentioned in a cookery book anywhere.

1. Close all kitchen drawers while cooking. There is a temptation, while doing a complicated recipe, to keep drawers open so that you can get at things, and so that you don't have to pull at drawer handles with wet hands. This is a false economy, because almost invariably when you are working with flour or rice or breadcrumbs or anything which moves in a draught, the stuff will float off the working surface and into the drawer. Several times after baking bread I have discovered our entire cutlery drawer covered in a thin layer of powder, as if a nearby volcano had recently half-heartedly erupted. And it is no use trying to vacuum clean the drawer. I have tried. It does not work. You have to wash everything again.

2. Always leave at least one tap running. Most recipes call for the addition of water sooner or later. Very often this comes at a moment when for some reason or other it is difficult to turn on the tap - your hands are wet or greasy, or the tap is concealed beneath dirty washing, or something. Much simpler to leave it running.

3. Always have an apron on. This is for two reasons. One is that whenever you do not have an apron on, you sooner or later wish you had, because your shirt collects splashes of milk, oil, water, etc. The other is that if you have an apron on and someone calls, it is easier to get rid of them. Also, it is easier to wipe hands on an apron than a shirt, especially if you have cut yourself. Talking of which ...

4. If your recipe calls for the use of very sharp knives, wear pink or red clothing. Also, make sure that the recipe can be pinkish, or have a red swirl in it, without seeming odd. This is self-explanatory.

5. Never, if it can be avoided, cook from a recipe which involves turning the page of the book. There is a danger of getting into a position in which you cannot turn the page of the cookbook you are consulting without irremediably soiling the pages so that they stick together. It is also very annoying to turn the page and read: "Now add the rest of the butter", when you cannot remember having used any butter at all so far and are not in a happy position to turn back.

But there is a worse danger - that of turning two pages by mistake and carrying on with a quite different recipe. This happened to me recently. I was happily trying out some version of vichyssoise soup when I turned the page(s) and read: "Now throw spoonfuls of the mixture, one at a time, into hot boiling fat". I had strayed into a recipe for some kind of dumplings. Thank God some kind of basic instinct stayed my hand, though I still wonder what deep-fried vichyssoise lumps would have been like.

My solution is to now to buy two copies of every cookery book and have both pages of a recipe visible simultaneously.

More hints soon. Meanwhile, good cooking, chums, and steer clear of those cranberries!