Take one large grain of salt ...

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The Independent Online
Young people often complain to me that there is no very good book on the market which will teach them how to cook.

It is all very well, they say, getting a traditional cookbook, but when the writer opens by saying there are basically four different methods of cooking (baking, frying, grilling and boiling), their hearts sink. They don't want to learn basic techniques and methodology. They want to know, on Day One, how to prepare a perfect Medallions de Venaison en Papillote.

By Day Five, they would like to throw a big dinner party.

By Day Nine, they would like to be thinking about opening a small bistro.

That's what I like about the young today. Some critics may say they are demanding instant gratification, but I don't see it that way. I think they are showing ambition, enterprise and impatience with obstacles.

On the other hand, I can see it does makes sense of a sort to learn how to cook first, so here in the Independent kitchens, we have been preparing a little instruction booklet to gratify all your demands and keep the wolf from the door.

The booklet, Power Cooking, contains all the knowledge you need to stop you starving to death.

It explains right at the beginning that there are indeed several basic techniques of preparing food.

They are not, however, the traditional ones of baking, grilling, poaching, simmering and so on.

They include such approaches as "Getting Asked Out For a Meal", "Seeing What's in the Fridge", "Going to the Takeaway", "Having an Indian", "Not Being Bothered" and "Not Feeling That Hungry Anyway".

The techniques for all these are explained in some detail. In the chapter entitled "Seeing What's in the Fridge", for example, we don't just tell you how to incorporate leftovers into a ravishing new dish. We tell you how to identify the leftovers.

For instance, it is no good finding a bowl of leftover mashed potato which you decide to use as a topping for a cottage pie or fish pie and realising too late that what you have is actually an old coconut pudding. (All is not lost - you can rename the resultant dish Thai Pie or South Seas Chowder. Renaming dishes is a creative process all of its own.)

What you must do is identify the leftover, and that is where our pictorial key comes in handy. Have you noticed most cookbooks provide a luscious series of colour photos showing what the dish will look like at the end, just as it is being served? This is no good to man or beast as a) it will probably not look like that anyway, b) visual identification of the finished product would be useful only if there were other finished products nearby that it could be confused with.

No, what you really need - and what no cookbook has ever provided - is an accurate pictorial guide to what you are likely to find in your fridge, so that you will be able instantly to pick out useful items, discard the useless and select that third great class of thing in the fridge: the item you put back into the fridge again, because it might very well come in useful at some other date for some other dish, even though you know in your heart of hearts it won't and you would be best advised to chuck it out now.

Examples of the first class (ie, things you can safely and profitably use immediately) include little bowls of grated cheese, large packets of factory-made pizza bases, bags of pre-washed salad, half-finished jars of horseradish sauce and yoghurt.

Examples of the second kind (the totally useless fridge contents) include, oddly enough, all the above: grated cheese, pizza bases, salad, etc.

It all depends on the sell-by date.

Of course, if you are really hungry, you won't worry about sell-by dates. You'll just say to yourself "How can I combine these into one tasty dish?"

The answer is always - into a pizza.

Take a pizza base, put on the cheese, the tomato from the salad bag, any meat you can find and everything else except the horseradish.

The reason the horseradish is in the fridge in the first place is because makers of things like horseradish sauce, anchovy paste, olive paste, etc, have cleverly started to put on their labels: Store in fridge after opening.

This is not because they need chilling. It is because the makers hope that once they have gained access to your fridge, you will assure their product is a vital ingredient. It isn't anything of the sort.

Millions of other great hints can be found in Power Cooking, available from me. Just send an SAE and a blank cheque. Leave the rest to me!