The I Can’t Cook Cookbook

The Cook's CompanionI both agreed and disagreed with a friend recently when they marvelled at the sheer volume of cookbooks available and decreed that the market couldn’t possibly support such numbers. Agreed, because I too wonder how there could possibly be so many incarnations of said books, particularly given how expensive the production costs and subsequent shelf prices are. But disagreed—or perhaps despaired—because regardless of how many there are or how sustainable the market may or may not be, I still can’t find a cookbook for me.

My cooking problems are myriad, and I recognise that my needs are less niche than, well, tricky and a little odd. But I’m putting out my cookbook issues and wish list lest anyone know such a book exists.

I can’t cook.

And I really mean that I can’t cook. In fact, I think any cookbook I create could and should be—to paraphrase from the similarly titled one already around—The I Can’t Cook Cookbook.

Jamie OliverI haven’t the time for cooking.

By the time I’m ferreting around in the pantry, there’s only one thing I want to do: find food and get it in me. I’ve neither the patience nor the blood sugar levels to sustain a two-hour food prep time. In actuality, any food prep time is spent snacking on ingredients so: a) there’s not much left for the actual meal I’m attempting to prepare; and b) I’m no longer hungry by the time said food is ready and it goes to waste. And no, I can’t start earlier. I’m busy.

I lose patience with fiddly, time-consuming steps.

In spite of the fact that I can’t cook, I invariably get part of the way through cooking something and decide that some of the steps and/or ingredients are superfluous. So I skip them. Because clearly, in despite my complete lack of culinary training, I know better. If a recipe’s got more than about five steps, it’s all over.

I only like plain food or sweet food.

This one’s self-explanatory. I need a cookbook that skips anything that could be remotely considered a spice or a distant relative of a spice, and that instead hones in on anything plain or sugar-filled. Yes, this means that I lean towards cake cookbooks. Given my penchant for eating while I cook, cake mixture and I are old friends.

Moosewood CookbookI only eat one food at a time, so I need to be able to prepare it in bulk.

There are some things you don’t really want to be famous (read: infamous) for, but it’s well known among friends that I tend only to eat one food at a time, eat it until its death, and then never eat it again. There was the blueberry muffin phase. There was the sushi phase. There was the vegetable cannelloni phase. I can now neither eat nor even stomach the smell of all three. Regardless, when I was eating them, I needed them to be easy and quick to prep and able to be prepped and stored in bulk. I’m currently auditioning new foods to fill their places.

I can’t cook if I can’t see what I’m cooking.

No, I don’t need glasses—my eyesight’s fine. I need glossy, expensive-to-produce, food stylist-created pictures. For every single recipe. Because if I haven’t got something visual and salivation-inspiring to aspire to, I’m not interested.

MasterchefI’m a vegetarian.

Maybe I should have mentioned this earlier, but I tend to forget that this isn’t how everyone operates. I’m reminded of that the hard way when I forget to order myself ‘special’ meals on long-haul flights. Either way, I don’t eat any animals—that includes chicken and fish (don’t get me started on those faux vegetarians); in short, anything with a face—and things like eggs or dairy only in the smallest amounts, and only then if they’re part of the bigger food picture. Think cheese on a pizza or eggs in a cake, but never on their own or as the primary part of the meal.

I’ve found that the problem with most vegetarian cookbooks is that they assume you live on a commune, grow your own vegies, run your own health food store, have limitless time for preparing things like lentils, which take days upon days to cook, and that you have a fully stocked pantry of specialised vegetarian ingredients. Where are the vego cookbooks for time-poor, inner city-dwelling writers, I ask?

I’m after low fat.

Isn’t everyone? After all, our diets are so saturated with artery-clogging, thigh-expanding fat that if we’re not after low fat, we’re probably in health trouble.

I hate capsicum, eggplant, and herbs.

Particularly herbs. Particularly rosemary, the all-powerful, all-tainting herb that recipe books always seem to contain and that restaurants not-so-conveniently forget to include on their list of potential meal selection ingredients. All three are deal breakers for me, at both cafes and in cookbooks. I realise that I could omit them from recipes, but it’s the principle that matters here. Vegetarian cookbooks are always loaded up with eggplant- and capsicum-featuring recipes with serious helpings of herbs to ‘add flavour’. Purchasing such a cookbook would be like giving the publisher a thumbs up for creating such a horror.

Skinny Bitch in the KitchI haven’t the interest or the inclination to chase all over town for quirky ingredients.

The moment you say ‘vegetarian’, recipe books say ‘expensive, almost-impossible-to-find ingredients’ that you’ll spend days trying to source, will only need a pinch of, and that will spend the rest of its shelf life attracting weevils to your cupboard. Case in point, the Skinny Bitch in the Kitch vegan cookbook. Add in the fact that the hard-to-find ingredients have American names and you have to use Google translation to decipher what they’d be called in Australia and where precisely on this continent you might find them, and you can understand why the book ended up gathering dust on my shelf and I ended up eating rice crackers for dinner.

Sigh.

I realise that this is an eclectic and entirely embarrassing list of needs and tastes and that the word ‘fussy’ springs to mind. Either way, it’s incredible how difficult it is for someone with my tastes to find a suitable cookbook.

I say vegetarian. They say impossible, specialist ingredients + herbs.

I say vegetarian. They say bland, cheaply produced cookbook without pictures.

I say low fat. They say spicy to get your metabolism going and bucket loads of protein, i.e. meat…

Nigella LawsonI mean, forget Masterchef cookbooks—they’re too over the top and too meat-filled. Forget The Cook’s Companion—alluring as it is with its new stripy cover, it’s much too large and overwhelmingly intimidating for a newbie to cooking like me. Forget anything Jamie Oliver-ish—he’s cute and his books are beautifully produced, but they include far too much meat replete with pictures about how to kill it [the cute farmyard animal pictured just a few pages before] and carve it. Forget anything Nigella Lawson-themed. We all know that’s just gastroporn. And forget Moosewood Vegetarian Cookbook—it lacks glossy pictures and is chock filled with tricky-to-find ingredients with American names.

The question is, is there a low fat, plain + sweet, herb-, capsicum-, and eggplant-free, quick-and-easy cookbook for people who can’t cook out there in the market? And if so, can you please tell me its name?

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.

5 thoughts on “The I Can’t Cook Cookbook”

  1. The Restaurant Directory.

    Out of curiosity, do you like mushrooms? I assume its a No, as you don’t like the texture of eggplant and red capsicum.

    At least as a veggo, you don’t need to know about deboning, butterflying a carcass. 🙂

  2. Fi, I am going to make it my mission in life to find you the perfect cookbook. I consider myself well qualified for this task, although I have to admit that you’ve got some pretty hardcore stipulations going on – let the challenge commence! 😉

  3. I suspect the reason there is no cookbook out there for you is because if such a cookbook existed to perfectly fit your needs, you’d be the only person in the world to buy a copy.

    If you can’t cook and you’re not willing to budge a little on the fussiness then it seems a little hopeless to me.

    Might I suggest starting your own cookbook? It involves printing recipes off the internet, cutting them out of magazines, heck, getting your older female relatives to send your their famous mushroom pie recipes, etc? Then just stick it all in a cute notebook. And because you’ve picked them out, you know it’s all going to be food you can a) cook and b) are willing to eat.

    Voila.

  4. When I got to the halfway mark of reading this, I was all ready to propose that I cook you dinner (I cook mainly vegetarian and have found some killer recipes this year), but I’m a little intimidated by the no spice/no herb rule. No cumin? No paprika?? No thyme??? Really?!?!

    Take a look at How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. I have to say up front that it doesn’t meet all your requirements: no glossy pictures (there are illustrations) and sections on cooking with cheese and eggs, but I still think that this could revolutionise your cooking life. Because Bittman doesn’t do fussy. He does clear, concise recipes that each offer at least two variations on the recipe for those for want to tailor them to suit their tastes (vegan, less spice, change in veggie choice, etc). He also breaks things down into “I don’t know how to cook” speak, covering everything from what implements you need in your kitchen to how to make basic sauces and classic dishes. This cookbook was partially responsible for teaching me how to cook well, and I can vouch for his recipes, as I’ve never found one that wasn’t great (and I’ve tried a lot of them… I’ve used the book so much that the pages are starting to fall off the spine).

    Maybe I’ll bring it over and make you something from it as a means of convincing you of the glories of Bittman!

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