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Can't Cook, Daren't Cook!

We've all seen the cookery experts on TV, ranging from the Queen of the Kitchen, Delia Smith, down to the assorted caterers who supplement the income from their restaurants by appearing on "Ready Steady Cook" (an interesting programme, in which itinerant grub-mongers are issued with, say, a lobster and a bar of chocolate, and given twenty minutes in which to produce something vaguely edible). This is the antidote to all that:

Can't Cook, Daren't Cook - Cybertrucker's Guide to Cookery.

Why "daren't" cook? Well, cooking can be dangerous! More people die in their own homes than are killed in road accidents (a situation happily ignored by Governments when they try to portray the motor car as the world's biggest killer). Many of these are cooking-related. So far my culinary efforts have resulted in three visits to my local Casualty department, twice with cuts and once having nearly passed out. (The nurse said it was because I wasn't eating enough, despite my having the body type known in the medical profession as "Fat Bastard"!)

There's also another reason for not daring to cook. The cookery books, TV programmes, etc, tell you how long it will take to prepare ingredients for a meal and how long it will take to cook it. They always miss out a couple of other important timings - how long it will take to chip the resulting mess off the saucepan, and how long you'll spend in the privy afterwards. So, as a service to the public, and with not a speed camera in sight, here's Cybertrucker's Guide to Cookery!

Essential Equipment:

  1. Cooker. Vital, this. Its main purpose is to reassure your Mum when she comes round that you're looking after yourself. This means that she won't start trying to find you a Suitable Girl, leaving you free to keep finding the unsuitable ones. Cookers come in two flavours, gas and electric. It doesn't matter which you choose - you won't be using it.

  2. Wok. The secondary purpose of the cooker is to give you somewhere to stand your wok. This is basically a big, funny-shaped frying pan. So why not get a frying pan instead? Simple. If your Mum sees a frying pan she'll immediately mark you down as a seedy individual who lives on an unhealthy diet of bacon, eggs and sausages. This will cause a certain amount of friction, and Words Will Be Said. She may even frame you on a charge of Eating Fried Bread as well, in which case the hunt for a Suitable Girl will be resumed. A wok, on the other hand, conjures up visions of healthy stir-fry's in the company of the sort of elegantly-dressed young ladies seen in TV adverts. (Don't worry - you can still do bacon eggs and sausages in a wok!)

    If you must insist on actually using the wretched thing, I shall give you the benefit of my experience of woks, and earnestly entreat you to IGNORE THE ADVICE OF THE EXPERTS! The Experts will tell you to buy a plain steel wok, which you then season by heating peanut oil to a high temperature in it, to coat the inside with a layer of, well, hardened peanut oil. Having done so, you never wash it in Fairy Liquid, you just rinse it under the tap after use. This is nonsense - apart from the risk of setting the place on fire during the initial treatment, any attempt at using the thing will result in unrecognisable charred bits sticking to the inside of it. Rinsing under the tap won't shift them, unless your tap dispenses sulphuric acid, so you'll have to resort to more desperate measures which will destroy the coating of peanut oil. The inside of my steel wok went manky, to the extent that I wouldn't approach it unless I was wearing gloves, and the outside went rusty, so I binned it. Buy a Teflon-coated one. Mine cost me about a fiver from Tesco's, the outside doesn't go rusty and the fallout from cooking operations can be removed by soaking in soapy water for ten days or so.

  3. Freezer. Essential item, unless you live right next door to a supermarket. The dedicated Daren't Cook-er will live out of the freezer. Frozen ready meals are so cheap it's not worth buggering about with raw meat and vegetables - just buy frozen meals. Iceland do a nice range of meals, many at 99p a time. If you buy 25-worth of stuff from Iceland they'll deliver it for you, which saves you lugging it home on the bus, and no Iceland meal has ever caused me any unplanned or excessive lavvy-time. This is in contrast to my last attempt at stir-fried chicken, which cost me two pounds in ingredients and two hours in the bathroom marvelling at the almost infinite capacity of the human digestive system.

  4. Microwave Oven. Very useful, and the perfect complement to the freezer. You can heat up ready meals in a saucepan of boiling water, but it's a lot quicker and easier in a microwave. Buy a simple one with just two controls, a power regulator and a timer. Some expensive microwaves have loads of other controls on them, but you won't understand what they're for and you certainly won't be using them, so why pay for them?

  5. Sharp Knife. Essential in any kitchen. Used for making a hole in the plastic bag before you put it in the microwave. This is a vital step in the cooking process - if you don't pierce the bag it'll burst as the food heats up and you'll be scraping chicken curry off the inside of the microwave. Forget the old saying "Only blunt knives cut you" - any knife poked into your fingers will cut you. I've proved this experimentally. Twice.

  6. Scissors. Optional. Used for cutting the bags open to get the food out. You can use the sharp knife for this to start with, but as you get more advanced you'll want to invest in extra culinary equipment, and a pair of scissors will lend a real air of professionalism to your bag-opening.

Cooking Technique:

  1. Choose meal from freezer. You'll find that the boxes usually have a tempting and mouth-watering picture on the front, holding out all sorts of promises for the meal inside. Don't get too carried away - the food in these photos is prepared by something called a Food Cosmeticist, a highly-talented individual who could make Tutankhamen's mother look like Joan Collins. (Now I come to think of it, Tutankhamen's mother is Joan Collins!) The food in the picture looks like it was prepared by the chef at the Ritz Hotel. Yours will look like something the cat's brought in. Or possibly something the cat's brought up.

  2. Open box, and extract bag(s). One will contain meat and stuff in some sort of coloured goo, the other will probably contain rice. Whatever they contain, they'll be very very cold, so don't stand there holding them all bloody day - you'll get frostbite.

  3. Cook the food. This normally entails cooking the bag of goo for a bit, then putting the bag of rice in as well and cooking for a bit longer. You'll need to find how long "a bit" and "a bit longer" actually are, so retrieve the box from the bin where you've just thrown it, and read the instructions on the side.

  4. Serve the food. This is a simple matter of taking the bags out of the microwave, hopping up and down a bit shouting "Shit, that's hot", and running your fingers under the cold tap for a few seconds. Then open the bags, using either the knife or (for more advanced cooks) the scissors, and pour the contents onto a plate.

  5. Bon Appetit!

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