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Cooking for One: Fascination with food reaches biblical proportions

Thursday, June 10, 1999

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Holy cow, I'm surrounded by bibles. Looking for recipes and inspiration for the solo cook, I sit in the office staring at the shelves of my cookbook library. From here, I can count 10 so-called bibles, and there's not a King James among them. They're all secular bibles. Now, there s an oxymoron for you.

"The Cake Bible" and the "Pie and Pastry Bible" are comprehensive, yes, and meticulous, sure. "The Barbecue! Bible" is an excellent cookbook to grab. "The Cheese Bible" is without peer as a source book.

There are also "The Nutrition Bible," "The Bread Bible" and "The Vegetable Bible." What the devil (pardon me) is going on here? Would you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth on a stack of "Cake Bibles"? Would you keep your baptismal certificate tucked safely into the pages of the family "Bagel Bible"?

It's not the contents of the bibles that annoys me, it's the titles. What kind of authors are so ego-driven as to think they have written another bible? At best, the bibles are boasts. We're talking sausages here, not psalms.

Most of the authors of these books are my friends, good people all. So we have to lay blame for the pretentious titles on the marketing guys. Can't you just see it? The first cookbook bible comes out. Whoa, they say, there's a catchy title. Let's rip right through the index. There are probably more begats in the cookbook titles than in the Old Testament.

"The Food Bible" is a travesty. Food for whom? It advertises the right foods to eat. If you're a granola-head, maybe, with its fiber counts, fat-free recipes, popular diets and discussions of digestive problems.

But the one that blows me over the edge is the "Bagel Bible." The contents would barely make a short newspaper article. Half the book is a double-spaced where-to-buy-bagels list, as if a hamster couldn't figure out where to buy a bagel. There's so much white space, the pages look like paint samples. It's not even a book, much less a bible. By word count, Leviticus is way longer.

Let's call these, unromantically, source books, references, compendiums or encyclopedias. But let's not call them bibles.

Expect retaliation. Any minute you'll see the Gideon sales force placing the Gideon Cookbook in every kitchen. In it, the loaves and fishes routine will specify foccacia and tilapia. Lot will be turned into a pillar of sea salt. The Last Supper menu will surely be a 12-course degustation.

The only bible-oid cookbook the solo cook needs is a good reference, such as Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything." The title also may be pretentious, but the book takes Joe and Jane Cook from genesis, through the acts, lays out a few proverbs and gets you exodus-ed from of the kitchen in no time flat.

And if Dad is living single again, be an angel and get him a copy for Father s Day.

Daily Bread

This does not have the great crust, crumb and flavor of French or sourdough bread, but you can start it at 5:30 pm and be eating it warm at 7. Add 1 tablespoon or so of minced fresh herbs -- such as parsley, dill or sage -- for variety.

3 cups bread or all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water, plus more if necessary
1/4 cup olive oil
Coarse salt to taste (optional)

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl or food processor. Add the water all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon or with the machine on; add the olive oil and continue to mix for a minute or two longer by hand, about 30 seconds total with the food processor. Add water by the tablespoon if necessary, until a ball forms.

Shape the dough into a flat round or long loaf, adding only enough flour to allow you to handle the dough. Place dough on baking sheet or wooden pizza peel. Let rise in the warmest place in your kitchen, covered with a towel, while you preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Brush the loaf with water, sprinkle it with coarse salt if you like, and bake on a sheet or slide onto a baking stone for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until done -- the crust will be golden and crisp -- about 30 to 45 minutes more. Makes 1 loaf. Slices are excellent toasted and not bad for casting upon the waters.

"How To Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman

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