Archive | July, 2017

Should you cook with Coolio, Sheryl Crow or Kelis

19 Jul

835The photographer from the Guardian is wearing a curious expression, in which a slightly strained smile does its best to conceal a look of disappointment. It is unmistakably the face of a woman attempting to spare someone’s feelings by pretending to enjoy a black bean quesadilla that she really isn’t enjoying much. “No, it’s nice,” she says, clearly in no great rush to eat any more. Besides, I know it isn’t nice, because I’ve tried one myself. The filling has a bizarre texture: somehow crumbly and claggy at the same time.

The reason I’m cooking black bean quesadillas while a Guardian photographer looks on is because they come with a recommendation from acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist. They are one of the recipes in a book she co-authored with chef Adrienne Amato called Pleasures, which details what Feist and her band ate during the making of her 2017 album of the same name. Every track on it has a lunch, dinner and dessert attached to it. And the reason I’m cooking a recipe from Pleasures is because I’m investigating cookbooks written by rock and pop stars. There has been a constant stream of them over the last few years. Rappers, cerebral indie musicians, country music legends and R&B divas alike have felt impelled to share their culinary secrets with the world. What can a music fan and cook of limited abilities learn from them?

The first thing is that their authors have quite a mix of cooking abilities. They range from artists who have trained as chefs – R&B star Kelis is a graduate of the prestigious Cordon Bleu cookery school – to artists who have buddied up with chefs to co-write their books, to artists whose interest seems slightly questionable. Something about the cover of Cookin’ with Coolio – a badly-Photoshopped shot of the rapper apparently flambéing bacon and eggs – which even I know is probably not the best technique – suggests that his enthusiasm for the kitchen might have more to do with prolonging his reality TV career than a lifelong passion for cuisine.

There are books that claim they’ll improve your wellbeing (Sheryl Crow’s If it Makes You Healthy) and books that look like they could kill you. Rapper Action Bronson’s Fuck, That’s Delicious is by some distance the best-written and most entertaining pop cookbook I come across, bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm. But its author is visibly not a man at home to the ascetic health-giving delights of, say, Crow’s brown basmati rice with soy-sage sausage. Put it this way, there’s a photo of him in Japan, shirtless beside some sumo wrestlers and by comparison, the sumo wrestlers look like the “after” photo in a Special K advert. His recipe for “a butcher sandwich the way a guy like me would eat it” contains half a pound of rib-eye steak and involves both buttering the bread and frying it in steak fat, his method for making “the chicken of all fucking chickens” requires three litres of oil, one of his “incredible pairings” reads simply “ten tubs of ice cream and depression”.

Keen to avoid both a physique like Action Bronson’s and/or a visit to the cardiology department, I opt to cook something a little lighter. He claims his two-minute tomato sauce is “the best I ever had”. It’s certainly easy to make – garlic, chillies, basil, tinned tomatoes, salt and pepper – and the end result is fine. If it doesn’t quite live up to its advance billing, perhaps that’s something to do with rappers’ inbuilt capacity for braggadocio. That said, for the purposes of comparison, I make Frank Sinatra’s marinara sauce, from The Sinatra Celebrity Cookbook, and it’s definitely an improvement on that; more garlicky, more flavoursome. Action Bronson 1, Chairman of the Board 0.

I confess to abandoning two of the books without cooking anything from them. I just don’t buy Coolio as a gourmet. There’s no USP to the book, beyond a load of really boring recipes spiced up with the odd “mofo” and “pimpin’” in the method descriptions. Loretta Lynn’s 2006 work You’re Cookin’ it Country, meanwhile, deals in a specific kind of old-fashioned, downhome US cooking that either involves ingredients I can’t find – hominy, catfish – or just sounds, to put it politely, not to my taste. There’s a lot of making casseroles by pouring cream of mushroom soup over minced beef or tinned tuna, and some dewy-eyed reminiscences of Lynn’s childhood in rural Kentucky that make mince floating about in mushroom soup seem like haute cuisine: “Possum is a different-tasting meat, but Daddy loved it.”

I approach Feist’s book with caution, partly because when I open it I’m confronted by a recipe that involves a soup containing halloumi cheese – I love halloumi, but boiling it in soup seems so wrong – and partly because many of the meals are vegan, and veganism and I have previous. I tried a plant-based diet last year, lured by its health benefits, and abandoned it almost immediately, after an ill-starred dalliance with the cookbooks of blogger Deliciously Ella. The taste of one of her dishes in particular, involving roast sweet potato and tahini-dressed avocado, haunted me for weeks. Every time I thought of it, I went off the idea of eating full stop. Keen to avoid a rerun, I opt for the black bean quesadillas in the hope that Mexican spicing will override the lack of dairy.

They are easy enough to knock together, and the song that was apparently recorded fuelled by them – Lost Dreams – is lovely, but the end result is about as far away from the unctuousness of a non-vegan quesadilla as you can get: the only lubrication suggested for the mashed black bean filling is a spritz of lime juice.

I have better luck on the vegan front the following day, with a recipe from Sheryl Crow’s book written by the singer and her chef Chuck White after she beat breast cancer. The book is filled with radiant testimony to the antioxidant and immune-system-boosting qualities of the meals within and, less lovably, terrible posed photos of the singer smiling broadly while stirring saucepans and chopping salad. I make the hot and sour miso soup with tofu and bok choi considerably less healthy by frying the tofu rather than boiling it and slathering it with sriracha. The result is good, a decent midweek supper.

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