(This Dave Barry column was originally published Jan. 11, 1998.)
Cooking was invented in prehistoric times, when a primitive tribe had a lucky accident. The tribe had killed an animal and was going to eat it raw, when a tribe member named Woog tripped and dropped it into the fire. At first, the other tribe members were angry at Woog, but then, as the aroma of burning meat filled the air, they had an idea. So they ate Woog raw.
Yes, cooking can be hazardous. I learned this lesson from a dramatic true incident that occurred in my childhood. My family was at home, waiting for company to arrive; my mom was cooking one of her specialties, creamed chipped beef, in a double boiler. There was a knock at the door, and we all went to the living room to greet our company, which was fortunate because at exactly the instant we opened the door, the double boiler exploded violently, sending what seemed like thousands of gallons of creamed chipped beef flying in all directions with tremendous force. I believe that if there are intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe, one day their astronomers will detect traces of this particular entree spreading out across the cosmos at nearly the speed of light, and they will, by extrapolating backward, calculate that a cataclysmic Big Beef Bang took place on Earth in 1958.
The point is that, as a safety precaution, you should never cook anything, including toast, without wearing a welding helmet. Also, you should choose a recipe that is appropriate for the individuals who will be eating it. For example, you do not need to make an elaborate dish if the individuals are dogs. A dog will eat pretty much anything; one major reason why there are no restaurants for dogs is that the customers would eat the menus. So a dog will happily eat the same recipe forever. You can feed a dog ''kibble,'' which is actually compressed dirt, every single day for 13 years, and the dog will consider you to be the greatest cook in world history. It will lick the ground you walk on.
The situation is similar with guys. Guys generally like to find a recipe that works for them and stick with it. For example, I know a sportswriter named Bob who, to my knowledge, has never in his life cooked anything except Stouffer's frozen French bread pizza. This is all he has in his freezer. If he hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, he'd serve a large Stouffer's French bread pizza, stuffed with smaller Stouffer's French bread pizzas. At the Stouffer's factory, they probably have a whole department devoted exclusively to Bob, called ''The Department of Bob,'' which monitors Bob's pizza consumption and has a fleet of loaded resupply trucks ready to roll when he runs low.
If you're not cooking for guys or dogs, you should use a more elaborate ''gourmet'' type of recipe, which you can find in magazines such as Bon Appetit (literal translation: ``Chow Down''). The problem here is that the people who are creating these recipes are also snorking down cooking wine by the gallon, and after a while they start making up words. Take ``fennel.''
There is no such thing as ''fennel,'' yet many of your gourmet recipes call for it. Other examples of imaginary ingredients are ''shallots,'' ''capers'' and ''arugula.'' So what frequently happens when you try to make a gourmet recipe is, you're progressing briskly through the steps, and suddenly you come across an instruction that the gourmet chef obviously dreamed up moments before passing out facedown in the bearnaise sauce, such as, ``Carmelize eight minced hamouti kleebers into a reduction of blanched free-range whelk corneas.''
Thus, to be a successful cook, you need to learn how to adapt gourmet recipes to the ''real world'' by making substitutions. For example, recently I was looking through the December issue of Bon Appetit, and I found a recipe called ''Sweet Potato Soup with Lobster and Orange Creme Fraiche.'' I was very interested in making this recipe; the problem was that some of the ingredients, such as ''leeks,'' were obviously imaginary, whereas others, such as lobster, were members of the cockroach family. No problem! I simply looked around my kitchen for appropriate substitute ingredients, and I was able to adapt the Bon Appetit recipe to meet my specific needs, as follows:
SWEET POTATO SOUP WITH LOBSTER AND ORANGE CREME FRAICHE
1. In a medium room, remove wrappers from eight miniature Three Musketeers bars left over from Halloween.
2. Eat bars.
3. Feed wrappers to dog.
With a little ingenuity, you can achieve results very much like this in your own kitchen. I bet that when word of your culinary prowess gets around, people will be flocking to your door! Let's hope they're bringing pizza.