Websites are awash with recipes - the trick is to find the right one. Make space on your kitchen counter for your laptop and cook up a storm
I decide to make pesto. But, there's no basil. The Parmesan at my supermarket smells strange. Pine nuts cannot be had for love or money. Which leaves olive oil, garlic and salt. Ideal for a date with a vampire. Not so good when you're craving Italian food.
When I was a kid my father's favourite story was ‘Axe Porridge.' We were convinced he made it up till I stumbled upon it in a collection of Russian folk tales. It's a story about a hungry soldier who stays at the house of a stingy old woman. When she pretends her larder is bare, he offers to make her porridge with an old axe he spots lying under a bench. So he borrows a cauldron and pops in the axe. The old lady can't tear her eyes away when he tastes it, and pronounces it delicious except for the lack of salt. She eagerly provides salt. Then he needs oats. Then milk. Finally a delicious ‘Axe porridge' is ready, and they enjoy dinner. As she marvels at the porridge made of ‘just' an axe, he chuckles quietly.
I decide to axe my pesto. After about fifteen minutes of Googling, I figure fresh coriander can be used instead of basil. Various food bloggers suggest adding cashewnuts, walnuts and even peanuts in place of pesto. I try a mix. Good old Amul cheese follows. And finally, just for fun, I throw in a deseeded green chilli. It's shockingly delicious.
Incessant innovation — it's just one of the perks of being a kitchen geek.
I'm not a traditional cook. I have very little patience, and a frighteningly short attention span. So although I have many beautiful cookbooks, I find I use them more as reference tools than actual recipe guides. They're too regimented, not making allowances for amateurs, experimental cooks or unreliable ingredient supply. The Internet, on the other hand, is incessantly flexible, forgiving and encouraging.
Yes, there are pitfalls, and I've tripped into them all. Not all bloggers are reliable, and websites are awash with recipes, a good number of which might not work — after all the Internet is so democratic anyone can post anything they feel like. A search for the simplest item, say a tomato soup or teacake, leads to a barrage of tempting recipes, making it very tough to choose the right one. The trick is to find a balance. I tend to use family and friend's recipes when it comes to Indian food. But when it comes to global food and unusual ingredients, nothing beats the Internet.
How do you make it work for you?
Experiment with a range of websites to begin with. Take a look at sites like Tastespotting and FoodGawker to get introduced to more food bloggers. Take a look at the food blog we run on the page opposite this column every week. Once you begin to follow a set of them, you'll find yourself constantly inspired by new ideas and challenged by new recipes.
Make space for a computer or your laptop in the kitchen. It makes it much easier to follow video recipes. The are plenty on YouTube though I prefer Video Jug where chefs demonstrate techniques. I tried a tutorial on how to chop an onion efficiently, and my chopping's almost chef-like now. They also show you small but essential things like — How to sharpen a knife, season a cast iron skillet, or simply cut pineapple.
Try recipe software. Foodie Apple users swear by MacGourmet, which helps you create and edit recipes, wine notes and cooking notes. Their ad line? “You organise your digital photos; you make playlists of your MP3s. Now bring your recipe collection into the 21st Century… It's like iTunes for your recipes.”
Websites, like Epicurious for example, give much more information than a cookbook can. A range of pictures. Slide shows. Alternatives. And invaluable ratings and discussions on each recipe by people who've tried them. Read all the comments, and you benefit from other people's mistakes.
The more I eat out, the more I realise we pay restaurants a ridiculous amount of money to make food that's actually really easy to make at home. A friend says I'm becoming like the crotchety grandmother in ‘Goodness Gracious Me', who claims she can do everything with “just one small aubergine.” I prefer to think of myself as a glamorous Axe Porridge soldier.