The only thing worse than being a bad cook is having to eat the food of a bad cook.
Looking in the eyes of your host from across the table is truly difficult when the spinach casserole that you are chewing tastes more like cud. There is sort of a common knowledge in the air: I know that you know that I think you're an awful cook.
But the bad food blues don't always have to bring amateur chefs down. The Internet offers thousands of sites with cooking tips and recipes to cure what ails you.
One of the best and most comprehensive sites is www.my-meals.com. The site boasts a menu of over 10,000 recipes stored in its data bank, many of them rated on a five-star system.
To access the site's extensive files, type in a search phrase such as veal or meatloaf, and up pops a list of popular - and sometimes rare - recipes.
A return on the search phrase meatloaf netted a list of 19 recipes. I didn't even know there was more than one way to cook meatloaf. The highest rated meatloaf recipe was Deutsch Meatloaf, preparation time one-and-one-half hours.
For those equipped with less knowledge around the kitchen, there is www.chowbaby.com.
The operators of this site bestow general knowledge of different types of cuisine, wines, customs and preparation techniques. For those of us that struggle to find solutions to our cooking problems, click on "ask the chef." It works like a message board where users have the ability to share cooking secrets. Queries are available for anyone to use.
Perhaps the most valuable parts of this site are the nutrition and calorie guides. These days, it's hard to know what we are putting in our bodies.
Second only to the Nevada Appeal in food information and recipes (see Wednesday's Food page), the Los Angeles Times offers a cornucopia of food-related information.
Log on to www.latimes.com/food/ to learn how to spot the freshest food at the market; how to store it; how to prepare it and what the West's foremost critics think of new dishes. Collectors of fine cookbooks will be happy to see listings for the most often recommended additions to their collections.
Food connoisseurs should pay special attention to innovations in food production and engineering. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov) keeps the public pretty well abreast of the latest developments.
Everything from animal drugs to genetic manipulation to regulations is tightly monitored by the agency and displayed for public review. Knowing what goes into a carrot before it gets to the market can be as important as ensuring its freshness.
Fans of Spam (the tasty hamish meat that melts on your plate) have many compatriots in the computing world. One of the best sites is located at www.geocities.com/collegepark/campus/4656/spam.html. Don't let the long URL fool you, this site is worth a visit, and there are links to the "Sounds of Spam" and "Spam quotes." You can also connect to more than 40 sites operated by Spam lovers. Perverse.
Mushroom lovers will have fun with Mushroom Heaven, the site dedicated to the only fungi that humans regularly eat with the knowledge that there are varieties out there that will either kill you or give you a hallucination. Log on to members.aa.net/~reo/mushroom.html.
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