We’ve been asked to do many terrifying things by Editor Steve over the last few years – mainly crude things like, you know, ‘touch my this’, ‘suck my such-and-such’, ‘something all over my whatever’ – but this was a whole new world of challenging: reviewing a cookbook. Not just any old cookbook though, but one from a genuine Australian cricket legend.
As well as the obvious question of exactly how we’re supposed to actually review a cookbook, there was the more fundamental matter of trying to use the 51allout kitchen. A quick straw poll of the office provided some very vague results around when it had last been cleaned, with ‘never’ seeming the most likely option. But we didn’t let that deter us – one quick squirt of cheap gin and a wipe down with the cloth we found in the toilet and we were all set. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
[Editor’s note: we should take this opportunity to thank Nichael’s missus for her help in putting this together. Without her diligence and actual cooking skill, many lives would certainly have been lost.]
Normally, we like our chicken to be greasy and in large buckets. For our first foray into cooking we picked a reasonably simple recipe that basically involves marinating a chicken in sherry. After a couple of false starts (i.e. someone stealing the sherry, someone stealing the chicken, us realising that the electricity had been cut off), we eventually got something in the oven.
Now we have a lot of respect for Matthew Hayden. You don’t make 8,625 Test runs at more than 50 by being useless. But he seems to have a very poor grasp on how long a chicken takes to cook. The suggested time (30 minutes) came and went and the chicken was probably still closer to being ‘alive’ than being ‘cooked’. Another hour in the oven and it had at least stopped clucking. Yet another hour later and we were finally able to actually eat something.
The ridiculously extended cooking time gave us a chance to read some more of Hayden’s word of wisdom. The format of his cookbook is pretty simple – for each recipe there’s an associated anecdote with some sort of tenuous cricket/food crossover. For the crispy chicken recipe it’s a bunch of curiously garbled stories about north Queensland; basically they have crocodiles up there, someone once fell off a horse and occasionally they use different coloured towels to signal the cricket score to windsurfers. Crime and Punishment it is not.
When it came to the actual eating bit, it turned out okay. Although the fact that the pub had long since closed really did spoil the overall experience somewhat, resulting in a set of fairly mediocre scores from the 51allout panel.
If this recipe were a cricketer it would be: Mark Ramprakash (Promises much but delivers little. Takes about ten years to actually get going)
Following the crispy chicken debacle, we went for something even simpler for the next recipe: lemonade scones. Honestly, this is the simplest recipe for anything ever, on a par with our legendary Banana Surprise (step 1: get a banana, step 2: peel the banana, step 3: eat the banana, step 4: place the peel on the floor in Editor Steve’s office, step 5: hide). After 15 minutes of debating what Hayden meant by 300ml of ‘cream’, we eventually chucked everything into a bowl, mixed it up a bit and then threw it into the oven.
This gave us 20 minutes to review the lemonade scones anecdote and it’s a beauty: once, Matty Hayden had pneumonia and something called pleurisy. He went to a specialist and got better, promising to cook something for his next appointment. Said appointment eventually arrived and Hayden cobbled together some lemonade scones at the last minute. We laughed! We cried! We went back and read it again, just to make sure that we hadn’t missed any of the subtleties!
When it came to the actual eating bit, the scones were a great success, lasting for about 30 seconds before the ravenous hordes of 51allout writers (currently consisting purely of this author, Aussie Matt and some occasional hobos that wander into the office – please let us know if you fancy doing some writing for us) devoured the lot.
The next morning arrived with no (new) health issues of note. There was no (new) evidence of vomit on the carpet. In short: it was a win all round. Although the carpet certainly didn’t get any cleaner that day.
If this recipe were a cricketer it would be: Mitchell Johnson (Simple. Effective. The fluffy bits of hair are a bad sign)
For our final recipe we went for something that couldn’t possibly fail, the good old-fashioned vanilla slice. The recipe didn’t look that complicated, everyone had a vague idea of what it would look like when it was finished and the accompanying anecdote was, once again, a literary masterpiece. On tour, our intrepid author once sat next to an American man, who didn’t get cricket at all. Hayden attempted to explain the intricacies to said man, who responded with comedy gold phrases like “Damn! That’s like kissing ya sister!” and “I blame the Muslims!”. And apparently, that led to a discussion about food, which led to Hayden reminiscing about his days in County cricket, where Hampshire served fantastic vanilla slices.
The baking process for the vanilla slice was a bit messy, but surprisingly straightforward. Although we did run out of bowls to mix things in, forcing us to use the bucket that is (theoretically) for mopping the floor to mix the cream in, but no-one seemed that bothered. We mixed all the bits together, added the icing and stood back to admire our creation…
…which looked bloody brilliant. There aren’t many things that 51allout have ever done right (maybe this article but that’s about it), but the vanilla slice we baked that fateful day is literally our greatest ever work. Even better than that time Aggers told us to behave when we sent him a picture of Samit Patel in response to a question about heavy rollers.
There was the small matter of the actual eating bit to go. Judging by the way the massed ensemble of 51allout writers (i.e both of them) polished off the slices in record time, it was clear we had a winner on our hands. Plus quite a lot of vanilla pudding goo all over the floor – as well as delicious, they turned out to be pretty damn messy. At least we hope it was vanilla goo that Editor Steve had us scraping up with our bare hands the following morning.
If this recipe were a cricketer it would be: Steven Peter Devereux Smith (Perfect in every way. Particularly divine when you finally get to put it in your mouth after all this time)
To conclude: it turns out that cooking can actually be fun. Cleaning up afterwards much less so. Judged purely as a book, the Matthew Hayden cookbook isn’t really that interesting – the anecdotes are rubbish and reading recipes on their own is the behaviour of an oddball. But if you’re prepared to actually try the recipes, then you might get something out of out. Such as salmonella and three weeks off work.