The Box Monkey school of cooking is an attempt at a series of guidestones to food for the uninitiated. It's a collection of ideas, recipes, techniques and tips gleaned over the years by a person who can't consistently spell 'recipe', let alone follow one*. Box Monkey cooking is the hope to understand food - why it is what it is, and does what it does. We attempt to understand the cuisines of many cultures, noy just to slavishly imitate them, but to understand [I]why[/I] they do what they do.
The cookbooks I've examine come from three approaches: they try to teach basic recipes and techniques to neophytes, they provide complicated recipies to veterans, or they attempt to highlight one particular genre: ethnic foods, or low-fat, or baked goods, or somesuch.
Box Monkey cooking is different. Box Monkey cooking is playing with your food. It's about trying to figure out why the recipe calls for something, and what happens if you change it. Most cookbooks are about procedures and results: if you follow the procedure, you hope to get an expected result. Box Monkey cooking is about ringing variations on a theme, frying by the seat of your pants, and saying "if we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be research!"
Box Monkey cooking is about trying new things. Not just new-to-you things, but new-to-the-world things. It's about cooking and eating foods that make your friends and neighbors ask "what the hell did you do to that?" It's about achieving marvelous results with simple ingredients that make people say "wow! Why didn't I think of that?" Not in the least, Box Monkey cooking is about giving strange names to things, because you have no idea what to call it, and you're hell and gone from any formally titled recipe.
Cooking like a box monkey won't make anyone a wonderful cook. There are thousands of cookbooks out there for that. It's not for the accomplished cook who wants to learn new techniques or new cuisines. It's not for people with special diets, who want to make diet-compliant food that mimics real food, it's not for people who want to get better at traditional methods, and it's not for the faint of heart.
Box Monkey cooking is for my mother and my father. It's for someone who grew up putting green olives into scrambled eggs, vinegar on broccoli, and sour cream and brown sugar onto fresh strawberries because that's what his parents did and no one told him it was odd. It's for the kid who ate "Chicken conquers Russia", because that's what his dad said the name of the dish was. It's for the kid who did strange things to meatloaf, because making it the same way each time was boring and repetitive.
Box Monkey cooking is for someone just out on their own who needs to eat. Who wants to learn to cook, but doesn't have a lot in the way of kitchen gadgets or tools. Someone who wants to discover spices and sauces and ingredients - who asks "what are these good for?" but is impatient when told the answer. It's for that swinging bachelor or bachelorette that wants to cook something special for someone special, or for the parents, or for the coworkers, but doesn't have a lot of cooking experience under their belt. Such people, regardless of profession, are box monkeys in spirit.
And these cooking notes are for them.
* Really, I can't spell it. Firefox gives me a red wavy line every time I try to type it. I can follow recipes if I really have to, but usually once we get to the herbs and spices, the book and I usually part ways. Cayenne pepper, paprika, and garlic... why are they so overlooked?
Googlebombing for a cause: www.minnesotangos.org