Al Dente: Italian term for the desired stage in the preparation of pasta, when it is cooked yet still firm to the bite. Pasta that has been boiled too long is described, according to the degree to which it has been overcooked, as al gummo, al musho, al botcho, and al garbaggio.

Barbecue: Primitive summertime rite at which spirits are present, hunks of meat are sacrificed by being burnt on braziers by sauce-smeared men wearing odd hats and aprons with cabalistic slogans, and human flesh is offered to insects.

Basting: Process through which cooking juices in a roasting pan are carefully transferred with a basting siphon, ladle, or spoon to the oven rack, the bottom of the oven, the inside of the oven door, the floor, the stove top, and the counter.

Chef: Any cook who swears in French.

Cookbook: A collection of recipes arranged in such a fashion that the cook must turn the page just after the point where a thick paste of flour, water, and lard is mixed by hand.

Diet: The specific types and quantities of food that any given individual will start eating tomorrow, next week, or after the beginning of the new year.

Food: Any plant or animal substance that provides nourishment. There are basically four broad categories of food: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and individually wrapped chocolates with cherry centers.

Gadget: Any mechanical device that performs a kitchen task in one-twentieth the time it takes to find it.

Gelatin: A pain in the aspic.

Gourmet: Anyone who, when you fail to finish something strange or revolting, remarks that it's an acquired taste and that you're leaving the best part.

Health Food: Any food whose flavor is indistinguishable from that of the package in which it is sold.

Imported: Packed in a box, can, carton, or bottle with a label containing lies in a foreign language.

Jams and Jellies: Sweet fruit confections served at breakfast with toast, muffins, or other baked goods. Oddly enough, jams and jellies are considered diet foods, since the calories expended in opening the jars and packets in which they are sold greatly exceeds the number consumed in the course of eating their contents.

Kitchen Cabinet: Storage area containing items that should have been put somewhere else.

Ladle: The only thing that is edible in a pot of leek soup.

Marinade: Any flavored liquid mixture in which a dish whose recipe you just looked up after deciding to serve it this evening should have been soaking since at least last night.

Noodles: Honestly. Nobody, but nobody, calls them noodles anymore. Wash your mouth out with kir and see PASTA.

Oven Mitt: A partially charred grease stain that fits over the hand.

Picnic: Any meal eaten more than 100 yards from the nearest bathroom.

Recipe: A series of step-by-step instructions for preparing ingredients you forgot to buy in utensils you don't own to make a dish the dog won't eat the rest of.

Sugar: One of a class of carbohydrates present in one form or another in all foods. Common sources of sugar and the types they contain are: fructose and glucose (fruit juice and honey); lactose (milk); sucrose (sugar cane or sugar beets); maltose (malt); and jocose, verbose, morose, lachrymose, bellicose, and comatose (alcohol).

Taste: 1. The ability to distinguish between, say, tripes a la mode de Caen and chocolate pudding. 2. The critical discernment necessary to choose the chocolate pudding.

Timer: Adjustable clock that rings or otherwise signals when a particular dish is overcooked.

Utensil: A spill, cut, burn, or bungle with a handle on the end.

Vinaigrette: Basic French dressing that consists of too much oil added a bit too quickly to a mixture containing partially ground peppercorns from a malfunctioning mill, an excess of salt, all the juice that could be gotten out of an old lemon half, and dry mustard that fell out of the can in a big lump.

Whisk: One of a number of exercise devices used by sedentary cooks to develop muscles and improve body tone. Other items of workout equipment found in kitchens include the eggbeater (strengthens pectorals), the cheese grater (enlarges triceps), and the salad spinner (firms up deltoids).

Yogurt: Semisolid dairy product made from partly evaporated and fermented milk. Yogurt is one of only three foods that taste exactly the same as they sound. The other two are goulash and squid.

Zinfandel: Red wine produced in very large volume in California and available by the liter or gallon in both premium and unleaded varieties. The best recent vintage is the 11:35 a.m., though some people swear by the 9:58.

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updated 04/09/06