About Me

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My friends call me the "grammar goddess." Really. ;-) I own a freelance writing, editing and tutoring business. Previously, I served three years as food editor for The Morning Sun in Mt. Pleasant, which kindled my interest in food writing. My other areas of expertise in writing include features, community news, architecture/construction and engraving/personalization. I have a frightening number of cookbooks and watch too many DIY, HGTV, Food Network, Cooking Channel and Antiques Roadshow (BBC and PBS versions) shows. And I tweak nearly every recipe I make.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cookbook Review: The I Hate to Cook Book: 50th Anniversary Edition

Peg Bracken was my hero from the moment I boughtThe I Hate to Housekeep Book for 10 cents at a used bookstore. I was in junior high and could totally relate to her sentiments, but that's an entirely different blog.

Shortly after that, I bought a paperback copy of The Appendix to The I Hate to Cook Book for perhaps 50 cents. In the back, I discovered a list of her other books, including The I Hate to Cook Book. I really don't hate to cook, but found the title hilarious nonetheless.

I scoured used bookstores and library book sales for years and bought the revised The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book when it came out (a combination of the two cookbooks) and vastly enjoyed her memoir, A Window Over the Sink.

Finally, a couple of years ago, I found a first edition copy of The I Hate to Cook Book at a used book sale. I wouldn't have dreamed of reviewing the book, though, because it was out of print.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, while visiting my friend, Tati (the only person I know who owns more cookbooks than I do), she dragged out a new treasure:The I Hate to Cook Book: 50th Anniversary Edition for me to check out. My first thought was "awesome!" My second thought was: "Now I can review this book!"

When I read the introduction by Bracken's daughter, Johanna, I almost busted a gut laughing. She's definitely inheirited her mom's sense of humor. 

For those of you who haven't read anything by her, Peg Bracken is hilarious: I've read all of her books multiple times and they still make me chuckle. Her writing style is just about equally split between actual recipes and (sometimes snarky) editorial comments about cooking.

For example, right after her Stayabed Stew entry, she comments: "But as a rule, don't hesitate to cut the amount of seasoning way down, or leave it out, when you know it's one you don't like. ... I for one think rosemary is for remembrance, not cooking, and the amount of rosemary I have omitted from various recipes would make your head swim." Some recipes have asterisks next to certain ingredients stating the item can be omitted if desired.

That's probably why, even after slightly changing the ingredients, I've never made a bad recipe from this book.

My favorite recipe in the book, Skid Row Stroganoff, which I've abused with numerous substitutes, including using low-fat sour cream instead of regular, substituting dried garlic and onion flakes for fresh garlic and onion, low-fat cream of mushroom soup instead of cream of chicken soup and low-fat sour cream for full-fat sour cream.

Not one of these changes (or even making all of them at one time) impaired the recipe quality. I attribute the fact that these changes had no impact on Bracken's recipes to the extensive testing she did on her family, as mentioned by daughter Johanna.

I have read all of Bracken's books I've been able to find (most of which have been out of print for years) and love them. Her writing style was so conversational you almost feel as though you're reading a friend's letter. When she died in 2007 at the age of 89, I shed a few tears, in part because I knew there would never be another Peg Bracken book. Fortunately, I was wrong, even though it's an anniversary edition.

The best thing is that a whole new generation of people with different problems but who still have no desire to spend an incredible amount of time (or money) in the kitchen are introduced to this book's tried and true recipes featuring uncomplicated ingredients and great taste served with a side of humor.