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The I HATE TO COOK Book By Peg Bracken

Somewhere during my travels in 2010, I picked up an ARC of the The I HATE TO COOK Book: The 50th Anniversary Edition of The American Classic. This week I finally delved into it, and I am completely and utterly charmed.

Looking for the perfect holiday gift for someone who cooks, or who wants to start? Look no further. Seriously - no need for Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible or the latest offerings from Ina Garten or Martha Stewart. Just put this book in their hands.

Here's a bit from the Introduction, written by Peg Bracken over 50 years ago:

Some women, it is said, like to cook.

This book is not for them.

This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking. This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day.

There are recipes - nearly all of them simple - interspersed with chatty bits. And the recipes have funny names. Here, for instance, is the recipe for Stayabed Stew, followed by a chatty bit, so you can get the flavor for the book:

5-6 servings

(This is for those days when you're en negligee, en bed, with a murder story and a box of bonbons, or possibly a good case of flu.)

Mix these things up in a casserole dish that has a tight lid.
2 pounds beef stew meat, cubed
1 can of little tiny peas*
1 cup of sliced carrots
2 chopped onions
1 teaspoon salt, dash of pepper
1 can cream of tomato soup thinned with 1/2 can water
  (or celery or mushroom soup thinned likewise)
1 big raw potato, sliced
piece of bay leaf*

*If you don't like this, leave it out.

Put the lid on and put the casserole in a 275º oven. Now go back to bed. It will cook happily all by itself and be done in five hours.

Incidentally, a word here about herbs and seasonings. These recipes don't call for anything exotic that you buy a box of, use once, and never again. Curry powder, chili powder, oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, and bay leaf are about as far out as we get. And if your family says, "What makes it taste so funny, Mommie?" whenever you use any herbs at all, you can omit them (although if you omit chili from chili or curry from curry, you don't have much left, and you'd really do better to skip the whole thing).

Truly a charming book, with plenty of recipes that I'm fixing to try . . . including "Pedro's Special", which bears the notation Very easy; very good with beer; good even without it.

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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 16th, 2011 02:17 am (UTC)
Aw, my mom had that book!
Nov. 16th, 2011 03:32 am (UTC)
It's such a fun read!!
Nov. 16th, 2011 05:24 am (UTC)
What a hoot! I love to cook, but this sounds like it would be a good read anyway!
Nov. 16th, 2011 02:09 pm (UTC)
It keeps me laughing. For instance, this bit from "Skid Road Stroganoff":

"Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink."
Nov. 16th, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC)
OMG - that made me almost do a spit take with my coffee. I have to get my hands on that!!!
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 17th, 2011 03:27 am (UTC)
As you know, I don't smoke either - but the "stare sullenly at the sink" part cracked me right up.

In speaking about garnishes (parsley, Parmesan and paprika, as it turns out), she says this:

"The reason for these little garnishes is that even though you hate to cook, you don't always want this fact to show, as it so often does with a plateful of nude food. So you put light things on dark things (like Parmesan on spinach) and dark things on light things (like parsley on sole) and sprinkle paprika on practically everything within reach. Sometimes you end up with a dinner in which everything seems to be sprinkled with something, which gives a certain earnest look to the whole performance, but it still shows you're trying."
Nov. 16th, 2011 01:12 pm (UTC)
I absolutely LOVE the excerpts! (And oh, am I one of those women.)

Are there many vegetarian recipes, or is it pretty meat-focused?
Nov. 16th, 2011 02:14 pm (UTC)
Most of the main courses are meat-centric, although I suppose some of it depends on what category of vegetarian you are. There are main dishes that revolve around fish or cheese, for instance, so if you are pescatarian or ovo-lacto, you might be fine with the recipes.

The book's been around forever, so you might be able to scare up a library copy to have a look at, since just reading her descriptions and other bits is great fun.
Nov. 16th, 2011 01:30 pm (UTC)
My mom had this book!
Nov. 16th, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC)
Mine didn't, but I may get it for her for Christmas. Because the descriptions and directions are hilarious. Check out this bit, from the middle of a stroganoff recipe:

"Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink."
Nov. 16th, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC)
Yup, that was my mom. She apparently took it literally. But the cigarattes and sullenness usually lasted longer than 5 minutes. It was not a happy era for many women.
Nov. 16th, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
No kidding - it's no wonder Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique.
Nov. 16th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
I once did an event with Peg Bracken. She was the mother in law of the Oregonian's cartoonist. She was still very funny.
Nov. 17th, 2011 03:28 am (UTC)
I am seriously in love with this book. And her daughter, Jo, wrote a wonderful foreword.
Nov. 18th, 2011 02:43 am (UTC)
My M-I-L had a copy of the original "I Hate to Cook Book." I remember reading it when I was first married, and I enjoyed the quirky comments as much as the few recipes I still use from it: Cock-eyed Cake and Hamburger Stroganoff, which I do not sprinkle with the parsley Peg Bracken required, because HH doesn't like it.

Nov. 18th, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC)
It's remarkably entertaining. I love her comment that saying you have leftover cake is like saying you have leftover whiskey. LOL!

Peg Bracken specifically says to omit anything you don't like - including parsley - so I'm sure she'll be fine with it.
Nov. 19th, 2011 06:49 am (UTC)
Just looked this up on Amazon and you failed to mention that the illustrations are by Hilary Knight, otherwise I would have looked it up (and added it to the wish list) MUCH SOONER.

If you are unfamiliar with Hilary Knight (is anyone in the children's book world unfamiliar with Hilary Knight? It's not THAT long ago, surely?), search him on Amazon now and prepare for the awesomeness. My favorite is his renderings for "The Animal Garden," by Ogden Nash, which could NOT be cooler, but only slightly less favorite is his Cinderella, in which Prince Charming is a rather stout redhead with a snub nose.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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