I Love The I Hate to Cook Book
It’s hard to believe Peg Bracken’s bestseller The I Hate to Cook Book turns fifty this year. Though it certainly was a sensation in its day, I honestly don’t remember my mother owning a copy. That’s because I think in my heart of hearts that Mom really loved to cook. Most of her recipes came out of her head, not from a page.
Still, I have a vague memory of women talking about The I Hate to Cook Book—and cooking from it. What I never knew until the past few weeks was just how enjoyable a read it was. I mean I want to use that overused LOL term here. And along the merry way you’ll find some good ideas and perhaps a perfect dish for that next family or company meal. Peg’s even mad for leftovers—one chapter is subtitled “The Leftovers; or why every family needs a dog.”
High Above the Pacific’s Waters
I remember a trip from my friend’s cooking school in San Francisco across the Golden Gate and north along the shore route to Point Reyes to pick up some fresh oysters for a menu we were teaching (well, she taught, and I opened oysters). As we passed the little village of Stinson Beach, my friend pointed to a house on the hill and informed me that Peg Bracken lived there and had a kitchen with the most incredible view.
I regret I’ve never met her. Anyone who could come up with this preface for Stayabed Stew is someone I’d like to sit next to at dinner: “This is for those days when: en negligee, en bed, with a murder story and a box of bonbons, or possibly a good case of flu.”
You toss all the ingredients together (they include tomato soup and beef stew meat), place in a casserole dish with a tight-fitting cover and into a 275-degree oven, then “go back to bed. It will cook happily all by itself and be done in five hours.” Remember, these were the pre-slow cooker days.
Another priceless line is her introduction to the Hootenhollar Whisky Cake. “First take the whisky out of the cupboard, and have a small snort for medicinal purposes.” Then, to keep it (the cake, that is) revved up, she recommends stabbing it with an ice pick occasionally and “injecting it with a little more whisky with an eyedropper.” She characterizes bringing Whisky Cake to a potluck as a “shrewd move...because you can make it six months ago.”
More Fun with Food
While I chuckled my way through the prose in the book, and thoroughly enjoyed the super-charming illustrations by Hillary Knight, I did come upon some good tips for better cooking. What a mash-up! For instance, I never thought to put a dab of jarred bouillon or a bouillon cube in pasta or vegetable cooking water. And a judicious pinch of sugar can bring out flavor in a just-cooked vegetable.
I found a real howler on page twelve—the description of a little girl who went for sandwiches of saltine crackers on bread. “I think she grew up to be a hospital dietician,” quips the author.
Garnishing is simple, too, according to Peg. Just put light things on dark things, like Parmesan on spinach, and dark on light, like parsley on sole.
Most of the desserts in the book are fresh fruit jazzed up with some sort of spirit, such as sherry. I loved her tip under Afterthought Cookies. When you’re not up to baking for children, she says, “spread confectioners’ sugar moistened with cream and vanilla between graham crackers.”
Try Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Cook’s Wild Rice
- 1 c. wild rice (not the mixed with white rice version)
- 3 c. boiling water
- Salt (I like Malden salt)
- 1 middle-size chopped onion (or 6 chopped green onions)
- 1 stick of butter (4 oz.)
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan (try to use the imported stuff)
- 6 strips of low-sodium bacon, fried and crumbled
Wash the rice, being careful not to let one little platinum-plated grain go down the drain. Add it with the chopped onion to the boiling water. Simmer until the water is absorbed—about thirty-five minutes. Now mix in the melted butter and Parmesan. This will sit contentedly for hours in the top of a double boiler if it has to. Just before serving, mix in most of the chopped bacon and sprinkle the rest on top.
This recipe is a great accompaniment for a rare steak fresh from the outdoor grill. And, with a first name like Cornelius, I feel a kinship with the family involved (if only it was financially rewarding).