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Chris Hennes

Worst. Cookbook. Ever.

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The secretaries at a friend's office banded together and created a cookbook for all the administrators. A sweet gesture, most likely made under the assumption that suit-wearing types don't get enough old timey home cookin'. This was in the era before Blurb ... done entirely by hand with Kinko's technology.

I was just learning to cook at the time and thought I might be able to learn from the nice ladies. I was especially intrigued by the technique tips scattered among the recipes. One of these stood out ...

How to prevent lumps in creamed soups:

Shake the can before opening it.

But even this is no match for Chris's Blend Tec ice cream.

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Shake the can before opening it.

I think this shall become my standard response to any cooking problem.

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I haven't read it, but the New York Times recent hailed the reprint of the I Hate to Cook Book in a recent book review, which described it as a cookbook for those "who appreciate...processed-cheese, canned-soup and alcohol-laden recipes..." Sounds like a contender.

In my opinion, not even a distant contender.

Even though I love to cook, I love that cookbook - I have all of Peg Bracken's books and recently got the 50th anniversary book.

Several million women have found the book to be helpful when they have little time and even less energy because a decently flavored meal can be tabled without spending hours in the kitchen.

It was not aimed at the experienced or avid cook.

It is fun to read - just the chapter titles are evocative of her humor.

"30 Day-by-Day Recipes - Or the Rock Pile"

"Household Hints - Or What to do When Your Churn Paddle Sticks"

All written with her tongue firmly in her cheek and as you read, you can almost hear her chuckling as she puts word to paper.

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I think that the Moosewood books are being unfairly maligned; they are far superior to their truly ghastly predecessors in holier-than-thou cuisine. My nomination is The Vegetarian Epicure. I expect that it was also, in its day, an advance over the food being served in communes and student housing.

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Comparing Vegetarian Epicure and Moosewood Cookbook to see which is worse is sort of like trying to decide whether a flat tire or a shattered windshield is worse. They both really, really suck.

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The other day I was browsing in a used bookstore. Not much to offer--the usual zillion microwave cookbooks, and... what's this? A Suzanne Sommer's cookbook?

The clerk was watching me, seeing if I was gullable enough to crack it open. Strangely, the clerk's stare brought back a memory of when I was 18 and "shopping" for my first car: Peering through the windows of Chevelles and Dusters, checking out the mileage; and there, in the middle of the lot was an AMC Pacer, the car lot operator breathless, straining to see if I was gullable enough to peek through the window of that one............

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I haven't read it, but the New York Times recent hailed the reprint of the I Hate to Cook Book in a recent book review, which described it as a cookbook for those "who appreciate...processed-cheese, canned-soup and alcohol-laden recipes..." Sounds like a contender.

In my opinion, not even a distant contender.

....

Thank you for coming to Peg's defence, Andie. There was a time when I truly hated cooking. I had 3 kids, a full-time job and was attending university to complete my degree part-time. I had an hour between arriving home from work and heading off to uni to feed the kids and my husband. Peg was my other "best friend".

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I adore Peg Bracken, as well. Her books are thoroughly entertaining. And while some recipes do rely on canned soup or processed cheese spread, a lot do not and are quite sensible recipes with real food.

I think the standards for what constitutes easy cooking are a lot different now. I have a Betty Crocker cookbook from 1960 or so and It gives the impression that an easy cake was a scratch cake where you didn't have to beat egg whites by hand. Whereas now cookbooks have to explain how to mix butter and sugar because they can't assume people know what "cream" means.

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I haven't read it, but the New York Times recent hailed the reprint of the I Hate to Cook Book in a recent book review, which described it as a cookbook for those "who appreciate...processed-cheese, canned-soup and alcohol-laden recipes..." Sounds like a contender.

In my opinion, not even a distant contender.

....

Thank you for coming to Peg's defence, Andie. There was a time when I truly hated cooking. I had 3 kids, a full-time job and was attending university to complete my degree part-time. I had an hour between arriving home from work and heading off to uni to feed the kids and my husband. Peg was my other "best friend".

Exactly my point. There was a time when I had three teenagers at home, a full time job during the week and was spending every weekend showing dogs, both my own and others (for pay to support my own entry fees and travel expenses). The available time for planning, shopping and preparing meals was extremely limited and I got little or no help from my husband or the kids (until sometime later when I laid down the LAW!)

The recipes in Peg Bracken's book saved my sanity (and possibly the life of my husband) as the kids would willing consume "Sweep Steak," "Pedro's Special," "Old Faithful" and "Maxie's Franks" without complaint.

Later, the kids learned to make some of these on their own, which took a big load off my shoulders. My husband was never "into" cooking, although he could construct a mean sandwich and often did lunch prep duty.

I tried a lot of "easy to fix" recipe books but this one really made a big difference for me.

The fact that it remained popular for over a generations must mean that other people also found it helpful - and fun.

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The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook by Jean Hewitt. Includes such family pleasers as Soybean and Nut Loaf, Green Revolution Breakfast (apple, raisins, wheat grass, wheat germ and lecithin granules), Consciousness III Pudding (including carob powder, among other things) and Fruit Bat Soup. It's a classic. AND it's the New York Times!

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The one cookbook that has left my collection with extreme prejudice was Great Good Food by Julee Rosso. That cookbook was so poorly written: ingredients were listed and never used and vice versa as I recall.

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I have been going back and forth on whether or not to share this "cookbook". This was given to my mom by my brother's ex-wife as a joke... a bad one at that. It is in poor taste and may violate the TOS, so my apologies if this offends anyone.

You have been warned

Click to view..

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1280957720/gallery_61658_6368_179151.jpg

And a sample from the book...

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1280957720/gallery_61658_6368_661575.jpg

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There are so, so many ways a cookbook can be bad.

It makes it hard to choose the single worst.

For lack of ambition and down-market down-dumbing, Chris Hennes is spot on with the genre of equipment instruction recipe books.

For impracticality, the category would likely be headed by The Fat Duck Cookbook and The French Laundry.

I agree that there are different ways a cookbook can be bad, which is why I disagree that the Fat Duck Cookbook is bad. I have it and I haven't cooked anything out of it, and I probably won't. But as a source of inspiration it is unparalleled. It's the only "cookbook" I have that can be read more or less like a novel and that imparts all sorts of useful knowledge, and that changes the way you think about food. You could argue that it pushes the boundaries of what a "cookbook" is by going beyond a collection of recipes and into psychology and science and cooking methodology. From this perspective it's the single most valuable cookbook I have, even if I never cook anything in it.

As a point of comparison I have lots of cookbooks on chocolate that are all interchangeably bland. They all have a few pages at the front on the history of chocolate, how it's made, where it comes from, etc etc. Then they have a bunch of recipes that are all pretty much the same, perhaps with some drinks shoehorned in at the end, and probably some recipes that don't need chocolate but it's been added anyway. The photos are pretty but the actual content is just plain average. The recipes are much more accessible that those in the Fat Duck cookbook but I'm no more likely to make anything because none of it is really interesting, and the entire book is forgettable so it just sits on the shelf gathering dust with all the others.

The difference is that after reading the Fat Duck cookbook I feel inspired about food, I have learnt a bunch of techniques and methods I have not heard of before, and I want to explore new techniques and become a better cook. After reading a generic chocolate cookbook I just want to eat chocolate.

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There might be different ways a cookbook can be bad, but I submit that a cookbook with a recipe for Banana Salad Dressing is bad by any measure: mashed banana mixed with mayonnaise, peanut butter and evaporated milk, meant to be served on fruit salad.

The book? The Use-It-Up Cookbook, which has a ton of suggestions for using up leftover foods, none of which sound appetizing at all.

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I wish I knew the name of the cookbook that supplied my mother with the recipe for 'nutmeat' (which is something like meatloaf, without meat, or any of its charm), since that would, on the basis of that recipe alone, win the prize for worst cookbook.
It also made such things as whole-meal angel-food cake, gelatin desserts using agar-agar and poorly dissolved brown sugar, and the gnarliest rice pudding I have ever eaten, see light of day

But that nutmeat is what makes the cookbook take first prize as the cookbook from Hell. My parents became vegetarian when I was about two, and nutmeat still makes an annual appearance on my family's Thanksgiving Day table. Until I lived far enough away (the other side of the Atlantic) to have an honest excuse for not making an appearance, Thanksgiving Day meant a quiet, smouldering brawl between my father and myself, over whether or not I would eat the nutmeat (I didn't: it has the consistency of what I imagine a blend of chopped worms and sawdust packed into a loaf to have, and smells like wet dog).

Anybody have any idea of what cookbook this might be?

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Mjx- that sounds like Diet for A Small Planet perhaps?

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Mjx- that sounds like Diet for A Small Planet perhaps?

Eh, that sounds possible, since that is a book I recall my mother having. Now I'm feeling sort of ashamed... Did I mention my parents became vegetarian for ethical reasons? I never did understand the hair-shirt approach to eating healthily/ethically.

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All,

I'm gonna vote against Moosewood and Epicure. While neither cookbook is worth keeping, there are much worse vegetarian cookbooks out there. I actually had Veg Ep during college, and it introduced me to the idea that non-American ethnicities make better vegetarian food, even if the recipes were a bit uneven. And when I got rid of it, there were a couple recipes I copied out (mind you, only a couple). I also still have a copy of Great Good Food, which suffers from horrible editing but does have some good recipes.

For much worse: VeggieLife Magazine, which attempts to publish recipes which are not only vegetarian, but low-salt, no-white-flour, no-white-sugar, and low-fat at the same time. Frequently without spices. Too bad they didn't publish a cookbook, or I'd have a real contestant.

Instead, let me throw Fresh From The Vegetarian Slow Cooker into the ring. This has the virtue of both being terrible 70's style veggie food, *and* a crock-pot cookbook. Not one recipe in the book is remotely usable, and several have serious ingredient-instructions mismatches. Link: http://www.amazon.com/Fresh-Vegetarian-Slow-Cooker-Recipes/dp/1558322566/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1289977737&sr=1-1

This other book should be a shoe-in, but it's severely out of print:

http://www.amazon.com/Worlds-Worst-Cookbook-Mike-Nelson/dp/1567901379/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1289977616&sr=1-1

Finally, that "nutmeat" might have also been from the Hare Krishna Cookbook (not a candidate for Worst, since the Indian recipes are pretty good). Recipe here: http://www.fuzzychef.org/archives/Cult-Wars-Neat-vs.-Nut-02-2008.html


Edited by TheFuzzy (log)

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I have been going back and forth on whether or not to share this "cookbook". This was given to my mom by my brother's ex-wife as a joke... a bad one at that. It is in poor taste and may violate the TOS, so my apologies if this offends anyone.

You have been warned

Click to view..

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1280957720/gallery_61658_6368_179151.jpg

And a sample from the book...

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1280957720/gallery_61658_6368_661575.jpg

WHOAH. Was this given after or shortly before she became an ex-wife?? :laugh:

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Most unfortunately-named cookbook ever. I don't own it so I can't comment on the actual content.

Haha, check out this review:

"Finally a cook book that tells you how to complete the human digestive process. After your meal has been processed by your body, only waste remains. "Cooking With Pooh" shows you how to take that waste and recycle it into delicious treats. I had no idea that pooh could be used in so many dishes! Every recipe is low in fat although they all taste like crap."

I love the last line.

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