Not My Usual Cookbook Roundup

Easy Board Books are practically indestructible– each page a thick sheet of laminated cardboard, these books are designed to be impervious to the roughest treatment toddlers can give them.

And why, you may ask, do I begin this latest cookbook roundup by talking about these chunky pre-schooler books? The answer can be found in A Man, A Can, A Plan which is an Easy Board Book for adult men who not only can’t cook to save themselves but also can not read shopping lists or comprehend grown-up cook books.

Growing up in New Orleans I learned to cook by osmosis. I’m not much of a baker but I can make most Cajun and Creole dishes I remember from home and they are usually almost as good as the ones I grew up with. So the ‘for men to stupid to boil water’ approach of this uber idiot proof love letter to the canned food industry rubbed me the wrong way, as did the 50 recipes, each featuring canned food. and each showing you the exact image of the name brand product to buy at the supermarket rather than just listing ingredients so the recipe for, for example Mexi Can Pie shows 2 cans Hormel Chili + 1 can Heiniken beer + 1 jar Chi Chi’s Mild Green Chilis + 1 can Pillsbury Grands! Biscuits = a steaming casserole showing 5 large biscuits, baked beautifully golden brown on top resting on a bed of hearty fortified chili. The words I’ve just used to describe the 5 pictures that take up 3/4 of the page showing this recipe are approximately three times longer than the instructions for assembling the dish. Not Recommended.

Having waxed gourmet-indignant over the love letter to the canned foods industry, you may be surprised that I am all but raving over Ron Konzak’s recipes showing about a hundred ways to make the lowly ramen noodle packet (which goes for as little as 10cents in some stores around here) into a meal you’d actually want to eat. If there is a classic pasta dish you adore, The Book of Ramen will show you how to make a tasty and enjoyable variation using ramen noodles and other inexpensive ingredients very creatively and effectively. Recommended.

I’ve long known that the food I grew up with in New Orleans was a unique cuisine blended from African, French and Spanish influences. And I have at many times in the past read about, sampled or experimented with Spanish and French cuisine. But I never thought that much about the African part of the blend until I happened to check in Classic African at work the other day. The okra from my gumbo (it is So good but there’s over 50 bucks of ingredients in that pot so I don’t make it very often) is used in these recipes in ways I would never have managed. Peanuts, yams, tropical fruits and coconut also figure prominently in many of these recipes, most all of which seemed either too sweet for me (chicken cooked in coconut milk?) or contained spices and ingredients I Really don’t care for at all. I suppose what I’ve described might sound good to you, and if it does the book is well- written with clear instructions and ingredients specified by US supermarket equivalents so to you only, this one is Recommended.

Strange Foods is the ideal cook book for the junior high school boy spirit that delights in the gross, disgusting and downright weird possessed by a person of any age or gender with college level reading skills and an appreciation for travel and history in addition to the above. Part cookbook, part documentary, all icky. Horrible things people actually eat and the author’s quest to find and meet those people who eat them the world over. From bats to urine and things much stranger than those this menu is a very striking book. Recommended only to those who meet both of the conditions noted.