|"Fresh from Wisconsin"|
Is it the chip shot chicken? (Coat chicken thighs in nonfat sour cream, roll in crushed barbecued potato chips, bake.)
Or is it the Jamaican chicken? (Slather chicken breasts in blend of instant coffee and lowfat vanilla yogurt. Bake. Top with pineapple slices.)
How about the hot chicken salad casserole? (Mix chicken meat, canned water chestnuts, canned cream of chicken soup, chopped hard boiled eggs, rice, and mayonnaise in casserole dish. Top with buttered cornflakes.* Bake.)
See? Impossible to choose. The name for this style of cooking is "American Grotesque."
The other night for my husband's birthday I served the lemon chicken pasta, a recipe Isabel had flagged when she chose the book. It sounded pleasant enough, but with Best of the Best even apparently innocuous dishes can turn out to be deeply weird once you start cooking. To make lemon chicken pasta, you saute sliced chicken breasts and mushrooms, then season the mixture with oregano, lemon juice, and Butter Buds. (If you're unfamiliar with Butter Buds, it's a cheap yellow powder that smells like movie theatre popcorn and supposedly contains no fat but loads of butter flavor.) To the chicken-mushroom-Butter Buds mixture, you add some broth and cornstarch to make a really thick sauce that gives the whole dish the shine and slippery, gelatinous mouthfeel of a Chinese stir fry. My husband said, "This is just terrible."
Fortunately, his birthday cake was somewhat better, a mocha torte that calls for only staple ingredients like nuts, chocolate, flour, and cream. The book is inconsistent like that, veering from the synthetic and outlandish to the respectable and pretty good. Confusing!
|the rare dessert recipe that doesn't contain instant pudding, Cool Whip, or a can of fruit cocktail|
A thoughtful anthology of great spiral-bound cookbook recipes would be a wonderful thing, but this isn't it. No thoughtful anthology would claim that a salad of sugar-free Jell-O, raspberry wine, cranapple juice, crushed pineapple, and pine nuts represents the best of California cooking.
I've made 12 recipes from the book and most of them were either so-so or pretty good. That sounds like a very decent return, but bear in mind those were carefully selected recipes. After perusing the ingredients I was game to tackle Mexican stroganoff and chicken lasagna. But I could not bring myself to make the cream of broccoli soup spiked with Cheez Whiz. And I had no interest at all in the Tunnel of Spuds meat loaf, which contains hamburger meat, instant mashed potatoes, Parmesan cheese, applesauce, catsup, lemon juice and grape jelly. Call me a food snob. I don't care.
Here are two things I have liked about the book:
a. the recipes are easy
b. I am not even slightly tempted to eat them.
I'm calling it a day with Best of the Best. I may let Isabel choose another title, because I didn't spend very long with this one.
On another subject, if you are in the Bay Area, I am speaking/reading at Omnivore Books in San Francisco on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Please come!
*I have no idea how you butter cornflakes.