I am always on the lookout for cookbooks, but I struck gold when I picked up Beat This! by Ann Hodgman at a bookstore years ago. The cover looked cute, but I was sold when I opened the book and saw that there was a recipe for homemade graham crackers to make the crust in a recipe for cheesecake.
Now I love cooking from scratch, but I had never ever made graham crackers for any recipe instead of buying them. Ever. I don’t even remember ever seeing a recipe for graham crackers, and I owned thousands of cookbooks at that time. I knew right then and there this book would be good.
And it is! I read it not just for the recipes, but for Ms. Hodgman’s style of writing and sense of humor.
This book is a kick.
And even better – there is a sequel! Beat That! Cookbook (in which she says that the secret ingredient for the best potato salad [the ingredient my mom has been using in My Mom’s Potato Salad for more than fifty years] really IS the secret ingredient that makes potato salad fabulous) is even more delightful, if that’s possible. You need both of these books, even if you don’t cook. Or bake.
One of my favorite recipes is for an appetizer. Pesto Torta uses 2 packages of cream cheese and 4 – yes FOUR – sticks of butter. I must admit I haven’t had the courage to use all that butter – I use just one stick of butter (and leave out the sun dried tomatoes, which I think are icky – use roasted red peppers instead) and it’s still fabulous.
Some of the phrasing she uses in this book are my favorite phrases ever. (Is that kind of weird? I don’t care.) For instance: in her recipe for Guacamole she says “The two things that help avocados keep its color are citric acid, which is found in the lime juice we put in guacamole, and lack of air – which is found under very tight plastic wrap.” And in Mom-Style Chicken Salad, she asks people what “mom-style” means and got these answers, “‘Plain mayonnaise for the dressing,’ said one person,’ ‘or that gross white salad dressing.’ ‘Grapes,’ another told me firmly. ‘Seedless grapes, cut in half.’ ‘Pasty and white,’ said a third. Hey! No personal remarks about mom please!”
You must try her recipes for Brownies and Cheese Straws, and Perfect Roast Chicken. And Crab Cakes and Hot Fudge Sauce and Chocolate Cookies. Read her book while you eat them.