Recently, I was perusing the kitchen bookshelf of some friends of mine, friends who were nice enough to invite my girlfriend and me over to a pre-Thanksgiving celebration replete with roasted turkey, cookies, cake, and all sorts of items that real men are reputed not to eat, like quiche and wraps. But we he-men ravenously downed these once the alcohol (about 19 varieties) started flowing. So yes: good friends. And a hell of a party.
While in that kitchen, I noticed a title called The Friends Cookbook. Cool, I thought. Perhaps a compendium of Quaker Cookery, or a wedding gift from some well-meaning relatives. I pulled it off the shelf and, to my shock, was greeted by the smiling face of one David Schwimmer, the erstwhile "Ross Geller" from the deathless NBC series.
My first thought was: this has to suck. Jennifer and Brad ate out damn near every night, if paparazzi pictures are a good indicator. Courteney Cox was the only one I ever saw cook on the show, and she was only acting.
Or was she? I had to know, and so I cracked it. Most of the recipes were pretty straightforward and simple, the kind of food that one might eat with a Natural Light while watching the show: artichoke dips, salads and the like. The kind of thing you can find anywhere. Don't believe me? Google "artichoke dip" and see what ya get.
And yet, I don't know why I was surprised. Anyone, especially if he or she is a celebrity, can write a cookbook. Even fictional characters -- Mickey Mouse and Friends! -- have cookbooks. Everybody eats, goes the popular thinking, so it follows that anyone can also pen a cookbook. People are always going to need recipes, after all.
And so, as I'm apt to do, I had to dig deeper. Just how pervasive is this marketing idea? Just how far will someone go to sell a mediocre cookbook? The answers may or may not surprise you.
Can You Take the Heat? The WWF is Cooking! is chock full of savory smackdowns, including Sgt. Slaughter's Mess Hall Dip, which contains 12 ounces of sour cream, "or more if desired." That much sour cream would cause most any gourmand to "Cobra Clutch" himself. Perhaps the most unsavory-sounding recipe in the bunch? "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's "Stomp a Mud Hole in Your Steaks and Ribs" Simmering Sauce. Nice title! As Steve would say, can I get a "hell yeah?" The Stone Cold one doesn't stop there, however: he also includes a recipe for Texas Toast, which manages to be more complex than "Slice bread, thickly. Toast. Add butter." But not by much.
Evidently, all those teleportation machines didn't mean the crew of the Starship enterprise went out to eat every night. The Star Trek Cookbook: Food from the 23rd Century and Beyond is a cookbook, and, interestingly, also a work of fiction -- what else can explain sections devoted to what to feed a Klingon, Bajoran, Vulcan or the like? Basically, the working premise here is as follows: 1) select a food...say, mashed potatoes; 2) add "Captain Kirk" or "Vulcan" or "Klingon" in front of it; 3) garnish and serve.
Poor old Ann B. Davis (no relation). She deserves better than this: Alice's Brady Bunch Cookbook reveals that...Ann can't cook! Surprise! (Glad I just wasted $5.99 on this piece of $#!%!) Ann will tell you how to make biscuits from oatmeal, bake butter cookies, and thaw and microwave like nobody's business. Of course, so can a homeless man. Skip it.
Much as it kills me to say it, Ted Nugent's Kill It & Grill It: A Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish isn't all that bad. It's written in a sort of tenth-grade fashion, replete with all sorts of double entendres and vulgar groaners. But what were you expecting, Proust? Ted and his wife -- the quizzically-named Shemane -- go into great detail about how to kill, clean and serve all sorts of varieties of wild game, and for once, you can tell that the guy's actually gotten his hands dirty before. Then again, we're talking about a guy who wrote a song called "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang."
Terrible Ted, meet Alice Brady. Stone Cold? Meet Mr. Geller. Y'all make room now. You know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen.
Timothy C. Davis is a correspondent for Gravy, the official newsletter of the Southern Foodways Alliance. His food writing has appeared in Gastronomica, Saveur, The Christian Science Monitor, and the food website egullet.com.