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Real Recipes for Casual Cooks: A Comic Book Cookbook. Written by Lynn Gordon. Illustrated by Lloyd Dangle. New York: Main Street Books/Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1996. 64p. $10.95. ISBN 0-385-48208-6.


Adults, teens, older kids

This graphic-format cookbook contains some 40 recipes, ranging from extremely easy (e.g., scrambled eggs, stuffed mushrooms, baked chicken) to easy (e.g., spinach dip, chili, stir fry) to slightly hard (e.g., All-American Apple Pie, curried chicken salad, popovers). All recipes are illustrated in cartoon sequences that feature a variety of individuals following the steps to perfect food. Sections include an overview of kitchen tools, brunch recipes, hors d'oeuvres, salads, dinner recipes, desserts, and a "kitchen disaster page." Each section also includes a variety of hints and special tips (e.g., peeling and chopping garlic, "What's With Chickens," how to slice and dress a bagel) in yellow boxes. Some of the recipes include variations; for example, the baked chicken recipe offers options for lemon-herb chicken, "le dijon poulet," and chicken cacciatore. The "kitchen disaster page" discusses first aid for cuts and burns as well as hygiene, and removing red wine, blood, chocolate, coffee, and candle wax from cloth.

This title begs the question: does the sequential art format improve the cooking experience? Or is it just a gimmick? I would tend to guess the latter. For one thing, the dialogue spoken by the characters in the recipe-strips is often pointless and distracting (e.g., when preparing the two heads of garlic for garlic chicken, a character comments, "That's a lot of garlic!" Like, duh...). And the dialogue is much darker and larger in font than the instructions, meaning the eye may be drawn to inappropriate places while preparing the ingredients. For another thing, the format of the book means that if you try to lay it flat on a counter, you have to break the spine. Thus, the book has to be propped up somewhere or held down by a weighted object, which tends to obscure the instructions somewhere on the page.

Formatting problems aside, the books contains a bare minimum of recipes for the price. (I got the book at a remainder store for five bucks, and it still feels overpriced.) As may be evident by my examples above, the recipes are very basic and simple. They often call for prepackaged foods (e.g., the "Outrageous Chocolate Butterscotch Toffee Cake" is based on a box of german chocolate cake mix). They're the sorts of recipes one would find in one of those monthly "quick recipe" cookbooks from Pillsbury; actually, some of the recipes are even more basic than that (e.g., rice, scrambled eggs). Thus, your opinion of how a given recipe would taste would depend on your level of "foodiness" and willingness to use prepackaged foods. If dijon mustard, salt, and pepper as the sole flavorings for baked chicken sound good to you, this book is right up your alley.

The cartoony art, while it's fun to look at, seems more a luxury than a useful set of illustrations. While Gordon and Dangle obviously aspired to something akin to the Cartoon Guides, there's a huge difference between those classic titles and this one. The illustrations in the former often contained images that expanded on the narrative, while in the latter, the images seem arbitrary and even disconnected from the narrative. Why, for example, does a devil prepare Ultra Chocolate Mousse? Also, most steps in cooking don't actually need to be illustrated, which meant that Dangle had to illustrate such trivia as pouring the chocolate chips into the pan and scooping out some instant coffee crystals. It's cute... but when I'm cooking, "cute" is distracting.

As a very basic cookbook, one aimed at completely inexperienced cooks (or kids) intimidated by the traditional text-and-picture cookbook, this title might have some utility. The hints and "kitchen disaster page" are useful. However, there are plenty of "cooking for dummies"-type cookbooks in the traditional format, with more useful and pertinent illustrations in appropriate places, that are easier to use and contain more recipes.


Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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