"The Crabby Cook Cookbook" Book Review

Written by Robert Gold

Published by Workman Publishing Company

Written by Jessica Harper
2010, 262 pages, Cookbook
Released on December 15th, 2010


“Friday Fun” is a standing invitation to anyone in my circle of friends who is willing to drive out to my house and put up with a lot of cinematic nonsense. The evening generally starts around 7pm with dinner, and over the next six hours attendees are subjected to an array of clips from different features, music videos, short films and general underground weirdness. All formats are encouraged and usually range anywhere from VHS to Blu-ray, plus the occasional laser disc. The goal (outside of simply having fun) is to introduce the group to titles they may miss on their own, a task that was easier in the pre-internet college days.

While it is at times difficult to come up with an unseen gem from the international library of low-budget hell that will seem fresh or offensive to a group of film enthusiasts, it is even harder trying to find a dinner that will appeal to everyone as well. My three regulars say they’re easy like Sunday morning, but in reality they bring a truckload of dietary baggage. One guy will eat anything — unless it has mushrooms, tofu, or too many suspicious vegetables. Another will eat nothing except meat (unless it has been touched by onions…or is served with rice…or seems vaguely Asian, but he usually stops at the BK lounge for simplicity). The third guy won’t complain, but is intimidated by spicy foods and advises that he can’t really eat cheese, cream or anything with too much flavor.

This brings me to the discovery of a cookbook unlike many others that fill my shelf. Actress Jessica Harper (Suspiria) has faced the challenge of multiple menus and defines herself as a “Crabby Cook” who rants about the exhausting task of cooking for picky eaters. She has collected over 100 recipes together in a book called The Crabby Cook Cookbook, Each recipe is prefaced with an amusing anecdote of how the meal was created and whether or not it is a “miracle food” (i.e., something that everyone will eat).

I approached Ms. Harper’s book cautiously, as I have had mixed results with celebrity cookbooks in the past. Cookin’ with Coolio - The Ghetto Gourmet, for example, is filled with Ebonic joy, but unfortunately the man lacks some basic math skillz when it comes to cooking times, and the recipes occasionally presents the steps in the wrong order. I did not have any of these problems this time around however, but the main hurdle was acknowledging that Ms. Harper has a nicer kitchen than I do (some ingredients were substituted for more economical alternatives).

The first recipe I tried was for something called “Shrimpini”, a dish I knew the guys wouldn’t likely try, but figured I would practice on my own. I am generally not a cooking moron, but this was clearly not my night as I managed to destroy a baking sheet and burn my fingers. I followed the instructions closely and succeeded in cooking the shrimp in the oven while making a nice sauce that I immediately spilled while removing the hot pan. The meal itself turned out fine, but with only a fraction of the sauce surviving, it was somehow a bit lacking. I do not fault the book or the recipe in any way…operator error, pure and simple.

I redeemed myself with a meal called “Quirky Turkey Pasta”, a tomato based fusilli recipe that is a variation on lasagna and is very easy to prep. While neither submission goes overboard with zesty spices they are both quite flavorful and can be made in about a half an hour. I may lean toward a more spicy taste than what is within this book, but am eager to try other categories including the desserts and cocktails.

While researching this book I learned that Ms. Harper continues to provide recipes on her blog and even has a YouTube channel filled with a series of comedic two-minute videos. Her experiences as a juggler of family and career are well documented within the pages of her book that presents a focused autobiographical nature to the read and is a welcome addition that prevents the collection of recipes from feeling dusty or boring in any way. She has bravely attempted and discarded more meals than I would ever dare and my kitchen is better for her wisdom.

The Crabby Cook Cookbook is filled with easy to follow recipes that do not take all day to prepare, although some feature an intimidating list of ingredients (I don’t know when I will have the strength to try her “Pain-in-the-Ass Minestrone”).The average cooking time is around 30 minutes and most recipes make four servings each. I can easily recommend this book and it will come in handy on nights when you are entertaining. Crack open a bottle of wine, invite over some friends, try on a new recipe and break out your copy of Phantom of the Paradise in salute to Jessica Harper!



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