Why are people always so proud of their brownie
recipes? Katharine Hepburn, for example. If there’s anything
I’m sick of—besides the way she always says she’s a regular
person and not an actress—it’s reading about how sinful her
brownies are. Actually, Hepburn’s is the dullest brownie formula there is, and
one of the most common. There’s a copy of it in my daughter’s nursery-school
cookbook (prefaced by the remark, “These are sinful”); there’s a copy of it in two
different Junior League cookbooks I own; there’s a copy of it in Fannie Farmer.
All these recipes for an utterly undistinguished product! I guess sin is duller
than I thought.
Brownies aren’t the only food for which people always think their recipe is
the best. Another one is meat loaf. Ann Landers gets hundreds of requests for
her meat loaf recipe, which is strange considering that it, too, is ordinary in the
extreme. (Ground meat, ketchup, onion soup mix—you get the picture.) There’s
a whole feedlot of recipes out there with self-awarded blue ribbons. But it’s rare
to find a “best” recipe that’s even worth reading—much less eating.
Except for the ones in this book. These really are the best. There’s just no
point in trying any other recipes but these. I mean, there’s just no point in trying
any other recipes for these foods but these. What I mean is, these are the
best recipes of their type. Well, you know what I mean. I guess I mean, if you’re
looking for a blini recipe, my chili recipe won’t do you much good. But if you’re
looking for a chili recipe, it will. Know what I mean?
I’m not very good at coming up with original recipes, although my daughter
Laura is. One of my favorites is one she composed when she was five:
Unlike Laura, I can’t just walk into the kitchen and improvise a brilliant new
dish. But I can figure out how to improve a recipe. I just double the chocolate
and add some bacon.
Of course it’s a little more complicated than that. Still, some of the recipes
in this book wouldn’t necessarily be considered healthy. Lots of them, I guess.
But the best recipes are rarely the healthiest. When you’re looking for the best
potato salad to take to a potluck (page 188), or the best blueberry pie to bring
to a bake sale (page 40), or—uh—the best French toast to serve to your boss at
that breakfast meeting (page 130), you’re not usually concerned with the dish’s
fat content. You just want people to take a bite, stagger with joy and beg you for
With these recipes, they will. I know, because it always happens to me.
A word about this book’s organization. Unlike most cookbooks, it lists the
recipes in alphabetical order rather than by category. That’s because I expect
people to use the book when they’re hunting for a specific “best,” not idly
thumbing through the pages trying to decide what to make for dinner.
For the most part, I’ve alphabetized the recipes by each dish’s main quality.
On the other hand, fried chicken and roast chicken do share the same section.
Why is this? Because it makes more sense. Chicken is the main thing about both
recipes, not friedness or roastedness, just as salad is the main thing about green
salad, while potatoes are the main thing about potato salad.
If you can’t bear to hunt down recipes in this way, you can always turn to
the index. Things are conventionally organized there. But I think it’s more fun
to read a cookbook with all different kinds of recipes jostled together, just as I
prefer bookshelves where books like Betsy-Tacy and Tib are snuggled between
The Interpretation of Dreams and A Field Guide to Mammals of North America.
Not-Controversial-at-All Apple Crisp, It Turns Out (formerly Very Controversial
Apple Crisp) Serves 4 to 6.
The controversy, explained in my cookbook BEAT THAT!,
was that some people prefer this recipe to the one that appeared in
Beat This! Or so I thought. It turned out that everyone prefers this
recipe. My friend Denise made it for her husband, Peter, who took a
bite and said, “There’s no controversy.” The novelist Elizabeth Berg wrote me
that she’d looked for a fabulous apple crisp she wanted to send me, and then
realized that it was this recipe she wanted to send.
So: thanks to Marialisa Calta for setting me straight. She serves this with ice
cream, but I like heavy cream better. But that’s just a small semantic diff erence.
I sometimes make this with 4 cups of pears and a big handful of dried cranberries.
4 generous cups Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
. cup all-purpose fl our
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
⅛ teaspoon salt
Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or straight-up heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 375°F, with a rack in the middle. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, toss the apple slices with the lemon juice and cinnamon sugar.
In a small bowl, blend the brown sugar, fl our, butter and salt together'—'fi rst
with a pastry blender or two knives, and then with your hands.
Put the apple slices into the loaf pan. Press the topping over them. Bake the
apple crisp for 1 hour. At that point, says Marialisa, “You get this really dense,
chewy, unbelievable candylike topping.”
Serve the apple crisp warm or cold with the ice cream or cream. It is also
very good when it’s chilled for a couple of days; the topping melts down into the
apples a bit.
Makes 5 generous cups.
The original BEAT THIS! had a good guacamole recipe,
but my friend Laura Lloyd later sent me one that was way better. “I
was fully levitated when I tried it,” she said.
This guac does have a billion ingredients, but they’re mostly ones
you’ll have in the house already. I’ve taken out the original recipe’s chorizo,
black olives and jicama.
You do remember that the avocado pit does nothing to keep guacamole from
turning brown, right? The thing that will help keep it green is nice, tight plastic
wrap over the top—that, and the lemon juice.
Go thou and levitate!
4 ripe avocados, preferably Hass
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 scallions, chopped (include as much green as possible)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 medium tomato, deglopped and chopped
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
. cup medium-hot salsa
. cup grated Monterey Jack
2 tablespoons tequila
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
In a medium bowl, mash the avocados. Stir in the other ingredients in order.
Wrap the guacamole tightly in plastic wrap if you’re not serving it right away,
but serve it the same day you make it.
Mom-Style Meat Loaf
Whenever I make meat loaf, I remember the I LOVE
Lucy episode where Lucy loses her engagement ring. Ricky
says, “Don’t cry, honey. I’ll get you a new ring with big diamonds
all the way around,” and Lucy sobs back, “No! I want my