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Food & Dining
Entertainment Food & Dining

Not a joy

Jessica Harper is an actress, writer, singer, songwriter and now the author of a new cookbook for people who don't always experience the joy of cooking.

With more than 100 simple recipes as well as comical recollections of the frustrations of cooking several times a day for a picky, not always appreciative family of four for 20 years, Harper's "The Crabby Cook Cookbook" is a type of survival guide for anyone who has to feed a family with different likes, dislikes and dietary requirements.

She spoke to us about why she wrote the book, the realization that she was not the only crabby cook and how to survive H.A.S., or Hostess Anxiety Syndrome.

Q: What made you write the book?

A: One day my sister and I were e-mailing each other commiserating about the fact that we were both about to make dinner for the 1,000th time for our picky families, and I had just discovered a new easy casserole that miraculously all my family would eat.

So I e-mailed her the recipe but I used language like "you hurl the stinking broccoli into the dish and you rip the flesh from the chicken and dump it in." I admit I may have also used a few words that won't be printable. But as soon as I finished writing it I had this idea and my sister had it simultaneously. She wrote me back and said "You know you should write a book like that." And I said, "Yeah, a crabby cookbook for people who don't always experience the joy of cooking."

Q: You are certainly taking a different approach from Julia Child and most other authors of cookbooks, so how would you describe it?

A: There are 135 recipes that are easy enough and crowd-pleasing enough to get anybody through the day and hopefully much longer than that. And at least half of the book consists of stories about family feeding, which hopefully people will find amusing enough so on a night when they are not cooking they will be reading the book—in the unlikely event that they will ever have such a night.

Q: So do you actually enjoy cooking? Or have you learned to enjoy it after cooking thousands of meals?

A: I am a foodie and I think you can be both a foodie and a crabby cook at the same time. I love good food and I love to cook creatively, but as people know feeding a family is an entirely different thing.

When you find yourself as I did when my kids were little, cooking an early dinner for the kids, who would only eat about six things, and cooking a second dinner for my husband, who would only eat about eight things, none of which correlated with the kids' six things, your inner foodie takes a beating and your crabby cook kicks in.

Q: How did you select the recipes included in the book?

A: These are recipes I collected over the years. I would find recipes everywhere and then make adjustments to them because my family was so picky they wouldn't eat the onions or the mushrooms, or the eggplant or the shallots. I would make adjustments and eventually I corrected enough recipes that were family friendly, at least to my family, enough that I had an interesting menu rotation.

Q: What are some of your favorite recipes from the book?

A: Well I love this recipe called 'Gobble it up turkey chili,' because it was what I call a miracle food because even the pickiest eater … will eat.

Q: You also write about hostess anxiety syndrome. What exactly is it?

A: It is that thing that sends you into a tailspin on the day of the dinner party when you are faced with the prospect of entertaining people. I love to have people in my house but entertaining, when it means cooking for people, is not always my strong suit.

Q: You also include cocktail recipes? Why?

A: I love cocktails and I always think that if you serve a person a nice cocktail they won't notice the quality of the food and will be perfectly happy with whatever comes next.

Famous hummus

Prep: 10 minutes

Chill: 1 hour

Makes: 10 servings

2 cans (15 ounces each) chickpeas, drained, rinsed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup each: tahini (sesame paste), olive oil

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth, adding more water if you prefer a thinner consistency.

2. Transfer the hummus to a bowl; cover with plastic wrap.

3. Refrigerate about 1 hour to let the flavors blend.

4. Allow it to return to room temperature before serving. Serve it with pita bread or chips.

Nutrition information

Per serving: 188 calories, 45% of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 353 mg sodium, 4 g fiber

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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