The beauty of having a sarcastic ass in the family -- two, if you're lucky -- is how they manage to turn everyday boredom into spit-out-your-wine moments. Good luck capturing that in a cookbook. Bite Me: A Stomach Satisfying, Visually Gratifying, Fresh-Mouthed Cookbook by sisters Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat should be annoyingly stupid. They are a couple of "passionate eaters and skilled feeders" according to the press release. Yeah, yeah, we know what we're about to walk into.
Yet Bite Me manages to walk the tightrope between hilarious versus something that really should be saved for the annual Austin Pun-Off remarkably well. The key is these sisters don't throw the same contrived mantra at you over and over. Every time you turn the page you're not sure quite what to expect, and more often than not, these two come out on the funny side of the BBQ chicken equation.
Albert, the narrator, is undoubtedly the meat of this book. One minute she's talking in rhymes, the next she's celebrating The New York Times crossword puzzle or announcing why that classic beef bourguignon recipe "isn't as embrouillé as it sounds." ("Somehow everything sounds more complicated in French.") Then suddenly she's introducing her sister's caramelized onion and goat cheese pasta recipe with: "Onions are a little like high school gym coaches. They have a reputation for being harsh, but warm them up a little, and boy, can they be sweet." Good old-fashioned salty humor.
Albert says the book idea began when she bought some cranberry white chocolate cookies from their local Toronto bakery and insisted her sister, the cook of the family, recreate the recipe. "She sniffed them, did her little rabbit nibbles, closed her eyes, inhaled and said, 'No prob'," recalls Albert.
Yet unlike so many comedy-infused cookbooks, the recipes here are meant to be made, not just talked about. Are they revolutionary? No, this is a home cook's everyday cookbook with a bit of Happy Hour humor tossed into the mix. But Gnat offers up plenty of culinary fodder, such as roasted carrot soup with candied pistachios, tofu Pad Thai with sweet chili sauce, and bread pudding with bananas and cranberries.
The photos are as unpredictable as Albert's mind. The "Catch Me" (seafood) chapter opens with a photo of a toy figuring falling into a glass of milk; a photo for tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons is methodically arranged like an Andy Warhol painting, only with tiny cups of the soup in lieu of Campbell's soup cans.
Every page is so unpredictable, we couldn't imagine any buttoned-up American publisher would ever allow such crazy fun -- lighthearted cookbooks must have a cohesive (and annoying) bitchy market appeal, after all. Fans of British comedy won't be surprised to learn the publisher is indeed British.
The real cookbook prize here is in the book's subtleties, like the "Bite Me Bit" sidebars, a take on what has become the incessant need for even solid cookbooks to include needless "tips" for we doltish home cooks. Instead, in one sidebar we learn that "it takes a Twinkie 45 seconds to explode in the microwave" (a handy "mistake" should you find yourself at your angry mother-in-law's house), another includes the resolute note that in Ancient Greece "basil was linked to profanity and insanity. We all know a few folks who should lay off the @$%#ing herb."
But our favorite sidebars are those with random movie and television quotes from the 1970s and 1980s, the decades when Albert and Gnat were tuned-in as kids. "She's only eating carrots to increase the size of her breasts" (Mike Baker, aka actor Justin Henry, in Sixteen Candles) is the poignant note included alongside a carrot cake recipe. A sweet and sour candied salami appetizer recipe (chunks of salami baked in an apricot jam-chili sauce glaze) gets this great nugget: "Wait up, girls. I got a salami I gotta hide still." (Bill Murray as Carl Spackler in Caddyshack.)
As Albert and Gnat would say, "Fork Me" (chapter ten, desserts) -- or better yet, Fork Us.