This was a big week for my mailbox: Someone sent me a cookbook. Cookbooks sent to me by publishers are universally awful, but this one is quite possibly the most frightening thing yet. It is called Crazy Plates: Low-Fat Food So Good, You'll Swear It's Bad for You (Perigee Trade Paperback), authored by sisters Janet and Greta Podleski. Right away there are three strikes against it: (1) Crazy Plates is the sequel to the zany Podleski sisters' 1997 "smash hit" cookbook Looneyspoons, an abomination of cuteness that made "low-fat food fun" and landed the authors on the talk-show circuit. (2) It's a low-fat cookbook, which means inevitable cans of diet cream soup and tubs of diet sour cream -- the enemies of gastronomy. (3) It's "sprinkled with a sense of humor."
It's that last bit that makes it so horrible. That every single recipe has a name like "Corn in the U.S.A.," "Love Me Tenderloin" or "Penne from Heaven" is bad enough, but each page is jam-packed with dreadfully executed cartoons depicting wisecracking pineapples, motorized "clamborguini" and Cher-chickens singing, "I got stew, babe." Then there are the jokes: "He's so argumentative, he won't even eat food that agrees with him."
Still, if you can get past those formidable obstacles and are willing to cook with processed, reduced-fat products, you may find Crazy Plates of some use. There's no denying it is meticulously researched. Not only does each recipe come with complete nutritional data (calories, fat, carbs, fiber, cholesterol, etc), but there are hundreds of cooking tips, food trivia and ingredient profiles. Some of these are useful (potatoes with greenish skins contain toxic levels of solanine), some not (if you boil an egg while singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" in its entirety, it'll be soft-boiled when you come to "Amen"), but most of them are diverting.