DEAR ABBY: My mother is a wonderful person but is one of the world's worst cooks. She'll see a recipe that looks tasty, but if she doesn't have all the ingredients, she will make substitutions. If the recipe calls for uncooked shrimp, she might replace it with canned tuna. If she doesn't have bleu cheese on hand, she will use imitation cheese spread instead.
I have tried to offer her a few important guidelines. First and foremost, be sure to have all the necessary ingredients on hand before beginning to prepare a new recipe. Understand the basic techniques -- dice, shred, simmer, stir-fry. Use the recommended cooking temperatures. If the recipe says "saute," do not fry it until it's like shoe leather. Follow the proper cooking time. Fish should not be baked for 90 minutes!
Mom may not appreciate the suggestion of cooking classes, and I know about your cookbooklets. I wonder if they are simple enough for Mom to follow. What do you think? -- DYSPEPSIA IN DENVER
DEAR DYSPEPSIA: My recipes are -- for the most part -- very simple, easy to read and, frankly, delicious. They were collected by two of the most voracious eaters in recent history -- my mother and me.
Allow me to share a simple salad recipe with you. Perhaps you and your mother will enjoy making it together. It is chilled and ideal for a warm summer evening.
ABBY'S TOMATO SALAD
12 medium tomatoes, diced (about 8 cups)
2 large red onions, diced (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped sweet pickles
1 cup rice vinegar
10 to 12 lettuce leaves
In a large bowl, combine the first four ingredients. Cover and chill several hours or overnight. Using a slotted spoon, portion salad on individual lettuce leaves, allowing 3/4 to 1 cup per serving for a first-course salad.
Serves 10 to 12.
My cookbooklet set contains more than 100 recipes that can be used when families get together to celebrate holidays and other special occasions. My mother often used them when she entertained and so have I. They are time-tested and not complicated.
The booklets can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $12 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price.
My cookbooklet set not only contains recipes, but also tips on entertaining. Have your mother try the tomato salad recipe. If she can't make this one work, then from now on she might be better off buying takeout.
CONFIDENTIAL TO "SCREWED UP AGAIN" IN ATLANTA: Please stop being so hard on yourself. I know of no successful person who hasn't struck out at least once in his or her life. In the words of Vince Lombardi: "Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts."