Sunday, August 30, 2015

Three for the Grill

Barbecue season is in full swing, and despite the appearance of Halloween candy at the grocery store, everyone I know will be grilling at least until the snow falls. Perhaps while the snow falls.

And on those days when the snow is too deep to find the grill, there's always a grill pan, right? Or and indoor smoker. Or braised beef in the slow cooker, slathered with home made barbecue sauce.

Yup, barbecue isn't just summer food. In fact, barbecuing in the fall can be even better than standing in front of a hot grill on a 90-degree day.

And barbecue flavors never go out of season. Think about a lovely winter meatloaf, brushed with a smoky barbecue sauce. Or a roast pork sandwich with a generous slather of sauce.

Have you ever had a warm ham sandwich with barbecue sauce? Yep, barbecue is forever. There is no season.

To help you get your grill on all year long, here are three barbecue-centric books you might want to add to your bookshelves. AND! I'm giving away ALL THREE!

By Cheryl and Bill Jamison

If all your grilled and barbecued food tastes the same because you tend to buy the same bottled sauce and you use it for everything, this book will make you seem like a rockstar. Not only will you have over 200 sauce recipes to choose from, but you'll be able to brag that you made your own sauce.

And it's a great way to learn about sauces from different regions of the US and different countries. without bothering with all that pesky travel.

It's not all sauces, though. There are rubs, mops, marinades, spritzes, salsas, butters, pastes, and more.

The recipes in this book are fairly easy when it comes to technique, so it would be great for newer cooks who want to pump up the flavor of their food. But since there are such a huuuuge number of recipes, it's also great for more accomplished cooks who want to get a little more adventurous with their flavors.

One thing I particularly liked was that the index, besides having normal ways of looking things up, also listed recipes based on what they would pair well with. So, sauces for fruit or sauces for pork, sauces for seafood, etc.

By Cheryl and Bill Jamison

This book starts with a short primer about grilling in general, then launches right into recipes for everything from burgers to pizza to steak, poultry and fish. Oh, and vegetables, too.

If you've got a grill and you want to do more than the basics, there are plenty of recipes here to convince you to put down the hot dogs. The vast majority of the recipes use easy-to-find ingredients. I think the least likely to be at your local grocer is the elk - and that was just one recipe.

While the point of the book is outdoor grilling (shhhhh, don't tell anyone), a lot of these recipes - maybe even the majority - can be adapted for using a grill pan or cast iron frying pan indoors.

By Cheryl and Bill Jamison

While the first two books are for just about anyone, Smoke and Spice features recipes for smoking, which is a little more complicated. And, you need some kind of a smoker.

Or maybe not. There are a whopping 450 recipes in this book, and while the majority are recipes that require a smoker, there are also sauces, sides, and desserts and other recipes that don't require a smoker at all.

Speaking of smokers, the book describes all the different types of smokers, from high-end smokers, to using a barbecue grill as a smoker, to using a stovetop smoker. Yup, stovetop.

It's kind of hard to describe the recipes in this book, because there are so many ... and they're so varied. Sure, there's brisket and ribs and smoked fish. But there are biscuits and cornbread, too. Mushroom calzones. Clam dip. Ravioli. Meatloaf.

Just ... so much. It's hard to imagine that anyone could page through this book and not find something they'd want to make.

To give you an idea of how these authors write, here's a recipe:

Brown Sugar-Anise Barbecue Sauce
From The Barbecue Lovers Big Book of BBQ Sauces by Cheryl and Bill Jamison
Used with permission; all rights reserved

Mildly sweet and redolent of licorice-like ground anise, this sauce seems both familiar and mysterious at the same time. It’s terrific on barbequed beef short ribs or even a grilled burger – beef or bison.
Makes about 2 cups

1 1/2 cups ketchup
1 cup water
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground anise
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt or coarse salt
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce or other hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Mix all of the ingredients in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until it thickens and reduces by about one-third, 35 to 40 minutes.

Serve the sauce warm on or alongside the meat. It will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least 2 week, but reheat it before serving.

The books were provided at no cost to me by the publisher for the purpose of review and they will ship all three books to the winner of the giveaway.
Three great grilling books

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Method of Procedure

On the back of the book, Method of Procedure, there is an explanation of author Thomas Gosney's reason for writing the book. It says (all quotes typed exactly, including errors):
Throughout his career people were always contacting him for recipes and advice on cooking. As he analyzed the problems they were having, he realized most of the issues were in the "method of procedure". This is the step-by-step process in preparing them. 
That sounds great, but I think Gosney might be a little too far removed from beginning cooks to realize what sort of written instructions they need.

For example, in a recipe for Tortilla Soup, ingredients include (in order) chicken stock, tomatoes, onion, chiles, olive oil, garlic, cumin, chili powder, fresh corn tortillas, corn, and chicken breast. The instructions begin:
Season liberally with garlic salt and fresh pepper. Sprinkle 1 tbsp. of cumin ...
Do you see what's going on here? He's giving instructions for seasoning the chicken, but the instructions aren't explicit about that. Given that most books these days list the ingredients in the order used, a new cook might season the stock rather that the chicken breasts. And yes, the instructions call for garlic salt while the ingredient list has fresh garlic but no salt or pepper at all.

The instructions continue with mixing the spices with the chicken, so if someone reads that far ahead, they'll be fine. That's a big if. A lot of new cooks take it one sentence at a time. And while an experienced cook could estimate the right amount of salt and pepper, a new cook might want exact measurements. Other recipes do indicate amount for salt and pepper, by the way.

Gosney also has a tendency to use cheffy terms without really explaining what he means. In a recipe for Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts, he begins with:
Blanch brussel sprouts in boiling salted water until fork tender.
But he doesn't explain what he means by "blanch" so that could cause confusion.

In a recipe for chocolate mousse, after the mousse is finished, he says:
Once the chocolate is cooled properly (but not solidified) slowly temper into martini glasses, top with a dollop of whipped cream.
If he was standing next to you, he could tell you what "cooled properly" means, but a beginning cook would likely need a better description. As far as tempering it into glasses, I know what tempering chocolate is, if we're talking about warm chocolate, but I have no idea what procedure he envisions for tempering a finished mousse into a glass.

The other bit of instruction that in the mousse recipe that baffled me was to "Chill mixing bowl and whip in the freezer for 10 minutes." The first three times I read that, I thought he was instructing to put the bowl containing the melted chocolate in the freezer and whip it in the freezer, which I could do if I had a walk-in freezer, but not really likely in my home freezer.

On the fourth reading, I realized he meant that a new empty mixing bowl and a whip (which I would have called a whisk) should be put in the freezer.

back cover
In the salad dressing section, another clue that Gosney is used to restaurant kitchens is his recipe for blue cheese dressing. A quick stroll through the ingredient list tells me that it's going to yield about 6 cups of dressing (1 1/2 quarts). While that's probably a reasonable restaurant amount, that's a lot of dressing for a normal family.

Those are just a few examples of why this book isn't aimed squarely at beginning home cooks. Suffice it to say that you need cooking experience to navigate your way through this book.

I have to say that I'm personally bothered that the ingredients aren't listed in order of use. A chef who sets up mise en place beforehand might not be as concerned about the order of ingredients in the list, but home cooks are less likely to set out and measure absolutely everything before they begin. So they might be flummoxed when they have to search the whole list to find the amounts.

Aside from the cheffy-quirks, the recipes look decent. There's a tomato soup that's very similar to one I make (except that I don't use V-8). There's a salad dressing with sherry that sounds interesting; I might cut that down to a more petite size for my own use. The tandoori chicken sounds like a winner, and I'm probably going to try the peach cream pie, too.

Whether this is the right book for you is going to depend on whether you can get past the quirkiness of the instructions. But I don't suggest giving it to a beginning cook; I they'd find it too difficult to follow.

I received Method of Procedure from the publisher for the purpose of a review at no cost to me.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Seven Spoons

The first thing I have to mention about Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady is the photos.

They're pretty photos, but not in that stunningly beautiful super-styled artistic way. They're photos that make the recipes seem attainable. You see the photo and think, "yes, that looks good, I want to eat that." And then more importantly you think, "yes, I can do that."

And I think that's really important in a book that you want to cook from.

As far as the recipes, they're also pretty doable. While there are quite a few recipes that lean towards Indian flavors, the majority of the ingredients can be found at a reasonably large grocery store.

But this isn't at all an Indian cookbook. There are all-American recipes like burgers and cheesecake and biscuits.

Recipes range from super simple (scrambled eggs) to moderately complicated. Although I haven't memorized the whole book, I didn't see anything that would frustrate a competent cook. And the recipes range from very familiar (roast chicken) to more creative.

One recipe I was particularly intrigued by was a gazpacho that included yellow tomatoes and corn. I'm taking that idea an running with it very soon.

While this isn't my favorite book of the year, it's a nice book and the recipes are solid. It'll find a nice place on my cookbook shelf.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Make Ahead Bread #Giveaway and an appeal for #charity

If you think that most folks who are on government assistance or who ask for donations for specific causes are just lazy deadbeats, think again.

How long would your savings last if your primary wage-earner suddenly stopped earning wages? I know a whole lot of people who pay bills when the paycheck arrives, and when they're done there's not much left in the checking account. Some people have more than that set aside for a rainy-day fund or perhaps a vacation fund that could be tapped. So, that gets you another month or so.

Then what?

How easy would it be for you to find another job? If you're in your 20's or 30's, it might not be that hard. But when you hit your 40's and beyond, you find out that companies want younger folks who will work for less pay. Or you're overqualified for the entry-level positions they have open. Or, as you hit the higher numbers, they want people will potentially work for the company for a long time. They're not that interested in someone who is gazing longingly at retirement.

It's one thing to want to work, and it's another thing to be hired. It's one thing to want to work and it's another to find the perfect job with all the benefits you desire.

What would your choice be if you were paying bills and you could afford either the rent/mortgage or the health insurance - but not both? Most people would opt to keep a roof over their heads and roll the dice that they wouldn't get sick enough to warrant expensive care.

But what if they do get sick?

People who are on the very low end of the income bracket can get food stamps, free health care through medicaid, and other government subsidies. People just above that level scrape buy on their wages, pay all their bills, and don't have spare cash for frivolous spending - like Starbucks coffee, vacations, birthday presents, or proper medical care.

My friend Janet Brand, who blogs at From Cupcakes to Caviar, is living life on that edge. She has six kids, two of whom are still living at home. And one of them has special needs and will always need care. Her husband works and the bills get paid, but his company doesn't provide medical insurance for Janet.

And now she needs medical insurance, because it's the only way she can afford treatment for something that would be overwhelmingly expensive otherwise. Let's face it, pretty much any medical procedure larger than a vaccination is overwhelmingly expensive these days, unless you have insurance.

At my urging, which included threats to bludgeon her over the head (virtually), Janet started a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money she needs for a year's worth of insurance premiums and to pay the deductible for that year.

She's not asking for a new nose or a tummy tuck. She's not asking for more than she needs, and she's hoping that a year of treatment will be all she needs. At least it's a good start.

Initially, she had resigned herself to letting the condition take it course, but I finally said, "do it for your kids," and she relented. If she wasn't able to care for her kids, her husband certainly wouldn't be able to do it since he would have to continue to work to support them. Chances are that her special needs son would end up in a home, since finding someone to care for him would be beyond expensive.

I've seen plenty of GoFundMe campaigns for things that were not necessary for survival - like travel or dishwashers or home remodeling. I've seen them for completely trivial things. And people get funding for those.

This campaign isn't trivial. It's ... well, it's life-saving.

If you're in the same position as Janet and every penny counts, then I'm not asking you to donate. You need the money just as much. If you can, please share this post or a link to the GoFundMe and help get others to donate.

But if you opened your wallet today and a $1 bill flew out and you wouldn't chase it, then maybe you can donate $1 to her fund. If you regularly spend $5 on fun things at the grocery store checkout, or you wouldn't think twice about buying a $4.99 toy for your kid, then maybe you can donate that $5. Just once. If you think nothing of spending $10 for movies to rent for the weekend ... well, you get the idea.

If you're living the good life and a $100 dinner is a cheap date, then maybe you can afford a little more.

You might be thinking that you don't know Janet, so how do you know this is real ... well, how do you know anything is real? How do you know that if you donate $10 to a charity at Christmas, that the $10 goes to the needy and not to the board of directors? You don't. So don't give more than you're comfortable with, whether it's $1 or $50 or any other number that feels right to you.

In order to help spread the word on this fundraising drive, I'm offering an autographed copy of my cookbook, Make Ahead Bread, to one lucky winner. You don't need to donate to enter to win. You don't need to enter to donate.

A few of the optional entries on the giveaway are for sharing links to the funding campaign. They're optional. But I do urge you to share. Please.

I may be offering extra books if donations entries and/or donations exceed my expectations.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

More Mexican Everyday

Okay, let me admit this upfront. I'm a huuuuge fan of Rick Bayless, and I think I might have all of his cookbooks. On his television shows he seems genuinely enthused about not just the food of Mexico, but the culture, as well. I think that makes him much more interesting that someone who simply knows the ingredients.

When it comes to his cookbooks, they are recipes you can actually make at home. While I love the idea of completely authentic cooking (whatever that is), when it comes to making a recipe I don't want to find out that I need a berry that must be used fresh and is only available during the full moon in July on a remote mountain peak.

And, his recipes are things I want to eat. The flavors make sense. The ingredients belong together.

Like for example, in More Mexican Everyday, his Spaghetti Squash Fideos with Chipotle, Chorizo, Crema and Avocado. He uses spaghetti squash in place of noodles (fideos are a type of noodle) and serves them with some typical Mexican ingredients. There's nothing in here that makes me wonder if the flavors will work.

And once in a while, he has a little bit of kitchen genius, like his recipe for cajeta (basically a caramel sauce) that is cooked in a slow cooker. I've made a similar cajeta on the stovetop and I have to say that watching it and stirring it was ... a long and boring process. Cooking it in a slow cooker makes a lot more sense. At the end of the cooking time, you do need to keep an eye on it, but for most of the 24 hours (yes, that long!) you just let it cruise along.

Some of the recipes are formatted a little oddly, in a conversational style, but then there's a recap at the end in a more normal recipe style. I have to say that I didn't mind the format - it worked for the recipes where he chose to do it, like he was standing there saying, well, at this point I taste and and add a spoon of that if it needs it ...

I learned something useful from this book, too. You know how corn tortillas are never so great unless they're fresh? Well, his method of reheating is completely different from everything I've done. He suggests sprinkling the tortillas with about 3 tablespoons of water, wrapping them in paper towels or in a clean kitchen towels, placing that in a microwave-safe plastic bag and folding the top over (but not sealing it), microwaving at 50 percent power for 4 minutes. Then you let them rest 2 or 3 minutes before serving. I never thought about cooking them for that long! He also has instructions for steaming on the stove, if that's your preference.

Overall, I love this book. Yup, that's what I said.