Book Review – A Taste of Persia

A Taste of Persia by Najmieh K. Batmanglij

Mage Publishers

 The book shelves at my local Barnes & Noble are not overflowing with Persian cookbooks.  After reading A Taste of Persia I still don’t understand what makes Persian cooking unique in the category of Middle-Eastern cooking or why the world needed this particular book.

 The 176 page book contains over 75 recipes, many with nice color photos.  The book opens with a brief introduction to Persian history and includes a dictionary of Persian cooking.  The dictionary provides detailed explanations of the ingredients and is helpful to a reader that may be unfamiliar with some of the techniques, spices and methods used in Middle-Eastern coking.  The index is practically useless and is just an alphabetical listing of the recipes rather then a place where a reader can turn to locate dishes that use specific ingredients.

 In many of the recipe’s ingredients lists there are asterisks next to both unusual and some common ingredients but there is no explanation of what the asterisk means, what they refer to or anything at all, they are just hanging there.  The ingredient lists are very long and many cooks will be turned off by the length of the lists and overly complicated instructions.

 The recipe for Stuffed Grape Leaves calls for 19 different ingredients to all be combined and rolled into a grape leaf that produces an end result that is the size of your thumb.  That sure is a lot of thing to stuff into such a small volume.  The Stuffed Peppers, Eggplant and Tomatoes also calls for over 19 ingredients and there are so many competing flavors that the whole dish becomes muddled and a waste of one hour of prep time and over one hour of cooking time. 

 Some of the suggested ingredient substitutions seem odd and there is no explanation of what these changes will do to the flavor of the dish.  In the recipe for Noodle Soup Ms. Batmanglij suggests the following substitution: either 1 ½ cups of whey, sour cream or wine vinegar.  I can’t imagine sour cream and wine vinegar being used in the same sentence let alone being interchangeable in a recipe.

 Some of the recipes call for measurements of ingredients that are just plain wrong.  The Yogurt Soup, besides using lentils, split peas, ground beef, rice, turnips, spinach and yogurt calls for a full garden’s worth of fresh herbs.  For a recipe that makes six servings of soup the ingredient list calls for two cups of cilantro, one cup of parsley, one half cup of chives, one cup of fenugreek and one cup of dill.  This soup contains almost an entire cup of fresh herbs in each serving!

 Sometimes the review blurbs on the back cover of a book provides you with a good preview of what you will find inside.  When the reviews are all from actors who frequent a bakery or restaurant then I fear what I will find inside.  This book has just one quote and that is from a review in the Times Literary Supplement.  The quote the publisher chose, as an example to promote the book, discusses the “naturalistic and mouth watering pictures”, “stresses the pre-Islamic continuity of Iranian cuisine” and that the book is “infused with food-laden nostalgia”.  Notice there is no comment concerning the recipes, ease of use or flavor of the dishes, just a literary commentary.  A cook book should provide the buyer with well written recipes that can be prepared in their home kitchen.  This book contains overly long ingredient lists, ingredient volumes that will have a cook shaking their head and directions that leave a cook confused.  I cannot recommend A Taste of Persia and suggest you look elsewhere for Middle Eastern recipes.

Book Review – Mexican Modern

Mexican Modern: New Food From Mexico by Fiona Dunlop

Photographs by Jean-Blaise Hall

Interlink Books 2009

 I am always a little leery of cookbooks that are merely collections of recipes from various restaurant chefs all tied together by some common theme.  These types of books usually are just a hodgepodge of recipes with so many different styles of cooking that there is no clear concept of what the finished dishes are supposed to be representative of.  I was pleased with the recipes contained in Modern Mexican, though I do have some issues with the arrangement of the book.

 Fiona Dunlop traveled through the various regions of Mexico interviewing many of the young, creative chefs that ply their trade at award winning restaurants.  The goal, which was beautifully achieved, was to showcase modern cooking and trends in Mexican restaurants and not just print the typical Tex-Mex chain restaurant style of tacos and burritos.  Each chef has their own dedicated page, with a biography and an in depth interview.  With over 15 chefs contributing many of their signature dishes, the book contains many excellent, cutting edge recipes that a casual observer would be surprised to see served at a Mexican restaurant.  The photographs appear like an episode on the Travel Channel rather than a cookbook and provide the reader with a beautiful image of Mexico.  The pictures of the street scenes are amazing shots showing brilliant colors and provide a real view of the daily rhythm of the market place.

 All the recipes are written using both ounces and grams systems.  This is an excellent format to use to present recipes, as many cooks have been switching to the more accurate and exact method of weighing ingredients.  My wish is that more cookbook authors would use both systems of measurement when presenting recipes.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were very few unusual ingredients called for, could not be readily purchased at a typical American grocery, that needed long descriptions of their origin or a list of specialty shops were they could be located.

 The arrangement of the chapters makes it difficult, if not nearly impossible, for a reader to locate a specific recipe or course where that dish could be served.  The chapters are arranged by City or Region which makes it hard to find a recipe that you want to cook.  If I wanted to make the recipe for Cream of Cilantro Soup, since there is no Soup or Appetizer chapter, I would be forced to thumb through every page in the book until I came across the recipe I was looking for.  In the index the soup is not listed by name or even under cream.  This structure makes a book very frustrating for a cook to use.

 Within each chapter the recipes are not arranged by course or main ingredient i.e. Appetizer or Fish.  Each chapter has an interview with a specific chef then presents the chef’s recipes, which could be from anywhere on the menu, then moves on to the next chef.  This form of presentation is confusing and the book and chapters seem to skip around from dish to dish. If the book was presented in a more traditional format, print all the recipes of a similar type or course together, then the chef interviews could have been sprinkled throughout the book with a reference to their recipes and the page number where they could be located.

 There are many excellent recipes that are easily prepared in a home kitchen.  The Eggplant and Goat’s Cheese Mosaic layers fried eggplant with goat’s cheese and red pepper into a dish that is both tasty and makes a beautiful presentation at the table.  The Fried Squid Rings with Capers and Potatoes is not a Mexican version of fried squid but here the lightly fried rings are served in a broth of potatoes, crushed chilies, capers and white wine.  Sweet Potato and Pineapple Puree was easy to make and was very popular with the kids at Thanksgiving.  The Morelian Cheesecake with Guava uses packaged cookies to make a crust that is then covered in purchased guava paste.  The base is then topped with a condensed milk and cream cheese filling mixture.  If you have never tasted guava before then this dessert would be an eye opening introduction.

 The Morelian Gaspacho is not the typical tomato base gazpacho with fresh vegetables that most people are familiar with.  Here fresh mangoes, pineapple and jicama are flavored with lime juice, orange juice, chili powder and topped with white cheddar cheese.  I am not sure that I would have called this dish gazpacho but no matter what you decide to call it, the words refreshing and delicious belong in the title.  A traditional dish with a modern twist is the Tacos with Shredded Duck and Orange.  In this dish shredded duck meat is cooked in a sauce of garlic, chilies and tomatoes that is finished with white wine vinegar and fresh orange juice.  I was a little skeptical of the mixture of ingredients but the sweetness of the fresh juice offered a nice contract to the bite from the garlic and chilies.

 This book helps to demolish the common belief that all Mexican food is rolled in a tortilla and topped with chili sauce.  The dishes were bright and original while being composed of easy to find ingredients.  Mexican Modern will serve to expand a home cook’s international food experience without being too unusual or difficult.  The main reason that I would rate this book as three spatulas is the method that was used to arrange the recipes within the chapters.  But if you don’t mind an occasional treasure hunt then this book would be a welcome addition to your bookshelf.

Book Review – Real Cajun

Real Cajun – Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe.  Photographs by Chris Granger.  Clarkson Potter Publishers 2009

 I can’t help but be intrigued by a book that opens with instructions on how to make bacon in a home kitchen.  Upon reading the instructions for Homemade Bacon you start to think to yourself “hey I could do that”.  Without giving away too much information: ten days, sitting undisturbed, curing in the back of the refrigerator and then one hour in a smoker.  Sounds a lot easier then you probably thought.  Don’t worry that this recipe will make too much bacon, every bite of it will get used.  Before reading this book I thought that 60% of the dishes served in Louisiana contain bacon, 30% use shrimp, sausage or crawfish and the remaining 10% use bacon, sausage and shrimp, but I was pleasantly surprised at the variations and different fresh, locally sourced ingredients that are used in traditional Cajun cooking.

 Cajun cooking is not just a piece of meat or chicken coated in some hot spices and cooked in a cast-iron pan until it looks burnt.  The idea of spicy, blackened food as “authentic Cajun” may have been served up for TV viewers and by chain restaurants in the 1980’s, but this is not the type of food an honest Cajun would serve to family and friends.  Link provides us with true, down home, style dishes that his family cooked back home in Acadia Parish.  This means rice, crawfish, gumbo, corn bread and greens in pork fat.  This is the real Cajun food not the generic, citified and over seasoned dishes served to the tourists on Bourbon Street.

 Link is the owner of two very popular New Orleans restaurants, Herbisaint and Cochon.  The James Beard Foundation named him the Best Chef in the South in 2007 and Cochon is listed on many of the “Best in America” surveys.  Link has a solid grounding in the classics, having graduated from the California Culinary Academy before returning home to New Orleans, so his wife could attend Tulane University.

 The 80 photographs give a real feel for what life is like on the bayou.  Link, writing in an easy, conversational style, talks about growing up in the Acadian region of Louisiana and the joy of family gatherings.  There are even suggestions for activities when planning a trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest or what not to do the next time you go turtle hunting.  The way Link talks about his family and friends comes across the page as real love and not as if he was just using them to set the mood for his book.

 The traditional Cajun recipes all start with a brief personal introduction about the dish, contain a list of easily purchased ingredients and excellent, well written instructions to help even the inexperienced cook recreate the dishes.  No Cajun cookbook would be complete without recipes for such dishes as: Smothered Pork Roast over Rice, Crawfish Etouffee, Seafood Gumbo, Fried Chicken, Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya or everything you need for a do-it-yourself Crawfish Boil.

 Cathy’s Shrimp, Corn and Tomato Stew is a hearty mixture served over rice.  The Broccoli, Rice and Cheddar Casserole is a church basement, style classic that is given a new life when Link uses his homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup instead of canned concentrate.  The Cast-Iron Hush Puppies contain a puree of jalapenos, scallions and parsley, which adds a bright fresh taste, as well as green color, to a traditional southern side dish.  Link includes recipes for dessert, and before you ask, no they don’t call for either bacon or crawfish.  The picture of Chocolate Yummy might look like a typical pot-luck type of desert that was quickly thrown together using a box of instant pudding and a container of frozen whipped topping, but the quality of the fresh ingredients, homemade custard and whipped cream elevate this home-style dish to something that you would proudly serve at any family gathering.

 With heartfelt stories of real life in Cajun country and wonderful recipes that are well written and easy to follow Real Cajun easily earns a rating of three spatulas.

Book Review – Yolele!

Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal by Pierre Thiam 

Photography by Adam Bartos 

Lake Isle Press 2008

 I had never seen a cookbook concerning cooking in Senegal, so when I picked up Yolele! I didn’t know what to expect.  Having the occasion to read Yolele! provided a unique opportunity to learn about a cuisine from the part of the world that is usually ignored by the culinary main stream.  The dishes presented in the book seem as if the local people took ingredients and methods from Portugal, France and the Middle East, then combined local produce and spices and mixed it all together to create unique, but still familiar, dishes.  Senegal, being located on the west coast of Africa, has historically been a melting pot of European, African and Middle Eastern cultures.  The author, Pierre Thiam, who owns two critically acclaimed restaurants in Brooklyn, compares the cuisine of Senegal to that of Louisiana Creole cooking, where many different cultures have come together to create something new and delicious.

 The lovely photographs capture the ambiance of the marketplace in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.  The colors of the fresh produce, the pictures of the fresh seafood and the candid shots of street vendor’s food have inspired me to travel to Africa so I can explore the markets and meet the people.  After seeing the vibrant colors of the fresh ingredients I wish there were more photographs of the finished dishes.  When reading the book it is easy to understand why the IACP, last year, nominated Yolele! as one of the year’s best books in the category of Best First Book/Julia Child Award.

 The recipes use readily available ingredients that can easily be found at a local grocery store.  When the recipe does call for a more unusual ingredient the book provides a good description of the new ingredient and suggests some substitutes that can readily be purchased in an American megamart.  I was surprised that so many of the ingredients are common to American kitchens.  The Glossary and Notes found at the end of the book are helpful and can get any home cook quickly up to speed on Senegalese cooking.

Tempra is reminiscent of cerviche, where prawns are marinated with an acid and spices, but here the prawns are grilled first then marinated.  I am generally the most adventurous eater among my friends, but the Grilled Sea Urchin, which sounds fascinating, is going to have to wait for my palate to become a little more mature.  The Fish and Corn Fritters is reminiscent of a Cajun style dish that would be at home in any New Orleans restaurant.  Tilapia and Millet Porridge is a delicious main dish where couscous is cooked to the consistency of a creamy polenta and served with Tilapia that has been simmered in a broth with tomatoes, onions and habaneros.

The Black-Eyed Pea Salad reminds me of a Moroccan style garbanzo bean salad with its blending of beans, peppers, onion, tomato and cucumber.  Thiebou Jen, “rice with fish”, is the national dish of Senegal and is indicative of the Senegalese style of combining various cultures into something unique.  Here fish is served with rice, carrots, cabbage and okra cooked in a spicy tomato sauce.  In the recipe for Plassas, Thiam substitutes Swiss chard, in place of the traditional yucca leaves, as the wrapper for a thick mixture of beef, shrimp and onions.  You can’t cook a traditional Senegalese dinner and not serve dessert.  In the recipe for Banana Fritters mashed bananas are mixed with flour, sugar and eggs then deep fried.  The recipe calls for topping the warm fritters with powdered sugar but I couldn’t stop myself from drizzling some melted chocolate over the top and serving with a scoop of homemade ice cream. 

 Yolele! is a welcome addition to the list of international style cookbooks that I can recommend.  The dishes are not typically found on an American menu but are similar enough that even meat and potato types of cooks will feel comfortable expanding their repertoires to include an African style menu.  The ingredients are user friendly, easy to find and the recipes make a good introduction to a “foreign” cuisine that is not “too” foreign.

Book Review – The Big Sur Bakery

The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook – A year in the life of a restaurant by Michelle and Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson with Catherine Price.  William Morrow 2009

 Located in a converted old gas station, on the California coast, is the Big Sur Bakery, one of the leaders of the “slow food” movement.  The slow food movement advocates eating, locally grown, in season, naturally produced food.  This book is a combination of personal remembrances of the restaurant’s founders, interviews with local Big Sur residents, discussions with some organic, local food purveyors, exquisite photographs of the natural wonders found in the Big Sur area and some recipes thrown into the mix. 

 The book, which contains 91 recipes, is divided into 12 chapters – one covering each month of the year.  The individual chapters offer recipes, using locally sourced in season produce and products, revolving around a specific monthly theme.  The best way to explain the construction of the book would be to detail one chapter.

 The chapter that covers the month of April opens with “Dinnertime” which talks about what occurs in the restaurant as the staff is preparing to serve dinner and then how they relax after the rush is over.  Then the reader is treated to an explanation, with beautiful photos, of how honey is made and a Q&A with Jack, a local beekeeper.  Recipes are included for typical April dinner fare, some of the menu items are: Grilled Sardines with Frisee and Whole-Grain Mustard Dressing, Roasted Leg of Lamb with Pesto and Artichokes and Asparagus with Almonds and Grapefruit Dressing.  This chapter highlights both everything that I loved about the book and at the same time all the problems that I have. 

In this chapter there are many spectacular photos, which evoke the natural scenery of the area.  There are photos of the empty restaurant, the bees, their hives and raw honey, Jack the beekeeper, fresh vegetables and the chopping and prepping of vegetables.  These photos are pretty enough to be in a coffee table book that covers the California coast, but there is only one photo that clearly shows a finished dish and that photo is of a slice of Lime Tart.  With 16 photos contained in the chapter why not showcase the finished dishes?  I have a good idea of what a slice of a lime tart would look like but I could use some assistance in visualizing how the finished Grilled Sardine dish should look.

 The recipes are a mixture of easy to make modernized American style classics such as Blueberry Pie, Roasted Chicken or Grilled Prime Rib and more adventurous dishes such as Grilled Oysters or Braised Venison Osso Buco.  The ingredient lists are long but the instructions for each recipe detail every step and you are made to feel confident that, by following the directions, the dish can be recreated at home. 

 After reading some of the recipes a home cook would not be out of line if they are left scratching their head asking “where am I going to find fresh sardines, burrata, rose geranium leaves, macha rosettes or lemon verbena leaves?”  While these ingredients may be common in the Big Sur area they would go on the impossible-to-find-list of most non-locals.

 The recipes titles sound appealing and make you want to run to the kitchen and try them.  The Pork Belly Pizza with Barbecue Sauce and Sweet Corn sounds like a good choice to make for dinner tonight, so I start reading.  Step 1: cure a pork belly in the refrigerator for five days.  Step 2 assemble 13 ingredients so I can make the barbecue sauce, oops wait I have to go to another section of the book and make a tomato sauce that is then used as an ingredient in the barbecue sauce.   By this point my head hurts and I realize we aren’t having the pizza tonight, or anytime soon.  This type of recipe may work well in a restaurant when you have long lead times and a prep staff, but not in a typical home kitchen.  Sure I could recreate a similar dish using off the shelf and pre-made grocery ingredients but then what do I need the book for?

 I don’t want to give the impression that the entire book is full of time consuming, hard to make dishes containing ingredients that you can’t locate.  The recipe for Scones is one of the best I have ever read.  The suggestion to freeze the fruit before incorporating it into the dough so as to minimalize stained dough is brilliant.  The instructions are detailed and specific and even if I had never made a scone before I would feel certain that the scone would turn out as advertised.  In the rustic Pearl Barley with Kale and Butternut Squash the barley is toasted then cooked in beer and stock before being finished with roasted squash and kale.  This dish may take a little time but if you can multi-task the various parts of the preparation then assemble just prior to serving.  The Baked Beans are homey and will remind guests of grandma’s old-style baked beans.

 The ideal buyer of this book would be a cook that will not hesitate to put in the effort to locate some of the more obscure ingredients and loves to spend time in the kitchen preparing elaborate dishes.  Your guests will be impressed when you present the finished dish.  If you looking for a book that can be turned to on a regular basis for family meals then I would suggest that you pass on The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook.

Book Review: Seven Fires

Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way.  By Francis Mallmann with Peter Kaminsky. Artesian 2009.  Photography by Santiago Solo Monllor.

Francis Mallmann was born in the Patagonia region of southern Argentina.  He opened his first of many restaurants at the age of 19 and is now considered to be one of South America’s most respected chefs.  Mallmann calls his technique “Nuevo Andean,” which is based on the traditional wood-fire and cast-iron cooking methods that have been used by generations of gauchos and native Argentineans.  This book grew out of a TV series that ran on TV stations throughout South America called “Fires of the South.”  Mallmann currently operates three restaurants in South America.  The Times of London and USA Today have named his restaurants among the top ten places to eat in the world.

With 250 spectacular photographs spread throughout 288 pages, this book could have gone over the line and morphed from a cookbook into a coffee table book or promotional material from the “I Love the Pampas” Travel Board.  But the well-written recipes, sharing of personal stories and detail of instruction make this book a delight to both read and use.  The recipes are simple, without long, complex lists of hard-to-find specialty ingredients, have easy-to-understand instructions with comments and guideposts to check while you are cooking as well as an introduction or story for each recipe.  The photos are gorgeous and worth buying the book for.  Monllor’s photographs are so stunning that I was ready to log on to Expedia and check for air fares to Argentina.

The book opens with a primer detailing the seven types of fires referenced in the title.  Mallmann explains each of the seven grilling methods: parrilla (grill over coals), chapa (griddle over hot coals), infernillo (a two level fire with the food cooked in the center), hornos de barro (wood fired oven), rescoldo (food cooked directly in embers), calderos (using an iron kettle or cauldron) and, the style I most want to try, asador (cooking an entire animal on an iron spit). Each style has a very helpful description of what is involved, the size of the grill and necessary space, prep work required before the food hits the grill, time involved in performing the prep work and an indoor cooking alternative for those times you can’t cook outside.  One word of caution for when you try these recipes indoors:  these methods can generate tremendous amounts of smoke, so be sure to have an industrial-sized ventilation system

The chapters describe how to use each of these cooking methods to make appetizers, beef, lamb, pork, chicken fish, salads, breads and even deserts.  Each recipe has an introduction giving some background of the dish and the preparation method. The detailed photos of each dish assist a cook in both the preparation and serving of the dish.

Based on the title and photos, it would be easy to misinterpret this book as a collection of just grilled meat recipes, but the non-beef recipes are plentiful and innovative.   Chupin of Salmon and Spring Vegetables is a full-bodied fish and vegetable stew that seems to be a cousin to chioppino or bouillabaisse, but without the tomato base.  In Flipped and Flapped Lamb, Mallmann artfully slices and pounds steaks cut from a leg of lamb, then seasons and quickly grills them.  Another unexpected type of dish is Beef and Potato Pie, which may sound like a traditional British Shepherd’s Pie, but the mixture of seasonings and vegetables makes this a different and uniquely South American specialty.  In the recipe for Dulce de Leche Panqueque, Mallmann creates a dazzling dessert combining a grilled crepe with store-bought dulce de leche (caramelized milk).

This book would be an excellent gift for an experienced grill master who is looking to expand his file of recipes away from the tired old grilled burgers or chicken.  Once you have mastered the basics of grilling then Seven Fires should definitely be at the top of your list when you are looking to expand your grilling library.

Book Review Best Meat Recipes and Best Chicken Recipes

The Best Meat Recipes by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated

The Best Chicken Recipes by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated.

America’s Test Kitchen 2008

How many times have you spent hours in the kitchen following a new recipe, that looked great in a book, but been disappointed with the results?  Have you ever wondered what would happen if you made a few minor changes to your favorite recipe?  With all the products on the shelf at the grocery store how can a shopper know which brand is really the best?

The editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine have wondered the same things and set out to answer these questions.  With over 300 extensively tested meat and 300 picture perfect chicken recipes this team of food investigators has spent hours in the test kitchen making minor changes, testing ingredients and attempting various cooking and preparation methods so as to produce the absolute best version of each recipe.

America’s Test Kitchen produces the self-titled cooking show on PBS, has over 25 cookbooks in print and publishes the monthly Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  Readers of the magazine or watchers of the TV program will be familiar with the methodology that is used to test products and recipes.  If these books serve as an introduction to America’s Test Kitchen then prepare to receive a first class, cooking education.

It is Sunday morning and the family wants a pot roast for dinner but you can’t remember how Mom made her’s.  It is time to start thumbing through cookbooks hoping to find a recipe for a classic pot roast.  Many cookbooks will provide a single, basic recipe (usually called something like “My Grandmother’s Favorite Pot Roast”).  The Best Meat Recipes contains four pages detailing the testing of different cuts of meat, explains why some cuts were better than others, tries different types of pots, uses different liquids to see which added the most flavor and then cooking the pot roast both in an oven and on the stove.  All these steps are detailed before the reader is presented with a final conclusion of a simple, easy to follow recipe that produces an aromatic, fork-tender pot roast.

You would think that creating a recipe for Roasted Chicken would be simple and straight forward.  Imagine going through the process of roasting 40 chickens in an effort to discover the best roasted chicken recipe.  The authors of The Best Chicken Recipes tested brined chickens versus non-brined, tried a variety of rubs and marinades, cooked different chicken parts at various temperatures, on racks or on a broiler pan and even covered or uncovered.  By the time the authors finally disclose a recipe for Roasted Chicken the reader has developed a comfort level with the recipe and a trust that your family will be served a delicious, juicy chicken that is cooked just right.

The index of a book is usually an afterthought and typically just lists the main ingredients and the recipes.   One test of a good, well written cookbook is if a reader can locate a recipe that you know must be there but can’t remember exactly what it is called.  As a test I turned to the index and looked for Fajitas.  I found the dish listed under: Fajitas, Flank steak, Steak, Tortillas, Skillet Fajitas and Tex-Mex.  I can’t imagine any other words that could be used to describe the dish or its main ingredients.

If you are looking for a cookbook that uses some kind of trendy miniature size vegetable that a famous chef used during a demonstration on some morning TV show or a spice that is only grown on a south facing hill in Lichtenstein and retails for $43.95 for a ½ ounce bottle then pass on these books.  For a home cook that could use over 600 well written, easy to follow and extensively tested recipes, where the pages will soon be dog eared and stained from use, then these books would make a welcome addition to any library.

There are so many excellent recipes contained in both books that it is hard to give just a few examples from each book.  The recipe for The Fried Chicken Wings with Buffalo Sauce clearly explains why the wings are cooked first then add the sauce just before serving.  The mildly spicy Buffalo Sauce is made using the brand of hot sauce that was picked as the best from among eight tested supermarket hot sauces.  In All American Chicken Chili it is recommended that the pack the ground chicken is first packed into a ball then pinched off into small pieces of meat.  This process will make the chicken appear crumbled and will prevent the cooked chicken from becoming stringy.  When making the Chicken Quesadillas the tortillas are lightly toasted in a dry skillet, filled with shredded chicken and cheese before being lightly oiled, salted and returned to the skillet to finish the dish.

When it is late and the kids are begging for Sloppy Joes for dinner, rather then opening a can of processed and over sugared mystery goo, open this book.  The ingredients are all pantry staples that can, in about 10 minutes, be whipped into a kid friendly dish.  There are recipes for ten different barbecue sauces covering all the geographic favorites.  Some of the popular regional barbecue sauces are Eastern North Carolina style which uses vinegar and no tomato sauce and Mid-South Carolina Mustard Sauce which uses honey and mustard.  The recipe for Hearty Beef Stew produces a classic stew while discussing the proper sizing of a Dutch oven and the best way to choose a red wine for use in the dish.

These books would make an excellent addition to any cook’s library.  Either of these books would make a fantastic and appreciated house warming gift for a recent college graduate who is going to have to start cooking for the first time or a wedding shower gift for a couple just starting out.  Don’t tell my mother, but I have stopped using her brisket recipe and have been serving the Braised Beef Brisket.