Review: Richard Blais’ So Good: 100 Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours

Review: Richard Blais' So Good: 100 Recipes from My Kitchen to YoursIt seemed like forever that I was on the library waiting list to get Richard Blais’ new cookbook, So Good: 100 Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours. I waited and waited for the email that said the book was finally available for downloading to my Kindle or reading on my PC’s Kindle Reader.

I like Chef Blais’s style. I’ve seen him on several cooking competition shows on TV. He is always cooking dishes that look fantastic and often use techniques (in particular, liquid nitrogen) that I have no experience with.

This book isn’t about restaurant dishes. It’s about dishes Chef Blais makes at home. Most of the recipes have a short list of ingredients and also a short list of instructions. Some are recipes you may have seen before, executed perfectly. Like BBQ shrimp. Nothing fancy, but good eats, and one of my favorite dishes of all time. Now, there are a few different recipes, that’s for sure (the barbecued lamb’s head carnitas with masa comes to mind) . And there are a few that have ingredients that might be hard to find if you aren’t near a good Asian market (Amazon to the rescue!). As Chef Blais says, he’s curious about techniques, equipment and ingredients. I share that curiosity, although certainly not on the level that he does. The beauty of food and cooking, for me, is that every day you wake up you can do something new, something different. Or you can do something old and familiar. Or both.

The commentary throughout the book is light, witty, funny and insightful. You don’t have to wade thru two pages of a story to get to the recipes, either. Not that I don’t appreciate a good story now and then. This isn’t that kind of book. It’s full of dishes Chef Blais makes during his time off. You feel like you’re there at his house with him and his family on a Saturday, getting ready to make a few Juicy Lucy burgers, and for desert, homemade banana splits (an absolutely amazing recipe, everything homemade).

I’ve already made an extensive list of the dishes I will be making from the book, beginning with chicken shawarma (Update: made this last weekend and it was fantastic!). Next up, a steak coated in blue cheese to mimic dry aging, then cooked in a hot skillet to onion rings. Yes, onion rings. Chef Blais takes his onion ring batter and places it into a whip cream canister. Dispensing the air-injected batter produces a super-light coating. What a brilliant idea. Brilliant. Another is the sweet-and-sour ham hocks with mustard greens. I recently smoked my own shanks (larger than hocks, but I substitute them for hocks all of the time) and cannot wait to make Chef Blais’s recipe.

The photos in So Good: 100 Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours are amazing. Now, me, I’m a big fan of food porn so I could’ve gone for a few more pictures, but the truth is you can’t eat pictures. What pictures there are are truly drool-worthy.

'Mater Rater
For more of my reviews of cookbooks available for the Amazon Kindle readers, visit Kindle Thyme.

Review: Elliott Moss’ Buxton Hall Barbecue’s Book of Smoke

I just finished reading and drooling my way thru Elliott Moss’ Buxton Hall Barbecue’s Book of Smoke. I checked out a copy of the book from the Indianapolis Public Library using my Kindle. There’s no more convenient way to get access to great books… for free! You can also purchase the book from Amazon.

Elliott Moss is an owner and head chef of Buxton Hall BBQ, a restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina. Of course being in the Carolinas means a concentration on whole hog cooking with vinegar or mustard-based sauces. And this book definitely walks you through that tradition along with tons of recipes from the restaurant, some traditional and some great twists of the classics. Chef Moss is, well, a chef. And he comes across as a chef in the book, providing insights into each and every recipe. It’s a great peak into a chef’s mind and the journey he took to become the chef he is. I hope some day to eat at Buxton Hall because I know that the passion you feel in the book will be in every bite of food I take. Not just passion, but also history and tradition. That’s important.

You’ll get more than just great pictures of food (you’ll swear you’re at the restaurant) you also get a sense of the history behind NC BBQ, how Chef Moss came to be at Buxton Hall (and how it got it’s name), and you’ll even meet some of his chefs.

Besides traditional BBQ dishes, like pulled pork, chicken, turkey, and lamb you’ll also learn how to make a simple stove-top smoker. I have an outdoor smoker that gets a serious workout on a regular basis, but for those without one, the section on making your own is quite helpful. There’s also a (one of my favorite) sections on how the smoker is set up at Buxton Hall and the most important part, the burn barrel. I wish I had a big block pit with a burn barrel. Maybe someday I will.

There are a lot of recipes in the book that I have tagged for my to-make list, but a few really stood out as must-make-soon. Smoked grits is one, specially since I love grits. I seriously could eat grits at every meal. Smoked cornbread is another. And smoked pimento cheese (used as a topping on a fried chicken sandwich! My oh my!). Oh, and the cider Brussels sprouts with cracklins sound not only different (instead of having the usual bacon for crunch) but also just great tasting. Making your own cracklins is actually pretty easy, but if you’re not up to the challenge check around your local BBQ joints. Some (like my favorite in Indianapolis, The North End BBQ) make their own.

And then there’s the pies. And I don’t mean just pies, I mean works of art. I wasn’t expecting a large section of the book to be on pies, from fantastic scratch crusts to fresh, locally-sourced fillings. Like Chef Moss I’m not a real big sweets guy, but wow, the pies at Buxton Hall will change that. I wonder if you can walk in and order a bite of each?

Whether you’re a hard-core BBQ person, or looking for a few new great side dishes (or some of the best pies ever), or just interested in reading a great cookbook, the Buxton Hall Barbecue’s Book of Smoke is a great book. Grab a copy (free or not) and sit back and enjoy.

Buxton Hall Barbecue’s Book Of Smoke rates high on my ‘Mater Rater.

'Mater RaterFor more of my reviews of cookbooks available for the Amazon Kindle readers, visit Kindle Thyme.

Review: John Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day

John Currence's Big Bad BreakfastThe Amazon Kindle has a great bookmark feature. You just tap the upper right corner of the screen to ‘dog ear’ a page for future reference. You can tell when I really, really like a cookbook by how many bookmarks I make. In the case of John Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day, I bookmarked almost every single page in the book. Page after page, I kept finding recipes I am going to make, and make soon.

Even though I rarely eat a real breakfast in the morning, I often make a big breakfast for dinner, and this book definitely gave me tons of new recipes and ideas for better and bigger breakfasts. Big Bad Breakfast is wonderfully written, and it’s even quite funny in places. Actually, it’s very funny and it’s a great read. Even though there are tons of recipes, it’s almost like a novel in ways.

In case you’re not up on these things, Chef John Currence is a James Beard-winning chef that has been on tons of TV shows and in lots of magazines. Big Bad Breakfast (the book) is a result of Chef John’s years of owning Big Bad Breakfast (the restaurant) in Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford remains on my bucket list to visit because of it’s fantastic restaurant scene. BBB is another great example.

Big Bad Breakfast (back to the book) covers every aspect of breakfast, starting with breads and muffins (lots of great sweets), proceeding to eggs (with a fantastic detailed lesson on how to cook eggs the various ways), omelets and frittatas, pancakes (the Silver Dollar pancakes are #1 on my list for this week), cereals (homemade Frosted Flakes!!!), sandwiches, sides, and drinks. See? Everything you could ever want for a great big breakfast.

John Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day is packed with tons and tons of great breakfast recipes and a few great stories and tidbits and advice to boot. It’s well worth the price, and then some. I scored the book high on the ‘Mater Rater.

'Mater Rater
For more of my reviews of cookbooks available for the Amazon Kindle readers, visit Kindle Thyme.

Review: Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke

I’m a huge fan of Steven Raichlen. From his various PBS shows (I’ve seen them all) to his many cookbooks (I have them all), I’m intrigued by everything he cooks, from the familiar to the very new. Steven Raichlen’s latest TV series and book, Project Smoke, is as amazing as anything else he’s ever done. The Project Smoke cookbook (it’s really more than ‘just’ a cookbook) is packed with 336 pages of amazing recipes, stories, tips and tricks.

The first part of Project Smoke is great for beginners, describing the equipment and techniques you’ll need no matter what kind of smoking (from cold to hot) that you are going to do. The next section contains appetizers and, as with any Raichlen book, there’s an incredible attention not only to detail but also the history behind dishes and approaches. you’ll know exactly what tools you’ll need and how long each step of the process will take. there’s no guessing here, Raichlen has thought it all out for you.

The photography in the Project Smoke (just like on any of Raichlen’s PBS TV shows) is incredible. The picture of the smoked planked Camembert with jalapeno pepper jelly is worthy of printing and framing, and so are many others. All of the recipes in the book are awesome, and some are completely new to me. For example, smoked bread. I’d never considered smoking flour to make a loaf of bread. After you form the flour into a dough and let it rise, you bake it over charcoal until done, serving with smoked butter or smoked honey. that just may be one of the coolest (no pun intended) smoking ideas I’ve ever seen.

Project Smoke continues with smoking beef, with much detail on smoking briskets including the required pros/cons of wrapping. Raichlen also discusses one of my absolute favorite things to make on my smoker: pastrami. If you haven’t made your own pastrami, you should. It’s amazing

Next up is pork. Even if you’ve smoked 100s of racks of ribs like I have you’ll find Project Smoke informative and full of interesting twists on the ‘usual’ way of doing things or the ‘usual’ ingredients.

Lamb is next, and I have to say, I have never smoked lamb, so i found this section of Project Smoke to be very interesting, though short. Raichlen definitely has convinced me that i need to smoke lamb this year.

Burgers, sausages, poultry and seafood are covered next. Like the previous sections, these are again filled with great recipes, techniques and photos. The smoked shrimp cocktail with chipotle-orange cocktail sauce instantly went to the top of my to-smoke list.

Next up are sides and the like, including smoked slaw. If your guests are tired of your (still very good) mayonnaise- and vinegar-based slaw, smoke the vegetables in an aluminum pan before making the salad. Raichlen’s approach is perfect, and interestingly different.

Project Smoke finishes with desserts and cocktails, both of which are often over-looked in books about smoking. there’s not a lot of different recipes in these sections, but like with everything else in the book, the desserts and cocktails are also fantastic.

Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke rates high on my ‘Mater Rater.

'Mater RaterFor more of my reviews of cookbooks available for the Amazon Kindle readers, visit Kindle Thyme.