Review: Michael Symon’s Playing With Fire

Review: Michael Symon's Playing With FireThe other day I sat down with legendary Chef Michael Symon and talked about my favorite subject: barbecue. Ok, not really, but it felt like I did after I read thru the Chef’s new cook, Playing with Fire. Full of techniques, recipes, pictures, and written very well, it got me jonesin’ to fire up my smoker and get to cookin’!

Many of the recipes in the book come from Mabel’s BBQ, Chef Symon’s BBQ restaurant outside of Cleveland, which is definitely on my bucket list. There’s a lot in here about techniques and mastering them. The recipes are all pretty straight-forward. Sprinkled throughout the book are ‘pitmaster profiles’, little sidebars highlighting BBQ pits around the US and their specialties. Good stuff, and you can sure bet there’s one near you that you need to visit (I’m a huge fan of supporting my local BBQ joints. Nothing wrong with chains, but make sure your neighborhood pitmasters get your business). Back to the book..

Introduction: I was going to skip this section. It talks about the different kinds of smokers and grills and such. I have over 20 grills and smokers, so I’m pretty up on that stuff, though there’s always something to learn no matter how long you’ve been at it. The section on fireplace cooking made me stop and pay attention. If you live in a cold place like Chef Symon (and I) do, being able to cook inside over a big open fire is a plus. If you’re new to the world of smoking and grilling, this section is a fantastic read.

The rest of the book is about recipes, and there’s a good amount of them, with great pictures and details. You’re sure to amaze your guests with everything from Playing with Fire. There’s a section on pork (hard-core great recipes, from my favorite, pork belly, to pigs ears, to cracklings to homemade bacon), beef (only seven recipes, but don’t let that bum you out. They’re all amazing, from pastrami (something I make often) to prime rib and rib eye), chicken (I cook a lot of chicken outdoors. This section of the book does not disappoint. It’s old-school favorites done right and done well), seafood (fish, shrimp and clams), lamb (not something I cook regularly, but this section will inspire me to do just that!), vegetables and sides (oddly my favorite section of the entire book. Not a lot of recipes, but those that are there are really great. Quality, tasteful dishes. Quality over quantity.), and last, sauces, relishes and rubs (darned near my favorite section too!).

I found that Playing with Fire really focuses on the important things in barbecue: technique, quality and flavor. Every dish in it is something special. At first I thought that it’s more for the hard-core barbecuer, but a novice can make anything in it too. Not many cookbooks can accomplish that.

Michael Symon’s Playing with Fire is a great book for anyone serious about barbecue. It rates very high on my ‘Mater Rater scale.

'Mater Rater

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

Review: The Big Book of Sides

I needed this book and I needed it bad. I am bad about sides. I spend most of my time thinking about the main course, giving little thought to the side dishes. The Big Book of Sides was written by Rick Rodgers for people just like me. And the title is not an overstatement. This book is big and it is crammed with OVER 450 recipes. No kidding. No lie. Over 450. And they aren’t lame, boring recipes either. No “open a can of corn, heat and serve’ recipes, here, that’s for sure. It’s all great stuff.

The Big Book of Sides is divided into the following main sections: Eat Your Vegetables, From the Root Cellar, A Hill of Beans, Righteous Rice and Great Greens, The Side Salad Bowl, Pasta and Friends, The Bread Basket, and Pickles, Relishes and Sauces. Before that the book concentrates on basic cooking techniques and menu planning.

Recipes are grouped by main ingredient (think artichokes, beets, bok choy, you name it), along with a great description of that ingredients and a story or history of it’s origin. The peak season times for each main ingredient is also noted, along with how to choose the best ingredients at the store, how to store them, and how to prepare them. Very helpful information that you don’t normally find in a cookbook.

The recipes are very well written and are very concise. There’s no guessing required. You know upfront what the dish goes well with, how long it takes to prep, how long it takes to cook, how long ahead of time you can make the dish (very helpful!), and the recipe category. I found the recipe category to be interesting and different and more useful than I expected. Examples of the categories used are: holiday feasts, weeknight suppers, and family favorite. No need to spend time trying to decide what is the best occasion for serving a side, Mr. Rodgers has already thought about it for you.

You quickly realize that The Big Book of Sides wasn’t thrown together willy-nilly. You know how sometimes you notice little things (typos, missed steps, whatever) in a cookbook? Not with this one. This book sets the bar high and then goes right over it. Oh, and many of the recipes also have variations included, so you can use the same basic idea several days in a row but change it up with little effort. Nice.

Now, if you follow this blog you know that I have on occasion zinged a cookbook for not having what I thought was enough pictures. The Big Book of Sides does not have a picture for each recipe. To keep consistent in my reviews I did knock off a point on my ‘Mater Rater scale but I felt guilty doing it because if there was a picture for each of the 450+ recipes this book wouldn’t fit onto my Kindle. I mean it’s huge (in a good way) as it is and I definitely would not let the lack of a few pics stop me from recommending it again and again.
'Mater Rater

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

Review: Let’s Grill! Best BBQ Recipes Box Set

Review: Let's Grill! Best BBQ Recipes Box SetThis right here is why we signed up for Kindle Unlimited, a subscription service from Amazon that gives us access to tons, and tons of eBooks for a low monthly fee. We use the heck out of our subscription. Let’s Grill isn’t just a book, it’s a massive 6-set volume of recipes and techniques for all things grilling. Considering how little we pay monthly for Kindle Unlimited, this set pays for our subscription for months just by itself.

Let’s Grill is divided into 6 books: Texas’ Best Secret BBQ recipes, Carolinas’ Best BBQ, Tennessee’s Best BBQ, Missouri’s Best BBQ, Alabama’s Best BBQ, and Hawaii Best BBQ. Each book has page after page of recipes, from rubs and seasonings, to sauces, to salads,, to sides, to main courses, to desserts. I didn’t count the recipes, but I think it’s safe to say the total is definitely into the hundreds.

The recipes in Let’s Grill are not complicated. They’re great for everyone from the beginner to the seasoned professional. It’s full of down-home backyard good stuff, the kind where you aren’t going to have trouble finding the ingredients and most likely have a lot of them already on hand.

Every recipe is accompanied by a picture. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into with each one. Now, they aren’t big pictures, but they are good pictures. It’s no-nonsense collection of classics and some great twists on the classics. And hey, you can’t eat pictures!

I couldn’t be happier with Let’s Grill, even if it wasn’t free! I found tons and tons of new recipes and ideas to try. That’s a win-win, so it scores high on the ‘Mater Rater!

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