Monday, January 27, 2014

Chef of the Month Cookbook Review - January

When it comes to cookbooks I'm normally looking for recipes that use ingredients that are widely available and relatively inexpensive.  I prefer chicken breasts, pork (most cuts), ground beef and other boneless beef cuts.  I'm willing to try new techniques or complicated recipes.  We don't have allergies (except for me - goat cheese turns me into the elephant man and shrimp causes me to lose feeling in my face and hands) or other dietary concerns.  I tend to shy away from fish or any form of game.  Also I like recipes that make a fairly large amount of food as I'm normally trying to feed 5 with leftovers.

With that in mind here's my opinion on the books I've been carrying around, paging through and cooking from for the last few weeks.

January was originally going to be Mario Batali's food but ended up growing into all the books related to The Chew: Batali, Michael Symon, Daphne Oz, Carla Hall and the 2 books that have come from the show.

Michael Symon's 5 in 5 - I'm normally pretty wary of books that only use a few ingredients as they tend to run towards the cream of whatever soup.  This is not the case with Symon's book.  His recipes use fresh ingredients like onions, tomatoes, arugula, basil, lemon, and garlic along with pretty standards herbs and spices.  The most exotic ingredient is pancetta.  The book consists mainly of main dishes with a few sides and a handful of desserts.  There are also a number of pasta based meatless dinners.  Everything I've made from this book has been excellent and fairly fast but more upscale than the standard cookbooks that promise fast and easy dinners.  Verdict: Recommended

The Chew: Food.Life.Fun and The Chew: What's For Dinner are a bit more all over the place.  The books contain of mix of drinks, appetizers, main dishes, breads, sides, and desserts.  I didn't find quite as many recipes that I was just dying to make from these as I expected.  The drinks and appetizers don't really appeal to me and there are a number of recipes that call for lamb or bone-in cuts (I know it's completely illogical to be intimidated by these but I am.  Something to work on).  There are lots of interviews with the hosts as well as some behind the scene stuff.  If you're a fan of the show these are great but if you're not I would page through a copy before you buy.  Verdict: Recommended with reservations.

Relish: An Adventure in Food, Style and Everyday Fun by Daphne Oz:
I'm so not the target market for this book.  Almost half the book is devoted to lifestyle tips - everything from beauty tips to home decor and entertaining.  The recipes definitely lean towards the healthy side which isn't surprising given Daphne's history and her father.  Quite a number of the recipes look pretty tasty though not really something I could serve at dinner.  I think there would be mass mutiny if I served Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese, Grapes and Hazelnuts or Creamy Zucchini-Tarragon Soup for dinner.  This book would be great for a single woman or a young couple just starting out. Verdict: Not for me but interesting.

Cooking With Love by Carla Hall: I was a little disappointed when I first flipped through this book.  Given the title and Hall's Nashville roots I was expecting homestyle family food and not Marinated Flank Steak with Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade or Duck Ragu over Butternut Squash Grits.  I tagged a few things to try and then basically forgot about it.  Then one night I made her Basil Bacon Bread and immediately got on Amazon and bought the book.  It was amazing.  Like life changing good.  I've since made her biscuits and Cuban Pork Loin with Marinated Onions and they have all been really good.  The recipes are well written and clearly explain each step and the ingredients meet my criteria.  Verdict: LOVE this one.  Heavily recommend it!

I did get almost all of Mario Batali's books and while I love him and would happily give a kidney to eat his food, his cookbooks didn't work for me.  There are a number of recipes for mussels or baby octopus which even if knew where to find them I don't know how to cook them and I certainly don't want to pay for them.  The recipes I did try seemed to be too much work for a mediocre result.  I'm very glad I got these from the library instead of purchasing.  Verdict: Definitely not for me.

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