While it’s true that many people are exploring vegetarian and vegan diets, there’s no doubt that as far as cooking is concerned, meat is still king.
Who better to lead us on a beef adventure than the great Rachael Ray, with THE BOOK OF BURGERS. “Rache” also includes a section on sandwiches and hot dogs, and such delectable accompaniments as French fries with cheese, and foolproof deviled eggs. The popular TV host assures us that it’s OK to use bagged coleslaw from the supermarket, and instructs us on how to smash seeds (use the side of the knife). Ray has also enlisted recipes from her friends in New York and at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. I especially like the offerings from Iron Chefs Bobby Flay (Louisiana Burger) and Masaharu Morimoto (Kakuni Burger). A special feature in this Atria Smart Book is the system of Microsoft tags which allows owners of Smart Phones to scan a code and receive exclusive videos.
There’s no reason that barbeque season can’t last all year round. CHARRED & SCRUFFED is written by Adam Perry Lang, with Peter Kaminsky. Lang is a classically trained chef who’s worked at Le Cirque and Daniel; he’s now an award winning grill master. The “Scruffed” of the title refers to his technique of roughing up meat to allow for more surface area, so that seasonings can cling better. He also provides instruction on “Clinching,” or cooking meat directly on the coals; “Hot Potatoing,” which involves turning the meat constantly to control heat buildup; and “Cooking High and Slow,” which enables crust development in bigger pieces of meat. Fish and fowl are also treated to Lang’s special touch. Lang rejects the idea of side dishes, and instead, prefers food that co-stars with the meat. He breaks these into four categories, and also lets us in on the secret to his signature board dressing. It’s like getting a PhD in barbeque.
For the real aficionado, there’s Lynne Curry’s PURE BEEF, which touts itself as “An essential guide to artisan meat with recipes for every cut.” Starting with “How Grass Becomes Beef,” answering questions about antibiotics and hormones, and filling us in on the differences between grass-fed (which she recommends) and grain-fed varieties, this book leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the country’s favorite meat. I especially appreciate the nose-to-tail guide for cooking every part of the cow (though I’ll leave that to the pros), and tips that include choosing the best knife to use, and how to perform a reverse sear. If you can’t find a beef recipe you like among the 140 in this book, you’re just not trying. An added bonus is the knowledge that Curry provides about what it’s like to be a cattle rancher in modern times. In an interesting twist, Curry was a vegetarian who embraced meat eating after moving to Oregon.
I would be tempted to buy A GIRL AND HER PIG just because of the offbeat cover of author April Bloomfield with a smiling (though obviously tagged and deceased) swine around her neck, like a fur piece. Writing with JJ Goode, the acclaimed chef regales us with stories about working with Mario Batali at their famous restaurant, The Spotted Pig. Together, they revolutionized the American food industry, and encouraged nose-to-tail cooking of all things pig. Bloomfield insists on sourcing the finest ingredients, and in paying attention to every detail. Originally from Birmingham, England, Bloomfield includes recipes for pub fare, like Beef and Bayley Hazen Pie. For the more ambitious, there are directions on how to roast a whole suckling pig. Soups and salads are also given diligent attention. As Batali predicted at their first meeting, “She’s a star. I can tell.”
THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK, by John T. Edge, is a special treat for anyone who’s been enjoying “The Great Food Truck Race” on the Food Channel. Food trucks have become popular all over America, and the 150 recipes that are included are a good indication why. We’ve come a long way from hot dogs of questionable pedigree and the gentle bell ringing of the Good Humor man. An acclaimed food writer with a James Beard Award, Edge has a discerning palate and an engaging style. The recipes mean that you don’t have to travel to L.A. for Koo’s Peanut Rice Pancakes, or to Minneapolis for Chef Shack’s Cardamom-Spiced Donuts. I love the humorous names of some of the enterprises: Dante’s Inferno Dogs (Seattle), I Dream of Weenie (Nashville), and Man Bites Dog (Austin). With enthusiastic entrepreneurs dishing up fresh food, chalk boards on the sidewalk, and a philosophy of “if you don’t like it here, move on,” this movement truly embodies the U.S. spirit.
So now, there’s no reason to settle for the same-old same-old for dinner. Break out the grill, cook up a pig, or track down a truck and have a great meal.
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist, an unrepentant Foodie, and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com