Archive for the ‘Cookbooks’ Category

Book Review: Put ’em Up

June 8, 2010

Reviewed by Amy Cotter

In Put ’em Up: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, Sherri Brooks Vinton holds your hand and walks you through the time-honored tradition of home food preservation.  She begins by acknowledging the rumors that home preservation is time-consuming and dangerous, and goes on to successfully dispel them.  Vinton describes why home preservation is worthwhile, then directs us in the selection of food to preserve.  The first half of the book contains techniques.  Preserving one’s own food is a two step process, so Vinton starts with step one: food preparation methods.  Keeping with the theme of the book, this section is user friendly with sections on equipment, key ingredients, and step-by-step instructions complete with illustrations describing processes like blanching and making fermented pickles.  Step two of home preservation is the preservation aspect, and this section also contains useful sections and illustrations.  Vinton thoughtfully includes sections titled, “Trouble” and “Things That Look Bad but Aren’t Dangerous,” which are very helpful.

Of course, the second half of the book is recipes.  It is organized by type of produce, so that you can identify what you have too much of and then find recipes geared specifically toward preserving it.  The range of produce spans from traditional fruit and vegetables to spices, herbs, and more regional items like ramps and scapes.  Since techniques for preservation have already been taught, the recipes section is able to encompass far more options, including traditional jams and jellies, and less typically imagined items like Vin d’Orange.  This lively book uses family anecdotes, easy to follow instructions, and delicious recipe recommendations to convince us to return to the tradition of home preservation.


Book Review: The American Beach Cookbook

May 11, 2010

review by Stephanie Jane Carter

The American Beach Cookbook

By Marsha Dean Phelts

University Press of Florida

Details: 320 pages     6 x 9
$19.95   ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-3210-8

The American Beach Cookbook, by Marsha Dean Phelts, celebrates the food, drink, and culture of American Beach on Amelia Island in Florida.  The Afro-American Life Insurance Company, started by the first African American millionaire Abraham Lincoln Lewis,  purchased the beach in 1935 to ensure that African Americans had unrestricted access to the Florida Coastlines.

The American Beach Cookbook gives us unrestricted access to the food and beverage that is at the heart of the party, along with vintage photos, maps, and anecdotes.  Even if you can’t make the party, you can relish in American Beach resident and historian Marsha Phelt’s community recipes for Grannie’s Tomato Gravy (click here for recipe), Jalapeno Hoecakes, Sweet Potato Pone, Big Mama’s Tea Cakes, He Shorty’s Pigs Feet in BBQ Sauce, and Mrs. Mary’s Sweet Tomato Pie.

Whether your plans this summer are to visit the beach or not, this cookbook should be in your kitchen.  Filled with recipes that aren’t fussy, it is a cookbook that puts celebration and community in the substance of each recipe.  The National Historic Register added American Beach to the list in 2002.

Book Review: The P & J Oyster Cookbook

March 17, 2010

By Stephanie Jane Carter

By Kit Wohl and the Sunseri Family
224 pp.  10 x 10  100 color photos  Index

Do you love the Oyster Roast at Cochon?  I have that recipe.  Would you like to know how Dickie Brennan, the man behind the Bourbon House, shoots oysters?  I can tell you.  Are you curious how the Sunseri family of the 130 year-old P&J Oyster Company, prepares oysters?  They must know how, right?  I have 28 of their recipes and they definitely know how to prepare oysters.  If you have a favorite oyster dish at a restaurant in New Orleans, there is a very good chance the recipe is in the P&J Oyster Cookbook, by Kit Wohl and the Sunseri Family.  The P&J Oyster Cookbook celebrates the venerable, salty, fatty, delicious Gulf Coast oyster and appears to define the P&J Oyster family and community as the entire P&J oyster-loving community, which appears to be the entire New Orleans community.  This is evidenced in the 220 glossy pages of oyster recipes from journalists, cookbook authors, “cheerful souls,” Sunseri family members, and over 50 New Orleans varsity level chefs and restaurateurs.  The ambition it took to compile all of these recipes was an admirable and successful feat by Kit Wohl.

For more than 130 years, the P&J Oyster Company, the oldest business of its kind in the United States, has been cultivating, harvesting, and distributing fresh Gulf Coast oysters.  The company, located at the corner of North Rampart and Toulouse in the French Quarter, has been lovingly embraced by the surrounding community for as long as it has been open.  According to the book, Chef Leah Chase, the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” has never allowed any other oyster in her kitchen.  GW Fins, which flies seafood in from all over the world, only uses the local P&J oyster.  If the shrimp-dish naming scene in Forrest Gump were to be filmed using this delicious bivalve instead of shrimp, this is the book they would want to have on hand.  The photography in the book is oddly charming, presenting fuzzy oyster delicacies retreating and emerging from clean, white space.  The book is divided into the following chapters and every chapter is packed with enticing recipes.

Raw – featuring a recipe for raw oysters on the half shell with no less than three paragraphs of instruction, proving the seriousness with which this subject is treated.  It moves on to other raw preparations (oysters with granités, oyster shooters, oyster shooters with granités, etc)

Grilled – which includes Cochon’s delicious Roasted Oysters with Crushed Herbs, Garlic, and Chiles.

Fried – featuring 19 ways to fry them.

Baked – featuring the classic Rockefeller which was originally made with P&J Oysters, Oyster Biscuit Pudding from Café Adelaide, and 23 other ways to bake them

Soups, Stews, and Gumbos – Like Rockefeller?  Try the Rockefeller Bisque in this section.

Casseroles, Pastas, and Pies –  including GW Fins’ savory Oyster and Mushroom Tart that Chef Flynn once demonstrated at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.  Sal Sunseri, of P&J Oysters, accompanied him and shucked oysters.  Thanks to Sal, we all also know the proper way to eat an oyster on the half shell (slurp it out from above so that you get all of the juices and none of the grit from the shell)

Gratins, Stuffings, and Dressings – Oysters Marie Laveau, P&J’s Oyster, Sausage, and Pecan Dressing, and others

Stocks, Sauces, and Seasonings – to accompany some of the dishes

There are so many wonderful recipes in this book that I really hate to say anything critical about it.  So much of the New Orleans community contributed valuable insight into how to prepare the venerable bivalve and the book could have been perfect.

That said, it is a shame that that community did not include an editor.  It is clear that the recipes in this book were written by many different people with different vocabularies and different expectations of the audience’s cooking ability.  One example of the sloppy editing is found in the confounding recipe for a “Glace de Viande with Veal” that calls for either beef bones or veal.  (Really? How does that work exactly?)  The recipe also includes 12 other ingredients and without instruction on what to do with them.  There are a few other editorial lapses, but none that can’t be noticed without reading the recipe before you start cooking (which a good cook does anyway).

Even with the editorial shortfalls, the P&J Oyster Cookbook remains a dedicated, powerful, delicious, and ultimately sublime tribute to an institution and product that helps define and enhance New Orleans culture.  This book, full of 93 oyster recipes, is still wonderful.  These chefs, cheerful souls, and writers show that we consider P&J Company our family too.  At any rate, I love this cookbook and I think you should have it.  Just grab a red pen and be ready to edit it yourself.

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum has a limited number of autographed copies of the P&J Oyster Cookbook for sale.  They are available by calling 504-569-0405.

*Thank God.  No Gulf Coast oyster ban.

The Underground Gourmet’s Platonic Legacy

March 17, 2010

by Faine E. Greenwood

New Orleans lost one of its longest-standing food legends in January with the passing of 78-year-old Richard H. Collin, otherwise known as the Underground Gourmet. Collin died in Birmingham, where he relocated after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But the Philadelphia-born Collin was a consummate New Orleans man, and his contribution to the food culture of the city was defined by his game-changing “Underground Gourmet” guidebook to the city.  Arguably the city’s first real restaurant critic, beginning at the New Orleans States-Item in 1972, Collin’s legacy will loom large in NOLA’s culinary world for a long time to come.

The first Underground Gourmet New Orleans guidebooks first appeared in 1970, as part of a series originating in New York City, published by Simon and Schuster. The ambitious and food-obsessed Collin wrote to the publishing company to ask if he might do a New Orleans version, and to his surprise, the publishers awarded the as-yet-unproven restaurant critic the contract.

Collin enthusiastically rose to the challenge, tirelessly researching, eating, and exploring the food of his adopted city, drawing from luxury epicurean palaces, low-rent poboy joints, and ethnic restaurants in almost equal numbers.  The resulting guide was written in Collin’s characteristically laissez-faire style, perfectly suited to the character of the Crescent City – the book proved an immediate success. Opinionated, hyper-intelligent, and adventurous, the Underground Gourmet books provided a fantastic introduction to the city’s food for tourists and locals alike.

Collin was an adventurous eater. His book was one of the first to devote attention and affection to the city’s smaller hole-in-the-wall restaurants, moving beyond the traditional French-Creole stalwarts into the soul food joints, poboy houses, and working man’s lunch-spots of the general public.  Collins didn’t mince words or hang fire on lousy restaurants, either: one chapter is, after all, entitled “The Great Center City Disaster Area,” enumerating Collin’s justifiable disdain for the poor food served to the business lunch set (one can only hope that matters have improved). Collin’s disapproving descriptions include such damnations as “Keystone Kops levels of amateurism,” “watery Northern coffee,” and just plain “absolutely awful.”

But Collin’s praise could be as potent as his criticism: when a restaurant really got something right, The Underground Gourmet’s enthusiasm was marvelously obvious.  As he explained in the introduction to the guide, he approached restaurants as an “incurable optimist,” and was capable of waxing rhapsodic about a “heady” shrimp remoulade at Galatoire’s, an “exquisite” raw oyster, or a “beautiful” dish of butter-soaked barbecued shrimp at Pascal’s Manale.  Needless to say, New Orleans restaurateurs of the era quickly learned to both respect and fear the Underground Gourmet’s criticism.

New Orleans food buffs of all stripes will appreciate a browse-through of the easy to find 1973 revised edition of the guide: the book provides a fascinating time capsule into what New Orleans cuisine was and represented in that particular era, and Collin’s remarks on still-existent restaurants are illuminating and often highly entertaining. Antoine’s, Pascal’s Manale, the Camellia Grille and other modern-day stalwarts are addressed here, as well as a cotorie of gone-but-not-forgotten eating emporiums, some dearly missed and some not so much. Collin’s dining world in 1970’s New Orleans contained considerably more aspics and “tropique” salads then our own does, and startlingly cheaper prices. One cannot help but long for the days when you could still order a nice sirloin steak for the princely sum of $5.50. (One also wonders where the remarkable assemblage of fine Chinese restaurants the city used to possess has gone).

Collin’s notion of a “platonic” dish was perhaps his trademark eating thesis and the most fascinating idea to come out of his food writing:  to the Underground Gourmet, a  “platonic dish” was “the best imaginable realization of a particular dish,” a preparation that perfectly captured the essence of New Orleans cuisine, a dish that could not (and would not) be equaled anywhere else or in any other locale. Commander’s Palace’s Oysters Bienville, Galatoire’s Trout Meuniere Amandine, and Casamento’s New Orleans Oyster Loaf were all awarded this philosophically-meaningful honor: Collin’s was not afraid to make it clear when a dish did meet his always-stringent expectations.

Richard Collin’s wife, Rima, was herself a formidable food authority. A former Fulbright scholar in France, she founded the New Orleans Cooking School in 1980, and provided counsel, advice, and delicious food to her husband for the entirety of their long and prosperous marriage. The two self-described “oddball academics” worked well together inside and outside the home: Richard and Rima authored the classic New Orleans Cookbook in 1975, an ambitious tome that gathered what the couple felt to be the most authentic Creole recipes in existence. The two tirelessly researched the book’s contributions, attempting to gather, test, and perfect “platonic” versions of iconic Creole preparations, ranging from gumbos to oyster loaves to baked quail and other classic Creole specialties.  Their efforts paid off. The resulting two hundred and eighty-eight recipes included remain excellent examples of real-deal Creole cuisine, a quality the public immediately recognized upon the book’s release. The Collin’s couple’s “New Orleans Cookbook” remains in print to this day and is estimated to have sold over 100,000 copies. Another little known fact: the book was edited by legendary editor Judith Jones, best known (of course) for her work with Julia Child.

Richard and Rima Collin also collaborated on “The Pleasures of Seafood,” an extensive treatment of seafood preparations from around the world. After Rima’s passing in 1998, Collin wrote the 2002 “Travels with Rima,” a celebratory and poignant elegy in travelogue form, a book that remains a testament both to the couple’s love and to their shared adventuresome spirit.

Collin’s expertise ranged further than food. He served as a well-loved emeritus professor of history at UNO, and was a highly regarded Theodore Roosevelt scholar, publishing Theodore Roosevelt’s Caribbean in 1990. He delighted in travel (especially with Rima), the opera, and fine art, as well as the many delights of his native Crescent City.  Collin’s life was not one lived without a consideration of pleasure.

The multi-faceted and multi-talented Richard H. Collin will doubtless be fondly remembered and revered for his contribution to New Orleans’s food culture. Let us hope that the Underground Gourmet’s platonic dishes will be enjoyed in the city he loved for a long time to come.

Book Review: Abita Beer: Cooking Louisiana True

February 1, 2010

Reviewed by Stephanie Jane Carter

While much of the nation is breathing a sigh of relief that the holidays are over, there are no signs of the holidays stopping for several more months in Louisiana.  The Saints play their first Super Bowl on February 7 and the “Who Dat Nation” has been twinkling black and gold.  Along with this event, Mardi Gras parades are already rolling.  Football and Mardi Gras make most of us thirsty for some Abita Beer.  However, Abita Beer: Cooking Louisiana True ($34/Hardcover/184pp/9780615238647) is a cookbook that will make us hungry for it too.

Cooking Louisiana True features over 80 photographs by Jackson Hill, who currently has a photography exhibit at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.  Marcelle Bienvenu, cookbook author and food writer for the Times Picayune, tested the recipes.  The result is a book that looks as good as the food in it tastes.

The book opens with a history of Abita Beer and of beer in New Orleans, nodding toward other renowned breweries like Jax, Falstaff, and Dixie.  It offers helpful information such as how to enjoy beer, how to make it, and how to serve it.  Perhaps the most fun part of this section is the beer flavor wheel and the color and bitterness comparison chart.  It demonstrates what a lot of Americans have only begun to appreciate, that beer can be tasted and enjoyed much the same way wine is.  Is the beer hoppy?  Is it dry-hop, kettle-hop, or hop oil you are tasting?  Is it sulfidic?  What kind of sulfidic?  Shrimp-like or burnt rubber?

The recipes in Abita Beer: Cooking Louisiana True were contributed by a variety of people, mostly professional chefs.  The Turbodog Ice Cream is balanced in flavor and velvet in texture.  Even though it is a beer ice cream recipe in a beer cookbook, the flavor is not aggressive in the beer flavor, offering strong hints of vanilla as well.  Abita Beer-Battered Tempura Soft Shell Crabs offer a great opportunity to bridge food and beverage.  There is hardly anything as satisfying as a cold beer and fried seafood.  The book offers some surprising recipes, like New Orleans BBQ Shrimp Shortcakes with Abita Amber Cream.   Also featured are the obligatory (and delightful) beer recipes, beer bread and mussels.

Ultimately, this is a great cookbook for anyone who loves Abita Beer, or well, good food.


The Southern Food and Beverage Museum has a limited number of autographed copies of Abita Beer: Cooking Louisiana True. Click here to visit the museum store…

Book Review: DamGoodSweet

November 10, 2009

Review by: Liz Williams

DamGoodSweet by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel

$25, The Taunton Press

I am one of those people born without a serious sweet tooth.  I enjoy a sweet treat, but given a choice between another piece of fried chicken or a piece of pie, I will probably choose the chicken.  Given this handicap, a sweets cookbook had better be damn good to get my attention.

Despite a reference to N’Awlins (one of my pet peeves) I was charmed by this personal book.  Guas manages to be traditional,  nostalgic, and modern.  And the book doesn’t dumb down recipes for the home cook.  For example, the éclair recipe instructs the cook to use a pastry bag.  It even allows the cook to use his or her own judgment in filling the éclairs.  I appreciate that.

The instructions are clear, but the writing is sassy and personal.  This is David’s experience of New Orleans, not the generic version.  And when he deviates from tradition, he owns it.

My favorite recipe is the Double Chocolate Bread Pudding with Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce.  I love the idea of using leftover king cake in a bread pudding – why not?  The caramel sauce is easy to make and delicious.

His king cake recipe is traditional, as is the pecan pie.  His Chocolate Cupped Cakes with Coffee and Chicory are marvelous and modern.  For a person who isn’t naturally a sweets lover, this book is one from which I will actually cook.  Cane Syrup Snaps with hot sauce.  I love it!

Hot and Hot Fish Club Book Review

September 18, 2009

Review by Liz Williams

The Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook: A Celebration of food, family & Traditions (Running Press Books, October 2009, $35) Chris and Idie Hastings with Katherine Cobb

This is a lovely combination of memoir and cookbook, reflecting recipes of family and restaurant. The photographs are integral to the mood that the book strikes.  The original Hot and Hot Fish Club which was a 19th century fishing and eating club on Pawleys Island, SC each summer.  The rules required sharing and eating and the pleasure of companionship among friends.  The reincarnation of the club in Birmingham, AL attempts to live by the same rules of conviviality and great food.

Arranged by seasons the book begins in the late spring/early summer. This means Hot and Hot Tomato Salad, a delicious deconstructed succotash.  Later in the year – in fall – they spotlight and Apple, Almond, and Endive Salad. The contrast of the slightly bitter endive with the sweetness of apple makes for a beautiful and delicious salad.  The recipes for Oyster Shooters, Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake, and Whole Roasted Baby Chicken with Crawfish and Tasso Jambalaya show the variety and breadth of the cookbook.

The really great thing about the book is that it is a great reference.  Want to learn about foraging?  Want to cook rabbit or foie gras?  Want to make pickled okra?  Want to make a cook cocktail?  This cookbook will give you a recipe for any of these things.  The photos give you great ideas for presentation.  This isn’t just a pretty book full of recipes, but a reference book full of recipes that you can actually cook, as well as an inspiration for the creative cook.