BOOK REVIEW

Amazing cookbooks: From barbecue to chili to tacos to wine

By Doug Mosley
doug_mosley@hotmail.com

If you've enjoyed following the web site and social media of AmazingRibs.com, then you are going to love this first book I have for you this month. Meathead Goldwyn is certainly a unique name for an author, and it becomes a further oddity when you consider the guy's background is as a syndicated wine writer and an instructor at Cornell University and Le Cordon Bleu. Nonetheless, Meathead it is and he's written a pretty outstanding book on 'cue, titled Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling ($35, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 512 pp.).

If you're already familiar with Goldwyn then you know of his propensity for challenging the old saws of barbecue and outdoor cooking by examining them in a scientific manner to see if they hold up. For instance, he was one of the first to advocate for the reverse sear when grilling steaks and backed up his position through testing. He also makes a case for why a rub shouldn't contain salt and how beer-can chicken is just a waste of beer, among other myths that he lists throughout his book.

When it comes down to it, this is a book that you'll really enjoy reading as long as you don't mind somebody challenging something that you may have held as unshakable truth. But let's face it – that's how you get better anyway, right? We can all use a little constructive criticism now and then and Goldwyn's book comes with plenty of it. As a matter of fact, reading this book may end up re-shaping many of your grilling and outdoor cooking habits, or at least make you think about why you're doing them. Even after I read this book, the first thought I came away with was why wasn't this written sooner? Heck, I have a whole bunch of bad habits and unfounded assumptions that I'm going to have to undo now.

Robb Walsh has long been a favorite author in this space, especially for books like Legends of Texas Barbecue and The Tex-Mex Grill. A long-time journalist and now a Texas restauranteur, he is an established authority on Southwestern cuisine and he's now extended his works to chili with his recent release of The Chili Cookbook ($18.99, Ten Speed Press, 200 pp.).

Walsh's books are always a joy to read and his latest is no exception. He goes to great lengths to tell an well-researched, in-depth story on his topic and for this book he goes back 500 years in chili history. He tells about chili's roots in the Aztec culture and brings it forward to present-day with the various ways the dish has developed. He even includes the versions that came from other origins, like the Greek-inspired Cincinnati chili.

Walsh has ascended to a level of respect as an author that each new book carries a near-guarantee of excellence and The Chili Cookbook may be one of his best. You'll want to get your hands on this one soon.

While we're on the topic of Southwestern cuisine let me tell you about another great new book, this one on tacos. Who doesn't love tacos? Especially since they're a great way to eat barbecue, right? Huh, you've never tried barbecue tacos? Oh my, you are missing out!

It's because I'm always curious about new and different ways to make tacos that a book like Tacos: Recipes and Provocation by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman ($32.50, Clarkson Potter, 240 pp.) appeals to me. But this book really hooked me right up front in the Introduction when author Stupak admits that his first tacos were of the Old El Paso make-at-home variety. Mine was when this new place opened in town called Taco Johns and how I instantly loved those newly-discovered soft tacos. Since I shared humble beginnings with the author, I enjoyed reading how his horizons were broadened and came to write this excellent book today.

What I really like about this book is how the authors take it down all the way to the basics, starting with the tortillas and then the salsas, encouraging the reader to bypass the ready-made offerings in the grocery aisles and to make your own instead. Then they delve into all the great stuff to put into a taco, ranging from the common ones with chicken, beef and pork to ones with seafood, vegetables and eggs. They also include great stories, making you feel like you're joining them on a journey to sample great new tacos. It's a well-written, well-done book and I know you'll want to add this one to your bookshelf.

I've always had an interest in books that take you through the process of making something yourself at home and wine-making is one of those pursuits I've taken up on a semi-regular basis. To me, certainly a novice, wine-making is one of those topics where the books seem to fall into two categories: 1) overly technical and difficult to keep up with, and 2) books I can understand. I definitely prefer the books in category 2.

I do like The Way to Make Wine: How to Craft Superb Table Wines at Home (Second Edition) by Sheridan Warrick ($24.95, University of California Press, 280 pp.), mainly because it is written in a way for a beginner or novice to understand. But don't take that to mean it plods on like a primer; rather, The Way to Make Wine ramps up pretty quickly. Within the first 20 pages you'll dive in to comparisons on the types of grapes and various strains of yeast. There's a very complete rundown on equipment with recommendations on what best fits for the volume of wine you're seeking to make. It goes on from there, literally from acquiring your grapes all the way to bottling.

All in all, if you're curious about making wine, this is a great book to serve as your guide. Buy this book and it won't be long before you will be uncorking a bottle of your own vintage.

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