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BOOK REVIEW

Join us in our exclaim, Praise the Pig

By Doug Mosley
doug_mosley@hotmail.com

The noble hog, wonderful swine, or all things porcine. We spend hours here in our commitment to it. We ignored for decades the warnings of the health-conscious that consuming pork was bad for us all. We already knew that no matter how much drivel they would sling, our love of slow-roasted pork was right all along. So now we have a new book to join us in our exclaim, Praise the Pig by Jennifer L.S. Pearsall ($19.99, Skyhorse Publishing, 232 pp.).

Any author who might pen the words, “Is there anything as heavenly as smoked meat?”, will instantly gather my admiration. While Pearsall’s book isn’t strictly about our preferred low–and–slow methods, she does recognize that pork is ideally suited to smoke cooking. She even mentions that it is “…like adding an irresistible perfume to an already beautiful woman.” Lovely words, don’t you think?

Pearsall set out to do for pork in all what she did for bacon in her excellent book, The Big Book of Bacon, which was positively reviewed in these pages two years ago. And she does all this in just four chapters, divided into Pork Loin, Tenderloin, and Country Ribs; Pork Shoulder; Pork Sausage and Ground Pork; and Ham and Bacon. Each chapter contains an assortment of recipes and much pertinent supporting information. Some of the dishes that stand out are Barbecued Pulled Pork Mac–n–Cheese, Crown Roast of Pork, Roasted Pork Tenderloin Chili, Pulled Pork Breakfast Scramble and Smoked Pozole, among others.
I enjoyed Pearsall’s take on this, even if you uttered near blasphemy in the opening pages when she expressed her disdain for ribs and explained her decision to leave them out of this book. I concluded that no one is perfect and, looking on the bright side, told myself that perhaps she is soon due a ribs epiphany which could soon be followed by another good book. Eh, Jennifer?

The Mardi Gras crowds have now left New Orleans and the hum of the city is back to the normal high vibe. This is probably the best time of the year to visit, after the non–stop pre-Lenten revelry and before the humidity climbs to thick summertime levels. It’s a given that Kansas City and Memphis top the short list of revered cities for the barbecue faithful, but I’ve always found New Orleans to be undeservedly overlooked. What it may lack in terms of mainstream barbecue restaurants it certainly makes up for when you consider the wide range of outdoor cooking techniques you’ll find in the Crescent City, especially those that involve seafood. With their location on the banks of the Mississippi River, the shores of Lake Ponchartrain and just off the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans chefs have at their immediate grasp the widest range of fresh seafood as any city in the world. It may not be known for low and slow, but it certainly is a destination for hot–fired and spicy.

There are two new books out from New Orleans-based Pelican Publishing that are virtually culinary tour guides of the area. The first is New Orleans’ Best Seafood Restaurants by Ann Benoit ($24.95, 112 pp.). The author doubles as an accomplished photographer and, with an assist from Thomas Dalferes,  the images stand out as a strength of this book – the 50 full-color pics are so sharp you’ll be wanting the lick the pages.

The book itself is pretty straightforward, just pages of New Orleans’ best restaurants with their signature dishes: Chargrilled Oysters from Acme Oyster House, Redfish Court Bouillon from Le Bayou, Barbecue Shrimp from Pascal’s Manale, Grilled Redfish with Crabmeat in Lemon-Butter Sauce from Brennan’s Redfish Grill and so much more. This book could literally serve as your bucket list checkoffs as you plot a tour of the city’s best. If you love Southern seafood – whether cooking it, eating it or both – this book is a must-have.

The second book also focuses on New Orleans restaurants, but this time focusing on the over-the-top creative dishes for whichmany are known. Fun, Funky & Fabulous: New Orleans’ Casual Restaurant Recipes by Jyl Benson ($24, 128 pp.) is a collection of about 50 recipes, all of them unique and wonderfully illustrated (seems to be a commonality in Pelican Publishing books, eh?). Benson also tells the stories behind many of these restaurants under a title Whatcha Know Good?, which is a Louisiana way of saying “What’s up?”

It must have been an incredible chore to narrow down the included dishes. The ones that made these pages are unreal: Smoked Des Allemands Catfish Fritters from Carmo Kitchen, Grilled Short Ribs with Charred Mustards and Louisiana Shallots from MoPho, Grilled Stuffed Quail with Pancetta from Mariza, Scottie’s CNN Blackberry and Jalapeno Ribs from Katie’s, Lamb Sliders with Creole Tomato Chutney from The Three Muses, Grilled Ribeyes with Crab-Boil Garlic Potatoes with Swiss Chard and Maitre d’Butter from Purloo and Double-Cut Pork Chop with Dirty Rice and Cane Syrup Gastrique from Toups’ Meatery, just to list a few. Trust me, this book will have you checking your calendar to see when the next time will be when you can swing through New Orleans to sample some of these dishes.

I love books that provide clearly explained guidance for complex systems. I’m very visual and gravitate toward the logical, so if someone can show me a concise and sensible example of even the most hard–to–understand situations, I can generally grasp the concept. I guess that why I’ve always liked those Dummies and Complete Idiots books and generally turn to Wikipedia – despite its acknowledged shortcomings – when doing research.

But let’s face it – one of the most confusing and chaotic situations many of us find ourselves in is the dinner setting with all the silverware, plate settings, glasses and more. Do you recoil in the face of potential embarrassment like I do when you sit down at one of those ten-seat tables with a group of people you may - or may not - barely know? I’ll even admit that I often will just break the ice and uncloak my awkwardness by asking those beside me, “Which water glass is mine and which is yours?” just so I don’t commit the faux pas of sipping from someone else’s. If you’re like me, you will also find it a blessing when you come across this next book. It is everything you could want in a resource to help you navigate the formal dinner table.

Which Fork Do I Use? by Rosemarie Burns and Linda Reed ($24.95, Manners Simply, 76 pp.) is a lifesaver, seriously! Whether you’re the person who is arranging a dinner party or simply showing up to take your place, this book provides all the answers to setup and use. And the fact that it is so well written and illustrated that the authors accomplished all this in under 80 pages is remarkable. They’ve covered all the details, from a casual breakfast to multi–course formal dinner, silverware to glasses. There is even a section titled Mastering Difficult–to–Eat Foods, which is a godsend for anyone who has wondered, “Am I just supposed to stuff this whole thing into my mouth at once or will that expose me to be the rube that I am?” (Yep, that’s me). I’ve been know to sing the praises of authors, but in this case, I feel compelled to send Rosemarie Burns and Linda Reed a sincere, handwritten Thank You card, and you will, too.

Great American Grilling
More than just my new book...It’s history!

By Kent “The Deck Chef” Whitaker
thedeckchef@hotmail.com

Allow me to step away from my normal barbecue and grilling article for a month. My new book heading to print is titled Great American Grilling, and I’m getting pumped up! There’s a fine tradition of backyard grilling and barbecue in backyards across the nation. And during the research for the new book, I jumped head first into historical cooking. It turns out that many United States Presidents have been foodies!

LBJ was known for his barbecue cookouts. Nixon enjoyed his World War Two burgers. Lincoln was not a big fan of big meals, but he had problems passing up a slice of cake. Both Bushes enjoyed Tex-Mex style dishes, as well as traditional Texas style beef, Carter – and his brother – were known for their love of southern style barbecue, and President Obama has hosted his fair share of cookouts – some with celebrity chefs. In addition, Obama became the first President to authorize an official White House beer when he and his chef started making small batches.

I wanted Great American Grilling to be different from my other culinary books. However, I also wanted to continue to carry the theme that’s made the seven books in the Hometown Cookbook Series so popular. Each book, from the Tennessee Hometown Cookbook to the newly released South Carolina Hometown Cookbook, is packed with not only recipes, but also slices of history from each state.

In my history books, such as the USS Alabama and Talladega Superspeedway, I take time to include food. After all, you can’t send a massive battleship packed with men without a plan to feed them. And you sure can’t head to ‘Dega without knowing how to tailgate.

Great American Grilling is a combination of history, culinary history, cool food stories, and of course, recipes. I included the history of the hamburger, hot dogs, sausages, famous grillers in history, historical recipes, and even touched on what makes grilling great from the backyard to the tailgate. I hope the book is not only a great source for grilling and barbecue gurus, but also for people looking for a good read.

Oh, that brings me to this month’s recipe. I decided to pass along President Obama’s recipe for one of the White House Beers. I don’t care much for political fighting or smears on any President of the United States. I just thought that if anything could bring two parties together, it might just be some of LBJ’s ribs, a slice of Lincoln’s cake, some Texas style steaks from the Bushes, paired up with a glass of White House beer.

Kent Whitaker is the author of eight cookbooks, ranging from hometown cooking with a culinary history twist to titles for NASCAR tailgating and barbecue. He has also written and illustrated two books for children, is a trained USCG AUXCHEF, and is the winner of the Emeril Live / Food Network Barbecue Contest. His latest book, Bullets and Bread,  is in bookstores nationally and is also available online at www.thedeckchef.com, as well as at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon.

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