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The Outdoor Cook, The Grill Sisters’ and Healthy Drinks

Resident Book Guru

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If you’ve read this column for long (and let me say thank you very much to those of you who have), you are no doubt familiar with my lament on books with over-the-top titles, such as “The Ultimate Encyclopedia to Everything There is to Know About Barbecue in the Entire World and Beyond” and similar variations. There’s been too many times where I’ve picked up a book with such a title and unfortunately found them to be lacking in enough meaningful content to even come close to backing up such a boast. It’s happened to me so frequently that I oftentimes cast a jaundiced eye upon books making these tall claims.

So I’ll admit to a level of skepticism when I first saw “The Outdoor Cook: How to Cook Anything Outside Using Your Grill, Fire Pit, Flat-top Grill and More” ($29.99, 336 pp.). Hmmmmm…really. However, I did give this book the benefit of the doubt when I saw its publisher, America’s Test Kitchen. I can confidently say every book I’ve reviewed from America’s Test Kitchen hits a pretty high standard so I knew there was a good possibility that “The Outdoor Cook” might just live up to its self-billing. After giving it careful consideration, I am willing to concede this book comes as close as about any other to achieving its lofty goal but perhaps not quite covering “…How to Cook Anything Outside…”. Nonetheless, it is an outstanding book and I believe most of you will come to appreciate it for its versatility.

This book sets out to cover outdoor cooking as broadly as possible, including the use of a smoker, grill, live open fire or flat-top griddle. It does so in a concise way that is the mark of America’s Test Kitchen books, taking you step-by-step through the recipe with a full-color picture of the finished dish. There’s also an excellent opening chapter that serves as an introduction to what is to come. The recipe chapter take a departure from that old standard of arrangement by protein type and instead groups them with titles like Snacks and Small Plates, Both Hands Needed, Weeknight Dinners, Weekend Gatherings, Over an Open Fire, and Don’t Forget Dessert. At first glance I thought the recipes bordered on the exotic (Negimaki? Gambas a la Plancha? Kalbi?) but then I realized these dishes all incorporate fairly standard ingredients that should be available about anywhere. I also really liked the section titled Cocktails on the Grill where the offerings included Burnt Whiskey Sours and Smoky Peach Sangria.

The further I delved into the pages the more I came to appreciate what this book offers to readers like you who likely have a multitude of outdoor cooking equipment at hand and a desire for more ways to use them. That makes this book perfect for you and I feel sure you’ll find a lot of new ideas within.

Here’s a fun book from Down Under featuring female co-authors. “The Grill Sisters’ Guide to Legendary BBQ: 60 Irresistible Recipes that Guarantee Mouthwatering, Finger-Lickin’ Results” $22.99, Page Street Publishing, 176 pp.) is by Irene Sharp and Desi Longinidis. The Melbourne, Australia-based pair have written a book that reflects their family-focused lifestyle.

Even before I opened the book I was certain it would include some really great recipes for lamb, which I’ve found with practically every book from Australia. Well I wasn’t disappointed – there’s Greek Lamb Roast with Lemony Potatoes, Moroccan Lamb Rack with Red Wine Pomegranate Sauce, Grilled Lamb Souvlaki, Zesty Minted Lamb Cutlets with Creamy Garlic Mash and Tender Lamb Ribs with Purple Slaw right off the bat in the first chapter. As I read further, the thought came to my that this is a book I’d use when I’m cooking for the entire family – including picky eating kids – but I don’t want to do the same-old, same-old burgers and hot dogs. What kid doesn’t like chicken fingers with dipping sauce? Thus I can turn to Seared Chicken Skewers with Harissa Sauce. Or how about Mexican Shrimp Fajitas with Homemade Tortillas and Lime Crema or Luscious Lobster & Bacon Mac’n’Cheese. There’s a lot here in these pages for you and your family to enjoy.

I usually include a book covering beverages each month and this time I’m going to go the good-for-you route with “The Complete Guide to Healthy Drinks” by America’s Test Kitchen ($27.99, 272 pp.). That’s a wide range of possibilities to cover when you think of categories like Smoothies; Juices, Teas, Tisanes & More; Flavored Waters; and Fermented, Soaked & Simmered (yes, I just listed the chapters there).

There’s a lot included here and thankfully I believe it was written with someone like me in mind whose previous idea of a healthy drink was a lite beer. While there’s nothing resembling a cocktail in these pages there are several recipes where a shot of bourbon, vodka or gin could possibly work well with these healthy attributes.

I’ve got to close with a quick story of something I’ve enjoyed in my travels. As I write this I am in a convention hotel in Nashville, Tenn., where I’ve come for meeting related to my day job. You may recall a few months ago I very positively reviewed a book from Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint which has several locations in this area. It’s not often that I get to try the ‘cue from restaurant books that I review so I was eager to do so on this trip. I’m happy to report that two nights in town I’ve eaten at Martin’s twice – it is really that good! If I had the opportunity to try Martin’s before I wrote the review I may have even gushed about the place even more!


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