Customer Reviews: Salsas That Cook : Using Classic Salsas To Enliven Our Favorite Dishes
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on November 19, 2002
Rick Bayless is probably the biggest inspiration toward the popularity of "REAL" or traditional Mexican cooking in the U.S. He has several very popular shows on PBS and is quite active in promoting PBS with live appearances and tours showing how to prepare delicious Mexican food. I was disappointed as I mentioned in my first review of this book, because almost it's entire content including most of the recipes were previously included in his past cook books. The recipes are delicious. Granted.
The other problem is the poor binding of this edition. The pages are falling out.
If you own Mr Bayless' previous books, you have the contents of this book. I am a fan of Mr Bayless, but I have been disappointed in this endeavor. I used to purchase any item with his byline sight unseen. I will at least thumb through any future cookbooks before future purchase.
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`Salsas that Cook' by renowned Chicagoan and Mexican cuisine expert, Rick Bayless is not your mama's ordinary salsa cookbook. If that is all you want, go to Mark Miller's very good `The Great Salsa Book' in the noisome Ten Speed Press tall and skinny format. Bayless' book is much more than that, and, in a sense, much less.

Bayless' agenda is very much like Ming Tsai's programme in Tsai's book, `Simply Ming' in that Bayless gives us recipes for six (6) classic Mexican salsas and then shows us how to use each of these salsas as an ingredient in several other classic Mexican dishes. While Tsai's objective was to simplify cooking by making it modular by doing intermediate preparations in advance. Each intermediate can then be used in several different dishes. While Bayless' technique is very similar, his object is rather to make authentic Mexican dishes more accessible to the average American cook.

Since this book was published in 1998, I suspect many of the Mexican ingredients Bayless says may be difficult to find have become much more common throughout the United States. In these brief seven years, I have seen a great growth of Latin American ingredients in even the most provincial of supermarkets. And, Bayless himself has contributed to this change with his own line of salsas under the `Frontera' trademark. In fact, this book may in some small way be considered a promotion for that product line, except that the book is so good in its own right that this does not concern me. Bayless, in a very gentlemanly voice, says his brand of salsas may serve in these recipes, but encourages us all to make them ourselves.

The recipes in this book are presented with a very novel and genuinely useful feature in that the quantities of ingredients are given for three different amounts of final product. I simply have never seen this outside professional baking recipes. At the very least, this is a useful feature when you just want to try out a recipe and may wish to make no more than a cup or two. If it pleases your palate, you can make the eight-cup amount for your next party.

A second major `surprise' is that none of these recipes follow the familiar chunky `pico de gallo' style. This is the first of three salsa archetypes Bayless identifies. The second is the vinegary, hot, and spicy cousin to our Louisiana hot sauces. The third is based on cooked tomatoes and tomatillos and fresh or dried chiles. All six recipes in this book belong to the third class, which Bayless considers the most versatile and is based on the widest range of flavors.

Bayless also gives some thumbnail advice on preserving and canning the salsas, but I suggest you get some expert advice on the subject before plopping this goodness into your hardware store Ball jars. Even the `Good Eats' episode on preserving and canning is scary enough about bacterial diseases to make you want to be especially careful. I would be especially careful as Bayless specifically states that he uses less than the usual amount of vinegar, which makes the recipes a bit less bug resistant. While Bayless speaks often of the now famous molcajeta, the heavy mortar of Mexican cooking, he is quite happy to see you use a blender or food processor to make these recipes.

The six salsa recipes are:

Roasted Jalapeno-Tomato Salsa with Fresh Cilantro used in seven recipes.

Roasted Poblano-Tomato Salsa with Fresh Thyme used in six recipes.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with serranos, roasted onions and cilantro used in eight recipes.

Mellow Red Chile Salsa with sweet garlic and roasted tomatoes used in ten recipes.

Roasty Red Guajillo Salsa with tangy tomatillos and sweet garlic used in six recipes.

Chipotle-Cascabel Salsa with roasted tomatoes and tomatillos used in nine recipes.

Each recipe is enhanced with alternatives for the main chile ingredients (although I suggest you be very careful in subbing an habanero for any other chile species.) In addition to the three different columns of ingredient amounts, the procedures for all these recipes are fairly long as Bayless writes them, as his descriptions are very detailed with lots of little hints for scraping down, spreading out, and checking the taste. Even so, the procedures are pretty long even without Bayless' frequent hints. One thing I do notice is that I am certain it is Bayless who is writing these recipes, as I recognize his `chunky', slightly ungrammatical use of adjectives and adverbs I have seen in his other books.

The forty-six `used in' recipes cover Starters; Soups, Salads and Side Dishes; Egg, Vegetable and Tortilla Main Courses; and Poultry, Meat and Fish Main Courses. I certainly can't judge how authentic these recipes are, as Bayless himself is, hands down, the best expert we have for what is authentic and what is not. I also believe that if you follow Senor Bayless' instructions closely, you will be happy with the results, assuming you don't have the anti-cilantro gene or an aversion to mild to high levels of capsicum.

Almost as if there is a cookbook writer's union regulation that every cookbook must have dessert recipes; Bayless includes four desserts and two drink recipes in the last chapter. This is not quite as gratuitous as it may seem, as the recipes are specifically oriented and sized for entertaining a crowd large enough to fill your house. This fits the central point of the book that includes both small and large numbers of servings.

When I opened this book, I had the suspicion that it may have been extracted from one of Mr. Bayless' other books, but I was wrong. It does compliment his `Mexico One Plate at a Time' book in that salsas play only a very small part of that book.

This may be Bayless' most useful volume. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys cooking. Only warning is that if you want easy recipes, see Miller's book cited above.
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on March 23, 1999
I really like Chips and Salsa. This book has 6 cooked Salsa recipes and about 30-40 more that use the salsas. It's easy to make: wash the stuff, cook it in the oven and throw it in the food processor. The roasting is mainly done under the broiler and gives the salsa a great roasted/chared flavor. The onions and garlic roasted have a milder, sweeter flavor. The book has some good pictures to show you what the stuff should look like, it would be nice if it had more. To make this snack lower in fat use the new baked chips. Some say they taste like cardboard, but I think if you heat them in the oven or microwave first they taste fine. If you like salsa, and don't mind cooking, this book will let you make it as good as the resturants and better than any bottled stuff.
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on September 26, 2002
I'd rate this book at 4 stars for the recipes; great flavors that are relatively simple to prepare with a lot of variety. They're presented in a compact, well organized format.
Unfortunately, the quality of the books construction merits only 1 star! My copy started losing pages a few days after purchase. I returned it for a replacement but the new copy is no better. The book is of simple glue bound construction and it just won't hold up.
Buy a hole punch and a binder to go along with it and you'll own a cookbook that presents a great introduction to Bayless's interesting style.
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on January 3, 2009
I am an avid cook, try every cuisine I can to learn from and enjoy. I have every dried chili pepper known to man and therefore have my share of Mexican/Spanish cookbooks. Bayless is a staple in my library. Ironically, it is because I have so MANY books it took me a while to re-discover this one sitting on the shelf and spend time with it and really use it. Once inside the covers of this book, I felt I had uncovered a rare gem. The first main chapter is the basis of the book...the 'mother' salsas. These are not meant for dips and chips, they're for cooking meals, braising, and for side dishes (veggies/potatoes, etc). He makes it simpler still by referencing what meals and sides to use each new salsa with--the recipes contained in the following chapters--giving page numbers so you can find it in an instant. Bingo. So you make the salsa, go to the page of any one or more of the recipes recommended for it, cook it--hence, SALSAS THAT COOK! I've tried all the salsas and have my faves now! One of the reasons this book also works so well is the simplicity of it; it has enough recipes w/o making you feel overwhelmed. You start to think of using the salsas with other foods you make...after you taste them you kind of know what might work with it too. For all these reasons, Bayless makes this book user friendly for a beginning cook or even a more experienced one such as I am...don't we all need and appreciate something made less complicated at times! I make enough of the salsas to freeze and pull out for another quick meal, making the initial effort worthwhile. Depending on which salsa you make, you will need basic pantry items as well as tomatillos, white onions, tomatoes, any vast array of dried chili peppers you can get your hands on (they'll all work), etc., to get started with this book. Once you do, it's a good place to start or to explore further the world of salsas for cooking.
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on June 23, 2005
I haven't had any problems with the binding of my copy, it sits open flat and often on my cookbook stand as I make the recipes as directed and use the many varieties for those recipes that Rick includes. I understand that this book will see recipes repeated in later books, but I believe that it stands very well on it's own with Rick's other titles. I've used it at least as often as the others and many times in combination with later recipes. It's an excellent foundation book for many salsa- based creations.
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on December 6, 2005
I am a fan of Bayless earlier cookbooks and I love his TV show, but I was a little disappointed with this book. I bought it hoping to learn some new salsa recipes, but the book is more about dishes that are made with the 4 or so salsas that he teaches us at the beginning. Authentic Mexican is a much better book.
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on July 19, 2014
Salsas That Cook features the basic salsas (sauces) necessary for making authentic Mexican cuisine. It's not a big book, but my go-to book for guidance in purchasing the proper recipe ingredients, especially the abundant types of chiles which I had always found intimidating. Written in a typical conversational tone one expects from Rick. Most importantly, the recipes and methods he uses are the exact same ones my Mexican friends use; they agree, he's got the chops. Try the tomatillo salsa to start, simply, versatile, and yummy.
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on November 15, 2014
Best salsa book on the market by far. Recipes are surprisingly simple (I have a few other of Bayless's cookbooks and they can be complected for the home cook). Contains five basic roasted salsa recipes. Easy enough to make salsa every week.
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on August 13, 2013
I LOVE the stuff that Rick Bayless cooks! He always finds the most DEE-LiCious food! The recipes for salsas in this book work for even the most unexpected entrees. If you don't want to make some of these then go buy Frontera packaged foods. The tastes are Delightful! Nothing like anything you'll find on American street corners. Thanks Rick for capturing these recipes!
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