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Cooking with Too Hot Tamales: Recipes & Tips From TV Food's Spiciest Cooking Duo Hardcover – January 10, 1997
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From Publishers Weekly
Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, with Helene Siegel. Morrow, $22
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Milliken and Feniger are the talented chef/owners of the Border Grill in Los Angeles and the authors of Mesa Mexicana (LJ 9/15/94). In this companion to their popular TV series, they feature traditional and new-wave Latin and Spanish cuisine, with an emphasis on spicy, robust, casual dishes, ideal for festive entertaining. The 150 recipes include tamales, of course, along with other, inspired appetizers; soups, salads, and brunch dishes; main courses such as Brazilian Marinated Steaks with Chile Lime Sauce and side dishes; imaginative desserts; and spirited cocktails. The book is peppered with useful cooking tips, information on ingredients, and food anecdotes, and the style is personal and approachable. (The small photos from the Food Network set are more about the chefs than their food.) Strongly recommended.?Susan Lantzius, formerly with San Domenico Restaurant, New York
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The first impression of both of these books is not inspiring. The layout is ordinary, leaning toward the garish. The photographs are in a grainy black and white and too small to easily make sense of what is happening, not to mention the fact that most are missing captions. In `too hot tamales', it is even difficult to tell which of these two delightful ladies is Mary Sue and which is Susan, from the lack of clear identification on the photographs. The flyleaf of `Mesa Mexicana' clears this up. Mary Sue is the taller with blond hair and Susan is the shorter with dark hair. They also neglect to give a good picture of co-author, Helene Siegel, whose voice seems to be strong in the prefaces and introductions.
Based on the strong `Iron Chef America' appearance, I decided to check out the books from this duo, even though their Food Network show was before my time. I figured two gals with this much energy and a strong showing against the indomitable Bobby must have something to say. At the outset, the book `too hot tamales' did not impress, until I got to the chapters on soups. At this point, the authors' observations seemed to come alive. This was not nearly as strong as what I saw in Deborah Madison's recent book on soups, but the comparison showed that Mary Sue and Susan clearly had something important to say. That is not to say that `too hot tamales' is the better book. `Mesa Mexicana' is actually the better of the two for anyone who is not familiar with Mexican cooking. Having determined that these books have something to say, the next big question is why get these books instead one from the heavy hitters of Mexican cuisine, Rick Bayless or Diana Kennedy.
For starters, both Bayless and Kennedy's best books are more strongly oriented toward teaching Mexican cooking, either by technique or by region. Milliken and Feniger's books are more for fun, without straying too far from strong roots in genuine Mexican cooking technique. If all you want are some good, snappy recipes without being tied to the grill (as you are with many of Bobby Flay's recipes), Milliken and Feniger may be your best choice. They are certainly your best choice if you are attracted to entertaining with a Mexican theme. I had an epiphany of insight when I realized that a rather large number of pages in both books, as well as many pages in many other cookbooks are dedicated to `starters', `finger food', `appetizers', `hors `d'ourves', `antipasto' and what have your. But if you live in a typical family, how much time do you really spend making `party food' in comparison to daily breakfasts, lunches, and suppers. Why don't cookbooks dedicate 20% of their books to breakfast and 35% of their books to brown bag food rather than giving so much room to entertaining food, which the average cook may make once a month, if they are inclined to entertain with food in the first place.
All this means is that these books are much more valuable to you if you do entertain often. This is especially true because both books are very reasonably priced, appropriate to their uninspired art work. It is also true because of the rather odd organization of the recipes. In both books, some chapters are organized by function or meal, some by style of cooking, and some by principle ingredient. This means neither book is especially good if you want to find a book to fit a particular function or to use a particular ingredient. The fact that both books are relatively short confirms that neither book may be very useful if you have room for only a very small cookbook collection. But if you can afford the money and space for a large cookbook collection, you will probably already have one or more volumes from Kennedy and Bayless, so why load yourself up with our spicy gals?
For most people, the answer is simply that they are great fun to read and their recipes get right to the point. If you are a foodie, you don't need another tutorial on technique. If you are a casual cook who entertains, you can go straight to the largely very concise recipes and get on with it. So, both books are easily worth the room they take up on your shelves.
As an aside, it is really interesting to see our gals' comments on the cooking talents of the Mexicans, which is very similar to Tony Bourdain's comments in `A Cook's Tour', where he states that almost all his line chefs at `Les Halle' are Mexican with practically no formal training, yet they are as capable as most French trained cooks.
If you really like cookbooks or you really like Mexican food, I recommend both of these books.