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The Food You Want to Eat: 100 Smart, Simple Recipes Paperback – October 11, 2005
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Ted Allen, the food-and-wine expert from Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, has written a cookbook for those seeking a solid dish repertoire for everyday cooking and entertaining alike. The Food You Want to Eat offers 100 recipes for the likes of Old School Caesar Salad; Crispy Oven-Fried Crabcakes; Paella with Seafood, Chicken and Chorizo; and Mustardy Barbecued Spareribs. These favorites that live up to the book's title, but Allen also provides some repertoire-stretching dishes like Pan-Roasted Salmon with Tomato Vinaigrette and Thai Green Chicken Curry with Vegetables. In his role as cooking tutor, and in asides like The Essentials of Steak, Allen also helps readers to understand how dishes work, and therefore how to cook more easily. A whole chapter that imparts cookout smarts, plus a short selection of easy-to-do meal-finales, which includes Chocolate-Glazed Almond Butter Cake, Warm Spiced Apple Tart, and New Age Floats, round out this useful, photo-illustrated collection. --Arthur Boehm
Best known for his role as the food guru on cable TV's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, -Allen takes the full spotlight in this book, which takes cooks and eaters back to the days before counting calories, carbohydrates, and cholesterol became a national obsession. Allen chats amiably about food and techniques, occasionally making wry asides, as he does about "the politics of poultry production": "I like to joke that I'll only eat chickens that are organically farmed by differently abled Unitarian lesbians of color." His recipes are for comfort foods and old favorites, many updated with a modern twist: spinach salad with bacon and figs. Solid sections on salads, pastas, meat, poultry, and seafood are included, as is a chapter, "Happy Hour," covering both food and cocktails. The dessert section is rather disappointing, but Allen makes up for it by suggesting a wine for each dish. Photos of Allen, often hands deep in the ingredients, are scattered throughout the book. He's obviously having fun, and wishes the same for his reader-cooks. Stephanie Zvirin
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Allen's approach to cooking is a bit fussier than I normally like, and I don't know if you could call it "simple". For example, when salting both sides of meat, Allen suggests putting parchment paper down on a large cookie sheet, placing the meat on the paper, mixing up salt and pepper in a small bowl, and then sprinkling that mixture over both sides of the meat. That's just unnecessarily complicated. After trying several recipes I streamlined the directions beforehand, and it worked great on the Pasta en Brodo recipe.
Many recipes are more complicated than what I usually cook for a weeknight dinner. My personal guideline on a "simple" recipe is that anything which takes more than 30 minutes to prep and finish (not including cooking time) is not simple. Since many recipes in the book take a bit of skill, I don't know why there were so many beginner basics included, such as explaining how to cook certain meats. The tips were easy to understand and helpful, but they seemed out of place compared to the recipes themselves.
Also, a few of Allen's recipes just haven't turned out well for me. The two vinaigrettes I attempted were completely inedible. A couple of the recipes were more a list of ideas than recipes, especially in the salad section.
My final nitpicky complaint is that I wish there had been conversions for dried herbs. The recipes all use fresh herbs, which is nice when you can get them, but as you know that's not always possible.
Despite all that, the book gets some major props from me for several reasons. First is the plastic cover and the thicker, coated pages. Most of my cookbooks have covers that don't stand up to use in the kitchen, but this one will, and I love that. Second is the vegetable section, which has a lot more thought and care put into it than many other cookbooks where veggies are treated like an afterthought. The variations on recipes is a great touch as well, and I do like the focus on foods that are just a bit different than what you find in other cookbooks. Also, as superficial as this is, I love the color scheme.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who is looking for variety in their current cookbook collection.
Best of all is the way he starts the book with 10 basic recipes from different categories, like a "quick start" to cooking and entertaining. That was a great idea. Right out of the box, the new cook feels confident and able to entertain.
And by the way -- the recipes are really good! I've been cooking for many years, but I learned a few things from this book, too. A lot is very basic, but if you buy this for a gift for a novice and look through it first, I bet you'll find something you didn't already know.
For the next occasion, I bought my son "Joy of Cooking," and he loved it. I don't think he would have appreciated or understood it as well if he hadn't gotten this book first, which made him WANT to learn the information in "Joy" -- like learning to drive somewhere cool before learning how to change a tire or parallel park. "Joy" is of course a much better all-purpose kitchen reference, but I see now that it may well be better to start out with something that lets the new kid get started right away cooking delicious, exciting things so that s/he will be motivated to continue.
While the publisher was smart to put a protective cover on the book (so you can bring it into the kitchen without fear), it's strange that the binding they use doesn't allow the book to lay flat (so keeping it open in the kitchen can be difficult). The pages are glossy and of good quality; pictures are at a minimum. All the necessary information for making the dishes (appropriate measures, et al) is present, and Allen includes great tips for when you're shopping for the components. The sections are divided by food type (meat, poulty, vegetables, etc.) which allow you to mix and match to your preference.
Though sufficient, I wish the index in the back were more detailed. For example, it would be helpful to know what dishes use rosemary when I'm left with a bushel of it after making a recipe that requires just a few leaves. Other than that, I'm very happy with this book. I'm not interested in flashy recipes, I want something that TASTES GOOD, and The Food You Want to Eat delivers.
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It was worth what I paid for it.