Summer is here once again, and not a minute too soon. Time to drag out the grill, clean it up and start cooking. But maybe you're tired of the same old, same old. Like something new? If you're like most of us, you can't seem to get beyond the traditional chicken with bottled barbecue sauce, corn on the cob wrapped in foil, hot dogs or soy dogs, along with the usual hamburgers. Toss in potato salad, coleslaw, green salad with bottled dressing, baked beans and home baked cupcakes for dessert. All good food. But come on. Can't we do better? Have our friends clamoring for an invite to our next cookout, or picnic? Sure we can. Here are the cookbooks to give us inspiration, and fervent thank you's from our guests.
An introduction to Picnics and Barbecues: In The Kitchen With Bob, tells us it's likely that picnics originated in France (where the word 'picquer' means to pick at food). No doubt, these informal meals made it via the Channel to England - there, the earliest picnics noted were hunting feasts in the 14th Century! The word 'barbecue' may have originated in Haiti where 'barbacoa' means 'grill'. The theory is that pirates and other rogues roaming the Caribbean brought this cooking technique to the shores of Louisiana. Or it could have been French settlers using a method called 'de barbe et queue' (which means 'from whiskers to tail'), while spit roasting an entire animal over an open fire. Or maybe the technique arrived from Mexican rancheros in California and the Southwest. Regardless, Bob Bowersox wishes you to celebrate the magical season of summer with a picnic or barbecue. I echo his words 'Bon Appetit!'
Bob's cookbook is chock full of recipes for summer entertaining or that family meal outdoors. Mouthwatering photographs accompany them. Had me rummaging for the grilling utensils I put away when weather put a stop to outdoor dining last year. 'Cold asparagus with minted mayonnaise, grilled tomato and onion soup, roast beef and potato salad' all sound like winners to me for a picnic. Bob's tips for the best ever barbecues include 'grilled chicken wrapped with green onions, summer s best pizza, and cilantro shrimp'. And how about 'Kahlua soaked berries with toasted pound cake' to top off an amazing meal!
Charles Pierce's burgers - comfort food is a small book, but oh-what-burgers! There is a lovely introduction with the author's favorite meat, tips on grilling and handling the food for health's sake; also a page with weights and measures in American and European numbers. Pierce's recipes include 'the American burger, the Delmonico' (who doesn't remember the steak with that scrumptious Biarnaise sauce?), 'goat cheese and black olive stuffed burgers, Roquefort and toasted walnut burgers'. He hasn't forgotten those of us who don't eat meat, with 'veggie burgers with sprouts and salmon burgers on potato crisps'. A final section contains recipes for relishes, salsas, homemade ketchup and sauces.
Next comes Born To Grill : An American Celebration by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison. Bon Appetit calls the Jamisons the King and Queen of Grilling; quite an accolade! Their introduction claims that Americans didn't invent outdoor cooking, but deserve much of the credit for making it fun. Beware - no succulent photos, just neat illustrations; but reading the lists of ingredients is enough to fire up the imagination and taste buds. This book is loaded with info and advice on proper grilling, necessary tools, etc.. The first section contains ideas for rubs, pastes, sauces and mustards. Then to the food. I didn't need a photo to make me wish I had 'Margarita Shrimp Skewers' to nibble while I write this. 'Tortillas and Pizzas, Hot burgers and Haute Dogs, Serious Steaks, Party Perfect Pork, Lamb and Veal and Venison, Fowl Play, Sizzling Fish and Shellfish'; a meat for everyone to grill and enjoy. Then on to 'Veggies, Salads, Pastas and Other Delights'. Even 'S'Mores and More'.
Deborah Madison's Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets contains all kinds of vegetables raised in the United States, with scrumptious recipes, appetizing photos and delightful illustrations. Some of the combinations raised my eyebrows, but on perusal I decided that they were good marriages. From 'Greens Wild & Domestic' through 'Cabbages, Kales and Other Crucifers' and on to 'Eggs & Cheese', this cookbook takes the reader on a tour of the market aisles, giving exciting recipes to use the earth's bounty.
Try 'Shell Beans and Summer Vegetables' stewed in their own juices! The section on 'Small Tender Fruits (Berries, Grapes and Figs) and Stone Fruits' captured my heart and taste buds with recipes for 'Blueberry and Lavender Compote, Greg's Huckleberry Pie, and Fresh Grape Juice with Lemon Verbena'. The 'Cherry Almond Loafcake' combined two of my favorite flavors. How about 'Apricots Baked in Parchment'? 'Plum Kuchen' would be wonderful served warm with a scoop of hand cranked vanilla ice cream.
Here is Emma Summer's Dress It Up: The Great Little Book of Salads? Everyone likes salads. Personally I often make one my whole meal. This book has ideas for salads with almost every course. For starters, I like the sound of 'Smoked Trout and Horseradish Salad'. For a main course, an 'Avocado, Crab and Coriander Salad' sounds refreshing for summer. Try a 'Wild Mushroom Salad with Parma Ham' for a warm one. A side salad of 'Lettuces and Herbs' could accompany most entries. The classic 'Salade Nicoise' reminded me of the first time I tried one in a renovated chapel named Chez Hans at the foot of the Rock of Cashel in Ireland. Wonderful! A discourse on salad leaves precedes actual recipes.
Yes, Virginia, vegetarians like grilled food also. Grill It! Vegetarian is chock full of photos in glorious color. The introduction gives a comprehensive coverage of grill designs, fuel, lighting instructions, cooking in coals, marinades, foil cooking, skewers, cooking times, clean-up and safety tips. I'd start my grilled dinner with the 'Grilled Goat's Cheese', then move on to 'Crusty Garlic Potatoes and Mushroom and Mozzarella Brochettes', then maybe the 'Grilled Vegetable Pizza' to finish with 'Foiled Rum Bananas'. Many more scrumptious recipes are sure to tempt the most devout of, you'll pardon the expression, meat eaters. A lovely section on 'Dips, Sauces and Salsas' finishes a book worthy to reside on any cook's bookshelf.
Better Homes and Gardens' Indoor Grilling - how very handy! Not all of us have backyards or decks to do the proper grilling thing. Here's a way to achieve a really good grilled food indoors, with loads of info in the introduction on the gear needed to fix the recipes in this wonderful book. Gorgeous photos in the steaks section made my mouth water. Burgers? Of course. How about 'Moroccan Turkey Burgers' in addition to the traditional beef. 'Wasabi-glazed Whitefish with Slaw' appealed. 'Grilled Vegetable Salad' would be a meal in itself for me. There's a handy section on 'Sauces, Marinades and Rubs'. The convenient notebook style makes it easy to follow the recipes. How about 'Mahi Mahi with Vegetable Slaw'? Works for me.
Clarissa Dickson Wright, Jennifer Paterson bring us Two Fat Ladies Obsessions. You must remember these Two Fat Ladies for their TV series. Maybe if I mention them cruising on a motorcycle complete with sidecar to purchase their ingredients? Got them now? This is their fourth book, and a fine one it is. Those ladies could cook. A wonderful forward celebrates Jennifer's life and records her death. Information on everything from salt to peaches precedes each section with recipes and enticing photos to follow. 'Lobster in Casserole' sounds divine, but I have always been a pushover for lobster. 'Black Olive Bread' follows a selection of parsley recipes. Snails? Ever eat them? Would you? Sure you would - after you see the picture of 'Escargots a la Bourguinoune'. 'Onions Stuffed with Roasted Garlic' has to be a winner. A luscious section on chocolate had me on an imaginary sugar high - a great gift book for friends or - better yet - treat yourself.
How about Fast Vegetarian Food by Matthew Drennan? Fifty fresh, tasty recipes made in minutes. What's not to love? There are step-by-step instructions with mouth watering photos of the finished recipes. A nice section in the front lists basic equipment. Menu suggestions allow you to expand your meal to accommodate guests. 'Penne with Fennel, Tomato and Blue Cheese' looks enticing to me. As does 'Bubble and Squeak with Fried Eggs'. Don't know Bubble and Squeak? It s simply cabbage, onions and potato, and uses up leftovers. Or you can start from scratch for some cozy home cookin' - 'Zucchini Puffs with Salad and Balsamic Dressing. Pasta with Cilantro and Broiled Eggplant'. Even meat eaters can use this cookbook and happily so.
Clifford A. Wright's Grill Italian gives an intro to Italian cooking, with wonderful recipes and lovely photos to follow. Just the thing to wow your family and friends with the Italian way of grilling: 'Sicilian Style Grilled Skewered Meatballs, Mackerel a la Burnt Fingers, Grilled Turkey Steaks with Pomegranate Sauce, Grilled Quail, Grilled Eggplant Roll-Ups, (my personal favorite) Woodcutters Style Mixed Grill, Homemade Italian Sausage on the Grill.' Tips are sprinkled throughout the book, and a smidgen of info about the dish precedes each recipe. Sample the glories of Italian food - candlelight on your deck with a good bottle of Chianti and the right company, and you have the makings of a fabulous evening.
For fun - try Ruby Ann's Down Home Trailer Park Cookbook by Ruby Ann Boxcar. No photos, but Ruby Ann's first chapters (with tongue-in-cheek humor) introduce herself and the residents of her trailer park. Try the recipes for some wild eating: 'Kitty Chitwood's Slut Puppies - Deep Fried and Delicious, Lois Bunch's Chili Con Queso, Anita Biggons' El Diablo Dip-O, Sister Bertha's Old Rugged Cross Cake, Ruby Ann Boxcar's Fantastically Fantasy Fudge, Juanita Hix's Sloppy Sloppy Joes'. From her picture on the cover, it looks like Ruby Ann sampled all the recipes. There is a disclaimer on the frontispiece of the book from a number of well-known food manufacturers. After reading the recipes, I can understand why.
Happy outdoor eating this summer!
Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.