Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cookbook Review: "My New Orleans: The Cookbook" by Chef John Besh (And a Chance to Win a Copy of Your Own!)

A heavy box, full of 374 pages of love, passion and some really incredible recipes landed at my door recently in the form of "My New Orleans: The Cookbook" by Chef John Besh. I had been excitedly waiting for this cookbook to come out for the past few months having heard that Chef Besh had spent five years working on it, and I was not disappointed. As much a love story about New Orleans, its colorful history and its food as it is a cookbook, this is one big, gorgeous book and a fitting tribute to a fascinating city. 


Besh, chef, restaurateur and storyteller, begins the book with "This book is the story of a dreamy, starry eyed boy brought up in the shadows of New Orleans, surrounded by cypress knees and tupelo trees, good dinners and great friends. Memories of my childhood, both good and bad, have etched themselves deep into my soul; everything I cook and eat, see and smell, reminds me of where I come from and more or less dictates where I am going." The book starts with Besh's background, how he cooks and recipes for some of the basics needed for cooking New Orleans style. The book essentially follows New Orleans through a year with chapters based on the types of food, seasons, celebrations and holidays that occur. The recipes are interwoven with stories and information about the traditions, ingredients, dishes and history, as well as Besh's tips and advice for the home cook. The photography in the book is stunning and not only do you see the beautiful food, you seen where it came from and the farmers and purveyors who labored over it. 

With over 200 recipes, it was difficult to choose just a few to try, I picked seven for this review; Red Beans & Rice (using his recipe for Louisiana Rice), Basic Creole Spices, Sauce Remoulade, Trout Amadine, Shrimp Creole and Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Stewed Berries. Chef Besh provides good information about each dish and the recipes are clear and easy to follow, perfect for those like me who don't have a lot of experience with cooking these classics. The recipes are generally written to serve groups of six or larger groups of 10-15 but are easy enough to cut down for smaller portions.


Red Beans & Rice was the first recipe I chose because I love a good plate of them and these are the best red beans I have ever tried. John Besh says the key is cooking the beans "slowly and well", but I think it it is also due to sauteing the "holy trinity" in rendered bacon fat. (Since I don't keep a can of "flavorful fat" like John does and his grandmother did, I took the step of cooking up some bacon and saving the fat to use in the recipe). The red beans were smoky, meaty from the ham hocks, slightly spicy, creamy and all together dreamy. I have been eating them all week (I made the full batch) and I find myself scraping the broth out of the bottom of the bowl and restraining myself from licking up the final traces. It may sound silly to gush so much about beans and rice but these are just that good.


The flavor of my Louisiana Rice was great (thanks to the tablespoon of chicken fat Besh has you saute the minced onion in), but the texture was a bit soft and mushy for me--I like a bit firmer grain. Based on the results of all the other recipes, I am going to point the finger at the California long grain white rice I used, unable to find Louisiana rice here. Overall this was my favorite dish from the book, although the fish was a very close second, and I will be making it again.


Some of the recipes, including the ones for Sauce Remoulade and Trout Amadine, use Besh's recipe for Basic Creole Spices, so I made up a batch


This spice blend made up of celery salt, sweet paprika, sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and allspice, has a great flavor and is very versatile. I really liked what it did to both the sauce and fish and will be experimenting with it. 



The Sauce Remoulade is kicky and tangy and Besh says that he tosses it with shrimp, crab and other seafood, lettuces or celery root, or even uses it as a dip. I chose to mix mine with fresh, local hearts of palm and some capers for a delicious side dish to go with my Trout Amadine


It was a great dressing and I loved the flavors in Besh's recipe more than some of the other remoulade recipes I have tried--it just seemed more dimensional and vibrant. I made mine with a light mayonnaise, (trust me there is so much flavor you won't miss the extra fat!) and I will make it again using Greek yogurt as a base. 


For such a simple recipe, the Trout Amadine is incredibly good. The pairing of browned butter, almonds, and lemon really works well with the fish. I could pretend that the fish you are looking at in the photo is trout, but it is actually some farm-raised catfish. I went to buy trout at Whole Foods and it was $2.00 a pound more than the catfish, was skin-on and it looked like if I tried to remove the skin, there wouldn't be much fish left there to eat. The catfish sitting beside it looked plump and delicious, so I asked myself WWJBDD? (What Would John Besh Do?) and determined that he would go for the better looking fish, so that's what I did. 


This dish was so delicious, perfect with my Hearts of Palm in Sauce Remoulade and the fish would be excellent in a sandwich too. Another make-again recipe when I allow myself another butter indulgence. ;-)


I have eaten Shrimp Creole before, the traditional roux-and tomato-based recipe. Chef Besh's version, has Vietnamese "influences", with ingredients like lemongrass, mint and basil. It is spicy, herbal, and sweet from the shrimp and the ripe tomatoes.


I added a bit of extra crushed red pepper flakes so mine was pretty fiery, but it was good, and my leftover Louisiana Rice soaked up the juices well and tamed the fire a bit. Since there is no roux to fiddle with, this one goes together really quickly and easily. I made a small quantity of the recipe with the last of a bag of frozen jumbo shrimp, but it would be a fun party dish in a larger quantity. 



With a spicy dish like the Shrimp Creole, a cooling dessert on the lighter side is always welcome so I tried the Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Stewed Berries. A super-simple recipe that is delicious, not too sweet but sweet enough, cold, creamy and just about perfect with the sweetened berries. Since the berries are stewed with a vanilla bean and lemon zest in light corn syrup (I subbed agave nectar because I forgot to buy corn syrup and it worked just fine), I used some good quality frozen berries which are more economical than buying fresh berries here. 


Besh has a recipe for a Cornmeal White Chocolate Biscotti cookie that he recommends serving with the panna cotta, but I wasn't feeling like baking in the hot weather we have been having so I skipped them this time around. I do plan on making them sometime as they sound unique and delicious. I will be making the panna cotta and berries again, it is a great warm-weather dessert.  


So there you go--not just a pretty face, this book road-tested well as I loved everything I made and it all turned out great, (with the exception of the flavorful but slightly mushy rice). I have a bunch of recipes tabbed and for sure will be making a gumbo or jambalaya soon. It was a fun foray into cooking food from a less-familiar region and I appreciated the fact that most of the ingredients were easy to find even in Hawaii. BTW--Besh does have a resource list in the back of the book for the local ingredients that are unique and hard to find outside of the region. 

This book is beautiful, coffee table worthy and perfect for yourself, your favorite foodie or anyone who either loves New Orleans or is looking to explore it. John Besh has done a wonderful job with this cookbook, it is obvious he loves his New Orleans and he has created a true celebration of it. Cooking through this book and reading Besh's stories, I felt transported to New Orleans and that to me is the mark of a great cookbook--it transports you to the place the recipes are from. 

Have I whet your appetite and made you want a copy of "My New Orleans" for yourself? I heartily recommend it, and for one lucky reader, here is a way to win a copy:

******GIVEAWAY******

The wonderful people at Andrews McMeel Publishing were very generous in giving me a chance to review this book, so generous in fact that they accidently sent me TWO copies! When I asked if I could spread the joy and give the second copy away to one of my readers, they immediately agreed. This means one lucky person will win a copy of this wonderful book! (Pretty cool huh?!). You don't even have to have a blog to win, (just be sure to leave a way I can get in touch with you if you do win). Since they are providing the book, I am providing the shipping and if you win, I will send it to you--even if you are outside of the USA. So enter away--there are three ways to enter so if you really want it, you have three chances to win.

How to Enter (You can enter up to three times):  

  • First entry: Leave a comment on this post telling me why "My New Orleans" belongs in your cookbook collection--why you want to win it. ;-)
  • For a second entry, mention the review and the giveaway and link back to this post on your blog, and/or your Facebook page and/or if you twitter, tweet about it. Then leave a second comment on this post letting me know that you linked, Face-booked and/or tweeted it.
  • For a third entry, become a follower of Kahakai Kitchen by clicking on the "Followers" box on the side bar and leave me yet another comment letting me know that you are now following me. If you are already a follower just leave a comment letting me know that you are for your additional entry. 
All entries must be in by midnight, (HST) this Sunday, October 18th. The winner will be selected in a random drawing of all of the entries received and will be announced on Monday October 19th. 

Good Luck to Everyone!

--------

BTW--John Besh will be doing a book tour so if you are lucky enough to be in one of the cities he is going to, go check him out. (Yes, I have a little celebrity chef crush on John Besh, compounded by the deliciousness of his Red Beans & Rice). Sadly no one ever comes to Hawaii on a book tour so I can't go see him, (It has absolutely nothing to do with that restraining order! Just kidding people!) ;-)  Here is the schedule so you can see if he will be in a city near you. 

Aloha!

57 comments:

Joanne said...

This cookbook looks amazing! Creole/New Orleans cooking has been something that I have been meaning to get into a bit more, mostly because of all of the BIG flavors that are used. Plus, if it comes from the land of Mardi Gras, how could it not be fun to eat? Anyway, I suppose that is my bid for why I want to win the cookbook. That trout looks fantastic. And your presentation of it is awesome. Great plating.

Just a note that I am (OBVIOUSLY) a follower of Kahakai Kitchen. Lol I would really love to win this cookbook :D.

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

What a fun review! New Orleans food looks so festive. You did a wonderful job testing and presenting the dishes.
As a Canadian I know almost nothing about New Orleans food - something that should be rectified asap!
I am a devoted follower of Kahakai Kitchen and am off to tweet your give-away!

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

Tweeted, tweetie!

Daniel said...

This is one of the most thorough cookbook reviews I've ever read. Love how you sampled and reviewed such a large number of the recipes.

And the red beans and rice seems like a clear must-make recipe.

Dan
Casual Kitchen

5 Star Foodie said...

These dishes look terrific! I've been a big John Besh fan ever since I watched him on the Next Iron Chef, he's great!

doctorj2u said...

John Besh has said the proceeds from this book are going to Cafe Reconcile, a non-profit that takes at risk teens from the hard streets of New Orleans and teaches then skills to get jobs in the restaurant industry of New Orleans. http://cafereconcile.org/staticdocs/index.asp
John Besh is not only a great chef, but also a great person.

ARLENE said...

FABulous post! Did you quit your day job? Can't believe you've had time to cook all those dishes. I absolutely need this cookbook because:
1. I love New Orleans; have been there a half dozen times
2. John Besh is a hottie and I am dedicating a shelf on my cookbook case to "hotties" (Tyler has pride of place right now, but that can change, oh! the fickleness of women)
3. I am in the mood for some bread pudding and jambalaya and I'm betting there's a recipe for both in there.
Thanks for sharing, Deb.

Debs said...

Hi Deb, wow what a lovely review you have written. I'd love to win your extra copy of the book. Creole cooking is something I'd enjoy, especially as we don't have any restaurants serving such food here.

PS Have been a faithful follower of your blog for a while now.

Kim said...

I love Arlene's comment, so funny! All of your recipes turned out so fabulous, the trout looks exceptional! I would love to have this cookbook. I have always wanted to go to New Orleans and have never got the chance. It would be so much fun to eat my way through New Orleans by cooking my way through this book. I'm obviously a follower of your blog, but I will link to this on today's post for IHCC. Good for you on getting such a treat from the publisher. After your review, I would pay full price for this one!

George Gaston said...

Deb…. What a generous thing to do ~ sharing with others who have like taste and interest. Chef Besh’s cookbook sounds like a real testament of love for his home city and his love of the renown flavors that make up the cooking in that region.

Back in 2006 after Katrina had destroyed most of the area; I and eleven other friends went down to help Habitat for Humanities “gut” homes and start the reconstruction of this remarkable city. After long days of working in unbelievable conditions; we would head down to the French Quarter along Bourbon & Decatur Streets to eat & drink at various local-hangouts. The food was always authentic and made with wonderful local ingredients; by chefs who loved not only their food but their neighborhood. We always got a very warm appreciation from them, due to our work. But we felt we were the one’s to give thanks for their determination to see their city prosper again.

I am sure that Chef Besh has the same determination and through his cookbook, he is promoting the traditions and profound love that New Orleans chefs are know for the world over.

Sue Garton said...

I really am fascinated by New Orleans and the cuisine of that area. Trouble is, so few cookery books give the real recipes but this one looks as though it will really cut the mustard (pardon the pun!!).

I love spicey, different food and New Orleans seems to offer everything I want - even the jazz!!!

Sue

Cinnamon-Girl Reeni♥ said...

I read about this book and I immediately knew I wanted it. I love everything about New Orleans! It's on my Christmas wish-list already.

Cinnamon-Girl Reeni♥ said...

I tweeted!

Cinnamon-Girl Reeni♥ said...

I'm a follower!

Erica said...

I'd love to win Besh's book because I know nothing about New Orleans cuisine...but I desperately want to! :)

lil_apple said...

Thanks for the offer! This book should belong in my library because... I'm running the NOLA marathon in Feb, and would like to make AUTHENTIC food to help fuel me during training. & also because he's adorable and I loved him on the Iron Chef challenges - would definitely encourage me to cook more :)

The Food Hunter said...

I've heard only great things about this book.

Pat Steer (Gaelen) said...

Deb, if it's any consolation, chefs don't do many book tours into the wilds of central NY state, either (unless they're dropping by the casino to play some golf...) I just tweeted your blog post and giveaway (and started following you on Twitter.) Here's the tweet:
http://twitter.com/Gaelen2/status/4864560516

Cassiday P said...

This cookbook belongs in my kitchen because I only own 2 cookbooks AND I've never cooked any creole/southern food before and it's time to try!!

CJ Carter said...

I happen to have this cookbook and I agree it is awesome. I truly heart John Besh and this book. You should really try the crawfish agnolli with morels..it is DELISH! thanks for the great review!!

Heady Muse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heady Muse said...

I would lovvve to win a copy of John's book! I went to high school with John and am so jazzed about his success!! I think I should win a copy because I love to cook and need some home town inspiration... currently I'm living in Los Angeles.

Erin Van Matre said...

I have been waiting for this book to come out for months! I am so excited and can't wait to make some of these recipes part of our family traditions! I think it would be a great story to tell John when I take it to him at his book signing.

Annie said...

I went to school in NOLA and loved every bite of it. Sadly, I moved when I graduated and now can't get great New Orleans food. It would wonderful to have a piece of Louisiana in my kitchen!

Janis said...

I would love this cookbook. In the 80's I cooked my way through Paul Prudhomme's cookbook. I stopped making creole and cajun long ago. I would love to try some updated things and cook my way through this book next!

Janis said...

I also twitted it! and subscribed to your blog.

Fresh Local and Best said...

I think I should win, because I save my own animal fat in the fridge and freezer!

Fresh Local and Best said...

I also linked the giveaway to Fresh Local and Best fan page on facebook!

Fresh Local and Best said...

And I'm a follower!

The Duo Dishes said...

We may be catering a Creole themed wedding and need more dish ideas. :)

Debbie said...

Those dished look unbelievable! I am so bored with what I am cooking right now. I need this to spice things up around here.
fourkidsrgreat(at)gmail.com

darnold23 said...

I have posted on Twitter and will also do so on Facebook. I am already a follower:) Hubby and I spent our honeymoon in New Orleans almost 40 years ago. We have been fortunate to return on several occasions...falling in love with the ambience, history and tradition all over again each time. Our area received many of the Hurrican Katrina evacuees. We were delighted to do whatever we could to ease their tragedy. Some returned to NO; some have remained in our community and have become good friends.

I have followed Besh's career over the years and love his simple flavors and techniques. It seems that you must as well since you chose some of the most traditional recipes to try. Thanks so much for sharing these with us.

I would, of course, love to receive the book. I might even consider coming to Hawaii to get it....think Hubby would mind??

I try to link to Souper Sundays each week, or as often as I can. I would love for you to join me for Crock Pot Wednesday. You have some great ideas to share. I will post your giveaway on my blog as well.

Thanks for sharing with all of us.

bella said...

Hi Deb, First of all I stopped by tonight to grab a button for your blog and I can't find one. . . let me know where to look, if that's OK. Also, then I read your post about this fab New Orleans cookbook....so I'd like to make this my very first entry in a giveaway....never done it before. I have NO cookbooks from New Orleans and so this would be a wonderful addition. I do follow you and so that's my second entry. I'll try to do your third entrance requirement for Facebook/twitter etc. and will let you know. Thanks for the chance, Roz

Mary said...

Another terrific cookbook review. The food he writes about is some of the best in the U.S. Thanks for the heads-up re: its publication.

lk (Healthy Delicious) said...

wow! that all looks incredible!

Kim said...

Hey Deb. I was working tonight up at the mall and stopped in the bookstore to check out this book. It is amazing, huge, and beautiful. I loved it and I can see why you love it so much. He is a cutie! I linked to you earlier in my IHCC post today. Enjoy the book. If I don't win, I'm gonna head out and buy it!!

giz said...

Deb - you did a really fabulous job of this review. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting John Besh at the South Beach Food and Wine last year and he's just the nicest possible man ever. There's a hole in my cookbook shelf where this book would fit absolutely perfectly and a whole new cuisine for me.

Giz - Equal Opportunity Kitchen

Eve said...

I would love this cookbook, because being from the south I love southern food. the flavors are so rich and yummy. But I dont know how to cook that much of their food, so I would like this cookbook to have more recipes.

Eve said...

I tweeted: http://twitter.com/shopgurl/status/4882520584

Eve said...

I am following you (Eve)

Marianna said...

I love New Orleans cuisine and I am a huge John Besh fan - I'd love to win this! Thanks for the excellent review and the chance to win! mannasweeps (at))) gmaildotcom

Marianna said...

I follow!

Pam said...

I don't have any New Orleans cookbooks! I must remedy that! Because red beans and rice is one of my most favorite dishes ever. I could eat it every night of the week!

Pam said...

Also, I'm a follower!

Pam said...

Facebooked it!

lisaiscooking said...

This is a really great book! I was just delighted with it when I first saw it at the bookstore and was thrilled to see Besh and have my book signed last weekend. I can't wait to get cooking from it!

Kyla said...

Oh, this cookbook sounds excellent. I may have to pick it up even if I don't win. I'm Canadian and I've noticed we're sadly lacking in restaurants serving Cajun, Southern, or even good Mexican food. Instead, I have to make my own to try new foods. I haven't tried many types of New Orleans food and would be excited to get cooking.

Ty'sMommy said...

OK, you know I have a ton of cookbooks, but my new passion is souther and creole food, and I don't have a cookbook yet! Be my enabler and help me learn????

And I'm a follower already, so count me in for two entries, please! Thanks!

blanche_yih said...

As an individual with a Chinese heritage and embraces food, cooking and culture, it is almost shameful to admit that I have not yet tried dishes with a Southern flare.

Your cookbook review on "My New Orleans The Cookbook" by Chef John Besh was insightful about the flavour combinations, and I was most intrigued by your intuition in your personal touches to the recipes. I hope I will have a chance to win this cookbook, and enter an adventure with the Southern hospitality of my own. Thanks!

blanche_yih said...

Just wrote a blogpost mentioning this cookbook review. Thanks!

http://lafleuraucacao.blogspot.com/2009/10/great-entry-into-adventure-with.html

blanche_yih said...

I'm already a follower, hopefully I recent work on my blog would be enough to inspire and have a follower like you.

Thanks so much!

Shelly W said...

Very cool giveaway, Deb! The recipes you prepared from the cookbook look awesome! I'm especially a fan of red beans and rice. I've never made "authentic" red beans and rice, so I'd totally love to get this cookbook :). Oh, I'm a follower of Kahakai Kitchen as well. I love your blog!

blackcatkitchen said...

I need this book because ... My dad is from New Orleans and never gets real NOLA food, so I'd love to be able to make something authentic for him when he visits. Plus, I just love it myself!

blackcatkitchen said...

I tweeted too! http://twitter.com/blackcatkitchen

blackcatkitchen said...

and a follower! :)

Shirley said...

Wonderful review! I want to try my hand at creole cooking so this cookbook would be an awesome way to start.

Shirley said...

I'm a follower.