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

Posted Oct 14 2009 12:00am
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!

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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!

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