Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Man Made Meals: The Essential Cookbook for Guys (Review)

Man Made Meals

I wish I had this book twenty years ago when I first left home.

That's my quick review and it's 100% true, but brevity isn't my thing so here's the longer version (feel free to scroll down for 50+ pictures of recipes from the book)...

Mom is the best cook, but in my younger days I never took time to learn from her. Dudes didn't cook! Aside from the family roast beef recipe, I left home without much knowledge transfer.

The college years were spent trying to piece together cheap meals with typical staples like pasta, tuna, and beer. Sometimes spaghetti sauce. At the last apartment we figured out how to grill a week's worth of chicken breasts over a weekend charcoal fire, and that was a bit of a breakthrough. We thought we had it all figured out.

The next eight or nine years were spent in a series of small apartments in cities from Chicago to Los Angeles. The kitchens were adequate, yet due to the temporary nature of my assignments I was hesitant to invest in any decent kitchen or grilling equipment. I was probably also a bit intimidated to get started, so I spent most nights eating out or warming up TV dinners. Shame on me. No regrets when it comes to exploring local cuisine, but the time spent eating microwave dinners could have been much better spent actually using the kitchen.

Since settling down a bit I've become somewhat obsessed with making up for lost time by learning to cook everything. Had I paid more attention to what Mom was doing and then had this book when I moved out, I wouldn't have been so far behind in the first place! My journey started with the grill, and Raichlen's How to Grill really did teach me how to grill. Now Man Made Meals is here to teach guys how to cook -- not just on the grill, but in the kitchen. Not just dinner, but everything from breakfast to cocktails.

The very first page says, "First and foremost, a guy should know how to get himself dinner (or any meal) on the table without having to rely on take-out." That sentence, combined with my experience, is why I think the young guys will best benefit from this book. My sons and nephews will have a copy when they are ready. And if that doesn't sound terribly exciting, don't worry. This next paragraph promises plenty of typical Raichlen flair, and the book delivers:

"You should know how to execute kitchen tasks with confidence, aplomb, and -- I dare say -- showmanship. The act should not only assuage your hunger and bring you respect but should give you satisfaction and pleasure."

MMM starts out by answering fundamental questions:  What is cooking? What are the various methods of cooking? What are the essential kitchen tools? (I'm happy to say I do have all of them, but it took me ten years to accumulate them and in the process I wasted money on dozens of other tools that ended up in the trash.) What do you need to know about knives? (That section would have saved me some money.) What do you need in the pantry? What do various flavor boosters do? How do you perfect the shopping process? How do you use a recipe to get the most out of it?

Each recipe has helpful sidebar info containing shopping tips, a list of required kitchen gear, some recommended variations, and the estimated time it will take. In addition to the recipes, there are plenty of informative special features scattered about the book. A most helpful Conversion Tables page can be found in the back before the Glossary, and some of the ongoing themes include:
  • The A Guy's Best Friend pages teach how to maximize the use of items ranging from eggs to anchovies, skirt steak to chicken breast, pork shoulder to ribs, etc. 
  • The How to Work With pages have step-by-step photo panels showing how to cook omelets, butterfly pork loins, spatchcock chickens, use garlic, chop onions, etc. 
  • The Food Dude interviews have well known characters such as Nathan Myhrvold and Andrew Zimmern answering a common set of questions telling us their favorite ingredients, go-to dishes, which mistakes we can avoid, and how cooking can help us seduce the ladies. Well worth reading, that!

Now to the fun part...

I was fortunate to get an advanced copy of the book so we've been enjoying Man Made Meals for the last couple months. The advanced copy didn't have an index, so I used Post-it Notes to mark the recipes we wanted to try. A lot of Post-it Notes! We've done what we could based on the ingredients we have on hand each week, using as much local food from our CSA baskets as possible. We tried to do a little bit of everything from breakfast to dinner, and made sure to do at least one dessert and cocktail. Most of those attempts are pictured below. We honestly liked all the recipes we tried, and we've gone back to several of them already. Fortunately, we've barely cracked the surface, so we have plenty of recipes to look forward to...

The obligatory Corvette or motorcycle picture that has nothing to do with nothing...

Modernist Scrambled Eggs with Manchego Cheese (page 42) & Skillet Bacon (page 67)

Modernist Scrambled Eggs w/ Manchego Cheese & Skillet Bacon.

Everybody knows how to make bacon, right? The book describes three methods and I was surprised to learn a new trick for frying it in a skillet.

These eggs are maybe my favorite thing we've tried from the book. I've never seen anything like it. The idea is to get a texture like cream of wheat, and I nailed it on the second try. Cool! The bright color is due to the fresh farm eggs, and accentuated by another trick I learned in the book.

A lot of recipes are simplified quite a bit from other versions of the same dish, and this is a good example. The Modernist Cuisine version requires an immersion blender, a sous vide approach (which takes a lot more time), and a whipping siphon. The Man Made Meals version requires a skillet, a saucepan, and a whisk.

Jose's Fried Eggs (page 43)

Jose's Fried Eggs (almost) and Stir-Fried Spinach & Smoked Pastrami.

Might seem like a weird combination -- sometimes the CSA baskets do that to us. Funny story about these eggs. It seems I did the first egg correctly, but I thought it looked wrong because my reading comprehension wasn't exactly working this morning. I thought it looked burnt, but it tasted great. So I tried again and ended up with these two. They don't look like Jose's, but they were fun to make and fun to eat. The first one was better.

Cyclops Eggs (page 44)

Cyclops Eggs & Salsa.

This is an old picture of a family favorite dish that happens to be in the book. There's approximately 300 different names of these eggs-in-toast, but no matter what we call them the kids love 'em. We like to save the cutouts and cook, er, toast them at the same time. We call 'em frisbees.

Mile High Pancakes (page 61)

The first Mile High Pancake, cooked in the oven.

Mile High Pancakes & Sausage grilled on a snowy morning.

Mile High Pancakes w/ Pears, Sausage, and Kentucky Maple Syrup.

This is one of our favorites, and one we've gone back to several times. It couldn't be any easier to whip the batter up and it's fun to watch them cook. The boys and I watched the first one through the window in the oven and they were cracking up as it puffed out and took shape -- an odd shape. They're even better on the grill, and this is another example of an easy version of similar recipes you might see elsewhere. It reminded me of the Dutch or German Apple Pancakes that Mom used to make, but those take a lot more effort. I'll stick with these and throw some fruit on top any day.

Game Plan Hash (page 66)

Game Plan Hash w/ Leftover Turkey.

Game Plan Hash w/ Leftover Corned Beef.

Some recipes in the book are more like guidelines than complete recipes. This one provides very flexible instructions for turning any leftover meats into a tasty breakfast using familiar staples you probably already have on hand. This comes in handy quite frequently.

Southern Mustard Slaw (page 178)

Breakfast Tacos w/ Sausage, Southern Mustard Slaw, Root Beer BBQ Sauce, and Cilantro.

I don't use food processors, but I tried to use one while making this slaw and pulverized the poor carrots and cabbage. The slaw was plenty tasty and we'll make it again soon, but I went back to the cutting board and knife after this attempt at saving time. The taco idea came from a food truck in Austin that sells a smoked sausage wrap with mustard slaw called The Link.

Breakfast Nachos (page 58)

Smoked Breakfast Nachos.

This nacho recipe seemed very similar to the Grilled BBQ Chicken Nachos we like to cook in heavy hickory smoke, so we did the same thing here. Delicious. A friend tried the same thing, and also added sausage. We'll do that next time.

A New PB&J (page 100)

A New PB&J.

Yeah, there's even a Peanut Butter & Jelly idea in the book. My wife thought this particular sandwich was a little too fragrant for breakfast, so I ate outside.

Pastrami Reuben (page 87)

Pastrami Reuben.

This Reuben used pastrami, sauerkraut, bread, and cheese from the Farmers Market. Awesome.

Fire-Eater Chicken Wings (page 207)

Fire-Eater Wings on the grill.

Fire-Eater Wings.

This was a recipe at BBQ U last year, and we made it again as soon as we got home. Kids loved it -- well, at least the older one did. They were a bit too spicy for Little Man!

Parmesan Crisps (page 108) & Brazilian Steak House Collard Greens (page 501)

Tomato Bisque, Parmesan Crisps, and Collard Greens.

A nice quick meatless lunch. The Parmesan Crisps couldn't be any easier to make, and the Collard Green recipe is very similar to our standard go-to stir-fry for greens. So we did it in the wok.

The "Dear" Dog (page 119)

"Dear" Dog.

Grilled "Dear" Dog.

There's a nice story in the book behind this sandwich that uses hot dogs and bologna. We happened to get get some of each from Marksbury Farm in our CSA basket one week, so the "Dear" Dog was a no-brainer. These particular wieners are so big we needed stadium buns and each one required two pieces of bologna. Not complaining...

BBQ Chicken Quesadillas (page 78)


BBQ Chicken Quesadillas.

The book has a few pages devoted to Grilled Cheese sandwiches and a few pages devoted to Quesadillas (I never thought of them as the Mexican version of a grilled cheese before). Both sections provide a few good recipe ideas, but the real idea is that you can put cheese plus anything in between two pieces of bread or in a tortilla. I like this method of cooking Quesadillas better than making the full-size versions which can be hard as heck to flip.

Spanglish Sandwich (page 81)

Spanglish Sandwiches.

Spanglish Sandwich.

They're like BLTs, but better!

Meatballs with Parmesan & Herbs (page 463)

Leftover Meatball Sandwich.

These meatballs were fun to make with the boys and they were great with spaghetti. Leftovers made for a mean toaster over sandwich.

Fruit "Salsa" with Cinnamon Chips (page 563)

Fruit "Salsa" with Cinnamon Chips.

Our lone snack from the chapter on sweets was a healthy one. We used melons, and didn't make nearly enough Cinnamon Chips the first time. They go fast!

Blackened Salmon (page 380)

Thank goodness for an outside stove.

Am I doing this right?

Blackened Salmon w/ Fruit Salsa.

This was really really fun. We just got this camp stove for the deck, so this was the first time I tried blackened fish without worrying about setting the house on fire or smoking everybody out. Maybe the pan was a little too hot? I don't know, but the fish from Caught Wild Salmon was delicious, especially with the Fruit "Salsa" mentioned above.

Spatchcock Chicken with a Curry Mustard Crust (page 336)

Cabbage Steaks, Spatchcock Chicken with a Curry Mustard Crust, and Sweet Potatoes.

Spatchcock Chicken with a Curry Mustard Crust, Cabbage Steaks, and Sweet Potatoes.

These pictures don't do the chicken recipe justice, and if you've never spatchcocked a chicken the step-by-step photo panel is quite helpful. Normally I would grill all of these things, but on this wet winter day our oven got a good workout.

Spiny Lobster with Garlic, Cumin, and Lime (page 432)



Spiny Lobster with Garlic, Cumin, and Lime.

Wow. This was outstanding. BONUS: Very simple. This is one of the recipes that contains instructions for cooking the protein in various ways -- in the broiler, on the stovetop, or on the grill. We go grill whenever possible, and I don't think I got the right kind of lobster but the price was right and I won't change a thing next time.

Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Pig Pucker Sauce (page 273)

The bone slid right out, just as it should.

Pulled Pork.

Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich with Pig Pucker Sauce and Creamy Horseradish Slaw.

This isn't the best picture, but it is the Best Sandwich of the Year! The simple vinegar sauce and the slaw with a bite go perfectly with this smoked pork. I think we've done six Boston Butts on the WSM and the Pit Barrel Cooker since I got the book. MMM provides two basic rubs and we've been going with Raichlen Rub #2.

Baby Back Ribs with Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce (page 283)

Baby Backs hanging out in the PBC.

Beautiful color.

Baby Back Ribs with Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce.

Yum. We had a little trouble the first time we tried this (my fault), and even though they were overcooked and covered in ash from falling into the fire, they were delicious. We got 'em perfect on this second try. This recipe is provided as a starting point for fine tuning your own rub and sauce recipe, and I've pretty much left it alone so far. The sauce is sweet and smooth -- it reminds me of the Nashville Sweet sauce in BBQ USA, but not quite as sweet or lemony.

Indy 500 Food -- Boston Butts and Spare Ribs on the WSM.
Raichlen Rub #2 all over the place.

Lemon and Mustard Roast Chicken (page 334) with Garlic Lemon Jus (page 335) and Garlic Roasted Potatoes (page 498)

Lemon & Mustard Chicken and Garlic Roasted Potatoes on the Weber kettle.

Lemon & Mustard Chicken with Garlic Lemon Jus.
I'm horrible at cutting birds into pieces, be it before or after they are cooked.

Garlic Roasted Potatoes.
So simple, so good.

Lemon & Mustard Chicken w/ Lemon Jus on Mixed Citrus Cracked Wheat Berries and Garlic Roasted Potatoes.

This was the best chicken we've done in a long time, and although it is an oven recipe in the book I'm sure it was even better because we did it on the grill. The Garlic Roasted Potatoes are ridiculously tasty for such a simple dish -- they should probably be on the grill every time we fire it up.

The leftovers might have been even better than the dinner...

Lemon & Mustard Roast Chicken and Garlic Roasted Potatoes with Jalapeno Herb Salsa.

Braised Rabbit with Kalamata Olives (page 359)

Braised Rabbit with Kalamata Olives.

I almost didn't include this one because I don't have a good picture, but I am including it because it was great. If I'm not grilling rabbit I usually do it in the slow cooker with some red wine, but this was better than my default recipe. If I had another rabbit I'd make it again and get a better picture, but I'm all out of rabbit!

Planked Salmon with Lemon Mustard Glaze (page 377) and Fried Capers (page 383)

Planked Salmon with Lemon Mustard Glaze, before.
I like to get my planks smoking pretty good.

Planked Salmon with Lemon Mustard Glaze, after.
We used Alder planks for this one.

Planked Salmon with Lemon Mustard Glaze.

Planked Salmon with Lemon Mustard Glaze on Sorrel Pesto Pasta with Fried Caper Sauce.

Wow. We love salmon. We love sorrel. We loved this meal. The Fried Capers are served with swordfish in the book, and they sounded too intriguing to not try. I reckon they would go well with most any fish.

One tasty fork.

Dark and Stormy Barbecue Sauce (page 537)

Ribs Two Ways.

We did Dark & Stormy ribs at BBQ U last year, and the Dark and Stormy Barbecue Sauce is included in this book (there's also a Dark and Stormy Float and a Dark and Stormy cocktail, and all three share two common ingredients).

Soon after BBQ U we made these ribs at home -- the Dark and Stormy Ribs are on the right. On the left is one of our all-time favorites -- the Lord of the 'Que ribs finished with Nashville Sweet sauce, both recipes from BBQ USA.

A New Way with Bratwurst (page 116) and Hot Potato Salad (page 167)

A New Way with Bratwurst and a Bacon Explosion (2012).

A New Way with Bratwurst (2012).

It turns out the New Way with Bratwurst has been my favorite way to cook Bratwurst for awhile, and you don't have to twist my arm to send me to the store for a pack of Johnsonville sausages! We usually do grilled onions & peppers instead of the suggested topping. My family doesn't like hot potato salad so I made it ahead of time and let it chill in the fridge. Worked.
Bratwurst with Grilled Onions & Peppers.

A New Way with Bratwurst and Hot Potato Salad.

Sweet and Smoky Baked Beans (page 480)

Smoked Brisket, Bacon Wrapped Onion Rings, and Sweet & Smoky Baked Beans.

These are the best BBQ beans we've ever made. And this doesn't even sound real, but everybody's favorite item on that plate was the beans. The beans! True story. We have a big birthday party coming up, and while I don't know exactly what we'll be cooking, I know we'll be making these beans.

Sweet and Smoky Baked Beans.

Yankee Teriyaki Kebabs (page 319) and Burnt Tomatoes (page 507)

Tomatoes, burning.

Burnt Tomatoes and Yankee Teriyaki Kebabs.

Yankee Teriyaki Kebabs and Burnt Tomatoes.

We get a lot of tomatoes in our CSA baskets so I've been burning a lot of tomatoes. It's amazing how easily you can coax so much flavor out of a good tomato, a hot pan, and just a couple ingredients.

The kebabs are a recommended variation on the Basic Shish Kebab recipe, which includes an optional ingredient that I'd never put on a kebab before. It kinda changed everything. It starts with a 'B' and it's also used on the Burnt Tomatoes. And that's all I've got to say about that.

Creamy Horseradish Slaw (page 177)

Smoked Brisket Philly Cheesesteak and Creamy Horseradish Slaw.

Buffalo Ribs and Gorgonzola Cheese Dip from Best Ribs Ever with Creamy Horseradish Slaw.

The Creamy Horseradish Slaw was mentioned above with the Best Sandwich of the Year, and it's become my go-to recipe when we get cabbage and carrots in our CSA baskets. It goes great with anything BBQ. Also, those Buffalo Ribs are awesome.

Dirty Steaks with Bell Pepper Panfry (page 233)

She's lump, she's lump, she's in my head, 

Dirty Ribeye. Dirty Garlic. Dirty Poblano.

Dirty Ribeye w/ Roasted Poblano & Garlic Relish.

Funny story. I'm sitting on the back deck writing this review when it comes time to light the grill for tonight's chicken dinner. So I light the grill. Then I discover that the bird is still frozen. This is the first time I've ever had to contemplate wasting charcoal like that, and I started to panic. Then I remembered that a beautiful grass fed ribeye from one of my favorite farms was waiting for tomorrow's dinner, so I flipped to the steak section and settled on the Dirty Steak option. I didn't have all the ingredients for the Bell Pepper Panfry, but I did have a poblano pepper and some garlic. Onto the fire they went. Like, really, on to the fire. Great save! Great steak!

Raichlen Bloody Mary (page 595)

Raichlen Bloody Mary.
Because sometimes you want to drink your Sriracha...


1 comment:

  1. Nice report. I just bought the book. May be SR's best.