This week's cookbook face-off between Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl and Sam Zien's (a.k.a. Sam The Cooking Guy) Awesome Recipes and Kitchen Shortcuts may appear on a cursory flip-through to be an obvious culinary mismatch between recently released paperbacks. The heavyweight (anything with the word “Gourmet” in the title) surely promises to out-quality a welterweight that touts “Shortcuts” (how can we not think Sandra Lee goes Brooklyn?). Or this really might be that miraculous day when the underdog wins. Hoosiers goes hummus. Or something like that.
Round 1: Audience.
The key deciding factor in any book. Who is supposed to
read enjoy reading it?
Shaertl: A laudable effort, as Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens is charming for the first few pages if you really do, like us, have a crappy little kitchen. After which those gourmet meal titles feel entirely too much like a marketing ploy aimed at Glee fans. We're down with that goat cheese soufflé, just not so much when the title is “Get Your Goat…” (cue high school musical theater director entrance). Or consider “Call the Po-Po On This Polenta,” and “I'm a Softy for A Soft Shell Crab.” Still, it's the recipes, not the titles, that count in a cookbook, right? We'll get to those in round two.
Zien: Anything with awesome in the title (yes, there is already a Twitter user with that name), needs to be truly awesome, even if you are “the cooking guy.” We can't quite figure out who this book is for. People who like to tout their culinary coolness while they crack open the refrigerator biscuits? The guy is on an endorsement tour with Campbell's chunky soup.
Round 2: Recipes.
Shaertl: Sweet potato gnocchi, oysters in Champagne sauce, seafood risotto (we will spare you the actual cheesy recipe titles). These are primarily classic recipes, with a twist here and there. Good for those who are learning to cook — crappy little kitchen or not. Revolutionary, no. And certainly not “gourmet.” But it's where we all started, and that's a good thing.
Zien: To even use the word recipes for many of these dishes is a stretch here (something that “the cooking guy” gets bonus points for acknowledging). On one page, he explains how to poach an egg as if it's the easiest thing ever (it's not). Then there's the bacon guacamole, your basic mash of avocados with lime juice and salt, only with pre-cooked “ready” bacon added to the mix. The point of using something that looks like freshly baked roadkill when the real deal will fry up in the time it takes to do all that mashing is not exactly clear.
Round 3: The Winner
In this case, it seems only a Hoosiers quote will do. “Sun don't shine on the same dog's ass everyday, but, mister you ain't seen a ray of light since you got here.”
We'll leave that quote, and which book is the winner, to you to figure out.
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