Try This At Home

This week my wife and I decided to tackle several recipes from Richard Blais’s debut book, Try This At Home: Recipes From My Head.

It would be a terrible idea to show the world what’s in my head. Or the things I try at home for that matter.

Blais is a Top Chef alum and James Beard nominated chef. James Beard nominated means tasty and more than one $ on Yelp.

Originally from New York; he is now a transplanted Southerner in Atlanta.

[A quick aside: Top Chef is a serious cooking show. Don’t let the fact that it’s a reality show fool you. These chefs have the chops. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.]

I love being a Southerner. I embrace it. And a huge part of my heritage and culture is food. This kind of runs counter to my youth where I bought the groceries a lot of the time and we ate at A&W four nights a week. But I really miss my mom’s green beans fresh from the garden (someone else's).

Lately, I have been exploring the growth of Southern cuisine. Blais is a part of this.

A Southern Fusion movement has been going strong for some time now. The food heritage of the South is about a lot more than butter and lard.

The South has seen an influx of chefs from other parts of the country with diverse backgrounds embracing Southern cooking traditions while incorporating their own unique spin.

His book has some really great recipes worth trying at home. He does love technology and innovative techniques that are probably not practical for most of us, but there’s still a lot of meat on the bone in this book.

You don’t need a sous vide machine to try all of these recipes.

[Aside #2 “Sous vide” is French for “under vacuum” and refers to the process of vacuum-sealing food and cooking it in temperature controlled water bath.]

The ingredients are another story. You will find some strange ingredients. This is not unusual with a restaurant chef. They just aren’t like us. And thank goodness for that! Don’t we eat enough grilled cheeses and rubbery chicken?

I love eating at restaurants, but cooking at home can be a lot of fun. I recommend buying a new cookbook, picking out a handful of recipes, and inviting friends over to try them with you.

Or get married so someone will have to eat with you.

We chose several recipes to try this week.

We started with the Country-Fried Steak with Sausage-Milk Gravy and Arugula Salad.

As we are wont to do in the South — we made this recipe for dinner rather than breakfast. Breakfast tastes even better at night. I dunno why dinner doesn’t have the same flexibility.

We used flank steak. It was a great vehicle for the batter. The sausage gravy was a little thin following the recipe exactly, so we added a little flour as it cooked to thicken it up.

The arugula salad was an unusual addition. It was good, but I wasn’t overwhelmed. I am not sure it brought much to the party for my taste buds. Also, leftover arugula salad sitting in lemon juice is a bad idea.

Overall, this was a country-fried steak worth trying at home.

Next, we tried the Lemon Curd and Black Pepper Roasted Chicken. This dish was a winner. The two biggest components in this recipe is the brine that you soak the chicken in and the lemon curd you make to put under the skin.

When you brine something you soak it in salty water, preferably overnight. The recipe called for Szechuan peppercorns to be a part of the brine, but we couldn’t find them at our local grocer. I would like to make this again with that element to see how a little spice might taste.

We both loved this dish, but we could see how some might find the chicken to be a little too salty (It really all depended upon the part of the chicken; the wing was much saltier than the breast for example). We thought this should be a staple dinner that you make 1–2 times a month. The chicken was moist and flavorful. If I were to nitpick, I’d like to get the skin a little crispier next time.

I want to get all of that meat off the carcass. But butchering is still something I’m getting use to. Don’t be afraid to use the knife and snap some bones.

Buying a whole chicken is affordable and this gives you a lot of meat for many mouths to feed. Lemon and pepper are great partners on any chicken dish.

Our next dinner was the Pan-Seared Spiced Pork Chops with Microwave Applesauce.

These are some serious pork chops. Thick. Double-cut. Bone-in.

These were a little bit of a pain in the ass. They took longer than the time given in the recipe, but I think our chops were bigger.

Don’t be afraid to cook pork! A lot of people are hesitant. They are missing out! And remember, if you were raised on overcooked pork, you don’t have to do that. You may have to cook a little over the recipe time if you buy chops the thickness we did. The chops should come out of the oven at an internal temperature of 145 degrees. After sitting for 10 minutes — they should be above 150 degrees. Safe to eat and not dried out and rubbery.

The spice mixture featured a spice we used for the first time: Star Anise. It’s pretty pungent. Smells like licorice. Did you know Tarragon smells and tastes like licorice? If so, well, good for you.

The chops turned out moist and flavorful. The flavor was pretty mild actually.

The simple applesauce is a great pairing as well. If I wasn’t so lazy — we would have had a side dish as well. Too bad.

However, I would not call this a must-make recipe from the book.

Our last dish for this week will be the Sweet Potato Gnocchi With Kale, Sage, and Balsamic Brown Butter. I have high hopes for this recipe. We haven’t made it yet, but I am very excited to try this.

Overall, this is a book worth exploring. The chicken is worth the price of admission and I expect the gnocchi will be as well.

It seems like with most cookbooks — you are lucky if you hit on 25% of the recipes. That just seems to be the way it works. The more you cook and try — the greater the odds of cooking success.

We have a lot more dishes to try. I would recommend this cookbook, especially if you love the revolution in Southern cooking.

You can buy Richard’s book from Amazon by clicking HERE.

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