A generation or so ago, women were clamoring to get out of their home kitchens. Now, men are working to get in. And not just any guys, mind you, but some of the top male chefs, restaurateurs and TV cooking stars -- the men who’ve made their money and reputations toiling at big, bad restaurant stoves.
Tyler Florence, the Food Network veteran and restaurateur based in Mill Valley, Calif., led the trend with the release in 2010 of “Tyler Florence Family Meal: Bring People Together Never Tasted Better.” Five of his chef peers have followed suit in recent months with their own takes on at-home cooking, from a down-home celebration of family by Louisiana’s John Besh to the techno-wizardry of England’s Heston Blumenthal to television superstar Mario Batali dishing up rustic Italian.
Here’s a summary of some of these newer books to judge what chefs can teach us about home cooking.
(with Amanda Haas)
“Cooking in Everyday English:The ABC’s of Great Flavor at Home”
(Oxmoor House, $29.95)
Promise: “With my help, you will become fearless in the kitchen.”
Fine print: Beginners may be a bit scared of “Todd’s pantry” list: 26 dry spices, 44 dry goods (including 7 vinegars, 3 salts, 3 chocolates and 1 cocoa powder); 6 refrigerated items; 5 frozen items.
Take-away points: Knowing how to salt correctly really matters; use A.C.G. -- anchovies, capers, garlic -- to boost flavors; hone flavor combinations to make dishes shine.
Recipes: 150 recipes. Beautiful full-color photos of finished dishes plus shots of the key flavor ingredients for each dish. Short list of ingredients; simple instructions.
Try it: Zucchini pancakes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes per batch
Makes: 4 servings
From “Cooking in Everyday English:The ABC’s of Great Flavor at Home”
3/4 cup flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ to 3/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups finely shredded, drained zucchini
1. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and olive oil in a separate bowl; stir in zucchini. Add zucchini mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.
2. In batches, pour about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake onto a hot, lightly greased griddle or large nonstick skillet. Cook pancakes until tops are covered with bubbles, and edges look dry and cooked, 4-5 minutes; turn and cook other side. Transfer pancakes to a warm plate, spreading each with butter. Top with Greek yogurt, basil pesto or roasted tomatoes, if you like.
Per serving: 259 calories, 15 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 211 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein, 730 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.
“Molto Batali: Simple Family Meals From My Home to Yours”
Promise: “We surrender to nature and love the seasons’ changes, much more than we attempt to conquer and challenge them.”
Fine print: Batali follows the calendar cooking Italian. Good in-depth glossary of ingredients but words like “trenette,” “ribollita,” “umido” and “cartoccio” crop up often without translation. Authentic? Si. Understandable to the average cook? Non sempre (not always).
Take-away points: Eat less protein, more vegetables and grains. While each chapter offers enough for a celebratory blowout meal for up to 12 people, you can pare down the menu. Recipes can be halved or quartered. Flexibility counts in the kitchen.
Recipes: 120 recipes. Each chapter features a main dish, pastas, veggies and desserts. Ingredients and directions accessible to most; vivid photography of the finished dishes in a home-style setting.
Try it: Neapolitan-style broccoli
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Makes: 8 to 10 servings
From “Molto Batali: Simple Family Meals From My Home to Yours”
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped in 1/4-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, thinly-sliced
2 ½ pounds broccoli cut into 2-inch spears, stems peeled and cut in 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1. Combine oil and onion in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Cook over medium heat until the onions are softened, not browned. Add garlic; cook, 1 minute. Add broccoli; stir to coat with onion mixture. Cook over high heat, stirring so that the mixture does not scorch, 8 minutes. If it gets too hot, add cool water, 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, to slow it down.
2. When broccoli is tender, add red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; stir well. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Per serving (for 10 servings): 71 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 165 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten (with Genevieve Ko)
“Home Cooking With Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes”
(Clarkson Potter, $40)
Promise: “Relaxing with my family is just about the best thing that’s happened to my cooking in a long time. I hope you’ll feel the same way cooking from this book.”
Fine print: The dishes Vongerichten cooks at his country home are “decidedly simple and unfussy.” Still, dinner gets its due with “large platters of foods meant to he shared.” Doable recipes but remember, quality is key to simplicity.
Take-away points: Home-cooked meals require the same “intricate balance of flavors and textures” as restaurant meals. A number of recipes have intriguing Asian touches.
Recipes: 100 recipes, clearly written, with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Try it: Crab toasts with sriracha mayonnaise
Prep: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
4 slices sourdough bread
3 tablespoons sriracha mayonnaise, see recipe
8 ounces picked lump crabmeat, drained, patted dry
Crushed red chili flakes
Toast bread until golden brown; cut each slice into 2-inch pieces. Gently fold sriracha mayonnaise into crabmeat until well mixed. Spoon mixture into a serving bowl; garnish with chili flakes. Serve with lemon wedges and toasts.
Per serving: 326 calories, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 74 mg cholesterol, 37 g carbohydrates, 21 g protein, 699 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
Sriracha mayonnaise: Whisk together 1 egg yolk, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, ½ teaspoon kosher salt until well blended. While whisking, pour in 3/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil in a slow, steady stream to emulsify the mixture. Whisk in 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 teaspoons sriracha hot sauce until well blended. Alternately, blend ingredients in a blender until emulsifed. Refrigerate up to 2 days. Makes 1 cup
Note: Use pasteurized eggs if you are concerned about the slight risk of salmonella being present in raw eggs. Sriracha is a Thai hot sauce; look for it among Asian ingredients in the supermarket or in Asian groceries; you may sub another hot sauce, but be careful about the heat level and about adding too much acid from vinegar-based sauces.
“My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking”
(Andrews McMeel, $35)
Promise: Spending time away from home on various projects made Besh realize that he should “focus instead on spreading the message of cooking and eating with family and friends. That’s why I am writing this book.”
Fine print: Dishes are comforting, classic -- all designed to get you into the kitchen. Opening chapter features dishes you can make with whatever proteins or veggies you have on hand. Smart idea. Recipes larded with charming family photographs and anecdotes.
Take away points: Cook with the best ingredients. Plan ahead; stock your kitchen so you’re ready for almost anything. Flavor needn’t be sacrificed for simplicity.
Recipes: 140 recipes grouped into various scenarios, from “Sunday Supper” to a “Jazz Brunch” to quick suppers for “School Nights.” Southern dishes are sprinkled throughout.
Try it: Curried anything (Eggplant and chicken curry)
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
From “My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking”
2 tablespoons butter
1 eggplant, unpeeled, diced
1 piece (2 inches long) fresh ginger, peeled, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder, see note
1 summer squash, diced
1 potato, peeled, diced
1 can (13 ½ ounces) coconut milk
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon sambal chili paste
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 cups cooked rice
1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over high heat; add eggplant. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger, green onions and garlic. Sprinkle with the curry powder; toast for a moment. Add the squash and potatoes, stirring to coat them with the spices.
2. Continue to stir for a few minutes; add the coconut milk, broth and chili paste. Heat to a gentle boil; reduce heat. Simmer, 15 minutes. Add the chicken; cook until warmed through. Season with the salt and pepper to taste; serve over rice.
Note: Madras is a hotter style of curry powder. You may use any curry powder here.
Per serving: 305 calories, 14 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 26 mg cholesterol, 34 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 250 mg sodium, 4 g fiber