Bobby Flay didn't always rub me the right way - especially during his appearances on "The Next Food Network Star." He was arrogant, abrasive even. But when I caught a few episodes of "Throwdown," in which he goes head-to-head with chefs who have staked their claim as the best at making iconic dishes or desserts, he was humble, generous.
His companion book, "Bobby Flay's Throwdown" (Clarkson Potter) gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at how the cooking challenges went down, lists both recipes, and declares the winner. I'll admit it's a hodge podge of recipes with no apparent theme and I didn't really know where to start.
But when I review I book, I have to try at least three recipes, so I buckled down and chose a few. You'll find my quick and dirty reviews below, but keep reading to get excerpts of other recipes thanks to the good people at Random House Canada.
Quick and dirty review of recipes I tried:
Lee Bros. Country Captain Chicken: I'm not exaggerating when I say this is the best thing I have eaten in several months. For those of you who don't know what this is, it's a chicken-stew type dish that comes to us from the American south and incorporates curry, raisins, almonds. Sounds odd - right? It's phenomenal. You can find the recipe here. I was cursing when I was making myself through this recipe because there were so many steps, and I vowed to make it never again. But that all changed when I tried it. It gets better the longer it sits, so I ate it for nearly a week with basmati rice. And then I made it again the following week.
Bobby Flay's pumpkin pie with cinnamon crunch and bourbon-maple whipped cream: I've said all I have to say on this topic in a previous post you can read here.
Bobby Flay's spaghetti and meatballs: This was really disappointing, the flavour just wasn't there for me. My sister-in-law's recipe makes for much more flavourful meatballs (which I am not going to share, sorry). The tomato sauce masked the flavour, and my husband told me these meatballs were pretty good, but even he does a better job when he makes meatballs. Meh.
So - should you buy this cookbook? Personally I would wait for the softcover to come out, as many of these recipes are available on the Food Network website but it's an entertaining read. What's most interesting for an amateur like me, is that the simpler, classic versions of recipes often beat out Flay's versions. And there's a good lesson to be learned there. If you are a Food Network fan, and there's a good chance you are if you are on this blog, you'll like reading about the behind-the-scenes gossip.
Here are some recipes for you to try out before you commit:
Unsalted butter, for the baking dish
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1-inch-thick) slice pancetta, cut into small dice
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups whole milk, or more if needed, hot
4 large egg yolks, lightly whisked
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) freshly grated Asiago cheese, plus more for the top
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) shredded Irish white cheddar, plus more for the top
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) American cheddar, such as Goot Essa Mountain Valley, plus more for the top
1 cup (4 ounces) grated aged fontina cheese, plus more for the top
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for the top
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked just under al dente
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 10 × 10 × 2-inch baking dish and set it aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.
3. Add the garlic to the fat in the pan and cook until light golden brown, 1 minute. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk, raise the heat to high, and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the eggs until incorporated and let cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the thyme, cayenne, and all the different cheeses until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture appears too thick, add additional warm milk, 1/4 cup at a time.
4. Put the cooked macaroni in a large bowl, add the cheese sauce, reserved pancetta, and the parsley, and stir until combined. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
5. Combine the additional 1/4 cup each fontina, cheddar, Asiago, and Parmesan in a bowl, and sprinkle evenly over the top. Bake until the dish is heated through and the top is a light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Bobby Flay’s Shellfish Gumbo
Serves 6 to 8
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 celery stalks, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups Shrimp Stock (recipe follows), or more if needed, hot
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for deep-frying the okra
11/2 cups yellow cornmeal
8 ounces okra, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 pound large (21- to 24-count) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
18 shucked oysters
6 ounces jumbo lump crabmeat
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 green onions (green and pale green parts), thinly sliced
1. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Gradually whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook the roux, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it’s a light caramel color, 5 to 7 minutes. Then stir in all the vegetables and the garlic, and cook until the mixture begins to turn a deep chocolate color, about 5 minutes.
2. Whisk the 4 cups hot stock into the roux mixture, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add more stock if the mixture is too thick. Season with the honey and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Meanwhile, heat 2 inches of canola oil in a deep sauté pan over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Put the cornmeal in a shallow baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Season the okra with salt and pepper, and toss it in the cornmeal. Fry the okra, in batches, in the hot oil until golden brown, 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and season with salt.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan over high heat until almost smoking. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add half of the shrimp to the pan and cook until just pink on both sides, about 2 minutes. Set aside on a plate. Repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and shrimp.
5. Add the shrimp, oysters, and crabmeat to the sauce and simmer until the oysters are plump and cooked through, about 1 minute. Divide the seafood among 6 to 8 shallow bowls, ladle in some of the sauce, and garnish with the fried okra, chopped parsley, and green onions.
Shrimp Stock Ingredients:
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 cups raw shrimp shells and tails
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 medium tomato, chopped, or 1/2 cup chopped canned plum tomatoes
1 bay leaf
8 black peppercorns
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat until almost smoking. Add the shrimp shells and tails, onion, carrot, and celery, and sauté, stirring, for 5 minutes.
Add the wine and boil until reduced by half. Add 8 cups cold water, the tomato, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Reduce the heat to medium, cover partially, and simmer for 40 minutes. Strain the stock through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl.
Makes 12 cupcakes
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup finely packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons molasses
Caramelized Mango Buttercream Ingredients:
2 cups (4 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened but still cool, cut into small pieces
3 ripe mangos, coarsely chopped
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup finely diced candied ginger, for garnish
1. To make the cupcakes, combine the granulated sugar, fresh ginger, and 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the sugar has melted and the mixture thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let infuse for 30 minutes. Then strain the ginger syrup before using.
2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners and spray the liners with cooking spray.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves into a medium bowl.
4. Whisk the melted butter, oil, brown sugar, eggs, and molasses together in a large bowl.
Add the dry ingredients and stir until the batter is smooth.
5. Fill each paper liner with 1⁄3 cup of the batter, to come about 1/4 -inch below the top of the liner. Bake just until the tops feel firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush the tops liberally with the ginger syrup. Let sit in the pan for 5 minutes before removing. Let cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
6. To make the frosting, heat the 2 tablespoons butter in large saute pan over high heat. Add the mangos and cook until caramelized and soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and process until smooth. Pass the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard the solids.
7. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks on high speed until creamy and pale yellow, about 5 minutes.
8. Spray a heatproof measuring cup with cooking spray. Combine the sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan and bring to a full rolling boil over medium-high heat. Cook without stirring until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 238° to 242°F on a candy thermometer. Immediately pour it into the measuring cup to halt the cooking.
9. Add a small amount of the syrup to the beaten egg yolks, turn the mixer on to high speed, and beat for about 5 seconds. Continue stopping the mixer, adding syrup, and beating in the same manner until all of the syrup is incorporated. Beat the mixture until it is completely cool.
10. Add the remaining 2 cups butter, a few pieces at a time, beating until incorporated before adding the next pieces. When all of the butter has been blended in, add the vanilla and the mango puree and beat until combined.
11. Frost the top of each cupcake liberally with the buttercream, and garnish with the candied ginger.
Excerpted from Bobby Flay's Throwdown! by Bobby Flay Copyright © 2010 by Bobby Flay. Photographs Copyright © 2010 by Ben Fink. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.