Thrills and Grills: Summer Cooking

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
When the gas grills are flowing and charcoal is glowing and we’ve got cold beers!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Seriously. Summer is my jam. Well, actually autumn is my jam because the temperatures don’t get all high and mighty. But I’ll take summer for all the wonderful tastes and smells it has to offer. I’ve called you here today to tell you about the wonderful new books that are going to help you have the best barbecue on the block. So stock up on wet wipes and read on!

Let’s jump right in and talk about how to cook your meat so perfectly it makes people drool before, during, and even after eating. While these first two titles might seem silly, I promise you the authors and publishers are quite serious about their barbecue. The South’s Best Butts by Matt Moore has over 150 tried and true recipes from some of the best barbecue joints in the South. Divided by restaurant, you’ll find meaty recipes throughout the first half of the book. While this does mean it’s laid out more creatively than a traditional cookbook that might place all the pork recipes together, for example, it also means you get to read about each restaurant which will make creating your barbecue road trip itinerary a snap. (Yes. I dream of taking a vacation where my husband and I do nothing but drive from one barbecue restaurant to the next as we wind our way around the country. Tell me this doesn’t sound like a rad idea!) For those looking for side dishes there’s a wide selection in the back part of the book. The genius recipes are those that incorporate the meat from the front part of the book, meaning you have ready-made ideas for any leftovers that didn’t already get gobbled up the day you cooked.

My personal favorite new barbecue cookbook however is Praise the Lard by Mike and Amy Mills. I admit I’m totally biased towards this book because both the Mills family and I hail from Southern Illinois (618 for life!) where you can find good barbecue all around you. Pork steaks, burnt ends, and ribs as far as the eye can see. Sorry. I went somewhere just then in my mind. I think I went to barbecue heaven, which can actually be found in Praise the Lard. But all of my dreams can be a reality by following the recipes on pages 101, 116, and 88, 92, 107 respectively. I got a little antsy with the church-themed chapter titles and wordplay, but it’s also representative of Southern Illinois and so I gave it grace and moved onward. In addition to intricate smoking and grilling recipes for meat, you can also find recipes for everything from sauces and seasonings to drinks and side dishes. They even show you how to cook the whole hog so you can make your dreams of a luau a reality at your next family reunion or block party.

Side note: if you know how to become a barbecue photographer please get in touch with me. Asking for a friend.

When it comes to summer drinking there’s nothing I want less than a heavy alcoholic drink. Think about it: we’re standing out in the heat, maybe even burning in direct sunlight. Aside from a nice cold beer or hard cider fresh from the cooler, what really hits the spot are low-alcoholic icy cold cocktails. Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz by Kat Odell will become your go-to beverage bible all summer long. Perfect for mixology beginners like me, Day Drinking explains all the perplexing-sounding techniques like muddling and dry shaking and builds confidence by reminding us that many recipes can — and should — be improvised. Included in the book are recipes for various flavored syrups you can make at home, making it super-easy to switch out ingredients and make your own bespoke cocktail. None of the drinks actually require a specific glass or container, meaning those red Solo cups that have become a staple at parties everywhere can hold your sorta-fancy low-booze beverage just as well as it holds beer fresh from the keg. That said, I must note that I’m drawn to visually interesting drinks like The Regent’s Royale that’s served in a hollowed-out pineapple, which is a bit of work but also means I get to eat a bunch of pineapple!

So there you have it. With just a couple of library books and a little bit of planning you can rock the best summer barbecue on the block. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to wipe the drool off my chin before my boss sees me.

Tackling Mixology

Summer is fast approaching, and the social calendar is already filling up. One of the things my husband and I enjoy most is hosting groups of friends at our place for dinners and parties. When we host get-togethers, I always gravitate towards the kitchen, while Dan plays mixologist. There’s something about mixing cocktails that has always spooked me by seeming a bit too precise. In order to get over this fear, I decided to hunt down some accessible books on how to make the perfect drink for the perfect party. Here’s my short list:

Cover image of DIY CocktailsDIY Cocktails: a Simple Guide to Creating your Own Signature Drink by Marcia Simmons and Jonas Halpren. This is one recipe book where it’s in your best interest to start at the beginning and read on through. I tend to pick up cookbooks and dive right into the middle, skipping all the intro materials, but the beginning of this book is extremely helpful in explaining the nature of cocktail recipes, the tools and measurements used, and how you can improvise. From there, the authors provide you with recipes for many classic and obscure drinks, as well as creative ways to personalize them to make them your own. This appeals to me because I tend to ‘riff’ on the dishes I like according to what I happen to have in the kitchen at the time; this book allows you to do the same with your liquor cabinet.

Cover image for The Punch BowlThe Punch Bowl: 75 Recipes Spanning Four Centuries of Wanton Revelry by Dan Searing. I was first attracted to this title because punch seems to work well when entertaining large groups of people. Upon closer inspection, I found that this book was actually 2 parts alcohol, 1 part history: a perfect ratio for a historian hostess. Early sections of this book are devoted to the history of punch, how old recipes are modernized, and information about antique punch-serving equipment. Liberally sprinkled through the book are lovely photos of punch bowls, service sets, goblets, and well-garnished drinks. The recipes themselves are a mix of very accessible drinks with common ingredients and impossible beverages with ingredient lists that seem unlikely to be filled unless you live in a major city or have a lot of time on your hands. I guess that’s understandable when you take into account the fact that the author includes beverages that were en vogue hundreds of years ago. Thankfully the former outweighs the latter and makes this book a worthwhile read.

Cover image for Cocktails for a CrowdCocktails for a Crowd by Kara Newman. This is essentially the light version of The Punch Bowl. Most of the cocktails listed in this book are designed to be served in pitchers or bowls to make life easier for hosts. Absent are the random obscure ingredients, unless they are simple items that you could make at home to enhance your recipe. In the front part of the book there is ample information about preparing garnishes, as well as infused bitters and syrups. This seems like an excellent pick for beginner mixologists who aren’t in the mood for a history lesson.

Cover image for Beer CocktailsBeer Cocktails by Howard and Ashley Stelzer. For those of you who haven’t been introduced to the world of beer cocktails, this a game-changer for casual get-togethers. The recipes in this book are a far cry from the beermosas and makeshift micheladas my friends and I would whip together using car camping ingredients on groggy Sunday mornings. Beer Cocktails is helpfully arranged by style of beer, so that you can start your experimenting with beers that already appeal to you.

Happy mixing – enjoy responsibly!