SOME OF MY FAVORITE STEVEN RAICHLEN COOKBOOKS are never far from reach although I have to admit, a lot of my cookbooks are grouped by categories (vegetarian, meat, chicken & poultry, appetizers, Barbeque cookery, and a large collection of foreign cookbooks) so it presents a bit of a challenge when I want to revisit a cookbook author and have to start searching all over the house to find the books he/she has written. I was able to go right to The Barbecue Bible (1998)—because all the barbecue books are together on one shelf–but I’m going to have to start a dedicated search tomorrow morning.
The truth is, I have cookbooks on all the walls in three bedrooms, half of the walls in the living room and maybe half of the library space in the garage library that Bob created for me before he was felled by cancer. One of my ambitions is to convert a larger section of the garage library into favorite cookbook authors. They have outgrown the wall in a spare bedroom. My problem with favorite cookbook authors is that – when I find one I like – I am not satisfied to simply read what they have written – I want to own the books as well. My collection starts out with Ida Bailey Allen (A) and works its way to Myra Waldo – and I have written about these favorite authors on my blog (I LOVE YOU IDA BAILEY ALLEN, WHERE EVER YOU ARE, and WHERE’S WALDO?) The challenge comes from searching for the books written by favorite authors and trying to discover little known facts about their lives – as in Myra Waldo, who disappeared from the public eye after writing dozens of terrific cookbooks–and only in the past few years was I able to learn the rest of Myra Waldo’s story. Sometimes learning “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey would say, is as fascinating as the search itself.
All this being said, what I actually wanted to do today is share Steven Raichlen’s HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT APPETIZERS—because who doesn’t love a good appetizer?
Raichlen, who was born in Nagoya, Japan, grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. He got a degree in French literature from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and won a Watson Fellowship which enabled him to move to Paris to study medieval cooking in Europe. (I’m perplexed that he has never published anything – as did Lorna Sass – about medieval European cooking).
At any rate, Raichlen attended Barbecue University*, designed a line of grilling accessories and ended up on Chappaquiddick Island where his most recent achievement is the publication of a book of fiction, titled “Island Apart”—which is what Chappaquiddick means in the Wampanoag language.
*As for Barbecue University—I wondered—is there really such a place? This was a “gotchal, for sure. Raichlen is the founder of “Barbecue University”, which offers three-day intensive courses on live fire cooking at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs.
But before Chappaquiddick, Raichlen moved to Miami—where he found the time to get married, father two children and write a slew of cookbooks.
But getting back to Raichlen’s series of “HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT” cookbooks—HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT APPETIZERS was published in 1997 by Viking, a division of Penguin, USA, Cookbooks. (I have four of the series, which I reviewed in the late 1990s for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange). All of the books contain photographs by Greg Schneider, a man who raised food photography to a high art—any one of his illustrations would look beautiful, matted and framed and hanging on a dining room wall.
Steven Raichlen has won five James Beard awards for his cookbooks. High-Flavor, Low-Fat Cooking won the 1993 award for Best Light and Healthy Cookbook, and his follow-up, High-Flavor, Low-Fat Vegetarian Cooking, won the 1996 award for Best Vegetarian Cookbook. In 1999, Healthy Latin Cooking won the award for Healthy Focus. He also earned the 2001 JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION/KITCHENAID BOOK AWARD FOR HEALTHY JEWISH COOKING. More recently his 780-page book, BBQ USA, won the 2004 award for Tools and Techniques.
In 2003, Bon Appetit named Raichlen “Cooking Teacher of the Year,” the same year that The Barbecue Bible, based on his four years of research while traveling 150,000 miles through 25 countries on five continents, won an IACP Julia Child Award. (I imagine Raichlen has enough cookbook awards to paper all the walls of his home office).
All this being said, let’s take a look at Steven Raichlen’s HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT APPETIZERS since, as we all know, appetizers, or hors d’oeuvres come first. (I am always reminded, when I speak of hors d’oeuvres, of a young man who rented a guest house from us years ago, and called them Horses’ ovaries.)
I have to confess, though, that I am a sucker for cookbooks on appetizers. After years of throwing parties and spending days—nay, weeks –poring over cookbooks, digging through recipe boxes, planning and shopping and preparing food, then making myself a wild woman with the logistics of trying to cook everything with only one stove and four burners—and serve it all hot (or in some cases, chilled). Well, not too many years ago, I made a happy discovery that parties planned entirely around appetizers work extremely well.
“The appetizers of today,” explains Mr. Raichlen, “are high in flavor, low in fat, and International in inspiration. Nutrition-minded eaters are discovering a bold new world of flavors—quesadillas from Mexico, Bruschette from Italy, Sates from Southeast Asia…”
“For that matter,” says Raichlen, “our whole attitude towards finger fare has changed. Once considered an adjunct to a meal, appetizers are more and more becoming a meal in themselves. Call it grazing—or Tapas or Dim Sum…”
Raichlen writes that it’s his favorite way of eating. Mine, too. It’s also my favorite way of serving guests.
Mr. Raichlen says that this book was inspired in part by a friend, Miami journalist Jane Wooldridge. He describes her as “An avid party giver, gracious hostess, and enthusiastic supporter of the High-Flavor, Low-Fat philosophy”. For several years, Jane urged him to write a High-Flavor, Low-Fat appetizer book and he says it was a good reason—that while most of us have adopted a healthier low-fat diet for our everyday meals, too often we subject our family and friends to a fat assault when we entertain.
Raichlen provides us with a variety of techniques for trimming the fat from party fare. He says that readers of his previous High-Flavor, Low-Fat books will recognize many of the techniques he uses in this book to create bold flavors with little or no fat. One is a generous use of herbs and spices to replace the richness once achieved with animal fats. Another is the use of chicken or vegetable stock instead of oil or butter to create moist, creamy dips and spreads.
There are other techniques that can be used in preparing High-Flavor, Low-Fat party fare. Raichlen suggests yogurt cheese and low and no-fat cottage cheese and cream cheese for making dairy based dips and spreads. If your fat budget allows it, he suggests using the low-fat product. It has much more flavor than the no-fat version—but he is quick to add that nonfat dairy products can produce some very fine food, too. For a richer, creamier texture, Raichlen advises we drain the yogurt or cottage cheese in a yogurt strainer (or a cheesecloth lined strainer) before using. Yogurt can be drained in as little as 4 hours, but the resulting yogurt cheese will be firmer and drier if you start the previous night.
Raichlen notes that egg whites have the same jelling and leavening properties as whole eggs, without the fat of the yolk (and egg white products are available everywhere now). He uses them in a variety of dishes, from fillings to custards. Egg whites are the active ingredient in such egg substitutes as Egg Beaters. I consider myself a purist so you might be surprised to find recipes in this book that call for egg substitutes. The reason is simple: egg substitutes are more than 95% egg whites, and there’s no appreciable difference in taste.
Everyone loves crisp finger food at cocktail parties—but not the fat associated with deep frying. While working on this book, Raichlen discovered that wonton skins and ravioli wrappers could be baked instead of deep-fried. The result is a crackling-crisp crust with very little fat. And Asian wrappers are a lot quicker and easier to use than filo dough. Raichlen calls this method of cooking “oven frying.”
He also says that garlic, spices and chili peppers are a great way to achieve flavor without fat. He says he has a rather high tolerance for intense flavors and chili hellfire and has tried to suggest a range of this ingredient for people who may have more timid palates. Raichlen suggests you start with the minimum quantity of these flavorings and add more as needed.
He provides some general observations on party planning, and writes that “the French term hors d’oeuvre literally means “outside the main work.” “But there’s no reason to dismiss this,” Raichlen writes, “the most diverse branch of cooking, as secondary or unessential. Although great hors d’oeuvres can’t guarantee a great party, it’s harder to have one without them. Besides, interesting party fare certainly gives people something to talk about…”
Something else I learned early on, about a cocktail, or hors d’oeuvre-themed party—whenever someone asks “what can I bring?” (As many guests do), you can respond with “your favorite appetizer” – or if the anticipated guest says he or she doesn’t know how to make any appetizers – then I suggest a bottle of their favorite wine. (Bob and I invariably ended up, after one of these parties, with more bottles of wine than we knew what to do with). But we had a bar in the den and our closest friends were always happy to become bartenders for the party.
Raichlen suggests choosing dishes that can be prepared ahead of time and served at room temperature—or those that can be cooked or warmed at the last minute (while Bob had volunteers tending bar in the den, I always had a couple of girlfriends donning aprons and helping to keep the dining room table amply supplied), Raichlen notes that your place as host is with your guests, not in the kitchen—and with an appetizer party, you will be able to do this.
Raichlen also suggests keeping the menu as interesting as the conversation; balance hot and cold, soft and crunchy, Eastern & Western. “Whether you plan to serve 4 items or 14,” he writes, “offer a variety of flavors, textures and temperatures.” He likes to balance hot offerings, like dumplings and quesadillas, with cold ones, like dips based on yogurt or sour cream. He notes that soft creamy spreads make a nice contrast to crunchy pastries and vegetable sticks.
He also writes “When it comes to planning a party spread, remember that good things come in small packages. Small means bite-size hors d’oeuvres that can be popped into the mouth without interrupting the conversation. “For the convenience of your guests and the cleanliness of your carpets, make sure that passed fare can be consumed in one or two bites. Otherwise, provide plates and cutlery. (We always kept sturdy paper plates on hand with the array of appetizers laid out on the dining room table). When we ran out of one kind of hors d’oeuvre, one of my kitchen helpers quickly replaced it with a fresh array from the oven or – for contrast – something chilled.
HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT APPETIZERS starts out with dips, Chips, and Vegetable Sticks which includes a recipe for a New Guacamole and Savannah Salsa – the latter made with cooked black eyed peas. Salsa recipes, you must surely have noticed, have branched out far and wide over the past couple of decades. Raichlen provides a recipe for Mango Salsa and another for Three-Tomato Salsa.
Vegetable sticks with dry dips includes a recipe for Cajun Dip and another for Greek Dip. Another sure-to-be-a-favorite is a recipe for Shanghai Dip, as well as a Provencal Dip (some of these recipes can be made up well in advance. I save all small glass jars and bottles to mix ingredients for recipes such as these, put them into small jars and label them. Spreads for Breads includes a Fig Tapenade and Sun-Dried Tomato Tartar, Roasted-Vegetable “Caviar” (made with eggplant) and Spicy Walnut Spread served with Pumpernickel Toast Points.
Wraps and Rolls feature Santa Fe “Sushi”, Crab Quesadilla, Scallion Blintzes and Buttermilk Crepes while under Dumplings and Pastries you will find Empanadas (Hispanic Meat Pies) and Samosas (Indian Spiced Potato Turnovers)—and one of my favorites Seafood Pot Stickers with Honey Soy Dipping Sauce. These are a few of the many recipes sure to whet not only your appetite, but that of your cocktail guests as well.
And here’s the part that will really catch your attention. HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT APPETIZERS is available on Amazon.com, new, $2.02, collectible 99c, or pre-owned, starting at one cent. (Remember that Amazon.com will charge you $3.99 for shipping and handling when you purchase a book from a private vendor—still, where else will you find something this great for four dollars?
OTHER COOKBOOKS WRITTEN BY STEVEN RAICHLEN:
STEVEN RAICHLEN HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT COOKING 1992
MIAMI SPICE 1993
THE CARIBBEAN PANTRY COOKBOOK WITH MARTIN JACOBS, 1995
HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT CHICKEN, 1996
HIGH-FLAVOR, LOW-FAT PASTA, 1996
HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT VEGETARIAN COOKING 1997
HIGH-FLAVOR, LOW-FAT COOKING EASEL COOKBOOK 1996
HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT DESSERTS, 1997
HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT ITALIAN FOOD COOKBOOK 1997
THE BARBECUE BIBLE, (Julia Child Cookbook Awards Winner) 1998
STRONG WOMEN STAY SLIM, WITH MIRIAM NELSON & SARAH WERNICK 1999
HIGH-FLAVOR LOW-FAT MEXICAN COOKING 1999
BBQ BIBLE SAUCES, RUBS & MARINADES 2000
STEVEN RAICHLEN’S HEALTHY LATIN COOKING WITH HANNIA CAMPOS & CRISTINA SARALEGUI, 2000
HOW TO GRILL 2001
BEER CAN CHICKEN 2002
BBQ USA 2003
STEVEN RAICHLEN BIG FLAVOR COOKBOOK 2003
INDOOR GRILLING 2004
BBQ BIBLE 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY 2008
THE HADASSAH JEWISH HOLIDAY COOKBOOK (with co-authors) 2008
PLANET BARBECUE 2010
BOLD AND HEALTHY FLAVORS, 2011
BEST RIBS EVER 2012
RAICHLEN ON RIBS, RIBS, OUTRAGEOUS RIBS, 2012
This list is undoubtedly incomplete because every time I think I have the entire collection listed, I find a reference to yet another. I didn’t include “Island Apart” because it isn’t a cookbook. You may want to read it anyway!
–Review by Sandra Lee Smith