Anyone who has watched an episode or two of Chopped on Food Network is surely familiar with Ted Allen, equal parts serious, witty, and funny, and of course, ever-so-slightly intimidating. Nobody wants to be the subject of his sharp-tongued critiques; after all, it's hard to predict what he's going to say.
It may be slightly surprising then, that his second cookbook, In My Kitchen (Clarkson Potter, $35), is approachable and even inviting. It's aimed at anyone who loves to cook; in the introduction, Allen laments how so many books these days seem to be aimed at "getting you out of the kitchen as quickly as possible." Instead, he asks "How about a cookbook for people who are into the kitchen?" This sounds like a heartfelt plea from a passionate cook. So perhaps the whole "serious judge" persona is just that — a persona.
And Allen is the man you want walking you through the sort of recipes that are weekend projects, making things like baguettes, Chinese-esque pork buns, and cassoulet seem doable (and even fun).
Still, Allen's wit and humor is evident throughout the book, even in the recipes, such as in the Whole Striped Bass Baked in Salt Crust Recipe in which he advises readers to "consider the tenderness of your guests' sensibilities when deciding" whether to hide the head in salt or not.
And many of the book's 100 recipes come with helpful tips that home cooks may not know about — for example, did you know that when pickling garlic, simmering it in water first will keep it from turning blue-green when it sits in vinegar? Pretty neat stuff.
Because the recipes are for pretty basic things with a bit of a twist, that also means there's not a terrible amount of explaining to do — which is nice, because while we sometimes want somewhat encyclopedic tomes full of educational information on root vegetables, sauces, and pie-making, sometimes, it's also nice just to have a cookbook that's mostly occupied by recipes (and pretty pictures). Plus, it makes for a thinner book, which is just what you need when all you want to do is jump in and cook without doing a whole lot of reading.
Tired of store-bought? Maybe it's time to give your supermarket bakery a rest (which is often not very good anyway).
Why do the French get so many things right when it comes to food? Add this basic side dish to your weekly repertoire and never look back.
If you think this will just turn out to be really salty fish, think again. The salt crust keeps the interior moist and the skin keeps the meat from absorbing too much salt.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.