Cookbooks are a dime a dozen these days; you can walk into any Barnes & Noble and find 100 cookbooks on the same topic. Most of them have recipes with more ingredients than King Henry had wives, and are so involved the average working person ends up wanting to behead themselves.
In his new cookbook “Fresh,” Tyler Florence breaks the mold set forth by the ghosts of cookbooks past, making sophisticated home cooking accessible. The book is written in terms that everyone can understand. Not only does the cookbook break each recipe down into easy-to-follow processes, but it is organized into sections by ingredient rather than course.
Each section has recipes that feature a “hero ingredient,” a fresh ingredient that quite literally takes “chicken or the egg?” approach. “Fresh,” says Florence, “is full of simple ways to transform healthy ingredients into absolute showstoppers.” He turns everyday things like chicken into a symphony of vibrant flavors using only a few ingredients. If you don’t like something in the recipe Tyler encourages you to play around with it and make it your own. This is the first cookbook I’ve seen that encourages you to be creative and use passion as an ingredient. It takes cooking out of black and white and into full color!
Naturally, the first thing I did was try a recipe. Like Tyler, I cook with heart instead of measurements. For me cooking is an art. I have always been a firm believer that food tastes better if you start from the ground up. Yes it may be hard work, but going the extra mile to make your own pasta dough or tomato sauce makes a world of difference. Trust me it isn’t as daunting as it seems. If little Old Italian Ladies can do it then so can you! Think of it as a conversation with your mother-in-law; it may be long and slightly drawn out, but the end is so much sweeter! Personally, I would grow my own wheat and grind it if I could.
However, being in short supply of wheat and mills, I decided to try a recipe with an ingredient I had never experienced before. The name of the recipe alone was delicious, “Smoky Roasted Chicken and Citrus Salsa.” Not only did it give me the chance to try the chicken farm down the street from my house, but I was also intrigued by the idea of smoked olive oil. So, I boldly went where every man has gone when he needs a hard to find ingredient, Williams Sonoma. Olive Oil in hand, I began my Chicken excursion. Tyler uses a method not usually associated with chicken roasting to lock in the juices, searing. This not only expedited the cooking process, but gave the skin a crispy texture that popped in your mouth.
From start to finish the recipe only took about 40 minutes to prep and pop in the oven. I put the assembled dish in front of my family, including my 85 and 82 year old traditional meat-and-potato-loving grandparents. We devoured the platter in less time than it took to make. The crunch of the skin provided the perfect complement to the luscious chicken that melted in your mouth. You could taste a faint aroma of wood smoke from the olive oil permeating through the chicken, giving it a more robust flavor. Tyler was absolutely right when he described the olive oil as “sexy.”
When you added the citrus salsa, it provided a bright note that cut through the fat just enough to balance the dish. The tang of the grapefruit, the bitterness of the lime, and the sweetness of the orange worked in harmony with the chicken. The perfect ending to this well composed overture was a pinch of sea salt that tied everything together. The finished product was the one most delicious chicken dishes I have ever eaten.
While the dish tasted complex, making it was very easy. The recipe had less than 10 ingredients, and the hardest part was cutting the chicken in half. Whether you are getting your feet wet or an experienced chef this recipe will delight and surprise you!
Finally, I would like to add that meeting Tyler Florence was an absolute pleasure. His passion for food is evident in his writing and even more so when talks about cooking. I am honored to have met someone who has been an inspiration to me. His cookbook “Fresh,” on shelves now will give anyone a new perspective on home cooking.
Christine Van Arsdalen is a born and raised Jersey Girl; native to central and Costal NJ. As the author of the blog the Dexterous Diner, Christine chronicles her efforts as she indulges her foodie side on her very small budget which she likes to call “champagne dining on a beer budget”. She grew up being yelled at by an old Italian woman in the kitchen who was surprisingly not her mother. Her love of food grew from a combination of cooking in a restaurant and fond memories of creating scrumptious meals from scratch with her father. Today she travels around the state of New Jersey and beyond searching for new twists on her old favorites; foods that bring you back to your childhood in a modern and sophisticated way. She loves unexpected and creative combinations, both in the food she eats and cooks. Though her palate has become more refined, she is still excited by a grilled cheese sandwich; that, and a great cup of coffee.