Off the Eaten Path: Inspired Recipes for Adventurous Cooks
by Bob Blumer
Published by Ballantine
144 pages, 2000
Dude Food: Recipes for the Modern Guy
by Karen Brooks, Gideon Bosker, Reed Darmon
Published by Chronicle
96 pages, 2000
When Dudes Cook
Reviewed by Monica Stark
The whole idea is a little cliché. The sort of hackneyed concept that irritates women and ghettoizes men. It is, after all, a new millennium. Any idea that men can't do much in the kitchen beyond burn water or lose eggs should have been banished long ago.
Kitchen skills are pretty basic. It's simple survival for most of us. If we truly are what we eat, we'd better eat often enough to be: or something very like that. Every night might not produce a tuna soufflé, but -- heck -- man can not live on take out alone. Not in this era of knowledge about hardening arteries, swollen prostates and other nasty stuff that would seem to have as much to do with how and what we eat as anything.
At any rate, this little sojourn into helping poor dysfunctional humans with extra facial hair could have been irritating: had both of these books not been done so exceptionally well. If you've gotta do it, do it with style and humor and both Off the Eaten Path and Dude Food score big points on both counts. And then some. Though it's probably not a coincidence that both books have appeared on store shelves in time for Father's Day.
Bob Blumer is cheerfully known as the Surreal Gourmet, a reasonably talented illustrator who found his niche by plugging his art into his kitchen. Eight years, three books and "300,000 air miles" later, Blumer is a talk show favorite whose latest book, Off the Eaten Path, is entertaining, amusing and more likely to set your creative juices flowing than any salivary ones.
While not obviously or directly marketed at men, Off the Eaten Path is nonetheless a pretty boyish book. I can't, for example, imagine making the "Diced" Fish for a dinner party. Large cubes of "fillet of a firm-fleshed fish" are embedded on each side with whole black peppercorns in the pattern of dice. The fish cubes are then served on a very green Piquant Dill Sauce. Two fish cubes per customer. The result looks very much like a couple of dice on a craps table: but I think maybe that's the idea.
For "Ground" Olives, a citrus tapenade is served on a small garden shovel. I love a good tapenade, but... the idea is that it looks like dirt and, in this particular presentation, it really does. Yum.
A chapter called "Extreme Cuisine" takes a turn for the truly hilarious when Blumer looks at cooking in ways that are a little outside the realm of the everyday. For example:
Poaching fish in the dishwasher is a virtually foolproof way to shock your friends, prepare a succulent meal, and do the dishes -- all at the same time. I've poached salmon in more than a 100 dishwashers on three continents. There's never been a dull party.
Blumer also instructs on how to cook a meal on your car's motor (Six-Cylinder Lemongrass Shrimp, anyone?), cooking with an iron ("easier than pressing a shirt") and, of course, that standard of extreme cooking: the flambé.
Off the Eaten Path is as weird a cookbook as I've seen. It's also well-executed, well thought out and an awful lot of fun.
Dude Food: Recipes for the Modern Guy is -- obviously and unashamedly -- aimed at the testosterone crowd. Or, at the very least, the women who buy gifts for them. Written and illustrated by the same team that created Atomic Cocktails and Patio Daddy-O, it should be noted that the kitsch style that seemed so fresh in those earlier books is beginning to look a little tired. The style is consistent, however, and the graphics created for the book as well as the found images presented throughout are used very well.
Most important in a cookbook, of course: it's a very good collection of recipes and those recipes are designed to ease you through the steps. The food is great and the recipes work: no testosterone required.
There are more cans needed for many of the recipes in Dude Food than I'm used to seeing in cookbooks: a nod, I suppose, to the presumably kitchen-impaired male. Working moms, however, might appreciate some of the concoctions in the "Mr. Mom" chapter as well as anyone, though I'm still not sure about the can of tomato soup, can of tomato sauce and 12 ounces of Velveeta cheese required, along with some other stuff, for Mama Bob's Baked Spaghetti. Other recipes -- and in truth, many of the ones included -- call for more home engineering. The High-rollin' Pasta with Lobster Sauce is an inspired creation with all fresh ingredients and very few steps. And the Princely Pears in Port would put an elegant finish on any meal.
Not to be outdone, Dude Food also includes a recipe that requires the use of the dishwasher: Jammin' Dishwasher Salmon.
So, why bother with the big clanker? Because it's fun. Your guests will marvel at your engineering skills and sense of humor. Gather for cocktails around the machine, and explain the concept to the tune of the sloshing.
No soap required. | May 2000
Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.