I had high hopes here. I actually coveted this book. In recent months (maybe even a year) I have seriously curtailed my cookbook buying. Space constraints in the Hut, plus finding that I have too many cookbooks that I only use for one recipe, have left a bad taste in my mouth. Epicurious and foodie mags are my BFFs.
But, the Lee Bros. book I wanted. I would sit in a Borders or a Barnes and lovingly turn its pages, thinking, okay -- one day, I will buy the book. And so I did. And it sat around awhile because I haven't been cooking too much lately.
And then I see the Lee Bros. on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" and was completely turned off. Pretentious and effeminate, they are the antithesis of Tony -- and I felt he even got a bit foppish with them, drinking Champagne and eating oysters on a South Carolina beach... yeah, that's how all South Carolinians picnic. Or posing around Charleston in tuxedos. For self-professed "low-country" boys, this seemed way to high-brow for me.
Anyway, the book still called to me so I set out a-cooking. Of course, I had to make Boiled Peanuts. I also made "A New Crab Dip," "Pork Chops with Vidalia Onions and Pears," "Grits with Blue Cheese," and "Sweet Potato Pie." With the exception of the Boiled Peanuts (and really, how do you screw that up?) everything was a disappointment.
The Boiled Peanuts are really irresistible but I refuse to credit the Bros. for it. It's like every other "recipe" out there: boil some peanuts in salted water. Well, duh. I love them -- can't stop eating them. I love to stick a whole shell in my mouth, slightly bite down to break the shell and let all of the briny water squirt into my mouth. Typing that just now caused me to salivate. Oh lordy, they are good.
The crab dip was built up to be a revelation: "a relief" from the gloppy hot crab dips of potlucks past. It wasn't. I used good crab, fresh tarragon, good quality mayonnaise -- and it was really underwhelming. I was angry I paid so much for the crab meat -- what a waste.
The Pork Chops with Vidalia Onions and Pears were another so-so dish. It was easy enough to throw together, but the flavors were bland. The grits were also bland, but I find them bland no matter who makes them. I'd rather go with polenta -- I like the texture better and I would add more blue cheese. All in all, it was okay, but I am sick of okay. I want a plate that just makes me go "Wow" like the Barefoot Contessa does for me.
My first problem: the Bros. have you steam diced sweet potato. What a missed flavor opportunity there. Why not roast them? Why not boil them in orange juice? Anything other than steaming them. Sheesh.
Then, there is too much lemon juice added. Two tablespoons is just too much. It made the pie acidic.
They called for 1/2 cup of sugar. Again, another missed opportunity. Why not brown sugar or molasses or something with some depth? Even honey? I don't know. Maybe they were going for something completely different than the traditional -- but sometimes traditional flavors are traditional for a reason... cuz they taste good. They claimed this pie was their crowd-pleaser. I have to wonder who in the hell they are cooking for, because when I eat a sweet potato pie, I have certain expectations and this didn't meet one of them.
The result was a bland, tart, pie with little going for it. No depth, no richness. Just blandville.
I will not deny that the book is a work of art. It is truly beautiful, and the boys with their stories make it folksy enough that it can be a transporting experience. But I think this is where people are getting off course. I read reviews of this book and everyone described how beautiful the book was and how great the recipes "sounded" -- but does anyone actually cook a recipe to see if it works or tastes good? I never read, "Oh you must try the blah blah blah... it's a keeper!" Not once.
The Lee Bros. Southern Cooking is fine as a coffee table book -- but cooking from it? It doesn't live up to the hype.