Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. I was not required to leave a positive review. This post contains affiliate links.
I have never reviewed a cookbook before now and was a little nervous at first. I mean, I know how to review fiction. I go on about the plot, about the characters, or about the setting of the book. But, with a cookbook, the food is the main point. I am not going to cook every recipe in the book to tell you if it is good or not. Besides, everyone has different tastes in food. So how do I tell you if it is good or not?
So I decided that instead trying to tell you about what food I like from the book, I am going to focus on several parts of this cookbook and tell you about them. The pictures, the writing style, and if the recipes are easy enough to make along with the variety of recipes will be what I tell you about. Then you can make your own decision on whether or not this book is for you. I will have my opinions showing through, as I cannot help that. Several of the recipes really jumped out at me and they are the ones that I will name. They are not all there is to this book. There are so many recipes in this book that it would take way too long to go over all of them. Not only the recipes stood out though, the photography did as well. Let me tell you a little about the book Down South by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe.
First, let me tell you about the photography in this book. I really enjoyed the photos in this cookbook. They are more than just snapshots of the food. There are people and places as well as wonderful pictures of ingredients and food. Flipping through this book, the pictures draw you in. You will see people smiling and laughing. You will see happy people holding sandwiches as well as frogs and crabs. You will see people eating and talking and cooking. You will see families sitting down to enjoy a good meal together. You will see life happening. I find this rare for a cookbook and it makes this one of my favorites to just leaf through, looking for a recipe or inspiration. The photos of the food itself makes me want to cook everything at once. It all looks so tasty.
Next, let me tell you about the variety of recipes in Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything. The title of this book should give you a hint that it covers just about everything you might look for in a southern recipe cookbook. Are you looking for a good cocktail recipe? Maybe one that involves a Cinnamon Simple Syrup or a little bit of Cherry Bounce? You'll find a good variety of cocktails as well as how to make the different syrups they call for. With names like Deer Stand and Copperhead, Louisiana Hayride or Herbsaint, you know they gotta be good!
Then there are the cocktail party recipes like Spicy Roasted Peanuts, Crab Louis with Toast Points, and Cajun-Spiced Soda Crackers, to name just a few. Some of them really make my mouth water just reading the recipe, like the Parmesan Bacon Gougeres. Don't know what Gougeres are? Don't feel bad. I didn't either. They are cheese puffs! Parmesan and bacon cheese puffs? Yes, please! These are on my list of recipes that I must make soon from this book.
The next section of the book is entitled Cook it Outside. It has a wonderful assortment of recipes like Grilled Chicken on a Stick with Alabama White Barbecue Sauce, Grilled Boneless Lamb Saddle, and Smoked Duck with Aromatic Spices. Don't those just sound yummy! There are so many recipes already in this book that I want to make and we aren't even to page 90 yet! There are several amazing sections to go.
I was going to spare you my telling you what all caught my eye in each section, but I can't help myself. Here are just a few of what I found in the next sections of Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything that sound enticing:
Crispy Pork Cutlets with Brown Butter, Lemon, and Olives is in the Roast, Braise, Simmer, and Fry section along with Braised and Crispy Goat with Yogurt Sauce, Cucumbers, and Mint. Now, I've never eaten goat before, but the recipe makes me very tempted to try it. Rich Pork and Cornmeal Tamales, Monday Red Beans and Rice, Spaghetti with Pork Jowls and Fried eggs are a few of the recipes found in the Heads, Feet, Necks, and Bones section. In Seafood from the Gulf and South Atlantic you'll find, among others, the recipes for Crawfish and Spring Onion Gratin, Smoked Mullet Dip, Scallop Crudo with Tomatoes, Lemon and Basil, and a Butter and Olive Oil-Poached Tuna with Kumquats and Chiles. In the Fresh Seasonal Southern Sides, the recipes range from Carrot Raisin Salad to Marinated Eggplant with Chile Flakes and Mint, from Cauliflower and Gruyere Gratin to Ham Hocks and Crowder Peas. I'm not sure what Crowder Peas are, but I'm willing to try them out after seeing this photo of this dish!
And we can't forget the section titled Southern-Style Sweets! There are too many mouth-watering recipes to narrow it down to which ones I want to make the most. Salted Caramel Peanut Brittle Ice Cream, McGaws' Extra-Bittersweet Chocolate Chunk Monster Cookies, Spiced Apple Pecan Bread, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with Candied Spicy Peanuts are but a few of the tempting recipes in this section that make me want to break my diet and just eat my way through the list. I can't leave out the Banana Pudding with Moonshine Whipped Cream. Can you imagine it? I would never have thought to add moonshine or bourbon to my banana pudding!
The recipes start on page 16 of this book and end on 248. That is 232 pages of delightful pictures, recipes, temptations, and inspiration. Then there is the introduction and little sections of facts and thoughts by the author. This leads me into the writing style of the book. I really enjoyed reading through this book. It is so much more than just a recipe book. Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything gives you a glimpse into the author's life. He has anecdotes, tips and tricks, and so much more interspersed throughout this book. He has a way of making even dishes I thought I would never try, like Herbsaint Headcheese which is made with the head of a pig and takes a week to make, sound tempting. I don't know that I will ever try to make this recipe, but I have actually found myself considering it on several occasions since reading through this book.
Finally, how clearly are the recipes written? Are they confusing and lengthy? Are they easy enough for beginner cooks to read through and prepare?
I feel that the recipes are well written and easy to understand. I feel that anyone could pick up this cookbook and prepare the dishes that are in it. While some look like they would be complex and perhaps difficult to prepare, (Braised and Crispy Goat with Yogurt Sauce, Cucumbers, and Mint perhaps?) each recipe is laid out simply and describes plainly how to prepare the dish. I feel like I could run out and buy the ingredients and have a great tasting southern dish set out on the table in no time by using this cookbook.
Do I even need to give you my rating on this book after all this gushing and endless praise? I would give this a five star rating for both the contents and the look of the book. It's laid out well, has a great variety of dishes, wonderful photography, and has a personal feel to it due to the author's writing style. I have a feeling that I will be trying out many of the recipes in this book, even though southern cooking isn't exactly my normal always dieting, calorie conscience type of foods.
DONALD LINK is the chef-owner of Herbsaint, Cochon, Cochon Butcher, Pêche, and Calcasieu in New Orleans. He won the James Beard award for Best Chef South in 2007 and his first book, Real Cajun, won the James Beard award for Best American Cookbook.
PAULA DISBROWE is the author of Cowgirl Cuisine and co-author of Real Cajun and Susan Spicer’s Crescent City Cooking. She lives in Austin, TX.