Books for Cooks
 Alibi V.17 No.46 • Nov 13-19, 2008 

Books for Cooks

Cooking with Johnny Vee: International Cuisine with a Modern Flair

Recipes for non-masters

Johnny Vee (not to be confused with famed Florida chef Johnny V) has penned his first cookbook. Known in Santa Fe for his food columns in Santa Fean magazine as well as his cooking classes at Las Cosas, Vee—short for Vollertsen—is a man with a big personality. I've sat in on a couple of his classes and have to admit, it's hard to not like the guy. I still laugh when I recall his story about giving Shirley MacLaine diarrhea by overusing truffle oil. With his big laugh and inability to keep food-related gossip to himself, it's no wonder his students keep coming back for more.

Vee focuses on teaching amateurs how to cook without killing themselves, while still impressing their friends. As charmed as I am by Vee, I'm less enthused when it comes to certain aspects of his cooking philosophy. Let me sum it up quickly with a sentence from his chapter on sauces: “There are too many great commercial mayonnaises on the market to warrant making your own.” Wow. You see, that's just not true. Homemade mayo hardly resembles that crap in a jar, and making your own is super easy. I do it all the time. By hand.

I winced at Vee’s numerous shortcuts (Canned beans in cassoulet? WTF?), watered-down palate pandering (dumping orange juice in Marsala sauce) and willingness to cater to fad diets ("Miss MacLaine's Birthday Cake" calls for Splenda in order to be Atkins-friendly). Most people, however, aren't legalistic bastards like me and might very well enjoy his recipes because of these choices.

Some recipes will challenge kitchen newbies, but if you've been a good little Food Network follower, you'll do fine.

The difficulty level runs the gamut from dishes any beginner with a stove can manage to dishes any beginner with a stove and a decent attention span can manage. Vee gives detailed instructions and often offers tips and suggestions to help along the novice cook. He also includes several product recommendations, which give the book a slight sales-pitch feel. All the products he mentions are carried by Las Cosas, the kitchen supply where store he teaches. Some will find this helpful; I found it annoying.

The recipes are divided into chapters like "Shrimply Delicious" and "Fab Fajitas and Sexy Salsas." But a certain cohesiveness tying the recipes together is missing, causing the collection to come off like an “Oprah's Favorite Things” episode. The order is also awkward. Instead of listing recipes in the sequence you'd serve them, Vee categorizes by menu. The book begins with an "Auld Lang Syne" New Year's brunch and ends with "A Dickens Christmas Feast,with chapters in between featuring desserts, salsas and canapés. Cute, but it lacks sense. This organization makes the book’s presentation frustrating and amateurish.

If you buy Cooking with Johnny Vee, expect a decent outcome. The recipes deliver realistic results that certainly trump the efforts of Rachel Ray to bring tasty food to beginner-level cooks. Some recipes will challenge kitchen newbies, but if you've been a good little Food Network follower, you'll do fine.

As for recipes, try the red chile-caramel sauce. Sweet and spicy, it's right on the money. And it goes well with any number of custards and ice creams. "Eggplant adovado" is an interesting yet practical alternative to the traditionally pork-based dish, and it would certainly appeal to vegetarians. For those who are squeamish when it comes to liver, give the apple-and-chicken liver pâté a shot. Apple introduces a sweetness that tempers the rich, meaty liver.

While I wouldn't trade in my copy of the Escoffier for Vee's compilation, I would recommend this cookbook to those who value a quick, fairly impressive meal over authenticity, history and tradition. If you’re out to get oohs and ahhs from friends who don't know a mandolin from, well, a mandolin, then pick up your copy today.

Eggplant Adovado

Red chile is too good to use only with meat. This eggplant version of a classic meat marinade will fool everyone into thinking they are savoring beef or pork--especially if used in a burrito or as a filling for tacos.
Serves 6 as a side dish


3 cups eggplant
3 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup crushed carib chile
2 tablespoons ground mild red chile
2 tablespoons ground hot chile
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon toasted and ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
Juice of 1 lime
2 cups water
Garnishes--grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, cilantro

1) Peel and dice eggplant into 2-inch cubes. Place in colander and allow to drain for 20 minutes

2) Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan; when very hot, fry eggplant until golden brown.

3) Drain eggplant on paper towels.

4) Places chiles, garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, lime juice and water in a blender and blend until smooth.

5) Scatter eggplant in large baking dish and pour chile mixture over it. Stir and allow to marinate for 10 minutes.

6) Cover dish and bake at 400° F for 30 minutes or until sauce has thickened and coated eggplant. Serve with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and sprigs of fresh cilantro.