Book review: Jack Allen’s Kitchen

jack allen's kitchen book cover

Right from the start of the book, the author sets a clear intention. He has a shared respect those, like himself, who make their living off of the land. He is keenly aware of the importance of creating meaningful connections with local farmers and purveyors. ‘On Saturday mornings, you’ll find me at the farmers market …I know the farmers and they know me …they take care of us and we take care of them.’  

Jack Allen’s Kitchen: Celebrating the Tastes of Texas includes 150 well-tested recipes using the produce and bounty of Central Texas. Coming in at just over 4.5lbs, this tome of a book pays homage to all four seasons with each section listing cocktails, appetizers, sides, dressings, entrees and desserts that make the most of that season’s harvest. The ingredients, measurements, cuts and preparations for each recipe are spelled out in an easy-to-follow fashion.

Mr. Allen’s book offers several familiar southern dishes as well as new takes on old southern classics. The Grilled Gulf Shrimp Salad with Greens, Strawberries and Watermelon plays with putting spicy and sweet components together to see how they complement each other. The Crunchy Fried Shrimp omits the tartar sauce and instead uses blackberries as a sweet and tart accent.

Chief among the book’s highlights are its vivid photographs . This is an art book disguised as a cookbook that is at once lavish yet highly accessible. The pictures are a masterclass in food photography, so clear and with detail so stunningly beautiful they jump off the page and beg to be eaten.

The book is peppered with tips and tricks. I learned, for instance, to soak eggs in salt or vinegar water in order to make them easier to peel; leftover grits can be cubed and fried in a skillet as grilled cakes; and, that spinach is delicious and crunchy when deep fried and dusted with parmesan and cornmeal.

Throughout the book, Mr. Allen introduces the reader to the farmers and purveyors of Central Texas that have helped him throughout the years, telling their stories through engaging profiles. Amador Farms produces a healthy tasting hydroponic lettuce that uses 10 percent of the water needed to grow the same plants in the ground. The folks at Quality Seafood provide Mr. Allen with ruby red trout from Idaho and salmon from all over the word. Lightsey Farms is his go-to purveyor of fruit, from peaches, figs, and pomegranates to apricots, plums and nectarines.

At the close of each summer, Mr. Allen and his son Bryce collaborate to hold a Farmers Appreciation Lunch. A family-style buffet is served after the farmers have packed up from the markets around Austin. It’s an occasion, Mr. Allen writes, ‘to serve them and to savour the summer’s best ingredients.’ They do it for a simple reason. They believe in taking care of the people who take care of them.

Its not an overstatement to say that Jack Allen is grateful. Family, friends, business partners, staff, clients, farmers and spirit makers have profoundly impacted his life. With this book, Mr. Allen does a fine job of showing how much goes into all of his recipes. Although the cover bears his name, Jack Allen’s Kitchen is a true collaboration and a personal ode to everyone in his world.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen: Celebrating the Tastes of Texas is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.


 

BEET TOSTADAS

Courtesy of Chef Jack Gilmore, Jack Allen’s Kitchen

We served this at an event for Edible Austin magazine one year. It is like a chicken chalupa but with beets. We roasted golden beets, chopped them up, and put them in this nice marinade. Then we blended goat cheese with a little olive oil, cream cheese, balsamic vinegar and some crunchy basil seeds and made a smear. We put that on a cracker with the beets, some arugula and a little chile oil, and people went crazy for it. It’s the perfect appetizer for fall, and I guarantee you won’t be able to stop with just one.

Makes 12-16

Ingredients

  • 4-5 golden beets
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup sherry vinegar, good quality
  1. In covered pot, cook whole beets in salted water until fork-tender, approximately 40 minutes. Drain, and let rest 10 minutes.
  2. Peel (should peel easily), slice into bite-size pieces, and place in glass bowl.
  3. In pan on stovetop, roast seeds until aromatic, 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Grind with salt to fine in coffee grinder, and add to beets.
  5. Add oil and vinegar to beets, mix well to marinate, and set aside.


Hummus

Ingredients

  • 16-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup goat cheese
  • 3-5 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
  • 1 ½ tablespoons tahini
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup jarred roasted red bell pepper or pimiento, drained
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ to 1 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • your favorite tostadas
  • balsamic vinegar, to drizzle
  • fresh basil, arugula or microgreens
  • crumbled goat cheese, for garnish
  1. For hummus, blend beans and next 6 ingredients in food processor until smooth.
  2. Slowly drizzle oil into hummus while blending on low for 1 to 2 minutes, until thoroughly mixed and smooth, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. To compose, spread hummus on tostadas, top with beets, drizzle with vinegar and garnish with greens. And you can’t go wrong with more goat cheese crumbles.

 

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