May 27, 2012

Review: John Besh's My Family Table

* This week's See Ya In the Gumbo Potluck can be found here*

This is the part of the story I remind myself of when The Husband really ticks me off.

Just before Christmas, The Husband arranged for me to attend a cooking demo and book signing with Chef John Besh.  He gave me a copy of My Family Table and even managed to get us first in line at the event.  I've posted about this before.

What I haven't mentioned is the underbelly.

The fat, juicy part.

I thoroughly enjoyed the cooking demo.  The book signing followed.  This is where the day spirals out of control.

As my family and I stood at the table where John Besh sat, The Husband told him the following:
"She loves watching your show (Chef John Besh's New Orleans.)  And I love watching her watch your show."

Besh replied with a quizzical look.

"She yells at the TV the entire time you're cooking.  It's great."
(I can't take him anywhere.)

Besh then turned to me and asked, "Why?  Do I do something wrong?"

I was too horribly embarrassed to respond.  What I would like Chef Besh to know is this:
Absolutely no disrespect, but all the fancy chefification of traditional recipes makes me yell.  (Ahem...a certain Redfish Courtbouillon recipe.)  Not because you've done anything wrong.  It's because you haven't done it like Mama.

And I think Besh is enough of a good Southern boy to know that it's Mama's way.  Or no way.

Oh, but the shame does not end here.

Even if The Husband had kept his trap closed, I still would have managed to prove that I'm a total nut job.  All by myself.

During his demo, Besh talked about traveling to Acadiana on one of the most sacred days of the year--opening day of duck season.  So, I thanked him for missing opening day and coming to Cajun country instead.  This little exchange occurred as he signed my book.

In my defense, from where I stood, the writing was upside down.  Plus the Italian Wedding Soup we sampled and I promptly sloshed on my pants was starting to leave a stain.  (I can't be taken anywhere.)

After he signed, I nodded my head, gave a thumbs up, and said, "all right!"  I noticed a furrowed brow.  But this is also about the same time that someone was blabbing about my TV yelling habit.

When we got in the car, I asked the Husband if he had read what John Besh wrote.  He said he had.
"Cool, huh?"
"Yeah.  Cool.   Wait.  What?  What do you think he wrote?"

"Many cold beers at your family table."

How this really reads
To Michelle: May God Bless Your Family Table

In my defense, we had been talking about duck hunting.  And beer goes with that, right?
(I really, really can't be taken anywhere.)

And now that you know all that...

My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking is not loaded with many beers.  It is loaded with recipes, tips, and tricks designed to bring families together for a real meal at a real dinner table.  Eleven chapters of goodness for families to share.

The idea behind My Family Table is to get families eating together...eating real food together.  Several of the recipes utilized leftovers.  Many are handy and adaptable.  And many are simple/straightforward, making it easier and more inviting for busy families to spend some time in the kitchen.

The book begins with Besh asking families to give up the "mass-produced this and that" and cook "real food."

Chapter 1: Kitchen Focus -- Contains recipes such as Risotto Almost Anything, Curried Anything, and Warm Any Fruit Crumble.  Use what you have style.  I like that.  Chapter 1 also contains a section titled, "The Essential Pantry."  While thrilled that Besh includes my favorite--Creole Mustard--in his list of essentials, in general this type of list isn't for me.  My feeling is this: you know what you and your family like.  You also probably have a pretty good idea of what you need to whip up a fast meal to satisfy your family.  Other people's lists of must-have pantry items don't do a lot for me.

Chapter 2: Sunday Supper -- Roasted meats and family-style sides are featured here.

Besh's side dishes are beautiful, often showcasing food right out of his garden.  Dishes like String Beans with Garlic look (and taste) wonderful on a plate.

They are uncomplicated; you don't have to spend a lot of effort fussing over them.  Making family dinners more approachable.
Rosemary & Garlic Roast Potatoes.

Olive-Oil Roasted Cauliflower can be made for Sunday Supper.  The leftovers can be used for the Cauliflower Mac & Cheese found in Chapter 4: School Nights.

Chapter 3: Dinner From a Cast Iron Pot -- Some of the dishes in My Family Table, like Ginger Poached Trout with Citrus Vinaigrette, surprised me since I'm used to Besh doing the New Orleans/Southern thing.  I would be pretty disappointed in him if he didn't give a shout out to his roots.  This chapter is one of the places where he does that.  Jambalaya, Chicken Fricassee, Stewed Duck, Slow-cooked Venison, and Stuffed Bell Peppers cooked in cast iron pots are things I grew up eating.

Chapter 4: School Nights -- Includes a funny and eye-opening story about Besh commenting (negatively) on what his wife fed the children on busy school nights.  (In what universe is this ever a good idea?)  School Nights is based on solving the problem of getting nutritious "real food" on the table while dealing with the after-school crazy-craze.  Besh's solutions are like the Cauliflower Mac & Cheese above.  Cook when you have the time and cook a lot of it. Morph it during the week.

Asian Chicken Salad is one of the Besh Family weeknight favorites.  We liked it too.

Chapter 5: Breakfast with My Boys -- Starts with a simple sentence, "I smell breakfast in my mind."  This is as far through the book as I'll take you.  Because this is where I stopped.  To smell the proverbial roses.

As Garfield would say, I don't do mornings.  So it's beyond me why I gravitated towards the Breakfast With My Boys chapter.  But dishes like Lou's Special are forces that pulled me in.

Dark side kinda forces.

Of all the recipes I've tried from My Family Table this has been my favorite.
It is humble.  It is simple.  It is bacon.  Stale bread.  Eggs.  A deconstructed breakfast sandwich that allows the bread to be thoroughly coated with bacon flavor.

The southern staple, Angel Biscuits, did not disappoint.  I loved the folds of dough.  They were mighty fine with homemade fig preserves.

I used to spend a lot of summers with my grandparents.  Just about every morning grandpa would make drop biscuits and coffee.  That was a great scent to wake up to.  Of course, I had to try Besh's drop biscuits with their crispy little points on top.  The difference: these weren't Bisquick.

Brown butter and I are BFFs.  Did you know?

Besh's Brown Butter and Vanilla Waffles (converted into pancakes) and topped with pecans and maple syrup were yet another breakfast winner.  While I hoped the brown butter would have been more pronounced, The Boy thought these were fantastic and wanted them again the following day.
I know.  Sucky picture.  Told you I don't do mornings.
(Although I think this was supper one night.)

The remaining chapters include
Chapter 6: How to Cook a Fish.  Ginger Poached Trout w/ Citrus Vinaigrette and Potato Chip Crusted Drum w/ Sambal Mayo are stand-outs for me.

Chapter 7: Fried Chicken & Other Classics.  Fried Eggplant Salad is on my list as soon as I start picking eggplant.

Chapter 8: BBQ Wisdom.  Grilled Avocado & Tomato Salad, anyone?

Chapter 9: Jazz Brunch.  Roasted Pear Salad, Blue Crab & Sausage Stew, Crab Stuffed Avocados, Sugar Snap Pea Salad w/ Pecans...great chapter.

Chapter 10: Goose for the Holidays is full of fall and winter foods like Creamy Lentil Soup and Mulled Cider

Chapter 11: Drew Makes a Cake (and Other Desserts) is a nice mix of classics like Creme Brûlée, Southern favs like cobbler and Lemon Ice Box Pie, and sophistication like Bananas Flambé and Black Forest Cupcakes.

My Family Table is a large book, packed with a hefty mix of recipes.  There is sure to be something for everyone.  Many somethings.  The photographs and stories only cement the fact that Besh is a genuine down-to-Earth guy.  Even if he does throw everything that swims in his redfish courtbouillon.


Besh's Our Italian Wedding Soup has a few Southern surprises.  Like greens and black-eyed peas.

At the cooking demo, Besh added raw rice to his meatball mixture, channeling our beloved boudin.  Since I had some cooked rice sitting in the fridge, I decided to serve the soup over some of the rice.

The Ultimate Soup Recipe List ~ Linky Party

Linking this with Carole's Chatter where there is a great round up of "Your Favorite Cookbooks."

Printer friendly

Our Italian Wedding Soup

slightly adapted from My Family Table by John Besh

1 pound ground pork
salt, pepper, and garlic powder
1 spoonful of bacon drippings
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 quarts chicken broth
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 big handful mustard or turnip greens (I used spinach)
1 tsp dried oregano
3 cups cooked black-eyed peas
salt and pepper to taste
cooked rice for serving

Season the ground pork with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Wet hands and roll into meat balls.  Heat bacon drippings in a large pot over medium heat.  Sear meatballs quickly in bacon fat so they are well-browned.  Add onions, bell pepper, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  Cook until vegetables are softened and meatballs are done.

Add chicken broth, tomatoes, greens, and oregano and bring to a boil.  Add the black-eyed peas and cook until the soup is hot.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Place a spoon of rice in each of six bowls.  Divide the meatballs among the bowls, then ladle in the soup.  Serve with cornbread.


  1. What a fantastic version of Italian Wedding Soup! That sounds delicious!

  2. Great review. Thanks for linking it in. Cheers


Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your comments.