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Entertain Like a Texas Gentleman

This cookbook was reviewed by David and Karen of Twenty-Fingered Cooking.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I opened up the package from the Daring Kitchen crew to find the stars-and-stripes-and-beer-studded cover of Entertain Like a Texas Gentleman by David Harap staring back at me. Full disclosure: I am not from Texas. I do not want to be from Texas. And, while I do try to generally be nice and respectful of people, being called a “gentleman” just makes me feel old. So, in short, I’m definitely not this book’s target audience.

That being said, however, I can’t argue with good food, and to use a bit of Texas slang I just found on the internet, the food in this cookbook is larrupin’! Harap’s recipes look and taste out of this world. He has a knack for taking ingredients that you can’t possibly picture being on the same plate together, and making the most scrumptiously delicious meal out of them that you can imagine.

First, a bit on the overall organization and design of the cookbook. Each chapter is designed as a full-course meal or spread of food for all occasions, from the “Scotch Tasting Affair” with the guys, to a long, detailed “Romantic Dinner” with the woman of your dreams. Each chapter includes a bit of advice for the meal at the beginning, and gives you lots of space at the end of the chapter to scribble down your own notes on the meal. The back of the book gives complete shopping lists for every chapter, so you can just cut them out and run to the store.

Much of the narrative in the book is straightforward, albeit quite amusing at times (the best way to get a woman to spend the night with you? A clean bathroom). Harap offers a lot of advice on how to prepare good food, what kitchen supplies you’ll need, and general hygiene, though most of this is geared towards people who have done little cooking or entertaining. You’ll find little new here if you’re an old hand in the kitchen.

Where the book really shines, however, is its recipe selection. Many, but not all, of the recipes in the book have a distinctly Tex-Mex feel to them, as you might expect. We made five different recipes from the book, and each one was phenomenal (be warned, however – healthy, this book is not! A vast majority of the recipes have either hunks of red meat, lots of butter, or heavy cream in them. There are some vegetarian recipes, but most are not)

• Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Watermelon Salsa
• Ginger Scones with Peach Bellini Jam
• White Chocolate Spice Cookies
• Walnut, Arugula, and Blue Cheese Crostini
• Chili-Rubbed Beef Tenderloin Sliders with Cilantro-Lime Mayo

I’ll briefly talk about each of these recipes below:

Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Watermelon Salsa: This was the first recipe from the book we made. We read the recipe and said… “Goat cheese? In tortillas? With watermelon? Really?” Then we decided we needed something to eat for lunch, so drove up to the store and got the ingredients. I’ll kill the suspense: this recipe is brilliant. The watermelon salsa is the perfect complement to the goat cheese, and the entire dish leaves you clamoring for more. Plus, it just looks so darned pretty when you stick it on a plate (and it’s easy to make, to boot).

Ginger Scones with Peach Bellini Jam: This was another recipe that sounded weird until we made it. The ginger in the scones is very subtle – not overpowering like some ginger recipes can be. And if you’ve never made homemade jam before, I recommend you start with this one. It’s fantastic; not too sweet, and complements the scones very nicely. Definitely worth your while to give this one a shot.

White Chocolate Spice Cookies: This is a bit more of a traditional recipe – nothing too out of the ordinary, but delicious, nonetheless. The cookies really ought to be called shortbread, as they are pretty buttery, and relatively dry. The white chocolate glaze over the top helps give the cookies needed moisture, though. These are pretty rich, and look really fancy!

Walnut, Arugula, and Blue Cheese Crostini: It’s a little-known secret that honey and blue cheese on top of French bread is a match made in heaven. This recipe extends that by throwing in walnuts and arugula (though really, spinach or other greens would work just as well and be a little cheaper), to make a really nice hors d’oeuvre, midnight snack, or lunch side. Be careful not to overcook the crostini, or you’ll end up with croutons.

Chili-Rubbed Beef Tenderloins with Cilantro-Lime Mayo: This was probably the least favorite of the dishes that we made, though it was still very good. Partly, this was our own fault, as the meat was overcooked, and we didn’t have any mayonnaise, so we tried to improvise. But I just didn’t feel that the flavor contrast in this recipe was as strong as in some of the other recipes we made. There was nothing particularly bad about it, I was just… expecting more.

All in all, this cookbook was a resounding success, despite my somewhat dubious first reaction. I can personally attest to the fact that you don’t need to be from Texas or a gentleman to benefit from having this cookbook on your shelf. And to top it all off, it makes for a great conversation starter.

-D, from Twenty-Fingered Cooking

Verdict: Buy, unless you’re vegetarian or vegan.