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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go On A Diet….

October 31, 2005

It’s cookbook testing time, again.

Last week I started a new diet. This week I started the recipe-testing phase for a new cookbook. Testing recipes and watching calories go together like the New Orleans Saints and the Super Bowl, never the twain shall meet.

Last spring I signed a three-book deal with Hyperion books in New York. In addition to the Hyperion contract, Wyatt Waters, the noted watercolorist, and I are publishing another book, “Southern Seasons,” which will be released next fall. Over the next 18 months I will have conceptualized, developed, written, and recipe-tested three new cookbooks, and re-released another cookbook in the backlog. Sure, that’s a lot of writing, but mostly that’s a lot of eating.

Recipe testing for cookbooks is a blast. In the heat of the development phase, four to six recipes are created and tested every day. The finished recipes are tasted, critiqued, and rated. The next day, changes are made to the written recipes, and the process starts all over again until the final products are the perfect result of what was envisioned at the recipe’s conception. Sometimes one specific recipe can be prepared and tested every day for two weeks until the final recipe has been perfected. Occasionally, we nail it on the first try.

The three deciding factors of a winning recipe are: First and foremost, does it taste good. Secondly, can it be easily replicated at home with everyday ingredients found at the local grocery store. And finally, does it fit the theme of the book. The savvy reader will notice that the terms low-fat, low-carb, and low-calorie are not listed anywhere in the preceding sentence.

Recipe testing is fun, but it wreaks havoc on a diet.

Actually, I am writing this column in between bites of Lamb Kabobs with Mediterranean Spice Rub and Raspberry-Mint Dipping Sauce; Cheddar-Rice Crackers; Corn, Crab, and Avocado Dip; Mushroom-Stuffed Pastry Purses; Smoked Beef Tenderloin with Chive and Tarragon Sauce, and Horseradish Mustard; and Chicken and Andouille Empanadas. Note: It is 6:24 a.m. and these items make for an unusual breakfast.

I have 30 pounds to lose and three book deadlines to meet in the next 10 months— January 15th, April 15th, and September 1st. Seeing as none of the books are diet manuals and that most of my recipes are NOT developed with health-conscious calorie counters in mind, I am going to have to develop a system. I don’t yet know what that system is going to be, but, unfortunately, a gym and a treadmill will probably be major components in the final plan.

And in case you were wondering, the Lamb Kabobs were nailed on the first try although the sauce is a little too sweet. The Cheddar-Rice Crackers need more cheddar. The Corn, Crab, and Avocado dip needs something; I’m just not quite sure what that something is. Maybe sour cream. The Smoked Beef Tenderloin is perfect, but I have doubts that it can be easily replicated at home. The Mushroom-Stuffed Pastry Purses had been in the freezer for two days to see if they could be made in advance, frozen, and then baked. They can be. And the Chicken and Andouille Empanadas might need a name change.

Gotta go, the treadmill is calling.

Cheddar-Rice Crackers (Second Revision)

1 cup Butter, softened
2 cups All Purpose Flour
2 cups Rice Krispies
1 /2 lb Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 /2 tsp Dehydrated Onion (Onion Flakes)
1 /2 tsp Hot Sauce
1 /4 tsp Creole Seasoning
1 /4 tsp Salt
1 /8 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine all ingredients on slow speed using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer until a small ball forms. Do not over mix. Form into small 1 /2 ounce balls and place on an un-greased cookie sheet. Using a fork, press down dough in a crisscross pattern. Bake for 20 minutes.

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