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Review: "Dave's Dinners"
Monday, January 29, 2007 | posted by Mike

Congratulations to Dona from Dallas, our winner in the Dave's Dinners Cookbook Giveaway! Thanks again to everyone who sent in an entry for our contest. We wish all of you good luck on the next giveaway (there will be another in a few weeks for a different cookbook...stay tuned). Of course, if you didn't win, there's always the link on the left to Amazon.com, where you can order it through the TVFF.com Store (more about that a little later).

The themes and attitude behind Dave's Dinners are very similar to the approach that author Dave Liberman brings to his television show, Good Deal with Dave Lieberman. On the show, Lieberman brings his personal chef know-how and adds to it a budget and time consciousness that will appeal to younger audiences who want to entertain but who have limited funds and a tight schedule. Lieberman includes recipes for dishes that will be crowd-pleasers (or couple pleasers) and he does it with ingredients and techniques that are more basic than what you would see in other books. However, don't think that there aren't some good, aggressive and interesting flavors involved.

The recipes in Dave's Dinners span an entire evening's worth of entertaining (from drinks to desert) and come literally from around the world. You'll find a meatloaf recipe, but there is also tikka masala in there, so it will work for you whether your tastes are "comfort food" or "world cuisine."

The book is broken down into eight sections: Drinks and Finger Foods, Salads, Soups, Poultry, Fish, Pasta, Meat and Desserts. The most unique section is the first, which includes a number of syrups (rosemary, ginger, lemongrass, etc.) which can be used in mixed drinks, including the ones provided in the book. Party food and appetizers, including our favorite: Mini Moroccan Lamb Burgers with Lemon Yogurt Sauce (see my photo on the right and the recipe at the end of this post). My version used a baguette rather than the brioche indicated in the recipe (not by choice...the usually reliable Wegman's was out). As Lieberman explains in the intro to the recipe, lamb "is one of the greatest bargains out there because the meat is so flavorful and juicy." He's right about that, and I have a greater appreciation for ground lamb because of this recipe. The additions of ground cumin, cinnamon and coriander (grind it yourself if you can!) brought a wonderfully vibrant flavor to the burgers. The yogurt sauce provided a nice cooling contrast and lent it a authentic Mediterranean flavor. I'd happily serve them at a gathering, and I absolutely plan on making the burgers again (maybe stuffed in a pita with some lettuce, red onion and tomato).

Lieberman assumes that the reader has a limited set of skills and always warns when a specialized piece of equipment is needed. For example, he gives a description of how to put together a make-shift double boiler for the pasta that we tried, Creamy Lemon Almond Linguine. The dish was a nice variation on an egg-based dish like carbonara, with the pungency of the lemon substituting for the pork. One quibble...as someone who goes very authentic with my carbonara (see Mario Batali's recipe...no pre-cooking of the eggs at all), the sauce turned out just a little too "custardy" for my liking. I fixed it with a bit of the pasta cooking water.

The book's attention to details when it came to techniques was at times strong and at other times a bit lacking. With the Roasted Chorizo and Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken Over Rosemary Black Beans, Lieberman warns you to "protect the chorizo and tomatoes from drying out too much by tucking them underneath the chicken." As we found out, this is valuable advice, as the sun-dried tomatoes that weren't under the chicken came out of the oven looking something like a charcoal briquette. The Carrot Mash Cake with Cream Cheese Icing that Mrs. TVFF.com made, however, didn't include any icing instructions, which would have been nice.

Dave's Dinners is squarely aimed at introducing novice chefs to a wide variety of flavors. It captures Lieberman's youthful exuberance by presenting dishes that provide interesting tastes without scaring off someone who might not feel comfortable diving into some of the more complex, specialized cookbooks out there. The photography provides enticing images and Lieberman's introductions get you excited and eager to get in the kitchen.

Mini Moroccan Lamb Burgers with Lemon Yogurt Sauce

I like making mini versions of things as finger foods. No exception here. I think ground lamb is one of the greatest bargains out there because the meat is so flavorful and juicy. The point of the sauce is to be tangy and refreshing to contrast with the rich flavors of the lamb burgers.

For the Mini Burgers
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
About 20 grinds fresh black pepper
2 garlic cloves, pressed

For the Lemon Yogurt Sauce
7 ounces plain yogurt, preferably full fat
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon, plus more lemon zest for garnish

1 Loaf fresh brioche bread

Preheat the oven to 500F.

Make the burgers: Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and work together until they are fully incorporated.

Roll a tablespoon of the mixture into a 3-inch ball and then flatten into a round burger about 1/2 inch thick.

Place the mini burgers on a nonstick baking sheet and bake about 7 minutes, until evenly and well browned.

Make the sauce: Stir together the yogurt, lemon juice and zest in a small bowl. Season to taste with a couple of pinches of salt.

Cut the brioche into 1/2-inch slices, then use a small glass to cut as many circles as possible, about 3 inches in diameter, from each slice. Place the bread circles on a baking sheet. When the burgers come out of the oven, slip the bread in for just a couple of minutes to toast lightly. Watch the bread carefully, or else it will get too dark very quickly.

Place the mini burgers on top of the cut brioche. Top with a dollop of the lemon yogurt and garnish with a good pinch of lemon zest.

Makes about 30 burgers.

Excerpted from DAVE'S DINNERS by Dave Lieberman. Copyright 2006 Dave Lieberman. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.



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