Suzi's Blog

Cookbook Review: Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire


This is about a cookbook with a mission: to change your perspective on outdoor cooking. Live Fire is not a grilling book. Not a barbeque book. Not a smoker book. This is about how to cook with fire, be it a barbeque container, or a gas grill or using metal lattice over red and ash gray logs. It is about fire, live blazing fire, and the opportunities it creates for inspired cooking.

We are, as humans, drawn to fire, to the light and to the heat. And to the power it provides to transform raw ingredients into memorable dishes. Those ingredients can be chickens or a whole hog. Flame, according to Michael, does more than cook. It can add flavor. So, as an example, he provides a recipe to transform left over mashed potatoes into culinary elegance.

There are 125 recipes here, from sauces to drinks to burgers, along with the occasional goat or pizza. There is fish and shellfish, and there is breakfast. Every meal idea you’ve had can be transformed with flame, with live fire.

Here are some representative ideas:

  • Whole Lamb with Mint Pesto and Chile-Fennel Tzatziki
  • Grilled Pasta with Grilled Meatballs
  • Grilled Avocado-Mango Guacamole
  • Grilled Lemon-Saffron Pound Cake with Lavender and Fresh Berries
  • Lamb Burgers with Ember-Roasted Onion Puree and Grilled Peach-Nectarine Mostarda
  • Roasted Potato Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing
  • Roasted Garlic Pizza with Grilled Tomato Vinaigrette and Arugula
  • Grilled Ahi Tuna with Carrot Caponata and Broken Carrot Vinaigrette
  • Grilled Potato Polpette with Wild Mushroom Filling
  • Roasted Lemon Granita
  • Lamb Ribs with Salta Mint Sugar
  • Smashing Pumpkins with Mint Pesto and Goat Cheese
  • Roasted Apricot Bellini
  • Roasted Strawberry Lemonade

As you can see, there are recipes here for a few folks and for a feast. This book is targeted to celebrations, for family or for the neighborhood. Do you give an annual summer bash for the folks in your cul-de-sac? Do you want to impress? Overwhelm? Be remembered for the rest of your life? This is your bible.

Yes, you can grill avocados and make sublime guacamole. It’s a standout favorites at Michael’s restaurants.

And as you can see, the recipe titles are longish. It’s not just grilled pumpkins but pumpkins with mint pesto and goat cheese. The pound cake has lemon and saffron with lavender and berries. The recipes typically encompass some steps, but each is so compelling complete that just three or four of these dishes provide an army of flavors

With each dish having its own complexity and satisfaction, when you combine them you are literally constructing a flavor skyscraper. Just a few dishes here will take you to dramatic heights.

If a block party is not on your Outlook calendar, but you really, really want to go upscale on your weekend cooking, then Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire will light your path.

Suzen and I will be testing recipes over the summer and letting you read about the results. Be prepared for Lamb Burgers with Grilled Onion Purée!


Cookbook Review: Smoke and Spice by Valerie Aikman-Smith



Summer has arrived. Perhaps a bit soggy, but it’s here.

Time to finally clean the grill and begin the summer rituals. I love grilling. And Suzen loves it even more. I think because it moves the mess from the kitchen to outdoors where I am totally responsible for cleanup. I don’t mind. It was clause 53 in the marriage contract and I always honor at least the first 50 clauses of all my marriage contracts.

She’s not going to laugh at that.

Grilling presents us all with challenges. First, though this applies not to me or you, a lot of bad grilling occurs. Too fast, too simple. And there’s a lot of mediocre grilling. Because we are all using that same set of 20 bestselling grilling books and they are really all the same clone. The recipes are fine, but it’s boring. Summer after summer. It’s the same stuff, the same flavors.

Not anymore. Just in time, we have Smoke and Spice: Seasonings, Rub, Marinades, Brines, Glazes and Butters. Long title. Very good book. Very. In fact, if you are going to limit your purchases of “new” barbequing books, then Smoke and Spice belongs at the top of your list.

Why? Because this is precisely the book I have wanted. It’s got new stuff. Lots and lots of new stuff. New flavors, new ideas, new concepts. Now, when you grill, you’ll bring to the table some truly eye-opening dishes. As good as the old standard recipes. No, better.

Grilling has always been fast. And the recipes here are fast, too, but come with these different flavor combinations and suggestions for use. For example, there is a Mint and Lemon Thyme Rub here which you can make in 5 minutes. It screams for lamb, of course, and by the way when was the last time you grilled a leg of lamb? But, the rub is equally delicious on fish. Most of the recipes here can do double or triple duty in this fashion.

The book is organized around the target to be grilled: pork, beef, lamb, poultry, fish, … But most of the recipes are not end-to-end to give you a meal. They are recipes for the seasonings, rubs, marinades, brines, glazes and butters that this book promises. The promises are tastefully kept.

As summer progresses, Suzi and I will be applying many of the ideas here and we’ll let you know how enjoyable they are. But to get started, for this weekend or for the 4th coming up, here’s an “all red” idea you can put to use.

This is a Cherry and Pomegranate glaze made with pomegranate molasses [spring is NOT the season for pomegranates but your nearest Middle Eastern market will have the molasses]. Use this with duck or chicken or even meat, especially lamb. You can marinate overnight, scrape the goop off, and let the grill work its magic.

Smoke and Spice is an intelligent contribution to anyone’s grilling library. You are sure to use it all summer long. Do you still grill in the January snow? There’s a full year of ideas here.

Cherry and Pomegranate Glaze

Yield: 2 cups


  • 2 cups dark cherries [Bing are perfect], pitted
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • Sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper


Put the cherries and pomegranate molasses in a food processor and pulse until you have a chunky sauce. Pour the sauce into a ceramic bowl and stir in the thyme and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper.

Store the glaze in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Source: Smoke and Spice by Valerie Aikman-Smith