Keeping Up with the Jamisons

Date June 30, 2005 at 10:00 PM

Categories Health & Beauty


If the world of cookbook authors were a high school senior class, Emeril would be the hyperactive guy who always got detention, Bobby Flay would be the hunky quarterback, and Paula Dean would be in charge of selling sugary deep-fat-fried dough at all of the pep rallies. Tesuque's own Cheryl and Bill Jamison, however, would be the yearbook co-editors: translating a raucous, sprawling world into an accessible, inspirational, memorable volume.

From their headquarters, a lovely, low-slung former dairy barn-turned-home, the Jamisons churn out recipes in their separate-but-equal writing lofts at opposite ends of the house, and then test them out in the cozy little kitchen that does not in any way resemble the coldly gleaming, island-studded, multi-sinked culinary quarters that are so in vogue at the moment. Outside, lovely gardens filled with herbs, colorful flowers, and flagstone pathways lead to gas and charcoal grills and a gathering of chairs under a cherry tree.

Putting chaos into useful order is what Cheryl and Bill do well; in fact, they got their start as foot soldiers in the world of travel guides. This turned out to be too much of a good thing. "After six editions of books on the best places to stay in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Mexico, we were ready to move on,"€ said Bill.

From there, they were asked to write the Rancho de Chimayo Cookbook, a bold move, since neither of them had any "formal"€ culinary training. "But, we were both passionate cooks, and the cookbook had cultural and travel elements. It was a nice segue,"€ Cheryl said. So they went for it.

Fourteen years, three James Beard Awards, and ten cookbooks later, Cheryl and Bill Jamison have nothing left to prove. But, they still have plenty to cover. In the wake of an overly fussy, Stewartian "entertaining"€ phenomenon that has moved many folks past serving casseroles for dinner guests but also made having company into a reason to hide, overwhelmed, under the table, the Jamisons just shake their heads and offer a way out of the wilderness.

"Don't call it entertaining, don't call it a dinner party-it's just having friends over,"€ Bill counsels. "Simple, easy, enjoyable."€

And what better way to do that in the summer months than to throw some food on the grill? Enter Good Times, Good Grilling, their latest effort. A luscious burger sweats on the front cover, and inside, numerous recipes demystify such otherwise intimidating concepts as grill-roasted oysters, grilled pizzas, the rotisserie attachment, planked salmon, and grilled fruit.

The Jamisons have left no cuisine behind, and the cookbook is bursting at the seams with recipes for butterflied Thai pork tenderloin, primo cubano sandwiches, hoisin chicken salad, Louisiana barbecued shrimp, and chipotle chicken salpicon. Other neat cookbook elements are sidebars like "Adding a Personal Signature"€ (which offers proposed variations on the recipes), and proposed menus (Summer Birthday Celebration, Baja Dinner, Barcelona Barbecue). There are priceless tips sprinkled throughout, like: Don't buy your salmon planks at specialty food stores, because you can get them much cheaper at the lumberyard. Just ask for cedar or alder and make sure it's untreated. Or, if you're going to spring for any extras when buying a gas grill, make sure you get the rotisserie attachment. It's the one thing Cheryl and Bill use devotedly. "And rub some butter and herbs under the skin of the chicken before you put it on the spit,"€ Cheryl insists. "Restaurant rotisserie chicken is good, but they just can't spare the time to do that step, and it really makes a huge difference."€

And, each of the sections begins with a few paragraphs that are equal parts explanation and pep talk. For those of us suffering from Post-Martha-Stress-Disorder, this element is key.

Recently, I, a busy mom of two children under four, put the Jamisons' philosophy to the test. The event was a wine-and-food-pairing potluck. I chose the classic crusty pork tenderloin recipe, which required only six ingredients: espresso powder, turbinado sugar, dried ground chipotle chile, salt, pepper and pork tenderloin. I couldn't find ground chipotle at the local store, so I took a deep breath, thought, "What would Cheryl and Bill do?"€ and got canned chipotles instead. I rubbed the chipotle liquid on the pork loin, and then rubbed the espresso-sugar-salt-pepper mix into it. Everything caramelized beautifully over high heat, and then I finished it off, per the instructions, over medium heat. The only thing that came back from the potluck were the two end pieces, which my husband snuck into his lunch this morning. Easy, quick, fun-what's the catch?

"Well, that's just it,"€ Cheryl said. "With television came the message that cooking was drudgery and wasted time. Time that should be spent-watching TV, so you could see more commercials about why cooking was a waste of time, and buy the advertised processed food. I know so many otherwise capable people who are afraid to have anyone over."€

One hot grilling point of debate-gas grill vs. charcoal-is put to rest by Bill. "You want to sear the meat, and that used to only be possible with a charcoal grill. Now, there are a lot of gas grills coming out right now that do get hot enough to sear meat."€ The searing, which shrinks the muscle fibers on the surface of the meat, concentrates the flavor within and creates a contrast between outside (crusted) and inside (juicy and flavorful). That's grilling in a nutshell, and explains why grilled food has that extra, addictive something that makes outside summer meals so memorable.

Support a local book store when you go to buy your copy of Good Times, Good Grilling: Surefire Recipes for Great Grill Parties by Bill and Cheryl Jamison.