Book Review: 'Diamond Dishes' Takes You In Player's Kitchens
Diamond Dishes: From the Kitchens of Baseball's Biggest Stars by Julie Loria
Lyons Press, 2011
List Price: $24.95
If you've ever wondered what big league ballplayers eat, boy, are you in luck. Major League Baseball has released a cookbook, written by Julie Loria (wife of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria), entitled "Diamond Dishes: From the Kitchens of Baseball's Biggest Stars."
Twenty players contributed a variety of recipes, inviting Loria into their homes to see them in action. If the photos are to be believed, they all keep their kitchens spotless and lay out their ingredients in fancy dishes like the hosts on the Food Network. The book is brimming with colorful pictures of the players and their creations, with each "chef" presenting three or four favorite recipes.
There's a wide range of selections, from Southern comfort foods to Latin favorites, with meals from Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic (courtesy Adrian Gonzalez, Johan Santana, Albert Pujols, and Hanley Ramirez). Evan Longoria infuses a little Eastern European flavor with recipes for Ukrainian vegetable soup, stuffed cabbage, and potato dumplings. The offerings also vary in degree of difficulty, with some looking so simple any novice could follow them, while others might require a little more expertise.
This not being a typical read with a story or plot to follow, I decided the best and most delicious way to review this book was to strap on the apron and prepare a few dishes.
First up was Andre Ethier's lazy enchiladas, which is described as a Tex Mex casserole. The key ingredients are chicken breasts, corn tortillas, shredded cheese, cream of chicken soup, salsa, and chiles. It calls for browning the chicken, then simmering it in water for 20 minutes, which is not how I'd ever cooked chicken before, but it was easy to follow and came out nice and tender.
Things got a little trickier when I got to the part where I had to cut up the tortillas. The recipe calls for 18 7-inch tortillas. I couldn't find 7-inch tortillas, so I tried to do the math on some 9-inch ones and seemed to wind up with too much. They are cut into small pieces and crisped in the oven for 10 minutes before being tossed into the casserole. I had so many on the baking sheet that they didn't all crisp and the end result was a little tortilla heavy. Next time I make it (and it was good enough that there will be a next time), I'll cut back on that.
The end product reminded me of a burrito recipe my wife makes. The nice thing about the casserole was it allowed you to scoop out whatever sized portion you wanted, as opposed to serving it by the piece. On the whole, a relatively simple and tasteful meal.
The second dinner I prepared was a Grady Sizemore offering, called Aunt Tonya's chili. Kudos to Sizemore's aunt. This was hands down the best chili I've ever had. The key ingredients were ground beef, onion, tomato sauce, salsa, refried beans, kidney beans, and beer. Yes, beer. I'm ashamed to confess I felt a certain pang of sadness pouring an entire bottle of my beloved Sam Adams Boston Lager into the pot, but it was so worth it. The beer gave it a deeper, richer flavor, making it a bottle well spent. I imagine you could get a slightly different taste by experimenting with different beers each time. It wasn't particularly spicy, for those who love hot chili, but you could hop it up by adding some peppers, etc.
I topped it with sour cream and cheddar cheese and served it with a Portuguese bread I found in the bakery at the grocery store. That was just perfect for dipping and mopping up the last bits.
The third and final recipe I tried was a cucumber and tomato salad that Paul Konerko makes at least once a week, according to the accompanying text. (Of course, the photo on that page has him slicing the cucumbers in a completely different way than we're told to do it in step 1: "Peel the cucumber. Cut them in half lengthwise, and use the tip of a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds. Thinly slice the cucumbers and place in a bowl." The pictured Konerko is thinly slicing the full, unpeeled cukes.) Despite the inclusion of lemon pepper, rice vinegar, and olive oil, the salad seemed mildly bland to me. I added feta cheese (one of the suggested optional additions), which helped a little, but it still didn't exactly pop on my tongue. It's a nice, healthy summer side dish, but if I make it again, I'll tinker with it to try and give it some more flavor.
There are several other recipes I'd like to try out, such as Hanley Ramirez's empanadas, Joe Mauer's lasagna, and Josh Johnson's Navajo tacos. If any of them turn out as good as the chili, they'll certainly work their way into the rotation at our house. I'm not a cookbook connoisseur, so I can't say how this collection of recipes stacks up against the thousands of cookbooks on the market, but if you're stuck for a Father's Day gift, you could do a lot worse.
James Bailey reviews books for Baseball America. He can be contacted at email@example.com.