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Steven Raichlen's 'Man Made Meals' a crash course on cooking for guys

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TORONTO - Guys don't need to know how to make cupcakes, but they do know how to grill a steak, truss a chicken, shuck an oyster and rustle up an incredible pot of chili, says the author of "Man Made Meals: The Essential Cookbook for Guys."

"Every guy should also know how to make an omelette because with an omelette you never go hungry," said Steven Raichlen. "And I think every guy should know how to stir a martini because if you can stir a martini you can make the rest of the cooking process go a lot easier."

He wanted to write a crash course for guys on everything they need to know about cooking and food, so his comprehensive volume is chock-full of information on tools and techniques along with 300 recipes to help cooks navigate the kitchen with confidence.

"In days gone by, men expressed their creativity often through carpentry or woodworking, maybe working on a car, and now thanks to the proliferation of food television guys express their creativity through cooking. So this was a book to help those guys really up their game," said Raichlen during a recent trip to Toronto to promote "Man Made Meals" (Workman Publishing Co. Inc.), his 30th book.

He said guys have a predilection for power tool-like cooking utensils.

"We love blow torches, we love immersion blenders, we love smoking guns, we love cast-iron skillets. ... I think men like bigger flavours than women do. I think women in some sense are into harmony and moderation and men are into excess, two-by-four cooking. Men like gutsy robust flavours."

But men have a tendency to overseason — what he calls the "guy syndrome — you know, some is good. If some is good, then more must be better. So if a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce is good, then half a bottle must be better."

If you want to eat well the best way to do it is learn to cook, he said, adding it's fun, satisfying and a life skill.

"With more and more women in the workplace now the burden falls to guys to cook for their families and if men don't learn to cook and step up to the stove and the grill their kids won't know what a home-cooked meal is like so that's really pretty important."

He highlights "cool smart things guys can do" such as cooking on a plank, under a brick, on the embers and scorching in a red-hot skillet.

"If you are ever in mixed company and someone arrives with live lobsters I can guarantee the task of boiling and cooking the lobster will devolve to you," said Raichlen, who teaches courses on grilling and has seven books under his belt on that topic including "The Barbecue Bible."

"If a guy is smart he'll learn to make a drop-dead killer chocolate dessert because if the way to a man's heart is through his stomach the way to a woman's heart is through chocolate.

"And I say all of this a little bit tongue in cheek because we live in the age with the most sexual parity in all of human history and in any place in the world. But nonetheless I do believe that men and women do approach cooking differently."

Raichlen, who has been wine and spirits editor for GQ and a restaurant critic and food columnist for Boston magazine, hosted four seasons of "Le Maitre du Grill," which aired in Quebec on Zest network, and has another series in development in that province.

"It's so funny how life takes you in strange circles. I have a degree in French literature, which is a pretty odd background for someone who wound up writing so much about barbecue," said Raichlen, who went on to train at La Varenne and Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools in Paris.

He now spends half the year in Miami and half on Martha's Vineyard, the island south of Cape Cod where his 29th book, a novel called "Island Apart," is set.

Sprinkled throughout "Man Made Meals" are prose passages titled "Guy's Best Friend" with essays on everything from hot dogs, chili, burgers, eggs and salmon to avocados and chocolate, along with advice based on interviews with 20 "food dudes," which was "a way to sort of tell some human stories and not just simply recipes."

The food dudes include Quebec TV host and actor Francis Reddy ("Mario"), journalists and authors Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, chefs Thomas Keller and Jose Andres, baker Ken Forkish, blogger Paul Kita and bartender Dale Degroff.

He points out mistakes guys often make when cooking, such as not starting out with a hot enough pan. "It's all about brown. Brown is beautiful, it's all about seared and crust for me, and you cannot get that unless you ... preheat the pan even before you add the fat."

And size matters when it comes to choosing which pan to use. "If you put a tiny thing in a giant pan it's going to burn, and if you put a lot of stuff in a little pan it's going to stew, not brown, so pick an appropriate vessel."

He offers another tip he's learned over the years: "You put a piece of animal protein in a frying pan or on the grill it will stick the first minute and you will panic and you try and move it and the flesh will tear, but if you have patience and wait a few minutes it will lift back off the hot surface."

Follow @lois_abraham on Twitter.

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