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Posts Tagged ‘cookbook review’

VegetableLiteracy

The phrase, “eat your vegetables,” has long been used by stern-looking parents desperate to make their offspring eat something besides pasta and chicken fingers. To children everywhere, “vegetables” has meant mushy, bland tasting things that stand in the way of dessert. Unfortunately, many people carry the disdain for leafy, root-y edibles far into adulthood.

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison may be the cookbook to change all of that.

“Vegetable Literacy,” breaks new ground because it focuses on the relationships between the veggies that grow in your garden. Madison’s theory is that if you understand these relationships, you’ll find new freedom in the kitchen to mix and match flavors in away that allows zucchini, peas, squash, and so much more to harmonize their flavors instead of being tolerated like unwanted guests on your dinner plate.

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Forget about buying the same old boring bottles of soda from the supermarket. There is a much better and creative way – with a little bit of effort –  to bring a bit of sparkle to your next party. The Artisan Soda Workshop by Andrea Lynn (Ulysses Press, 2012, 127 pp.) has more than 70 recipes that will help you to make your own sodas at home using fresh fruit and the real flavors of spices and herbs.

With sections ranging from “Homemade Soda Copycats” (Natural Golden Cola Syrup, Root Beer Syrup), to “Soda Adventures with Herbs and Spices” (Sea Salt-Lime Syrup, Mango-Chile Syrup), to “Seasonal Suds” and “Agua Frescas and Shrubs” there’s a lot here to explore and enjoy.

“Soda didn’t start out as a mass-produced uniform product,” Lynn writes in the introduction to “The Artisan Soda Workshop.” “A hundred years ago, soda could be enjoyed at local shops that offered it in a wide variety of house-made options. Now, more people are looking back to the history of soda and recognizing all the possibilities; they’re applying modern ideas about food to make new and exciting soda recipes.”

While homemade sodas may seem like a chore, when one could simply twist off the cap of a mass-produced drink, there are some added benefits. Homemade sodas are made with real fruit, not artificial flavoring, and you can control the sugar levels to your preference. The syrups just need to be stirred into seltzer water, and Lynn says purchasing your own seltzermaker is worth it. (She likes www.sodastream.com.) There are also plenty of other uses for your fruit syrup, such as drizzling it over pancakes or atop big bowl of ice cream.

We had a Cowboy Chili Cookoff at work this week, and instead of trying to compete among all the other chuck-and-beans creations I decided to go another route and bring homemade soda punch. It was a good decision I think – there were 19 crockpots of chili but only two homemade sodas: Prickly Pear Agua Fresca and Sparkling Watermelon-Jalapeño Agua Fresca.

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I’ve been meaning to tell you about this cookbook for awhile. For all those of you out there who are raising chickens, pickling, and making your own crackers, you’ll find good wit and wisdom in “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” by Jennifer Reese (Free Press, October 2011, $24).

Having chickens cluck in the yard and filling your pantry with preserves that you picked and canned yourself is rewarding – but is it worth all the time battling persistent bugs and rodents just to say, “I made this sauce with heirloom tomatoes I grew myself”?

Reese, who blogs at www.tipsybaker.com, took on an ambitious project when she applied her journalistic skills to figure out what is worth making at home (croutons), what is worth attempting for the experience (Camembert cheese), and what is an accomplishment but a true pain in the rear (prosciutto).

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For a few years after college, my brother and I both happened to live in Atlanta, Ga., a city where every street is named Peachtree. While there I discovered fried okra, fried green tomatoes, grits, black-eyed peas (which are white beans), sweet tea, and hot donuts from Krispy Kreme. It’s not exactly light eating down South. Comfort food has staked its claim and stubbornly resisted any marauding fad diets. (more…)

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Everyone has experienced the disappointment of buying a lovely looking piece of fruit only to discover it is as appetizing as cardboard. Deborah Madison hopes to redeem the paradise-lost pleasures of truly ripe fruit. The cookbook guru has written a bit of a love letter to summer’s jewels with her new “Seasonal Fruit Desserts” (Broadway Books, $32.50). A perusal of the gorgeous photos alone will prompt you to rush to your nearest Farmers’ Market and load up your canvas shopping bags.

Madison wants us to rededicate ourselves to the fleeting joys of locally grown, seasonal fruit – even if it requires the discipline of putting those well-traveled strawberries back on the shelf in mid-December. Whether it is figs and raspberries elegantly presented unadorned or a recipe for a compote, “Seasonal Fruit Desserts” advises even as it tempts. “Don’t assume that everything from the farmers’ market or farm stand is stellar,” she cautions. “Be watchful, asks for tastes, sniff, ask questions, and be prepared to say, ‘No, thanks.'”

I was delighted that Madison includes a mention of pawpaws, a fruit native to the Midwest that some say should replace the carbon-footprint-ladened banana of the tropics. In fact, the pawpaw is a distant cousin of the banana. “Its bananalike notes are probably what account for its other names – prairie banana, Hoosier banana – and other banana appellations for every state where the pawpaw grows,” writes Madison. “[T]he pawpaw is the only member of the [Annonaceae] genus that doesn’t require a tropical climate to survive.”

How about them apples – er – pawpaws?

As always, Madison offers tips for preparing fruit, techniques for coaxing the best flavors out of your dishes, and advice on the best kitchen equipment to have on hand. “Seasonal Fruit Desserts” will set you up perfectly to enjoy the sweetness of slow summer evenings.

Read my article about shopping at Farmers’ Markets and listen to my interview with Deborah Madison by clicking here.

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Alice Waters believes in puttering in the kitchen. Chop and grind your own food. Cook slowly over moderate heat. Breathe. Taste. Compost. What’s the big rush, right?

Just in time for Earth Day, the ideas behind the Slow Food Nation 2008 event that brought together reform-minded foodies in San Francisco can now be savored at your leisure with Waters’ new cookbook “In the Green Kitchen” (April 2010, $28). Photographer Christopher Hirsheimer has captured gorgeous profiles of the chefs who offered cooking demos in the event’s Green Kitchen during the weekend. Simple recipes accompany each photo, their bylines reading like a “who’s who” of the foodie world: Tomatillo Salsa from Rick Bayless; Buttermilk Biscuits from Scott Peacock; Simple Tomato Sauce from Charlie Trotter; Linguine with Clams from Lidia Bastianich; Buttered Couscous from Dan Barber; Potato Gratin from Deborah Madison, and the list goes on. (Kinda makes you wish you had flown out there, huh?)

“All the good cooks I know are sensualists who take great pleasure in the beauty, smell, taste, and feel of the ingredients,” writes Waters in the introduction. “The value of learning a foundation of basic techniques is that once these skills become instinctive, you can cook comfortably and confidently without recipes, inspired by the ingredients you have.”

A cookbook that says forget about cookbooks? That’s about right. But sometimes we all need a reminder just to jump in and swim, er, cook and “In the Green Kitchen” with its pantry and essential kitchen-tool list is a good place to start.

Or if you are a procrastinator, take some time and copy this down and fasten it to your ‘fridge door:

A Green Kitchen Manifesto

Delicious, affordable, wholesome food is the goal of the Green Kitchen.

An organic pantry is an essential resource.

Buy food that is organic, local, and seasonal.

Cooking and shopping for food brings rhythm and meaning to our lives.

Simple cooking techniques can be learned by heart.

Daily cooking improves the economy of the kitchen.

Cooking equipment that is durable and minimal simplifies the cooking.

A garden brings life and beauty to the table.

Composting nourishes the land that feeds us.

Setting the table and eating together teaches essential values to our children.

Now get cooking! Slowly.

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