Archive for the ‘Food Related Book and Movie Reviews’ Category

Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express: 404 Inspired Seasonal Dishes you can Make in 20 Minutes or Less (by Jen Bergevin, CSA member)

With summer upon us, my family’s cookbook needs change. ( I did actually test this cookbook out last June, but didn’t get to turning my notes into sentences until now.) During the school year, we want a cookbook that contains recipes that are fast and easy, with equally convenient sides and everyday, nutritious ingredients. Of course they have to be delicious too! During the summer, I’m home every day and have more time. Of course, for us the ultimate cookbook still contains recipes that fulfil all those requirements, but would also use up the abundance that we get in our CSA baskets from Wellspring Gardens.  “Kitchen Express” by Mark Bittman  delivers on all of these.

His simple recipes are more like ideas than true recipes. Each is less than 10 lines long and while, not separated in a numbered list, the instructions are clear with no guff or extra stuff. Oddly, his minimization of measurements did not bother me. It felt like, “You are not baking a cake for the Queen, you are making a quick soup in the blender. Does it really have to be perfect?”

The chapters are separated by season, which is ideal for CSA members. The titles are in colour and each has a one-line subtitle. The colour makes it easy to see the division between recipes. Often, the subtitle contains a variation or a side dish suggestion. I found that I could pick 2 or 3 recipes from the same seasonal section (or steal one that used frozen veggies from “Winter” ) and make a fabulous, albeit slightly unusual, meal in about 30 minutes. Overall, I really liked it and may pick it up for my personal collection.

The Garden-Fresh Vegetable Cookbook (review by Jen Bergevin, CSA member)

Andrea Chesman‘s Garden-Fresh Vegetable Cookbook is unlike any I have ever encountered. The chapters are grouped according to harvest season, then further broken down by vegetable, making it fantastic for our CSA basket. This means that early in the season, when I’m anticipating a mountain of spinach in our basket, I can turn to the chapter on spinach in the Spring section for ideas.

A short discussion about the idiosyncrasies of the featured vegetable appears on the first page of each chapter. The yellow-bordered page facing it runs down how to grow, sow, cultivate and harvest your veg. You’ll also find some conversion math: for instance, 1 pound of raw spinach equals 2-3 cups of cooked spinach or between 12 and 24 cups (12 mature or 24 baby leaf) of loosely packed, washed and trimmed leaves. Other handy info like basic cooking rules, times for various cooking methods and nutritional information is included as well.

This is followed by anywhere from four to ten recipes featuring that chapter’s vegetable. The list of vegetables includes asparagus, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, zucchini, artichokes, corn, eggplant, fennel, sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, rutabagas and pumpkins.

 At the end of each section, you’ll find a “Height of the Season” selection in which Ms. Chesman provides a sort of  “who’s who” of the seasonal fare.  The summer Height of the Season section offers recipes for ratatouille, tomato-vegetable soup, summer vegetable bread pudding, and summer seafood stew. Side dishes are recommended for the mains and pairings are suggested for the sides.

Also included are “Basic Recipes”  and “Master Recipes.” The Basics are recipes like Herbes de Provence, Pesto, Broth, Pie Pastry, Cheese Sauce via a roux and how to Toast Nuts. In my opinion, these  basic cooking skills distinguish beginners from experienced cooks. The “Master Recipes” are recipes like quiche that can be made with any vegetable. Quiche made with broccoli follows the same process as quiche made with spinach. This section includes  how-tos on roasting summer and root vegetables, grilling veggies, vegetable gratin, pasta recipes, stir-fry, and the best quiche I have ever made. These two sections alone would make the book a worthwhile purchase for a beyond-beginner cook.

Added to all this are interesting tidbits of information that pop up in an among the recipes. You night read about the origins of  vegetables and their names or human interest stories featuring CSAers, gardeners, farmers and cooks. These stories made me feel like I was part of a community. If you don’t like to mix reading  in with your cooking, this feature might put you off.

 The cookbook is very attractive, even though the pages are only black, white and a couple of shades of yellow. These few colours were used very artistically. Now understand this is not a quick cook cookbook, nor is it a vegetarian cookbook, but as omnivores who eat a lot of local vegetables, we really loved it. I will be asking for a copy for birthday/Christmas!