13 April 2014

Review: The Kitchen Garden Cookbook

I'm a fan of cookbooks. I enjoy reading them, drooling (figuratively) over the illustrations and photographs, trying out the recipes, and basking in all the potential they offer. My interest in cookbooks has led to a nice collection of two hundred-ish books (and a somewhat ridiculous collection of loose recipes gleaned from newspapers, magazines, and the internet). Some might be satisfied with that number but I'm always on the lookout for interesting and creative additions to my collection. The Kitchen Garden Cookbook has turned out to be a great one.

On the practical side, the book is well designed and organized. Conveniently divided by season, each section offers recipes featuring the fruit, veggies, and herbs that are ripe during that particular season. This works well if you're a gardener with a glut of produce (and what gardener isn't?) or just want to eat store-bought food when it's at its peak. Although the food at the grocery store will never be as good as homegrown, even the big box stores will have tastier tomatoes in August.

As each new food is introduced in the book, a sidebar is included with info on picking, storing fresh, preserving and freezing that food. Even better, there are special features throughout on various methods of preserving and storing your bounty, from preserving vegetables in oil, to making pickles and relish, bottling fruit in alcohol, making jelly and conserves, and storing root crops in boxes. This info is invaluable, especially if you grow your own; being able to save part of your harvest for later is nearly always a necessity, and there are some ideas here I haven't seen elsewhere. Big thumbs up.

There are also tons of tempting recipes (most with pictures) in The Kitchen Garden Cookbook. A few I can't wait to try include: (Spring) Braised Cauliflower with Chiles and Cilantro, Swiss Chard Cheese Tart, Rhubarb and Custard Ice Cream; (Summer) Warm Tomato and Garlic Vinaigrette, Papas Arrugadas ("wrinkly potatoes"), Basil and Vanilla Custard, Fresh Mint Cordial; (Autumn) Butternut Squash Tagine, Pumpkin and Orange Spiced Jam, Portuguese Apple Fritters; and (Winter) Spicy Spaghetti with Broccoli, Wasabi Beef with Bok Choy, and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Saffron and Thyme.

I did get to try three of the recipes from the book. Confession: the recipes I made were all out of season. Unfortunately, we're still staying at the insurance-provided condo while our house remains in unlivable condition, so our pantry is severely limited right now. That, coupled with a choosy (some might say picky) co-eater meant having to stick with recipes approved by him, which also required minimal ingredients and equipment. I managed to find three.

The first recipe I tried--Baked Ricotta with Roasted Tomatoes (Summer)--was disappointing. Not to get all Food Network on you (although I have been watching way too much of it lately) but this dish seemed one-note to me. I think some fresh basil would have made all the difference (I'd also skip the roasted red pepper and put in more tomatoes). Luckily, I had better luck with the next two recipes.

I really enjoyed the Leek and Potato Soup (Winter). It was easy to make, healthy, and tasty. I liked the technique of mashing the potatoes and adding them back to the broth, which resulted in a nice texture that was neither too chunky nor too smooth. I also appreciated that it's served warm (much preferable, imo, to the cold versions out there).

The final recipe I tried was our favourite: Green Beans with Toasted Hazelnuts (Summer). Another easy, healthy, and tasty one. If you don't like hazelnuts you can substitute almonds or pecans. In any case it's one you should try:

Green Beans with Toasted Hazelnuts

8 oz (250 g) green beans, trimmed
sea salt
2 tbs butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and coarsely chopped [We didn't skin ours and they were just fine]

1. Put the beans in a pot of salted water and boil [or steam over the water] for 5-6 minutes, or until they are cooked but still have a bit of bite to them. Drain and then refresh under cold water so that they stop cooking and retain their color.

2. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the butter and toasted hazelnuts.

[If you want to go to slightly more effort, you could stop boiling/steaming the beans a couple of minutes early and transfer to a frying pan over med-high heat with the butter and chopped nuts. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. This results in the beans getting nicely coated in the nuts.]

The recipe recommends serving this dish with lamb or chicken. We had it with chicken, but I think it would work well with any protein.

Want your own copy of The Kitchen Garden Cookbook? Lucky you--it's on sale now (along with lots  of other awesome reads) at DK Canada:


The Kitchen Garden Cookbook by DK.

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