I do not have a garden, which is a problem as I am quite fond of food, especially that grown just outside one’s back door. Occasionally I stick a tomato plant or two in the ground; I usually get one tomato for the whole summer. I’m just not very good at taking care of my plants. Nor am I a habitué of farmers’ markets. Large markets are exciting and I will go to them when I have a chance; Jerusalem and Santa Monica come to mind. But small farmers’ markets, such as Ann Arbor’s, have too many over-priced vendors with mediocre goods. I am sure that there are some vendors who, although probably still over-priced, have excellent products; I’m just don’t know which ones they are, and almost every time I have gone to the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market and come home with tomatoes, those tomatoes have been unimpressive. So for the most part, I buy my produce at grocery stores and imagine the garden that I might have some day. The two cookbooks of this post are garden cookbooks. The advantage of cooking from an imaginary garden is that at the beginning of April, the imaginary garden has almost all the produce that I want.
Susie Middleton, the author of Fresh from the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories, has a farm (rented) and a farm stand on Martha’s Vineyard. This book is really two books in one: a cookbook, with most recipes highlighting some food sold at the farm stand, and a diary of Susie’s life as a farmer. The cookbook was great: everything I cooked was both easy and good (although nothing I tried was truly spectacular). The “story” part of the book I could take or leave, although I suspect that someone contemplating a move back to nature might find Susie’s story inspiring, even if not that useful.
Radishes are not my favorite salad vegetable, but I found myself very much enjoying “May Day Radish and Parsley Salad with Lemon and Ginger” (page 50). I think the radishes that I used were particularly mild, as my salad did not taste radishy at all. The ginger is in the form of crystallized ginger, a product of which I approve, but with which I rarely know what to do. But now I do! The next time I get some Houston Pecan Company crystallized ginger, I’ll make this radish salad.
“Colonel Mustard’s Not-So- Mysterious Greens, Sausage & Tortelloni Soup” (page 14) is a hearty soup full of good things. Susie really wants us to use mustard greens instead of some other type of greens, so I followed her advice and was glad I did. There are several good vegetarian fake sausages out there, and with a good vegetarian fake chicken broth, this soup is just fine for us animal-lovers.
I suspect that “Swiss Chard and Caramelized Onions Quesadillas with Pepper Jack Cheese” (page 57) would have been better with flour tortillas; I also suspect that broiling instead of cooking on the stovetop would have been preferable, as my quesadillas were too greasy. But, other than the grease, these were a healthy alternative to my standard quesadilla: salsa, cheese, and avocado. The filling here was a nice soft chard and onion filling; I used cheddar instead of pepper jack. These made a very satisfactory mid-week supper.
Turnips are a vegetable that I have spent most of my life avoiding, for no good reason. True, their reputation is not the best, as they are often regarded as fit only for livestock. But they have their own mild sweet rooty taste. “Honey-Roasted Baby Turnips with Cremini Mushrooms” (page 208) is a recipe that brings out the best in turnips. I did not even use baby turnips, although I tried to get the smallest ones that I could find. The title of this recipe says it all: turnips and brown mushrooms are tossed with a dressing of olive oil, honey, and balsamic vinegar, and some rosemary sprigs and (once again) chopped crystallized ginger. Stick it in a hot oven until the turnips are soft. This is a dish that could create many new turnip lovers. [Go to the recipe.]
Susie not only tells us what to do with less popular vegetables such as mustard greens and turnips, but she has suggestions for more popular vegetables, such as green beans, perhaps the most common vegetable of all. “Spicy Stir-Fried Green Beans” (page 118) was a nice vegetable dish; if green beans were a vegetable with which I was unfamiliar, I would have absolutely loved this recipe. As it is, though, this recipe gives a fine treatment for green beans, but nothing special. This is an Asian style recipe, with soy sauce, chili paste, ginger, and garlic. I used the thin green beans, which I like much more than the thick ones.
“Mini Spinach and Shallot Puff Quiches” (page 9) were a delightful snack food, even if a bit caloric. To make these, you line mini muffin tins with squares of puff pastry. Into each shell goes a cooked spinach shallot mix, blue (or goat, or even blue goat) cheese, then a quiche egg and cream binder. Pop in the oven and cook until done! Very easy and very tasty; the only problem is that these are not the best the next day; the pastry crust gets too flabby.
Todd Porter and Diane Cu, authors of Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden have one of best food blogs ever. It is wonderfully easy to navigate, has a great layout, good photos, and lots of vegetable friendly recipes. On top of that, the blog personae of Todd and Diane are quite likable. Their book is attractive but expensive with more white space than I would like. I also found the book, unlike the blog, strangely bland. But make no mistake: I recommend this book highly because of the recipes. As with Fresh from the Farm, the book is full of good vegetable recipes and enticing dessert recipes. There are many recipes here for me still to explore.
Whole Foods Market has recently started carrying a very nice fake chicken product, so with fake chicken, I can now try chicken salad recipes. “Jicama Chicken Salad with Mustard Dressing” (page 157), my first try making chicken salad with fake chicken, was relatively successful. The “chicken” is cooked with onions and a little bit of ginger and soy sauce. The dressing is mayonnaise and mustard. I was out of mayonnaise and did not want to go to the store. On searching my refrigerator, I found some salad cream (used for Jeremy’s kipper and egg salad). The problem was solved: fake mayonnaise seemed to be the ideal dressing for fake chicken. The fake chicken and fake mayonnaise are mixed with jicama, celery, cashews, and scallions. All in all, this was a very good fake salad. (At least I did not use fake cashews.)
It’s hard to go wrong with a simple cucumber salad, and it’s hard to go wrong with any recipe having miso as an ingredient. Thus “Miso-Sesame Cucumber Salad” (page 204) seemed like it would be a winner, as indeed it was. This salad could not have been simpler: it consists of thinly sliced cucumber and red onion with a dressing of miso, grapeseed (or some other mild) oil spiked with sesame oil, lime juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and a taste of sugar. This is healthy and exciting, all in one.
My photograph of “Lemon and Cream Spaghetti” (page 247) looks very boring, but the spaghetti did not taste boring. The recipe calls for spaghetti; I used angel hair pasta, because that was what I had, and because I think that a delicate sauce goes with a delicate pasta. The sauce had olive oil, white wine, cream, lemon zest and juice, and Parmesan, and was subtle but assertive, I ended up grating black pepper over the pasta, which I think improved the dish; it certainly would have improved the picture, but by then I had put the camera away. Todd and Diane credit Jennifer Perillo for introducing them to this dish. [Go to the recipe.]
Roasted cauliflower is a good vegetable dish; add some sriracha and it begins to approach great. Todd and Diane add not only sriracha, but a little soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil to their “Spicy Roasted Cauliflower with Sriracha and Sesame” (page 118). This is an easy vegetable side dish, and good enough that it is possible to nibble almost all of it before it even makes it to the table. Todd and Diane use their homemade sriracha. I just used the rooster brand bottled stuff. Their homemade sriracha has fish sauce as an ingredient; the rooster brand is strictly vegetarian.
Roasted Turnips and Mushrooms
Adapted from Susie Middleton, Fresh from the Farm
1 pound small turnips
½ pound mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped crystalized ginger
3 large rosemary sprigs
Preheat the oven to 400º. Wash and trim the turnips (peel if they need it) and cut into bite sized chunks. Ditto for the mushrooms. Mix together the oil, honey, and vinegar, add to the turnips and mushrooms, and toss to coat. Add the ginger and rosemary sprigs. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread out the vegetables in one layer. Roast until the turnips are soft, about 30 minutes.
Adapted from Todd Porter and Diane Cu, Bountiful
6 ounces thin pasta (e.g., angel hair)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons cream
½ cup white wine
Zest and juice from 2 lemons
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water. While the pasta cooks, combine and heat the olive oil, cream, and wine. When the pasta is done, drain and return to the pan. Add the wine sauce, then add the lemon zest and juice and the cheese; stir until the cheese is distributed and melted. Add salt if you think it is needed. Grate lots of pepper on each serving for those who like pepper as much as I do.