Vegetables and Grains

rivercottagevegLate at night, after I’ve spent an entire day fooling around with vegetables, what do I do but curl up on the couch with a book about—vegetables! My new favorite cookbook is River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes by the unstoppable British food writer, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I must admit, I’m fond of his pro-veg (rather than anti-meat) philosophy, because, well, it’s pretty much the point of view I offer in The Fresh & Green Table. But it’s more than that. I just plain like his food—honest and sensible but inspiring too. Somehow, this big hefty book, its thick matte pages covered from ear to ear with colorful but homey food photos and whimsical illustrations, feels like just the right thing to plunk on your lap at the end of a long day.

I only got to page six before I saw the thing I wanted to make for supper the very next day. And I did. Only I didn’t exactly follow Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe. I know, I know. (Insert sheepish look here.) But I’m really in the mode of “use what we have around” so into this lovely early summer frittata went all kinds of interesting things from the garden.

I started with 9 little pullet eggs. These are the smallest eggs our new chickens are laying (many of them have already upgraded to medium and large eggs). We don’t sell a lot of them, so they wind up as house eggs. Voila, 9 into a frittata—way to use those eggs up, Susie!

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sherylcrowck.jpgWhen singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow was battling breast cancer in 2006 (which thankfully she beat back) she knew it was “a wake-up call” to eat better. It was during this time that she met personal chef Chuck White (or “Chef Chuck” to his friends) who was, at the time, cooking for John Mayer’s music tour and they discovered that they both lived in Nashville. Shortly after, Sheryl teamed up with “Chef Chuck” and they collaborated to create an inspired diet regimen that was best for her and her family. “Chef Chuck” quickly developed fun, tasty recipes that both Sheryl – and her two sons, Wyatt and Levi – would enjoy. Healthy, delicious, and sometimes eclectic (like Chuck’s decadent Chocolate Mousse made with avocado), their resulting cookbook is truly original.

Chuck focuses on cooking foods that are seasonal, locally grown, and vitamin-rich to help keep her feeling fit and ready to meet the challenges of life both at home and on the road. If It Makes You Healthy includes around 125 recipes for summer, fall, winter, and spring. From spring zucchini to hearty winter squash, to the delicious Spring Vegetables with Quinoa, the recipes focus on the changing seasons. The book also gives the reader an inside look at some of the meals Sheryl eats with her crew – Mojito braised pork, and some of her kids favorites— basil and apple marinated chicken and healthy oatmeal cookies.

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fresh  green tableWe’ve all met them — people who sincerely love vegetables but are so depressingly earnest about it, that a conversation with them leaves you craving a cheeseburger and fries. Susie Middleton isn’t one of them. In her latest book, The Fresh & Green Table: Delicious Ideas for Bringing Vegetables into Every Meal, Middleton moves vegetables to the center of the table and serves them up generously seasoned with joy.

In her introduction, she acknowledges “how hard it is to navigate nutritional advice these days” which is why she approaches cooking vegetables from a cook’s point-of-view, not a nutritionist’s. That’s what makes her cookbook a pleasure to use. After reading a few recipes, you can’t wait to rush to the farmers market to buy bag-loads of veggies and start cooking.

Upon first glance, the recipes look lengthy — perhaps too lengthy to tackle — but persevere. What you’ll find upon closer inspection are clearly written, detailed recipes laced with established cooking techniques and helpful tips. Indeed, after making a couple of her recipes, you’ll feel like Middleton is in the kitchen with you, offering equal measures of advice and cheer.

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Is this the year of the vegetable? It sure seems like it! Vegetable centric cookbook are in the spotlight, and it's not one size fits all. There are cookbooks about foraging, using roots, healthy eating and more. Here's a round up of some interesting ones I've come across lately.

dukestableThe Duke's Table is a vegetarian book of Italian food, written in 1930 and now available in English. I learned to love vegetables in Italy where they are never, ever served plain. They are always "dressed" and I find this makes all the difference. Even a little drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice make a dish of vegetables more appealing.

This book has a staggering number of recipes, over 1000 and everything from pasta dishes to souffles, egg dishes, soups, ice creams and even some raw dishes (those are a little out there!). Some of the recipes are healthy, some are not, but all are interesting and offer a peek into a fascinating diet of a man of means at the turn of the century (the duke lived from 1879 till 1946). Some of the recipes are fancy, but many are regional dishes like Bucellati, a sweet bread or Torta Napoletana. The vegetarian meatballs and meatloaves are inventive mixtures of mushrooms and walnuts.

My verdict? A fascinating book for Italian food lovers.

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bigvegan.jpgIt was 1995, and I was in graduate school at Brown University. I was taking a gender studies course that claimed gender (male and female) is a social construct not a biological difference. I was a nice Italian girl who grew up in North Providence in an assertively pink bedroom. My head would throb every time I left this class.

One afternoon several of us gathered for a study session where a few of the students brought vegan snacks and refreshments. I was already a vegetarian, so I was excited about exploring vegan food. They served a disturbingly gray mock chicken salad, carrot and celery sticks, some sugar-free fruit juice cookies, and a funky smelling "revitalizing" tea. Never had I more intensely craved a Dunkin' Donuts hazelnut coffee and sesame seed bagel.

I chose the cookie. It looked good, all chunky and nicely browned. I took a bite. It was chalky and dry. I chewed and chewed. I tried to swallow, but I couldn't. It was glued to the roof of my mouth. I grabbed a cup of the revitalizing tea to try to wash it down. Nothing happened. I thought, I'm gonna choke to death at a study group eating a vegan cookie. Damned vegans.

Eventually I managed to swallow it. 16 years later, I've learned that vegan food can be delicious, and while I'm no longer a vegetarian, I still love eating vegetarian and vegan dishes. So I'm happy to add Robin Asbell's colorful new cookbook, Big Vegan to my shelf.

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