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October, 2009:

Top Ten Food Books

A small sample from my favourite books about food

A small sample from my favourite books about food

The CBC book club asked on their website for readers to give suggestions of their favourite books on food and have posted a list of the compiled results.  Their list struck me as interesting because there are a few authors whose books I enjoyed (Child, Kingsolver, and Pollan), a couple that I wish I knew more about (How to Cook Everything and Hot Sour Salty Sweet) but in general I think the process probably suffers from usual pit-falls of democracy: Tastes are too vanilla and people vote for the last thing they read about.

Here I submit my top-ten list of books about food (one is about wine but it’s my list):

  1. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee: Absolutely no book is more often referenced by other serious, thoughtful books on food than On Food.  Alton Brown was the first (in my experience) but to the list can be added Ruhlman, Corriher, and Pollan.  That’s good company.  For every food geek that has wondered why something happens or questioned some article of food orthodoxy this should be the first (and often the last) reference.
  2. New Best Recipe by Editors of Cook’s Illustrated: Every 20-year old guy living on his own for the first time is given a “how-to-cook-everything” cookbook.  Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking is great (and if I could only cook one cuisine for the rest of my life it would be French), Joy of Cooking is more encyclopedic and I don’t know quite enough about Bittman’s How to Cook Everything to comment on it but Best Recipe is most useful.  By offering more detail (and  a back story) for the recipes that North Americans are actually likely to cook every week you can’t beat the mileage you’ll get on this one. (more…)

Pork Belly with Legs

Seasoned pork belly atop the vegetables is ready for the oven

Seasoned pork belly atop the vegetables is ready for the oven

I had a couple of pounds of pork belly that I wanted to roast and decided the best route to a balanced health-karma ledger would be to serve it with lentils so to Google I went.  (Sorry, Chris Kimball but Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t have a pork belly recipe—or at least I don’t think you do because the flawed cooksillustrated.com search feature returns every recipe with pork in it when I search for “pork belly” and I tired of scanning the results after the third page.)  This recipe from the upscale British retailer, Waitrose seemed like a good one so I chose to adapt from it.

The recipe at its base is: 1. Season meat, 2. Place vegetables in baking dish and meat on veg and the whole thing goes in a hot oven for a bit, 3. Reduce oven temperature, 4. Add lentils and wine, and 5. Serve.  The only management necessary is some monkeying with the oven temperature and the addition of the lentils an hour before you want to eat.

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Book Review: Earth to Table

Earth to Table by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann

Earth to Table by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann

Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann (Random House Canada, 2009).

On recent trips to Chapters I have found my attention drawn repeatedly to the displays of this cookbook and its evocative cover picture of an heirloom tomato salad.  Some in-store scanning convinced me that this was a book I needed to check out and luckily the people at Random House were good enough to send me a copy of Earth to Table to review.

Earth to Table is co-authored by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann the Executive and Pastry Chef, respectively, at the Ancaster Old Mill.  By combining their views on philosophy of Slow Food, anecdotes about growing and preparing food, profiles of other chefs who are at the leading edge of the farm-to-fork movement, along with the recipes this book manages to be more than just a straight cookbook.

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Green Tomato Pickles

I thought that pickled carrots would be the last preserve that I would get to make from this year’s garden harvest.  Then I realised that I still had a couple pounds of green tomatoes to deal with and while fried green tomatoes are alright for one or two large specimens they are pretty tedious for this many smaller tomatoes.  Also, after my surprising success with hot sauce I thought it would be nice to push the bounds of my lacto-fermentation experience to include green tomatoes.

The green tomatoes take a cleansing soak

The green tomatoes take a cleansing soak

The only difficult part of naturally pickling green tomatoes is screening for any signs of ripeness before putting the tomatoes into the brine.  Tomatoes that have started to ripen will lose their texture and become mushy after spending several days in water so be careful to look for any signs of red or softening flesh.  In this case the greener, the better.

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Pickled Carrots

The finished product, straight from the canning kettle

The finished product, straight from the canning kettle

There are a lot of ways to enjoy pickled preserves: on or beside a sandwich, mixed into a spicy curry, or straight from the jar. I consider no use more noble (or mandatory) than as a foil to the salt and fat on one of those two collations of savoury greatness the charcuterie and cheese boards.  If I can’t picture myself chasing a piece of crusty baguette slathered in chicken liver mousse with a piece of a particular pickle I probably won’t get out the canning kettle.  Pickled carrots pass the charcuterie/cheese test on taste (sweet and acidic), texture (one of the best retainers of natural crunch without chemical assistance), and colour (other than Beemster and its French cousin Mimolette orange is a rare colour on these platters).

About half of the carrot harvest from the garden

About half of the carrot harvest from the garden

Other than my own culinary demand this project was made possible by a bountiful supply.  I had read last winter that carrots and tomatoes are great garden companions and because I knew that we would be devoting one of the cottage garden’s largest of four beds to tomatoes again this year I figured there wasn’t much to be lost by buying a packet of carrot seeds and sowing them around the designated spots for the tomato plants.  I’ll write more about this in my round-up of 2009′s gardening season but suffice it to say that this low-intensity experiment was a stunning success.  From a total of nearly ten pounds of carrots I designated three pounds of the smallest specimens for canning purposes. (more…)