Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cooking the Books

From the bean of Green Bean.

As you may have noticed from all of my DIY baking projects lately, I've got a bagel in my bonnet. Part was inspiration from a new friend who leads a mysterious double life as a baker, churning out beautiful and tasty treats. Part was the season. With school winding down, volunteer projects are also, thankfully, on the wan and leave me with of breathing, I mean, baking space. But the biggest part, perhaps, was a trip down library lane.

Instead of forking over a hundred dollars on a dozen new cookbooks, I reserved a number of copies from the local library. As they've rolled in, I've perused. I've sighed over photos. I've squinted over ingredients. I've dabbled.

And now I'm back with a round up on my recent cookbook adventures.

Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelley first caught my eye. It is the quintessential locavore/seasonal cookbook. It is for the kitchen gardener and the urban hen-farmer. It's pages are sleek and riddled with extra large glossy photos. I really wanted to love this cookbook. I really did. But, I just don't.

Maybe it is personal taste but none of the recipes (with the exception of a few baked goods in the back), appeal to me. I will photocopy the pizza dough recipe - which rocked - and sigh over the lemon scone recipe one more time but back to the library this book will go. Grade: C.

Recipes from America's Small Farms by Joanne Lamb Hayes is a lovely little book. It's heavy on content and light on photos - meaning none. The recipes are not crazily inventive but they are seasonal, would flex my cooking muscles just enough and have got me yearning. Hellllo, the Church Potluck Rhubarb Cake? Calling my name, much? And just so you don't think that I'm only about desserts, I'm so going to try the Golden Beet Risotto and Broccoli Flan. Okay, the flan sounds dessert-ish. All the better, though! It is broccoli after all. Grade: B.

I thought that popular Fresh From the Farmers' Market by Janet Fletcher would be as wonderful as Recipes from America's Small Farms - but better because its photogenic food. It is extremely well organized and contains a thoughtful section on each ingredient available from the farmers' market. The photos are artistic and beautiful. Unfortunately, though, Fresh From the Farmers' Market is light on recipes. Very light. I marked a couple pages - persimmon ice cream for one because I never know what to do with all the fruit from my parents' and in-laws' trees - but this book is definitely going back to the 'brary. Grade: C.

Food to Live By by Myra Goodman is quite a tome. I'm not sure when I last saw so many tantalizing recipes, accompanied by small and relatively uninteresting photos, packed into one book. The author is affiliated with organic packaged lettuce giant, Earthbound Farm, of The Omnivore's Dilemma (e.g., big industrial organic) fame. Indeed, the book is even subtitled: The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook. That does give me a bit of pause. Not that it's bad. Not that I won't sample dozens of these recipes. Not that I won't renew the book as many times as I'm allowed. But it does give me pause. Grade: B.

Ironically, of all the books I checked out, the one I fell in love with is the least connected to the Eat Local movement. Screen Doors and Sweet Tea by Martha Hall Foose is a beautiful, hearty cookbook. The focus is more on old fashioned food than on following a locavore's rules or shopping strictly seasonally. My photographer friend gave a thumbs up on the colorful, regional photos. The author adds a note or two to the recipes - infusing them with a sense of place, of history, of family. I've already tried several of the recipes and day dreamed about others. The Banana Bread was divine.

My biggest takeaway though: I am going to own this cookbook. Of all the ones I've skimmed during my month-long book binge, for me, Screen Doors, is the only one worth buying. I'm buying a copy for my mom too, who was hooked by the photos of Banana Pudding. Who can blame her?!? The library can keep this copy. I need my own. Grade: A.


organicneedle said...

I wish I had been this smart years ago when I started buying cookbooks. Now I have a cabinet full that hardly see the light of day.

Donna said...

Thanks for the great reviews! I, too, picked up the Blue Eggs book and thumbed through it -- it looked so promising -- but I failed to find anything I wanted to make. I'll have to check out your favorite. Hope it's in my library!

kale for sale said...

I love this round up! The photography always draw me in and then when I get the book it sits on the shelf. Doing a bit of library dating before buying a cookbook is a brilliant idea. Thank you.

Daisy said...

Mmm. I'll check the library for cookbooks next time. it's summer; I have more time to bake and cook fun things!

Catherine said...

I love the library! Cooking magazines are also good to check out. Fine Cooking has some wonderful seasonal recipes which I have cooked again and again.

greeen sheeep said...

I just checked out a bunch of magazines from the library yesterday: Organic Gardening, Taste of Home, Dwell, Clean Eating. It's always nice to try before you buy. Now I want to go look for cookbooks!

Green Bean said...

Needle: I have only learned to do the library thing for the same reason. How about a cookbook swap. I am trying to organize one with all my unused cookbooks.

Donna: Glad that I was not alone on the Blue Eggs cookbook!

Katrina: Don't cookbooks have the best photography sometime? I love drooling and dreaming over their pages.

Deb: Yup, the library is definitely the way to go!

Catherine and Sheeep: Great tip on the magazines. I'm totally doing that next time.


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