Seasonal and Local Cookbooks: How They Stack Up

Every other Monday throughout the summer and fall while locally raised produce is spectacular and abundant, the Heavy Table will be exploring vegetarian cuisine, both in the kitchen and at local eateries. Read other stories in this series.

I love cookbooks. Well, books of all kinds, really. I love the cool, smooth feel of paper and the smell of fresh ink. I especially love dusty old family cookbooks, with their brittle and stained pages and penciled-in markings. But, mostly, I love the potential every new book holds to change my world or, at least, my perspective, and to transport me to somewhere new and exotic for a brief visit. I read cookbooks like novels. At my house you’ll find them on my nightstand, tucked under my bed, pushed under the sofa, and piled in a stack on the floor in front of my bookshelf, waiting to be reshelved.

So, when I saw seasonal and local cookbooks sprouting in bookstores everywhere this past spring, I couldn’t wait to explore them all once our local growing season kicked into gear. Between six recipe testers and tasters, we tested 28 recipes from six books, never fewer than three recipes from any one book. I personally tested no fewer than two recipes from each book, and usually four or five. I hadn’t bought this much butter and Parmesan cheese in years. I also read all 1,715 pages of text. While many of the books have a vegetable focus, none has a strictly vegetarian focus. Nevertheless, we focused our efforts on testing vegetarian recipes from the books. I had intended to declare one book the winner above all others, but found, in the end, that the best book is the one that suits your particular tastes and needs. Therefore, I’ve summarized the key qualities of each book, listed in alphabetical order below, so you can decide which one suits you.

summer cookbooks stacked
Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Cooking from the Garden: Best Recipes from Kitchen Gardener, edited by Ruth Lively [300 pages, hardcover, The Taunton Press, $29.95]

Cooking from the Garden is a compilation of 200 recipes from now-defunct Kitchen Gardener magazine that includes recipes from renowned chefs and authors such as Deborah Madison, James Beard Foundation Award winning author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone; Chicago-based chef and cookbook author Rick Bayless; and Minneapolis-based chef Lucia Watson and food writer Beth Dooley.

Two of the five recipes we tried, Lynn Alley‘s Strawberry Smoothie and Nan Wishner’s Crustless Vegetable Quiche turned out to be real favorites. The strawberry smoothie, though basic, has turned into a morning staple in the household that tested it, using peaches now instead of strawberries. The quiche made use of a good amount of garden vegetables, including kale, red onion, carrot, and potatoes, and got an appealing kick from Chinese five-spice powder which, especially when ground from scratch, is the star of the dish.

Cooking from the Garden White Bean Salad
Lori Writer / Heavy Table

We also tried Beth Dooley’s and Lucia Watson’s White Bean Salad with Rosemary-Balsamic Vinaigrette (see recipe below) and thought it was pretty good, a B or a B+, though I wanted to add a splash of acid, apple cider vinegar, or lemon, perhaps. We didn’t use the optional homemade croutons, so perhaps that would have provided the missing element had we tried it. Unfortunately, the recipe was missing some clarification in the ingredient listing, which called for  “4 cups cooked — or white beans,” which we decided meant 4 cups of cooked white beans. No directions were provided for cooking the beans, so we used our own method.

Two Sandwiches, Two Ways

Every other Monday throughout the summer and fall while locally raised produce is spectacular and abundant, the Heavy Table will be exploring vegetarian cuisine, both in the kitchen and at local eateries. Read other stories in this series.

As a co-author of an upcoming book about Minnesota sandwiches and the people who prepare them, I ate a lot of sandwiches in the first half of 2010, mostly Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches and Somali sambusa, but also, in support of my co-authors, the occasional meatloaf, fried walleye, or hot dago sandwich. I ate sandwiches for breakfast. I ate sandwiches for lunch. And, yes, I ate sandwiches for dinner. Sometimes for every meal in a day. Sometimes in family-owned delis so small I couldn’t turn around without clobbering someone with my purse; sometimes in celebrity-chef-operated restaurants anchored by shiny art museums.

Fortunately I like sandwiches, so this was not a problem, except that, Minnesota sandwiches, at least the iconic ones, tend to be incredibly, gloriously meat-tacular. So, the first thing I did when I submitted my chapters to my editor is swear off bacon-wrapped, pate-slathered, or deep-fried meat sandwiches. But, after months of eating, breathing, and dreaming sandwiches, I found I couldn’t give them up. Thus began my quest, still ongoing, for vegetarian, sometimes even vegan, sandwiches.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

French Meadow Bakery and Café in Minneapolis serves up a vegan Grilled Reuben Tempeh sandwich ($9) stuffed with thick slabs of marinated tempeh (pressed cakes of cooked and fermented soybeans) and tangy sauerkraut and spiced tomato aioli piled onto slender slices of house-baked rye bread. The sandwiches are grilled until the bread has achieved that toasty, buttery exterior you look for in a grilled cheese sandwich, except that it’s all vegan, so there’s no butter and no cheese. Sandwiches come with your choice of chips and salsa, mixed greens, or, as pictured in the photo above, a spicy slaw.

Minnesota Cooks at the State Fair

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Minnesota Cooks, a program held annually at the Minnesota State Fair, is a celebration of local food that educates fair goers in the only way possible — through their stomachs. The full-day program is broken into hour-long segments, each akin to the Quick Fire Challenges from Top Chef. With 45 minutes on the clock, chefs use ingredients from local farmers to create dishes to feed three to five hungry celebrity tasters and 200 hungry audience members. Unlike the beloved television hit, however, in this scenario there is no one winner. With beautiful dishes made from local foods served, we all win.

Pictured below is a sampling from the day.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Mike Phillips of The Craftsman
Grilled Lamb Leg with Chile Braised Potato
With farmer Deborah Pikovsky from Star Thrower Farm

Matt Annand from Prairie Bay Grill & Catering in Baxter
Salad of Confit of Duck Rillette with Roasted Corn and Lavender Vinaigrette
With farmer Gary Pahl of Pahl Farms

Tasters: State Senator Gary Kubly, Jeremy Iggers (Twin Cities Media Alliance), Kirby Schmidt (Future Farmers of America)

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Tracy Singleton and Marshall Paulsen of Birchwood Cafe
Birchwood Cobb Salad with Poached Garlic and Honey Vinaigrette
With farmer John Svihel of Svihel Farms

Jon Radle of Grand Cafe
Grilled Thousand Hills Beef Tenderloin, Local Corn Grits with Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, and Tarragon, and a Grilled Onion-Pickled Ramp Relish
With Todd Churchill of Thousand Hills Cattle Co.

Tasters: Senator Al Franken, Kate Rime (Eco Metro / Blue Sky Guide), Carrie Tollefson (Olympic runner)

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Schedule for the Minnesota Cooks 2009 State Fair Event

minnesotacooksbannerThe State Fair is a cornucopia of local food-related goodness, but chief among the events to attend may be the Minnesota Cooks event at Carousel Park. The program consists of a series of shows featuring outstanding chefs from throughout Minnesota demonstrating their talents and interacting with various emcees who interview the Minnesota farmers who produced the food, as well as local celebrity tasters.

Minnesota Cooks 2009 State Fair Event, Tuesday, Sep. 1, 2009
Place: Carousel Park

[A downloadable PDF of the event schedule is also available]

9am

Danny Schwartzman and Kay Taylor of Common Roots Cafe
Riverbend Polenta with Smokey Black Eyed Peas, Sauteed Greens, and a Fried Egg
With farmer Dave Massey of Northwoods Organic Produce

Brian Hauke of the Red Stag Supper Club
Monte Cristo on Brioche with Pork, Swiss, and Fruit Compote
With farmer Mike Dekarski from Apple Jack Orchards

Tasters: Lori Sturdevant (Star Tribune), Paul Hugunin (MN Dept. of Ag / Minnesota Grown), Tim Brownell (Eureka Recycling)

10am

Mike Phillips of The Craftsman
Grilled Lamb Leg with Chile Braised Potato
With farmer Deborah Pikovsky from Star Thrower Farm

Matt Annand from Prairie Bay Grill & Catering in Baxter
Salad of Confit of Duck Rillette with Roasted Corn and Lavender Vinaigrette
With farmer Gary Pahl of Pahl Farms

Tasters: State Senator Gary Kubly, Jeremy Iggers (Twin Cities Media Alliance), Kirby Schmidt (Future Farmers of America)

11am

Tracy Singleton and Marshall Paulsen of Birchwood Cafe
Birchwood Cobb Salad with Poached Garlic and Honey Vinaigrette
With farmer John Svihel of Svihel Farms

Jon Radle of Grand Cafe
Grilled Thousand Hills Beef Tenderloin, Local Corn Grits with Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, and Tarragon, and a Grilled Onion-Pickled Ramp Relish
With Todd Churchill of Thousand Hills Cattle Co.

Tasters: Senator Al Franken, Kate Rime (Eco Metro / Blue Sky Guide), Carrie Tollefson (Olympic runner)

Noon

Scott Pampuch of Corner Table
White Pork Sausage with Apples
With farmer Charlie Johnson of Whistling Well Farm

Nathalie Johnson of Signature Cafe
Lutheran Church Basement Apple Crisp
With farmer Loretta Jaus of Organic Valley

Tasters: Stephanie Hansen (FM 107.1), Boyd Huppert (KARE 11), Art Hughes (freelance journalist)

1pm

Judi Barsness of Chez Jude in Grand Marais
New York Strip Steak Herbs de Provence with Shitake Mushroom, Butternut Squash, Pea, Hazelnut Wild Rice, Orzotto
With farmer Eric Klein of Hidden Stream Farm

JD Fratzke of The Strip Club
Grilled Pork Loin and Pancetta with Heirloom Tomatoes over Grilled Sourdough
With farmers Jim and LeeAnn VanDerPol of Pastures A Plenty

Tasters: Sue Zelickson (WCCO), Burt Cohen (Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine)

2pm

Michael Murray-John of Vinifera Vine & Dine in Wabasha
Panzanella Salad

Scott Graden of New Scenic Cafe in Duluth
Ratatouille Lasagne

Both with farmers Brian and Leslie Axdahl of Axdahl Farms

Tasters: Mayor Chris Coleman, Tom Helgeson (Midwest Fly Fishing), M.A. Rosko (FOX9 Morning News)

3pm

Heather Hartman of Spoonriver
Wheatberry-Arborio Risotto with Grilled Summer Squash and Sweet Corn, Eggplant, and Heirloom Tomato Basil Relish

Dick Trotter and Lisa Scribner of Trotter’s Cafe and Bakery
Roasted Summer Vegetable Pizza on Focaccia and White Velvet Cake with Vanilla Bean Butter Cream Frosting and Raspberries

Both with farmer Paul Otten of Natura Farms

Tasters: Senator Amy Klobuchar, Seitu Jones (visual artist), James Norton (Heavy Table), Mary Lahammer (Twin Cities Public TV)

4pm

Brian Henning of Bethel University Dining Services
Potato Crusted Walleye Fillets with Sauteed Leeks, Peppers, and Carrots
With farmer Annette Gilbertson of Gilbertson Farms

Lisa Lindberg of Amboy Cottage Cafe in Amboy
Potato Bread and Variations
With Dan and Mike Minar of Cedar Summit Farm

Tasters: Don Shelby (WCCO), Mayor R.T. Rybak, Julie Bleyhl (AFSCME)