Home Cooked [A Review]

Cooking good food is one of those things we just do not seem to have time for these days. Most folks subsist on a combination of microwaved dinners, takeout, or dine-in. When we do cook, it’s usually a matter of popping open boxes from the pantry or pouring a frozen bag into a pan and coating it with a tear-open packet of sauce. After all, when creating a relatively decent hot meal is this easy, is it really justifiable to pour extra time into a meal just to make it from scratch?

home-cookedIn her new Home Cooked: Essential Recipes For a New Way to Cook (10 Speed Press, April 2016), Anya Fernald offers a middle ground between slow-cooked, high quality foods and fast but flavorless cooking. Her suggestion is simple, yet genius: put in time creating quality base ingredients and preserve them, and then when time is short on a weeknight you’ve got flavor-packed ingredients that are ready for use immediately.

Take, for instance, her sofritto: there’s nothing to it but olive oil, onions, carrots, and celery, and I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve made this to start a soup. I usually rush it, cooking it hot just to get it done, and the flavor is never as good as it could be. Her innovation is to cook it ahead of time and freeze it in ice cube trays for ready-to-go flavor later on.

The first portion of the book is devoted to such recipes for base ingredients, and then the rest of the book is divided up into appetizers/cocktails, meals, and desserts that utilize these base ingredients. Interspersed throughout are her various thoughts on cooking as well as stunning photography.

If there’s anything that turned me off about the book, it was the many recipes that I personally found rather unappealing (fried chicken hearts? raw beef?). I imagine it’s mostly because I’m vegetarian, but my omnivorous wife had much the same reaction as me.

That being said, there are plenty of other interesting recipes in the book that are appealing. I normally link to both the physical copy and a digital copy of the book, but in this case just do yourself a favor and pick up a hardback copy of the book from Amazon for $17.50. Not only is the Kindle Edition actually more expensive, but the hardback is worth it. It’s well-bound and sturdy, and quite aesthetically pleasing.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.

Pure Food: Eat Clean With Seasonal, Plant-Based Recipes [a review]

My wife and I have been experimenting in the kitchen for the past few years, looking through various cookbooks and trying new recipes. She’s been doing the lion’s share of the cooking lately, and so the following review is written by her.

Two topics that we frequently consider in our home are the importance of healthy eating and the elements of a wise diet. A quick look at the news or a Portlandia episode confirms that we are not alone in this; many Americans are seeking to be more intentional with what goes on their tables, and many are contributing their own conclusions to the national conversation. One such voice is Veronica Bosgraaf with her new book, Pure Food: Eat Clean with Seasonal, Plant-Based Recipes.

Bosgraaf, founder of Pure Bar (a line of organic fruit- and nut-based snacks) offers a collection of recipes that is, as the title suggests, full of pure and fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains creatively combined to yield maximum nutrition. These recipes are organized seasonally, with each month holding its own chapter—a unique and useful feature when working primarily with fresh produce. She is a decided advocate for local, seasonal, organic, non-GMO, “real food,” as she passionately describes in her introduction, and she firmly champions the reader’s ability to cook this “real food” in fabulous ways. These two convictions sound clearly throughout all pages of the book.

My favorite characteristic about Pure Food is that it reads as a sort of Cookbook Plus. Each recipe is supplemented with reflective commentary on its inspiration or on the health benefits of certain ingredients. Bosgraaf also provides many tips with thoughts on broader topics related to health and green living. These side notes lend the book a fun and personal flavor, as if you’re sitting in Veronica Bosgraaf’s kitchen listening to her gush about the interesting food she’s just served you. Additionally, the notes are quite informative and thought-provoking; Pure Food is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to examine their practices in the kitchen. For example,

  • Is it really best to buy only organic, non-GMO foods?
  • How can fresh and healthy foods be increasingly incorporated into one’s daily diet?
  • How does food play into one’s way of life throughout the year?

As for the backbone of any cookbook—the recipes—I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the recipes I tried were clear and simple, and I felt confident following them. On the other hand, I have three hesitations about her recipes. First, many of them strike me as somewhat strange and acquired tastes—and we already strive to follow a health-conscious diet! For someone looking to take first steps from meat and potatoes to a more natural, plant-based diet, these recipes seem like they would be quite a stretch; at the very least, they would need to be incorporated into one’s meal plan one or two at a time. One potential difficulty is that many of the ingredients in Pure Food’s recipes are only available at health food stores. This ushers in my second hesitation: Bosgraaf urges a diet that tends to be fairly expensive. Unless you’re already willing to pay the price for “real food,” you will need to grapple with your food priorities and finances in order to cook from this book. My third hesitation with these recipes is that they generally lack common plant-based proteins like beans, soy, and seitan. Bosgraaf actually argues that the plant sources she uses provide sufficient protein. But I’m a nursing mother and runner, and the recipes I tried were too insubstantial to keep me full for long.

On the whole, Pure Food is a stimulating cookbook that encourages readers down the valuable path of healthier living. Although you may need to add some protein here and there or substitute some less expensive (and less healthy) ingredients, Veronica Bosgraaf’s cookbook will inspire you to go on creative and nutritious adventures in your kitchen.

You can pick up the book from Amazon for $16.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.