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Great Cookbooks for Families: Using It All

Reviewed by Katy Killilea

fast fresh greenGorgeous local food is everywhere! When you can’t keep up with the fruits of your garden, your CSA share, or if you over-purchase colorful beauties at the market, there’s help available to make it all into something delicious before it passes its prime. These books are filled with ideas for using what you have, avoiding waste, and enjoying summer meals with your family.

Look at this smart premise: a cookbook organized around nine techniques that can be applied to whatever amazing vegetables you have on hand. As you’d expect, grilling and stir-frying have chapters, but so does two-stepping. Also walk-away sauteing. In Fast, Fresh & Green, Susie Middleton schools us enough to make what we feel like having, and supplies genius ideas to get us on the path to improvising stardom. Brown Butter Summer Squash Linguine sure comes in handy when there are beau coup squashes lingering around the kitchen counter and threatening to take over the garden.

localOrganized by vegetable, Eating Local shares the wisdom of farmers to guide you in eating smartly and creatively from whatever bounty comes your way. With instruction for storing and preserving, as well as recipes from the farmers themselves, you’ll be in good shape. The techniques are simple and warm-weather friendly: lots of grilling and stir-frying and cobbler-ing or galette-ing into juicy perfection. Farmers and small farms across the country are featured in short  bios and the photography is vibrant and dazzling.

My main summer food-bounty phobia is the often-feared zucchini. Ideally, the cure goes beyond nightly heaps of Smitten Kitchen’s zucchini with almonds and the 18 loaves of chocolate zucchini bread I crammed into my freezer last summer. Even the zucchini bread in Eating Local is spectacular with its bits of crystallized ginger and flecks of carrot. So you can imagine the loving care the farmers featured in this book shower upon their kale and butternut squashes.

lucidThe gorgeously photographed Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life offers more inspiration for using top-notch  ingredients in pure, honest dishes. Say you grew watermelons this year, or bought an entire watermelon and live in a family of less than ten people: enter Watermelon Gazpacho. The Fruit Focaccia in this book puts any ripe fruit you may have in excess to beautiful use; focaccia here is topped with grapes, apples, plums, or figs…and will be gobbled up before you notice everyone has returned to the pan for another slice. For those with an abundance of the K-word, the Kale Salad with Avocado, Almonds, and Toasted Nori will keep you at pace with your stockpile. It’s sweet enough to interest a kale neophyte and takes on as much of the mighty green as you can fit in your biggest bowl. Get a taste of this book’s vibe at author Louisa Shafia’s web site.

Meanwhile in Rhode Island…Amy McCoy is a local home cook and author of the recently released Poor Girl Gourmet. She’d always enjoyed a luxurious gourmet life, but with the economic downturn had to adjust her food strategy to eat awesomely on a diminished budget. Her loss is our gain–and ultimately her gain as well. Her well-attended blog and this book feature her sunny writing, tantalizing photography, and the kind of common sense yum that makes you tie on an apron and get into the kitchen when you had intended to merely flip through a book.

poor-girlAmy presents her culinary needs this clearly: she hates waste and loves food. The flavors, simplicity, and cost make these recipes family-friendly. Her approach to cost is addictive: with each recipe (off to the side so it won’t annoy you if this isn’t your kind of thing) she breaks down the cost–in some cases to the half-penny of salt or 12 cents of crushed red pepper. How about an eight-cent garnish for that carrot-ginger soup? If you are feeling fancy, you may want to add a tablespoon of sour cream to each of your family’s bowls for an added cost of 8 cents each or $2.19 for 30 tablespoons. Penny awareness aside, this is not a book for cheapskates. It is a budget-oriented book for people who love food.

Since Amy is local, foreign concepts like “Kroger” or “Wegman’s” are absent. When she recommends Whole Foods 365 Pasta, or a neighborhood with small Italian markets and nicely priced delicacies, Rhode Islanders know just what she means. An added bonus to her being local: you may get the opportunity to meet her at your bookstore as she tours or bump into her in the grocery store or farmer’s market. Buy what she’s buying.

Another local resource I turn to again and again is Holistic Health Counselor Hannah Marcotti, who regularly shares recipes and stories of family/food/life on Kidoinfo. You know how some people can just take food and make it amazing with a little chop-chop, salt, and inherent genius? She’s one of those. Hannah’s ideas for feeding a family using what’s best and local are apparently limitless. You can find a list of her Kidoinfo columns here or search her burgeoning blog.

The details:

Fast, Fresh & Green

by Susie Middleton, 2010 Chronicle Books $25

Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers

by Janet Fletcher, 2010 Andrews McMeel $35

Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life

by Louisa Shafia, 2009 Ten Speed Press $22.50

Poor Girl Gourmet

by Amy McCoy, 2010 by Andrews McMeel $17

Editor’s note: The publishers sent copies of these books for review. Kidoinfo never accepts payment in any form for its reviews.

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1 comment
  • First, thank you for that lovely praise. I love that we share a fondness for freshness and quality and beauty in our food.

    Second, these books look so fantastic! So, what are you doing with all your zucchini?