Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cookbook Review - Chefs on the Farm

A friend of mine gave me this cookbook for Christmas last year. I thought I'd share my thoughts about it and share a recipe I tested.

Chefs on the Farm
Recipes and Inspiration from Quillisascut Farm School for Domestic Arts
By Shannon Borg & Lora Lea Misterly

The Overview
Seasonable, Sustainable and Local
Chefs on the Farm follows a year of seasons at Quillisascut Farm in northeastern Washington.

The Recipe
I chose a recipe from the Winter Recipes section to test (as I began this review in late March), Anise Seed Roast Pork with Celeriac Mash by Chef Kären Jurgensen*. I had never cooked celeriac and was intrigued by trying something new.

Roast pork:
2 pounds pork loin
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon anise seed, crushed lightly with mortar and pestle
½ tablespoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Celeriac mash:
1 pound celeriac, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 russet potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup heavy cream or sour cream
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim the pork loin of any silver skin but leave fat intact. With a sharp knife tip, shallowly score the loin on all sides. Slip the garlic into the scores. In a small bowl, combine the anise seed, salt, and pepper and rub the surface of the loin with the mixture.

Put the loin in a heavy cast iron skillet or roasting pan and cook in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for 25 more minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees. Let the loin rest for about 7 minutes before slicing. Reserve pan juices to pour over when serving.

To prepare the celeriac mash, put the celeriac and potatoes into separate saucepan and cover with water. Bring each to a boil and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and run both vegetables through a food mill into a large bowl. Stir in the butter, heavy cream, and nutmeg. Season with salt to taste.

*Recipe reprinted with the consent of Chef Kären Jurgensen.

Recipe Test Notes
The recipe is simple, relying more on quality products than the complication of multiple ingredients. I purchased a pork roast from a local ranch (Skagit River Ranch) in keeping with the book’s themes of organic, local and sustainable food.

I found the crust mixture a bit scant so I mixed half again as much to coat the roast.

The recipe simply suggested peeling it and cutting it into 2” pieces. Chef Jurgensen included a brief note regarding cooking dense root vegetables in cold water to prevent the outside from going mushy before the inside cooked. This suggestion worked well for the celeriac but the potatoes did disintegrate a bit before they cooked fully. (A few years ago, I started slicing potatoes in ¾ inch slices when boiling them. I found that they cooked quicker and more evenly that way. I’d suggest the same when boiling potatoes for this recipe.) The celeriac took about 5 minutes longer to cook than the potatoes but remained more solid.

The smell of the anise seeds roasting in the oven coupled with the succulent smell of roast pork made my mouth water before I even got the roast out of the oven. The combination was remarkable. The anise and garlic enhanced the pork. I loved the celeriac / potato combination. The celeriac added a subtle parsley and celery flavor to the mash without being overpowering. The consistency of the combination was lighter than standard mashed potatoes. The suggested amounts of butter and cream were perfect. The result was a rounded, rich mash with piquant notes.

My Overall Impressions
The book is filled with beautiful photographs of seasonal life on Quillisascut Farm, visiting chefs, and delicious food. The introduction is a bit wordy; once the general setting is established it does have a tendency to drone on a bit. I get it though, the farm is inspiring and Borg and Misterly want to convey that.

For city dwellers, or anyone who isn’t familiar with the cyclic nature of farming, the book sets the scene for each season – the hibernation and planning of winter, the rebirth of spring, the abundance of summer, and the harvest and storage of fall. Recipes are interwoven in text, and feature enticing descriptions or explanations of key ingredients.

Sidebars offer insight from culinary professionals regarding the benefits and challenges of seasonal, sustainable, and local foods. Other vignettes profile small producers, discuss biodiversity, and feature seasonal harvest lists.

As for the recipes, Jurgensen does a wonderful job of letting the food speak for itself. Her recipes finesse flavor without feeling heavy-handed. She often includes suggestions and variations for ingredients that are less common. You get a sense of the chef’s creativity; the ingenuity that happens when you work with what’s ripe vs. following a recipe verbatim.

The final section offers guidelines for incorporating local, sustainable and organic foodstuffs into our own kitchens and lives. The information is practical and plentiful – providing resources for everything from books to producers and suppliers to sustainability organizations.

In summary, though Chefs on the Farm has its verbose moments, it’s a delightful cookbook and respectable reference for those interested in the sustainability and local food movements.

I would give it 4 out of 5 ladles.

Buy It If:

  • You are interested in the local food movement

  • You enjoy cooking seasonally

  • You live in the Pacific Northwest
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