Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cooking Local

Vermillion author Marilou Suszko has a second cookbook on the shelves. The Locavore’s Kitchen: A Cook’s Guide to Seasonal Eating and Preserving was released earlier this year by Ohio University Press. It’s a nice follow-up to her first cookbook Farms & Foods of Ohio.

Suszko is my friend, and we’re collaborating on a book about the West Side Market, to be published next year. She even included a recipe from me, potato pancakes, in The Locavore’s Kitchen and titled it with my name. So, of course, I’m inclined to review her latest work. And I was really hoping I’d have a favorable opinion, otherwise things could be … well … awkward, to say the least. Luckily, I do.

This is a fine collection of appealing, doable recipes plus useful insight and tips from someone who really knows her way around the kitchen. Suszko’s ideas about what it takes to produce great dishes and memorable meals are inspiring. I often refer to her as a domestic goddess. Because although I pride myself on cooking from scratch, she’s way “scratchier.” It’s not uncommon for this very busy writer to find time to make her own butter, ricotta, crème fraiche and sauerkraut. One day she tried to convince me how easy it is to produce your own ginger ale. So in this book, she provides instructions for turning vegetables into pickles, milk into yogurt, fruit into jam and herbs into pesto. She gets you excited about infusing vinegars, drying chiles to grind into powder and coiling up some cider syrup. Suszko is also a good writer, adept at explaining the intricacies of how to achieve the perfect pie crust or cook grass-fed beef for optimum flavor.

She says the book is meant for beginners and not necessarily people like me with years of stove time under my belt and a longstanding practice of buying local ingredients. And it definitely meets the challenge of equipping novices with a wealth of valuable information about how to choose, store, use and preserve what our farmers provide. Even so, I learned many things flipping through the pages, from the subtle differences in flavor and texture of 11 varieties of squash to the definition of a slump (not the kind that often hits around 4 in the afternoon, but a sort of puddingy cobbler prepared on the stovetop with a steamed top that’s sort of like a dumpling).

Right now the only thing left in my garden is kale. And now that the nights have gotten cold, it should be sweeter than it was a month ago. So I’m excited about bringing it for Suszko’s kale and sausage sauté soon. I also have three red cabbages I harvested last week that are destined to be braised, as per her instructions, with apples, red wine vinegar, brown sugar and baking spices. And busy as I am working on that new manuscript, if I find some sugar pumpkins (the kind you puree not carve) at the farmers market this weekend, I feel like I must try her recipe for spicy pumpkin ketchup. The woman just makes you want to start chopping and stirring. I can’t think of a better recommendation for a cookbook.

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