Pros: Well organized, good recipes, sticks to its main message
Cons: Mediocre print quality, instructions lacking in detail
First impressions first: Cooking Closer to Home: A Year of Seasonal Recipes is full of well composed photographs of beautiful dishes, but they suffer from poor print quality. It may be of interest to know that they chose to use an environmentally responsible publisher, which is in line with the message of the book. The authors Richard and Diane are a chef and nutritionist, respectively, hailing out of Vermont. While the book is not intended to be regional by design, some recipes feature ingredients that are much easier to obtain locally in the northeastern United States.
Cooking Closer to Home is divided in the typical course fashion: appetizers, soups, etc. They have also thoughtfully included a section on canning and preservation, which is almost essential for those wishing to eat seasonally. Within each section, the recipes are organized by season. Most do well with featuring ingredients from their particular season; however, I was surprised to find summer recipes calling for dried herbs that are easy to grow and commonly available fresh at farmer’s markets. Individual recipes are presented in the typical fashion, with a list of ingredients, followed by a bulleted procedure. The procedures are short and to the point, but sometimes lacking in detail. Most feature a “harvest hint” at the bottom of the page, which offer information about some of the ingredients, optional methods for preparation, or other commentary by the authors. At first glance the hints seemed gimmicky, but many are well-thought out and useful. Occasionally, sidebars appear to discuss miscellaneous topics. I would have greatly preferred references to them in the book’s contents.
I’m always on the lookout for good low temperature dough recipes, as I am without the means to cook pizza at high temperature at home. I was excited to find one here, but less excited to find out that it suffers from the mediocrity of all other low temp pizza recipes I’ve tried in the past. The focaccia recipe was more of the same, good, but not eliciting any strong feelings. Many of the book’s recipes call for maple syrup, and both of them used it instead of sugar. If it made a difference to either, I couldn’t tell. The cucumber soup and pumpkin bread pudding, by contrast, were phenomenal. The authors paired the bread pudding with pumpkin seed brittle, which was equally excellent. I plan on the bread pudding becoming a staple recipe in my house.
Going into Cooking Closer to Home, I had expected a little more narrative about local food. While they included little fact nuggets throughout the book, it turned out to be much more focused on the individual recipes. Fortunately, the recipes are mostly well written and offer plenty of good ideas on ways to use up seasonal produce. Overall, I would recommend Cooking Closer to Home: A Year of Seasonal Recipes to seasonal eaters and localvores looking for a collection of new ingredient combinations to try out at home.
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
5 cups crusty Italian bread, 1-inch cubed (you can use whole-wheat bread or any combination of leftover bread)
2 1/4 cups 1% milk
1 cup fresh pumpkin puree
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Heavy cream and honey, for garnish
- Spread the bread cubes out on a cookie sheet, and let dry on the counter for 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 325 F. Place the bread cubes in a 2-quart round baking dish.
- In a medium bowl mix together the milk, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes. Let soak for 10 minutes, occasionally pushing down any bread that rises to the top.
- Place the baking dish into a large, 2-inch deep pan. Fill the larger pan with water, at least 1-inch deep.
- Bake for 60 minutes or until slightly firm and lightly browned on top. Let cool before serving. Serve with a piece or two of Crunchy Pumpkin Seed Brittle and a dollop of heavy cream with honey.