Pros: useful everyday to elegant recipes, well laid out format, diverse content
Cons: some ingredients are regional and might be hard to find, no nutritional information for recipes
Television Chefs! Say those two words and many people will have one of two reactions. They either love them or hate them. I have mixed feelings about those chefs who make their living on the cable TV food related networks. I take each TV chefs work individually. Some I find talented, whereas others I find incompetent. Farm to Fork was written by one of the big names among TV chefs, Emeril Lagasse, and this book may be one of the best TV chef books I have ever opened.
As a rule, I tend to be a bit harsher on a celebrity cookbook than I am on a book by an, as yet, unknown. As I think many cooks do, I expect more from a "big name" in the industry. So when I sat down to open this book, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was ready not to like it. That inclination didn't last long.
The book begins in the usual way with the acknowledgements and contents pages, but the contents page was the first place that caught my eye. This book isn't set up in order of the usual breakfast, lunch, supper and dessert categories, but instead it is arranged by the main ingredient, in this case, herbs, milk and cheese, greens, and others, as well as a preserving the harvest section, which is as always dear to my heart. I found this to be quite a help. If I am going to a farmers market to purchase local produce or tending my own garden, a quick look into the contents pages will show me what can be made from the produce available. Fresh, by the way, is a key element in this book. Buy fresh and use fresh! I know I have been to a farmers market in my area and seen a wonderful looking item and thought to myself "but what would I do with it". Now, with this book in hand, I would have a list of tempting recipes that I might choose from.
The recipes are laid out in a clear, concise, easy to follow format, and some, when appropriate, even include step by step photography of how to achieve the desired result. Some of the ingredients, very few in fact, might be difficult to find in some regions of the country, but not impossible by any means. I found these recipes to be the type of "down-home" everyday recipes just about everyone would enjoy, but they still managed to have that special "fancy" flair that Emeril is known for adding. I would prepare any of these recipes for an everyday meal or for a dinner party. As I recall, they used to call this style "simple elegant". I was a bit disappointed, however; that no nutritional content was available for the recipes. In this day and age of nutritional awareness, I would almost consider it mandatory to have nutritional information in a cookbook of this caliber.
Since I acquired this book at the height of the wild blackberry season here in Maine, the natural choice of dish to make was the Rustic Blackberry Cobbler. This recipe was not only easy to prepare but delicious. The serving size on this recipe states 6 to 8 servings but they weren't judging that with my husband in mind because he makes short work of this dish, usually having two helpings at a time. This is great hot or cold and can be served by itself or with ice cream or whipped cream. This would make a wonderful addition to a family Fourth of July backyard bar-be-que or to top of an elegant dinner party. For certain this recipe was a keeper.
Next I would have loved to try the bacon wrapped quail recipe but alas there are none in the field or our local grocery store so we opted to pass on that one and settled for Triple Chocolate Pecan Fudge. Just the name of this recipe had my mouth watering, and even though I usually would pick a more savory recipe to do next I admit the photograph of this one cinched the deal. This recipe states that the result will improve with practice and I have found this to usually be the case when working in the candy realm. I am sure that my previous experience with fudges and candies made a difference in the eventual outcome of this recipe, but it came out wonderfully soft, rich, almost sinful fudge.
I did do a Roast Chicken with Sorrel Cream Sauce as well out of this book. At any other time of year I might have had to search for the Sorrel but several local farmers markets and greenhouses had it fresh.. I have to admit that I wasn't as impressed with this dish as the two desert recipes, but that may have been my sweet tooth talking. Don't misunderstand me, this recipe was good but this dish was a bit to tart for our liking.
I found the majority of the recipes in this book to be ones that I would actually make. I have a lot of cookbooks that I couldn't say that about. I do have a couple of things about the book I didn't like. I already mentioned the nutritional content of the recipes, that's perhaps the biggest thing, but I also found in looking at recipes that I was more familiar with, such as Lobster Rolls, that the preparation may be a more regional one depending on where you live. Living in Maine, if I were to add any vegetables to a lobster roll, I would be laughed at by my relatives. Around here, well in my circles anyway, those would only be used by restaurants and tourists as a filler to take the place of the more expensive lobster. To each his own I suppose.
One more thing I want to mention about the book, the recipes are not written in a format that most novice cooks would be comfortable with. Most of the recipes assume some cooking experience and would expect one to know the basic cooking terms and techniques.
Overall this book is a definite keeper. I would suggest it be added to your cookbook library or would make a great gift to almost any accomplished cook.
Rustic Blackberry Cobbler
4 pints of fresh blackberries, rinsed briefly and drained
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and rolling out
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving (optional)
1.Preheat the oven to 375 F.
2.In a large mixing bowl, combine the berries with ½ cup of the sugar, the cornstarch, and the lemon juice. Toss well. Place the berry mixture in a deep dish pie plate and cover it with foil. Set pie plate on a baking sheet (to catch any juices that may bubble over later), and transfer it to the oven. Bake until the berries begin to release their juices and soften, 15 to 20 minutes.
3.While the berries are baking, combine 3 tablespoons of the remaining sugar with the flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add 4 tablespoons of the butter and work it with a pastry blender, two forks, or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add ¾ cup heavy cream and the vanilla, and stir until the mixture just comes together to form a dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and dust it lightly with flour. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to a thickness of ½ inch. Using a 2 ½ inch floured cutter, cut the dough into 8 rounds.
4.When the berries have softened, remove the baking dish from the oven and remove the foil covering. Stir the berries well to distribute the juices. Arrange the dough rounds on top of the berries. Brush the rounds with the remaining 2 tablespoons heavy cream, and sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over them. Scatter the remaining butter pieces over the hot berries. Return the baking dish to the oven and cook until the biscuits are golden brown and the berries are hot and bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes.
5.Remove the dish from the oven and allow the cobbler to cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm, spooned into shallow bowls and garnished with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream if desired.
6 to 8 servings