Cookbook Review: Super Natural Every Day

Find my published version of this article in the Vanguard here

What’s On The Page:

Heidi Swanson, the cookbook author and blogger behind 101cookbooks.com, has a way

Photo by Adam Wickham

with writing about food, as she proves yet again in her new book “Super Natural Every Day.” Because she was a blogger before she was a cookbook author, Swanson offers substitutions in her head notes, allowing the cook the freedom to work with their pantry, not rush to the store for one specific ingredient.

Although she is a blogger, her prose isn’t so heavily laced with personal stories that we lose sight of what’s really important. Her use of imagery is skillful like a fiction writer, but careful like a chef. It isn’t uncommon to hear her describe a baked good “studded” with dried fruit, or a “flurry” of grated cheese atop a pasta dish. When she does go into personal anecdotes, its skillfully done, usually to give credit to the origins of her recipe ideas (specific friends or farmers).

The table of contents reads a lot like a menu—you get the title of the dish, then two or three standout ingredients to give you an overall sense of what will be making. For example: Sun Toast, whole-wheat seed bread and fresh eggs. Or Chanterelle tacos, Serrano chile, garlic and Parmesan.  It’s a unique way of informing the home cook of what each recipe has to offer.

Lastly, it should not go unnoticed how fantastic the photography is in Swanson’s book. All the photos—which Swanson takes herself—do a fantastic job of really capturing the region of Northern California where she lives, as well as the simplistic beauty of the food.

Cuisine:

The strange thing about Swanson’s food (on her blog and in this book) is that you often forget she’s a vegetarian. This may be because Swanson’s recipes are highlights of fresh produce, cheeses and whole grains, and rarely (though sometimes) use meat substitutes like tempeh or seitan. Swanson’s dishes are not stuck on one flavor profile, either. On one page, you find a Harissa dressing with flecks of cilantro, and on another, there may be a baked good that starts with coconut oil. The best thing about the recipes in this book is that she doesn’t spend time trying to convince her reader that her food is healthy and low in calories. That’s a given. Instead, she offers dishes that are unique and flavorful that just happen to be good for you.

What Stands Out:

The element of this book that is different from her first book, “Super Natural Cooking,” is simplicity. Many of the recipes are one-pot ordeals with small lists of ingredients. And nothing is a six-hour effort; the recipes are accessible and relatively easy to put together. Yes, sometimes there will be a less-recognizable ingredient for novice cooks, yet I would argue that part of really getting good at cooking is building a solid pantry, and Swanson helps you do that, one dish at a time.

What’s Not So Great:

Since this book is so successful in so many ways, finding a negative aspect to it is really nit picking. The one problem I have found is in the baking chapter. There can be some strange measurements (like 1 3/4 teaspoon) that can be a little challenging since baking is so precise. Yet this is in no way a reason to avoid the book (hell, it may even be that I’m a pretty pathetic baker myself).

The Verdict:

Heidi Swanson has really found a way to make her dishes accessible and enjoyable. She brings home cooks out of their comfort zones steadily and educationally, and it’s likely you’ll find yourself wanting to make several dishes from the book in one week.

And If You Choose To Meet Her…

Swanson and local baking celebrity Kim Boyce will be holding a meet up/signing at the Cleaners (next to Clyde Common). There will be snacks, a keg of beer and local food site OurFoodShed.com will be offering bags filled with scrumptious food items to go with book purchases. The event goes from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 29, at The Cleaners, 403 SW 10th Avenue and Stark Street.

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Hot Damn!

See the original article here

On a recent afternoon, I sat down with some spice connoisseurs to discuss some of Portland’s local offerings of hot sauces. Some of us could take the heat better than others (there were glasses of milk poured for the weak), but we can definitely conclude that Portland knows its spice. Here are our results.
Uncle Dubby’s Jamaican jerk sauce

Gold

Uncle Dubby’s Jamaican jerk sauce

This flavor-packed sauce won almost instantly amongst our judges. We found it particularly delicious for its flavor variants: The combination of parsley, garlic, cilantro and other spices made something so special that one of us claimed, “This sauce makes me want to cook and create things.” The spice level is especially impressive, since it slowly hits you, taking its time to make way to your taste buds. The especially prominent taste of garam masala had our mouths watering and us feeling like it should be called “Indian Jerk Sauce” instead.

Another factor that places this sauce in the Gold position is its maker. Uncle Dubby’s hot sauces are made inside John “Uncle Dubby” Wray’s apartment. This bearded pinball pro/artist/bartender acts almost like a spicy “dealer”; only those who are in the know can purchase his sauces. His sauces—which are vegan—are sold in mason jars, and he said he started making them by taking cookbook recipes and tweaking them: “I liked the recipes, but I knew they could be better,” Wray said. Many of Wray’s friends use the sauces as marinades as well as for dipping. All of his flavors are available for $5, and the only way you can reach him is by going to Hawthorne’s Bar of the Gods and asking.

Silver

Fire on the Mountain’s
bourbon chipotle

This all-purpose sauce came in at a very close second to our winner. The sauce, which originates from the Portland restaurant Fire On The Mountain Buffalo Wings (they have one location on North Interstate and one on Burnside), is more like a BBQ sauce than a salsa.

The heat, unlike Uncle Dubby’s sauce, hits you straight away, then the flavors arrive after, almost like a good wine. The fruit juices (lime and orange) are a nice aftertaste without being overwhelming. One taster said, “It’s not too sweet, which I love. I hate it when BBQ sauces overdo it with the sugar.”

The bourbon flavor is not a major component of this sauce, but only a slight note. This sauce would be delicious on chicken or tofu, or perhaps added to a chili for some extra kick.

The Rest

Secret Aardvark
habanero hot sauce

Although this sauce has been named “crack-like” by many of its followers, our tasters weren’t as impressed. Perhaps it was its sensational competitors that shadowed its greatness, but we found the carrot flavor extremely overpowering in this sauce.

Uncle Dubby’s mango habanero
and chipotle red

Both of these were also delicious, but one taster found the mango habanero “Too much mango and not enough heat.”
As for the Chipotle Red, it had a nice smokiness and heat in the back, but just wasn’t as memorable as its flavorful brothers and sisters.

What’s your go-to salsa or hot sauce?

Olive Press Competition #2

Being a lover of Italian food, good health, and quality ingredients, I am a huge fan of Olive Press Olive Oil from Sonoma, California (my homeland!).

Every once in a while, Gabi Moskowitz, author of Brokeass Gourmet and their resident food writer, conducts a food blog competition involving their olive oils.

In the spirit of summer, today’s competition is salad dressing! I’ve been eating lots of my Big Fat Italian Salad (previously found here), and here is a variation of the dressing I provided for that recipe. Another way to enjoy this dressing? Simply drizzled on those golden tomatoes that have been showing up the farmer’s markets lately (as showed above). Buon Appetito!

Big Fat Italian Dressing

Ingredients:

2 anchovies, rinsed if desired

1 heaping teaspoon of Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons of Olive Oil (OlivePress’ Arbequina is perfect)

salt

pepper

Method:

Add anchovies to small cup or bowl, drop Dijon in. Add vinegar and olive oil and whisk vigorously with a fork, seasoning to your liking with pepper and salt.

Olive Press Competition: A 4 Course St. Patty’s Meal

I sure do love me a food holiday. That’s why when I was invited to participate in a food blogger competition for Olive Press olive oil company in Sonoma (my hometown county! Represent!), I instantly thought of our upcoming holiday. Sure, I may be Italian/Lithuanian, but my boyfriend and favorite beer are both Irish, so of course I know what I’m talking about. Please enjoy my greened-out meal; each course highlighted with one of the following Olive Press olive oils:

Arbequina (light)
Mission (medium)
Italian (robust)
Blood Orange (sweet)

They’ve got all kinds of great oils you can check out at:
http://www.theolivepress.com

I’m not even the slightest bit competitive, so I just want to say thank you to Olive Press for sending me your samples and taking a chance on a newbie food blogger. Thanks so much!

Starter: Kale chips with Avocado Crema
These kale chips are nutrient-packed and transform completely in the oven into crunchy, salty delights. The Italian olive oil helped these chips achieve a smoky taste, which paired well with my avocado crema dip. Who doesn’t like avocado? (It’s got that good fat).

Ingredients:
1 small avocado, very soft and ripe
1 tablespoon of nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tsp sea salt
1 bunch of kale
Italian Olive Oil (Olive Press)

Method:
1) Take prettiest, fullest leaves from the bunch and rinse thoroughly.
2) Lay out kale leaves on baking sheet. Drizzle two tablespoons Italian olive oil, top with sea salt and a grind or two of pepper.
3) Bake kale in the oven for 10 minutes.
4) Meanwhile, mix salt, avocado, and Greek yogurt in a small bowl, tasting for preference.
5) Serve avocado crema with kale chips, instructing guests to dip the stems of the chips in the crema.

Side: Spinach Dill Mashed Potatoes
Here’s a comfort classic with ribbons of farmer’s market spinach and earthy dill to add some flare to an old favorite. I use the medium Mission olive oil because it isn’t an aggressive flavor and it adds the silkiness butter usually offers to mashed potatoes. And most importantly, it’s St.Paddy’s Day so you have to have SOME potatoes!

Ingredients:
1 large handful of spinach (preferably from the farmer’s market, oh so green!)
1 lb of Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
½ cup half and half
Mission olive oil (Olive Press)
1 tablespoon fresh or dried dill
sea salt and pepper
1 minced garlic clove

1) Boil potatoes for 20-30 minutes or until you cut push through a potato with a fork easily.
2) When there is around 10 minutes left, set a medium skillet to high and add one tablespoon of Mission olive oil and the garlic. Next, add the spinach and sauté with a spatula.
3) Drain boiled potatoes and return to sauté pan. Add half and half and spinach and stir.

Main Dish:Calamari Shells With Goat Cheese and Capers
The shells I use for this recipe adhere really well to the creaminess of the goat cheese, and the tangy lemon zest compliment the zing of the capers. The Arbequina olive oil is by far my favorite of the four: it’s delicate and really highlights the flavor of seafood…I like it so much I add it to the sauce as well!

Ingredients:
½ lb calamari tubes, sliced
1 cup of shell pasta
¼ cup of goat cheese crumbles
2 tablespoons capers
1 small zucchini, sliced
Delicate Arbequina Olive Oil (Olive Press)
the zest from one lemon
2 tablespoons parsley

1) Bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil
2) When boiling, drizzle 1 1/2 tablespoons of the Arbequina olive oil in a medium to large skillet. Place on medium high heat.
3) Add zucchini slices to mixture, cook for 4-5 minutes until becoming soft. Then add calamari to the mix, cooking a few minutes more.
4) Meanwhile, mix 2 more tablespoons of Arbequina with the zest and parsley in a small bowl.
5) When pasta is al dente, drain and then pour into skillet with calamari, zucchini and capers.
6) Top with lemon zest/parsley sauce and enjoy.

Dessert: Fruit Medley with Blood Orange Sherry Sauce
After any meal, it’s nice to leave the palate with something sweet. The Blood Orange olive oil from Olive press is really fantastic with a splash of sherry vinegar to add some kick to its sweetness. This fruit salad highlights some of our seasonal winter fruits that have been showing up everywhere, as well as some berries to prepare us for spring. Lastly, I added hazelnuts because they’re an Oregon favorite, and I have to give some love to my current residence!

Ingredients:
1 Anjou pear, sliced
2 Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced
½ cup blueberries
1 large handful of toasted hazelnuts
3 tablespoons Blood Orange olive oil (Olive Press)
1 and ½ tablespoon of sherry vinegar

1) Mix all fruit in a bowl with the nuts.
2) Mix oil and vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk with a fork.
3) Top fruit with sauce, and serve to someone you love!