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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 28.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Cookbook cues: The Northern Heartland Kitchen by Beth Dooley

If I had a dime for every time I've typed "fresh and seasonal" in the process of covering local food over the past 12 months... I could order a fresh and seasonal meal at a top restaurant. So with a cookbook by Beth Dooley called The Northern Heartland Kitchen, subtitled "More than 200 recipes to satisfy seasonal appetites"(University of Minnesota Press, $30), what are you going to get that's different from the rest of the what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-CSA-box recipes out there?

First off, this book is all about the recipes. There are no food porn photos. There's not even a glossy color section tipped into the middle with a few select shots. Nope. Recipes. Not even the color photo on the cover descends to food porn -- it's a relatively sobering shot of bunches of greens -- the severe, deep green variety. I like kale quite a lot, actually, but the cover shot was one of the reasons this cookbook sat on my desk a long while before I opened it.

Secondly, the recipes that are presented here are often recipes I have run across before (or close approximates), in what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-CSA-box books, blogs and articles. That said, if you don't have one of these types of books on your cookbook shelf, The Northern Heartland Kitchen gives a reliable representation of the best of the genre, geared to our growing zone.

But of course there are some special recipes inside, too. Since we're seasonal, I went to the "winter" chapter and found consolation in the recipe for Hungarian steak and mushroom soup, which gets its richness from a half cup of sour cream as well as bacon, its savory depth from mushrooms. Also good is the winter vegetable tagine, that is really lifted above the routine of winter veggies by the addition of charmoula, or "Moroccan Green Sauce," a garlic-cilantro-parsley-paprika-cumin-lemon blend that can be drizzled on a variety of entrees (Dooley suggests chicken, steak, fish and rice).

The squash lasagna with walnuts and kale is similar to one I have run across before as squash lasagna with toasted hazelnuts. While the kale is a good addition (though I'd prefer spinach), I'm not sure either walnuts or hazelnuts work in these lasagna concoctions. Worst, though, is that this recipe really needs a soft cheese like a ricotta or fresh mozzarella to hold it together in addition to the called-for "Parmesan, aged Gouda or cheddar" -- and I also find the idea of subbing the cheddar for Parmesan to be exceedingly strange.

The book features sidebar boxes that call out local growers and products (mostly from Minnesota) and I was happy to read a mention, for instance, of a Midwestern source for hominy -- the White Earth Land Recovery Project, although to find out more about that project I had to Google it; the box went on to talk about cooking hominy rather than the project.

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