Read up on some of 2014’s most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.
Eugenia Bone's The Kitchen Ecosystem proposes a cooking ethic that resonates with me. It introduces 3 concepts to help improve the quality of your everyday dishes as well as the economy of your kitchen habits. First: Use seasonal products whenever possible and preserve some for later use. Second: Use typically discarded scraps to create base recipes like stocks and bitters. (She even goes a step further and suggests that you use the fruit mash left over from jam-making to create a juice.) Third: Make your own pantry items, because recipes always taste better when anchored with homemade ingredients instead of commercial products.
More: Ever-resourceful Eugenia Bone shows us 5 things to do with your curds and whey.
The book's chapters are organized alphabetically by ingredient, followed by a chapter on condiments and one on preserving. Each ingredient has instructions for fresh use, preservation, using the preserves, and using the scraps. The dishes vary from simple and fresh (Sliced Fennel and Apple Salad) to rich and comforting (Duck Fat Buttermilk Cornbread) to elaborate and thrilling (Chicken Baked in Clay with Onion Sauce, in which the chicken is encased in sculptor's clay for a dinner piñata experience!). The condiment recipes include herbed butter, Worcestershire sauce, and everything in between; you'll have a stocked pantry in no time. There is also plenty of information for a beginner to embark on preserving: The chapter covers water bath and pressure canning, good freezing practices, curing, smoking, drying, and preserving in oil or alcohol. What more could you need to get started?
I decided to tackle the cabbage chapter first, my interest piqued by a Scripelle in Cabbage Stock recipe. The Scripelle, thin omelets seasoned with Parmesan and parsley, were delicious, especially when served with a delicately sweet and flavorful cabbage stock. It was a light but satisfying meal. I had a half head of cabbage left over, so I also made Marilee's Coleslaw, an exceptionally light and crisp side that made a perfect foil for meaty pork sandwiches. I will definitely make each of these recipes again -- since Bone introduced me to them, I have become borderline obsessed with scripelle.
More: We also love The Kitchen Ecosystem because it taught us what "Nanobatches" and "Edible Waste Streams" are.
Since receiving the book, I've made the olive oil- and lemon-dressed Sliced Fennel and Apple Salad twice, once with the addition of sliced watermelon radish. It's just the kind of tart and refreshing salad you would gladly eat on a daily basis. In keeping with the ecosystem ethic, I used the lemon zest to make limoncello, and the fennel stems to flavor a chicken and pork stock. I also started a batch of orange bitters, using zest from oranges eaten out of hand. My next project is to start a ginger bug for making homemade ginger soda. This book has definitely helped me be more cognizant of options for fully utilizing ingredients so that less ends up in my compost bin.
I am eager to explore the seasonal ingredients section and am anxiously awaiting spring so that I can make Dilly Asparagus and the Rhubarb Ginger Soda. I'm also looking forward to summer to make the peaches cooked with Thyme and Moscato Wine, which I can use all year long to make another dessert, the Peach Buckle. And I will definitely make the Chicken Baked in Clay to surprise and delight dinner guests in the future. All told, I am very glad to have chosen this book to test. The only complaint I have is that some of the most delicious-sounding recipes require a pressure canner, something I don't currently own and feel a vague unease about using. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll soon overcome my trepidation and buy one though, because the idea of having a handy stash of canned caramelized onions is inordinately appealing! When that day comes, I know I'll have Eugenia Bone by my side.
First photo by Mark Weinberg; all others by James Ransom