Monday, June 25, 2012

Farm Fresh Southern Cooking, a Review

This could be the first time I've ever reviewed a cookbook.  I'm not really even sure how to review a cookbook.  Obviously the recipes are important, but what else?  And aren't recipes prone to human error and experimentation?

I was intrigued by the premise of Farm Fresh Southern Cooking, as its subtitle promises recipes "straight from the garden to your dinner table."  I'm a bit of a gardener myself, and so I was intrigued.  Then, after reading the book description, which spoke of farmer's markets and the joys found there, I was double-plus hooked.  I requested the book from Thomas Nelson publishers, and soon it was at my home.  I've decided to review this book as two separate sections, one on the book itself, the other on a selected recipe.

The First Part: The Book

Farm Fresh Southern Cooking is printed on nice paper with gorgeous colors that really accentuate an organic and healthy lifestyle.  I'm not certain, but I believe the front and back covers are made from recycled paper, bound surprisingly strong for a paperback cookbook.  A criterion for cookbooks is that they must have pictures of the food that I will be preparing.  Thankfully, Algood has several of her recipes photographed, but there are still plenty that are not.  Another interesting bit for this cookbook is the interjected features about the different things found at farmer's markets and the farmers who brought them there.  Algood has several of these one-page essays about all types of products (hams, tomatoes, honey, etc.) and their providers, and she includes contact info. for some of her favorite providers.

The meat and potatoes (I love puns!) of a cookbook is the recipes.  True to her word, the recipes all focus on home grown garden vegetables and farmer's market crops.  Additionally, Algood seems to have included uncommon vegetables in many of her recipes, things that plenty of farmers grow but not too many people seem to eat.  The recipes are all relatively simple and seem to be presented plainly, and from the two that I tried I had no issues.*

The Second Part: A recipe review of "Skillet Chicken Thighs"

Whenever Keisha and I cook chicken we almost always buy and prepare boneless-skinless breasts.  The cost savings of legs/thighs/wings just isn't enough to lessen the things we like about breasts.  That said, when I read through the recipe for this meal, I thought the ingredient combination sounded delicious, and we pretty much had everything available but the chicken.

I picked up some thighs and prepared the meal, making a few substitutions for things that I didn't have.  (Note: Apple cider vinegar is not a good substitution for red wine.  Now I know.)

Skillet Thighs (recipe appears on Page 174)**
3Tbs. Olive oil, divided
6 large chicken thighs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
3/4 lb. button or cremini mushrooms
3 c. grape tomatoes
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil

Wash chicken thighs. Sprinkle with salt & pepper and add to preheated hot skillet.
Meanwhile, if you don't know the fancy mushrooms, just chop up any available.
Saute chicken 5 minutes on each side with warmed olive oil.
Transfer chicken to large bowl once finished.
Chop up fresh rosemary and basil and garlic and other things.
Add mushrooms to skillet. Saute until wilted.  Add to removed chicken.  Add the remaining oil to skillet, as well as tomatoes, wine, garlic, and rosemary.  Cover and reduce heat to medium.  Cook 5 minutes.
Crush half of the tomatoes with a potato masher. Return chicken and mushrooms to skillet.  Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.
Place chicken on platter. Stir basil into sauce. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and spoon over chicken.
The meal actually turned out pretty tasty even with my substitutions.  I do think had I used red wine instead of the vinegar the meal would have been even better, but even so, it was still succulent and different.  The thighs were very juicy and tender, though I had to cook mine slightly longer than the recipe called for.

I also did not have any fresh basil, as my plant was in its infancy at the time.  (Now its a behemoth, like all the rest of the herbs in the garden.)  Even so, the plated presentation is pretty, but would have been better with a touch more green.  The colors remind me of something Middle Eastern, especially with the tomatoes on there contrasting.

All in all, Southern Cooking is a fascinating and simple cookbook with quite a few practical recipes.  There are several pictures and interesting tidbits to read.  If you enjoy farmer's markets and like to cook and try new things, this book is a sure bet.

*The other recipe I made was "Hot Water Cornbread."  Now Keisha (and my mamaw) both make some of the world's finest iron skillet cornbread, so I was hesitant to even try this.  Nevertheless, intrigued by the simplicity and the few ingredients I did.  The result was okay, and a fan of greasy, fried goods would approve.  I personally prefer the fluffier, less deep fried stuff.

**My presentation is obviously much different than the way Algood presents.  I take no credit for the recipe.

FTC Thingy: Ironically, I did not receive cookies or anything like that, but I did receive a cookbook from the publishers, which cost me zero dollars, and a solemn oath that I would review the thing on my blog honestly. I have endeavored to do just that, and my appetite was sated thanks to the cookbook at hand.


Anonymous said...

seeing those mushrooms cooking..mmm... I'm hungry!

good job on your cookbook review! I like how you split it into two parts; it feels especially apt these days as a lot of cookbooks try to include some sort of narrative structure or little stories here and there.


logankstewart said...

Thanks, L. No matter how full I am, looking through cookbooks (especially if they have pictures) always makes me wanna eat.

Carl V. said...

Can I just say that looks amazing! My mouth is watering now. Its going to be a long, hungry drive home from work.