What We're Cooking Now

What We're Cooking Now - My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Farm-Ian Knauer

Ian Knauer went from passionate amateur, testing recipes in the kitchens of the now defunct Gourmet Magazine, to become a full fledged food editor at the magazine.

Like many of us, due to circumstances beyond his control, the magazine folded, and Ian turned his palate and dedication to farm fresh produce into (lucky for us) what might be our favourite cookbook tested yet.

Ian comes by his love of farming and cooking honestly-his  farm (in the Knauer family since the mid 1700s) is where he found himself working the land, planting 'fresh vegetables of every variety". The way he describes the land, and his visceral connection to it, brought tears to my eyes. I guess I just really, really like Ian. I would like to be his friend. I would like to dig in the dirt with him on a hot sunny day then jump in the pond to cool off. Thank you Ian--this book is more like an gift of love than just a collection of recipes.

The book is broken down into seasonally based chapters which is helpful if you are looking to make the most of seasonal bounty found in local farmers markets. We all loved his writing style, and the way he introduces each recipe makes you like him and want to try cooking like he does.

Rather than divide our testing along the usual lines (apps, mains, sides, desserts), we decided to each take an individual season when testing the recipes. We were testing in Jan/Feb/March of 2013--so there were some recipes that we simply were not able to test due to the unavailability of the ingredients.

Despite that, I know each of us will be using it for years to come.  Overall, we enjoyed the recipes we tested:  some have become family standards and some simply provided a welcome change or a new taste.  Generally, the recipes worked well, with small exceptions we'll discuss  below.  By way of constructive criticism, perhaps the editors could have included more technical guidance (see dumplings below). We also found that many recipes used more salt and butter and cream than we are generally comfortable with;  and as always, we would have loved to see more direction on how to freeze/make ahead any of the recipes.

We highly recommend this book.

CHAPTER 1:  Spring Planting

Spaghetti with Arugula Carbonara (p7)--Debra

Loved!  This recipe was very easy and very tasty.  I liked the addition of the arugula at the end.  We've already had it a half dozen times.  It worked equally well with turkey bacon for a healthier spin on this classic dish.

Wheat Beer Chicken (p8)--Julie
This recipe had simple and accessible ingredients--the preparation of the chicken was straight forward and included an interesting orange and coriander rub that was placed under the skin and resulted in a really unique flavour combination.  Frequent basting was required, but given that there was limited preparation required before placing the chicken in the oven, this was not a big task. All that basting resulted in a very moist chicken with a good gravy. The flavour was unique without being too unusual or overpowering, and would work with any accompaniment which was selected.

Chicken Stew with Dill-Scallion Dumplings (p14)--Debra
I was a bit skeptical of dumping an entire chicken in to simmer with the other ingredients, but it worked very well.  The broth was tasty and had just enough fat that seemed to somehow absorb into the dumplings, while the chicken was moist and filled with flavour.  Notwithstanding the excellent taste, the dumplings did end up more like the "little flour bricks" described in the introduction than "comforting clouds of dough."  Here's a recipe that would have benefited from more information on technique.  Although the recipe was time consuming and the dumplings didn't really work, the overall texture and tastes were so good that I will do some research to better my dumpling making ability and try it again.  In particular, the addition of dill to the dumplings was a delightful taste treat.  And even though they were a bit on the heavy side, the dumplings were a hit with the kids. 

 Twice Baked Chipotle Potatoes (p19)--Debra
Another hit, although a bit too spicy for kids.  I had discovered chipotle in adobo earlier this year and was happy to have another recipe to use them in.  The recipe worked as written, although my potatoes took half an hour longer than suggested. On one occasion, I substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream and the difference was negligible. 

Rhubarb-Sour Cream Crostata (P21)--Diane 
The rhubarb filling was delish, but the pastry just did not come together on this recipe.
Lemon Pudding Cake (p22)--Diane
Master Fat (p23)
OK, full disclosure here--I grew up in an ethnic house where there was always a jar of fat, skulking under the sink, behind the Dish Soap and J-Cloths. Frankly, I was embarrassed by this nod to my ethnic origins. No one I knew outside of my Easter European heritage kept such a strange thing under their sinks. Imagine my surprise and vindication at reading an entire page dedicated, no, celebrating he joys cooking with rendered animal fat--Ian tells us the Jews and Germans call it "Schmaltz", the English "Suet", the French rendered duck fat. So great to know that my mom and gramma were actually part of an international 'master fat club' if you will--and I was just too dumb to know it. 

Chapter 2: A Single Spear of Asparagus Chapter

Cold-Spring-Night Asparagus Soup (p29)-Debra
This is what I served for our book club meeting.  It is lovely and we make it at least once each week, even though the asparagus in winter in Toronto comes from far far away.  I can't wait to try it when the asparagus is fresh from the farmer's market.  The addition of cilantro and dill to this soup adds an interesting fresh flavour. On our recipe testing night, we tried it both ways--I think we all agreed that the essential 'asparagus-ness' of the soup was highlighted in the cold version.

Asparagus and Baby Roast Potato (p36)-Debra
This recipe was easy to assemble and pop into the oven.  I didn't find the vinaigrette very interesting and, as with some other recipes, there was ample salt such that seasoning at the end was unnecessary. I'd damn this recipe with the word "fine."

Grilled Asparagus and Shaved Fennel Tangle (p37)-Debra
This recipe was interesting:  asparagus, fennel, olives, mozzarella and mint?  I had to try it.  It worked well.  Everyone in my family liked it.  But as I type this, I'm not sure I liked it.  It was curious.  I think I'll have to try it again to see if I can overcome my uncertainty.  Nah.  Life's too short and there are too many recipes out there.  It didn't wow me.

The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg (p41)-Debra
Say. No. More.
And say goodbye to grey ringed yolks! This is it folks. The perfect way to cook eggs.

Chapter 3: A New Link in the Chain Chapter 

Seared Cowboy Steaks with Guinness Sauce (p59)-Julie
It's not that easy to find bone-in rib-eye steaks, so if this recipe strikes your fancy, you may have to have a chat with your friendly local butcher in order to get this exact cut of meat. Having said that, we made it with regular rib-eyes -- with great results. Just note that without a bone, the cooking time is much reduced. Other than the Guinness (unless you live in my house), all ingredients required would commonly be found in most kitchens. The sauce literally takes minutes to make--but the result is very rich tasting and takes ordinary steaks to a whole other level. This is a recipe that can definitely be served to guests at a casual dinner, or with the addition of some elaborate sides, you could even serve this at a more formal dinner party. For a great presentation, you could serve the steaks sliced up on a platter and topped with the Guinness sauce.
 Kielbasa Roast Potatoes (p63)-Debra
This recipe is super easy and a nice fast meal for nights on the go.  The recipe says it serves 4, but that's only 2oz of kielbasa per person, which isn't really enough for a main course.  It's recommended that it be served with roast chicken, so perhaps he intends it as a porky side dish for 4.  In any event, it's good.  Watch the cooking time so the kielbasa doesn't dry out at 450 degrees!

Chapter 4:  I Got a Pig Chapter

Big Phil's Mac 'n' Cheese (p78)-Julie
The use of smoked cheddar, roasted garlic and thyme adds a lot of depth of flavour to this dish and makes it a nice change from ordinary mac 'n' cheese. This recipe is best made if you are also interested in making the corn bread recipe on p84 as an accompaniment, or if you make the corn bread for another meal--as the the yield of the corn bread far exceeds the amount required for this recipe. The spice from the corn bread, and the smoked flavour of the cheese are not overpowering in any way. The next time I make this, I will cut back on the use of cream, substituting milk instead--save on a few calories. The resulting sauce may be a bit runnier with the milk, but that's how I prefer my mac 'n' cheese.

Turkey Bacon Burgers (p80)-Julie
This is a great recipe for someone who is considering making turkey burgers for the first time, as the addition of bacon adds universal appeal to what some might consider a bland meat. There was a limited number of ingredients required, and preparation was very straightforward, as the bacon is not pre-cooked, but simply pulsed in the food processor with the onion, garlic S&P. After that is all combined, you mix in the turkey meat. These burgers were a big hit with my husband and I thought they were nice...but nothing extraordinary. If I make them again, I think I'd rather fry up the bacon pieces and add them on top of the burgers--my personal preference!

Smoked Cheddar and Jalapeno Corn Bread (p84)-Julie
Although not typically a big fan of corn bread, I liked the end result of this recipe, as it was easy, had some spicy heat to it, and a unique flavour from the smoked cheddar. Prep and baking time were very brief which is a big bonus if you feel like you need corn bread in your day--but don't have a lot of spare time on your hands. It yields a fair amount and it freezes well, so you could enjoy a bit today, put some away in the freezer and leave a little out for the topping on Big Phil's Mac 'n' Cheese recipe (p78). A good, solid, fool proof and dead easy execution.

Molasses Raisin Walnut Cookies (p86)-Diane
We all agreed...take a pass on this cookie. Just kinda ... meh.

Chapter 6:  The Unstoppable Bounty of the Garden

Ceci’s BLT(p115)-Julie

Who doesn’t like a BLT and this one takes the ordinary BLT and moves it to another level through the use of a unique and delicious pesto.  The pesto is not your run of the mill pesto as it combines arugula, basil and pecans for a different spin on a classic pesto. Additionally, the use of garlic mayonnaise is such a nice touch. 
We had this on toasted homemade sandwich bread and we both felt that it was a fantastic sandwich without too much fuss—great for an easy dinner or a lunch where you feel like making a bit more of an effort.  A definite winner that we would have again.

Pennsylvania Dutch-Style Green Beans (p124)-Julie

These beans are so good, they made the cut for our celebration dinner. So good, and so weird...beans and bacon I get. But adding milk, brown sugar, cornstarch and apple cider vinegar? But somehow we just couldn't get enough of these beans. Delish!

Lemon-Garlic Swiss Chard (p128)-Julie
The name says it all—plain and simple with a nice, fresh taste that makes for a great side dish any time of the year—healthy too!! Enough said!! 

Chapter 7: A Jarful of Sunshine, a Bottleful of Sin

Hot Sauce (p153)-Debra
We've made this recipe, but it hasn't been in the refrigerator for 3 months yet, so we haven't tried it.  The roasted garlic recipe from page 78 that is used in the hot sauce worked well.  Not sure why the chilies had to be halved if they were going into the food processor...  My husband is hoping for great things. UPDATE: the hot sauce was delish and has now become a staple condiment in our fridge.

Chapter 8: A Cool Change in the Breeze

Kale and Toasted Walnut Salad (p171)-Debra & Bonnie
Deb:  This salad tasted very good.  It was easy and fresh.  That said, it's still kale.  Too tough for my liking.
Bonnie: I made this for Sunday dinner with my mom (along with the roasted chicken on page 216 and the potato cake on page 194). My mom had never had kale raw and was very skeptical…she is a convert. This is so simple, so good and good for you, you’ll feel like you should eat this at least once a week—just for the vitamin surge it provides.

Thyme-Roasted Butternut Squash (p171)-Bonnie
Simple and good...interesting addition of Parmigiano.

Chapter 9: Loving, Learning, and a Ton of Hard Work
The Best Meat Loaf (p185)-Bonnie
This recipe uses master fat referenced above. Let it be known that I now have a jar of drippings in my fridge (yes..like my mother used have). The most surprising element of this meat loaf recipe is the addition of 1/2 C of pitted prunes. It didn't add any discernible sweetness, but I think it must have added moisture (and fibre) to the finished loaf. The fresh bread crumbs, and the finely chopped onions, garlic, celery and carrots, speckle the meatloaf with colour and tons of flavour. This was not my husband's favourite...I think he still pines for his mom's ketchup covered meat loaf. :)
Mushroom Venison Stew (p192)-Julie and Bonnie
Julie: I made this with beef as it was a personal preference. The porcini mushrooms give the dish a very deep and rich flavour. The end result was an incredibly tender and flavourful stew which could easily be served on its own with a nice slice of crusty bread or with potatoes, noodles or polenta (as Ian recommends) A definite winner if you’re looking for a straightforward stew recipe with a few nice twists in the way of the porcini mushrooms, Granny Smith apple and the dill. We loved this dish! 

I did use venison, and it was my first time cooking that kind of meat. It seemed very lean, so I was concerned about flavour and richness. I need not have been. The stew was very tasty, and the venison was tender. I was most surprised by the method-pulverizing the dried porcini with a spice grinder into what was essentially a mushroom powder was very interesting...although slightly off-putting on the visual side of things--kind of like mushroom dust that just floated on top of the stew. Still--served over Ian's amazing polenta, this was a fantastic dish for a cold, wintery day.

Groundhog (or Chicken or Rabbit) Cacciatore (p193)-Bonnie

Have you every bought, butchered and cooked a rabbit? Well there is a first time for everything. The game butcher I got my rabbit from happened to leave the head on, so I was left with the gruesome task of beheading the poor fellow. Shudder.

We LOVED the sauce so much. The capers, anchovy and orange zest made such a savory, layered flavor base. Wonderful over Ian's Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Polenta (p196).

 Once broken down to it's component parts, the rabbit could have been a chicken.  All that fuss...for not such a great return. I have to say, that this rabbit was stringy and kind of tough. I'm glad I tried it, but I have made this dish a few times since, and have always used chicken with much more pleasing results (and no decapitations necessary). No more bunny for this Bonnie. 

Crispy Potato Cake with Garlic & Herbs (p194)-Bonnie
Mmmm buttery, garlicy potato rosti…fantastic. I served this with roast chicken on page 216. 

Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Polenta (p196)-Julie and Bonnie
Julie: As someone who is fairly ambivalent towards polenta this recipe appealed to me as a side for the Mushroom-Venison stew which I was making and it incorporated some ingredients (rosemary, roasted garlic and mascarpone) which I thought would help me like polenta more.  Although I liked the polenta I didn’t think it was earth shattering in any way and the effort required to make the polenta (stirring time, roasting garlic) would encourage me to make it again.

Yup. Best. Polenta. Ever. Surprise Ingredient? Mascarpone…adds a wonderful light texture to the polenta. 

 My Bread (p200)-Bonnie
How…I ask you, HOW can 4 simple, humble ingredients magically transform into something that can evoke memories of childhood, love, security and joy? This bread was, like all bread, something you endeavor to do on a day when you are puttering about the house, but I it is easy, and the result was a perfectly uniform loaf with a superior crumb texture and just the right salt level.

Chapter 10: Fifty Heads of Garlic (aka Fifty Shades of Garlic)

Garlic-Roasted Brussels Chips (p211)-Debra
I'd recommend giving this a pass.  A lot of fat and a lot of salt, and for all that, if you don't like brussel sprouts, this won't change that.  Ian's a dreamer on this one.

Potato-Cheddar Pancakes with Perfect Fried Eggs (p215)-Bonnie
Why this is in the Garlic chapter, when there is no garlic in the recipe, is a bit perplexingSimple and good…although I prefer no cheese in my potato pancake.

 Chicken with a Ton of Garlic (p216)-Bonnie
And that ain't no lie! 2 heads of roasted garlic goes into the mortar to be pounded with thyme, olive oil and S&P. This garlicy paste gets inserted just below the skin of the chicken.

While the flavor was very good on this bird, I don’t know if it was because I used an organic chicken, but our cooking time was very off. At 40 minutes, our bird was brown to the point of burning, so I covered it with tinfoil. When I checked if for doneness at the 50 minute mark (when the recipe says it will be done), it was still very undercooked.


Fresh Ginger-Apple Tarte Tatin (p222)-Diane



  1. I love the way you've themed these posts. Totally inspirational! x

  2. Thank you for that Kirstin! Great to have your feedback. Bonnie