And maybe well he should be. The manipulation of natural food into foodstuffs and its general acceptance by the public is dep...moreMichael Pollan is angry.
And maybe well he should be. The manipulation of natural food into foodstuffs and its general acceptance by the public is deplorable. The fact that the 'Western Diet' (read: 'American Diet') of fast, processed foods is embraced by The Establishment as an acceptable substitute for real, whole foods is enough to generate multiple conspiracy theory documentaries (Oh, wait. You say it's been done?) and bring an outraged outcry from the overweight and undernourished massive masses. (You see?! Just writing about it gets the vitriolic [high fructose corn syrup laden] juices flowing!)
His snarkiness shows through in his writing. And while I can appreciate a good deal of sarcasm and snark, at times it put me on the defensive while reading ideas that I agree with in practice. Pollan doesn't check his emotions at the door and therefore the reader must account for bias.
But, then again, what's wrong with a little passion? Get enough people in an uproar, and changes happen. Clearly, the mainstays of the American diet are something akin to chalk and Tupperware®. Even when seeking to eat healthily (which I've always considered myself doing - I already do the things he is proposing: eat mostly plants, in limited amounts; grow a garden), one cannot assume that the produce or meat comes from the best sources. After reading this book and then grocery shopping, I had an acute feeling of helplessness. And frustration. And indignation. And maybe even a little anger.
I could totally relate to this passage:
"The work of growing food contributes to your health long before you sit down to eat it, of course, but there is something particularly fitting about enlisting your body in its own sustenance. Much of what we call recreation or exercise consists of pointless physical labor, so it is especially satisfying when we can give that labor a point. But gardening consists of mental labor as well: learning about the different varieties; figuring out which do best under the conditions of your garden; acquainting yourself with the various microclimates - the subtle differences in light, moisture, and soil quality across even the tiniest patch of earth; and devising ways to outwit pests without resorting to chemicals. None of this work is terribly difficult; much of it is endlessly gratifying, and never more so than in the hour immediately before dinner, when I take a knife and a basket out to the garden and harvest whatever has declared itself ripest and tastiest."(less)
Pre-review: It just arrived and I've already tagged three dozen things I want to make immediately (I tried to limit myself in the dessert section as E...morePre-review: It just arrived and I've already tagged three dozen things I want to make immediately (I tried to limit myself in the dessert section as EVERYTHING looks amazing).
For overall quality of the recipes herein: 4 stars For approachability and accessibility: 3 stars For images and formatting: 3 stars
This isn't a cookbook for the beginning chef. Many of the recipes are advanced, most of them require extra preparation time, and a great deal of them use ingredients that aren't easily accessible.
That said (and probably because of some of those reasons), I really enjoyed working my way through Ottolenghi.
I started with Roast potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes with lemon and sage, and having no luck finding Jerusalem artichokes (though my grocery store has put them on order now and will be swimming in Jerusalem artichokes with no one else who will buy them!), I left them out of the recipe... which translated to a standard, but still delicious, roast potato recipe. I pressed on.
The cookbook requires several ingredients which I don't usually buy, but, because there is a great deal of repetition between recipes, I didn't feel like I was left with a product that I wouldn't ever use again: Sunflower oil, hazelnuts, Muscavado sugar are a few examples. (Additional advise: If you decide to work through these recipes, buy a big bag of sweet potatoes as they are used several times!) :)
Most of the recipes are ideal as delicious vegetarian meals. In truth, I wasn't blown away by anything in the meat section.
I'm not yet finished with the recipes I initially marked, and there are many more that I intend to add in very soon. There are a few that I've already made twice and will probably become staples.
*** Quick summary:
Cucumber and poppyseed salad - a quick green addition for a meal. Sweet and vinegary. Made this twice.
Haricots vert and snow peas with hazelnut and orange - loved this! Made it twice.
Grilled broccoli with chile and garlic - Husband really liked it, I thought it was fine.
Roasted butternut squash with burnt eggplant and pomegranate molasses - I adored the squash (especially with all the toasted seeds and nuts), but the eggplant spread was not to my (or anyone else's) liking.
Roast potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes with lemon and sage - missing the artichokes, so otherwise a standard potato dish.
Roasted sweet potato with pecan and maple - I used this as one of our Thanksgiving sides and thought it was lovely. A wonderful dish for autumn.
Danielle's sweet potato gratin - Despite the instructions not to use a pale sweet potato, I did (because I didn't read ahead before I went shopping!) and used the pale ones anyway. It was fantastic! I made it a second time with a mixture of red and pale sweet potatoes and loved it as well. A super easy dish, that looks beautiful at the table.
Roast chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey - meh.
Turkey and corn meatballs with roasted pepper sauce - I thought this was adequate, but (surprisingly) my kids loved it. The roasted pepper sauce was the star... and would probably work well for other dishes... or possibly on its own as a soup.
Organic salmon with red pepper and hazelnut salsa - We are somewhat picky about our salmon, but this simple dish was fantastic. I made it twice.
Seared tuna with pistachio crust and papaya salsa - I was especially anticipating great results with this one, and was left disappointed. 1. I had a vague recollection of trying papaya once when I was traveling through Central America, and recalled it not being as sweet as I had thought it would be. It's a beautiful fruit. You cut into the flesh, and the variegated pink set off by the black, caviar-looking, seeds is gorgeous. It tastes like smelly feet, though. Now with the previous memory recalled, I googled it: "What should papaya taste like?" and immediately saw comments about smelly feet (and worse!). According to some people, it should be sweet, but so far, I'm two for two with papaya tasting like feet. 2. I skipped the papaya and made a mostly mango salsa. 3. The method in this book requires the tuna to be way more cooked than I like in my sushi-grade tuna. Tuna should be seared and pink. This process took too long and overcooked it. I may try again and do it my own way (sans papaya and much cooking).
"Pizza" with feta, tomato, and olives - nothing special.
Sweet potato galettes - I adored these! They are amazingly beautiful and so delicious... especially as they come to room temperature. The chile and the goat cheese and the sweet potato play so well together. I intend to use these to impress guests who come for dinner in autumn.
Cheddar and caraway cheese straws - made these as an after-school-snack when some of the kids had friends over. They ate them up and raved. (I thought the caraway might set them off, but they didn't notice.)
Ruth's mayonnaise - Wonderful! I love unique aiolis and this was so easy, I think I may never buy store mayo again. This one has quite a lot of garlic, and we left out the cilantro for our purposes. It makes a lot... It might be worth sharing with a neighbor, even though it lasts for two weeks in the fridge.
Apple and olive oil cake with maple icing - This wasn't well received the night I made it (I wasn't overly excited about it either). The next day, after school, I encouraged my kids just to have another slice. My daughter happily ate it. When I tossed the rest that evening, she was furious. "I LOVED that cake!" Huh.
Caramel and macadamia cheesecake - This was fantastic. And even better the next day. (I loved that the caramel looked like it was solid and then you cut it... and maybe it's the reaction of body heat or something... but it just melts in your mouth. This, contrasted with the crunchy caramelized macadamia nuts! The base cheesecake itself is an easy recipe and would work well even by itself.
Pistachio and rose water meringues - I was very excited about these. I've used lavender in cookies and cakes before, so why not roses!? I had to special order the rose water. No one liked them... especially after my husband said it was like eating his grandmother's soap. (I thought they were unique and might work for a women's tea or something. Advise: Halve the batch (at least!), and make them as small bites. And only use one teaspoon (or less) of the rose water.