I’ll be honest: I have a love/hate relationship with cookbooks. On one hand, I appreciate the inspiration they provide, because it’s shocking how often I throw up my hands and say, “I have no idea what to make!” when I’m preparing meals for company or rustling up every day dinners. On the other, I don’t follow directions very well, and prep work is not my forte. However, especially when it comes to planning sustainable meals made from local, organic ingredients, a little help never goes amiss. But I do like a recipe that leaves room for some free styling (which is why I almost never bake). These are my favourite because they’re subtly sustainable and leave lots of room for improvisation.
The Meat Free Monday Cookbook: A Full Menu For Every Monday of the Year (with forward by Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney) (Kyle Books, 2012). I blogged earlier about the fact that I’m a fan of Meat Free Mondays, a movement started by the McCartneys. This cookbook makes going meatless on Mondays for a year a great deal of fun, in part because of the fabulous, seasonal recipes, and in part because of the celebrity chef contributors, who include Vivienne Westwood and Woody Harrelson. And, because of the calendar-style format, each menu is seasonal—which means getting local in-season food is an added bonus. My favourite recipes: the Sicilian Cauliflower Pasta and the Grilled Figs with Ricotta.
The Best of Chef at Home, By Michael Smith (Whitecap Books Limited, 2009). This is one of my favourite cookbooks in the world, in part because Smith fully advocates winging it, offering ‘freestyle options’ with most of the recipes. Although not formally a sustainable cookbook, Smith subtly advocates using fresh, local, organic and sustainable ingredients, often taking a bit of a moment to explain why, for example, free range, organic chicken tastes so much better than conventionally farmed. My favourite roast chicken recipe ever is in this book (it includes apples, and here is a little known fact: the smell of chickens roasting with apples is possibly the best smell in the worldu—unless you’re a vegetarian, I suppose).
Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Recipes for Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman (Simon and Schuster Canada, 2010). I like this cookbook because it’s very balanced. Bittman doesn’t make you feel guilty when you sauté some greens you didn’t get from the farmer’s co-op down the street—but he also helps make responsible eating make more sense. His main point: that we should be eating more plants and less animal products, and avoiding processed food and junky food with little nutritional content because it’s actually easier to make it yourself. This means many of these simple recipes centre around vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Meat and animal products are included, but almost never as a centre stage item. Two highlights: Roasted Pork Shoulder with Potatoes, Apples, and Onions and Roasted Butternut Chowder with Apples and Bacon. Oh yes, and then there’s the Coconut Tart with Chocolate Smear. I do not feel that anything more needs to be said about this.
A Year in Lucy’s Kitchen (Random House Canada, 2009). Canadian treasure Lucy Waverman taps into the seasonal, ‘locavore’ trend with very little complexity and a huge amount of flavour. Each calendar month has its own chapter, which makes it easy to shop for and plan meals that star local, in-season ingredients. There are also sidebars on special celebrations (even a Robbie Burns Day themed meal!), and her husband, a vino-loving lawyer, offers wine pairings to complement each seasonal choice. Plus, the photography is spectacular—and while almost none of my attempts come out looking quite like they do in the images, it gives me something to aspire to.
Written by Marissa Stapley-Ponikowski