05 December 2011

Cooking with Photographer Heidi Swanson

Continuing my December project to share with you the greatest cookbooks in my kitchen, I humbly present to you photographer and cook Heidi Swanson.  You can follow her blog, 101 Cookbooks, to get a better sense of her style.  If you like this (it's what got me hooked), I guarantee you will appreciate her published works, as well.

Heidi Swanson: Super Natural Every Day.  Published by Ten Speed Press, 2011.

Swanson is a gifted, minimalist food photographer, which just adds to the food-porn nature of this beautiful book.  Written in a calm, Zen-like language and employing a whole heck of a lot of slow-cooked grains, one might dismiss this book as a one-note hippie handbook from a Californian artist.  She’s vegetarian, cooks heavy on the fresh produce, and uses spelt generously.  But the recipes are easy to execute and consistently delicious.  And perhaps more than any cookbook of late, I have learned so much from it.  These recipes may sound simple, but Swanson manages to come up with some rather unique flavor and textural combinations that I had never thought of, all while using very simple, down-home techniques.  She freely mixes and matches different cooking traditions in Harissa Ravioli, Dilled Green Beans with Seitan, and Chanterelle Tacos, among others.  She also gives some great tips on utilizing leftovers, cooking slow things (like beans and heavy-duty grains) ahead and freezing, and has a terrific section on homemade snacks that will keep you from feeling tempted by those crappy, dried out Starbucks pastries in the middle of the afternoon (see below).

Some ingredients will be difficult to acquire in rural areas, but all are available online in bulk.  And yes, the recipes basically all have whole grains and vegetables as their base (and cheese…SO much cheese!), but each one manages to taste unique and exciting, nonetheless.  The book looks good, reads good, and makes you feel like a better person just for owning it.  And the wonderful surprise about a book like this is that you will actually use it, and be healthier (and happier) for it.  It’s a great choice for anyone interested in being healthier and not sure where to start (or for people who are already eating this way and want some new options).

From the book, one of our new favorite recipes in my house:

Oatcakes (In Swanson’s charming introductory essay to this recipe, she mentions the ubiquitous nature of at cakes in her local San Francisco coffee shops, describing the disappointment in how dry and heavy they are. This is her at-home replacement, smaller, tastier, and lower in calories):

“Makes 12

3 cups rolled oat
2 cups spelt or whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
 2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup flax seeds
¾ cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup peanut or coconut oil
1/3 cup unsalted butter
¾ cup maple syrup
½ cup natural cane sugar (we use brown sugar in my house)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the top third of the oven.  Butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan.

Combine the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, flax seeds, and walnuts in a large mixing bowl.  In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the oil, butter, maple syrup, and sugar and slowly melt together.  Stir just until the butter melts and the sugar has dissolved, but don’t let the mixture get too hot.  You don’t want to cook the eggs on contact in the next step.

Pour the oil mixture over the oat mixture.  Stir a bit with a fork, add the eggs, and stir again until everything comes together into a wet dough.  Spoon the dough into the muffin cups, nearly filling them.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges of each oat cake are deeply golden.  Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for a couple of minutes.  Then, run a knife around the edges of the cakes and tip them out onto a cooling rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.”