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The other night I was lucky enough to have an old high school friend in town for dinner, and it was beautiful weather to light up our outdoor oven. The catch? This friend is a vegan, as is her whole family. I totally respect that, and we took on the challenge of creating a beautiful meal for them that adults and kids alike would love.
It just so happens that I had just gotten my hands on a The Renees Garden Cookbook (Delicious Recipes for Everyday Cooking with Growing Advice for Kitchen Gardeners) and I was dying to test out some of the recipes for this review. The timing was perfect!
The meal you see above includes two recipes from this cookbook: on the left, Sauteed Carrots with Garlic Cloves and Fennel; and on the right, Fresh Kale Salad with Peanut & Lime Dressing. In the middle is a simple ratatouille based on the book a recipe from our favorite wood fired oven cookbook (The Art of Woodfired Cooking by Gibbs Smith).
Earlier in the week we had made a recipe for green beans with tarragon and garlic as part of our ongoing testing of the book.
So, what did we think??
First, let's start with the results from our recipe tests. In a word - success. But you want more detail than that, right? Well, like I said, we served these recipes to a couple of families who are used to eating a ton of veggies (ours included). Included in the crew were four kids ranging in age from 4 to 12.
I have not eaten fennel very much so I was pleasantly surprised with this simple roasted version that made the fennel quite yummy - the big chunks of garlic that were are part of the recipe were also delicious and tender and a joy to eat. The recipe was simple but had a unique flavor twist that I might not have thought of on my own.
The Fresh Kale Salad with Peanut and Lime Dressing was the source of oohs and aahs from an unlikely source - the kids! They piled it onto their plates over and over again, and I have to say I was waiting in line to get more too. The rich dressing tenderized the kale perfectly and offered a different take on the typical kale salad recipe. There was enough dressing left to store in the fridge and make again next week.
As you browse through this cookbook, you are likely to find two categories of recipes: one category is simple recipes that aren't too difficult to prepare and help you to think about a new way to cook a veggie from your garden (like the beans or carrots we made); the other category is more complex recipes with more ingredients that will offer more potential to impress family and guests. Both categories are valuable, and its helpful that you can get both from one place.
In general, these recipes are a good level for the novice cook or beginning gardener - a great collection of ideas to get you started and boost your creativity in the kitchen. Advanced chefs will enjoy the more complicated recipes but might not find as many new ideas if they have been cooking from their garden for a number of years.
But wait, there's more...
This recipe book is organized by vegetable, in alphabetical order, so it's easy to pick something you want to prepare from your garden and flip to that section to see what is offered. You're not going to find an unlimited set of recipes (the book is only 142 pages), but you will find enough to give you a variety of options.
In addition, there are sections of the book dedicated to herbs and salads. I find this helpful because I often plant a bunch of herbs with which I'm not as familiar and this book helps make better use of those.
But perhaps my favorite part about the book is the added gardening advice - you'll find a side bar or two in each section discussion how to plant and care for each veggie variety, with simple tips for success. I have been gardening for a number of years, but I still found hints that were new to me, which isn't a surprise given that this book is written by a "seed entrepreneur" along with a cooking instructor. You can go right from there to the Renee's Garden Seed Catalog and find exactly the veggies she discusses available for sale!
This characteristics of the book are what make it a great resource for beginning or intermediate gardeners - you learn about the veggie you're cooking with while also getting ideas for how to eat it that are simple yet delicious.
For that reason, I think this book would make a great gift for a friend or family member who is starting their own garden, or even someone who is getting a farm share and wants to know how to use all of the goodies they will get.
Renee Shepherd was generous enough to allow us to share a recipe to give you a taste of what you'll find in the book, so of course we had to share our new favorite kale salad. Note that we did not have a pepper on hand so we skipped it but it was still delicious, and we downright forgot to add the peanuts as garnish but I'm sure they'd be great!
Fresh Kale Salad with Peanut & Lime Dressing (p. 59)
1 tablespoon peanut better, chunky or smooth
4 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
8 tablespoons peanut, olive, or canola oil
3/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 large fresh lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large bunch kale, center ribs removed, cut into thin ribbons
1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper cut into 1/2 inch dice
4-6 whole scallions, thinly sliced
1 large red apple, cut into julienne strips
1 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Nasturtium flowers for a beautiful presentation were our addition
Combine dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid. Shake thoroughly to blend well. In a large salad bowl, combine greens, bell pepper, scallions, apple, cilantro. Toss thoroughly with dressing (add gradually till you reach desired saturation), sprinkle with nuts, and serve. Refrigerate any extra dressing.
Get your hands on a copy of this cookbook on Amazon (affiliate link) or at the Renees Garden website!!