Monday, April 11, 2011

Nutrition and Income; a Rival Cookbook

This is interesting - and it fits with some observations that I have made. A Canadian study has confirmed that people at low incomes eat less nutritious foods. But the study shows that people at high incomes have the same problem. Those who have too little money can't afford the food. Those who make a lot of money lack the time to cook.

In other news, I ordered up a copy of the Washington State Chef's Association Food Bank Challenge Cookbook, created by professional chefs as a way to give something back to the community. This is the best food bank cookbook I have found so far. (The competition isn't stiff; of the handful I have found, most are collections of recipes available only online, small in scope, some seemingly abandoned halfway through compilation.)

It's an interesting read. At 77 pages, it contains 64 recipes, organized into the categories of breakfast, appetizers and snacks, soups and salads, veggies and starches, entrees, and desserts. The balance of recipe types seems well considered, as does the nutritional content of the recipes.

And these recipes are nothing if not fun. "Peach Rice Pilaf", "Portuguese Goulash with Garlic Smashed Potatoes", "Polenta Cake" (a dessert), and "Pan Seared Halibut in Grapefruit Cilantro Butter Sauce" are just a few of the recipes.
Many of the recipes do call of oddly specific ingredients, such as a specific brand of cookie. But I understand how they arrived at this: those who contributed were required to choose ingredients from the shelves of the food bank. However, I can't help but imagine the frustration of a food bank patron with limited cooking experience faltering when the one specific brand of canned soup couldn't be found.

I also find it disturbing that several recipes call for the use of infant formula. If a food bank client is in need of formula, then life has gone very, very wrong for them, and if the food bank is in short supply because some jerk has gone and taken the formula for use in a casserole - that makes me angry.

(I will now divert myself from ranting further on the topic, and instead get this post finished so that I can go feed my own hungry 11-day-old baby.)

Back to the cookbook. So, it is a robust and well-rounded collection of for the most part nifty recipes. Good job WSCA! What a great way to help your community!

And now, for my own cookbook project, I must ask: how could a food bank cookbook be even better than this? More explanation of cooking terms and techniques would help. Less assumption that the cook owns items such as a food processor, or can afford disposables such as aluminum foil. Less ambiguity in general - there is, for example, one recipe which calls for "chicken cutlet slices" and makes no mention of whether these chicken pieces should be cooked or not. This sort of ambiguity wouldn't phase a professional chef who already knows how to handle chicken, but to a novice, it's dangerous. I recently listened to a coworker's tale of attempting to make chicken quesadillas. Because the recipe was ambiguous, he used raw chicken. And he ate the half-cooked results.

I hadn't thought about it before, but just because someone is a professional chef does not necessarily make them a good writer. And I begin to see more clearly the awesomeness of professional food writers and editors.

On a slight tangent, I read a disparaging comment about Alton Brown recently, saying that he is not a chef, merely a cook. But in the opening of one of his cookbooks, Brown explained that he did not merely want to give a list of recipes, like most cookbooks. As he said, a recipe is like directions to a location in an unfamiliar city. Make one wrong turn, and you are lost for good. Alton Brown wants to give the reader a map. And that is what I want to do, too. All hail Alton!

I'm a mediocre cook and a mediocre writer, but perhaps these two things combined can work to my advantage.

Says the WSCA website of their cookbook, "So far we have given out 3000 copies to local food banks. 6 other states have also expressed interest."

An impressive number! I wonder if I can beat that? I suppose I had better get my nose to the grindstone if that's what I want to achieve.

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