detail_132_cookfood_front_cover300In the past few years we’ve been bombarded with messages about eating organic food and shopping local farmer’s markets. Vegan and vegetarian cookbooks dot our bookstore shelves. And we only need to walk around our communities to find out what overly processed foods are doing to our waistlines and our health. All this information can be overwhelming. Where do we start in improving our food choices?

Thank goodness for Lisa Jervis’ Cook Food: A Manualfesto for Easy, Healthy, Local Eating!

Jervis is like your best foodie friend guiding you in the kitchen. In the first half of the book, she discusses the importance of eating local foods and embracing a meatless diet and manages to do so without getting preachy. She seems to understand that not everyone has access to farmers’ markets, and some people can’t give up an occasional burger. She also tells the reader the kitchen equipment and ingredients they should have on hand. Most of us probably have a majority of these things in our kitchens already, and the rest aren’t hard to find.

Cook Food also gives tips and techniques for cooking. Confused about sautéing, steaming and blanching? Jervis tells you how to use these methods in a way that is easy to follow. She also discusses things like adding spices and herbs (both dried and fresh) to your dishes, plus how to brown, deglaze and prepare tofu and the easiest way to peel garlic.

Now we get to the fun part, the recipes. I feared they would be flavorless and bland but just reading them made my mouth water. Spices and herbs play a big part in the recipes, and Jervis allows for a lot of flexibility to suit your taste buds. Cook Food recipes includes everything from main meals to side dishes and yes, desserts.

One of my favorite go to recipes is a corn, tomato and basil salad, which I love to make when both sweet corn and tomatoes are at their peak. And as for the basil, well, I have a basil plant on my window sill. Here is the recipe:

Corn, Tomato and Basil Salad

tom_basil_cornIngredients:

3 ears of corn
1 large tomato or two medium, three small, or one basket of cherry tomatoes
1 small handful of torn or chopped basil
1 lemon for both zest and juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Husk the corn. Steam the corn for five minutes in an inch or two of boiling water. Turn once or twice. You can also fully boil the ears of corn. Both methods work.

Place the cobs of corn in the fridge until cool. Cut the kernels off the cobs.

Cut the tomatoes into bite-sized chunks and place in a bowl with the kernels and the basil.

Zest half of the lemon into the bowl. Then juice the lemon into the bowl.
Add the olive oil and toss. Adjust the lemon zest and juice if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

There are a lot of variations to this salad. If you’re not a basil fan, you can always another herb. Mint and cilantro are good. You can also add other veggies. I’ve made this salad with cut-up cucumbers and purple onions. If you don’t want to go fully vegan, you can add a bit of feta cheese. Though this is considered a side dish, I’ve often made this salad into a meal with toasted pita bread or cheese and crackers.

Jervis also provides helpful resources for everything from vegan cooking, food politics and social issues to gardening, local farming and activism (including a shout-out to Milwaukee’s very own Growing Power).

Jervis’ writing style is very engaging and down-to-earth. She never lectures, but only inspires. Cook Food: A Manualfesto for Easy, Healthy, Local Eating is the perfect primer for both budding foodies and experienced gourmands alike.

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