Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Emeril and grandma know best - keep it fresh, local

Renee Studebaker
Keep couscous fresh with Spring Couscous Salad.

Emeril Lagasse is becoming my grandmother.

Don't laugh. I'm serious. Well, sort of serious. You didn't know my grandmother, so that makes this metaphor a bit tricky, but go with me for a few minutes and see what you think:

In Emeril's new book, "Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh," (HarperStudio Paperback Original, $24.99) he's pictured on the cover leaning on what appears to be the handle of a hoe or maybe a shovel. The background is a blur of trees and garden soil. He looks relaxed and pleased.

I saw my grandmother strike this pose many times, not on a book cover, but on her farm in southern Arkansas, usually while taking a short break from hoeing weeds in her kitchen garden. She would lean on the hoe, look out over her huge vegetable garden and smile, relaxed and pleased.

On the inside title page, Emeril is holding out a ripe tomato for the reader to see. Again, that's something my grandmother would do. And I knew what it meant when she did it: "Look at what I grew. Isn't it beautiful? Let's eat it."

Emeril's book includes a recipe for making sauerkraut. He says to layer cabbage with salt, mash it down in a crock, cover with a cloth and let it ferment for a few weeks. Almost exactly like my grandmother's method, and my great-grandmother, for that matter. His cookbook also shows how to "put up" a jar of whole figs in syrup and he even suggests serving them on homemade, hot-buttered biscuits. (Mom and Uncle Randy, are you reading this? Doesn't this sound just like Mammaw?)

In fact, just to help put everything in perspective, I'm thinking some of today's major food trends (eating local, backyard vegetable gardens, sustainability, seasonality and frugality) could be lumped together under one name - neo-Mammaw-ism.

Well, whatever we call it, I'm glad that so many chefs, foodies, gardeners and home and garden magazines are putting out new cookbooks on how to "cook local" - from the backyard garden, from the farmers' market, and from the community-supported agriculture. They're making it a lot easier for home cooks to come up with fresh ideas for cooking fresh local produce.

Last week, I took review copies of several new cookbooks home to read and test in my kitchen using ingredients from the farmers' market and from my home garden: "Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America's Farmers" by Sur La Table with Janet Fletcher, Andrews McMeel Publishing, $35; "Cooking Light Cooking with the Seasons: An Everyday Guide to Enjoying the Freshest Food," Oxmoor House, $29.95; "Cooking From the Garden: Best Recipes From Kitchen Gardener," edited by Ruth Lively, Taunton Press, $29.95; and "Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods" by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian, Wiley, $29.95.

On my regular visit to the farmers' market that week, I purchased whatever looked best and made my mouth water the most, including a guinea hen, peaches (the first of the season, yay) snowpeas (the last of the season, sigh), blackberries, sweet purple onions, new potatoes, baby yellow squash, fennel bulbs, carrots, and green plums. From my home garden I had a little pile of sugar snap peas (the last of the season), baby round carrots (also last of the season), as well as flat-leaf parsley and mint. Definitely a diverse mix of fresh foods. I was glad I had the new cookbooks for ideas and inspiration.

Unfortunately, Emeril's new book arrived on my desk too late for me to try out any of his recipes for this column. But a quick look tells me there are a lot of recipes here that I will certainly try in the future. Some are in the neo-mammaw-ist vein, but many also feature Emeril's patented "kick it up" attitude, including Sweet Potato Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter (something Mammaw would never have made but I'm sure she would have loved), and Pear Parsnip Purée (made with walnut liquor, mmm).

If you're in need of a little inspiration to fuel your inner Mammaw, you're probably going to like all of these books. Here are a few of the recipes I tried for a recent dinner party using my finds from that weekend's farmer's market.; 445-3946

Recipes: The flavors in the Spring Couscous Salad are bright and the contrasting textures are smooth and crunchy. It's the perfect side dish for a savory main course, like roasted fowl with root vegetables, or grilled chicken breasts. You can adapt the salad recipe to fit whatever fresh vegetables are in season. And now that we're coming into peach season, try the quesadillas as an appetizer at your next cookout.

Spring Couscous Salad

1/2 cup cubed yellow squash (younger more tender gourds are best)

2 cups snap peas or snow peas (or a mix), stringed and cut in half if large

11/2 cups couscous

1/3 cup diced red onion

1/4 cup olive oil (or more to taste)

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint

1/3 cup chopped flatleaf parsley

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste

2 small cloves garlic, finely minced

Sea salt and freshly round pepper

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Briefly cook the squash in the water until it's tender yet firm, about 1 minute. Remove squash with a mesh strainer, rinse with cool water and set aside. Cook the peas in the same water about 1 minute, strain, rinse and set aside. Put the couscous in a heat-proof bowl and pour on 11/4 cups of the boiling water. Cover the bowl with foil and set aside for 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork to separate the grains. Mix together the remaining ingredients and toss with the vegetables and couscous. Serve at room temperature or chilled. If possible, make about 1 hour ahead so the flavors have time to meld.

- Adapted from a recipe by David Hirsch in 'Cooking from the Garden.'

Peach and Brie Quesadillas with Lime-Honey Dipping Sauce


2 Tbsp. honey

2 tsp. fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp. grated lime rind


1 cup thinly sliced peeled firm (but ripe), about 2 large peaches

1/4 cup thinly sliced sweet purple onions or sweet 1015 onions (see note)

3 oz. Brie, thinly sliced (see note)

4 8-inch flour tortillas

1 Tbsp. fresh chopped chives

1 tsp. canola or grapeseed oil

To prepare sauce, combine ingredients, stirring with a whisk; set aside. To prepare quesadillas, heat a large skillet (a seasoned cast iron works well here) over medium heat. Rub 1/2 teaspoon of the oil on the skillet. Lightly cook two tortillas on one side, then flip tortillas and spread 1/4 of cheese, 1/4 of peaches and 1/4 of onions on cooked side. Fold tortillas in half and cook briefly on each side until cheese is bubbly and tortillas are lightly browned. Remove from pan and keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining quesadillas. Cut each quesadilla into wedges, top with a few chives, and serve with sauce.

Notes: The original recipe called for adding 1 teaspoon of brown sugar to the sliced peaches. I omitted the sugar because the fresh peaches I purchased at the market were plenty sweet. I used my favorite local brie from Brazos Valley Farm, which is too soft to slice, so I spooned it onto the tortillas. Also, Cooking Light's recipe didn't include purple onions; I added them because I had fresh sweet ones from the market and because I wanted a little more crunch and flavor. And finally, these quesadillas were so good, I didn't need the dipping sauce, but it's well worth making at least once; the acidic sweetness of the sauce is a nice foil to the creamy rich filling.

- Adapted from a recipe in Cooking Light's `Cooking Through the Seasons: An Everyday Guide to Enjoying the Freshest Food'

Roasted Guinea Hen with Root Vegetables and Fennel Sauce

Note: The amounts here are not critical; adapt and revise to suit your tastes

Roasted Guinea Hen

Fresh, pastured guinea hen (often available from Countryside Farms)

2-3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. soy sauce

2 or 3 fresh fennel stalks, cut in thirds, feathery fronds removed

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Roasted Root Vegetables:

1 cup carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1-2 inch chunks, or use baby carrots whole

1 cup new potatoes, with peeling on, scrubbed clean, halved if small, or cut into 1-2 inch chunks

Olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup spring onions, peeled and left whole if small, quartered if large, green tops removed

3 cloves garlic, sliced

Fennel Sauce

Olive oil

2 small fennel bulbs, cleaned, cored, sliced; fronds and stalks removed

1/4 cup onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, sliced

1/4 cup dry white wine

About 1/3 cup homemade guinea hen stock or good quality packaged stock or broth (see note)

Sea salt

2 tsp freshly chopped thyme leaves

1 tsp. arrow root powder mixed into 3 tsps. water

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine olive oil and soy sauce and drizzle on hen. Place fennel stalks inside hen. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 30 minutes on one side, remove from oven, turn the hen over and baste other side with drippings. Cook until skin is crisped and juices run clear when thigh is pierced at its thickest point, about 20 to 40 minutes more, depending on size of hen.

Combine root vegetables, oil and seasonings, except for onions and garlic. (Pat vegetables dry with a cloth if they're wet so they don't steam.) Lay in a shallow roasting pan, in a single layer with a little breathing room between vegetables. Roast in 400-degree oven (after hen is done if using one oven) for about 10 minutes, or until carrots are not quite tender. Stir in onions and garlic, another drizzle of oil if vegetables seem dry and return to oven and cook until onion is lightly browned and carrots are tender, about 5 or 10 more minutes.

While vegetables are roasting, make fennel sauce. Heat a large heavy bottom skillet (stainless steel works well here) over medium-high heat. Add a splash of olive oil, then add fennel and onion, and sautée for 2 or 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add garlic and continue cooking for a few minutes more until fennel is tender and lightly caramelized. Add wine and stock and stir to loosen browned bits from bottom of pan. Season with salt, add thyme and stir in arrow root mixture. Continue cooking for a few more minutes until sauce thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning.

To serve, place a couple of spoonfuls of fennel sauce on a plate and top with a piece of roasted hen and surround with roasted vegetables. Pass more sauce at the table. If desired, garnish with fennel fronds.

Notes: The best stock for this dish is homemade, preferably from the roasted head, neck, wings and back of a guinea hen, but roasted chicken parts also will work. Place parts in a saucepan with two or three fennel stalks, cut in thirds. Add 1/4 cup of dry white wine, 1 chopped clove of garlic, 3 cups of water and salt. Simmer for at least two hours or longer, periodically skimming off any cloudy debris that rises to the top. Strain and store in the fridge for up to three days until ready to use. Will keep in the freezer for six months.

- Renee Studebaker

Homegrown/eat local movement is still hot and getting hotter

• According to a recent survey by the National Gardening Association, 1 million new food gardens were planned for 2010. That's in addition to the estimated 40 million or so food gardens that were planted in 2009. Of that 40 million, 7.7 million gardeners said they were new to edible gardening.

• This year in general, according to Garden Media Group, vegetable gardening is up 19 percent and seed sales are up 30-50 percent. Canning jar sales are up 15 percent.

• One of the major new color collections introduced by the trend-watching Color Association is called Vegetable Garden. The earthy color palette includes a rich red called Heirloom Tomato. Color forecastors say we should expect variations of these palettes to pop up on walls, furnishings and accessories. (Hmm, wonder if butternut squash could be the next hot color for new cars?)

• According to the Garden Media Group, planting a vegetable garden is part of the `happiness trend' of 2010. `Tending a garden helps people achieve higher levels of happiness.'

• Publishers are pushing out new cookbooks to help folks deal with all that fresh produce. The following is not a comprehensive list, but it's a good starting place if you're looking for inspiration or new recipes. These books are either recently released or scheduled to be released in June:

'Cooking from the Garden: Best Recipes from Kitchen Gardener,' Taunton Press, $29.95

'Cooking Light Cooking Through the Seasons: An Everyday Guide to Enjoying the Freshest Food,' Oxmoor House, $29.95

'Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America's Farmers' by Sur La Table and Janet Fletcher, Andrews McMeel Publishing, $35

'Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods' by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian, Wiley, $29.95

'Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh' by Emeril Lagasse, HarperStudio, $24.99

'In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart' by Alice Waters, Clarkson Potter, $28

'Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook: A Fresh Look at Local Flavor,' Oxmoor House, $29.95

'Sustainably Delicious: Making the World a Better Place One Recipe at a Time' by Michel Nischan, Rodale Books, $35

- Renee Studebaker