Saturday, March 15, 2014

Homemade Condiments: Artisan Recipes Using Fresh, Natural Ingredients

Homemade Condiments: Artisan Recipes Using Fresh, Natural Ingredients
Publisher: Ulysses Press (December 3, 2013)

Most people can’t bear the thought of being without their condiments. The ability to doctor up the taste of relatively bland foods like chicken, tofu, pasta and rice, or disguise unwanted flavours (think of children and their vegetables) opens up a world of possibilities. With a simple change of sauce, a dish can travel from the United States to Russia, Germany, Thailand, France and Argentina without ever leaving the ground. However, most sauces and seasonings you find in the stores these days are laden with ingredients you’d rather not have – from long-maligned MSG to HFCS and a host of other acronyms and chemicals, it’s a wonder we haven’t all turned into the pickles we enjoy on our burger. In response to our super-processed life, a new trend has started towards homemade ingredients. Food writer Jessica Harlan is one of the promoters of this movement and dishes up 75 delicious, wholesome alternatives to the grocery store in Homemade Condiments: Artisan Recipes Using Fresh, Natural Ingredients.

Homemade Condiments is definitely not a book dedicated to doctoring up storebought food, nor is it limited to simple fare. The 123 pages run the gamut from Ketchups (p. 9) to Salad Dressings (p. 77), Sweet Sauces and Spreads (p. 103) and even Ethnic and Specialty Ingredients (p. 89). In each chapter are a multitude of recipes – for example, eight different ketchups (from Fresh Tomato (p.10) to Southwestern Tomatillo (p. 19)) and six types of mustard (my favourite being the Grainy Porter (p. 37)) are all unique in their ingredients and methods and all suit different purposes. Readers may discover a new love where the idea never existed before, or be able to re-create an old standby remembered from the Mom & Pop shops, before mass processing took away many of the small producers. Like all responsible “canned food” cookbook authors, Harlan includes an Appendix with notes on Food Safety and Canning (p. 116), Resources (p. 122) and Conversion Charts (p. 123). She also provides a brief but highly useful Introduction with sections regarding Setting Up Your Pantry (p. 3) and A Well Equipped Kitchen (p. 5), something that should be required reading for all budding home sauce-makers.

One of the best things about this book is that Harlan is realistic in terms of ingredients. Even in my small-town grocery store, I was able to find all the components I needed to make Asian Quick Pickles (p. 52) and Hoisin Sauce (p. 97), and it only took a quick trip to the Asian grocery one town over to find mirin (rice wine) for the Teriyaki Sauce (p. 96) recipe. However, if I was unable to find mirin, or found the fresh produce used throughout Homemade Condiments lacking in terms of quality, quantity or economy (which often happens in the winter!), Harlan offers substitutes that may be easier to find or more cost effective while maintaining the best flavour possible – including the use of high-quality canned tomatoes or individually quick frozen fruit. Thanks to those options, there is no reason to put off trying a recipe in Homemade Condiments that piques your interest.

If you’ve been longing to find that “secret ingredient” to jazz up your weeknight meals, take a browse through Jessica Harlan’s book Homemade Condiments: Artisan Recipes Using Fresh, Natural Ingredients. You’ll be sure to find at least one new fridge staple to call your own, and check off your shopping list permanently.

Available on Amazon

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