Friday, 6 January 2012

Super Natural Every Day cookbook (and Membrillo Cake)

Every year millions of people around the world decide to welcome in the New Year by making a New Years resolution. Whether it be to lose weight, save money, travel or find love. Not even a week into 2012 and no doubt most people have already thrown in the towel. There are 2 resolutions that make it onto my list every years, 1- to be healthier and 2- to learn to walk in high heal shoes. I've gotten no where with the shoes, but I am slowly making good on eating better and being healthier. For those of you out there who share this resolution  and also the want to lower your carbon footprint I'd like to present to you Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day, a beautiful cook book filled with lovely photo's, cooking tips, healthy recipes and most importantly some damn tasty food.      
First of all lets talk a little about Heidi Swanson. In 2003, Heidi looked at her giant cookbook collection and decided to chronicle them one recipe at a time, and so started a blog called 101 Cookbooks. She came to the realisation that like many of us, she had amassed a huge amount of recipe books and yet found herself cooking the same recipes over and over. She wanted to break that cycle by visiting new ideas and exploring the recipes that she already had at her disposal. What a brilliant concept. The site exploded in popularity and it has since won award after award including in 2007 Food Blog of the Year. Clever girl, maybe if I had thought of that she would be writing a a review on my book. But alas I have been slow off the mark. Heidi is a San Franciscan based photographer, cookbook author, designer and vegetarian Her focus is mainly on natural, whole foods and ingredients all while delivering on taste.
Super Natural Every Day, published by Hardie Grant Books, brings together a collection of wholesome food, great kitchen tips and a handy list of what to have in your pantry in order to follow through with the healthier you. Is it weird to say that the book even feels organic? Because it does, with it's beautiful matte pictures and pages that feel like recycled paper. Everything looks delicious and filling, in fact many of the pictures took me straight back to my Grandma Mimi's kitchen-except Mimi would have added pork. It is divided into Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks, Dinner, Drinks, Treats and Accompaniments so it is very easy to navigate. Most of the ingredients are easily accessible either at the super market or fresh food market, or worst case scenario the whole food or Asian grocers where you go in for 1 thing and come out with 10, at least that's what always happens to me.
I was given the opportunity to ask Heidi a few questions, and my first was regarding dairy substitution in her recipes, a topic very close to my heart due to my little girl Lolo's allergies. 
Me: I have enjoyed reading through your recipes and am ready to get cooking, however I have 17months with very severe dairy and soy allergies so will unfortunately need to substitute the dairy for her benefit. In order to make the most of your recipes, which milk substitute would you recommend? Oat, almond or rice milk?

Heidi: Actually, I like coconut milk. It's a good swap in many cases, and particularly in baked goods.                                                                                                                                                
She was right, I had never thought to use coconut milk as a substitute, but it adds a whole new dimension of richness and sweetness to the dishes, and best of all, Lolo has been able to enjoy something new.
Me: Were you brought up with the love of eating wholesome natural foods, or was it a conscious decision that came later in life?

Heidi: I was a terribly picky eater as a kid. And it wasn't until I began cooking a lot in my mid-twenties that I really started exploring unfamiliar flavors, ingredients, and a range of cooking techniques. At that point in my life cooking struck me as something creatively interesting, as something I wanted to explore more and more. And it's how I eventually settled into the natural foods palette of ingredients I tend to highlight now.
Great news guys, you can teach an old dog new tricks. There is hope for me.
I have been granted permission by the Author and the good people at Hardie Grant to use one of Heidi's fabulous recipes for this post and I have chosen the Membrillo Cake. It is incredibly rich, luscious and just screams to be enjoyed with a big mug of tea. You can purchase Membrillo(Quince Paste) at any super market these days, but if you are feeling up to it I have a brilliant recipe that I always use in the Blog Archive in May titled Quince Paste (Vegan) .
310g wholemeal flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
70g golden caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
60g poppy seeds
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 large eggs
355 ml buttermilk
60 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
255 g membrillo(quince paste), cut into tiny cubes
2 tablespoons raw sugar or demerara sugar
20 g flaked almonds, lightly toasted

Preheat oven at 200°with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter and flour a 23cm x 33cm baking dish (or equivalent).
Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, poppy seeds, and lemon zest in a large bowl.
In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs and the buttermilk. Whisk in the melted butter.
Add to the flour mixture and stir briefly, until just combined. Gently fold in two-thirds of the membrillo cubes until they are evenly distributed.
Transfer the cake mixture into the prepared dish. Arrange the remaining membrillo across the top in a pleasing pattern. Sprinkle with the sugar, then the almonds.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This cake is fantastic. I had feared that it would be quite dense because of the wholemeal flour, but it isn't. It's light yet rich, and the fact that you can enjoy it warm means that you are able to appreciate the quince paste oozing in every bite. I love it. I just hope my family does too because I am going to make it constantly.

Heidi's book has made me want to cook. It makes me want to spend time in the kitchen creating a meal that I know my family will enjoy and that will be good for them. It makes me want to get up early on Saturday mornings and head down to the farmers market and hunt for the freshest produce, to talk to the growers and producers and feel like I'm doing something good for my world and the people in it by buying locally.

We have never really eaten badly but since Lolo came along we have endeavoured to buy organic and eat as well as possible, and now that I am expecting my second child, the need to stay healthy is even more important. I am not unfamiliar to legumes, I am Chilean after all and my people like a bean, however this book has given me a lot of very different and interesting ideas. Green Lentil Soup with coconut milk and curry powder for example. I can hear Mimi from the other side saying WTF? But it is delicious.

I was able to ask Heidi one more question so I thought I should make it a good one.
Me: Have you found that in general people are finally starting to embrace the good healthy foods that our grandparents ate, and are steering away from overly processed foods, or do we have a lot more work to do?

Heidi: Both. Natural foods – whole grains, less-refined sweeteners, and the like seem to be finding their way back into more and more kitchens because people like how they taste. For a long time, you'd rarely see baking recipes call for anything other than white sugar or white flour, but that has changed over the past few years. I think everyone is excited by the exchange of ideas between cooks, chefs, and bakers playing around in this realm now.
That said, there is plenty of room for improvement (and experimentation!)…At the end of the day people want delicious, satisfying food first. If that comes out of ingredients that happen to be considered "healthier" - great. People embrace that. And sometimes, home cooks just need ideas related to what they might make with quinoa, or whole wheat pastry flour, or heirloom beans.

Amen to that sister, amen to that.


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