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Holiday Gift Tip No. 1: Organic is good

By Christina Waters

ONE OF THE BEST THINGS about Jesse Cool's new cookbook, Your Organic Kitchen, is that it's neither preachy nor pretentious. The latest encouraging words for home cooks from one of the Bay Area's organic leaders, this new cookbook is clearly a labor of love from the busy restaurateuse and author of Tomatoes: A Country Garden Cookbook and Breakfast in Bed. Cool has tirelessly cultivated the fields of the organic movement for over 25 years, sourcing the best local organic produce for her explosion of restaurants--Flea St. Cafe, JZCool Eating and Catering Company in Menlo Park and, most recently, the Cool Cafe at the Art Museum at Stanford University. Over the years, in the quest for honest, healthful gastronomy, she's made friends and allies among other culinary movers and shakers, several of whom share their own recipes in Cool's latest. But mostly, it's Jesse's warm and soothing approach to uncomplicated, deeply comforting foods that fills these 278 pages with delicious ideas.

Organized by seasons, Your Organic Kitchen begins with some words of common sense about converting your own kitchen to organic. Sharing her own saga, Cool urges readers to dive in and follow their instincts for a sustainable future--and for the fullest, freshest flavors--in locating and using organically grown produce, natural meats and poultry and wild seafood.

Those who've sampled Cool's flavor-intensive menu at Flea St. Cafe will recognize the grassroots style of hearty cookery that fills these pages. Cool's own '50s childhood inflects her choices--cooks weary of trends will find welcome relief in recipes for pot roast, sensuous pastas, roast chicken and stews as well as old-fashioned desserts. Many recipes show off the author's own penchant for flavor contrasts, notably an inventive use of fruits--both dried and fresh--with meats and poultry. One especially enticing early winter recipe showcases game hen roasted with prunes, sweet potatoes and spiced robustly with cinnamon, black pepper, paprika, coriander and saffron. Cool's idiot-proof recipe for gnocchi with sage butter could have anyone cooking flawless Italian.

Organic emphasis meets Mediterranean comfort food in such luscious combinations as chicken with dried cherries, olives and cayenne chiles. A wintry penne pasta features tender cauliflower, lots of garlic, kalamata olives and shredded Asiago cheese. Each recipe comes with a helpful "Kitchen Tip" in which Cool suggests likely substitutions--lots of these dishes go vegetarian simply by exchanging tofu for meat--as well as ways to vary a recipe or hints about matching wines. A recipe for polenta with three cheeses and marinara is presented, along with memoirs and preparation lore from the author's Italian grandmother.

Your Organic Kitchen is clearly presented, although the graphic layout might have been streamlined with fewer fonts and typeface colors. Each recipe helpfully includes calorie count, plus protein, carbohydrate, fat, cholesterol, fiber and sodium content for each suggested serving. And interspersed throughout the seasonal sections are narrative infomercials about such organic industry leaders as Seeds of Change, Cascadian Farm and Horizon Dairy. Recipe offerings from national organic chefs John Ash, Rick Bayless, Nora Pouillon, Michael Romano, Stan Frankenthaler and Alice Waters (who uses the occasion to preach to the converted) add some bounce to these pages. But Cool has expertise and insights aplenty all on her own and needn't have diluted some of the effect of her own style with this scattering of guest recipes. The desire to support and be supported is understandable, and perhaps these outside contributions should be looked at as shared expertise, rather than promotional spots.

Any way you slice your own organic kitchen, Jesse Cool's readable, sensible and often warmly inspiring cookbook belongs in your house--and in the kitchen of every cook on your holiday gift list.

Your Organic Kitchen, by Jesse Ziff Cool, from Rodale Press, 2000. You can bet it's printed on recycled paper. And it retails for $30. Find it at your favorite bookstore--in time for you-know-what!

Email me! Readers restaurateurs, chefs: Please send any news items, tips, menu changes, openings, special events and juicy gossip to [email protected]

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From the December 7-13, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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