Madison's credentials as a foodie town keep growing. Local chefs are earning national recognition; our markets and food carts show up in glossy cookbooks. Even the cheese curds at The Old Fashioned (where Andrew Zimmern couldn't get a table) got a shout-out on Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate."
Lately, Madison cooks and food writers have been taking promotion into their own hands. Four new food-centric books out this spring, three of them published locally, focus on the bounty both at home and abroad.
The friendly argument between recipe writer Irene Cash and photographer Victor Marsh about their latest collaboration revolves around what "Savoring the Harvest: The Sights and Sounds of the Farmers Market" should call itself.
Is it a farmers' market cookbook with color photographs? Or is it a glossy photo album with recipes?
Functionally, "Savoring the Harvest," published by Cuisine Capers Press in early April, is likely to find a home on the coffee table before it gets splattered in the kitchen. (Cuisine Capers is an imprint, or subset, of the publishing company Cash started in McFarland, Intrepid Ink.)
The book is full of lovingly framed, full-color macro shots of radishes, concord grapes, peppers in all the colors of the rainbow and deep purple eggplant. It's beautiful.
But though the recipes appear to progress roughly from spring to fall, there are no chapters, no table of contents, and little of Cash's voice in the recipes.
Cooks might instead take inspiration from a simple tomato and goat cheese tart, which uses puff pastry for ease and smashed, roasted garlic for flavor, or riff on dead-simple recipes for mushroom risotto, peas and pancetta or grilled corn with bacon butter.
Savoring the Harvest
By Irene Cash and Victor Marsh
Cuisine Capers Press, $24.99
Wisconsin-born Aime is the Badger Girl, and her husband Jean-Paul is Manatee, because like the greens-loving water creatures he "consumes more spinach and lettuce than an average family of four." With her sensitivity to dairy and his to gluten, transforming their diets to "eat clean" seemed like a natural direction for the pair.
"Homemade Snacks," the result of that diet change, is part of the Living Free Guides, a series that includes books on home preserving, vertical vegetable gardening and backyard farming.
There are recipes for homemade Pop-Tarts ("toaster pastries"), mayonnaise, ketchup, yogurt, pickles and taco seasoning. A simple quesadilla recipe requires one to first make wheat tortillas ("packed with flavor ... light, chewy and moist") and stewed tomato salsa with black beans and corn.
Like Aime's blog, "Homemade Snacks" rings with the author's engaging voice, which is ever-present here. Triple Threat Apple Bread starts with a story about a botched audition for a Sondheim musical. She gets granola right on the sixth try, noting that Manatee ate every previous "flimsy, burnt and inedible" version. And like a good dairy state girl, she encourages readers to "go full-fat or go home."
Aime is adamant, if not outright preachy, about avoiding processed food, unnecessary chemicals, white sugar and white flour ("what your body sees is a bag of sugar"). Families who want to eat cleaner, as well as fans of Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks blog and "Super Natural" cookbooks, will find a lot to like here.
Homemade Snacks and Staples
By Kimberly Aime
In one fundamental way, "Farm-Fresh and Fast" has a history in common with those old spiral-bound church cookbooks, stuffed with the Altar Guild's best recipes.
But instead of lasagna and chicken and broccoli casserole, Fair Share CSA's newest cookbook has crowdsourced recipes for fennel and feta burgers, jicama slaw and Brussels sprouts braised in apple cider.
"Farm-Fresh" takes what worked in its previous book, "From Asparagus to Zucchini" (1997) and pushes that collective knowledge further, with master recipes for standards like pesto, risotto, "beans and greens" and chilled soup. Chapters gather ingredients into categories like aromatic accents, leafy greens and kernels, legumes and pods, a structure that works well for seasonality and substitution.
Locals may recognize blogger Leslie Damaso's name from Driftless Appetite, as well as familiar chefs like Dan Fox (formerly of the Madison Club) and members of REAP Food Group, all who are credited with contributing recipes. Death's Door sales director John Kinder's approachable cocktails, like Carrot and the Stick (made with carrot juice) and a strawberry-balsamic-basil martini, are highlights of an alcoholic appendix.
Most of the recipes in the book came from Patricia Mulvey and Laura Gilliam, founders of Local Thyme, a CSA menu-planning service that launched in 2012. Try their streamlined take on Momofuku's chicken with burdock root, seasoned with white miso, ginger, garlic, mirin and soy, or their watermelon bites with blue cheese and candied walnuts.
The one disappointment in this glossy new book is the photographs. They're in black and white, which is a bummer especially in the sweet fruits section.
Farm-Fresh and Fast
Fair Share CSA Coalition, $24.95
Veteran journalist and travel writer Mary Bergin connects Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) at Mader's in Milwaukee to authentic Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cherry torte) in her latest book, "Eat Smart in Germany." (Bergin is a former features editor and writer at The Capital Times.)
Bergin's book is the twelfth guide published by Gingko Press in Madison, a series that includes books on Indonesia, Turkey, France, Poland and Peru.
In the same style, "Eat Smart in Germany" combines German culinary history with practical advice for the hungry traveler. With menu ordering tips, a glossary of food terms and descriptions of dozens of regional foods, it's perfect in-flight reading en route to Frankfurt or Munich.
Most enjoyable, even for the armchair traveler, are the fun facts about German food Bergin sprinkles throughout the book. The gummy bear was born in Bonn in 1922; "Handkäse mit Musik," or "hand cheese with music," is an "acquired taste" that refers to the audible after-effects of eating it.
Wisconsinites might relate to Katerfruhstuck, "a working person's breakfast ... to ease a hangover" comprised of sausages, ham, pumpernickel bread, goulash and herring in sour cream and dill. With it, drink "a hair of whatever dog it was that bit you," Bergin quotes food writer Nika Standen Hazelton.
"Eat Smart in Germany" is available for download as an eBook (PDF), which is not only cheaper but makes it much easier to search terms, definitions and location references (not always easy to find).
Eat Smart in Germany
By Mary Bergin
Gingko Press, $14.95, $5.99 eBook