Cook with the seasons. And eat local.
That's the message from Beth Dooley in her new cookbook, "The Northern Heartland Kitchen" (University of Minnesota Press, 260 pages, $29.95). The longtime cooking teacher wrote the book to address the misconceptions that students raise in her classes:
• Organics are too expensive.
• No time to go to farmers markets.
• No time to cook.
Not so, she says. Dooley proves that good food comes in seasonal packages, in a book organized by the rhythms of the year, with recipes that broaden the sense of what is traditionally meant by "Midwestern." Take her Asian chicken noodle soup, with seasonings introduced by Vietnamese, Chinese and Hmong immigrants to our area -- the ginger root, star anise and fish sauce now familiar to many local cooks.
This book begins where her last volume, with Lucia Watson, concluded. "Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland," published in 1994, looked at the history of cooking in the upper Midwest. Dooley's new work brings the evolution in food to the present.
"So much has changed for the good. It's a movement that's driven by people, not so much by policy, though policy influences it," said Dooley in an interview.
Her fascination with local farmers began with her work with Watson. "Lucia was really a pioneer of knowing where food was coming from. As I got to know the growers, I wanted to learn more," she said.
Whether it was at farmers markets, or through her share in community-supported agriculture (CSA) or conversations with chefs, Dooley talked with those who grew food and those who cooked it. She became further immersed in the local food movement while teaching English for a few years at Lake Country School, which owned a farm and had a curriculum built around it. Lessons in literature involved farmer poet Wendell Berry and conservationist Aldo Leopold.
She's moderate and practical in her preaching the gospel of food -- no 100-mile diet for her. In fact, she warns her readers about the "dangers in local overachieving," though she does advocate seasonings and foods that come from nearby.
My favorite feature in the book? For each season, Dooley offers five dishes that can be made in 5 minutes or less.
For a taste of her recipes, here's a fall menu of heartland flavors. Start the meal with greens tossed with blue cheese, sliced apples and a simple vinaigrette. For the main course, prepare hanger steak with fresh horseradish (you can make it yourself with horseradish root); serve it with some of your favorite mashed potatoes. For a side dish, roast broccoli or cauliflower and perk it up with garlic and dried chile peppers. A light and refreshing cranberry sorbet serves as dessert.
Fast food? Definitely. Affordable? Absolutely. Delicious? Of course, made with the local flavors of fall.