These days it seems cookbooks are big business. There are whole stores dedicated to nothing but, I see new cookbook deals on the regular, and it appears one hits the shelves almost daily. If you’re as obsessed as I, you pretty much want to buy every single one. My own collection is looking rather sad: a few classics, some professional ones, and a whole slew of vegetarian books. Remnants of our veggie days gone by, this food blogger/cook really needs to update her collection what with all the bacon I eat. So, when Able Sense Publishing contacted me to review the recently released Straight From The Line by local chef Jason Lynch, I was all over it.
Besides being both published locally and written by Le Caveau‘s Jason Lynch, there’s so much to love about this book. At first glance, it is the the dark styling and close up photography that stands out. It places you inside the kitchen, giving you a first hand view of the chef at work. It’s a nice change from the many food styled books of late. With an emphasis on seasonal produce and seafood, Straight From The Line presents a varied collection of recipes ranging from simple Nova Scotian favourites like Blueberry Grunt to the more exotic, ingredient heavy Chicken Marrakech. Most are geared toward the home cook, those without all the commercial equipment and team of chefs at their side.
Simple doesn’t ever have to mean packaged.
The best part however, Jason himself. His philosophy rooted in quality local ingredients and simplicity is evident in every recipe, in every written passage. He’s straight up about his experience, the profession, sourcing locally, cooking for children, even entertaining. His honesty is refreshing. You can’t help but feel the title is more than just an ode to life “on the line” in a restaurant. It’s fitting. Driven by his childhood spent on a farm in rural Nova Scotia, Jason embodies supporting local, apparent by his commitment to offer the freshest, locally sourced menus at Le Caveau and solidified throughout the book. He makes a point to guide you not only through the seasonal produce available in Nova Scotia, but also the everyday big name grocery store. In today’s reality of a highly packaged and processed food system, I’d say help navigating the grocery store is welcome. At the very heart of the book, a desire to find the best possible ingredient and keep it simple. “Ingredients don’t need to be overworked, dehydrated, turned into a powder or into a bubbling volcano. There’s no reason you can’t just let a strawberry be a strawberry.” Amen to that.
Though I am thoroughly excited to try my hands at his gnocchi à la Parisienne with blue cheese, I really wanted to make something that embodied the book, that spoke to its essence, its simplicity. With Fall temperatures in full effect, it was a carrot soup that stood out. The funny thing is I rarely make soup. In truth, there was much of my life where I hated soup. I didn’t grow up with the puréed fall harvest soups or ethnic noodle soups I’ve come to love. It was all Campbells back then. And I wasn’t into it. Not even the classic grilled cheese and tomato soup combo would entice me. Yeah, I know, big weirdo.
It wasn’t until tree planting that soup took on a whole new meaning. You see, tree planting isn’t for the weak of heart. It’s hard. It’s damn hard. There’s the physical labour equivalent to running a marathon daily. There’s the insane amount of bugs. Then there’s Mother Nature. She doesn’t care that you’re out in the elements bending over for 12 cents 3000 times a day. She doesn’t care that it’s not supposed to snow in June. She certainly doesn’t care that there’s no protection on the block, no solace from the harsh elements. When the rain comes pounding down for 8 straight hours, you can do nothing but suck it up and keep going, soggy feet and all. Sounds glamourous doesn’t it. There was but one saving grace out there in the woods, the food. For many, returning home daily to a hot bowl of soup and a slice of freshly baked bread made up fro whatever Mother Nature threw at them. I had no idea soup could become such an important part of someone’s day. There were even those that consistently told me soup was their absolute favourite part of tree planting. It was then that soup and I made up.
Jason’s carrot and cilantro soup with coconut milk, though I think more aptly named carrot coconut soup, was the perfect fit. Smooth in texture and quite subtle on the palate, this soup allows those local carrots to speak for themselves. According to the recipe, serve it garnished simply with fresh cilantro, a bunch of cilantro if you’re me. Being the flavour junkie that I am though, I went ahead and threw together pumpkin seed-cilantro pesto because why not. Then I went and drizzled it with PURE maple syrup. Produced locally by NSCC’s culinary gem Peter Dewar, this chipotle lemongrass infused maple syrup was stunning. Smokey and sweet with a hint of lemongrass, I imagine it’d be good on anything. I even had the last delicious bowl today with the same pesto and a nice dollop of Greek yogurt. Amazing.
See, it’s the kind of recipe you’d make again and again, each time adjusting it to suit your tastes, topping it with whatever you desire. With passages encouraging you to become comfortable making substitutions and, above all, have fun in the kitchen, this is precisely what Jason would want.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
- 2 teaspoons chopped ginger
- 1 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
- 3 3/4 cups low-salt chicken stock
- 3/4 cup coconut milk
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- sea salt
- black pepper
- chopped cilantro
- PURE chipotle lemongrass maple syrup
- Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add carrots, stock, and ginger; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Puree soup in batches in blender; return to pan and reheat to serving temperature. Mix in coconut milk and spices. Season with coarse sale and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Top with cilantro.