Five 'Fresh' new cookbooks offer a pile of recipes

If there has been one buzzword for this spring's crop of cookbooks, it has to be "fresh."

At one point I noticed enough new cookbooks with "fresh" in their titles to be their own pile.

When I opened them up and started playing with them, I was impressed by a bunch of fresh recipes and some fresh takes for presenting them.

Probably my favorite is "Fresh Happy Tasty: An Adventure in 100 Recipes" by Jane Coxwell (Morrow, May 2013, $35).

She's a pretty blonde who, as is trendy in so many cookbooks, is depicted in photographs throughout -- chopping, cooking, messily eating, even buying fish dockside in the Solomon Islands. This maybe makes you want to hate her.

But there's clearly more to her chops than her great smile. She grew up and trained as a chef in South Africa, then France, and wound up in California, working as executive chef at Hall Wines in Napa before starting to work on Eos. That's a three-masted sailing yacht -- one of the world's biggest -- owned by Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, who writes the brief foreword. Which maybe also makes you want to hate her.

But I can't, and in fact, I think I would love cooking and eating with her. Her sensibility really is fresh. Both recipes I tested of hers, for brussels sprouts and for a multi-pea salad, were flavor revelations that will go into semi-regular rotation at our house.

She writes that she wants this "to be seen as the kind of cookbook that guides rather than instructs. The recipes are pretty simple, and I tried to include as many photos as I could. The style of cooking is relaxed and happy, and it produces tasty food with a minimum of effort."

Surprisingly fresh is "Better Homes and Gardens Fresh: Recipes for Enjoying Ingredients at Their Peak" (Better Homes and Gardens, April 2013, $29.99). The recipes, and the photographs in them -- by BH and G and Jason Donnelly, Andy Lyons and Kritsada Panichgul, are more fresh and hip than one might expect.

The schtick is seasonal, but the recipes are divided up not by season but by type; there's a Produce Guide in the back to help you with "what to buy when and how to store and prepare it."

My family loved all three recipes that we made from the book, and we'll be trying many more.

Using my patented system of tiny ripped pieces of a reporter's notebook, I marked more recipes than I'll be able to soon try in the "Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook: Creating Irresistible Dishes from the Best Seasonal Produce" (Oxmoor, April 2013, $21.95). This past weekend we enjoyed the Quinoa and Parsley Salad, a fresh take on tabbouleh; and Monday, we tried another fresh salad -- Herby Cucumber Salad -- that shows how you can freshen up a standard recipe by how you cut the cucumbers. I'm going to be cooking from this book all summer long.

I like the motif of "Fresh Food Nation: Simple, Seasonal Recipes from America's Farmers" by Martha Holmberg (Taunton, April 2013, $22.95). The recipes are sourced from and credited to farms around the country that offer CSA, or community-supported agriculture subscriptions. No farms from Western Pennsylvania are included, but there are some from out east, in Ohio and one in West Virginia.

Locavores will enjoy reading about the sources as well as trying the recipes.

Even more of a textbook approach is taken by "The Fresh 20: 20-Ingredient Meal Plans for Health and Happiness 5 Nights a Week" by Melissa Lanz (Morrow, April 2013, $24.99).

The author, a brunette, shares the obligatory family photos and gives a first-person account of her journey "from being a frozen burrito addict to maintaining a fresh kitchen." To help you follow that path, on which she eventually started the Fresh 20 online service, she presents this book, which "shows you how to plan ahead and cook five dinners a week using only 20 fresh, seasonal ingredients."

Our family is as busy as any, so we may benefit from more of her plentiful tips and tricks. In the meantime, we did enjoy the weeknight recipes we tried, including a "Plan Ahead" chicken and a pot roast recipe that made enough leftovers for a fresh take on farfalle, as well.

I love not just fresh food, but also fresh recipes for preparing it. Here are some keepers.

Brussels Sprouts and Oyster Mushrooms with Pine Nuts

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"If you're not keen on Brussels sprouts, pretend you've forgotten and make this recipe anyway," writes Jane Coxwell. "I'm not their biggest fan, but I could eat a whole bowl of this. Try it." This is superb.

  • 1/4 cup pine nuts

  • Extra-virgin olive oil

  • 3 strips bacon, diced

  • 8 ounces oyster mushrooms, roughly torn

  • Hazelnut oil

  • 10 Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved, and thinly sliced

  • 1/4 red onion, minced

  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Maldon or other flaky salt

  • Agave nectar

In a small dry skillet over low heat, toast the pine nuts until golden, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often.

Get a saute pan smoking hot and add a tiny bit of olive oil and the bacon. Cook until the bacon is nice and crispy, but don't let it burn -- you just want to cook the fat off and brown it a bit, about 2 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and saute until they have some color and have soaked up all the rendered bacon fat in the pan, about 4 minutes.

Pour a small lug of hazelnut oil into the pan. Add the Brussels sprouts and onion to the mixture and toss around for 30 seconds to 1 minute. You want to keep the green color and make sure they don't get too wilted.

To finish it off, add the vinegar, a few good twists of pepper, salt, and a touch of agave nectar. Add the pine nuts, toss around again a few times, and serve.

Serves 4.

-- "Fresh Happy Tasty: An Adventure in 100 Recipes" by Jane Coxwell (Morrow, May 2013, $35)

Bright Green Pea Salad with Lemon and Mint

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"This salad" -- inspired by a request for a "bright, all-green" one -- "is like a pea family reunion," writes Jane Coxwell. "It's very simple, but the goat cheese makes it a bit more substantial and luxurious." I skipped the goat cheese and it still was excellent. Ms. Coxwell says that if you don't want or can't get peas, you can "add whatever other green vegetables you find at the market."

She notes, "Don't be tempted to dress the salad too far in advance. The lemon can discolor the greens and ruin the aesthetic of the dish, which, in my opinion, is half the pleasure of it."

  • 1/4 pound haricots verts, ends trimmed (green beans are fine if you can't find haricots verts)

  • 1/4 pound snap peas, halved

  • 1/4 pound snow peas, halved

  • 1/4 pound fresh peas, shelled

  • 1/4 pound fava beans, shelled and peeled

  • 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced on the diagonal

  • Juice of 1 Meyer lemon

  • Extra-virgin olive oil

  • Maldon or other flaky salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 handful yellow pea shoots, optional

  • 1 handful green pea shoots, optional

  • 1 handful fresh mint leaves, roughly torn, optional

  • 1/4 pound good-quality goat cheese, optional

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over medium-high heat and prepare a large bowl of ice water.

Throw the haricots verts (which take the longest to cook) into the pot of boiling water. After 30 seconds, add the snap peas and snow peas. Add the fresh peas and fava beans after another 30 seconds-these will cook fastest. (Adding the beans in intervals of 30 seconds will save you the time of boiling multiple pots of water and cooking each vegetable individually.)

When the beans turn bright green and tender but are still very crisp, transfer the peas and beans to the ice water to stop the cooking. When they are cold, drain and transfer to a large glass bowl; add the celery.

Just when you're ready to serve the salad, add the lemon juice, some olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste and give the salad a good toss with your hands. Mix in the pea shoots and mint, if using. If using the goat cheese, gently crumble it in with your hands. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

-- "Fresh Happy Tasty: An Adventure in 100 Recipes" by Jane Coxwell (Morrow, May 2013, $35)


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"Better Homes and Gardens Fresh" points out that while raw radishes with salt are simply sublime, "a hot oven works the same magic on radishes as it does on other vegetables. They become sweeter and mellower, with a fuller flavor." Great with garden radishes.

  • 1 1/2 pounds radishes, trimmed, scrubbed, and halved

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl toss radishes with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place the radishes in a 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan. Roast, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, stirring once.

For chive vinaigrette, in a screwtop jar combine the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the white wine vinegar, chives, mustard, pepper, and salt. Drizzle vinaigrette over radishes; toss to coat.

Makes 6 servings.

-- "Better Homes and Gardens Fresh: Recipes for Enjoying Ingredients at Their Peak" (Better Homes and Gardens, April 2013, $29.99)

Rosemary Almond Cake with Strawberries and Mascarpone

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This cake was a little bit of work, but what a different, fun way to showcase strawberries. I made it without the mascarpone and it was still luscious.

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds, toasted

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 3 eggs

  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese

  • 3 cups quartered and/or halved fresh strawberries

  • 1/4 cup Orange-Vanilla Sugar

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons orange juice

  • 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-11/2-inch round cake pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper or waxed paper. Grease paper and lightly flour pan; set aside. In a small bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a food processor combine 2/3 cup granulated sugar, almonds, and rosemary. Cover and process until almonds are finely ground.

In a large bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high for 30 seconds.

Gradually add the sugar-almond mixture, beating on medium for 1 to 2 minutes or until well combined and fluffy, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the ricotta cheese until combined. Sprinkle flour mixture over egg mixture; stir just until combined. Spread batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine strawberries and the 1/4 cup Orange-Vanilla Sugar. Allow to stand at room temperature until sugar dissolves and creates a syrup, stirring occasionally. In a small bowl stir enough orange juice into mascarpone cheese to make a spoonable consistency.

Place cake on a serving platter and top with strawberries; pour syrup over strawberries. Serve with mascarpone cheese.

To make Orange-Vanilla Sugar: In a food processor combine 2 cups sugar and 1 tablespoon finely shredded orange peel. Scrape seeds from 1/2 of a vanilla bean; add to food processor.

Cover and process until very fine granules form. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Use to sprinkle over fresh fruit or substitute for sugar in cake and cookie recipes.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

-- "Better Homes and Gardens Fresh: Recipes for Enjoying Ingredients at Their Peak" (Better Homes and Gardens, April 2013, $29.99)

Crock-Pot Roast with Braised Carrots and Parsnips

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Melissa Lanz writes that she riffed on her Minnesota mother's Sunday recipe for this weeknight version, and notes that if you don't have a Crock-Pot or other slow cooker, "use a Dutch oven or other heavy, ovenproof pot to brown the meat, then add the vegetables, sage, and broth, cover, and cook in a 275-degree oven for 3 hours."

The book offers recipes for leftovers, so she notes, "Slice off a 1-pound piece of the roast. Store the meat in an airtight container in the refrigerator for dinner on Thursday and the Spicy Beef Farfalle recipe below.

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

  • 2 1/2- to 3-pound boneless beef chuck roast

  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped

  • 5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced lengthwise in half

  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced lengthwise in half

  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed and cut in half

  • 6 fresh sage leaves, chopped

  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Combine the salt, black pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, and paprika in a small bowl. Rub the seasonings into the meat on all sides.

In a large skillet, heat the grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil sizzles, place the meat in the pan and sear on all sides until a brown crust forms, about 5 minutes per side.

Place the vegetables and sage in the bottom of a Crock-Pot. Arrange the browned meat on the bed of vegetables. Pour in the broth. Set the Crock-Pot to low if cooking for more than 5 hours, or high if cooking for 3 to 5 hours. Cover the Crock-Pot and leave to cook.

Note: Only check on it when you think the meat is close to being finished. Each time the lid is removed, the temperature drops dramatically.

Serves 4 to 5.

-- "The Fresh 20: 20-Ingredient Meal Plans for Health and Happiness 5 Nights a Week" by Melissa Lanz (Morrow, April 2013, $24.99)

Spicy Beef Farfalle

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"Years ago, I ate a dish like this at a restaurant that has long since closed," writes Melissa Lanz. "But I still remember the layers of flavor derived from the rich beef, salty parmesan and fiery red chiles, and I just had to re-create that meal." Different and tasty.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped

  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped

  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

  • 12 ounces whole-wheat farfalle (or other short pasta, like penne, ziti, or rigatoni)

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • 2 small fresh red Thai chile peppers, finely chopped, or to taste

  • 1 pound leftover Crock-Pot Roast, shredded (about 2 cups; recipe above)

  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

  • 2 medium cucumbers, peeled and cut into rounds

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Pour in the broth and bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta has absorbed most of the liquid and is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.

Season the pasta with the salt and pepper. Stir in the chile peppers. Fold in the beef and heat through.

Sprinkle the pasta with the parmesan cheese before serving with the cucumber rounds alongside. Serves 4.

-- "The Fresh 20: 20-Ingredient Meal Plans for Health and Happiness 5 Nights a Week" by Melissa Lanz (Morrow, April 2013, $24.99)

Peach Lemonade

  • 4 cups water

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped peaches

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 6 lemons)

  • 4 cups ice

  • 1 peach, pitted and cut into 8 wedges

Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes. Place peach mixture in a blender; let stand 20 minutes. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour peach mixture into a large bowl. Refrigerate at least 3 hours.

Press peach mixture through a sieve over a bowl, reserving liquid; discard solids. Stir in lemon juice. Place 1/2 cup ice in each of 8 glasses. Pour about 2/3 cup lemonade into each glass; garnish each glass with 1 peach wedge.

Serves 8.

-- "Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook: Creating Irresistible Dishes from the Best Seasonal Produce" (Oxmoor, April 2013, $21.95).

Quinoa and Parsley Salad

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  • 1 cup water

  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa

  • 3/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced celery

  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon honey

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/4 cup unsalted pumpkinseed kernels, toasted

Bring 1 cup water and quinoa to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Spoon into a bowl; fluff with a fork. Add parsley, celery, onions, and apricots.

Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, honey, salt, and black pepper in a small bowl. Add to quinoa mixture, and toss well. Top with pumpkin seeds. Serves 4 (serving size: about 2/3 cup)

-- "Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook: Creating Irresistible Dishes from the Best Seasonal Produce" (Oxmoor, April 2013, $21.95).

Herby Cucumber Salad

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  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt

  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh dill

  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh parsley

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh mint

  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 garlic clove

  • 5 1/2 cups thinly sliced cucumber (about 2 large)

  • 2 1/2 cups thinly sliced red onion

Place first 11 ingredients in a food processor or a blender; process until well blended. Combine cucumber and onion in a large bowl. Drizzle with yogurt mixture, and toss to coat.

Serves 6 (serving size: 1 cup).

-- "Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook: Creating Irresistible Dishes from the Best Seasonal Produce" (Oxmoor, April 2013, $21.95).

Bob Batz Jr.: and 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.


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