Madisonians are no strangers to the culinary catchphrases "fresh" and "seasonal." For fresh and seasonal to really catch on, though, cooking that way needs to be, at least sometimes, almost as easy as sticking a frozen pizza in the oven. In Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes ($35, Clarkson Potter), Chef Andrea Reusing, who's behind the popular Lantern restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, focuses not on the more complex dishes she makes professional but what she cooks for her family and friends. The book is as informal as an impromptu picnic and just as enjoyable.
The book begins in spring and ends in winter, a year full of beautiful photos, charming text, and impromptu group meals. Most of the recipes aren't complex. They evoke a sense of wonder with good ingredient. Reusing even revisits the kid camping classic "campfire bacon and eggs in a paper bag," in which (good) bacon lines the bottom of the bag and keeps it from catching on fire, and (fresh, free range) eggs cook on top of it. Like most simple campfire cooking, the effect is magical.
The first recipe I made was actually filed under "spring," a red lentil soup with smoked paprika I was primed to make since I'd recently bought a large bag of smoked paprika at Penzey's. The soup is a modest one, not as smooth or as spicy as dal, but enlivened by a last-minute addition of fresh lemon juice and a dollop of plain or Greek yogurt.
But since it's all about seasonal, skip ahead to October and November. Reusing's small essays on topics like heirloom beans and grains are inspirations, not lectures. A simple vinegared blanched kale transformed some wonderfully tender and flavorful kale I picked up at the last Wednesday downtown farmers' market. A recipe for basic white beans (from scratch, no canned) is a perfect warmer for the season. Escarole in broth with lemon and eggs is simple and satisfying. Those descriptors work for a lot of the recipes -- skillet apples and onions, choucroute garnie 1-2-3. (I haven't made any of the more complex meat preparations.) "Simple and satisfying" can do the trick when you've run out of time and yet are faced with a CSA box or a crisper drawer full of farmers' market finds bought in an optimistic mood.
In a nutshell: more inspirational than a use-it-every-day cookbook, but we all could use a little inspiration.