Cookbook Review…

Outstanding in the Field: A Farm to Table Cookbook by Jim Denevan with Marah Stets

Facts: Published 2008 by Clarkson Potter, hardcover, 256 pages, $32.50

Photos: almost every page, food and farm dinner scenes

Recipes: 110

Give to: Your farmer and/or foodie groupie friends and wealthy friends you want to convert from chain steakhouses to the joys of eating locally.

Review: If you haven’t hear about the near cult-like farm dinners popping up all over the country called Outstanding in the Field, don’t feel left out. It’s tough to score a ticket to one of the farm dinners unless you’re on their email list or otherwise connected – deeply – in the local food world where the tour happens to stop.

Thirty-seven farm dinners were held in 2008, under the Outstanding in the Field banner, including one on October 12 at Crooked Sky Farm in Glendale, AZ. (Sadly, there is no AZ stop on the 2009 schedule.)

But you can buy their new cookbook that chronicles some of the adventures of founder Chef Jim Denevan and his merry band of cooks and event planners. At $32.50 (even less on Amazon.com), the cookbook is cheaper than a ticket to a farm dinner anyway, which ranges from $180 to $220 per person (for four to six courses, all paired with wine.)

Outstanding in the Field started as one dinner at a farm in Corallitos, California in 1999 and today hosts dinners at farms from coast to coast. We give high marks to the cookbook for the simplicity of the recipes, and the occasional “if you can’t find “x” ingredient, substitute “y” and the sheer number of mouthwatering photographs.

We almost feel like guests from the pictures of the farms where the dinners took place and the warm, conversational tone the authors use to introduce the recipes and in the essays sprinkled throughout the book, like the one on the virtues of fresh, unfiltered olive oil.

As one would expect with a farm themed cookbook, the bulk of the recipes feature garden-fresh produce for salads, soups, pasta, grains and vegetable dishes. Deep-fried okra with a buttermilk-semolina crust, rainbow chard tart and baby turnip soup are just a few of the tempting sounding ones.Fish, poultry and meat get their due as well: black cod wrapped in fig leaves, grass-fed beef skirt steak, and pan seared duck breast with pomegranate sauce.

The back of the book is stuffed with all kinds of goodies: suggested menus, ingredient sources and charitable organizations that all support the “eat local” mantra. We whipped up a batch of delicious savory pecan, parmesan and thyme shortbread cookies (page 25) with no trouble thanks to very detailed directions, although ours didn’t turn out as “photogenic” and they crumbled like sand when we tried to bag them up to give as gifts. They also melted in our mouth…yum.

More info: outstandinginthefield.com is the official website, and their blog chronicles the tour – outstandingontour.blogspot.com.

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