So what's a grocery store in San Francisco doing with a cookbook and why should you care? Take a peek at that lovely cake pictured above and then read on for my review. "Wendell Berry said that eating is an agricultural act; I say that shopping is a community building act." -- Sam Mogannam, owner, Bi-Rite Market
At first glance it may seem like Eat Good Food is for Bay Area shoppers only. After all, its co-author, Sam Mogannam, is a San Francisco native who is a second generation owner of a San Francisco grocery store, as well as a farm in Sonoma County. The book itself is loaded with pictures and profiles of hyper-local Northern California farmers, producers, and suppliers. This makes sense, since the Bi-Rite Family (there is also a second store in the works, as well as an ice cream store and a community center) is solidly built on a commitment to local foods and creating community and connections. But does Eat Good Food have any relevance for people who don't live in the Bay Area? In my opinion, the answer is yes. Absolutely.Eat Good Food's subtitle, 'A Grocer's Guide to Shopping, Cooking, and Creating Community Through Food', pretty much sums up what this book is about. Every aspect of the grocery shopping experience is represented here in nine chapters: Community, Grocery, Deli, Produce Department, Butcher Counter, Dairy Case, Cheese Department, Bakery, and Wine and Beer. Within each chapter the specific foods that can be found in these departments are thoroughly covered, each with a How to Buy, How to Store and How to Use section. There are even boxes that cut to the chase with 'At the Very Least, Look For' and 'Ideally, Look For' pointers. This acknowledges that the ideal is not always available in your average grocery store, but still, it's good to know what it is.
There are also sections that zero in on items such as canned fish, preserves, varieties of apples, etc. My favorite is a page that pictures 18 kinds of citrus; from large pomelo grapefruits to tiny mandarins, it's great to finally know the names and characteristics of some of the more obscure varieties. The full-color pictures throughout the book illustrate recipes, cuts of meat, farmer's in their fields, shots of the store and, most memorably, a group shot of the 80 plus employees that help to run Bi-Rite. (Sam says its now over 100.)
There are also dozens of recipes such as Curried Coconut Sweet Potato Mash; Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pistachios and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette; Moroccan Lamb Meatloaf; Grilled Pimenton Leg of Lamb with Cucumber Raita; Grilled Peaches with Blue Cheese and Hazelnuts.So who is this book for? It's for people who want to know how to navigate their grocery store as informed participants in their food systems; it's for your nephew or daughter who are just starting out on their own and need some guidance; it's for people who want to eat better but aren't sure how; it's for schools and church groups and community centers that want to teach children about good food; it's for people who believe that going to the grocery store does not have to be an anonymous, impersonal event, that it can actually can be fun. If you love to eat good food, then this book is for you.
When I lived in San Francisco, I couldn't always afford to shop at Bi-Rite but I would treat myself to a few meals from there on occasion. I would go when I was hungry but I didn't quite know what I was hungry for. I knew that the food at Bi-Rite would answer that hunger in a way that was deeply satisfying and nourishing on many levels. From the beautiful display of flowers out front to the helpful and friendly staff, I didn't have to worry if what I was purchasing was fresh or delicious or raised in a sustainable way. If it came from Bi-Rite, it was gong to be good. This book captures that spirit and takes it out into the larger world and, hopefully, it will find its way into your kitchen where it will inform, encourage and inspire you to Eat Good Food.
Sam says: The recipe for this homey cake comes from my mom, who made it for us to sell at my restaurant and then in the early days of the Market. I think that cast-iron skillets are one of the most versatile and indispensable cooking vessels you can have, and this cake is proof of that!
6 medium Bosc pears (about 3 1/3 pounds)
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/3 cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Peel, quarter, and core 4 of the pears and set aside. Peel and grate the other 2 and set them aside separately. In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Remove from the heat and sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter. Arrange the quartered pears on the sugar; if necessary, trim a few pieces to fit and fill the center.
Combine the flour, granulated sugar, crystallized ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, ground ginger, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to blend. In a separate large bowl, whisk the eggs, oil, vanilla, and orange zest until blended. Stir in the grated pears. Add the flour mixture and stir just until blended.
Pour the batter over the pears and smooth the top. Bake until the cake is deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool the cake in the skillet for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn out onto a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Reprinted with permission from Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food by Sam Mogannam & Dabney Gough, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Get the book: Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food: A Grocer's Guide to Shopping, Cooking, and Creating Community Through Food by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough, published by 10-Speed Press. $19.56 at Amazon.
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(Image: France Ruffenach © 2011)