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Michelle McKenzie

The Modern Larder

Sarah spent the week simmering pots of beans with preserved lemons, sautéing veggies in schmaltz, and making labneh from scratch to give this review of "The Modern Larder".

When I first opened the Modern Larder, Michelle immediately drew me in with her stunning photos and no-nonsense cooking approach. She — like me — prefers to bypass the lengthy building processes of many contemporary cookbooks and instead deploys the hardworking ingredients in her larder to get maximum impact for minimal effort.

With optimism high, I whipped up her labneh, chili infused vinegar, and preserved lemon oil in preparation for the review ahead and jumped in ready to sauté carrots in schmaltz, infuse dried limes into a pot of simmering beans, and expand our spice drawer with some new blends.

That initial excitement took a drastic dive after the first day, when I made her "Job’s Tears "Stonepot" with Crispy Mushrooms and Jammy Eggs". The dish looked excellent, but the flavor was like eating the color beige. Don’t get me wrong, the chili vinegar was a welcome addition, but the spice and acid just couldn’t cut through the other bland flavors without overpowering everything else in the dish.

That trend carried through the rest of my week and by the time it was over, I was feeling like the author was tossing a preserved lemon in a boring pot of chickpeas just to say it was in there, rather than to create a compelling dish.

Where this book stands out is in the detail she gives to each larder ingredient which I could definitely see being helpful from a technical perspective. She also suggests some unique and practical tips to get you using these ingredients like adding whey to scrambled eggs for a little extra fluff, sprinkling dried shrimp powder on popcorn to bump up the umami, or tossing a little pomegranate molasses in pasta sauce for a unique zing.

I also appreciated that the author provided alternatives to ingredients not available in many locations. The crispy-skinned fish can be made with anything from trout to branzino. If you can’t find Job’s tears (like me), farro or barley will work just fine.

If you’re the type of cook who enjoys playing around with interesting flavor combinations and you cook several meals per week you may enjoy the introduction to this book — detailing how she thinks about adding her 58 larder ingredients to boost flavor in everyday dishes. Do yourself a favor and skim the recipes for context, but don't rely on them verbatim.

At the very least this book and its gorgeous photos would make a great addition to your coffee table.

  • Ume Rice Salad
  • Job's Tears Stonepot
  • Rice Porridge with All The Things
  • Slow Cooked White Beans With Tomato and Curry Leaves