Sunday, June 18, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #6 and Cookbook Spotlight #1: Picnic Food with "Kitchen Sense"

I have to admit this was by far the most fun Weekend Cookbook Challenge for me. Not only because I love the wide variety of foods that you can pack in a picnic hamper, but mostly because I had so much fun cooking for the sixth installment of WCC from the Mitchell Davis forthcoming release of "Kitchen Sense" I couldn't stop!

By the time I got finished cooking for our picnic, I had cooked seven different recipes from this very well thought out cookbook for the Picnic Weekend Cookbook Challenge: Grilled Portobello with Garlic Herbed Mayonnaise Sandwich, Hamburger Heaven, Roasted Red Peppers, Corn on the Cob, Summer Fruit Cobbler, Burst Cherry Tomatoes, and a Basic Vinaigrette for fresh salad greens from my garden that reminded me of the dressing served on the salad at one of my favourite bistrot in Paris, La Reserve de Quasimodo.

I was honored to be asked to get an advanced copy of this cookbook, cook from it and blog about my experiences for Sara and Ali here at Weekend Cookbook Challenge and Cathy over at A Blithe Palate. Since I never turn down the chance to get a new cookbook, I gladly accepted the assignment. The book arrived last week and since then, every night, I've read the book and marked various recipes like Curried Cauliflower, Banana Cake and Cranberry Johnnycakes that I can't wait to try out on MBH and my friends and family (notice all the multi-coloured flags in the photo above peeking out from the pages of the book marking various recipes I can't wait to try).

The layout of the book is easy to use and understand. Each recipe has a brief introduction about why Mr. Davis included it in the cookbook (many of the recipes are cherished recipes of family and friends), the list of ingredients in a bold font (this helped the ingredients and amounts stand out on the page for those quick glances over during cooking to make sure you haven't forgotten something), clear and concise directions for preparation of the recipe, a synopsis at the end that details prep time, cooking time, and total time for the recipe, and my favourite part, brief "Advance Prep" and "Leftovers" helpers. I especially like the "Leftovers" helpers. Too often I find myself with leftovers and it is a nice touch to be given ideas for how to use them and better yet, how long they will keep. I can see myself using these guidelines to plan part of my weekly menu. The book also has sidebars about basic cooking techniques for the uninitiated cook that don't talk down to the more experienced cook. The nicely laid-out cookbook ends with a good glossary of terms, a list of basic need-to-have pans for someone just starting to build their kitchen, and an excellent reference list of further reading. Another feature of the cookbook I really liked was how well the book lay open on my counter while I was cooking and didn't take up a lot of countertop. Quite a few cookbooks I own do not lie flat and/or take up too much space on my smallish counters, making it difficult to cook from the cookbooks. "Kitchen Sense" opened flat despite being new and the size was perfect. My only complaint, and it really is a small one, is that for a cookbook aimed at the less experienced cook, there are no pictures. This could be a drawback for someone who, just starting out cooking more involved recipes, needs the confidence a detailed drawing or picture can instill, especially when doing tasks like cutting up a chicken or to verify their plate of "Naked Ravioli with Browned Butter, Sage, and Toasted Walnuts" looks like the author's.

All in all, I would highly recommend this cookbook to anyone either starting to advance beyond very basic cooking or like me, looking to re-introduce time honoured classic recipes like Beef Stew and Chicken and Dumplings to their family. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go get the ingredients together for the Grilled Polenta I'm going to serve tomorrow night with the anti-pasta salad I'm making from the leftover Grilled Portobello Mushroom, Roasted Red Pepper, and Burst Cherry Tomatoes.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

WCB #3: Sunday Cat Napping

After an exhausting week and an action packed Saturday, everyone in the house was ready for a lazy, rainy Sunday filled with newspaper reading, movie watching, and most importantly napping. LB, who spends about fifteen hours a day sprawled somewhere in the house in slumber, chose to lie on the couch all afternoon in a sun spot after the sun finally came out. He was exhausted by all his string chasing and spider pouncing as well as his numerous "roustings" from MBH and was so zonked that when we caught him during this nap, he was belly up, tongue poking out of his mouth and snoring. Now if he was only ALWAYS this cute and cuddly...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

On the Cusp of a New Decade

Today was my birthday. My 39th birthday to be exact and, thanks to MBH, I have ushered the last year of my 30s in with fun and style.

My "Big Day of Funness" started last night when MBH twisted my arm into opening one of my birthday presents early. Inside the green wrapping paper was a set of dvds containing the entire series of "To the Manor Born", a wonderfully funny BBC series from the early 80s about a lady of the manor, Audrey fforbes-Hamilton (Penelope Keith) whose husband dies and leaves her bankrupt forcing her to sell the manor house to an upstart green grocer, Richard De Vere (Peter Bowles). The series centers around the growing attraction between the two and the clash between the classes "in the English countryside". This morning, MBH bought me my favourite breakfast of blueberry pancakes at our neighbourhood diner before we drove out to the little town of Sudbury where my favourite garden shop, Russells Garden Center, is located. As Russells doesn't open until 9am, we stopped into a little cafe that opened recently, Cafe Decadence, to enjoy some hot chocolate/free-wifi (MBH) and a cup of coffee/the food section from the NYT (me). Then it was off to Russells in the pouring rain. There was something about wandering around in downpours among all the other die-hard gardeners that made me realise that I really am strange. On a normal late spring/early summer Saturday, Russells would be packed by 10am and even more so when they are hosting a festival weekend (Herb Fest is this weekend) but with the exception of two other couples and a few ladies who lunch wandering around the indoor garden shop, I had the aisles of plants all to myself. Toting my little red wagon around, I loaded up on pepper plants (red, green, jalapeno), some herb plants to replace the ones I overwatered this spring (oops... Greek oregano, rosemary) and/or failed to grow in our wet spring (cilantro, sweet basil, garlic chives). MBH bought me my plants as well a fun gift of a "plant head" (little peat head with grass seed that grows) for my desk at work. He promptly named it "Patrice La Mumba" (MBH has a thing for naming things like plants after obscure despots) . After loading our purchases into the car, we headed to the Belmont Public Library to pick up some books and went home to enjoy the rest of the afternoon in bed, reading and watching movies while it rained outside. This evening, I enjoyed a delicious dinner of a salad made with spinach from my garden and a medium-rare steak covered in garlic sauteed mushrooms. It was accompanied by a buttery smooth and runny Brie from France and one of my favourite (it was a day of favourites) Bordeaux wines, a 2000 Chateau St. Sulpice. But the best part of the day was yet to come. MBH had one more present for me to open and once again, green Amazon wrapping paper was ripped open to reveal the first set of dvds for "The French Chef with Julia Child"! I was giddy with excitement to open up the set and pop the first disc in and watch Julia chortle through teaching roasting a chicken, making french onion soup, and flipping omelettes.

So, with a glass of French champagne and decadent chocolate mousse dessert, we cuddled up in bed and watched Julia flip mashed potatoes on her stove, laugh gleefully and tell us it was ok to make a mistake in the kitchen as long as you never let your guest know. It was a perfect way to start my thirty-ninth year.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

WCB #2: Oh Presents!!

It's the weekend and that means it is time for Weekend Cat Blogging and it is a special installment because this week is the one year anniversary of WCB!

Over at, Clare and Kiri are getting the party ready to go with lots of treats and toys for all the kitties. LB has a gift to bring to the party too and judging from the reaction in the photo above, I would suspect that the present in the bag probably contains some catnip. LB is a late comer to the lure of cat nip. When LB first adopted me many years ago, I bought him a little pillow of catnip. He didn't seem to be that interested in the catnip and, after a few derisory swipes at the pillow, he never played with the catnip again. I knew some cats weren't affected by the herb so I just figured that LB fell in that category.

A few months ago, while MBH and I were shopping in a kitchen store, he spied a little gray mouse of catnip and bought it before I could warn him that LB didn't like the stuff. You can imagine my surprise when MBH gave LB his new toy that not only did LB like the mouse, it has since become his favourite toy. MBH keeps the mouse in a little tea tin on his side of our bed and whenever LB hears the lid of the tin coming off, he comes running from where ever in the house he is and pounces on the little gray mouse. He drools on it and kicks it with his back feet. It is the only toy he will fetch and bring back to us. Thinking maybe it was only dried catnip that had this effect on LB, we recently bought a little plant so we could dry it ourselves. However, not five minutes after finding the pot, LB was putting his face in the plant and trying to eat all the leaves. I had to take the plant to my office where it is happily growing and on Fridays, I pluck a few stalks to bring home for LB and MBH, who can't wait to feed LB his treat of fresh catnip.

Happy Anniversary to Weekend Cat Blogging!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Friday Random 10 for Angela

My cousin Angela is getting married tomorrow. She is getting married in our grandparents back yard in the gazebo near the lake in which all of us grandkids learned to swim, ice skate, sail, water-ski, fish, and drive a speed boat really fast. I wish I could be there but I know she knows that if I could I would. I know it is going to be a wonderful ceromony and she will be surrounded by our family and her friends. I know she will be a lovely bride and everything will go exactly as planned (and even if it doesn't, I know Angela will handle it with grace and steely resolve she has always shown).But most of all, I know Angela and her new husband, John will be happy and share many years of love and joy.

Since tomorrow is such a special day for my family, I decided to put my playlist of love songs on random instead of my entire Ipod music collection. You know the game, put your Ipod on random and record the first ten songs that play. No cheating to look cool. Oh yea, and links to listen by!

1. As Time Goes By - Jimmy Durante (Sleepless in Seattle Soundtrack)
2. Beautiful - Mandalay
3. Love of My Life - Carlos Santana/Dave Matthews
4. And We Danced - The Hooters
5. Fly Me To The Moon - Frank Sinatra
6. In Your Eyes - Peter Gabriel (Say Anything Soundtrack)
7. Love of My Life - Jim Brickman
8. I Love You for Sentimental Reasons - Linda Ronstadt
9. L-O-V-E - Nat King Cole
10. I Couldn't Love You More - Sade

Bonus Track: A Kiss to Build a Dream On - Louis Armstrong

I had to add that last one...

Mazel Tov! Angela and John