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.