There is a new cookbook out, Kitchen Sense by Mitchell Davis and I am honored and humbled that a couple of my fellow food bloggers have provided me with a copy and asked me to review it, no strings attached.
The bottom line is that this cookbook has become my new standard for what I recommend to people who say, "I don't know how to cook but would sure like to learn." First, let me say that the typography in this book is beautiful. The choice of typefaces, colors, and rules make Kitchen Sense very easy on the eyes. Whoever laid it out really knows his (or her) craft.
For me, the relatively new cook, a good cookbook should be more than a collection of recipes. It should help me select the raw materials, suggest the approriate tools, and provide me with enough guidance that success is pretty much assured. Kitchen Sense does a great job of this. Each chapter is dedicated to a topic (poultry, fish, pasta, etc) and begins with some general information about the topic. For example, the Fish and Shellfish chapter begins with over three pages of very interesting and readable background information on the subject.
Each recipe begins with a paragraph (set in an alternate typeface and color - a very elegant touch) describing the recipe or or some of its finer points. For example, the lead-in paragraph for Asparagus Mignonette says:
How you like to cook your asparagus - boiled, steamed, or grilled - will determine what type you should buy. If you are going to boil or steam it, buy the thickest spears you can find. Peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler to remove any tough fibers. If you are going to grill the asparagus, buy pencil-thin spears, which hold up better because they don't have to be peeled.
Not only that, the recipe doesn't just say, "Peel the asparagus". It tells you how to peel the asparagus:
With a sharp vegetable peeler, starting about one-third down from the top of the spear, peel toward the bottom, revealing the light-colored core. Rotate the spear as you work. It's okay to leave a little dark green toward the tip, but most of it should be gone.
Sidebars containing tips and background material are liberally sprinkled throughout the book. For example, a half-page sidebar entitled Blanching describes exactly how to blanch, along with recommended variations in the basic technique.
Most of the recipes are pretty unpretentious. There is no Baja Cabrilla Poached In Vin Jaune with Nasturtium Flower Salad, but you will find Simple Seafood Sausage, Salmon Tartare with Preserved Lemcom and Olives, and My Mother's Breaded Sole.
If I have one complaint about this cookbook it is that there are no photos. New cooks like photos. I sure did. I picked out receipes by how yummy they looked and the photo helped me understand what the finished dish is supposed to look like. I have gotten to the point where I can judge the 'yumminess factor' without a photo, and neither Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything nor Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking have photos either. Still, I thik it should have included photos even if that meant omitting some of the receipes.