tomorrow's lunch, today.

I listened to a story teller a few nights back. Not a man telling a story, but a man whose entire being and was occupied with the business of weaving his tale. 

His cadence was long and loping but deliberate, and it suited his southern drawl. The words meandered along the way to their destination, unhurried. If I squinted my eyes, it wasn't hard to imagine those words puffing out from his lips and into the air like smoke upon an exhale from a cigar.

The effect was entirely soothing, but so riveting was its interest that you could not help but hang onto every word. A hypnotist's lullaby. 

He was really good.

When he stopped, I wanted to linger there in his phrases. To climb inside and stay a while.  

Pulling me out of the blissful lethargy of his words was hunger. In this story, at the heart of it all, he used a sandwich as the embodiment of all he felt familiar. 

By the end of that story, he made a sandwich sound really, very good. 

He had been talking about New Orleans, and talking about po' boys. Talking about a sandwich that is messy, sloppy and soaked. He liked his with gravy, with the bread making valiant efforts to sop up as much as it could but failing, so that juice drips from that bump right where the heel of your palm ends and your wrist begins. A sandwich that requires your elbows on the table to provide proper purchase.

Without the necessary components of his ideal on hand, I turned to another, equally sodden sandwich to appease my yearning - pan bagnat. 

A speciality of Nice, pan bagnat is a pressed sandwich stuffed to its crust with the goodies of a Niçoise salad. From bottom up, I'll walk you through it.

It starts with good bread. You need a boule with a crust substantial enough to stand up to the richness and literal weight of the filling. In this version, it's spread with tapenade then covered in whole basil leaves. Tiles of hard boiled egg are arranged next, then chunks of oil-packed tuna dressed in an assertive vinaigrette. Sliced red onion and cucumber are last in the instructions, but I added mixed greens for substantial crunch (and again, all of these were bathed in the vinaigrette as well).

The whole thing is wrapped tight and pressed, with the layers evening out and settling in. I should say your sandwich will be prettier than mine; I was so eager  to share a slice with you that I hardly waited to snap the photo. Be patient. It needs that rest.

After a few hours the bread swells with the moisture and becomes softly chewy. Bite in, and there are layers of salt and acidity, of flavours and texture. The fatty blandness of the egg yolk melts into the seasoned tuna and rounds out the vinegar. The basil emerges from the murky depth of the tapenade, two big flavours in balance. The salad on top of it all is refreshing and palate clearing and gets the mouth ready for the next greedy bite.

And oh, a few bites in, you'll be able to move from two elbows to one firmly planted on the table. But, that said, keep this isn't a sandwich to be put down once you've begun eating. If you try, things will get complicated. Don't worry, now with the free hand you can grab a glass of cold, cold wine. 

You won't need much else. Maybe a napkin. And a good story, if you're lucky.

PAN BAGNAT

From Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast(Random House Canada, 2010). I have just started cooking with this book, but for those who might be familiar with it's predecessor,Everyday Food: Great Food Fast, this title follows much the same style and feel. 

Recipe, via Martha Stewart. 

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It began with sunlight and ended up with shortbread.

Most mornings, the front room of our house is quiet. As a family we prefer to cluster around the kitchen in those first minutes of the day, in sock feet and pajamas, mulling around the coffee maker and the kitchen table. 

The other day I was drawn out of that comforting circle of domesticity by the wayward ramblings of our youngest, whose well-loved train set resides in the room closest to the front of our home. And upon our arrival to that room, it was evident I had been missing out.

The leaves on our trees are only coming into their foliage now; they're still a tangle of branch and lacy beginnings of leaf. The first light of the morning isn't blocked, but delicately filtered through this doily of green, shining golden against the wall opposite our windows - on now on that wall, three projected rectangles that flickered with the shadows of a thousand butterflies.

Later that same day, we were in the backyard when our eldest implored me to look up - something adults often forget to do, but children seem to do all the time - he was pointing out the white chalk line of an airplane as it travelled across the sky. If you face the sun like that, even through trees, your cheeks grow warm and when you close your eyes it's like you're looking at fireworks through a kaleidoscope.

Maybe it was all this time staring at the sun, but that day I was seeing the world through dandelion-coloured glasses. So when it came to an afternoon snack, shortbread fit the bill. Weeks ago, Shari had talked about a version she'd tried that was speckled with rosemary. I'd bookmarked a promising recipe from Gourmet that same day, but not gotten around to trying it yet.

And oh boy, was I missing out when it comes to shortbread, too.

Pale yellow from generous quantities of butter and a of squeeze ochre-hued honey, this is a cookie that yields to the tooth but lingers on the tongue. They look comparatively plain, slightly sandy and crumbly at their edge and with the only the suggestion of a puff at their centres. But never mind their looks, the simplest of shortbreads are often the best in my books.

To make these is to make most biscuity cookies, sugar and butter are creamed with the honey, then dry ingredients are added to that. It's not a dough that likes to be bothered; as soon as all the flour is dampened by the fat, it's all tipped out onto a board and kneaded together. Pat it gently into your desired shapes, dust them with sugar, then off to the oven for baking. 

They are fine and sweet and a little bit savoury with flakes of salt and that resiney, piney taste of rosemary that pairs so well with honey. I think some lemon zest might be a possibility to explore, but only out of curiosity and not necessity, as they are not in any way in want of improvement.

As far as I can tell, it is the cookie for a spring afternoon. One full of sunshine, if that can be arranged.

HONEYED ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD

Recipe from Gourmet magazine, via Epicurious.

Notes

  • The recipe specifies a mild honey, however I used a more robust variety which resulted in a pronounced, honeyed flavour to the baked cookie.
  • I only had enough fresh rosemary on hand to amount to 2 chopped teaspoons rather than the required 1 tablespoon. I found the lesser quantity suited my taste.
  • For added texture and a satisfying salinity, I used sea salt.

* * * * * * * 

Today is the proper 5th anniversary of this site, although I did mention it a few days ago. In looking back through my archives it came to my attention that the comments from the first year or so of posts have not transferred with the redesign. (It broke my heart a little, I won't lie.)

I'm working on re-establishing those words, but in the interim, I wanted to say thanks. Really, I don't have a way to fully convey my gratitude - to all of you who have read, for all of you who wrote back then and who write now. My old stories seem so lonely without your presence, and it illustrates what makes this site mean so much to me. The conversation, that's the thing. And without you, it's gone. So, again, five years on, thank you.

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It was Tuesday's dusk; the sun was on its way but hadn't quite left, and the night was at the door. That's when the rain arrived. Those last few glimmers of day hung in the wet air, and turned the raindrops to prisms and set our backyard aglow.

March rain is like the gentle hand of a parent on the shoulder of an eager child. It keeps us closer to home than we might like. It reminds us to please wait, only for a moment, to slow down and tread lightly as the world outside isn't ready just yet for our boisterous play.

Spring may be awake, but she still bears the imprint of her pillowcase upon her cheek. Soon she'll join us, in her finest dress in shades of sunbeam yellow.

In no time she will arrive, and our world will change. Spring is the most rambunctious of seasons, skipping across the landscape, with cascades of cherry blossoms tumbling from her hair and leaving trails of mossy green footprints.

In the blink of her eye, the Firsts of the season will be upon us. The first crocuses, drowsy headed and darling; the first evening walk when the breeze is mild and sweet; the first dinner eaten outdoors, preferably with strings of lights overhead.

And as we anticipate Spring's approach, we also mark the celebration of the Lasts of Winter. The last day to wear those woolen socks you loved in December but resent four months later; the last fire to crackle in the fireplace; the last of the Sunday roast suppers. Well maybe not the last, but at least the less frequent for those.

A habit of a meal for us, and for many; in our kitchen it is most usually the Zuni Café version, complete with the necessary bread salad.

It was during the stay of Mr. Winter that I ran into trouble, wanting rice not bread on a particular Sunday night. With that classic recipe as my inspiration, I served a brown rice salad rocky with almonds and tangy currants, with the spice of arugula there to light up everything. And while its bready predecessor has my lifelong devotion, I was pretty fond of how it turned out.

Now back to that night of that rain I mentioned to start. There was to be roast chicken for dinner. Without currants or arugula, I did have cranberries and parsley, and chose to build upon my previous improvisation. I included a pinch of ground coriander for good measure, bringing the subtle suggestion of grass and citrus beneath the direct flavours of clementine and fresh herbs. We were well fed.

In the end, the rain lasted the night, today we're again beneath its watery cloak, and tomorrow looks to be cold. But we have a date with warmer days penciled in our calendar.

It'll be soon enough, and we'll be ready.

BROWN RICE SALAD FOR A MARCH EVENING

You'll note that there aren't quantities for many ingredients, and there is a reason for that. I treated our dish much like a salad, dressed with a deconstructed vinaigrette. But, you can easily consider this more like a pilaf, seasoning it instead with a subtle hand and omitting the vinegar, leaving the flavours more mellow and round.

You might think that there is a lot of parsley, and it is. It is an ingredient here, not a garnish or an accent. I like the effect of the whole leaves for their juicy crunch, but chop them roughly if you prefer.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 minced shallot
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • A good pinch of ground coriander seed
  • 1 cup brown rice, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup raw nuts, I like a mixture of flaked almonds and whole cashews
  • 1/4 cup dried currants or 1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • One clementine
  • Champagne vinegar, optional
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2-3/4 cup parsley leaves
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

METHOD

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until soft but without colour, around 3 minutes. Add the garlic, season with salt and ground coriander, and cook for 30 seconds more.

Add the rice, stirring to coat each grain with the butter. Toast for around 30 seconds, then add water and cook according to your rice's package instructions.

Meanwhile, toast the mixed nuts in a dry pan over medium heat, tossing often. When well-toasted and bronzed in places, remove from the pan to a bowl to cool. Set aside.

When the rice is done, pour into a serving bowl and fluff with a fork. Add the dried fruit to the bowl and grate over some of the zest from the clementine (do this when the rice is still quite hot, the heat of the rice plump the fruit and will diffuse the oils from the rind). Squeeze over some of the juice from the clementine, a splash of Champagne vinegar, if using, and a drizzle of olive oil. Fork through again. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.

Can be served immediately, warm or at room temperature. Stir in most of the nuts and parsley right before serving, saving some for garnish.

Serves 4.

Notes:

• I think this is especially good with a brown and wild rice blend; the wild rice adds an extra chewiness I like.

Heidi has a wild rice salad that is served with goat's cheese, an idea I'll be borrowing in the future.

I know that I am a bit early for our usual Thursday chat, but I made this tart last night and liked it so much that I couldn't wait five whole days to tell you about it.

As with so many happy accidents, I came about this success without paying much attention. It is the improvised partnership of recipes from others I admire, brought together by the downright-unglamorous need to clean out the fridge on Friday night before Saturday's trip to the market.

Heidi's Lasagna Tart was an instant favourite in our kitchen, first made within days of her kindly sharing the recipe. The barely-cooked sauce and the raw zucchini keep the flavour remarkably fresh and light even after baking, while the ricotta layer brings creamy relief to all that acidity. I have used the olive oil crust she provided, as well as the Parmesan variation she suggests. Both to great acclaim.

I had never made Rachel's Tomato and Zucchini Tart before, but is a recipe that piqued my interest. Instead of sauce hers has tomato slices, roasted briefly along with the summer squash to concentrate and sweeten their flavours. And her cobblestoned topping of fresh mozzarella is far from a bad thing.

Since yesterday brought rain and temperatures that bespoke the quick arrival of fall, I chose to take elements from each. I wanted a dish that brought some comfort, but didn't ignore that fact that it is still August. What follows is what I think I did, written without formality and with only my best estimates of quantities and timing.

I had not intended this tart as anything greater than our evening's meal. And so, to be safe, let me emphasize the essential parts of my hastily-scribbled instructions; sticky caramelized onions line a butter-laden crust, profoundly rich and yet well-matched by a smear of sharp, young cheese. Atop that are tiles of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, softening into each other, lush with their juices.

The final effect is one of substance without brawn, something so good that I had to share.

Happy weekend.

LATE SUMMER VEGETABLE TART

My adaptation of recipes from Rachel and Heidi, with thanks. The amounts and particulars below for the filling are a non-specific guideline. I was working with what we had on hand, but feel free to make omissions and substitutions to best suit your tastes (and contents of your fridge).

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 shallots, sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves picked from their stems, plus more for garnish
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices, I used a mix of varieties and sizes
  • 4 ounces herbed unripened goat's cheese
  • Parmesan cheese (an ounce or so)
  • Fresh mozzarella (around 1/2 a large ball)
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 9-inch pastry shell of your choice, partially baked (see note)

METHOD

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

Take the eggplant and zucchini slices and toss in a large bowl with a generous sprinkling of salt. Transfer the slices to a colander and leave to drain.

In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, cook the onions and shallots in bit of olive oil, stirring occasionally. After about 20 minutes, or when the onions and shallots are lightly-caramelized and starting to catch in places, add the garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes more, so that the garlic has chance to mellow and soften. Pour in the vinegar to deglaze the pan, scraping and the bottom of the skillet with your spoon to pick up any brown bits. Cook for a minute or so, until most of the vinegar has evaporated. Remove the vegetables from the heat and stir in the thyme. Set aside.

Pat dry the eggplant and zucchini on a (non-terrycloth) kitchen towel. Coat the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes in olive oil lay them out in a single layer on baking sheets. Season all with pepper, the tomatoes with salt too. Roast vegetables in the preheated oven, working in batches, until the vegetables are just beginning to brown in spots, around 20 minutes. Although the tomatoes were too delicate for such a procedure, I flipped the eggplant and zucchini over halfway through roasting. You want them tender, but not falling apart.

When the vegetables are done, remove from the oven and turn down the temperature to 350°F (175°C).

Beat the goat's cheese in a small bowl, with a drizzle of olive oil if needed, until creamy. With an offset spatula, spread the cheese over the parbaked pastry crust. Layer in the caramelized onions, then the eggplant, next the zucchini, and finally the tomatoes. Tear the fresh mozzarella into rough chunks over all. Using a vegetable peeler, shave a few large, thin shards of Parmesan on top.

Bake in the preheated over for 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving, with a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves to finish.

Makes 1 9-inch tart.

Notes:

• Yesterday I used an all-butter pâte brisée from Martha Stewart, making the full recipe and sending a second tart off to loved ones. I did make one change, using 1 tablespoon of vinegar (in this case white balsamic, usually apple cider vinegar) in place of an equal amount of ice water. I also make this crust with 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour instead of using all white.

• This was especially good the next day, gently warmed and served with a soft-yolked fried egg for brunch.

picnic on the porch

With all the cupcakes we've been making lately (and cakes, there were two cakes too, but that's another story), you would think I would be done with treats. You would think I'd be happy to leave my baking cupboard closed for few days and give the mixer a rest. You would think that would be sensible of me.

If you think that, you're thinking wrong.

It isn't my offense though, this return to sugar and sweets. I didn't mean to become truly, deeply, madly obsessed with the thought of gingersnaps for two weeks straight. I blame it on the Grandparents.

I know it sounds cruel that I would place blame squarely on the well-intentioned shoulders of my children's grandparents, but I call them like I seem them.

It's totally their fault.

Benjamin came home with a cookie from Grandma. Not surprising, of course, as Grandmas are made of cookies (and Grandpas of candy, don't you know). Being the sweet little man he is, Ben was prompt to share his snack with me as soon as he walked through the door. His sweetness may have been slightly influenced by his inability to open the wrapper the cookie was presented in, but really that is neither here nor there.

Crinkle, rip, crunch.

Half for him, half for me. I popped my share in my mouth distractedly. I wasn't really even in the mood for a cookie. Benjamin is deeply offended if you do not immediately enjoy the treat that has been shared, so I obliged.

Munch, munch, munch. Drat.

This cookie was really very good. Really especially good. And gone. My mind raced to tack down its characteristics; a thin biscuity, wafery cookie. Not cakey in the least. Not crumbly, not delicate, but crisp. Spice, yes, there was spice involved. Where's that wrapper? Think, think, think. Cinnamon, definitely. And ... something else. Ginger? Yes! Ginger was it.

Now I needed to make gingersnaps.

I am proud to say my restraint won out, momentarily at least. I exercised the utmost self-control and waited until the flour had settled and the candle smoke had cleared from our birthday celebrations before I did what I had to do.

I Googled.

After a few search modifications, and a few pages I struck gold. Well, sugar dusted bronze, to be exact. David Lebovitz. Chez Panisse. Gingersnaps. Done.

CHEZ PANISSE GINGERSNAPS

Unsurprisingly, considering their origin, these are some of the best gingersnaps I have tried. They are spicy without being claustrophobically so. The cinnamon and pepper add deeper dimensions of heat, complimenting the bright fire of ground ginger.

Recipe (via DavidLebovtiz.com)

Notes:

• The dough is quite soft, so I used this method to form the logs prior to chilling: wrap loosely-formed dough on the centre of a piece of parchment paper, fold the paper over. Then, holding the two edges of the parchment parallel to the dough together, press a ruler against the log to compress.

• I preferred my cookies on the smaller size, rolling the log out to a 1-inch diameter. The cooking time ran about 8 minutes. I also experimented with different thicknesses of cookies, some whisper-thin and crackling, others fat and tender. All were delicious.

• I regard to baking times, these cookies do brown quickly, going from deeply-golden to overly-toasted in a matter of moments. Keep an eye on them.

• On a particularly-vulnerable evening, I may have taken two of the thicker, softer cookies and sandwiched them with vanilla bean ice cream in between. And on another night, there may have been peaches too. And it may have been nothing short of wonderful.

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trio

So here's my trouble. I wanted to tell you about Martha Stewart's Cupcakes (Clarkson Potter, 2009). To chat about my impressions, my likes, my dislikes, the nitty gritty details of this cookbook devoted to the small.

But my attention has been captured by someone small, a small one who is getting bigger every day. Happy Birthday to you, our William - today is your first, and I can hardly find the words.

All week I have been vacillating between my heart bursting with pride and my chest tightening with emotion. Such is the state of Mummyhood. The First Birthday is an event met with a mile-wide grin and cheers of joy tempered with the sob-sniffle-wail of "my goodness, this is all too fast."

And fast it has been. Our Littler Man is walking.

William took his first tentative steps a few weeks back, and has now fully embraced the notion of upright locomotion. The rapid-fire thwack of his hands and knees on the floors of our home has been replaced with the padded rhythm of confident footsteps. And confident he is, as Will is not one to toddle.

In a manner unsurprising to anyone who has met him, our William has the audacity to promenade. His walk is so spirited, his step so lively, there is most surely a song in his heart.

Oh there now, I've digressed into ridiculous levels of Proud Parent Mode. My apologies.

Where was I? Oh yes, cupcakes. With William's first 1st birthday party planning underway, Martha Stewart's Cupcakes was a wealth of imaginative cake ideas, all on a scale befitting the occasion. Silly me though, I put Benjamin in charge of selecting the flavour to try - and again as my children are nothing if not consistent, he chose the most basic of recipes, chocolate upon chocolate.

But his choice was surprisingly astute, as our previous favourite chocolate cupcake was the One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (Clarkson Potter, 2005). Now One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes are in the new book, but it is a different recipe.

So it was settled, the dessert menu chosen for our celebration. The recipe itself warrants little description; it is a standard cocoa and buttermilk cake, with only a scant amount of oil. The method is as demanding as a boxed cake, with the dry ingredients whisked in a bowl, then the eggs, buttermilk and oil poured over. A few stirs, and it is done.

This recipe yields cakes that look the example of cupcake perfection; each rose with the same rounded cheek, bulging slightly at their edges but with a gentle slope. Best of all was their colour - a true, dark brown, exactly how a chocolate cupcake should look.

As we did not have the recipes side-by-side for comparison, we had to rely on (unreliable) memory for our verdict. While everyone enjoyed the cupcakes, they were not met with the same knee-buckling adoration of the previous version. When I first made the Baking Handbook incarnation of One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes, I recall thinking that these were simply the best cupcakes ever. This time, not so much. They were good, but not exceptional.

It should be said though, that I am terribly finicky about my chocolate cakes so it takes a good deal to impress. While I shrugged at the taste, there was nary a complaint from our guests. Approximately 5 minutes after the Happy Birthdays and candles blown out, there were quite a few happy faces smeared with whipped ganache frosting.

While my personal assessment of the cupcakes was lackluster, my overall impression of the book from which they came is not. I did not test many recipes from the book (honestly, even I can only eat so many cupcakes) as I would have liked, but I can tell you that the book Martha Stewart Cupcakes is full of fun.

There is an obvious, infectious merriment in the way that the subject matter is treated, and the variations on the theme simply make me smile. One cannot help but be made a bit happier by pages upon pages of sprinkles and gumdrops, marizpan ladybugs, and coconut-feathered chicks.

What's more, the cookbook is inspiring. Ingeniously, the book pushes the boundaries of cupcakery to include all manner of small cakes, and even cookies and meringues, as long as they are baked in that distinctive shape.

There are filled cupcakes, layered mini-cakes, cookie-crusted cheesecakes, and simple pound cakes. Not all cakes are frosted, such as the Tiny Cherry and Almond and Pistachio-Raspberry teacakes, making these gems the ideal everyday treat to be tucked into lunchboxes or enjoyed as an afternoon snack. The combination of flavours, specific decorating techniques and helpful guides (including clip art templates) could all be adapted and developed to suit your specific tastes, and could be applied to the creation of full-sized cakes.

One caveat, as with Martha Stewart's Cookies (Clarkson Potter, 2008), much of the content included in Martha Stewart's Cupcakes has been previously featured in the various publications of Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Personally, I enjoyed having the recipes available in a single source, but others may disagree and might have preferred a wholly originally collection.

Time to get back to the business of being Mum to a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. Oh my. So big. So fast. So wonderful.

Happy, happy day.

ONE BOWL CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES

From the book Martha Stewart's Cupcakes.

Recipe

crossed lines

More photos from this series shot by my brother and sister-in-law can be seen here.

Now you didn't think that I'd forget to announce the winner of our Martha Stewart Cupcakes giveaway, did you?

Without further wait, Mr. Random.Org took the honour of selecting ourwinners, as follows.

The First Prize Winner will receive one copy of the Martha Stewart Cupcakes and one copy of Martha Stewart Cookies:

Chocolate Shavings

The Second Prize Winners will each receive a copy of Martha Stewart Cupcakes:

Dor and Michelle R.

I would like to thank everyone who entered, and highly recommend the checking out the fantastic conversation taking place in the comments section. To the winners, please e-mail me at tara [at] sevenspoons [dot] net, with your contact information at your earliest convenience.

[Friday May 22, 2009: I feel like the kid who comes to school, all big-eyed and sorry, with the story "the dog ate my homework."

I wish it wasn't so but here I am, empty-handed, with little excuse but to say that this last week has run right over me like a stampede of very-heavy animals. (See? I can't even come up with a worthwhile simile.)

Give me a couple of days and I'll be back. Until then, here's what we've been cooking - recipes from Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries and Shakes. That's his barbecue sauce in the photo.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, May 28, 2009: All better now. Where were we? Ahh, Mr. Flay. Here we go.]

I have been overruled. Vetoed. If our house was an island, I'd surely be the one voted off of it.

Let me explain. I was offered the opportunity to review Bobby Flay's latest book, Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries and Shakes (Clarkson Potter, 2009, written with Stephanie Banyas and Sally Jackson). While I am not familiar with Mr. Flay's food, I accepted immediately with others' interests in mind.

My husband l-o-v-e-s a good burger, especially paired with a mound of crisper than crisp fries - the sort that crackle when tumbled out on a plate. Our three-year-old son Benjamin has inherited this burger-loving gene, and along with it that same sincere love of fries. So I could not, with good Mummy-Wife conscience, turn down the offer. The problem was, as much as I do enjoy the subject matter, I do not know if I am all that keen on this book. These two though, cannot praise it enough.

But, I am getting ahead of myself. Rewind to a few weeks ago.

With the Victoria Day holiday just ahead of us, the long weekend would be the perfect opportunity to peruse the Mr. Flay's offerings. Nothing seemed better to flip through, and cook from, as you laze about around the backyard grill in the late-afternoon sun.

But that is where we ran into trouble. While I am ardent in my desire to eat these burgers, fries and milkshakes, I am not all that inclined to make them. Reading this book was like looking over the menu of a really, really good diner. The photographs by Ben Fink are in-your-face beauty closeups; burgers are lavishly-treated with toppings, you can see the grains of salt on the fries, and shakes look so good you want to lick the page.

My problem was, just like diner food, I want to go out for such meals with someone else behind the grill. I rarely want to cook them at home. As much as a burger piled high with golden onion rings, bacon, melted smoked cheddar and homemade barbecue sauce would be delicious (Flay's Cheyenne Burger), it is the something I would like to be served - preferably with his Blackberry Cheesecake Milkshake alongside. (Smart man, Mr. Flay, as he recently opened Bobby's Burger Place, with recipes from the book on the menu.)

Speaking of the barbecue sauce, after trying Flay's blend of ketchup, molasses, honey, brown sugar and spice, Benjamin christened the sauce "spicy ketchup", and I am inclined to agree with his description. The barbecue sauce is a good condiment, and is Ben's new favourite dip. But as far as an all-purpose grilling sauce goes it lacks the deeply sweet tones, the almost-sticky quality I look for in a barbecue sauce. It was simply too tomato-y for our tastes.

Another issue with this recipe was the instruction to purée the sauce in a food processor. I do not know if it is that Flay uses a vastly-superior appliance, but my Cuisinart was unable to smooth out the mixture to a classic barbecue sauce consistency. After multiple blitzes in the food processor, you could still detect distinct bits of onion and garlic, swimming in the liquid. A quick buzz with the immersion blender did the trick.

The burgers are good; really good, in fact. But as Flay prefers a simple burger recipe allowing the flavour of the beef to stand front and centre, with most variations using a standard patty recipe. After that's established, it really is just about toppings, with everything from the Napa Valley Burger (with Meyer Lemon-Honey Mustard) to the Arthur Avenue Burger (FraDiavolo Ketchup, FontinaFricos) to the Patty Melt Burger (Red Wine Onion Relish, melted Gruyère cheese, scratch-made Pickled Jalepeños). There are chicken, turkey and fish burgers, but these are obviously second string - the beef burgers are the stars.

The Fries chapter includes his "perfect" recipe, a Bistro twist (parsley, garlic), fat Steak Fries, and then versions using alternative starches like plantains and sweet potatoes. The section is rounded out by mention of onion rings, including the truly-addictive Shoestring Onion Rings; whisper-thin, buttermilk-bathed beauties fried to golden deliciousness.

The Condiments and Seasonings chapter was a surprise. It is a thoughtful inclusion, and in my opinion, the hidden gem of the book. The Homemade Dill Pickles or Horseradish Mustard Mayonnaise just two of the of simple recipes that would make any backyard cookout immediately special.

As anyone who knows me would surely suspect, the Milkshake chapter was far and away the highlight of the book for me. These recipes were the stuff of childhood dream, truly decadent desserts masquerading as drinks. The Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake is like drinking the campfire treat, but creamier. The Dark Chocolate Milkshake with "Fluffy" Coconut Cream is a parfait-style showstopper, while the Blueberry-Pomegranate Milkshake is a tangy take on the traditional shake.

Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries and Shake is a good book, a novelty for summertime reading, and it does offer up some inspiration for creative burgers. This is not everyday food, and in my mind, not once-a-week food. The recipes often verge on more labor-intensive than I prefer for a casual weekend meal, requiring multiple garnishes and some last-minute fuss. And while the milkshakes are delicious, they are a rare indulgence. It is the sort of cookbook I would pull out for if I was cooking for a true burger lover and wanted to treat them to something special. A signature burger for Dad on Father's Day perhaps?

That said, I do appreciate Mr. Flay's attention to detail, with each chapter beginning with a thorough discussion on ingredients, technique and his personal preferences. There is no doubt that Flay is passionate about the subject matter. And while I am just not all that passionate about the book, I am surely in the minority as my husband and eldest would be all-too-happy to tell you. Maybe its because I am the one doing the cooking.

Recipes

Cuban Style Burgers ( Miami burgers in the book)

Arthur Avenue Burger (video)

Bobby's Crunchbuger (video)

Tuna Burger with Pineapple-Mustard Glaze and Green Chile Pickle Relish (not exactly as in the book, but very close)

Basic Vanilla Milkshake (not exactly as in the book, but again very close)