I love cooking and have a special place in my heart for cooks who aren’t afraid to try new things, so I fell in love with Modern Potluck: Beautiful Food to Share by Kristin Donnelly. I have a cooking blog and love to come up with something new and different that works. Somehow, reading these recipes, I picture Donnelly standing at the open fridge, as I do, with a piece of fruit or a vegetable in her hand and thinking, now what might work with this. Her recipes made me feel like I had met a flavor soul mate.

Modern Potluck is organized by the types of things you might offer to bring to a potluck, the snacks, the room temperature main dishes, the slow cooked dishes, the big pans of food, the salads, and the desserts. Reading it, I imagined volunteering for a potluck, saying “I’ll bring mac and cheese.” and then showing up with the Smoky Squash Mac & Cheese. Folks will be expecting meh and getting “Oh Yeah!”

Donnelly is not a dogmatic cookbook author. For example, instead of saying you should roast asparagus, onions and mushrooms, she gives you and A to Z of vegetables that you can roast with directions for each. She also explains how different choices in roasting, such as whether you use the center or bottom rack or whether or not you add a pan of water, will affect your roasted veggies. In her section on salads, she covers the many different grains that can be used in salads with the clear understanding that you have absolute permission to choose.

But what excites me most are the recipes. When I saw the first recipe, for a caramel popcorn and nuts snack that is so not Cracker Jacks™, I considered whether I could just make it right then and there before I even looked at the second recipe. Sadly, I had no corn syrup. After a shopping trip, I will definitely make it. I want to cook nearly every recipe, even the ones I can’t because I am allergic to an ingredient. I will have to figure out how to adapt them.

There are also some great recipes for making some staples, such as seasoned salts and for zaatar, things that might make great and inexpensive presents. There’s recipes for several sauces, salsas, and chutneys.

This cookbook is so great that I showed it to my best friend and she was picking out so many things she wants to make. Top on her list is the roast lamb with a spiced date barbecue sauce. It is one of those recipes that you just know will be special, one of those recipes that you will be known for and asked to bring to potlucks.

5pawsI love this cookbook. The pictures are beautiful, the food is fresh and unique, with bold, bright flavors and an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and healthy grains.  It is everything I like about cooking. There are a few problems with it, though, and not one is about the writing or the recipes, so I am still giving it five stars just for being so everything I want.

So what are the problems? It’s all about the design. The worst is that the ingredients are printed in all caps. Not even small caps! It makes it hard to read the ingredients. There are notes and preparation tips in a larger lightweight serif font. The weight is so thing that it seems almost as though it’s a medium gray instead of black, again hard to read. The directions are in another font, a nice solid serif, but smaller. Nonetheless, even though it’s the smallest it is the easiest to read.  To add to the confusion, with the more complex recipes, some break out different parts of the recipe with bold first sentences such as “Prepare the celery root noodles…” This helps make it more clear. But others do not, leaving one long narrative of instruction, and again, making it less clear than it should be. These are design and layout problems that do not affect the recipes.

Legibility matters a lot in cookbooks because cooks like me will prop them open and try to cook and read, sometimes with food in our hands, not at the optimal distance, so this fancy font fad is so not okay with me.

Any cookbook can give us recipes that we can make. A great cookbook, though, will inspire us to take risks, make our own choices and experiment within the parameters of the recipe, using the ratios with a change her or there. This is that kind of cookbook.

Modern Potluck will be released tomorrow, July 26th.

I received a promotional copy of Modern Potluck  from Blogging for Books.