Some of life’s simple pleasures occur when we are in the company of family and friends. It’s in the gatherings and occasions that we find the connection that bulids and supports communities. When I was a kid it seemed like there was always a houseful of people at my grandparents and that swell of people was always in the kitchen. You see, at the farmhouse where they lived, the door everyone used was just off the kitchen and when they built the “new” farmhouse back in the 1950s the kitchen was built to be the biggest room. While the actual prep-and-cook area of the kitchen was relatively small the custom turquoise (later recovered to a different colour) Naugahyde “L”-shaped banquette and table took up most of the room. People would squeeze in to accommodate newcomers and my grandmother would keep the food coming. Even though I’m new to Nova Scotia (an Alberta transplant by way of Ontario) I can certainly relate to the longstanding tradition of the “kitchen party.”
Unfortunately my time here in this gorgeous Atlantic Canadian province started after Jenny Osburn moved on from running her well-known Annapolis Valley restaurant — The Union Street Cafe — I was able to experience it vicariously through her first cookbook The Union Street Cafe Cookbook. Known for its food, music, and good times Osburn has been able to translate more of this “sociability” into her next project The Kitchen Party Cookbook. Beautifully designed by noteworthy Nova Scotian printmaker Laura Macdonald this book has been printed in the same fashion (although much more elegantly) as you would see in the community-style cookbooks.
The book begins with a small “hello” and introduction from Osburn where she talks about her background and the inspiration behind the book. She also talks about Nova Scotia in terms of the climate, culture, food, and geographical sensibilities (most helpful to a non-Nova Scotia like me as I am “from away”). Her discussion immediately draws you into an understanding of maritime hospitality and how the “kitchen party” is something that anyone with a kitchen and a friendly (and hungry!) group can enjoy. That being said she does offer some advice at the beginning of the book in the section “How to Feed a Kitchen Party” — “be prepared and make plenty!”
The remainder of the cookbook is divided into 5 sections — Shindig Snacks, Friggin’ Delicious Dips, Seafood That Loves A Good Time, Veggies Just Wanna Have Fun, and Hoedown Hors D’Oeuvres — plus a wonderful music playlist compiled by “her buddy Jeff” and a food map of Nova Scotia. With 70 mouthwatering recipes I think your next party is guaranteed to be a hit. By virtue of the style of this type of cookbook there is no index but the table of contents lists each recipe. What I appreciate most about this style of cookbook is the lack of pictures — instead of being beholden to the usual, highly styled food pictures all of the recipes are left to the imagination. You’ll never feel that “but it doesn’t look like that in the book” feeling.
While the theme of the The Kitchen Party Cookbook is about gatherings and entertaining a group I’ve found that this book also lends itself well to everyday, weeknight cooking. Something like the Simple Olive Tapenade while perfectly delicious spread across some fresh bread is equally wonderful stirred into pasta. Similarly, the Maple Rosemary Pecans are wonderful in a bowl just-as-they-are or a great addition to a fresh spinach salad. Multi-use recipes are, in my mind, perfect because they offer a way to experiment with a weeknight meal and feel inspired. Don’t even get me started on her recipe for Roasted Corn, Black Bean, And Fruit Quesadilla Wedges –they’re weeknight cooking magic!
Her directions and methods are dead simple which makes planning for a party less stressful and with being able to prepare the majority of the recipes ahead of time your next shindig or potluck will be a breeze. If you’re concerned about being able to offer dishes to suit vegan or gluten-free diets she has a good variety to choose from (although the recipes aren’t labeled for specific dietary preferences). While her ingredients are both inspired by and come from here in Nova Scotia (such as wild blueberries, cranberries, seafood) they are ones that you could find in pretty much any local farmer’s market or grocery store. This cookbook completely embodies Julia Child’s notion that “you don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients.”
Osburn, while offering some truly delicious recipes, never loses sight of the true nature of hospitality — making people feel welcome and creating an atmosphere where gatherings are enjoyable. What The Kitchen Party Cookbook really gives you is the trifecta — food, fellowship, and music. What could be better? Good times in the Maritimes! If you’re curious to see what I’ve been whipping up from this cookbook checkout my custom hashtag #shipshapekitchenparty or my dedicated Facebook post.
I purchased this book at the Atlantic News in Halifax and was excited to share a review with you! If you’re curious where to get a copy visit Jenny Osburn’s website for more information.