Our Verdict: Nothing Fancy

Kirstin: We’ve been spoiled. First Diana Henry, now Alison Roman.

Maureen: It’s so refreshing to have two good months in a row.

Kirstin: I loved this book because there are no many recipes I would cook again and again. Though she did have a lot of red-meat recipes, which I didn’t like so much because we’re trying to avoid red meat for environmental reasons.

Maureen: I thought there was a good array of interesting dishes. Her salad game in this book was particularly strong, but most of all, I like her philosophy that we don’t need to stress too much when we’re having people over for dinner.

Kirstin: I like the way she writes the recipes. She does it really well, I like the order in which she tells us to do things.

Maureen: She seems to do things in a logical order, which is not always true with all recipes.

Kirstin: Also, fruit with meat! She’s converted me.

Maureen: She seems lovely and laid back, which you can see in the recipes, which is why I liked them so much.

Kirstin: It was just delicious and great.

“Nothing Fancy”
Overall Grade (A- F): A solid A (Kirstin) A (Maureen)
Grade for Photography (A-F): A. “It’s my favourite photographer so it’s great.”                                                                   Favourite Recipes: I have so many favourites that I can’t choose (Kirstin) Harissa-Rubbed Pork Shoulder (Maureen) Any Disasters? Yes, unfortunately. Spicy Pork Meatballs (Maureen) Foccacia (Kirstin)
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf. Easily accessible. Maureen: Bookshelf. Obviously.

Our Verdict: Nothing Fancy

“Chicken and Mushroom Skillet Pie with Greens and Tarragon” from “Nothing Fancy”

We’ve hit Chicken Pot Pie season, which means there were several happy people at the table when I carried this out for dinner on Opening Night of the season.

The recipe I frequently turn to is in Betty Crocker’s Cookbook (the bible of all American cooking). But chicken pot pie, by its very nature, is amenable to riffs and modifications, so I was looking forward to trying this version. The modifications in this version are: more herbs, more mushrooms, added greens (I used spinach) and lots of chicken stock and double cream.

The first three modifications worked a treat. I particularly liked having the extra greens in there. But unfortunately, the fourth modification didn’t work at all. The problem was that there was just too much of it, which created an almost souplike-filling (delicious, but still souplike), which made the whole thing too sloppy.

I was curious how Alison’s ratio of liquid to the rest of the recipe compared with others that I used and it turns out– no surprise here– she uses almost twice as much that I use in my standard recipe. Like I said, it was delicious, but it wasn’t what we’re used to when it comes to chicken pot pie.

However, I will be making this again, simply because the rest of it was so delicious. I’d just reduce the amount of stock and double cream that I used.

We’re looking forward to another happy Chicken Pot Pie season.

“Chicken and Mushroom Skillet Pie with Greens and Tarragon” from “Nothing Fancy”

“Crispy Vinegared Potatoes with Dried Chile” from “ nothing fancy”

Kirstin: Tonight I made our favourite Gwyneth Paltrow chicken piccata. And then I remembered I had some potatoes which needed using. AND THEN I REMEMBERED I REALLY WANTED TO MAKE THIS RECIPE. Alison Roman describes this as a salt and vinegar potato which really sold this to me. I often discuss carbohydrate intake with my diabetic patients. And how I could NEVER give up salt and vinegar crisps if I was a diabetic myself. But these potatoes are better than salt and vinegar crisps. Because there is also paprika with an almost gremolata of flat leaf parsley and garlic added at the end. The result is incredibly good. And oh so very more-ish.

So I’m making these again next week…

“Crispy Vinegared Potatoes with Dried Chile” from “ nothing fancy”

“Buttered salmon with red onion and dill” from “nothing fancy”

Kirstin: Alison Roman says this recipe has lots of the same notes as smoked salmon and cream cheese. She also says there is a whole lot going on with this dish, flavour wise. I was SOLD.

She starts by telling you to brown the butter. And here, I would like to add I always brown butter in a white pan. I don’t honestly know how you can tell when butter has browned if you use a dark pan. It is a mystery. The butter, once browned, is then used at the base for sizzling slices of lemon and onion and then capers. I made this all beforehand and then warmed it up again before adding to the salmon.

Dill and toasted sesame seeds are added as the finale. And even though I am not keen on sesame seeds (I don’t like finding them in unexpected nooks and crannies of my mouth after a meal) I was pleased I did. The whole combination was delightful. Alison says to keep the flavours minimal to go with. We had a bottle of sake And a herby salad alongside, having shucked some oysters by the fire beforehand.

And now we are ready for Christmas. BRING IT ON!

“Buttered salmon with red onion and dill” from “nothing fancy”

“Halibut with Asparagus and Brown-Buttered Peas” from “Nothing Fancy”

Now the eagle-eyed among you, of which there are many, will notice that the distinct absence of asparagus from the roasting tray pictured. “But wait! Alison calls for it in the recipe!” you might say.

That’s right. She did. I’m a rebel like that. I didn’t get asparagus and I used broccoli instead.

“But why?” you might ask. “Asparagus is so delicious!”

And I agree. It is. But let’s take a moment to talk about something important: food miles. The fact is that it’s November in the Northern Hemisphere. Asparagus is a decidedly spring vegetable here, and it’s something that I love to cook, but only when it’s available locally.

Although our local supermarket did have asparagus, this little vegetable flew all the way from Peru. PERU! I mean, it’s a complete hemisphere and several continents away from us. It would be flying here several thousand miles just to be a side vegetable. At a time when we all need to be a little more conscious about the things we do every day that are adding to climate change, eating asparagus from Peru without giving it a second thought would be one of those things.

So I rejected the Frequent Flier Asparagus and decided to get another robust green vegetable that is good roasted, in this case, broccoli. Have you ever had roasted broccoli? It’s delicious. I recommend it. Alison seems lovely, so I’m sure she would agree that asparagus is not key to the success of this dish (and it wasn’t).

The halibut, simply roasted, was delicious. The peas, laden with butter and herbs, were divine. The off-the-bench sub of broccoli held its own. Highly recommended, and I will make it again when I can source some asparagus locally.

Food miles, people. Think about it. We can all do very small things– like rejecting asparagus from Peru– to do our part in the fight against climate change.

“Halibut with Asparagus and Brown-Buttered Peas” from “Nothing Fancy”

“Sticky chili chicken with hot-and-sour pineapple” from “Nothing fancy”

Kirstin: I have been looking forward to making this recipe all month. Seriously. And remember (in case you didn’t already know) how I am not usually convinced about fruit with meat. But I trust Alison. Also chilli. I’m glad I did. Because here are just a few of the sound bites from Miles as we ate it.

• Chicken should not be this good
• This piece of chicken. See this? This is the money shot!
• You gonna eat that piece on your plate? Because I’ll eat it if you don’t.
• If you don’t make this next week I will cry.

So. I guess I’m making this again. Next week. Not the date and chicken which I had planned to make. No. I will make this instead. Because I don’t want any tears in our home.

“Sticky chili chicken with hot-and-sour pineapple” from “Nothing fancy”

“Salmon with Soy and Citrusy Charred Spring Onion” from “Nothing Fancy”

Fish Friday!

We have a major divide in this house on Fish Friday: those who love salmon (me), those who like it fine (the boys), and those who merely tolerate it, which sometimes can descend into hostility toward it (Tim). This can be problematic for the cook (me) who loves it, but wants to please everyone (read: my husband). So when I do make it, I want to make sure it’s very good. I’m hoping to convince him eventually that salmon can be pretty delicious.

In the introduction, Alison Roman admits to the same feelings of ambivalence toward salmon as my husband. But then she tried the slow roasting technique described in this recipe. “That is the salmon that has mad me a person who not only tolerates the fish, but craves and makes it for herself. What a world!” she writes.

I thought this recipe might do the trick to convince Tim that salmon can be excellent. It’s very simple, but I’ve found the best fish dishes don’t over-complicate things. Once you slow roast the salmon, it sits on a delightful bed of charred spring onions in a mixture of soy sauce, orange juice, lemon juice and zest.

Great, right? Well, the reaction was once again slightly underwhelming. It looks like there’s more work to be done on the salmon front.

My only criticism is I thought the salmon was slightly underdone. (I say this with trepidation and also with the caveat that I love sushi, so uncooked fish does not trouble me.) I just thought it could have gone in the oven for a bit longer than she prescribed, and indeed I did add a bit of time to the 10-12 minutes she suggested and it was still a little too underdone for my taste.

However, I liked the rest of it so much that I will try this again. My quest to convince Tim of the wonders of salmon continues.

“Salmon with Soy and Citrusy Charred Spring Onion” from “Nothing Fancy”