“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”

“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”

“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”

“Citrus Chicken Rested in Herbs” from “Nothing Fancy”

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times (and also, I’m quite sure I’m not the original author of this aphorism): Roast chicken is the Little Black Dress of cooking.

If you have it on a Sunday, it’s the linchpin of your Sunday Roast. If you have it on a weeknight, the meal suddenly becomes more of an event. Also, once you’ve made it a few times, you realise how easy it is, how many variations you can try, and how it’s always delicious. Win. Win. Win.

This version by Alison Roman features citrus and herbs– the clue is in the name, after all. The exciting part comes at the start when you have to cut a chicken in half, which I had never done before. I just imagined myself to be a magician doing it and it made the task even more fun. (It’s actually not that hard; you just need a good knife.)

After marinating the chicken, you roast it, but since it’s already cut in half, the roasting is quicker than with a traditional roast chicken. The marinade is delicious, and, not surprisingly, very citrusy.

My only question was what to do with all the slices of citrus– they’re hard to see in the photo above, but trust me, they’re there– underneath the chicken once it was roasted. Alison wasn’t clear in the recipe. Were we meant to eat them? Were they garnish? Who could say. So we left them.

The chicken was great and the dinner was delicious. The Little Black Dress of the culinary world triumphs again.

“Citrus Chicken Rested in Herbs” from “Nothing Fancy”

“Harissa-Rubbed Pork Shoulder with White Beans and Silverbeet” from “Nothing Fancy”

This photo definitely doesn’t do this dish any justice. It was utterly delicious. It was so delicious that although Alison says it should serve six to 10 people, the three of us managed to nearly eat the whole thing. (Though Tim suspects we overate. NEVER!)

One of the things I loved most about this recipe was the perfect Sundayness about it, in that, you pop it in the oven for a few hours while it fills the house with pork-smell-goodness and then, four (or so) hours later, your dinner is done. I also made a pot of rice to go along with it and that became the perfect delivery mechanism for the yummy pan juices. Please note: we may have had more pan juices than normal because I only used one can of beans, not two.

You may wonder, as I did, “What is Silverbeet?” Well, friends, it’s Swiss chard. But we didn’t have any to hand and I was skeptical that I’d find any in our local shops on a Sunday so I looked for substitutions. Cavolo Nero (black cabbage) can be used in place of Swiss chard and since it is Peak Cavolo Nero Season– one of my favourite times of the year– I did have some of that in the refrigerator. So I used that and I’m happy to report it was great.

I definitely will be making this again, though if we’re going to have more people around, maybe I’ll get a bigger cut of meat. Or get better at carving. We’ll see.

“Harissa-Rubbed Pork Shoulder with White Beans and Silverbeet” from “Nothing Fancy”

Our Verdict: “Dining In”

Kirstin: This is such an exceptional cookbook. I thought she wrote beautifully and explained things incredibly well, and the recipes were well thought out. I completely trusted her, by the end of the month, I was cooking recipes from it for four friends, having never done them before. I knew that they would be fantastic recipes. The salads I’ve already made again. The pork I’ve already made again. I know I’ll be making the salads over and over again.

Maureen: Don’t forget the chicken. That sounded fantastic. I think I’m going to make that this weekend.

Kirstin: OOOOOOH. The chicken. I can’t even speak, it’s so good. And the potatoes that go with the chicken. So, so, good.

Maureen: I never thought I”d see you replace the Zuni chicken, but there we are.

Kirstin: The fish chapter was really good, and that’s unusual because you don’t normally see long chapters on fish.

Maureen: It was very nice to see a large collection of fish. And the desserts were great– for the most part. The rhubarb galette I’d rather forget about. But everything else was sublime.

Kirstin: Absolutely.

Maureen: You’ve already said this will be your book of the year.

Kirstin: Yes. Dinner from Melissa Clark was last year, this will be this year.

Maureen: Seems a bit early to be declaring a winner for 2018, but let’s see.

“Dining In”
Overall Grade (A- F):  A (Maureen) A (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Maureen: Hard to pick a favourite. Kirstin: The chicken. The chicken. The chicken. A close second will be the salmon.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  A. They are my favourite photographers and they’re excellent.
Any disasters? Kirstin: The disaster is she doesn’t have another cookbook out already. Maureen: The rhubarb galette.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: Bookshelf, high rotation. Maureen: Bookshelf.        Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Maureen: Yes. Kirstin: I already have.

Our Verdict: “Dining In”

“Paprika-Rubbed Sheet-Pan Chicken with Lemon” from “Dining In”

Yum. Yum. Yum.

The rub you make for this chicken has fennel seed, hot paprika, salt, smoked paprika, black pepper, garlic and olive oil. Basically, all good things. Alison says in the introduction that she smears this rub onto other meat too– pork chops, pork shoulders, chicken wings. I can see it working well on all of those things, and may try to do it myself.

The other different approach to this recipe is that you cook the chicken low and slow– a low temperature oven for a long time. This makes the chicken extra-moist and extra-juicy. It’s definitely an excellent way to do it if you’ve got the time.

You’ll see the roasted red peppers above, which I roasted for the last hour alongside the chicken, which I then tossed in the leftover juices and spices in the bottom of the sheet pan. Just like Alison told me to do. It was an excellent recommendation.

If you’re wondering if we enjoyed the chicken, I will answer the question with a fact: there was no chicken leftover. Not one shred. That tells you everything you need to know.

“Paprika-Rubbed Sheet-Pan Chicken with Lemon” from “Dining In”

“Mom’s Trout with Herby Breadcrumbs” from “Dining In”

This post could also be called: “The Perennial Favourite of Fish Friday.”

When I first paged through this cookbook, I knew right away this dish was not only going to get made, but would be universally loved at the table. There’s so few times in life that you’re dead certain that you’ll be right, but this was one of the times. The reason I knew this was because I make a variation of this all the time.

The roots of this Fish Friday Favourite come from Gwyneth Paltrow’s second book, “It’s All Good,” which [GASP] I now know was FIVE years ago. Time flies. Anyhow, at the time, I sold the recipe to the boys by telling them it was from Pepper Potts, the character she plays in the Iron Man and Avengers films. This was so long ago that stating that fact was enough to sway them to try it. These days, I can tell you, citing Pepper Potts wouldn’t work, because as savvy teenage boys/young men (apply where appropriate), subterfuge with food is now nearly impossible to pull off.

This version from Alison Roman, in fact, is slightly better. It was easier to do, it was tastier and most of all, I didn’t have to feel guilty for using regular bread crumbs rather than the gluten free ones called for in Gwyneth’s original recipe. Trout is also a great fish as not only is it very tasty, but it’s also much more affordable [read: cheap] and sustainable than some other types of fish, which is why I like to buy it so much.

Will I make this again? Yes. Again and again and again. Because I already do.

Note: Unlike the previous post, I didn’t have a problem with the American spelling of Mom, since I use that all the time, still. Lifetime habits are hard to break.

“Mom’s Trout with Herby Breadcrumbs” from “Dining In”

“Everyone’s Favorite Celebration Cake” from “Dining In”

Writer’s note: Hilariously, this American paused after spelling “favorite” the American way in the headline above, as it appears in the book. I’ve been here too long. It looks wrong without the U.

Much like Kirstin will always test the roast chicken recipes in a cookbook we are reviewing, often I will test the cake recipes. It’s called playing to your strengths.

Luckily for me, it was a good friend’s birthday, so I had the perfect excuse to make it. Though, I should say for the record that I never need an excuse to make cake, and you don’t either. Any day is a good day for cake.

So what of this cake? It was delicious, but oh my goodness is it HUGE– and as American saying that [see above], that’s really a statement. The birthday party we attended had more than a dozen people there, and we still only managed to get through half of the cake. So that’s good if you like cake leftovers– no bad thing– but bad if you don’t live with a few always-hungry teenagers who will finish it off a few days later.

It’s a well-written recipe, too. She clearly explains how to do things and why do them, which is especially helpful when making cake, as it makes some people nervous. I learned years ago that if you’ve got the time, a crumb coat on a cake is always worth doing, and she repeats that advice here.

However, I’m not sure it would be this family’s favourite. It’s good, to be sure, but our favourite? Probably not. It was still excellent cake, though.

Want to try to make this cake? Alison wrote it up for BuzzFeed (though she made one substitution in the icing, though I don’t think you’ll notice). Click through here to see it.

“Everyone’s Favorite Celebration Cake” from “Dining In”

“Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini” from “Dining In”

I have three go-to tomato sauce recipes that I use. The first, for when I have done a bit of forward planning, is the tomato sauce from Polpo and requires 90 minutes cooking. The second, from Food52’s Genius Recipes, requires 60 minutes cooking. The third, a recipe of my own design, requires maybe 10 minutes (if that) to make. So I feel as though we’ve got tomato sauce covered over here.

But now I’ve got a fourth recipe to add to my repertoire. What Alison Roman wants you to do is to roast bog-standard tomatoes for 3 or 4 hours. Following that you do the usual routine: sweat an onion, add some spices and then add some anchovies for saltiness. Then you tumble in the now sweetened, softened tomatoes. You have to gently break them down and then you have the most glorious thick tomato sauce. You can thin it to your heart’s desire using some of the pasta water you’re making alongside it.

While, yes, this method does require more forward planning than I usually deploy, the result is absolutely worth it. Delicious and highly recommended.

(The picture doesn’t do it it justice, but trust me. Yum.)

“Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini” from “Dining In”