Book Club Tuesday: Start Simple

Anytime my mom comes to Halifax for a visit, I love to cook for her. Since she spent years of her life cooking for us, I just want her to sit back, relax, and let me handle the meal. So, on this most recent visit with us I handed her my copy of Lukas Volger‘s latest cookbook, Start Simple, so that she could choose a few recipes for me to make for her. It was the recipe for Cheesy Cabbage and White Bean Soup that really caught her eye and, late one afternoon while she played with my daughter in the room just off the kitchen, I got to work cooking. In almost no time at all I was calling everyone for dinner –which caused my 6-year-old to gripe that they hadn’t had long enough to play and my mom exclaiming how good everything smelled. She was also impressed that this delicious-smelling soup took very little time to make and, it tasted so amazing that she ordered herself a copy so that she could make the soup for my dad. You would think that cabbage soup wouldn’t appeal to a kid but after getting over her frustration at having been called away from ‘fun times with Grammy’ my daughter took her first spoonful of soup and raved how delicious it was. She loved it so much, in fact, she had a second bowl.

Cheesy Cabbage and White Bean Soup, p. 181

As my mom flipped through Volger’s book she noticed the same thing I did — Start Simple is a cookbook that is not necessarily geared towards feeding families. I’ve been able to find great lunch recipes to make when it’s just myself, but I’ve also stumbled upon delicious recipes to make when it’s the three of us at dinnertime. For my mom, now that it’s just her and my dad, she isn’t looking for a recipe that will feed an army or a hungry family. The recipes within Start Simple are easy to scale — if you need to feed more then double the recipe if need be. 

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Silken Tofu w/ Soy-Sauced Tomatoes, p. 46

The recipes are organized by ingredient. Volger has chosen 11 “everyday ingredients” to focus on: A Big Winter Squash, A Block of Tofu, Essential Hearty Greens, Beans (Canned and Dried), A Few Sweet Potatoes, A Carton of Eggs, A Piles of Mushrooms, A Stack of Tortillas, A Head of Cabbage, Crowns of Cauliflower or Broccoli, and Several Summer Squash. I think one of the reasons why I’ve been able to try so many recipes is for the simple fact that many of these ingredients are ones I usually have in my fridge or pantry. No making lists or meal planning — it’s great being able to have everything ready to go without missing key ingredients. Volger has also thrown in a chapter on easy to make desserts because, let’s face it, it’s nice to have a little something sweet to round off a great meal.

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Bean Tacos w/ Lime Slaw, p.161

Not only does my daughter like the cabbage soup but she adores the Bean Tacos w/ Lime Slaw. This has become our go-to meal for Taco Tuesday because I always have the ingredients and, it’s so fast to make! So, when I arrive home from work, all I have to do is heat the beans, get the slaw ready and that’s it. We use the mini soft tortillas because they’re easier for small hands to manage and, my daughter loves the orange segments that are mixed into the slaw. I think being able to eat fruit with dinner is a novel idea to her. Nobody seems to like Mondays but it’s Tuesdays I find tough — the second day in and I feel unmotivated to cook. But with an easy recipe like this one I find I make it through the second day slump and feel better for cooking a meal. 

Roasted, Mashed Butternut Squash, p. 16

Start Simple has also helped me cutdown on my food waste. His recipes help to get those near-forgotten ingredients into the oven and closer to my plate– for me it’s squash or mushrooms. His methods are simple and, it’s much easier to reach into the fridge and pull out already roasted ingredients that can be incorporated into other dishes — stuffed in a sandwich or used as a topping for my morning oats.  My mom particularly enjoyed the Steel-Cut Oats w/ Squash and Tahini. Just as my daughter marveled at having oranges for dinner, my mom was thrilled to enjoy roasted squash for breakfast. In this way, I really appreciate how Volger uses ingredients in unexpected ways. Start Simple rewrites the rules on how home cooks can use ingredients.  

Steel-Cut Oats w/ Squash and Tahini, p. 25

I find that tofu is one of those foods that people love to hate — either it seems too healthy or not healthy enough. In the chapter dedicated to tofu, Volger explains a bit about this controversy. He’s about reason and balance, which I agree with. In my mind tofu is such a versatile ingredient and, Volger does such an excellent job of offering a range of recipes to use it in. Normally, the tofu in my fridge is exclusively reserved for the Smitten Kitchen recipe for Crispy Broccoli and Tofu w/ Peanut Pesto recipe but I’ve convinced my folks to give it a try in the Roasted Mushroom and Maple-Tofu Sandwich as well as in the Charred Romaine Salad w/ Tofu “Croutons.” Both recipes are winners

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Roasted Mushroom and Maple-Tofu Sandwich, p. 137

I think that Start Simple offers a new kind of weeknight cooking — instead of making lists and meal plans, Lukas Volger offers home cooks an uncomplicated way to make dinner. With 11 core ingredients, I’ve found that there’s always something for dinner. The meals I’ve shared with my family are delicious and some are ones that I’ve begun to incorporate on a weekly basis (after reading this review, you’ll already know what’s for dinner on this Tuesday night!). If you’re curious to see what I’ve been cooking up from Start Simple, then checkout my custom Instagram hashtag #shipshapestartsimple or head over to my dedicated Facebook post.

Gingery Maple Pudding Cake, p. 235

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Harper Wave / Harper Collins Publishers for providing me with a free copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.




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