Book Club Tuesday: Don’t Worry, Just Cook

There is something so touching about Bonnie Stern’s work. Is it her earnest desire to help home cooks find their way in the kitchen or impart personal stories we can all relate to? With well over a dozen cookbooks to her name, Stern has become a trusted companion in many Canadian kitchens. Even during the pandemic, I would take Friday Night Dinners off the shelf to browse the recipes, remember all the good family meals I had enjoyed with hopeful feelings of more to come. And it’s from the introduction of her latest cookbook, Don’t Worry, Just Cook (written with her daughter, Anna Rupert), that she perfectly describes what home cooking offers us: “In a world that is constantly changing and full of uncertainty, I think it’s wonderful that food can be a source of stability and comfort, something that grounds us and reminds us of what matters most.” (2)  And it’s the recipes that connect us to what matters most and what keeps us anchored.

Sheet Pan Roasted Tomatoes with Herbs and Garlic, p.87

Maybe I’m speaking for all of us when I say that, although life seems to be getting back to normal, it’s still a challenge to navigate. Some routines have stayed the same while others have been irrevocably changed. Making the nightly supper is something that has remained a constant for me, and sometimes, as my friend’s mum would say: “the worst part of making dinner is thinking about making dinner.” So, one evening, when I was having feelings about making supper, I took a cue from the photo on the cover of Don’t Worry, Just Cook and I made their recipe for Sheet Pan Roasted Tomatoes with Herbs and Garlic. Nearing the end of the roasting I got a bit daring and deviated from the recipe by adding thick slices of halloumi to the pan and letting it soften and crisp under the broiler. This little addition ended up being just the thing we needed. The recipes in the book aren’t just recipes, the notes and dishes offer a kind connection between Stern and Rupert’s kitchens, and our own. By step 3 of this recipe, I smiled because they tell home cooks: “If the tomatoes look too delicious to cook, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and eat them now. Then start again.” It’s this gentle acknowledgment of the ingredients and process that shows home cooks that following intuition is okay. It’s nothing to worry about.

Royal Wedding Buttermilk Scones, p.205

As you can see from this one example, Don’t Worry, Just Cook offers both comfort and connection from the dishes made and the warm stories and encouraging words found within its pages. The recipes are organized into 11 chapters: 1) Pantry: Ingredients, Utensils, Spice Blends, & Sauces, 2) Appetizers & Spreads, 3) Soups, 4) Salads, 5) Sides, 6) Fish & Vegetarian Mains, 7) Poultry & Meat Mains, 8) All-Day Breakfast, 9) Breads & Quick Breads, 10) Desserts & Cookies, and 11) Drinks. All the recipes are inviting, so much so that when my mom was in Halifax on a visit, she happened to flip through this book and immediately ordered herself a copy. I wonder if the appeal is for how approachable the recipes seem with their tried-and-true quality? Whatever the reason, what Stern and Rupert have done is given home cooks a book to trust and to make good use of.

Lots of Blueberries Crumb Cake, p.215

I patted the back of my past self for having the foresight to freeze some local blueberries at the height of the season here in Nova Scotia, because this meant that I could bake up the recipe for Lots of Blueberries Crumb Cake. After reading the recipe notes and making the cake, I can understand why this is a recipe they return to year after year. Baked in a springform pan, the cake batter and topping start off together in the same mixing bowl. Once the butter is cut into the dry ingredients, some of the mixture is set aside for the topping. When the batter is mixed through, it’s poured into the pan, layered with blueberries, then the crumb topping is sprinkled on. It’s an easy (almost one bowl) cake to make and I love how the multitude of berries burst in every bite. While they serve theirs with ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream, we enjoyed ours with some plain, double cream yogurt.

Vanilla Buttermilk Pancakes w/ Tons of Fruit on Top, p.178

One of my family’s favourite recipes from the book are the Vanilla Buttermilk Pancakes with Tons of Fruit on Top. Since the pancakes are made on the larger-side, it takes very little time to get them made and served – I can tell you that sitting in front of a humongous fluffy, vanilla-scented pancake with a truckload of fruit feels special – as my daughter said: “like eating at a fancy restaurant!” I made sure to save the extra pancake so that my daughter could enjoy it in her lunch the following day.

Lentil Soup w/ Carrots + Harissa, p.51 (topped w/ Basic Tahini Sauce, p. 17)

Unlike the members of Stern’s family, we are all mad for lentils in our family! As you can imagine, the Lentil Soup with Carrots and Harissa was a big hit here – a bright, thick soup, where the carrots add sweetness, and the red lentils make it extra hearty. I ended up using harissa paste for the soup base and loose harissa to top the soup (both from New York Shuk). Looking at the photo I took of the finished dish, you can see that I took Stern and Rupert’s suggestion of topping the soup with chopped kale as well as a good drizzling of their Basic Tahini Sauce. The warmth from the soup helps to soften the kale and I think it’s earthy, green flavour pairs well with the sweet heat of the soup.

Grilled Corn Salad w/ Cauliflower and Broccoli, p. 66

Am I so mean that I would take food from the mouths of loved ones? The answer to this question made me feel a bit uncomfortable as I eyed the bowls full of Grilled Corn Salad with Cauliflower and Broccoli topped with a Sweet Paprika Dressing. I could have eaten all of the servings myself – this is how tasty it is! Grilled corn is mixed with roasted vegetables and the accompanying dressing with its smoky sweetness was perfection! In the notes they suggest other roasted vegetables to add making the recipe very versatile. I’ve made it a couple of times – both with fresh and frozen corn (in this case, I sear the kernels in a hot cast iron skillet) – and it tasted great using either.

Don’t Worry, Just Cook offers home cooks a steady, thoughtful kitchen companion. Through the recipes, Stern and Rupert — mother and daughter, together — show how food enriches their lives and connects their family and, in turn they encourage us to enjoy a similar experience. The book is packed full of recipes for any occasion or season, which the authors use to guide us through making delicious meals that are to be loved and shared.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Thank you to New York Shuk for generously gifting me their harissa products to try.

Notice Anna on the cover of Friday Night Dinners (photographs in this book were taken by her son Mark!)

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