Find the joy in daily dinner | The Chronicle Herald

Find the joy in daily dinner | The Chronicle Herald

Our cookbook of the week is

Dinner Uncomplicated

by Claire Tansey. Tomorrow, we’ll feature an interview with the author. To try a recipe from the book, check out:

Cheesy Dutch baby


golden baked wings with creamy dip

, and

sausage and bean stew


For those of us working from home during the pandemic, it may seem like we have all the time in the world to contemplate dinner. With no commute to face, the workday bleeds into yet another evening at home. Walking from the table (or desk, if you’re lucky) to the kitchen is as much of a transition as you’re going to get.

With many other critical worries on our minds, it’s easy for dinner to become an afterthought. The struggle for meal ideas hasn’t gone away amid the COVID-19 chaos — it’s just sunk deeper into the chasm of concerns occupying our thoughts. And as much as baking has become a popular pastime, one cannot live on banana bread and brownies alone.

During the pandemic, maintaining the dinner custom has only become more of a priority for author

Claire Tansey

. Inspired by enthusiastic reader responses to the dinner recipes in her first book,


(Penguin Canada, 2018), she decided to follow it up with a focus on the evening meal in

Dinner Uncomplicated

(Page Two, 2020).

“It’s always been my driving belief that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious,” says Tansey. “That’s who I am. That’s the kind of cooking I do whether I’m on the clock or writing for somebody else, or if I’m just cooking for me.”

Providing strategies, advice and an array of dinner recipes seemed timely when Tansey started writing the book last fall. But in the intervening months, it’s proven to be more useful than she ever anticipated.

“Now that we’ve all been forced to cook for ourselves every night of the week, I think a book that’s about making dinner easier and less stressful is almost critically necessary,” says Tansey, laughing. “It seems even more important to allow yourself to carve out space to cook dinner.”

A former chef, Tansey goes by the title “food pro.” As someone who’s filled various roles throughout her more than two-decades-long culinary career — from baker at Whole Foods to product developer at President’s Choice — if there’s a mistake to be made, she’s made it.

Informed by her professional knowledge, past missteps and successes, she takes a realistic approach to home cooking. Home cooks shouldn’t be expected to behave like chefs, Tansey emphasizes, “but that doesn’t make home cooking any less wonderful, or any less nourishing or joyful, or fabulous. It’s just different.”

This belief plays out in

Dinner Uncomplicated

in numerous ways: The recipes in the 15 Minutes chapter, for example, don’t call for any premade ingredients such as caramelized onions that would take 45 minutes to make on their own. Tansey set her timer before she opened the fridge, started chopping or heated pans on burners, and if she wasn’t eating in 15 minutes, the recipe couldn’t be included in that chapter.

In developing the book’s 90 recipes, Tansey considered any possible shortcut she could take, and “stretched and reached out into every aisle of the grocery store for ideas.” The 15-minute cut-off is the lightest commitment time-wise, followed by chapters devoted to 45 Minutes or Less, Set It and Forget It, Make It Ahead, Sunday Stash (in which “you do favours for your future self”), Weekends and Celebrations, and Side Dishes.

Central to the ability to fix a satisfying dinner with minimal effort, Tansey says, is meal planning. If this concept makes you cringe, you’re not alone. Tansey herself “bristles at rules,” which pushed her to look at ways of meal planning to suit different personalities rather than promoting uniformity.

“One of the big things that I discovered when I was writing this book about how to make dinner easier is how important meal planning is,” says Tansey. “And the concept is not for me. I have tried meal planning before and it has never worked. I just feel that it’s restrictive — it makes me mad. So I did a ton of research into other ways you can frame your week of meals.”

Based on her observations and conversations with home cooks, she came up with five different types of meal planner, each with different inclinations and preferences. The best way to make a plan — and stick to it — is to figure out what kind of meal planner you are, she says, and approach the task in a way that works for you.

She extends this philosophy to an eight-week course, Fixing Dinner, which is part of her

Dinner Uncomplicated Program

(the next session is slated to launch in January 2021). Instead of teaching students how to braise brisket or chop an onion, she looks at overcoming the barriers to making dinner. In the second half of the course, she teaches recipe formulas rather than traditional recipes.

“My idea with the course is trying to give the students a toolbox full of tools they can use to make that dinner ritual easier, more fun, more delicious and less stressful,” says Tansey. “If you don’t know how to chop an onion, I can teach you how to chop an onion, but there are bigger lessons that will improve your daily life. And honestly, there’s no wrong way to chop an onion.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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Written by Riel Roussopoulos


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