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Bonnie Stern’s Essentials of Home Cooking

by Bonnie Stern

Bonnie Stern has finally seen the light: fat is beautiful. The home economist and chef who made her name by preaching the dogma of low-fat in three “heart smart” cookbooks has dredged her newest book, Essentials of Home Cooking, through a veritable trough of butter, cream, mayo, cheese, bacon, and chicken skin. It’s like a greasy rebirth, and we’re all the better for it.

While not all the recipes here are “essential” (which homes cannot do without sparkling pomegranate cooler or Thai shrimp dumplings?), Stern does seem to be trying to gently break her own mould. Yes, we still have the obligatory novel twists on dishes like meatloaf, macaroni, and s’mores bars that continue to wearily haunt the Canadian home-ec cookbook canon, but this book offers an excellent selection of the modern home’s more eclectic essentials, such as hummus, risotto, paella, and crème caramel. Mixed with these are wonderfully creative and easy recipes, such as wild mushroom lasagna, coconut pepper chicken, and lemon meringue pavlova rolls.

There is also a selection of excellent not-so-fatty recipes (carrot and ginger soup, grilled mushroom salad, roast salmon with lemon coriander rub) but they are “lite” by nature not by force, and they are not the book’s focus.

The design of the book, too, reflects Stern’s rebirth. Her past books have often been small and square. While not quite as big as Donna Hay’s bestselling paperbacks, Essentials of Home Cooking has that large and floppy feeling that makes Hay’s books so delightful. And the decision to disperse colour photos throughout, rather than use inserts as in the past, lends the book an
elegance.

Any chef can tell you that fats give food flavour. In Essentials of Home Cooking, it’s as though, after years of struggling to make tofu and steamed broccoli appealing, Stern has finally liberated herself from the margarine set and written a book about food first, about cooking and flavour. Dogma, thankfully, has been thrown to the dogs.