Food & Wine editor believes life’s too short to fret in the kitchen

Read this cookbook: “Just Cook It! 145 Built-To-Be-Easy Recipes That Are Totally Delicious” by Justin Chapple (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30)

By Wendell Brock

Justin Chapple may be the culinary director of Food & Wine magazine, but he’s hardly a fussbudget in the kitchen.

He’s made his name as a teacher of nifty cooking hacks and shortcuts, which he delivers in a style that is giddy, playful, borderline-frantic and yet wildly and supremely confident. (See his Food & Wine series, “Mad Genius Tips.”)

Happily, Chapple’s incandescent personality comes through in his clever and entertaining new cookbook, “Just Cook It!”

Yes, he’s a California kid who digs avocados, sprouts, salads and crudités. He’s also unapologetic in his love of toddler foods like mac and cheese, fish sticks, Potato Stix, hot chocolate and Rocky Road ice cream, all of which he gleefully works into recipes for this collection.

If you fear your paella rice will turn out crunchy and undercooked, or soggy and overcooked, try couscous instead of rice. Too distracted to focus on stirring (and stirring... and stirring) your risotto? Consider his No-Stir Risotto with Shrimp & Clams.

I wish I’d known about Chapple’s Speedy Preserved Lemons when I set out to preserve the Meyers a friend sent me from her California tree just recently. I waited two weeks for my beauties to cure in a jar. Chapple’s version takes 25 minutes. What’s the secret? He simmers the fresh citrus in a briny bath for 10 minutes, then packs it away in the fridge.

And where was this guy when I was looking for ways to doctor up ramen for an AJC recipe story last year? His Bacon-&-Egg Ramen in Buttery Broth calls for boiling a chunk of pork in chicken broth (along with the ingredients of the flavor packets), spicing it up with sambal oelek, and dropping in a few eggs to poach. Yum.

Time-pressed moms and dads will find much inspiration here: from Pulled Chicken Sandwiches (the filling is made in a slow cooker) to Crispy Fish Stick Tacos (30 minutes total) to Grandma’s Chili Mac (a cheesy, kid-friendly, rib-sticking, ground beef-and-macaroni bakes that comes together in less than 1 hour).

At the same time, Chapple showcases plenty of health-conscious recipes, too. There’s an entire section on crudités and dips; a couple of clever panzanellas; and cauliflower fried “rice,” to name just a few.

And if you’re cooking for company, you can’t go wrong with Lamb Roast with Cheater Harissa, Chickpeas & Kale – or elegant Coq Au Vin Blanc.

Want to make French Onion Dip from scratch or quick strawberry jam? Need a lesson on how to stuff, fold and steam Chinese pork dumplings? Looking for a fish-cooking method that won’t stink up the house?

Chapple can help.

He may be a classically trained chef who is often required to work with persnickety chefs. But he remains a child at heart, a person who has little patience for ridiculous, overwrought food.

This new book is delightful and full of all kinds of things I want to make at home. And in the end, it has an important, winning and worthwhile take-away: Don’t fret; don’t belabor; don’t cogitate. Just cook it!

Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock) .


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