When I was in my 20s and living in Cleveland, Ohio, I hung out regularly with a group of friends who loved to try new recipes. We’d divvy up duties in one of our ill-equipped kitchens for a fabulously messy cook-a-thon, then fill our plates around a table set with cheap, mismatched dishware, swooning over our successes and poking fun at our flops. Our biggest kitchen disasters remain some of our greatest sources of hilarity.
Reading Alison Roman’s “Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over” (Potter, $42.50) makes me nostalgic for those days. The columnist for The New York Times and Bon Appetit has amassed a huge cult following for the low-stress, high-impact spreads she cooks up in her tiny Brooklyn kitchen and shares on Instagram. She calls this “having people over” rather than “entertaining,” a word that, to her, implies “something performative at best and inauthentic at worst.”
Throughout chapters for snacks (not “hors d’oeuvres!”), salads, sides, mains and desserts, she offers tips and pep talks for people who tend to overthink menus to the point that they never get around to issuing invitations.
She suggests starting a party with a “house snack” that friends can expect whenever they visit. Hers is a bowl of Creamy Sesame Turmeric Dip with Ak-Mak crackers (Armenian cracker bread) for dipping. It sounds a lot more interesting than the ubiquitous California Dip (sour cream blended with Lipton Onion Soup mix) with ruffled potato chips of a certain generation, but it’s just about as easy.
One night, I whipped up her One-Pot Chicken with Dates and Caramelized Lemon and paired it with Frizzled Chickpeas and Onions with Feta and Oregano. I hadn’t planned on company, but this meal seemed too good not to share. Soon, my neighbor and I were raving over the deliciousness of this last-minute feast, wondering aloud why we didn’t dine like this more often.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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