Truth be told, I’m not a cook. I have a simple repertoire of meals that I’ve honed to be quick, easy-to-make and enjoyed by my somewhat selective (aka picky) family – all of which is why this book had me at “Uncomplicated.”

As soon as I cracked the cover, I hoped that the promise made on the inside flap is for real: “An indispensable cookbook that introduces a happier, easier way to get a homemade dinner on the table and proves that it doesn’t have to be difficult to be delicious. Cooking can be easy, fast and fun!” Author Claire Tansey is an accomplished chef and busy working mom. She has worked as a restaurant cook, cooking teacher, test kitchen manager, restaurant critic and food director at Canada’s Chatelaine magazine. She too uses exclamation points, and I immediately wanted to be friends with her.

In her introduction, Tansey sets the stage for “Uncomplicated” cooking with specifics about simple ingredients and equipment, how to use the recipes and tips for shopping and pantry essentials. The recipes are organized by type of dish, baking and “Uncomplicated” entertaining including cocktails, snacks and party dishes. Every recipe is presented on a single, matte paper page with an adjacent, simply styled photograph, which I really liked for reference. I dove in and selected four recipes to try, planning to serve them to a group of family and friends on New Year’s Eve – adding a little bit of pressure to the occasion!

Cheese with Chili Honey billed itself as “a simple way to upgrade grocery-store Brie,” and it did that, although the foaming honey lost most of its sweetness, so I ended up squeezing extra honey straight from the bottle on top of the warm cheese. Yum.

I marinated the Grilled Chili-Lime Shrimp as they defrosted in the shell, as instructed. The dish was easy enough to make, and really delicious, my taste testers said. Next time, though, I’ll take the shells off before skewering, and I would add a step to brush the shrimp with the marinade on the grill, because by peeling them after grilling, the shrimp lost some of their flavor.

It took some coaxing to get anyone to try the Curried Cauliflower and Cheddar Gratin. I had prepared the dish in the morning and refrigerated it, increasing the baking time as the recipe instructed. But it still didn’t cook in the allotted time so I ended up shelving the gratin to reheat the next day for a side with dinner. While the cauliflower was tender and tasty, there was too much panko mixture, which failed to adhere to the vegetable. Next time, I’d use less breading and substitute plain bread crumbs for the heavier panko.

The One-Bowl Carrot Cake did not disappoint, even for this novice baker and my discerning group. The simple, easy steps were quick to complete, and the instructions yielded a perfectly moist but firm cake that easily held the smooth cream cheese icing. I made one tweak – using packaged ground nutmeg, because finding a whole nutmeg to grate seemed too complicated for me. With nothing to compare it to, I didn’t think I lost out on any flavor, which was amped up by the nutty bite of walnuts and sweet punch of cranberries – next time, though, I’ll chop those cranberries before mixing them in.

Altogether, “Uncomplicated” was uncomplicated, easy, fast and definitely fun.

Stefanie Manning can be contacted at:

[email protected]

One-Bowl Carrot Cake

Recipe from “Uncomplicated: Taking the Stress Out of Home Cooking.”

Makes one (9-inch round) two-layer cake, serves 8 to 10

CAKE:

1 ½ cups (325g) granulated sugar

¾ cup (170g) melted butter

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (game changer)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Zest of 1 orange

4 eggs

2 cups (300g) all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 ½ cups (240g) grated carrots (about 3 large carrots)

1 cup (140g) dried cranberries

1 cup (110g) chopped toasted walnuts

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:

250g-package cream cheese, at room temperature

½ cup (115g) butter, at room temperature

4 cups (580g) icing (confectioners’) sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon or orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

TO MAKE THE CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 2 (9-inch) cake pans with baking spray.

Stir the sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Stir in the cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, vanilla and orange zest. Stir in the eggs until well-combined. Add the flour, baking powder and baking soda all at once and stir well to combine. Stir in the carrots, cranberries and walnuts.

Divide the batter evenly between the 2 prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a skewer poked into the middle of the cakes comes out mostly clean with a few crumbs still sticking to it. Let cool in pans set on a rack for 10 minutes, then flip cakes out of the pans and onto a rack to cool completely.

TO MAKE THE FROSTING: Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and fluffy (by hand or in a mixer). Add the icing sugar all at once and stir until combined. Stir in the lemon juice and vanilla and beat until fluffy.

Place 1 layer on a cake plate and top with about half of the frosting. Spread it right to the edge then place the next layer on top. Frost the top, leaving the sides bare.

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