“Leon: Happy One-Pot Cooking.” By Rebecca Seal and John Vincent. Octopus Books. $19.99.

There was never any question which recipe from “Leon: Happy One-Pot Cooking” I would try. The question was, would it be worth serving?

I was drawn to the cookbook because of its funky colors, whimsical design and fun layout, with chapters like, “Posh” and “Low and Slow.” But I had hidden hopes that its recipes and instructions could make this timid cook look like a pro.

Cooking is not my forte. I need straightforward recipes that require no improvisation and – is this too much to ask? – turn out exactly as described the first time. Otherwise, it’s no fun. And cooking should be fun.

Turns out Leon writers Rebecca Seal and John Vincent think so, too. Seal is an accomplished food writer. Vincent is co-founder of Leon, a chain of 55 restaurants based in the U.K. and now in hip foodie cities as far-flung as Oslo, Amsterdam and Washington, D.C. They’ve teamed up before, which shows; their latest collaboration reads as harmoniously as a favorite song.

In the introduction, they call one-pot cooking “a flavor party with a happy crowd of diverse ingredients, tastes and goodness.” They go on to liken it to a Hindu picture that shows the universe as a web of interconnected jewels: “Each jewel has its own brilliance but also reflects and refracts the brilliance of all the other jewels. Each jewel enhances the whole.”

So after the holidays, I opened the book and searched for a simple meal I might enjoy making. “Leon: Happy One-Pot Cooking” offers a variety of meat, fish, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. It includes several kinds of quesadillas, simple pot pies and many stews. An international leaning is evident throughout, with recipes from the Middle East, Asia, France, Italy, Louisiana and –hey – New England. But if it’s desserts you’re looking for, you need a different cookbook.

The very first offering in the “Posh” section was beef bourguignon. Despite the fancy, Old World meals in this chapter, the recipe looked easy. Plus the dish holds a special place in my heart as my dad would often make it from Christmas leftovers. It was one of his holiday specialties. Could Leon help make it one of mine?

The prep time came in exactly as billed – 25 minutes total. A promising sign. For this afraid-of-failing cook, following a recipe is more often like hiking a trail billed as 2 miles long that turns out to be 4 miles long.

Three hours later (much of that simply waiting for the stew to cook), dinner was ready. I wondered why Dad had never told me how remarkably easy beef bourguignon is to make. Any dish that leaves time for cleanup before it hits the table is my kind of meal. As for the taste? It was the first time in 30 years of cooking I tried a new recipe and it turned out pretty much perfect. My taste-test crew, too, offered high praise, saying the dish was “pleasantly surprising with complex and interesting flavors.”

Before winter is done, I plan to try more recipes from “Leon: Happy One-Pot Cooking.” Who knows? Maybe the book can make a confident cook out of me.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPph

BEEF BOURGUIGNON WITH POTATOES

Recipe from “Leon: Happy One-Pot Cooking.”

Serves 4

3 tablespoons flavorless oil

2 1/4 oz unsmoked bacon or pancetta, diced

7 ounces small round mushrooms (cremini, button or closed cup) chopped into bite-size pieces if necessary

3 small carrots, cut into thin semicircles

7 ounces pearl onions or shallots, halved if large

18 oz ounces beef shank, cut into chunks

2 cups Pinot Noir red wine (or something soft and smooth, not the cheap stuff)

1 cup hot beef broth

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs of fresh parsley

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 cloves of garlic

1 pound new potatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

TO SERVE:

3 tablespoons coarsely copped fresh parsley

Crusty bread

Set a large Dutch oven or flameproof casserole with a lid over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and, when hot, add the bacon or pancetta. Cook until crisp, then lift out and reserve in a bowl, leaving any fat behind. Add the mushrooms to the pan and saute for about 5 minutes, until golden. Lift out and set aside with the bacon. Add another spoonful of oil, if needed. Add the carrots and pearl onions or shallots to the pan and saute for 6 to 8 minutes, until the onions begin to caramelize. Again lift out and reserve with the bacon and mushrooms.

Next, add the beef shank and another spoonful of oil if the pan looks dry. Brown the beef thoroughly, then add the red wine and hot broth. If you can, make a bouquet garni by tying the bay leaves, parsley sprigs, thyme, and garlic up in a little square of cheesecloth. If not, add them all to the pan loose, but remember to fish them out before serving. Season with a little salt and plenty of black pepper.

Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover with the lid, and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Add the reserved bacon, mushrooms, carrots, and onions and simmer for another 30 minutes. Check that the beef is meltingly tender, and if so, add the new potatoes. Simmer for another 30 minutes without the lid.

Taste before serving to check that the potatoes are done and add more salt and pepper, as necessary. Sprinkle the fresh parsley over the stew before serving in wide shallow bowls, perhaps with a little crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

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