Quick Question: What are your favourite types of cookbooks? Thinking through all the cookbooks I’ve made recipes from I can tell you what my favourite type of cookbook is — the type that makes life easier and much more enjoyable. Honestly, who needs to be stuck in the kitchen preparing food that you don’t want to make or that no one wants to eat? What I’ve found is that the more I choose simple recipes (and with the help of my daughter) is that I’m enjoying myself much more than if I’m trying to cook complex dishes. And never confuse simple recipes with simplistic ones. It takes a lot of skill to use just the minimum amount of ingredients and come up with a real “wow” of meal. So, less than a week ago I received a copy of Aimée Wimbush-Bourque’s The Simple Bites Kitchen cookbook in the mail. Since then I’ve made around 15 recipes from it — pantry staples (such as pesto and spice mix), to ready-made delicious breakfasts, quick weeknight suppers to even more special things like homemade bagels and jam.
Although I became familiar with Aimée from the website Simple Bites a couple years ago when I started to worry about cooking for my baby, she has been blogging for a lot longer than that. Over a decade ago she started with her own award-winning blog Under the High Chair as a chronicle of her then young family’s life — both in the kitchen and out. She then became the editor of Simple Bites and from there she continues to foster the things to build a strong family, within a strong community. With her first cookbook Brown Eggs and Jam Jars she provides the blueprint for true urban homesteading (along with our favourite go-to pizza dough recipe).
As some of you are aware my struggles with cooking a plant-based diet for my vegetarian family has been challenging (having not grown up as a vegetarian). While I’m still finding my way, what has inspired me the most is how Aimée’s whole family is involved in the kitchen. Her husband and children are the fabric of Simple Bites Kitchen — she never speaks with “I” or “me” but rather “us” and “our”. You can’t get away from the notion that everyone has a valued placed (and it’s not just her immediate family but friends too). I knew that before my daughter could even speak I would start to introduce her to ingredients, techniques, and most importantly the feeling you get when you create a meal that is shared.
Am I being dramatic or sensational by telling you that you could open to any page in this cookbook and find an absolute gem of a recipe? I don’t think so. With her considerable culinary skills (she won a Lieutenant-Gouverneur’s award in culinary school) she has developed nourishing recipes from real ingredients. Whole food cooking is really coming into it’s own right now — people are looking to eat more seasonally, from CSAs or local farmer’s markets, and by re-learning all of those kitchen skills and techniques that have been lost (I spoke to this a little earlier this year here). People are yearning for more than processed food and I think this is why The Simple Bites Kitchen cookbook is so wonderful — humble ingredients used with genuine intention.
What Wimbush-Bourque offers is a flexible guide with recipes to suit any occasion or dietary preference, and while her family follows a flexitarian diet I’ve found that she offers many recipes that suit my very vegetarian family. With her first cookbook it was organized by season and while eating seasonally still plays a role the cookbook is organized through the following chapters: Nourishing Breakfasts, Wholesome Lunches & Snacks, Homegrown Vegetarian, Fresh-Air Gatherings, Everyday Suppers, Simple Bites Staples, and Preserves Pantry. What’s even better? Every recipe is accompanied by the most incredible photos, that evoke such a cozy, warm, and entirely inviting feel (her photographers Tim and Angela Chin have really captured the essence of each recipe so well).
There is such a variety of recipes — ones that take no time to prepare (like the pesto and the stuffed sweet peppers) and ones that take a bit more time but are completely worth the effort (like the bagels, jam, and gingerbread waffles). Reading through her recipes I could tell they have been well-tested. I never had moments where I had to improvise or question a step. Each recipe is well-written so if you’re a beginning cook I think this would be a great cookbook to start with. Even though I’ve been cooking for awhile there were enough challenging (though not impossible) recipes that kept me wanting to try more. (As a side-convo as I’m writing this I’m already planning to bake up the scones and zucchini bread and then make the sloppy joes).
I’ve really appreciated her chapter on vegetarian dishes — it’s great to have an entire section devoted to delicious main-dishes. Her recipes come from the vegetables grown in their own gardens and I appreciate the fact that when eating seasonally (and even locally) produce is easy to source and reasonably-priced (if you’re not already growing your own). It’s also the way she introduces meat-substitutes like lentils and tofu into the recipes — ensuring that the vegetable mains are equally as hearty as their meaty counterparts. So far I’ve made the Roasted Tomato & Lentil Soup, Spinach Lasagna Stuffed Sweet Peppers (totally genius!) and the Lentil Cottage Pie w/ Rutabaga Mash and they were all hits.
Something a little unexpected happened as I cooked from this book — I learned that homemade bagels aren’t that difficult to make and you can make them with a three year old. So on Friday afternoon my daughter and I assembled all of the ingredients and set to work on the Honey Whole Wheat Bagel recipe. I measured, she poured. We talked about learning something new together and things I usually take for granted (like the smell of the yeast blooming in the bowl) she reminded me that we can all stop and be curious sometimes. We shaped our bagels, I boiled them and then we topped the bagels before putting them into the oven. And when my husband got home she was so proud to tell him about our bagels. This is just our first try! The bagels turned out really well and now we have a standing date to keep making bagels.
Even (scary) skills like preserving have been made accessible. I have an unending desire to learn how to make and preserve things like jam but I’ve been really, really afraid of botulitizing my loved ones. I also think back to the days spent with my grandparents on their farm and I literally want to kick myself for not paying attention more to those activities that my grandparents made look effortless. Deciding to put my fears aside I wanted to try the recipe for Spiced Pear Jam w/ Bourbon. With Aimée’s clear directions (and some extra support from my pal Diana who convinced me that I would not, in fact, have to write my will before beginning) I was able to produce jam, sealed in jars with lids that had popped down in the middle. It’s a nice feeling to feel capable.
If you’re curious to see what I’ve been cooking up, check out my custom Instagram hashtag #eatworthysimplebites or my dedicated Facebook post. As I keep cooking, I’ll keep adding photos of the things I’ve tried. One of the first recipes I tried was her recipe for Coconut Almond Milk and I can tell you that even though she’s not an exclusively plant-based blogger this recipe rivals (and in my opinion surpasses) some of the most popular nut milk recipes out there. The texture is creamy and tastes really amazing with her Apple Crisp Muesli Mix.
The Simple Bites Kitchen provides a guide for cooking amazing meals from scratch as well as providing tips, tutorials and most importantly inspiration. Even though I’ll go onto to my next review, this cookbook has been one of the standout cookbooks of this year and one that I’m glad to have on my shelf.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Aimée Wimbush-Bourque and Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.