“Let’s stay in” — three delightful words, when used in combination creates such emotion. What this phrase evokes is the feelings of comfort, kinship, and warmth. While going out is fun being able to stay home is an experience not to be missed. Even as I sit here
writing this review, the snow is falling softly outside my window, schools are cancelled, and, today we will stay in. Today is especially lucky since my parents are visiting for the holidays and we are all together — this is the essence of Ashley Rodriguez’s second book, Let’s Stay In.
Let’s Stay In is about the enjoyment of being able to cook nourishing food for your loved ones — whether you’re cooking on a weeknight, weekend, or planning the next big celebration what Rodriguez has done is write a cookbook that encapsulates all the food and feelings of gathering family and friends together. This is what Ashely Rodriguez is all about — back in the summer of 2014, when I was a new mother, I found her blog Not Without Salt and discovered delicious recipes and the beautiful community she created for her own family. I felt an instant connection to her story because she is a mom too and what she posts about (cooking for her family) was something I was thinking more and more about. It was with her watermelon layer cake that I served at the first gathering of our friends after our daughter was born (Canada Day 2014) that truly cemented my appreciation for her recipes. The simple joy that each recipe brings lends well to the crucial business of truly nourishing the people you love.
It seems appropriate that my family should be visiting while I prepared to review Let’s Stay In — I really needed recipes that were easy to make, delicious, but also used what I had in my pantry and fridge. Who wants to slave in the kitchen or grocery shop when there’s visiting and conversations to be had? What I found was that her recipes for Curried Tomato Coconut Lentils with Gingery Yogurt, Spring Pea Falafel with Harissa Yogurt, and the Red Lentil and Chickpea Breakfast Stew are perfect recipes that met my immediate need for hearty vegetarian mains (as my husband, daughter, and I are vegetarians) and also hearty enough to feed my non-vegetarian parents (who hail from the great beef-baring Western province of Alberta). Even better — no one questioned the lack of meat, they just “yummed” their way through delicious food! Recipes that transcend category are worth everything!
These recipes I just mentioned can also be made vegan / gluten free with some simple substitutes: use dairy-free in the yogurt sauces, omit the eggs in the stew, use chickpea flour in the falafels. The 120 recipes in Let’s Stay In cover a cross-section of many different types of diets — meaty, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free — although none are labeled as such, I think it’s easy to find recipes to suit your needs. Ingredients are easy to source and you most likely already stock them in your fridge, pantry, or freezer. If you’ve got grains, beans/legumes, and canned tomatoes you’re ready to go. At the beginning of the book Rodriguez outlines her pantry and equipment essentials along with some basic recipes that are simple to make and great to have waiting in the wings because they can become the foundations of a meal. While weeknight cooking is what we all participate in, she helpfully provides 12 menus for the bigger celebrations (think: birthdays, BBQ, holidays) that include plans and shopping lists. The recipes can be easily scaled up or down depending on the size of crowd you’re feeding (and if you’re making the Curried Tomato Coconut Lentils with Gingery Yogurt take her advice and make double — it’s that good and tastes great as a leftover the next day).
The recipes are divided into 6 chapters — Pantry, Breakfast, Midday/Light Meals, Snacks and Starts, Mains, Salads and Sides, and, Sweets and Drinks. Between us, I think my favourite section is Breakfast — there’s a lot to love here! So far, I’ve made the Thick Yogurt with Seedy Honey and Fresh Berries, Spiced Raisin Scones, Buckwheat Waffles with Strawberry Maple Syrup, Oat and Yogurt Pancakes, and the Red Lentil and Chickpea Breakfast Stew. A wide selection of sweet and savoury, hearty and light — literally something for everyone. In an act of kindness to my future self I also made extra pancakes and waffles to freeze so that on busy mornings I’d have something ready.
When I made the recipe for Spring Pea Falafel with Harissa Yogurt, I decided to bake them instead of fry. Sometimes I find when I’ve got lots on being able to throw something into the oven is easier than standing at the stove. The falafels turned out great — they had a nice crust without being dry on the inside. I appreciate how forgiving the recipes are — even though I didn’t fry the falafel as she instructs, the recipe wasn’t fussy and could stand up to a change that suited my needs. With the Banana Cake with Ginger and Chocolate I halved the recipe and baked it in a mini Bundt pan — they were perfection. What this points to is how well Rodriguez’s recipes are written and developed. This is so important when you have just enough time for recipes that work on busy weeknights and no time for the ones that don’t work.
Looking beyond just trying recipes for this review, Let’s Stay In has fallen seamlessly into my rotation of go-to cookbooks that will live on in my kitchen far beyond when I hit “post.” The Curried Tomato Coconut Lentils with Gingery Yogurt is a recipe that I’ve made a couple times already, same goes for the Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (if you’re a fan of her famous salted chocolate chip cookie recipe then this will be another favourite for you). I’ve still got recipes bookmarked to try, such as the Roasted Potato and Cauliflower Burritos and the Grilled Pickled Red Onions. I’m curious to try these as Rodriguez always takes an everyday recipe to the next level — here she’s grilled the onions before pickling them. In her first cookbook, Date Night In, she roasted strawberries before making them into jam — a good recipe is in the details. Food is at the centre of Rodriguez’s family life and I really appreciate the sentiment in her dedication: “And remember, there is always room at the table.”
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Running Press and Hachette Book Group 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.