In the first pages of “The Whole Smiths Real Food Everyday,” Livermore cookbook author Michelle Smith says she wants to bust the myth that eating well needs to be a time-consuming, laborious, over-the-top process full of odd, hard-to-source items.
Amen. Does that mean we can stop pulverizing cashews and searching for maca powder?
While those ingredients do appear in Smith’s new collection, which debuts just in time for New Year’s resolutions, the majority of its 100 recipes are filled with whole, minimally processed foods that are easy to find. The results yield tasty, comforting dishes, like downright addictive Apple-Cinnamon Mini Frittatas, and Chicken Tikka Masala Soup, a recipe that epitomizes what eating well means to Smith — “whole foods, convenience and absolute freaking deliciousness.”
Grains, dairy, sugar and soy are used sparingly. But, Smith, a busy mother of two and blogger at The Whole Smiths, is all for treating herself and her family. There’s a Paleo brownie recipe in the book, and she’s a big fan of pizza night. Her family is obsessed with the gluten-free crust at Livermore’s Melo’s Pizza & Pasta.
“With this book, I wanted to get flavor profiles we’re all familiar with, clean them up a little bit and make them easy for any weeknight,” Smith says.
Each chapter of the cookbook, a follow up to 2018’s best-selling, Whole 30-endorsed “The Whole Smiths Good Food Cookbook,” is dedicated to a method of cooking that is fast or simple. Among them, 30 Minutes or Less, One-Dish Wonders and Aww, Sheet (sheet pan cooking). The recipes in the In An Instant — yes, Instant Pot — chapter include Chicken Tikka Masala Soup and Butternut Squash and Pancetta Risotto. And a Weekend Living chapter offers recipes for weekend down time.
But knowing you can throw Five Ingredients or Less into a pan and still get a flavorful, healthy meal on the table is what we all need after 10 months of sheltering in place.
“Cooking fatigue is real,” Smith says. “Even I’m not immune to it.”
In the spirit of reviving our healthy recipe repertoire, we recently asked Smith her thoughts on diet trends, favorite kitchen hacks and the dishes she comes back to again and again.
Q: You’ve said you don’t want this to be a New Year’s resolution book. Why is that?
A: Every year, there’s this really big push to get healthy in January. I have no interest in telling people in the middle of this pandemic to stop and change everything. Being healthy isn’t just a January thing. I’m not saying you need to eat only healthy food every single day. There are brownies in this cookbook, after all. This is just a more sustainable approach to eating well.
Q: You don’t mention Whole30 in the book and you bring up paleo and other diets mostly as recipe labels. Are you leaving diets behind?
A: At the end of the day, we just need to know how to cook and shop for whole, minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods. Whole30 is supposed to be for 30 days, and keto and paleo is a lot of information. People get confused. I don’t think the average person is going to count their macros every day, and I don’t think that mentality is healthy anyway. Let’s just eat real food for the majority of our diet and enjoy the rest as it presents itself. We don’t need to complicate it.
Q: What are the recipes in this book that you keep coming back to?
A: I’ve been making the Banana Bread Overnight Oats and the Sweet Potato Hash Egg Cups in the Get Set, Meal Prep chapter. Both are great because they’re make-ahead and in the fridge, so my kids can grab them for breakfast and head to their desks for online learning.
Q: What is your favorite easy home cooking method? Sheet pan? Instant Pot?
A: Instant Pot, especially now that it’s winter. I think it’s the best kitchen invention of the last decade or two. For slow, long braises, we can literally fill it with ingredients and forget about it. I do love the Weekend Living chapter, too. It feels a little more decadent, and there’s a comfort element to it which has been great in 2020.
Q: That chapter includes your 2 A.M. Tacos. Can you tell us about those?
A: It’s a knock-off of the deep-fried Jack in the Box tacos. We ate so many of those in college. I’m so intolerant to gluten now, I simply can’t eat it. But I missed those flavors and thought, ‘I’m gonna clean this up.’ I use grass-fed ground beef and organic American cheese. And they’re fried in avocado oil. Plus they’re easy to make. My 10-year-old made them for dinner the other night.
Q: Your list of 26 kitchen hacks reminds us of the joy of discovery in the kitchen. Which were the game changers for you?
A: My biggest game changer was learning to defrost meat on a sheet pan. I’m notorious for forgetting to take meat out of the freezer and then realizing it at three in the afternoon. The metal pan conducts heat in a way that will expedite thawing. Expect times to be cut in half. It’s one of those teeny things that make a big difference.
Cookbook Launch Party
Join Michelle Smith for a virtual book launch party and cooking demo in partnership with Livermore’s Towne Center Books, Charming Fig Catering and McGrail Vineyards at 7 p.m. Jan. 20. The event includes a signed copy of “The Whole Smiths Real Food Every Day,” a charcuterie box and bottle of wine. For event and pickup details, as well as ticket prices, follow @The Whole Smiths or visit www.thewholesmiths.com.