I was a little disappointed when I first glanced at Simply scratch : 120 wholesome homemade recipes made easy by Laurie McNamara only because I had thought perhaps it was going to be a book on preparing things for the pantry for later use. Well, there’s some of that, but not as much as I had expected. Her stated goal is to get back to basics, cooking like her mother did, making healthy food with ingredients she could pronounce. In 2010, feeling she had gotten a firm grip on cooking just about everything from scratch, she started a blog, Simply Scratch, devoted to “from scratch” cooking. This cookbook is a compilation of some of the best advice and recipes she has shared online so far.

Chapter One, “Basics,” covers what McNamara thinks we all should have in our kitchens, from three kinds of flour to 3 kinds of solid fats and various oils and applesauce (which she uses to replace fat in some baked goods). Next up, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, citrus fruits, and onions and garlic. These cover all the day-to-day staple ingredients and are followed by tools and equipment she finds indispensable, like a garlic press, box grater, kitchen scale, mesh strainers, etc.  She doesn’t eschew power equipment—food processors and blenders make the list, as well. She includes a rice cooker, acknowledging that lots of people can prepare rice without one, but she isn’t among them. There are also some basic and frequently used techniques outlined here. Aside from her enthusiasm for various vinegars, which I do not share, everything here seems right on track for those trying to get back to basics or just beginning to find their way around the kitchen.

Next comes the “Basics from Scratch” chapter which, again, I had thought would be the bulk of the book. There are some very good sounding (haven’t made any of these) recipes for mayonnaise and aiolis, ketchup and barbecue sauce, three pestos, six seasoning blends and chicken and vegetable broths. What caught my eye, though, having become rather more a “convenience” cook in my later years, are the recipes for “from scratch” creams of mushroom and chicken soups intended as ingredients in casseroles, etc. with each recipe making one “can” of soup. Both are essentially light veloutes (soups made with dairy and stock) and sound reasonably time-effective, particularly if you made double or triple batches and portioned and froze the extras for later use, although the recipes don’t mention that.

The next chapters include baking (including making your own seasoned bread crumbs and graham crackers); a slew of sauces, dressings and dips; breakfast/brunch foods;  soups, salads, and sandwiches including a chicken chili and a lentil salad; a nice selection of side dishes, including glazed carrots, parsnip fries, a broccoli cheddar gratin, twice baked sweet potatoes, a “fried rice” style farro,  and some yummy sounding baked beans.

The next chapter covers mostly meat-based main dishes including a very nice looking baked chicken dish using dark meat pieces, chicken and rolled dumplings, a turkey meat loaf, skirt steak fajitas, spaghetti and meatballs, and a cottage pie.

The book wraps up with, naturally, a chapter on desserts leading off with a fabulous sounding fudgy chocolate toffee-topped brownie which I fully intend to try. There are also mini French coconut tarts, a Mississippi mud pie (really a sheet cake that I remember from my youth), and a glazed butter rum bundt cake that sounds just right for the holidays.

All in all, not perhaps exactly what I anticipated, but a very sound collection of recipes truly made from scratch, with nary a processed box or can in sight and I think most of us could use a bit more of that in our kitchens. Stop by the library and check out this (or one of our other nearly 1,000 cookbooks) for your reading (and perhaps cooking) pleasure.

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