Cookbook Review: Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman

By Carolyn Stine February 3, 2020 

The cookies.” “The stew.” And newly-trending, “The dip.” Never have there been as many celebrity-style, first-name-only recipes courtesy of a single cookbook author. We know Brad, we know Jen, we know Angelina, and now we know a plethora of newly iconic recipes courtesy of Alison Roman

After the wild success of Dining In, also known as Alison Roman’s OG cookbook and the source of the infamous cookies, the skeptics in us just weren’t sure if she could top herself with cookbook number two. After all, the recipes from her first cookbook were just so low-key brilliant, uncomplicated to make, and decidedly Instagram-worthy. We made it our personal mission to give her newest cookbook, Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over, a thorough work-up and review. Billed as “unfussy food paired with unstuffy vibes,” this second cookbook was released less than three months ago, and quickly topped the New York Times Bestsellers list and fell into starry ubiquity. “It’s not entertaining, it’s having people over” Alison Roman quips, and as consummate entertainers over here at Bashed, we were sold before we cracked open that first page. 

 

So here’s what we did. We made it all. From dips to salads, from entrees to sides, and of course, we didn’t forget dessert. We’ll walk you through a selection of some of the recipes that we personally made from Nothing Fancy, how easy they were to make, and how they tasted, so that you can decide for yourself whether you want to dive headfirst into this cookbook for 2020 meals at home.

 

Overall

People buy cookbooks for different reason. For some, it’s for inspiration. For others, the arresting visuals. Some folks actually want to cook every recipe, and that works for us, too. Whatever your reason may be for potentially purchasing Nothing Fancy, we’re here to say that all of them will be satisfied by this keeper of a cookbook. Alison Roman’s voice really shines through here in the writing, which feels personal, not-to-serious, and like a familiar friend you’d actually want to spend time with. There are really relevant notes included with recipes, such as how to halve a chicken, and maybe you should consider serving salmon roe alongside roasted salmon because it’s delicious. There are also non-recipe pages interspersed through the book that contain notes on general topics for the reader. Our personal favorite is a page entitled “when things don’t go well,” which shares that sometimes things don’t go according to plan when cooking for a group, and advocates for ordering a few pizzas if you eff up the entree. Alison Roman keeps it real. And we’re here for it. 

Creamy Sesame Turmeric Dip

First of all, any recipe containing tahini pretty much should just be sent to us right away, because it’s an ingredient we love in literally anything. With cauliflower, in brownies, you name it. We also wanted to make one of her incredible-sounding dips, but figured that “the dip” had been reviewed enough. Hence our difficult recipe selection process, explained. We love that the ingredients in this recipe are both high and low-brow, all at once. Yes, there are swirls of creamy tahini and an earthy turmeric oil topping. But, the base is also crafted from good, old-fashioned cream cheese. Roman recommends whipped cream cheese in her recipe notes, so we went with that. The recipe is a cinch to make (literally, combine the cream cheese, tahini, and sour cream and you have the base), and we loved how our apartment smelled after whipping up the turmeric and sesame seed oil that goes on top. This dip was served to a group of our friends alongside fresh crudités (we went with radishes, snap peas, and carrots) and some crispy rice crackers, and was an immediate hit. We also popped it back in the fridge and sampled it the next day (for research!) and the flavors tasted even better with a lil more time. 

Smashed Cucumbers with Sizzled Turmeric and Garlic

We are sad to say that this cold cuke salad was our least favorite recipe that we made from Nothing Fancy. On paper - it’s brilliant: crunchy cucumbers, earthy turmeric, toasted garlic, and a pop of vinegar and herbs to finish. In reality, something felt a bit off balance here. We craved more flavor, more saltiness, more garlicky-ness. We mostly just tasted the cucumbers. It was perfectly edible (and yes, we finished it), but we would play with the proportions and toppings were we to whip this salad up again. 

Mustardy Green Beans with Anchovyed Walnuts

Two important words to memorize: anchovyed walnuts. We don’t even know if anchovyed is a real word, but this toasted walnut and anchovy combo is literally our new favorite flavor profile, ever. There is just so much going on in this recipe, and it feels like a flavor bomb that we could easily serve alongside a roast chicken in winter (which we did) or at a BBQ come summertime. These lil beans are also most excellent at room temperature, which makes this recipe a great prep-ahead option for entertaining (whoops, we mean “having people over”). For those among us who are squeamish about anchovies, there is zero fishy taste to this side dish. You get some zing from the vinegar, a richness from the mustard, and the anchovies add a salty, briny finish that pairs perfectly with that fatty toastiness of the walnuts. We call it: a keeper. 

Salmon with Soy and Citrusy Charred Scallions

The sheer brilliance of this salmon entree recipe is that it is just so darn easy, whether you’re making it for yourself or for a crowd. You roast it in one big piece, and while it’s getting nice and toasty in the oven, you sauté oodles of scallions until charred with those crispy burnt ends, mix them with fresh raw scallions, citrus zest, and soy sauce, and top that salmon with this mixture when it comes out of the oven. The colors are beautiful on a serving platter in the center of your dinner table, it’s a great way to serve fish to a group, and it’s bright and fresh enough to dish up on the regular, too. 

Crispy Chocolate Cake with Hazelnut and Sour Cream 

Winner, winner… chocolate cake dinner. This recipe is officially our favorite that we made from Nothing Fancy, hands down. It is an absolute gem of a cake, and we cannot underscore enough how simple it was to bake, whip up the topping, and get it on the dinner table for a dinner party. Roman notes that you can make the cake itself with nutella, or if you prefer it a bit less sweet, with tahini. Well folks, we are here to advocate for the use of tahini. The chocolate cake is rich on its own, and paired with a nutella and sour cream whipped cream on top, it doesn’t need the inclusion of any more sweetness in the base. The flavors really sing, the crackly top is absolutely beautiful to serve naked (we topped it with the cream tableside because #drama), and you better believe that all of our guests asked for seconds and were licking their plates clean. 

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Carolyn Stine

A party without cake is just a meeting.

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