COOKBOOK CONFIDENTIAL COOKBOOK CLUB – Jeen and Michiel review Alison Roman’s “Nothing Fancy”

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Hi there,

I was delighted when Alison Roman’s cookbook “Nothing Fancy” was proposed as our following review. I am a long-time fan of Alison’s unfussy approach to preparing delicious food. I suspected that many of the participants in this project would enjoy reading her cookbook. So when Jeen and Michiel, from, sent me the following review, I wasn’t surprised that they enjoyed creating some of her beautiful recipes.

‘Unfussy food for having people over’, is the subtitle of Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman. A cookbook with ‘low-stress and high impact’ recipes. A book that promises to help you serve colorful plates, casually roasted meat, and desserts, even when you’re struggling timewise. An interesting idea having guests over for dinner or lunch, serving tasty food, remaining relaxed, and enjoying every minute of it.

We prepared three dishes and asked our panel (Carolien, Hans, and Joke) for their thoughts.

The first dish we prepared was a Tomato Salad with Anchovies and Fennel Seeds. The recipe mentions ‘ripe tomatoes’, but we quickly found out that it should read ‘ripe and tasty tomatoes’, otherwise, the salad is rather bland and unbalanced. It also suggests making the fennel flavored oil on medium heat, with the risk of burning the seeds, causing a bitter taste.

Alison Roman is probably a big fan of anchovies; we reduced the number of anchovies in the dressing, and we didn’t add additional ones to the salad. We think the anchovy should work as a condiment, not as an ingredient on its own, because of its overpowering flavor, which is not liked by everybody.

Our panel was very happy with the salad. The combination of tomatoes and fennel is a trouvaille and the salty, umami flavor of the anchovy gives the salad an extra dimension. It didn’t combine very well with the citrus chicken; probably better to combine it with swordfish or skate.

The second dish (a Salad with Green Peas and Burrata) was very easy to make and absolutely delicious. We added some extra grated lemon and mint. Our panel was pleasantly surprised by the refreshing flavor, the aroma, and the velvety, juicy mouthfeel.

The third dish was casually Roasted Citrus Chicken with Herbs. The recipe suggests setting your oven to 230 °C or 450 °F. Isn’t that a bit too hot, we thought? But okay, let’s do as suggested and follow the recipe. We transferred the chicken to the hot oven. Five minutes later, we were busy turning off the smoke alarm. Our panel had a good laugh (although we couldn’t hear them very well because of the noise). So far, for remaining relaxed!

According to the recipe, the chicken should marinate between 30 minutes and 24 hours, which is a significant window. We marinated our organic chicken for 2 hours, which was clearly not long enough. The panel was happy with the taste, but not every part of the chicken benefitted from the flavor of the marinade. Sometimes we tasted juicy, citrusy-flavoured, slightly spicy chicken and sometimes, we just tasted chicken.
The charred citrus is colorful, but doesn’t add much to the dish in terms of flavor or depth.

We served the citrus chicken with a glass of red wine made by Domaine La Tour Beaumont in the French Loire region. It is made using Gamay grapes, well known from the Beaujolais region. A very fruity, juicy wine that should be served slightly chilled. We also served a glass of zero alcohol rosé produced by Domaine de L’Arjolle, made with Cabernet Franc and Syrah grapes. The wine is dry, aromatic, and has long-lasting taste (raspberry, strawberry). Beautiful color, not sweet (as many other zero alcohol wines), and light. Both worked beautifully with the chicken and the herbs, thanks to the lightness and the fruity flavours.

Should this book be on (y)our shelf? Definitely yes if you’re looking for tasty food that doesn’t require too much work. If you want to remain relaxed while cooking and entertaining, be sure to test the recipes before having people over because some aspects of the recipes may need adjusting.

Green Pea Salad with Burrata and Black Olives (recipe Alison Roman)

What You Need

–       Black Olives (preferably Taggiasca olives)

–       Olive Oil

–       150 grams of Fresh Peas

–       Various Greens (Rocket, Parsley, Celery, Watercress, Sorel etc)

–       Chives

–       Handful of Mint Leaves

–       1 or 2 tablespoon(s) of Lemon Juice

–       1 Lemon

–       1 Burrata

What You Do

Cook the green peas for 1 minute and cool immediately. Remove the pits from the olives and quarter. Combine olive oil and olives and set aside. Crush half of the peas using a fork. Add the other peas and mix. Tear the mint leaves. Chop the chives. Combine greens, mint, chives and lemon juice. Tear the burrata into pieces and arrange on a plate. Scatter the peas on top. Now add the olive mixture and finish with the greens. We added some extra mint and grated lemon.

Tomato Salad with Fennel and Anchovy (recipe Alison Roman, slightly tweaked)

What You Need

–       60 ml Olive Oil

–       1 tablespoon Fennel Seeds, coarsely crushed

–       Piment Doux

–       1 Anchovy Fillet

–       500 grams of tasty Tomatoes

–       1 tablespoon White Wine Vinegar

–       Black Pepper

What You Do

Warm the olive oil over low heat and add the fennel seeds, the anchovy and some piment doux. Stir. After a few minutes the anchovy has melted and your flavoured oil is ready. Wash, dry and slice the tomatoes. Scatter the tomatoes on a large plate, drizzle with vinegar and then with the oil. Finish with some black pepper.

Citrus Chicken with Herbs (recipe Alison Roman, slightly tweaked)

What You Need

–       125 ml Lime and Lemon juice

–       125 ml Orange Juice

–       2 tablespoons Soy Sauce

–       2 tablespoons Olive Oil

–       1 tablespoon Sambal

–       2 Garlic Cloves

–       4 organic Chicken Legs

–       A generous mix of chopped Cilantro, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme and Oregano

What You Do

Use a very sharp knife to remove the bone of the thigh (the femur). Peel and crush the garlic. Combine the lime/lemon juice with the orange juice, the soy sauce, olive oil, sambal and garlic. Mix well and add the chicken. Leave to marinate for 12 hours.
Pre heat your oven to 180 °C or 355 °F, remove the chicken from the marinade, use kitchen twine to close the thigh, drizzle oil on a baking tray and transfer the chicken to the tray. After 30 minutes add sliced lemon and orange to the plate. Turn the slices 10 minutes later. After 50 minutes in total the chicken should be ready and nicely browned. If in doubt, grill for 5 minutes. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes. Add half of the chopped herbs to the cooking liquid, stir. Serve the chicken with the liquid, some lemon and orange slices and a generous amount of herbs.

PS don’t forget to ask you guests if they are okay with eating cilantro. Some people will only taste soap when eating cilantro. 

Michiel and Jeen (also known as Mr. Cook and Mr. Drink) enjoy tasty food and good wine. On our website we try to show that with the right ingredients and a few skills it’s possible to prepare great food at home. We believe in flavours and aromas and are inspired by French, Italian, and Japanese cuisine. Amongst our favorite authors/chefs are Hilaire Walden, Antonio Carluccio, Akira Oshima, and Alain Passard.
And finally: we strongly recommend using organic ingredients. Better for you, better for the world

Thank you, Jeen and Michiel, and your merry band of reviewers. I know everyone will enjoy your tips for making these yummy dishes and choosing a wine to accompany the flavors of the dishes.

11 responses to “COOKBOOK CONFIDENTIAL COOKBOOK CLUB – Jeen and Michiel review Alison Roman’s “Nothing Fancy””

  1. HI Bernadette, I also looked at the orange chicken recipe and thought it sounded good. I never follow a recipe in detail so am happy to adjust everything from temperature to ingredients as I go along.

    • I hardly follow a recipe word for word either. Writing this blog has made me more disciplined in that regard because when I post I want to give accurate descriptions and ingredients. Not easy for the free spirit cook that I am.

  2. Karen – New England – I travel the back roads of the world, sharing great food and interesting places and enjoyable pastimes.
    Karen says:

    Lowering the temperature on the chicken is definitely good advice for relaxed entertainment.

  3. Retirement Reflections – Vancouver Island, BC – Prior to retirement, I lived and worked in Beijing China for fourteen years (Middle School Principal/Deputy Director at The Western Academy of Beijing). Leaving international life behind, my husband and I retired to Vancouver Island in June 2015. To document both this transition and our new adventures, ‘Retirement Reflections’ was born. I hope that you enjoy reading these reflections, and will be willing to share your own.
    Retirement Reflections says:

    Hi, Jeen and Michiel – I greatly enjoyed your candid review and love your mentioning of the pros, the cons, and the humorous aspects. I am definitely interested in making the Green Pea Salad with Burrata and Black Olives.

    • Thanks! The combination of green peas, black olives, burrata, lemon and mint is delicious.

  4. Angie@Angie's Recipes – Angie's Recipes is an interactive blog dedicated to sharing yummy & creative recipes, helpful cooking hints and tips. Enjoy your visit and spread the word!
    angiesrecipes says:

    That citrus roasted chicken looks so good!

  5. Awakening Wonders – Everyday life is filled with wondrous things and embraceable moments, but only if we allow ourselves to be fully awakened. I invite you to join me as I share passionate life adventures and ramblings that awaken my spirit. I look forward to awakening your senses to the simple, joyous wonders that are all around us. I feel that we are destined to become soulful adventurers!
    Awakening Wonders says:

    Very tasty!!

  6. Thank you, Mr. Cook and Mr. Drink, for this thoughtful review! I was chuckling as I read about the smoke alarm going off with the chicken in the screaming hot oven! I love the way you approach food, with respect for the ingredients and through the filter of your own experiences with food. From your descriptions, I would try the tomato and fennel salad and the green pea salad. I only wish I had a good source for burrata where I live. I have seen it on restaurant menus, but never in the store.

    • Thanks terrie! Sorry to hear that you struggle to buy burrata. We also made the salad with mozzarella. Taste-wise it was okay, but we missed the juicy, soft, creamy texture of the inside of the burrata which combines really well with the olive oil and the black olives.

  7. the Painted Apron – Life is all about creativity for me, as long as I'm creating something I am happy! I hope I will inspire your daily life and give you ideas for your own wonderful creations!
    Jenna says:

    That is too funny about the chicken setting off the smoke alarm, I would have definitely questioned that 450 temperature!

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