I've never fallen in love with a cookbook so fast. Alison Roman, columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote Nothing Fancy: unfussy food for having people over. I first heard of Alison Roman from Bon Appetit’s Foodcast, where Roman portrayed her go-with-the-flow personality. After hearing more about her, I decided to buy her new cookbook everyone was buzzing about. In the forward, Roman writes, “I have always been allergic to the word ‘entertaining,’ which to me implies there’s a show, something performative at best and inauthentic at worst. But having people over? Well, that’s just making dinner, but you know, with more people.” These lines began my love affair with Nothing Fancy. From the memo on the first page to the very last recipe, this book was sent from heaven (a.k.a. New York). Here’s why.

Perfect for College Students

Catherine Cline

I've always had a special place in my heart for expressing the  love I have for my friends by inviting them into my kitchen. I quickly realized though, that long hours at the stove-top and laborious food prepping can cause a lot more stress than happiness when hosting. It's also a lot harder to host at college when your kitchen is almost the size of a large closet. Roman gets that. She starts Nothing Fancy off with 3 tips: 1) ask for help, 2) pick your battles, and 3) never apologize. Write these down, and thank Alison Roman later.

So, you want to cook something more than just chicken and rice for friends but you’re not exactly a pro? She’s got you. The recipes themselves are formatted in a very distinct, easy to follow language with her no-frills tone shining through each line. 

If you’re anything like me, then you despise recipes that require more than a few hours of your time. I'm not exactly the most thorough recipe reader, either. There have been many occasions where I'm halfway through a recipe only to discover the following lines: “let cool for several hours before serving”, “proof the dough for X hours", or my personal favorite, “chill overnight”. This cookbook steers clear of excessive bake times and exotic ingredients so that you can choose a recipe within hours before your friends arrive. Ah, the beauty, the stress free feeling of being able to procrastinate deciding what to cook! 

The Results

Catherine Cline

Although I have many recipes to go till I make my way through Alison Roman's cookbook, my two favorite recipes—so far—are "Lemony Turmeric Tea Cake" and the "Overnight Focaccia, Tonight". Focaccia is my favorite bread so this was the first recipe I tried. I’ll be the first to say it: yeast scares me. My dough never seems to grow enough or have the right texture. The focaccia recipe was very helpful in getting over this fear. It inevitably took a little longer than most of the other recipes, but the proof times were still suitable for an impatient baker such as myself. It turned out salty, savory... all the good stuff. I will definitely be making this one again but next time adding more toppings!

Catherine Cline

The tea cake was a fresh take with flavors that you can't go wrong with. The recipe itself is enjoyable and, you said it, nothing fancy. It was perfect to bake on a lazy Saturday. Consistent with my character, I forgot about it until late afternoon and was worried it would take so long that I would run out of daylight. However, I quickly had the loaf in the oven and got to sit back and smell the wonderful lemony scent waft throughout the house. Served with a dollop of whipped cream, this cake was not too heavy as the turmeric nicely balanced out the tangy lemon. My favorite part was the caramelized lemon slices on top!

Have People Over 

Now that you've gotten a little insight into Roman's take on unfussy cooking, all you have left to do is buy the dang thing, invite some friends over or gather your family together, and enjoy the recipes. Cooking for a larger group doesn't have to be stressful and yeast doesn't have to be scary. Have people over and ask them to help you finish preparing the meal while you enjoy each other's company. Pick your food battles, and certainly don't apologize if the veggies got a little cold or you forgot to make dessert. What matters is the love you're sharing through food and company. There's such a special joy that can come from the dinner table, and Alison Roman's recipes helped me embrace that happiness.