We all know people who make the art of entertaining look easy. The ones who have friends pop over unexpectedly and can whip up a delicious meal from odds and ends they find in the fridge – and do so with a smile on their face.
Then there are others – many others – who find the act of planning and making a meal extremely stressful. As cookbook author Leanne Brown puts it, for this group “cooking feels like an assignment from your least favourite class, which you undertake while dreading the C-minus you are sure you will receive.”
It is for the second group – the ones who would love to be better cooks, but put way too much pressure on themselves to have each dish turn out perfect – that Brown wrote Good Enough: Embracing the Joys of Imperfection & Practicing Self-Care in the Kitchen. This cookbook, her second, includes 100 recipes that use simple ingredients, are easy to follow and take very little time to make. It is about learning to enjoy the routine, the flow and the rhythm of cooking so that your time in the kitchen eventually becomes a form of self-care – even healing.
“So many people spend so much time focused on the outcome that they forget to enjoy the process,” says Brown, an Edmonton native. “Good Enough is about acknowledging the fears and anxieties many of us have when we get in the kitchen … it’s about slowing down, honouring the beautiful act of feeding yourself and your loved ones, and releasing the worries about whether what you’ve made is good enough. It is.”
Brown begins the book with a personal story about her own struggles with anxiety and depression. She talks about how, after the publication of her first, highly successful cookbook Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day (based on her thesis for a master’s degree in food studies from New York University), she broke down, sought professional help and began the journey of learning how to be kinder to, and less judgmental of, herself.
At her lowest, she had lost interest in food – both eating and preparing it. Slowly, she made her way back into the kitchen, and it was the routine of preparing food – dicing vegetables, kneading dough, icing a cake – that made her feel less empty and started to fill her up.
Good Enough came from that low place, but evolved into what she calls “a guide to calm cooking” – a cookbook that is part memoir and part how-to-rediscover the love of food.
“We live in this perfectionist culture and so much cooking advice comes from professionals who expect restaurant-grade results,” Brown says. “But when we are learning to cook, or just trying to become better cooks, we need to let go of these standards.
“Cooking is not going to be all A-pluses, it will have its highs and lows, but if you cook with self-compassion, you can enjoy the experience, appreciate the great meals, laugh at the not-so-great ones, and generally live your cooking life with way less fear.”
Smoky Honey Shrimp Tacos with Spicy Fennel Slaw
Ingredients (Serves 4)
2 pounds small (41 to 50 per pound) frozen shrimp, thawed, peeled, tails off, and deveined
¼ cup honey
2 teaspoons ground smoked paprika
2 cloves garlic, grated
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt, plus extra as needed
1 cup sour cream
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded (for less heat, if desired) and roughly chopped
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 lime, plus extra as needed
1 medium fennel bulb, very thinly sliced (Note: If your fennel bulb comes with its fluffy, green tops, and they look fresh and vibrant, add them to the slaw as well)
1 cup chopped mango
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 corn tortillas
Thaw frozen shrimp by placing them in a sieve and submerging it in a bowl filled with cold water. The shrimp should thaw in 20 to 30 minutes. If you are in a hurry, you can run the cold water through the sieve to make it go faster.
Pat the shrimp dry. Place the shrimp in a medium bowl with the honey, smoked paprika, grated garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix it all together.
Make the dressing: Place the sour cream, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and ½ teaspoons of salt in a blender or food processor. Blend until the jalapeno and cilantro are well mixed and the dressing is a very light green. Taste and add more salt or lime juice as desired.
Toss the fennel and mango together in a bowl with the dressing. Start with 2 tablespoons and add more, if necessary, up to ¼ cup. The amount will depend on how big your fennel bulb is and how juicy you like your slaw.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the shrimp with their marinade and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, place another large pan over medium-high heat and warm the corn tortillas for about 30 seconds a side.
To serve the tacos, pile each tortilla with fennel slaw, top with shrimp, and drizzle with a bit more dressing, as desired.
Excerpted with permission from Good Enough: A Cookbook by Leanne Brown, illustrations by Allison Gore. Workman Publishing © 2022.
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