The Secret to Great Food at Home

I have a confession: I wasn’t always a great home cook.

In fact, I was awful at it. While I was a baker from an early age, the skills didn’t seem to translate into making actual meals. When I first moved out on my own, I was eating to survive. I subsisted on meals like frozen chicken fingers with frozen vegetable medley, or pasta noodles served with a store-bought jar of sauce.

When I tried to cook, I looked up recipes for my favourite restaurant dishes, like chicken fried rice or rotini with cream sauce. However, all of these meals fell flat.

I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

All that changed when I met Beans and we started cooking together. We regularly made these mind-blowing meals with simple ingredients.

The secret to our success?  This book.

High Flavor, Low Labor by J. M. Hirsch

Yes, a cookbook can change your life. Or, at least, your eating habits.

Beans bought this cookbook on a whim one day while shopping at BMV on Bloor Street in Toronto.

The first thing he made me from this book was Spicy Ground Beef with Hummus (read about this revelatory experience here). This recipe was so amazing we began to pour through the book and pick all our favourites:

  • Ravioli with White Wine Sauce
  • North African Chicken with Roasted Veggies
  • Garlic Lime Steak with Avocado Salsa
  • Hummus Meatballs with Homemade Tzatziki Sauce.

Before I met Beans I would source recipes from places like (the rotini with cream sauce) or the backs of food packages (the fried rice).

If the recipe had an ingredient I wasn’t sure about or didn’t have, I would substitute it. If the instructions seemed too hard or finicky, I would try something simpler.

Why did I have the confidence to be so cavalier with new recipes?

I didn’t know the secret to success for new cooks:

Find great recipes.

Follow them closely.

Rule 1: Find Great Recipes

While the internet is great for food ideas, there’s something to be said for a physical book with a collection of well-designed and tested recipes.

Sites like are crowd sourced and so you get a real mixed bag in terms of quality.

High Flavor, Low Labor is written by J. M. Hirsch, the national food editor for the Associated Press. This guy knows food and he delivers quality recipes.

Hard to find great recipes in books that have totally blank covers but hey she’s persevering

Rule 2: Follow the Recipe Closely… at least at first

The first time you make something, trust the recipe author, and follow it closely. Especially if you’re a newb with a bad track record like I was – until you know what you’re doing, you don’t realize how much the changes can throw off the flavour balance of the recipe.

And here’s the thing, once you’ve tried a recipe, you can start to make modifications. Beans and I have created our own versions of almost everything we make from this book, and we will be sharing these modified recipes on this site.

Stock footage of Grains and Beans making dinner ha ha just kidding our kitchen is a mess

For me, High Flavor Low Labor was the key that unlocked home cooking. It really delivered on the promise: the recipes are easy but delicious and flavourful. It’s perfect for those of us cooking with time constraints. If you’re trying to get into cooking at home, do yourself a favour: pick up a copy of this book and start cracking.

Latest posts by Grains (see all)

Sign up for the Grains and Beans list!

Sign up to get blog posts delivered directly to your inbox!

Invalid email address

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *