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7 Essential Rules To Cook By From The Simple Bites Kitchen

Montreal blogger Aimée Wimbush-Bourque shares two recipes from her gorgeous new cookbook — and gives tips on creating an Instagram-worthy dinner table for under $5.

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Smitten Kitchen - Aimee Bourque - Slow cooker stew

Saveur award-winning blogger Aimée Wimbush-Bourque has been inspiring busy home cooks to put wholesome food on the table since launching her Simple Bites  blog almost a decade ago.

And now, in her just-released second cookbook, the Simple Bites Kitchen, she helps readers tackle hearty breakfasts, supper solutions and all the snacks in between.

The Simple Bites blog shares the former chef’s experiences of cooking meals for her  family at their semi-urban homestead outside of Montreal.  Nourishing, whole food is important in all her recipes. The family grows their own produce, bakes their own bagels, and keeps dishes as local and seasonally focused as possible. But, at the same time, Aimée’s approach is about understanding that life is busy and we’re all doing our best.

Here are seven kitchen rules that Wimbush-Bourque lives by (and a sneak peek at two new recipes from the new cookbook).

1. Cooking as a chef can be easier than cooking at home … so cut yourself some slack!

Before Aimée and her husband Danny started their family, she spent almost 10 years in a professional kitchen. When the first of her three children came along over a decade ago, she traded in her chef’s whites to be at home with the kids, but surprisingly found cooking well at home more difficult than expected. Simple Bites was born from the challenge.“I realized, if I was struggling with all the experience I had, other families were as well.” One solution? Set realistic expectations. “We have so many people telling us how to eat healthy, it’s hard to keep track of the rules,” she says. “Practice some balance. Don’t set the bar so high that you’ll fail and order in pizza each night.”

Simple Bites Kitchen recipe Mild Chicken and Chickpea Curry

Mild chicken and chickpea curry (Photo, © Tim and Angela Chin)

2. Batch cooking and a stocked pantry will save the day

It’s hard to eat well if you don’t plan for it, and, for Wimbush-Bourque, that means taking the time to look at your week ahead. “After I’ve figured out our schedule, I really lean on two things: batch cooking and a stocked pantry.” Having canned and dry essentials — cooked chickpeas, diced tomatoes, whole-wheat pasta, lentils — can go a long way. “I have a few recipes [in the Simple Bites Kitchen] like the Mild Chicken and Chickpea Curry that you can make almost entirely from food in your pantry — just put it all in the slow cooker before you leave for work in the morning and you’re equipping yourself for a great dinner later that day.”

Simple Bites Kitchen recipe Quick Crustless Ham and Cheese Quiche

Quick crustless ham and cheese quiche (Photo, © Tim and Angela Chin)

3. Fridge management is a big part of eating well (you should be able to see everything in there!)

For Wimbush-Bourque, producing great food means ensuring your fridge isn’t too full. “You waste less if don’t pack it beyond 85 percent of its capacity,” she says. Other tips: make sure you can see all the way to the back, use stackable, clear containers so you know what you have at a quick glance, and challenge yourself to a fridge-only meal once a week — whether that’s soup, a grain bowl or risotto.

Simple Bites Kitchen recipe Apple Crisp Meusli Mix

Apple crisp meusli mix (Photo, © Tim and Angela Chin)

4. Don’t stock junk food and you won’t eat junk food 

“If you’re filling your space with granola and nuts, and healthy berries and bananas are in reach, that’s what you’re going to eat,” she says. This is particularly true when crafting a great breakfast or lunch. Wimbush-Bourque’s Apple Crisp Muesli Mix (which can be found in the new book) is a particular family favourite for a quick breakfast. As for lunch, she lives by this principle: don’t try new recipes for the kids to eat when they’re at school (favourite leftovers are much better).

Simple Bites Kitchen recipe Farro, Feta and Tomato Salad

Farro, feta and tomato salad (Photo, © Tim and Angela Chin)

5. 6 ingredients Wimbush-Bourque always has on hand

Salt, good olive oil and ripe tomatoes are just a few of the ingredients Wimbush-Bourque could never live without. Beyond that, however, she keeps her pantry stocked with a few smart essentials. “Lentils are an amazing Canadian crop my kids love — they’re high in protein and versatile. Whole wheat pasta is also a must since my kids love spaghetti and meatballs. And I’m never without some pickles, whether it’s pickled beets or radishes or something fermented.”

Simple Bites Kitchen recipe Tofu Vegetable Stir-Fry with Cashews

Tofu vegetable stir-fry with cashews (Photo, © Tim and Angela Chin)

6. Make veggies your comfort food 

Wimbush-Bourque and her family are lifelong omnivores. That said, she tries to incorporate veggie-forward dishes all the time. “I think one of the tricks when making a vegetarian dish is to evoke the same feeling you’d have in a meat dish.” Craving lasagna? Try Wimbush-Bourque’s Spinach Lasagna Stuffed Sweet Peppers. Want sloppy joe’s? She’s got a gardener’s version built with lentils, celery and peppers. How about a colourful stir-fry? In the new book Aimee created a tofu vegetable stir fry with cashews recipe, perfect for weekday lunches.

Simple Bites Kitchen image of Homemade Hospitality Pie station

(Photo, © Tim and Angela Chin)

7. An Instagram-worthy dinner table can be your for under $5 

“Keep it simple,” Wimbush-Bourque says when comes to setting the table for a dinner party. “I have gone to the grocery store and bought a $3 off-white cheese cloth. I put that down the middle of my table, rounded up mismatched jars in my house, put tea lights in each one, scattered some leaves on the table and it looked beautiful.” Wimbush-Bourque also loves Value Village for mismatched plates that “look like they have a story to tell.” Another tip: prop your table with the fresh version of items you’re using in the dishes being served. “If it’s brunch and there’s roasted pears, put some raw pears on the table. If it’s orange chicken, arrange a few cute clementines. It also works with Brussel sprouts and pomegranates,” she says.