I read cookbooks like novels–cover to cover, on the couch, with my fuzzy blanket. I feel like Ina Garten taught me how to cook, well Ina and my parents. Mom taught me the value of dinner around the table every night. Dad taught me that recipes are a guide, something to be tinkered with, not steadfast rules. And Ina taught me the whys–why vegetables taste so yummy when roasted, why good ingredients matter, and why certain flavors go so well together.
Every Thursday when I’m planning meals for the upcoming week, these are the cookbooks I usually go to. They are my favorites–stained, watermarked, with flour tucked in between pages.
Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?: Favorite recipes from this one include roasted shrimp with feta, pank0-crusted salmon, and spicy turkey meatballs and spaghetti.
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Favorites from this one include roasted potato leek soup, white pizzas (this is the pizza dough I use for every pizza I make), and oven-roasted vegetables.
Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist: I think I’ve cooked just about everything in this one. The blueberry crisp is a staple for Sabbath meal. The risotto, turkey burgers, pork tenderloin, Gaia cookies, sweet potato fries, and white chicken chili make regular appearances on our table. The steak au poivre is a perfect date night meal!
Savor by Shauna Niequist: Shauna does my favorite type of recipe–simple with good ingredients. My favorites from this book include blueberry yogurt morning cake, lemon dill soup, fregolotta, Sara’s lasagna, wild rice salad, grilled peach & caramel sundaes, and Emily’s poppy seed cake. (I just listed half the recipes!)
My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl: This one is newer to me, but so far we’ve loved the french toast, the Cake that Cures Everything, and the Sriracha shrimp with coconut rice.
Except for Savor, all of those books will also teach you cooking techniques–how to cook eggs low and slow, how to braise meat, how to season your food. I have a lot of friends who are intimidated when they step into the kitchen. But you have to treat cooking like you do other things. It can’t be about perfection. It has to be about the journey, about the learning, about trying new things. Sometimes, you will create something genius. And other times you will throw it in the trash and cook Annie’s mac & cheese and feed it to your family with apple slices and call it dinner. And both of those are perfectly fine. Over time, you will gain confidence to move out of your comfort zone. You might even find the rhythm of dicing and the sound of sizzling oil in a pan relaxing. And there’s always something fulfilling about putting something on the table to nourish those you love, something you made with your own two hands. Maybe it’s fancy or maybe it’s grilled cheese, but it’s the table, the food, the laughter, and the people surrounding it that make it something special.