For most of my adult life, I’ve considered myself an average cook. Could I cook enough recipes to keep things interesting and edible? Yes. Could I enter a cooking competition or feel thrilled at the idea of cooking for an entire dinner party or holiday get-together? Maybe not. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve enjoyed the process of finding new recipes and trying them out more and more. These days I count cooking as one of my favorite hobbies, and use it as a way to destress and be creative. And while I still wouldn’t enter a competition, I feel more confident in my cooking skills than ever.
It’s worth mentioning that part of my newfound love of cooking is mostly thanks to finally quitting dieting and diet culture. For most of my early 20s, even though I enjoyed cooking and food, I was still so obsessed with only cooking “healthy” food that I didn’t even have butter in my fridge. Ever. I told myself that any recipe with bread, pasta, cream, or added sugar was simply not worth learning; I honestly think I thought it was too dangerous, like I was setting myself up for failure. I think I have always loved food and cooking; I even wrote about it in posts like this one, but I was still always viewing it through the lens of something like Whole30 with certain rules, or parameters. I don’t think I trusted myself to learn to cook if there weren’t certain things off limits, which makes me sad now.
I wasted a lot of years in that mindset, the result of which was not only a very boring recipe repertoire, but also an obsession with “good” food versus “bad” food. It wasn’t until I stopped labeling food that way altogether that I was able to truly enjoy cooking and experimenting with different recipes. It changed everything! I appreciate bread and vegetables and meat and sugar and fruit and butter (my god, how good is butter?) equally now and love to see how they all work together in different ways.
I don’t share a ton about my cooking endeavors on Instagram, but when I do I always get a handful of questions about the recipes and cookbooks I love. About six months ago, I started cooking 2-3 recipes out of a different cookbook each week, so I feel like I have a good sense of which books are better than others (based on my very limited cooking knowledge, anyway) and which recipes are crowdpleasers. I also tend to cook a couple of the same things every week that make for easy, stress-free dinners. Below is a breakdown of all of that!
So I’ve only had this book for about 2 months, and I’ve cooked maybe 5 recipes from it total. But oh my gosh, it is good. I haven’t had one dish that didn’t impress, and I really enjoy the QR codes that allow you to see how different things are cut or diced or cooked via video. I can honestly say every recipe I’ve made has been a favorite… the pastrami roasted chicken, the schmaltzy chicken thighs in rice, and the celery/beef stir fry have all been incredibly. Wait, and the saucy pork noodles with celery. It’s all been perfect. Buy this book. That is all.
I received this book as a gift at the beginning of the pandemic (as a very thoughtful care package from friends after our wedding was postponed a year). At the time, I wasn’t particularly into cookbooks. I’d download a recipe or two from the internet, but that was about it. Once I began cooking more, I reached for it first and wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve cooked probably a dozen or more recipes from this one, and each one has been delicious. I particularly liked it because it made cooking for two easy and fun. I regularly use the miso slaw dressing recipe for other meals (pairing it with cold noodles, shrimp, mango, and peanuts is particularly good).
I’ve enjoyed a lot of recipes from this book, but it makes the list specifically for its the coconut short rib curry recipe in this book, which I have made probably 6 times in the last year. Maybe more. It is incredible, and Jake says it’s one of his favorite things that I make. Also the smell that fills your house when cooking the meat is absolutely, positively one of the best smells I have ever smelt in my life. It is glorious. Buy the book, bookmark this recipe, and thank me later.
If you are a novice cook and looking to impress friends or family, may I suggest you make this pasta and vodka sauce recipe. It’s incredibly rich (you can skip the onions and it’ll be just as good), but feels like a treat to just about anyone. Also, once you do it a few times, it’s really easy to remember since it only has a few ingredients in the sauce.
I swear by this air fryer salmon recipe. It’s really easy, quick, and takes the guesswork out of cooking fish. Pair with some white rice and bok choy and you’ve got yourself a gourmet meal for basically zero effort.
Weekly, Quick Meals
This is a bit boring, but we tend to have 2-3 meals each week that are the same. I know the ingredients, I can make them quickly, and they’re affordable. Mixing those in with the newer, more involved recipes I’m trying out works for me because I don’t feel like cooking an hour-long recipe every night.
Chicken Caesar Salad with Greek Yogurt Dressing // This one is pretty simple. Romaine, chicken breast or tenders (we like to use our beloved air fryer to cook them — quick, easy, effective), grated parmesan, some pepper, and that’s it. For the dressing I combine about a cup of Greek yogurt, a tablespoon or two of anchovy paste, juice from a lemon, half a cup of grated parm, a couple teaspoons of worcestshire sauce, and combine. Easy peasy.
Taco Bowls // Sometimes we use chicken here, but for a long time we did these totally vegetarian. We’d sautee some maitake mushrooms (they kind of mimic the texture of pork or ground beef when cooked), bell peppers, and onions together with cumin, paprika, lime juice, salt, pepper, and a little bit of cayenne pepper. Add some rice, shredded lettuce, Greek yogurt (in place of sour cream), hot sauce, salsa, etc. and you’ve got yourself an easy taco bowl.
Spaghetti pomodro // If I want an easy, comforting bowl of pasta but I don’t want to do anything complicated, I make this spaghetti pomodoro recipe. It’s pretty straight-forward and always hits the spot.
Special Occasion Treats
This chocolate chip cookies recipe is the only one I will ever use again. If you like ooey, gooey, chocolate-y, salty chocolate chip cookies that actually taste soft and chewy the next day, too, then this is the recipe for you.
I’ve made these from-scratch cinnamon rolls half a dozen times or so (usually when we are hosting guests or for holidays) and they are straight up glorious. And yes, they are better than the type that come from a can. It’s easy enough for any level of baker or cook to master and the results are always pretty impressive (and universally beloved).
I’ll continue updating this post as I discover more cookbooks and recipes I can swear by (for example, I’m only one recipe into Ottolenghi, but I’ve heard amazing things!). In the meantime, take this as encouragement to cook because it’s fun. You don’t have to be a food blogger or an expert to find recipes you enjoy. Plus, everyone deserves to know a pasta recipe they can’t live without by heart.
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