The perfect cookbook for everyone on your list

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1. The Cool Girl - Dining In by Alison Roman

Dining In is is one of my favorite cookbooks I've read all year.  It's perfect for the woman (or man) on your list who loves to cook but might be in a bit of rut.  Lots of Roman's dishes are twists on classics, like a Anchovy Butter Roasted Chicken.  I've been using her recipe for roasted broccoli once a week since I got the cookbook. It's full of gorgeous, easy, creative vegetables and party-worthy main dishes.  The note on the back of the book says it all - 

"I promise that I will never ask you to make something in two skillets if it can be done in one.  I will never ask you to buy a new ingredient unless I can defend it within an inch of my life and tell you twenty other things to do with it.  I promise that I will never require you to take all the leaves off the parsley stem because that takes FOREVER and I think you'll like the tiny stems anyway.  I promise that you will learn at least one thing that will make you a better and more independent cook for the rest of your life."
- Alison Roman

Are you sold yet?

2. The Aspiring Home Cook - Small Victories by Julia Turshen

Julia Turshen has assisted in writing cookbooks for people like Ina Garten, who also happens to be the author of the foreword in this book.  Turshen's recipes are simple and easy to follow, and each includes one "small victory" - something to learn from the recipe and add to your cooking arsenal.  They also include spin-offs; the Caesar salad recipe includes how to make the dressing vegetarian or vegan, and a few things to add to make a different dressing.  

"Cooking is simply a huge and often very fun puzzle of piecing together techniques with different ingredients.  Once you know the basics, the world is your oyster (or your clam, chicken thigh, block of tofu - whatever makes you happy).  Think of small victories as the corners of the puzzle, the pieces that help us become inspired, relaxed cooks who know how to fill in the rest."
- Julia Turshen

One of my favorite parts is at the back of the book where she suggests menus for different occasions all using recipes from the book.  Examples include "Your best friend's birthday" and "When you close your eyes and pretend you live in Italy."  How could you resist?

3. For the Friend Who Has Had a Tough Year - My Kitchen Year: 136 recipes that saved my life by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is the author who made me love food.  She's best known for her time as the New York Times food critic and for her time at the now-defunct Gourmet Magazine.  I love all of her books, but My Kitchen Year is a wonderful hybrid of memoir and cookbook.  It chronicles the year after Gourmet closed, during which she experience sharp grief and cooked her whole way through it.  I love this cookbook because she talks about how each recipe shocked her a little bit out of her sadness.  For example, here's what she writes about a chocolate cake.

"Why a cake?  Because the precision of baking demands total attention.  Why this cake?  Because the sheer size of it makes special demands.  But most of all, because it is impossible to hold on to gloom with so much chocolate wafting its exuberant scent into every corner of the house."
- Ruth Reichl

4. The Scientist - Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat has turned out to basically be one of the most important cookbooks of this year.  It's gotten a ton of press because it basically breaks down the four components of good cooking, which allow you to cook well without a recipe.  It includes gorgeous illustrations of various cooking techniques as well as pages like "The World of Fat" which shows the most common fat sources used all over the world, which has really allowed me to broaden the flavor profiles that I cook with.  This cookbook is perfect for people who are interested in good

"This book will change the way you think about cooking and eating, and help you find your bearings in any kitchen, with any ingredients, while cooking any meal.  You'll start using recipes, including the ones in this book, like professional cooks do - for the inspiration, context, and general guidance they offer, rather than by following them to the letter."
- Samin Nosrat

5. The Activist - Feed the Resistance by Julia Turshen

Julia Turshen is featured twice on this list because Feed the Resistance is too good not to be included in this list.  In addition to the fact that all of the proceeds from this cookbook will go to the ACLU, it is a beautiful piece of art that shows itself through food.  The book includes recipes for those who are too busy resisting to cook, large format recipes to feed resisters, and baked goods and other portable snacks.

"Cooking cannot only balm our emotions and sustain, it is also a constant reminder of transformation and possibility...Cooking shows us over and over again that we can make things happen, that we can make change happen, with just our own hands.  Food is metaphor personified and within that there is reaffirmation of what we can accomplish."
- Julia Turshen

For this book especially, I recommend buying it through the publisher's site, so that the full cost of the book goes towards the ACLU.

What's on my Thanksgiving table

HELLO AGAIN WORLD.  I'm back.  Forgive me for disappearing?  Thanks/Sorry.

For the first time ever, my parents will be hosting Thanksgiving in Durham, and I'm caffeinated and ready to rumble.  There are lists and excel sheets - it is good time to be alive.  Who doesn't like a list? (The answer to that question is my boyfriend who said his blood pressure rose 100% when I showed him my lists.  He asked that I not show them to him again until the day of.)

I thought I would take you through my planning process and share with you what I'm planning to make and how I'm going to make it happen.  A lil Thanksgiving inspo for you!  Last year, me and two friends did a full Thanksgiving for 15.  We planned ahead of time and treated the cooking as the real celebration and it was a hit.

My dream is that we're going to host the meal outside, but we'll see how the weather holds.  As of now, we're going to have 12 people (including one child.). I'm straying from tradition a lot this year, which I'm excited about because I think that usually Thanksgiving food is pretty lackluster.

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I'm adding links to many of the recipes that I'm using at the bottom of the page if you'd like to use them!  

key tips

  1. F*** it if it's not fun.  For example, I could make my own flatbread or make my own spicy pecans, but I think the work involved in that is not worth the reward.  I am lucky enough to live in an area where there are tons of great food producers who, frankly, will do a better job than I will making a lot of these things.  I'm doing the things that I think will be fun, but taking those things off my list that will push the prep into stressful territory.  This line is different for everyone and (duh) there's no shame in contracting out!

  2. The food does not need to be piping hot.  When I relinquished this goal, the idea of feeding people became 100% less stressful.  A lot of food is still great at room temperature - I prioritize the things that really won't be good at room temperature, but the fact is almost everything is 99% as good after it has cooled.  (Don't make a souffle.)

  3. Everything will not be perfect, but it will be good.  I will do most of the work ahead of time in order to set up the majority of the meal.  If you get to that point before anyone even gets there, catastrophic failure is almost impossible. 

I break everything into 4 main sections - 1 week ahead, 2 days out, the day before and the day of.  Here's how I'm planning things out.

1 week ahead

Once my recipes are chosen and I know where I'm headed, I make my grocery list by writing down everything that every single recipe calls for and then condensing those so I know how much I need of everything.  For things like butter and flour, I like to make sure I have more than I need.  I always round up on lists like this.  

That's a good list right there.

That's a good list right there.

I'm also making the shallot confit, the gravy and the stock a week ahead of time.  I'll also print out all the recipes ahead of time and have them in sheet protectors because WATER.  Below is my detailed to-do list, which includes both skilled and unskilled tasks. 

In my opinion, the oven schedule for the day of is the most important part of this.  It allows me to turn turn off my brain and just follow along, which allows me to actually enjoy myself!  I recommend you do the same. To make your own schedule like this, work backwards from the time you want to serve the meal and think about what has to be done when.  For example, the salad needs to be dressed at the very last minute.  Write things down - I like to do it on a computer so I can change it as I think about it and then print it out for the day of.

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2 days ahead

On Tuesday (or before) the grocery shopping will be done.  That evening, I'll make sure the kitchen is clean and that all the surfaces are cleared off so I have plenty of work space.  I'll also clear out the fridge to make space.

The Day before

I will do absolutely everything I can the day before.  Label serving dishes, set the table, cook most things and prep what I can't.  This is the day for coffee and loud music and, to be honest, is the day I am looking forward to the most in this holiday.  For dinner, we'll order take out and lay on the couch.  Invite your most kitchen-inclined guests to join you if you want some company - that's what I'm dong.

Thanksgiving Day

The main thing I'll do the day of is finalize dishes and set things out.  I'll put the crispy onions on the green bean casserole and the breadcrumbs on the macaroni and cheese and get them warm.  As I mentioned, lots of things will be served at room temperature, but whatever isn't will be warmed according to the schedule above.

And then I'll enjoy myself.  I hope you will, too.  What are you most looking forward to and most dreading on Thanksgiving?

Recipes bank - 

Soba Noodle Chicken Salad

I'm obsessed with rotisserie chickens.  Want to know a cute story about it?  Cool, I thought so.

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My obsession began a while ago when I learned that rotisserie chickens are actually the whole chickens in grocery stores that are about to expire, so grocery stores roast them in order to extend their life.  It's a value-added product but they're often cheaper than that same chicken would be raw because stores just want to get them off the shelves.  On Sundays, a rotisserie chicken at Harris Teeter is $4.99. THAT IS A STEAL.  Just saying.

OK, but that isn't the cute story - the cute story is that right as I became obsessed with them, I started noticing that my parents seemed to always have a rotisserie chicken in their fridge when I would go visit.  As it turns out, my dad had read the same article and developed the exact same obsession.

Father-daughter food coordination, am I right?

OK.  You're right it isn't that cute of a story sorry here's a recipe.

P.S. Please don't get weird about the fact that these chickens are close to their expiration dates.  They're fine and you should eat them.

buckwheat noodles and kale.  Not a bad meal all by itself.

buckwheat noodles and kale.  Not a bad meal all by itself.

This recipe is my favorite kind - the type of dish has everything you need for a whole meal, can be modified and edited to your preference, and which can be served hot, cold or in between.  It is adapted from this recipe on BonAppetit.com, which is one of my favorite recipe inspiration sources.

The basis of this recipe is soba noodles and kale, which are boiled together.  Pan reduction!  So efficient.  This method of cooking kale is called blanching and is a great way to make a tough green more tender.  Cheffin', y'all.

As a bit of a side note, I'm changing the format in which I write recipes.  I want to make them as easy as possible for y'all to follow, so I'm going to list the ingredients up front, but I'm also going to include them in the body of the recipe so you don't have to scroll around to follow directions easily.  I'm also going to write it in the order in which I would actually do the tasks so that you can see how I create a sense of flow in my kitchen.  Let me know what you think and if there are other design flaws you can see!

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soba noodle thai chicken salad

  • Salt + Pepper
  • 1 bunch kale of any kind
  • 4 servings soba noodles (dried or fresh, available in the international section of most grocery stores or at Asian specialty stores)
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries or dried cranberries
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • Rotisserie chicken (for a veg dish, you could easily sub in whatever your favorite type of tofu preparation is.)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1 Granny Smith apple
  • 1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts

First things first.  Boil a big pot of water - throw in a small handful of salt.  Then slice one bunch of kale into bite size pieces (any type of kale is fine, let's not make this harder than it needs to be).  When the water boils, throw in 4 servings soba noodles and the kale.  If you're using dried soba, add them to the pot about 2 minutes before the kale.  Cook the noodles according to the package, but let the kale be a part of the party for the last two minutes.

While those are cooking, thinly slice half an onion and leave slices to soak covered in water and 2 big pinches of salt.  Set aside.

Place 1/4 cup dried sour cherries (you can also used unsweetened dried cranberries) in a small bowl of hot water (just enough to cover them).  Set aside.

When the noodles are tender, drain everything, throw it in a big bowl and drizzle with 3 tablespoons sesame oil.  Set aside.

Pick the meat off a rotisserie chicken.  Chop into bite sized pieces. Add to noodles.

Zest one lime into your large bowl. Squeeze that lime over noodles and chicken, tossing to combine. Drain onion slices and add to mixture. Toss in 1/4 cup fish sauce. Drain dried cherries or cranberries and roughly chop, then add to mixture. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Slice 1 Granny Smith apple into matchsticks and add to bowl. Sprinkle salad with 1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts.

Congratulations!  You've made a delicious meal that can feed you and your loved ones - or just you for a couple of days.  I'm proud of us.