Remember my challenge to cook through a cookbook this year? At the beginning of the year, I made it my mission to cook as many recipes from Smitten Kitchen Every Day as possible. There have been days of great recipes and a fair share of fails. (Spoiler alert: burnt popcorn will stink up your house.)
I choose the Smitten Kitchen
Keep reading to hear all about my experience of cooking through Smitten Kitchen Every Day!
Cooking Through a Cookbook: How Did I Do?
First, you might notice this post only mentions one cookbook. Halfway through the year, I realized that I was a bit ambitious to try to cook through Smitten Kitchen Every Day AND the Night + Market cookbook. There were some great recipes in Night + Market, but overall, the recipes took a bit more planning. Cutting Night + Market from the challenge made this goal more realistic.
When December started, I was less than halfway through the Smitten Kitchen Every Day! I hustled hard to make up for it and in the end, I completed 67 of the 114 recipes, about 58% of the cookbook. Here’s the recipe breakdown by category:
- Breakfast: 6/15
- Salads: 7/12
- Soups and Stew: 5/8
- Sandwiches, Tarts, and Flatbreads: 3/9
- Vegetable Mains: 12/18
- Meat Mains: 9/13
- Sweets: 5/6
- Tarts and Pies: 4/6
- Cake: 11/13
- Puddings, Frozen Things, etc: 2/7
- Apps, Snacks, and Party Foods: 3/7
I completed 22 out of the 32 dessert recipes, which is typically my favorite category to make. I also made many of the soups and vegetable and meat main dishes.
Challenges and Wins of Cooking Through a Cookbook
Ah yes, many of the things I experienced the first time I cooked through a cookbook were re-learned through this experience. In addition to forgetting things on the stove and burning pots and accidentally leaving out ingredients, t
Buying “Random” Ingredients – I’m not constantly cooking since my fiancé does a lot of it (thank goodness and I’m so thankful), and I’m not the best at using up ingredients. I think more seasoned home cooks have learned how to incorporate ingredients into new meals or meal plan efficiently so that certain ingredients are in multiple meals in the week. So, there were weeks we ended up with unused celery stalks or cheese, which went against my desire for less food waste.
Adjusting Portion Size – Some dishes I cooked made too much and by the time my housemates decided they didn’t want to eat more leftovers, we were left with food waste. Also, other times, a recipe made too little and it could be tedious for me to make multiple dishes in one night.
Saving Money – In buying ingredients we didn’t typically use and cooking too much of a meal, I’m not sure if we saved money from our normal grocery expense. We typically cook meals with few ingredients and the same meals every month, so different dishes might have changed our budget. I didn’t keep track of the amount we were spending, but with the food waste issues I mentioned, we might have had spent more than we would have spent.
Using Unfamiliar Ingredients – One opportunity I noted at the beginning of the challenge was cooking with new ingredients. I did plenty of scavenger hunts at my grocery store trying to find specific ingredients, and a handful of times, my grocery store didn’t have what I needed. I tried my best to find substitutes or simply left it out if it wasn’t crucial.
Becoming a “Real”
These were my woes, but it could look completely different for you. It depends on your personality, your ability to improvise, and the amount of time and energy you put into your challenge.
This challenge introduced me to cooking new ingredients like farro and halloumi and I made new-to-me dishes like pelmeni (so hard!), icebox cake, and homemade tomato soup. I got compliments from my fiancé and friends when dishes turned out well and even fantastic, and we laughed when things went a little chaotic.
I might not be completely comfortable with cooking yet, but this challenge stretched me, as I hoped it would, and I’m proud of the times I tried something new and fed my family. I also learned that I need to read through ingredient lists and recipes twice before going to the grocery store and starting the recipe and to always set a timer, especially if multiple dishes are being made.
Favorite Recipes from Smitten Kitchen Every Day
In what I call “classic Deb Perelman style,” Smitten Kitchen Every Day is full of Perelman’s down-to-earth stories, sassy comments, and some no-frills recipes. She makes cooking new dishes approachable and easy. I like when she’s honest about dishes that will impress but also dishes you can quickly whip up. As she notes in her introduction, these are recipes for all occasions, with enough spice to make any day feel special.
Maybe one day I’ll choose cooking over baking. For now, the exact measurements and how most dessert recipes turn out right are what I enjoy. I made a few dessert recipes for parties and they were hits. I especially liked the cheesecake semifreddo that everyone told me I should have doubled so that everyone could have double portions! 😀 The marble bundt cake and the pretzel
There’s one dish we made at least five times this year, and that was the chicken and rice. This “street-cart” style dish was easy and delicious every time. The chicken was marinated in a blend of sauces and we put them on the grill. I’m sure we’ll keep coming back to this recipe!
I like that many of the recipes in this cookbook are fairly easy to make. We found some recipes we’ll continue to make and I’ve got 47 recipes left to try eventually!
Should You Cook Through a Cookbook?
Yes! It is a BIG challenge and maybe one day I’ll actually cook through an entire cookbook. For me, I liked having the goal, though it felt stressful at times. In the end, it was very rewarding.
I don’t have a large cookbook collection, but many of my cookbooks usually sit untouched. The publishing industry is spitting out more cookbooks than we can handle and the ease of finding a recipe online doesn’t help. My minimalist mindset asks why have these pretty cookbooks on a bookshelf if they never get opened?
I would definitely cook through a cookbook in a year again, but this year I’m going to take a break and aim to leisurely cook more recipes from the cookbooks I have. A year-long timeline for cooking through a cookbook might feel too strict and overwhelming for some (or many), so why not aim to cook one recipe weekly or two recipes a month from one of your cookbooks?
I think overall, cooking through and with cookbooks can help you meal plan more efficiently and can be a lot of fun!
Thank you for joining in my cookbook challenge! It was a fun and tasty year.
How often do you cook from a cookbook? Do you have a favorite recipe you tried last year?