Sabrina Severns

let's eat!

Why cook from books?

Sabrina SevernsComment

I was recently at a potluck dinner with friends where the host served an amazing lasagna. I had to know where this recipe came from- he then told us to guess- and we all guessed Giada. It wasn't Giada, but another culinary giant- Ina Garten (who I love).  So naturally I asked what his favorite cookbook was, and his response was, 'I don't really cook from cookbooks'.  That was also what everyone else said... they don't really cook from cook books.  I was shocked. Really, no favorite cookbooks? How is that possible?  When I asked why, the response didn't totally surprise me - 'Why would I when there's the internet?' and 'they're too complicated'

He was right, why would anyone cook from cookbooks when theres the internet, Pinterest, and like a million food blogs. Well, heres why-

Cookbooks tell a story-  Just like a novel, a good cookbook has a sense of time and place.  There are characters you grow to love as you read through the book and the recipes.  The recipes are the tangible objects left over from experiences in the kitchen and in life.  The stories of how they came to life make them what they are.  If you hold some curiosity about the life of the recipe you can learn a lot about the author and the food it's self.  

Cookbooks are a portal into another world- Cookbooks can give you a look into someone else's life.  They can transport you to places you've always wanted to travel to or have deep love and nostalgia for.  Cookbooks are about so much more than the food. Ever read anything by Ottolenghi?  Grab one of his books and you will instantly know what I mean.  

Cookbooks become a piece of your history- Cookbooks become an artifact from your life, much like a journal or a photo album.  By the time I am finished with a cookbook it is covered in sticky notes, stains and hand written substitutions and info for me to remember for next time. Treat your cookbooks like journals, something actually useful to you and see what happens.  Next time you go back to that recipe that had way too much salt or took way to long to cook, you will know that this one might be best reserved for a weekend or might need to be modified to fit your life.  Cookbooks are the guide, the starting point, the diving board- cook and make changes to make them your own.  

Cookbooks are curated- Ever find yourself looking for something on Pinterest, and then forty-five minutes later you're still scrolling and reading the endless loop of information/ down a crazy internet rabbit hole about how tortillas are made when you were just going to pop on there for five minutes to find a chicken fajita recipe... yeah, me too.  This is why I love cookbooks.  They are finite.  They have a beginning and an end. They have five chicken recipes, not five hundred thousand. And when you really cook from a book and get to know it, you know the recipes you can count on from that author or book.  I know exactly what to expect when I cook from Julia Turshen, or Rick Bayless, I know what I'm getting each and every time.  

Cookbooks can change your life-  Yes, I am aware this is a large statement, but they HAVE changed my life.  Cooking from them has opened a window for me to other cultures and experiences I might not have had otherwise.  While I live in Chicago and have been lucky enough to experience food from many cultures in this city, cookbooks have really challenged me to get outside my comfort zone and try something new in my own kitchen.  Cookbooks have helped me learn how to prepare traditional foods for celebrating a new faith tradition I'm marrying into - helloooo brisket! Cookbooks have totally changed how I eat and think about food (thanks Dianne Sanfilippo)!

Anyway, I hope you join me on my culinary adventures and find my recommendations useful or helpful in some way.  I'm always looking for new reads and eats so please jump in and let me know what you are reading right now or if I can help you find the right cookbook for your lifestyle! 

Oldie but a Goodie, Ottolenghi

Sabrina SevernsComment
pardon the sticky notes, it's well loved

pardon the sticky notes, it's well loved

One of the most magical things about diving into a cookbook is how it changes everything in the kitchen. It permeates all my cooking, the flavors and foods show up everywhere once I'm in it. The obsession with cooking ALL the recipes introduces new spices, new techniques, makes things like sumac as ordinary as salt and pepper in everything else I cook.  Ottolenghi's cookbooks were a real game changer for me. 

Jerusalem was the first Ottolenghi book I owned and loved. It is a chunk of a book that feels important just by volume.  Its oddly squishy cover invites you to hold it, read it, love it.  Flipping through the pages, it is evident this book is about way more than just food.  The stories and the writing of Jerusalem are as remarkable as the recipes.  The authors call it a "self- indulgent, nostalgic trip into our pasts" and to that I say, take me with you!  

Jerusalem taught me how to cook lamb, eat more vegetables, and seriously broadened my spice cabinet.  I learned that combining large handfuls of fresh dill, cilantro, basil, and parsley makes an awesome salad, and sumac tastes good on almost anything.  It also taught me to take the flavors and run with it.  The first time I made the lamb meatballs, I failed to read the timing correctly.  This is not a 30 minute dish, this is a minimum of an hour and 30 minutes cook time, and about another 30 minutes of prep, so easily 2 hours of kitchen time.  This would have been fine if we (me and PJ- bf now fiancee) had planned accordingly, and if we didn't have a tiny apartment full of my boyfriend's family waiting to eat.  After that amateur hour mistake, I began tweaking and adjusting and made my own hodge-podge version of these insanely delicious meatballs in 30 minutes.  It quickly became one of my favorite week night dinner recipes.  

While I've expanded my collection to include Plenty and Plenty More, all three covered in post it notes and sticky pages, Jerusalem is the book I go back to time and time again.  I cannot recommend these books enough.  If you are totally new to cooking or if you've been cooking for years, Jerusalem belongs in your kitchen.  If you are new to cooking, don't be intimidated by the recipes with lots of ingredients or long cook times, take them as a challenge, a starting point, or just inspiration for whatever you're making next.  I promise you won't be disappointed. 

What are go to books in your collection? How have they changed your cooking? Have you cooked from any of Ottolenghi's cookbooks? If so what are some of your favorite recipes? 







January Read/ Small Victories by Julia Turshen

Sabrina SevernsComment
pardon the post it notes, I really loved this one

pardon the post it notes, I really loved this one

Julia Turshen's Small Victories is a gem of a cook book.  I received this book as a gift from my fiancee and while it was a gift for me, I think the real gift here is all the amazing food he's been eating as a result.  Turshen's approach to cooking is totally my speed. I love her philosophy that once you know a few good techniques and recipes you can really make anything. Her recipes are accessible, but never one-note. There's simplicity, but room for variety.  If you don't have all the ingredients, don't sweat it. 

Aesthetically, it is a lovely book.  Thick, mate finish pages have nice margins and allow for lots of note taking, but also feel like they will be able to withstand all the love this book will get over the years. The photography and styling are a perfect compliment to the casual feeling Small Victories.  Turshen's writing makes you feel like she is just a cool friend hanging out in the kitchen with you. The cool friend who know's way more about cooking than you, but isn't all pretentious or judgy about it. She also shares charming little pieces of her own life, like the recipes that her dad and wife love.  The recipes are also reasonable portions for four people, so if you aren't into eating left overs for 8 days or feeding a full house, they are perfectly sized recipes. 

Reading this book made me think- 'oh yeah, why haven't I tried that yet?' and 'ooooh now thats a good idea' for instance roasting radishes and putting kimchi on avocados.  Roasting mushrooms rather than sautéing them and cooking eggs with a little bit of steam are two techniques that I'll continue to use regularly in my kitchen.  As someone who generally does not eat bread, I will say this book had me eating lots of bread... in January.... while the rest of the world was #whole30'ing, I was over here like - 'hey guys do you KNOW how good bread is?!'  Just to be clear, Turshen didn't MAKE me eat the bread, I CHOSE to eat the bread, because it was the perfect vehicle to soak up all the salty delicious olive oil drenched roasted mushrooms.  There are an abundance of gluten free recipes in Small Victories, and the ones that are not, are super easy to adapt/ omit to fit any lifestyle.  

Overall, Small Victories is a book to own.  What do you think of Small Victories?  What were some of your favorite recipes?  Leave a comment below, I'd love to know what you're cooking!