Welcome to my table, I’ve saved you a seat. Throughout the many years of this space I keep on the internet, I have chronicled my love for cooking and feeding people with a reverence saved for church. It’s kneading the yeasted dough, the soft velvet belly of the Easter Challah that brings me to the cross every year. It’s watching my son’s soccer team devour the brown butter rice kripsie treats that knocks me over with joy. It’s being in the kitchen with my Grandma cooking for Sunday lunch that transports me back to safety, every single time. And it’s the conversations, fingers dipped in sauces, elbows out, glasses clinking that keeps me wanting more.
If I’m a writer, then food and the table are my ink. This is the one story I hope I never stop telling.
Over the years I’ve written many posts on menu planning and grocery shopping (there’s even a video, that I refuse to rewatch, but go for it if you dare) so I’ll leave the link to those posts here for you, if interested.
I’ll break down this post for easy reading like this: Cookbooks, Go-To Savory, Go-To Sweet, Drinks, Hostess Gifts.
From left to right: Grow Cook Eat, The Oh She Glows Cookbook, Salt Fat Acid Heat, Carla Hall’s Soul Food, Primal Gourmet, Weekday Vegetarians, Binder of recipes I’ve collected, Cookbook of favorites my mom gifted me before I was married, Lark Parties, Lark Cocktails, More with Less, Bread and Wine, Dinner: A Love Story, The Home Cook, Half Baked Harvest Cookbook, Half Baked Harvest Super Simple.
A few words on a couple of these: the most used cookbooks are Half Baked Harvest, the cookbook of favorites my mom gifted me, Mad Hungry (not pictured) and Dinner: A Love Story. And the trusty, but never rusty: Pinterest.
I’m a huge fan of Smitten Kitchen, also, but I don’t own her books. I am a regular visitor to her website, though. And I love her newsletters. She’s one of my favorite food writers. As is Shauna Neiquist (and Bread & Wine is the reason my friend started a cooking club that I got invited to and have been doing for 6? 7? years now) and Jenny Rosenstratch (Author of Dinner: A Love Story and Weekday Vegetarians). I read their cookbooks cover to cover.
Tacos (duh) – and we have no recipe. We make our meat and then assemble all our fixings onto a platter or small bowls and everyone builds their own. We fry corn tortilla’s sometimes (they’re not hard, just softer and warm) and it is so good. Always, always finish with the squeeze of a lime.
Taco salad, from my childhood favorites book. Chicken Tinga Tacos, from Half Baked Harvest.
Chicken and Rice Soup is in heavy rotation.
Galette’s are a busy evening go-to.
Chrissy Teigen’s chicken lettuce wraps.
Lark Parties: Jerusalem chicken.
I try most of the recipes I pin on Pinterest, and don’t keep the ones we don’t like. We’ve not been disappointed with either of the Half Baked Harvest cookbooks and make a lot of her recipes again and again and again.
And sauces and salads (dressings). I almost always have something to schmeer on a plate of eggs and have a herby, creamy dressing for salads. Like this, and this or this.
Make this exact recipe for Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats, the only thing we do different is add sprinkles. You’re welcome. I have memorized this and it takes me less than 5 minutes from start to finish. They are a crowd pleaser and I want you to have this in your back pocket.
Also this recipe for Pumpkin Bars, which is in weekly rotation mid-September through early November.
Lark Cocktails is a FUN book to make drinks out of. We love the French Pear. We try to have one or two cocktails that we enjoy and know how to make that we keep the ingredients for on hand. Aaron is a stout lover and I enjoy wine (Malbec (red) or Sauv Blanc (white)).
Adult only staples: gin + tonic with lime, some kind of whiskey, dark rum for moscow mules or dark and stormy’s.
I think homemade kitchen items are a lovely hostess staple. Canned veggies from your garden or cut flowers from your yard. You can distill homemade vanilla with only 2 ingredients, and it’s a lovely Christmas or Hostess gift. But here are a couple of the things I like to buy locally:
Fustini’s 12 Year Balsamic Vinegar: yummy on everything. Berries! Salads! Tomatoes! Eggs! It stands alone and is a great partner. You can’t go wrong here.
Michigan candle from The Blackbird. It’s the most amazing candle for a cozy Fall season. I buy one every year and burn it all.
Flaky Sea Salt. Not all salt is created equal. This (and vanilla bean paste) are some of my absolute favorite kitchen items to have on hand. They are so small, you need so little of them – and they make all the difference.
Cotton dish towels, I love this because I can buy a multi-pack and then use one to wrap a freshly baked bread or bottle of wine.
Wine to give: you can stick with something from your region, or a good red blend, which is a nice table wine or great for cooking. Aldi has a good selection of wines that don’t break the bank.
Books for hosting to give or keep: Savor, Wild At Home, Poetry of Place, Paradise Found and the Lark books.
I know this only scratches the surface for me, I had a hard time keeping this succinct. I get in a rut, just like you, with cooking all the time. Watching cooking shows is always a motivator for me. Or planning something to host, like a Fish Boil. I can wrap my head around the daily monotony of cooking if I also have something to look forward to. We used the hell out of our grill this summer, so I was big into marinating meats. And it’s true that if you’re really starved for ideas … just start with an onion. It’ll come together from there.
Cooking doesn’t have to be hard, often the best things we eat are the most simple. Invest in your staples and a good knife. You’ll want a heavy pot and pan. If you’re going to bake more than cook, get yourself the mixer of your dreams. If you’re going to cook constantly, buy the Staub pan and Japanese knives. You can buy one at a time for 10 years and build your kitchen little by little. It’s all an investment … but, listen. This investment; is in you. Your home, your community. It’s a hobby, a way of life and a literal necessity. You’re allowed to enjoy the chore of living well.
As always, sound off in the comments with more ideas or questions. See you back here later this week for more of what I’ve learned … this time about Self.