Over the course of the past five months, I have been gallantly slaying away at the challenge I set forth for myself: cookbook/bake/assemble/create one recipe from each of my 52 cookbooks! I started out as a terrible klutz in the kitchen on the verge of giving myself a monthly bout of food poisoning. After a lot of experiences and a lot of learning, I can say with confidence that I am less scared of making myself sick or burning down my apartment. Progress! *pumps fist in the air with triumph – oh yeh! oh yeh! oh yeh!*
I posed this challenge to myself because:
(1) I really want and NEED to get better at cooking so that I can actually sufficiently feed my wee little self, and
(2) so I can bring a little love and life to the pages of all these amazing cookbooks that sit so lonely and untouched on my bookshelf.
Cookbooks are meant to be used! Splattered on, spilled in, dog-eared, written in with notes, passed around friends, and of course, well-loved. I ended up donating a few of the cookbooks I had that just didn’t really fit into my lifestyle and diet anymore, so hopefully someone else now can make some delicious food out of them. And the journey ended with a total of 50 cookbooks and 2 sets of cooking magazines that I absolutely love and adore.
There were some minor and some major fails, paired with a sprinkling celebratory victories along this difficult and arduous quest. Ok, it wasn’t that difficult, because I basically got to eat my way through it. But it did test my patience and ability to follow directions. Below are the major take-away’s from each and every recipe that I concocted. So sit back, relax, and here we go!
Spoiler Alert: The major lesson is to try new things, but make sure you follow the recipe and ingredients if you’re still learning about flavors, textures, balance, culinary chemistry and even your own preferences. 🙂
This is the cookbook section of my library-in-the-making, in February 2020. Keep reading to the bottom for a photo of my curated cookbook collection as of now, in June 2020.
What I Learned Cooking from 52 Cookbooks…
1. Kachka – Malosol’nye Cucumbers (lightly salted pickles)
This was the first recipe in this challenge that I made. The photos are atrocious. But I learned a lesson that you will see repeated often on this list… FOLLOW THE RECIPE AND THE INGREDIENTS if it’s the first time you’re making something new and if you have no clue what you are doing. I just flat-out omitted the sugar because I had none… smh…
2. Nut Butters – Cocoa Mocha Walnut Butter
What did I learn? Remember what I just said in #1? That whole follow-the-recipe will be a repeated lesson? Yup. “I substituted cocoa powder and a tiny bit of stevia for the chocolate chips. And I didn’t have espresso powder, so I just left that out.” oh boy…
3. 1 Stock, 100 Soups – Vegan Tempeh Bacon and Pumpkin Soup
When a soup calls for stock or broth, use stock or broth. Don’t try to use water and add hella random spices and herbs. It’s not the same.
4. The Healthy Gluten-Free Life – Gluten-Free Kalamata Mini French Bread
Read the entire recipe before beginning to understand what you’re about to do. This way, you aren’t caught by surprise when you forgot to add olives into the dough, try to mix them in after you already shape the dough, and it ends up over-mixed and rock hard.
5. One Good Dish – Anchoy-Garlic Spread
Anchovies are salty af. When I spread it on the salty kalamata bread, it made my tongue tingle and my stomach hurt. I didn’t find any research online about overdosing on salt in one sitting, but man oh man, it was not good. Think ahead of the flavors of each food and only then, pair accordingly.
6. Oh She Glows Everyday – Green Tea Lime Pie Smoothie Bowl
From this smoothie bowl and this granola, I learned how to make a good smoothie bowl and addictive granola 🙂 5 out of 5 stars on these recipes! Pretty much everything I’ve made from this cookbook is stellar, because the flavors are all in balance.
7. The Good Cook’s Book of Oil and Vinegar – Golden Beet Borsht
Read. The. Dang. Recipe. Woman. GAH! I somehow completely skipped the roasting of the beets for this soup. It still turned out pretty tasty, but I’m sure it would have been way better if I had, you know, done it correctly.
8. You Suck at Cooking – Simple Smeared Chicken Breast
I learned that ground mustard is really good to smear on chicken before you bake it, because it locks in all the delicious juices. But don’t use whole mustard (with the whole seeds) because it gives the chicken an interesting crunchy texture that reminded me of the same crunch in food-poisoning chicken.
9. Magnolia Table – Sweet Pepper & Pancetta Frittata
I learned that turkey bacon makes a decent substitute for pancetta in a frittata. And I learned that Joana Gaines is a genius in the kitchen. The fresh, peppery flavor of the arugula perfectly balances the rich and creamy frittata.
10. The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook – Pumpkin Pasties
Make sure you read through the recipe to confirm you not only have all the ingredients you need, but also all the tools you need. I used a glass cup used in place of both a rolling pin and a dough cutter. Also, this is the best pie crust ever.
11. Vegetarian – Roasted Root Vegetable Soup
Adding roasted vegetables to a soup (or any dish) will add sweetness from the caramelized sugars of the veggies. Yum.
12. The Soup Bible – Beef Chili Soup
Chili makes for really good meal prep because it keeps (even intensifies) its flavor in the fridge over several days. Beans and ground meat together in a chili make for a super filling meal.
13. The Forest Feast Gatherings – Strawberry Caprese Kebabs
Mozzarella does not bode well with lactose intolerance. When serving food on a stick, test out the stick-ability before serving. These strawberries slid right off and splattered olive oil everywhere. Maybe having the cheese on the bottom would have been a better base?
14. Skinnytaste One & Done – Crispy Chicken Schnitzel
Have your garnishes out and ready as you’re finishing cooking, so you don’t forget them! Also, when a recipe (especially something breaded intending to be crispy that is getting baked) calls for sprinkling or spritzing olive oil – DO IT! SPRITZ THAT OIL! It will help it crisp up and not get soggy.
15. Mini Pies – Mississippi Mud Pies
Sometimes you can try your very hardest to get everything right but a recipe still doesn’t turn out well. And sometimes it is okay to blame the recipe, remind yourself you are a superstar champion in the kitchen, and just make a note to never make that recipe again.
16. Native Foods Celebration Cookbook – Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
If you’re thinking about substituting a gluten-free flour blend for regular flour to thicken something, don’t do it. Use either cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Unless you want to eat gloopity gloop.
17. The Big Dairy Free Cookbook – Dairy-Free Clam Chowder
Adding mashed potatoes to a soup adds a wonderful creamy texture. If a recipe cuts out the cream or fat in order to reduce calories, you may need to add a little drizzle of olive oil or melted butter on top, for the sake of flavor.
18. The Secrets of Fat-Free Baking – Fat-Free Fudge Brownies
To create the most ooey-gooey brownies, include a 15-minute out-of-the-oven cool-down about ⅓ of the way through baking. But don’t cut out ALL the fat in your brownies, because then you just taste sugar and feel your teeth decay a little more with every bite.
19. Instant Pot Miracle – Chicken Burrito Bowls
I learned that apparently, chipotle sauce is a real sauce. Like its own sauce, just like tartar sauce or teriyaki sauce. It is not a brand of hot sauce.
20. The Oregonian – Fruit Crisp
I learned just how versatile fruit crisps are! And you can make one at the beginning of the week as a way to sweeten your greek yogurt and get some healthy probiotics in the most delicious way.
21. Plenty More – Super French Toast
I discovered that I’ve got the power within me to make the. best. french. toast. in. the. world. period. If you want to impress folks for breakfast, make this! Or if you want to treat yo self to some homemade indulgence, MAKE THIS!
22. Vegan Eats World – Orange and Olive Fennel Salad
When you cover the licorice-taste of fennel with the adicity of lemon juice, the flavors neutralize each other. I also learned how to make gif! It’s unrelated but my gif looks totally rad as the salad gets eaten. Check it out.
23. Ballerina Body – Loaded Mock Potato Soup
I learned the hard way that nutritional yeast is NOT a sufficient substitute for cheese as a thickener in a soup. And if you buy clams, get quality clams. The cheapest canned ones apparently have sand in them. *gag*
24. The Magnolia Journal – Chicken and Lime Street Tacos
I learned that the best way to cook shredded chicken is nice and long in the slow cooker. All the juices and flavors marinate the chicken for several hours and it becomes the best ever. Also, thinly sliced radishes in tacos are surprisingly good.
25. Happy Gut Cookbook – Rice Flour Tortillas
Do not take your eyes off the pan when you’re cooking something in a dry skillet. Also, rice flour tortillas are more gummy than flour or corn tortillas, so if you’re worried that your taco fillings are going to break through your shell, try using these.
26. Crock-Pot Vegetarian Recipes – Curried Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup
If your broth/stock doesn’t taste good on its own, it’s probably not going to taste good in a soup. (Duh.) Also, think ahead when meal-planning: if all you’re making is a light soup, you’re probably going to still be hungry, so make something to go with it!
27. Kitchen Matrix – Whole Wheat Focaccia
I learned a LOT from this epic fail in regards to dough that needs to rise. (1) If your dough sits in a cold room (below 75 F) for too long, the yeast will die. (2) Keeping your dough moist is essential for proper rising – cover the dough with plastic wrap or a wet towel and put it in an oven. (3) Gluten-free flours don’t need to rise a second time after shaping them.
28. Crêpes – Hummus, Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Crepes Made With White Rice Flour Crepes
Use butter (not coconut oil) when making crepes to get that gorgeous browning. And use enough butter – don’t skimp on it, otherwise you’ll end up with a mushy pile of torn batter. Also, let your crepe batter rest for at least an hour so the flour has time to absorb the liquid.
29. The Book of Miso – Thick Lentil Soup with Miso
I learned that adding miso to lentil soup gives it a delicious umami flavor. If you want a vegan savory, filling soup, add miso and lentils.
30. The I <3 Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Cookbook – Vegan Cashew Nibble Cookies
Read the recipe and prep any ingredients that need to be prepped. For example, if it says chopped chocolate chips, then chop away. Otherwise, your whole chocolate chips may overpower your wee little nibble cookies.
I also learned that if you’re in a tight pinch, you can substitute 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp vinegar for each 1 tsp of baking powder.
31. Three Times A Day – Sloppy Joe Pizza Rolls
When rolling out dough, make sure it’s rolled out as big as the recipe says. Get out your ruler or the measurement app on your phone if you have to. Otherwise, you might end up with an explosive mess of overflowing fillings.
32. Nourishing Diets – Ghanaian Groundnut Stew
I learned that peanut butter in stew is freaking amazing. And when a recipe says to fry meat to brown it, you better fry that meat to brown it, and don’t be afraid of a little hot oil – just use caution! Otherwise the meat has less flavor and not a great texture.
33. Cravings – Chicken Lettuce Wraps
This lesson was all about the importance of a bomb sauce to create a bomb dish. The sauce that’s created for the chicken lettuce wraps is so delicious and so complex and THAT is what makes this one of my favorite recipes out of this entire challenge.
34. Southern Girl Meets Vegetarian Boy – TVP Stuffed Peppers
When a recipe specifies a type of cheese, do not just willy-nilly substitute any other random cheese in its place. Different cheeses taste, smell and melt differently. A decent sub for Fontina cheese is Provolone – not mozzarella.
34. Coconut Kitchen – Golden Coconut Chia Pudding
I learned what a superfood the humble coconut is! And also it’s a good practice to use your hands when mixing things. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known that using a whisk (instead of a blender LIKE THE INSTRUCTIONS SAID) left huge clumps of honey, which I was able to deftly dissolve by hand before catastrophe struck.
36. Magic Soup – Chick ‘N’ Masala
Well, I learned how NOT to roast a whole chicken. And I learned how to make perfectly good shallots turn nasty. (1) To get chicken skin cripsy, it needs to be dry. I think the lemon juice in this recipe was a bust. (2) Don’t roast/boil shallots under the chicken, unless you like eating gloop.
37. Nourish Bowls – Cinnamon Granola + Pear Kale Smoothie + Coconut Yogurt + Mixed Seeds & Dried Berries
Do not put dried cranberries in the oven to bake. The poor little guys turn into burnt, sour charcoal croutons. If you like dried fruit in your granola, it’s safer to add them in after the rest of the granola has come out of the oven.
38. Country Breakfasts – Banana Walnut Muffins
I learned that you can actually replace the whole wheat flour with sorghum flour when baking, since it has light texture and a mild, sweet flavor, just like wheat flour! Also, make sure your dough is mixed well enough that there are no dry flour spots remaining.
39. Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Cornbread Mix Package – Bacon Sage Cornbread Stuffing
This recipe didn’t come out of a cookbook, but most of us unknowinly have a small bounty of recipes on the backs of food packages! Bob’s Red Mill always includes delicious recipes on their products, and this one did not disappoint. I learned that consuming stale/expired flour can be very harmful to your health. And when substituting turkey bacon for regular bacon, you’ll probably need to add a little more fat in the skillet.
40. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian – Split Pea Soup
Split pea soup without some source of umami flavor is inedible. Add in some smoked chiles, some miso paste, toasted seaweed or a ham hock. Please.
41. Vegan Under Pressure – Vegan Queso
I learned that sometimes calling something a “vegan” version of a food that is normally comprised primarily of meat or dairy can set unnecessarily high expectations for yourself. Sometimes it’s better to just name it something new!
42. The Oregonian Cookbook – Seared Shrimp with Green Chile-Cilantro Rice
When a recipe is new to you and it calls for a certain spicy-level, go with what the recipe says. If it says mild chiles, don’t melt your face off by getting spicy chiles.
43. Vegetarian Times Magazine – Watercress Spaetzle with Grape Tomatoes
I learned how to make spätzle without a spätzle-maker! Just use a grater and a rubber spatula! Woo hoo spätzle all day, every day!
44. The Rainbow Juice Cleanse – Blackberry Banana Split Ice Cream
I already knew that I love vegan ice cream (the ultimate creamy texture, brought to you by frozen bananas). But this recipe really lifted the lid on the simplicity of it – just two ingredients. The possibilities of variations are endless.
45. Spiralize Now! – Zucchini-Crust Margherita Pizza
From this incredible pizza (yes, the crust literally is made of zucchini!) I learned that with enough cheese, you can make a lot of things taste good. I also learned the art of watching your food during baking – if your gut tells you to leave it in one more minute to get golden like the instructions say, then go with your gut.
46. Wild Edibles – Dandelion Fruit Smoothie
Don’t eat anything from the wild of you don’t know what it is. Maybe don’t even like touch it until you know what it is, for safe measure.
47. The Forest Feast Mediterranean – Honey-Pistachio Bars
I learned that butter actually creates different textures in your baked goods when it’s mixed into your dough or batter at different temperatures!
Cold = flaky layers. Soft = chewy and risen. Melted = dense.
48. It’s A Pleasure – Peanut Toffee Chocolates
Gluten-free, dairy-free, refined-sugar-free desserts can be elaborately, deliciously, dangerously indulgent. 😉
49. Cook’s Illustrated – Perfect Fried Eggs
If you love sunny-side-up eggs, then use two types of fat, get all eggs on the pan as close to the same time as possible, cook them covered, and finally, let them finish cooking off the heat, still covered. Got all that?
50. Food in Jars – Rhubarb Jam with Strawberries and Oranges
Sugar not only gives jam flavor and acts as a preservative, but it acts as an essential thickening agent. If you want less sugar in your jam, make sure you increase the thickening agent (pectin, tapioca, etc.) unless you want to end up with syrup! Which, is still tasty.
51. Food’s Ready! – Fried Salmon with Cauliflower Purée
Sometimes it’s okay to find a different way to make something in a recipe. This mashed cauliflower called for quite a bit of dairy, so I found a simple dairy-free alternative and it worked out great!
52. Jacques Pépin Celebrates – Classic French Omelet
Finally, it is important to learn from experts and repeatedly go through the try > fail > learn > grown > try again cycle. It is equally important to know what you like and throw in some of your own finesse. Especially if the food is for YOU!
And here is my bookshelf today in June 2020, about half a year later.
It is needless to say that I learned a plethora of cooking techniques and enough what-not-to-do lessons to last me the next several years. I have curated by cookbook collection to books that I love and cherish. These books have brought me and friends joy from their pages in the form of delicious meals and treats. I am excited to forge onward and not only explore more of my cookbooks’ pages, but begin to create my very own recipes.
I hope you learned a thing or two from my triumphs and mishaps. Best of luck in all your kitchen endeavors! <3