I have a confession to make. Even though I write about food for a living and spend the bulk of my days sitting no more than five feet from my kitchen, I still regularly struggle when dinnertime rolls around.
You see, I try to keep our evening meals relatively inexpensive, healthy and not too time consuming to make. What this ends up meaning for me is that I cook the same seven things over and over again. While Scott is perfectly willing to eat chili, turkey burgers, giant salads and chicken soup on repeat, I find that I need new meals on my plate.
I’m constantly searching for genius to strike. I flip through Everyday Food each month when it arrives and I try to sit down in front of my shelves of cookbooks on a regular basis to see if something will resonate.
Recently, I fell hard for a new cookbook that I think will be motivating my meals for many months to come. Part of the reason I love it so is that it fits my mealtime criteria and cooking style (cheap and easy). Called Cornerstone Cooking and written by Nick Evans (he’s the blogger behind Macheesmo), it’s designed to help you build meals around one of eight central ingredients.
Each chapter starts with a recipe for the central (or cornerstone) ingredient and then offers a number of different ways to transform that item into a full meal. While I realize that this isn’t a crazy-new concept, it’s so helpful to have all these different recipes in one place and to be reminded that I can do more with a roast chicken than just make my standard soup (I’ve got Nick’s tortilla soup high on my to-make list).
One section that I think will particularly appeal to the preservers in the crowd is the one in which Nick details all the things you can do with Marinara Sauce. Many of us make up a dozen or more jars of homemade sauce each August and while serving it over pasta is always an acceptable course of action, it’s always nice to have alternatives.
Next brunch potluck I’m invited to, I’m making his Eggs in Purgatory Casserole. I’ve done a quick, skillet version of that dish for years, but I like the idea of lining the casserole dish with crusty bread so that it becomes akin to a savory, tomato-y, French toast. With a salad, I wouldn’t think twice about serving something for dinner, either.
Last week, Nick took the time to answer a few of my questions about his new book and his plans for future canning projects.
I love the title of the book. How long have you been working with that phrase and this idea?
I came up with the idea for the book long before I had a name for it. I knew I wanted to write about repurposing leftovers and try to show people how it can sexy to take something old and turn it into something new. Chefs do it all the time, but most home cooks haven’t quite caught onto the idea.
Anyway, about the name, I was walking down the street one day listening to a podcast (I don’t even remember which one) and they described something as the “cornerstone” idea. It worked perfectly with the method of cooking I was trying to describe — using one large meal as the backbone for other smaller meals. I’ve always liked alliterative titles so Cornerstone Cooking just flowed from there.
What was your very first cornerstone recipe?
The first one that I wrote for the book was the Nick Nugget recipe. I knew I wanted roasted chicken to be the first chapter since it is easy and accessible to a lot of people. Plus there are tons of meals you can make with leftover chicken. I could’ve written a whole book on that!
The first cornerstone recipe that I ever made without knowing it was probably my Fridge Cleaner Chili. I kind of just toss all of the veggies I have in my fridge with some stock, spices, tomatoes, and beans and let it simmer for awhile. It’s always a hit.
I see that you did some canning in 2011. Any plans for more in 2012?
Oh yes! I was lucky that both of my canning attempts last year turned out to be successful even though I was a complete novice. You honestly inspired me to try it out. I was shocked by how easy it was to do.
I plan to do a lot more pickled veggies this year just because they are my favorite. I might try one or two experimental jams to give out as gifts also. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I made a jalapeno peach jam last year that was better than expected.
Here’s the other thing that makes this book so impressive. Nick did the whole darn thing himself. He wrote every word, did the all photography, prepared the design and indexed every recipe (he even indicated which recipes are his wife’s favorites, a touch that I love). Truly, every ounce of it is all his work.