Cookbooks: Cornerstone Cooking

May 1, 2012(updated on February 3, 2023)
Cornerstone Cooking: Cover

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.

Cornerstone Cooking: Intro

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.

Cornerstone Cooking: Chicken

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).

Cornerstone Cooking: Marinara

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.

Cornerstone Cooking: Bread

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.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book at no cost to me. My opinions remain entirely my own. 

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468 thoughts on "Cookbooks: Cornerstone Cooking"

  • bread, bread, bread! If I don”t win this, I am going to have to buy it, I can see that already! Thanks for the opportunity to win.

  • Chicken is likely my most used cornerstone ingredient, though I also use a lot of tomatoes in every form, often creating meals around the tomato available.

  • I keep trying books like these that promise to make something good out of leftovers, and am never quite satisfied. But hey, I’ll give it another shot.

    My cornerstone is rice, as someone else mentioned– good as a side, or as fried rice, or in soups.

  • Sounds like a great resource! Thanks for the awesome giveaway, Marisa! My fingers are crossed!

  • My cornerstone ingredient has got to be chicken. We have it every week, many times a week, and there is always some for of chicken in the fridge!

  • My favorite cornerstone ingredient is rice…. chicken and rice, rice and brocolli, rice and gravy, flavored rice, etc.

  • I live this idea! And I’d love some new inspirations.

    My favorite cornerstone item is roasted veggies. I find I’ll add some veggies to the oven whenever I’m roasting anything. I can toss them into a salad, an omelet, into udon soup, make veggie fried rice. A ton of things!

  • Wow, for sure I want to enter this one!

    My two cornerstone ingredients:

    Tomatoes – you can turn a tomato into almost anything. Sauce, soup, salsa, a salad, the base for a curry. It’s a staple in my house year round. (Especially after canning season!)

    Whole Chicken – My whole chicken gets broken down (if it’s not roasted first!) into the bits, the carcass gets made into stock, the fat gets rendered into chicken butter for cooking. Nothing goes to waste on that bird. I use the stock in soups, stews, whatever, I use the fat for sauteing or making awsome potatoes, and the meat I will use in a lot of dishes.

  • Beans! We eat a lot of beans, and I almost always have beans in the fridge or freezer. This looks like a great book.

  • Definitely pasta. When I haven’t planned a meal ahead of time and am at a loss, I can always grab a box of pasta from the cupboard and improvise something.

  • Tomatoes are our cornerstone ingredient. We froze a lot of sauce this summer and I also canned some tomatoes. When it comes to adding them to casseroles and stews my husband falls into the “more is better” category. My tomato starts are currently sunning themselves in the window, waiting for the weather to warm up.

  • meat. either beef, pork, chicken. One big hunk cooked like pork shoulder in lime juice simmered for the day, it becomes an ingredient in tacos, salad topping etc.

    Didn’t grandma do this? The one hunk of meat on Sunday for dinner and then less throughout the week as “meat seasoning” I love the idea of formalizing it. Very helpful for us younger than grandma 😉

  • This book is just what I need to jump start my Spring cooking! My favorite cornerstone ingredient is a whole chicken – we regularly make and freeze chicken stock and I would love to see what variations Nick has included in his book for other meals that can be made with the leftovers!

  • I’ll go with a cornerstone canned good – that tomato jam you posted a while ago. I mix it into a lot of recipes to give a more hearty feel. My favorite to to add it to stuffed cabbage roll stuffing. It’s just rice (or quinoa or couscous), ground beef, tomato jam, and pepper. No other seasonings necessary because of the richness of that jam.

  • I’ll have to go with tomatoes! So yummy. My kid eats the grape tomatoes like chips. I use chopped tomatoes in almost everything….tossed with pasta, tossed with salad, stirred in soup, mixed in omelets, sliced on pizza, on sandwiches, etc. I think the only thing I don’t do is have tomatoes for dessert. As a child, when my parents left me home alone, I once tried to make tomato-ice cream. It was so disgusting that tomato in any form left me gagging for months.

  • My cornerstone now that spring is here is asparagus. Although it’s a seasonal ingredient, I can incorporate it into 3 meals a day quite happily.

  • My cornerstone now seems to be eggs. My mom started raising chickens so we have an abundance of wonderful eggs. Thanks for the chance to win, this book looks great!

  • potatoes are my cornerstone. They become salad, fried, roasted. Thanks for the great giveaway.

  • Canned tomatoes are easily my favorite cornerstone ingredient. Hoping for a great crop this summer since I’m almost out of last year’s!

  • Like so many others, tomatoes are a major cornerstone of mine — which is terribly frustrating, since they aren’t in season, and we’re having trouble finding crushed tomatoes in BPA-free containers. I plan to do a LOT of canning this year!

  • My favorite cornerstone ingredient is tomatoes – fresh in summer, canned the rest of the year. They are in almost everything I make.

  • Roast chicken would have to be my cornerstone. I make it all the time and love it every time too. Thanks for the giveaway. Looks like a good book.

  • I’d have to say that leftovers are my cornerstone ingredient! I’m looking forward to checking out all of the recipes!

  • Chicken…no, lentils…no, it’s eggs. Obviously I need this book to clear up my indecision!

  • Chicken. We eat so much of it, I’m surprised we don’t have feathers. This book looks absolutely delightful and fits in perfectly with my latest kitchen MO, roasting a bird on Sunday evening with vegetables or something on the side, and surviving on that during the week. I find that, no matter how well I plan, by the time I get home from work, have a glass of wine, and put my feet up to watch the news, I’m too tired to cook from scratch, even if I’ve diligently purchased all the needed ingredients the week before–just. too. tired. This book sounds PERFECT!

  • What a fab book!
    Roast Pork is like the roast chicken: it can be used to create many different type of meals. When it’s on the menu (read “on sale”), I try to get more lbs than what I need & re-purpose it depending on the mood du jour.

  • Probably mushrooms. I tend to start a lot of things with mushrooms, because I love them so much and they can go into so many things 😛

  • My mom’s tomato sauce recipe – I use with ground beef over pasta or on its own beneath a baked egg with parmesan and pecorino romano melted on top among other ways.

  • you might find this crazy but a cornerstone for me is sometimes sweet potatoes…in soup, roasted with other types of potatoes, with goat in a casserole etc. Mary in Cincinnati

  • Rice. Does rice count? It’s not impressive, but it is a go-to component of probably 3 meals a week at my house.
    Thanks for the chance.

  • I wish I had a cornerstone! I don’t think I do, really. There are ingredients that I use a few different ways, but I think the cornerstone concept might make me a better cook.

  • I loved to bake bread and roast chicken; I can think up a million ways to use these in my kitchen! I’ve got my fingers crossed that I win! 🙂

  • Roast chicken is my favorite cornerstone ingredient. I get one at the store and then tear it down and freeze small portions of the meat. So many things one can make with frozen roast chicken.

  • Not terribly original, but have to go with roast chicken. I even have one in the work fridge so I don’t need to scrounge for less than awesome lunch.

  • I would have to say for me it would be chicken and pasta. I always have these items on hand.

  • My favorite ingredient is chicken. It is the staple meat for my family and it would be great to have more variations for it!

  • Beans are my favorite cornerstone ingredient. They’re easy to cook in bulk, inexpensive and incredibly versatile. I use them in all sort of different dishes.

  • Pasta has always been one of my favorite foods, and as I’ve grown up I now even add “real” ingredients to make it a meal of its own (real being all those veggies I abhorred as a child). To me, it’s a perfect base or side for any meal!

  • My cornerstone is probably chicken, including eggs. I look forward to getting a better look at this book.

  • Flour is my cornerstone… versatile; can go sweet or savory with it. Looking forward to trying out Nick’s No knead bread!

  • Beans. The last year or so I have been playing around with all different types of legumes. I made a New Year Queso Compuesto from Homesick Texan, I had left over beans and collard greens that I turned into a fantastic bean soup.

  • I’ll go with marinara sauce, because I LOVE eggs cooked in it, love pasta, love tomato soup — and that is a great idea to make it out of basil-y, delicious tomato sauce!

  • leftover roasted or steamed veggies, as they can be used for all sorts of “leftover” meals!

  • This is my kind of book! Can’t go wrong w/ chicken, but another good one is left over pork steaks or pork chops. We get yummy and inexpensive pork steaks at our local market (1.99 a pound sometimes!). I freeze the leftovers–sometimes a half or a third of the original portion and when I have enough chunks, I repurpose them into tacos, enchiladas, BBQ sandwiches, or stew. Yum.

  • right now my new found cornerstone ingredient is greens. beet greens or spinach or mixed anything, even if its in bags. i put them in everything. my hemoglobin/iron is very low and it makes me very tired, makes my asthma worse, and affects everything and i hate taking iron vitamins. but other than salad, greens were never a big thing we ate in my family. i have found i can throw them into scrambled eggs and egg salad, my favorite cheap fast dinner- pasta fagiola, every soup i make even beef stew, shoved into sandwiches, tossed with hot roasted veggies. sometimes they melt into nothingness, sometimes they are on the raw side. one of my favorite things to do with chard, broccoli rabe, or beet greens is sautee them in the oil from my garlic confit (thats a food in a jar!!!), add hot pepper flakes, sea salt, raisins, and at the end, toasted nuts. any leftovers can go into a grinder, grilled cheese, or on a frozen pizza. i love crab cakes or croquettes on a bed of those sauteed greens. or if you really want to get crazy, really ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, sauteed greens, and a scoop of lemon/basil ice cream with a drizzle of balsamic syrup.

  • It’s gotta be the roasted chicken. I make this all the time and I wrack my brain trying to come up with new ways to use the leftover chicken. This book sounds amazing and the fact that the author did EVERYTHING himself is very inspiring!