Cookbooks: Cornerstone Cooking

May 1, 2012(updated on October 3, 2018)

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.

In addition to giving me a copy to review, Nick has also given me two copies to give away to Food in Jars readers. Here’s what to do:

  1. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post and share your favorite “cornerstone” ingredient.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm eastern time on Friday, May 4, 2012. Winner will be chosen at random (using and will be posted to the blog on Saturday, May 5, 2012.
  3. Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian readers.
  4. One entry/comment per person, please.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book, as well as two review units, at no cost to me. My opinions remain entirely my own. 


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468 responses to “Cookbooks: Cornerstone Cooking”

  1. Nice cheeses. You can always cobble together an antipasti meal if you have at least one fine cheese and some bread or crackers lying around!



  2. My favorite cornerstone ingredient is probably chicken stock. I make a huge pot of it every couple weeks, and freeze it in cups and quarts and use it all the time. It makes everything taste better.

  3. Straight up spaghetti. With a myriad of different sauces to make, it’s our cornerstone, for sure.

  4. At our house we love to “create something out of nothing”. Rice is a wonderful cornerstone. It will be found in burritos, under s stir fry, with stroganoff, in soup or the basis for “clean out the fridge” stir fried rice.

  5. If I had to choose I would say that chicken is my go to….there are many close seconds!!

  6. Looks like a great cookbook. It looks like there is a plan .. a little leftover plan. I like those!!!

  7. Bacon! Everyone loves bacon and you can save and use the leftover grease instead of other fat to add even more flavor to a dish!

  8. Roast chicken… you can do so much with it from shredding the meat for chicken salad, mexican, topping for pizza, to using the bones to make stock.

  9. I made a pot of beans the other day. Too easy and too delicious – where have they been all these years? I’ve also been thinking about a pressure cooker as an integral part of my daily cooking.

  10. My favorite cornerstone is fresh tomatoes from a garden. I think they’re the foundation of Italian, Mexican, American, Southern and Midwest cuisine, and more.

  11. Rice is my cornerstone ingredient. I can top it with curry or stew, savor it up in a risotto, sweeten it in a pudding, or just serve it plain as a side.

  12. I love this concept but sadly don’t follow it so have no cornerstone food yet. My day-to-day cooking usually consists of frozen dinners – hoping to change that when we retire next year and I cook every day so this looks like a cookbook I need!

  13. Cornerstone ingredient(s): chicken and rice. More recently, quinoa. Could really use the inspiration from this.
    Thanks for the opportunity – and for introducing this cookbook!

  14. brown rice and other grains, but I always keep frozen cooked rice on hand to flesh out a meal, so to speak!

  15. I guess it depends on the time of year, whether it’s grilling season or not, but I do admit that garlic gets tossed into pretty much anything. I would love this book. You can never have too many great cookbooks!

  16. Veggies, I’d say. As long as I have some kind of vegetables in the house, I can make a meal happen.

  17. My cornerstone ingredient lately seems to be ground venison. I use it in place of ground beef and we eat it at least 2-3 times a week. Someone’s trying to clean out the freezer!

  18. Chicken breasts, bread and a good goat cheese have been our staples lately. Partly because cooking hasn’t been my friend, but they’re still great to work with when it is.

  19. Feta cheese. I love it, and it will dress up just about anything: pizza, salad, casserole…

    • My favorite Cornerstone ingredient is definitely a whole chicken. So easy to toss it in a pot with a few veggies, then divide it up for multiple meals through the rest of the week.

  20. Macheesmo has long been one of my favorite blogs, and Nick’s one of my favorite blogging voices. I love this idea for a cookbook, and am all about his practical tips about how to get the most out of a few simple ingredients!

    A cornerstone of our diet and pantry are definitely beans, lentils, legumes: I cook these little babies up all the time. (And I’m pretty sure Nick’s blog was where I first learned how much easier cooking lentils are after soaking them. Love that guy!)

  21. This sounds like a wonderful book to add to my collection of favorite cookbooks! The fact that he did it all himself is amazing!

  22. i would have to say my cornerstone is fresh veggies from the garden,i see what i have and plan my meal around them.during non growing season,i rely on the veggies i have preserved.

  23. My cornerstone ingredient is canned crushed tomatoes. I can’t tell you how many cans of tomatoes I purchase each year.

  24. Chicken is our big “cornerstone”. I always make extra when I am roasting it so I have plenty to put with pasta and veggies for a quick supper, make chicken salad for lunches during the week, BBQ chicken pizza, chicken enchiladas or fajitas or quesadillas, and chicken stew. This book sounds awesome!

  25. probably plain tomato puree. I canned a whole lot of it (although, ftr, I am about to run out!). But we use at least a jar a week. 🙂

  26. Tomatoes are probably my cornerstone ingredient. If I had infinite room in the pantry for canned marinara, salsa and a variety of diced tomatoes, we’d probably eat them everyday. My family is probably glad for the limited space!

  27. I’ve been using a lot of Israeli couscous lately as a serving platform for a lot of dishes that are saucy, maybe even soup like. And homemade chicken broth that I’ve frozen in small containers is also handy.

  28. For me it’s chuck roast. I can stretch a nice chuck roast like you wouldn’t believe. Stews, pot pie, stroganoff, goulash, shredded for tacos or enchiladas, chunky chuck chili…on and on…all from one beautiful grass-fed chuck.

  29. What a great idea for a cookbook!

    My cornerstone ingredient? Well, roast chicken is the first, but really, bacon has to be second – bacon makes *everything* taste better!! 🙂

  30. My cornerstone right now is probably chicken — but even *I’m* starting to tire of it. Heh. The book looks really interesting; I’m particularly curious about the marinara chapter!

  31. Onions and peppers! We grow them and use them so faithfully. Especially peppers can twist any recipe (hot or sweet). What a useful book this is!

  32. I just recently started cooking more steak than we need, then reheating over the next two days for steak fajitas and sandwiches!

  33. Love the re-purposing roast chicken … would love more ideas than casserole and chicken soup!

  34. i would have to say roast chicken, i don’t know how many times we made that on a weekend and had endless iterations of leftovers throughout the week, soup, vodka chicken pasta, casseroles, chili, enchiladas, i can’t even remember what all we’ve made with roast chicken!

  35. Chickpeas are one of my cornerstones: in Italian and Moroccan soups, Indian dishes, chickpea and chard gratin, scattered in salads, hummous of course …

  36. My favorite is a whole roasted chicken. Now that we are down to two, I get more out of one chicken!

  37. I agree with Nick, I love having roasted chicken on hand. I will definitely check out his blog and cookbook. I like to make healthy, seasonal and inexpensive meals, as well.

  38. I think tomatoes….they seem to be present in almost everything I do. This cookbook would also be perfectly matched to my son’s cooking style, looks like a gift in the making!

  39. Beans! We cook a pot every week for beans and rice, soup, tacos, and to round out pasta or salad dishes. This looks like a great book.

  40. Rice is one of our cornerstones for meals in our house. I always make extra and then dress it up with sauted veggies, sometimes chicken or beans/legumes. My son loves “crazy rice” or “mice rice” where I hide all sorts of good-for-you food in each spoonful.

  41. I stumbled upon Nick’s blog looking for black bean burger recipes and have been hooked (and cooking from it) ever since. My husband says that my cooking has vastly improved (I did not tell him how) recently since I have been cutting back on my Southern meal staples and branching out into cusine I have never had. My favorite staple is still chicken, but beans, greens, and vegetables are fast becoming a key part of our meals!

  42. Black beans, or any beans really, are a cornerstone ingredient in my kitchen. I love this book’s concept!

  43. With two bust teenagers and random schedules, I end up repurposing leftovers all the time and would love some new ideas for roast beef and chicken.

  44. I am glad to hear I am not the only cook who gets stuck in a 7 meal rut. 🙂 My cornerstone ingredient is probably rice. I know, it’s terribly boring.

  45. Tomatoes are probably a cornerstone for me. I just want to throw some nice chopped tomatoes into/onto everything!

  46. Yes, Yes, Yes – I, too, need cheap, easy and healthy. Probably my most “go to” is my canned tomatoes – which end up as marinara sauce quite frequently. Thanks for letting us know about the book!

  47. Canned whole tomatoes. My grandmother gifted me with a box the last two years and I used them in everything. This year, I’ll try canning my own!

  48. I think I’d like to have more dinner egg recipes. I have a flock of chickens and tons of eggs and would love some dinner ideas that aren’t quiche or frittata’s.

  49. I would positively love to own this book! I love to cook and love the idea of being able to breathe new life into leftovers (because, let’s face it, by Day 3, nobody wants them). Unfortunately, I lack a certain degree of creativity in this area. Hmm, pick a favorite Cornerstone ingredient… … I supposed I will go with Chicken. I’d like to have a bigger menu selection with this meat. My chicken recipe collection is pretty limited, and I’d love to expand that, for sure.

    Thank you (and Nick!) for giving us a chance to win one of these little treasures!

  50. Leftover pasta! My favorite thing is last night’s spaghetti stir-fried in olive oil/butter with some minced garlic. So good.

  51. My Cornerstone ingredient would be roast chicken. We process our own chickens and I love slow roasting or cutting the backbone out and grilling it. Love that he wrote this all himself, a lot of work.

  52. I think this is a wonderful idea! My husband is really picky and if I can reuse more food into different dishes it would greatly help out our grocery budget. My cornerstone ingredient is cheese.

  53. I love cooking with beans. I have found so many way to use them as the base of a dish, from soups to chilis to sandwiches to salads. They are just the best!

  54. I love the idea of this cookbook! I too often struggle with dinner ideas, and repurposing leftovers is such a great skill to hone.
    My cornerstone ingredient is most likely tomatoes. — This week it’s Romesco sauce in particular!

  55. I’m with Nick. Roast chicken is the best. We usually eat that on night 1; pasta, risotto, fajitas, or stir fry on night 2; then the rest turns into soup or pot pie.

  56. In terms of “planned-overs” chicken would have to win. The other night I grilled a whole chicken and we (2 of us) had that with potato salad and a carrot and cilantro salad. Last night I made a big green salad with bacon, chicken, avocado and a ranch-style dressing. The rest may become our favorite sandwich spread or King Ranch chicken, my daughter’s favorite.

  57. I guess I would have to say my cornerstone ingredient would have to be potatoes and onions. I come almost to a complete standstill if I don’t have one or both of those ingredients
    would love this cookbook . I am very much a one pot cook.

  58. My favorite cornerstone ingredient is cooked pasta. I like to make a pound of pasta and then use it through the week. It’s a great base for casseroles, frittatas, soup, noodle bowls, and salads. And there’s something about knowing I can have buttered noodles whenever I need something a bit more comforting.

  59. I love the format of Nick’s book! This kind of interconnected cooking is the best way for my kitchen to function. I have a two way tie between our home canned crushed tomatoes and whole chickens for our household cornerstone ingredients. The majority of our favorite dishes require some part of at least one of these. My husband is always amazed at how far I can stretch one chicken between meat and broth for meals. And our girls love it when we clean the fridge and make “garbage” soup with all the odd bits left over in the fridge. One girl opens the jar of broth, one girl opens the jar of tomatoes, and then they get to pull everything out of the fridge they want to put in the soup.

  60. rice is a big cornerstone here. I always make 2-3 times more than we need. Fried rice and rice pudding are a couple of the best ways to use it up, but its also good in soups and casseroles.

  61. My cornerstone ingredient is oil. Whether it be canola, olive, grape seed or an infused oil, there are just so many different kinds that its hard to imagine cooking with out it.
    I love understanding the simple base ingredients. From there you can create anything. I do love this cookbook though, a little inspiration never hurt anyone. 🙂

  62. Not an ingredient, but I can’t cook, make a salad, chop, etc., without my handheld mandolin – just watch the blade or you’ll be wearing band-aids!

  63. We have a large variety of meals so I would have to go with onions being the common factor with most.

  64. My favorite “cornerstone” ingredient is ground beef. I can use it anything from hamburgers, to burritos, to meatloaf, to spaghetti sauce. I by grass fed ground beef in bulk when I find it on craigslist so it’s pretty affordable too.

  65. This book looks really interesting. It may sound strange, but bacon is a cornerstone ingredient for me!

  66. Love this! A book after my own heart. I’ve been doing this for years. I live by myself, so I’ve turned cooking one main ingredient into a week of meals an art-form…so to speak. But it’s always good to find new ideas to expend my ever-expanding repertoire.
    That said, my main go-to ingredient is tomato sauce. With a good batch I can make pastas, chili, sloppy sandwiches, meatloaf, various snacks, brunch eggs, burritos/tacos… So many options. That’s more winter/fall/spring type meals. In summer, a good tuna salad (oil & vinegar based) will take me through sandwiches, salads, pastas, also snacks and others.
    Thank you for bringing this book to my attention.

  67. Roast chicken, hands down! I make one every few weeks, and nobody grumbles about a few days of “leftovers.”

  68. My cornerstone is leftover meat. I can quickly turn it into stew, stir-fries, pasta topping, small casseroles, burritos, and because there is meat in there, my husband thinks I actually planned the dinner!

  69. I really want this book! I don’t even have any cornerstones! My kids and I are so busy meals have fallen by the way side. A book liek this seems like a great little kick to get me back on track.

  70. My cornerstone is definitely boneless, skinless chicken breasts. My family will eat chicken every day as long as I prepare it differently every day.

  71. Holy smokes is that a book I need. I have roast chicken carcasses in the freezer with the thighs and legs cuz there’s just two of us. I was going to just make stock with them, but since they’re organic, I’d like to do more.

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