I Cooked From "Joy Of Cooking" Every Day For A Week. Here's How It Went.
Joy of Cooking, the most-published cookbook in the U.S., has a pretty joyless origin story. Author Irma S. Rombauer self-published the book in 1931 as a way to overcome her grief following her husband’s suicide. You could say cooking does bring joy and a comforting distraction during hard times. Look at how many of us turned to cooking and baking during quarantine!
I didn’t always get joy from cooking because I lacked confidence in it. My friend Eve suggested I start reading cookbooks to learn how to cook. Cooking classes were more my thing and over time I started to feel more confident in the kitchen, understanding how ingredients blended together and experimenting with my own recipes, like a crowd-pleasing Brussels sprout and pancetta dish that takes like no time (just steam the halved Brussels sprouts in the pancetta fat and then toss together and top with shaved parmesan cheese, so good!). I started to find cooking meditative, in fact, as I started to find more joy in it.
So when Brit + Co editor Maggie McCrackensuggested I spend a week cooking from Joy of Cooking for a story, I was totally game. It’s just my somewhat picky 7YO daughter and me (and our dog!) at home but I rallied some additional taste testers to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of my labor. I decided to try a meat, chicken, fish, and vegetarian recipe, plus one sweet dish. Here’s how it went.
Cauliflower With Brown Butter Breadcrumbs
I was feeling cauliflower for my Meatless Monday a) because it's one of the few veggies my kid will eat and this Natalie Portman video made we crave a whole head of cauliflower like never before (she makes it seem so tasty!).
This is a pretty easy dish to make. Simply steam or roast a head of cauliflower. Then melt 4 tablespoons of butter, add 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs, S&P, and fry for about 2 minutes. Add juice from half a lemon. Watch it sizzle! Then, pour the buttery breadcrumbs over your cauliflower. You can top with a hard-boiled egg and/or herbs like parsley or rosemary.
Joy of Cooking has what seems like every recipe you could ever want to make, including basics like how to hard-boil an egg. Rombauer and subsequent authors (all of whom were family) do a good job of giving recipes a back story or recommending a wine to go with or simply explaining in-depth details of a vegetable like celery.
It doesn't feature recipe photos, which makes a novice cook like me have to Google the dish to make sure it looks the way it's supposed to (this one was close).
Not-so-pro tip: I do wish I had baked the cauliflower after tossing with breadcrumbs, which other recipes for Cauliflower Polonaise (the French version of this dish) do. It tasted good enough (how can you go wrong with brown-butter bread crumbs!) but I think that would have made it 100% better. Grade: B-
Tuesday: Dinner Guests
This is one of my favorite meals and seemed like a good recipe for dinner guests with kids so I invited my friend Kim over with her daughter Ella (double play date!). The kids like the meat and egg noodles and I could always put the sauce on the side as an option (neither was brave to dig into the sauce).
I cooked up the ingredients in my Great Jones Dutch Oven and skipped the optional tablespoon of cognac (didn't want to splurge for just a tablespoon). I also went light on black pepper because of the kiddos.
Also, I love a good cooking playlist - this one seemed appropriate for this cozy recipe. We all agreed that the dish was tasty and for me, it was better than another Stroganoff recipe that I made online, but not the best. (The America’s Test Kitchen version is better.) Still, you can’t go wrong with meat and noodles and heavy cream. It made for great leftovers with a little hot sauce the next day! Grade: A-
Wednesday: WFH Lunch
I once had an idea for a food truck (painted in green chalkboard paint) that had all of my childhood lunch favorites, like PB&J, a classic grilled cheese, and of course tomato soup. It’s my daughter’s favorite too.
This recipe was so easy to make and lasted a few lunches. The taste? Like an elevated Campbell’s soup, with slightly more texture.
I ended up adding a little red pepper to spice it up. Mmm...mmm... Grade: B
Tomato Soup Recipe from Joy of Cooking
Heat in a soup pot over medium-low heat:
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- Add and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned, about 10 minutes:
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 pounds of tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped with their juices OR two 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes, chopped
Simmer until the tomatoes are covered in their own liquid, about 25 minutes. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or in batches in a food processor or regular blender) until smooth. Return to the pot and stir in:
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- (1/4 heavy cream)
Thursday: Date Night
Coq au vin
Or chicken braised in wine... I remember loving this dish on a trip to Paris but never made it myself at home. Here was my chance to return the favor to my S.O. who has splurged on many decadent dinners. We both live in Northern CA's wine country and he's a total foodie/wine guy. He was up for being my guinea pig for my first Coq au vin.
I had a lot of fun cooking this up, even though there were a ton of ingredients and it took a couple of hours. I used my onion chopping skills that I learned in my Sur la Table knife skills class. The recipe calls for a dry wine. I used Sonoma-Cutrer Founders Reserve Pinot Noir in honor of my hometown Sonoma.;)
This turned out to be my *favorite* recipe of the week. The S.O. loved it too and compared it to a fancy French restaurant in Napa (pats herself on the back). The leftovers were amazing too! Grade: A
Salmon Beurre Blanc
My French friend's mom made us wild salmon with beurre blanc sauce one summer and it was one of the best meals I have ever had in my life. I couldn't wait to replicate it.
I like to bake my salmon at 375 degrees for about 15 mins, loosely covered in foil and topped with olive oil, lemon, and salt. It's one of my go-to dishes and guests love it.
For the beurre blanc sauce I admittedly screwed up. I let it reduce too long so I lost a bit of that wine and vinegar flavor that I love in the sauce. It tasted more on the buttery/oniony side. My bad! Here's the recipe to try it yourself:
Beurre Blanc Recipe from Joy of Cooking
Combine in a small skillet over medium heat:
- 6 Tbsp. dry white wine (I used La Crema Chardonnay)
- 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 3 Tbsp. minced shallots
- Salt and pepper to taste
Bring to a simmer and simmer, uncovered, until reduced by three-quarters. Stir in:
- 1 Tbsp. heavy cream
Remove from heat and add one piece at a time, whisking constantly, until the sauce is creamy and pale:
- 1 stick (4 ounces) cold butter, preferably unsalted, cut into 8 pieces.
Add each piece before the previous one has completely melted, or the sauce will separate. If you need a bit more heat to soften the butter, set the pan briefly over very low heat. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, if desired. Season with salt and pepper.
Whipped cream has become our go-to treat at home since there are essentially no carbs in it (who knew?!). My daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes this past summer so we've had to cut down on carbs but I don't want to deprive her too much. Strawberries are a low-carb fruit (just 6 grams for half cup). This whole breakfast rounded out to 27 carbs, nearly half the usual pancake breakfast.
I enlisted my sous chef to mix the crepe ingredients. I then whipped the batter in my Nutribullet. You could also use almond flour but I wanted to stick to the recipe here for a true taste-test. I will swap for almond next time. Rombauer suggests flipping the crepes the French way with "a quick flick of the wrist." I made several attempts and this was the best one!
We both thought they had a hint of French toast flavor and with a mix of strawberries and whipped cream and a dash of powered sugar they were the right texture and tasted divine. They make a great afternoon snack too! Grade: A
All in all, I thought all of the recipes were super easy to follow, even the more elaborate ones. I felt at ease making everything and even the mistakes I made still made a good meal. Bravo to Rombauer for making such an essential cookbook. It's seriously going to be my gift to any new cook.
Have you cooked from Joy of Cooking? What have been your favorite recipes? Share with us @BritandCo!
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Theresa Gonzalez is a content creator based in San Francisco and the author of Sunday Sews. She's a lover of all things design and spends most of her days momming her little one Matilda.