Here I am . . . with another episode of Unpacking My Cookbooks.

Last month, I left us all hanging . . . since I hadn’t chosen my next cookbook when I last posted. In the end, I decided to return to my original intention for this challenge by choosing one of my long time, go-to cookbooks — one full of family-favorite recipes I could make in my sleep. I wanted to challenge myself to try some different recipes for a change. Here’s the cookbook . . .

For me, this is one of . . . those . . . cookbooks. (I’m sure you have them, too.) Stained pages. Broken bindings. The book just automatically opens to favorite recipes my whole family loves. (In fact, both kids make many of the recipes from this book in their own adult lives.) This is my go-to cookbook for . . . baked ziti, pasta carbonara, sopa seca, chicken enchiladas, pad thai. And . . . it shows!


I’ve always liked Cooks Illustrated cookbooks, and I was a long-time subscriber to their magazine (back in the day). I have always appreciated their testing and reporting-back approaches, and the recipes are generally easy-to-follow with consistent results. I like the 30-minute nature of these recipes, although I tend to be a slow cook and often, I find things take me longer than the stated 30 minutes (usually closer to 45). I got my copy of The Best 30-Minute Recipe cookbook back in 2006, when it first came out, and it has been in heavy rotation in my kitchen ever since. (It’s still in print and available. Here’s an Amazon link, where it’s currently selling for $20.77.)

So. What did I cook?


First, I tried the Quick Maple-Glazed Pork Chops (p 211). I served them with a salad and the roasted sweet potatoes I “discovered” in my last challenge (only this time I remembered the chopped pistachios) (I told you they’d become a go-to recipe for me). These pork chops were really good – both Tom and I loved them – BUT it took me longer than 30 minutes, for sure. (Closer to 45.) I’m sure I’d get quicker at it if I made them a few more times. The glaze was perfection, I gotta say. Tom would’ve preferred eating two pork chops for dinner (the recipe makes 4 chops), but we opted to have a meal of leftovers the next day instead. The recipe does include two variations (one with star anise and one with orange essence) that also look delicious. If you’re looking for a nice, solid meat meal — and your family eats pork — this is a very nice option.


Next, I tried Pasta with Shrimp, Garlic, and Lemon (p172), served with roasted broccoli and pumpkin bread (Smitten Kitchen, if you’re interested). It was very tasty, and Tom loved it, but . . . for a 30-minute recipe (which translates to me as a quick way to get dinner on the table when you’re busy), it was awfully fussy. Not many ingredients, but a lot of steps — and prep dishes and pots. Which means – for me – even though this was delicious and we had plenty for leftovers, I probably won’t make it again. Just too much hassle (including clean up) for a “quick” meal.


Next, I tried Chicken Curry with Potatoes and Cauliflower (p 88). Winner-Winner-Chicken-Dinner! This one will certainly move into “regular rotation” status. Tom and I both enjoy curry, and this one did not disappoint. It was quick (I made it in slightly less than 30 minutes), and delicious. I served it over rice (I make my rice in a rice cooker), and it was a perfect one-dish dinner. Plenty of leftovers, too. I made a couple of recipe substitutions: I forgot to buy frozen peas when I was shopping, so I subbed in golden raisins. (Folks who know me well will think I did this on purpose — because I really don’t like peas. But I really did just forget. I use peas in recipes when called for because Tom likes them.) I also didn’t use cilantro (I’m one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes like soap. . .), so I added a few handsful of spinach instead. Both subs worked really well. I also used spicy curry (because we like a lot of spice), but it would be delicious with mild curry, too.


And to finish off the challenge, I made Penne with Chicken, Broccoli, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes (p 169). (My photo here does not show the actual dish very well, but you can see what it looked like in the big photo at the top of the page.) Although I noted that it was “pretty simple” in my notes, it did take me 45 minutes to make and . . . used a lot of pots. We really liked the flavor combination, though — it tasted “bright” and not “stodgy” like a lot of skillet pasta dishes can. This was really good, with plenty of leftovers, so it’s something I’ll definitely make again.

So. That’s four recipes . . . and I’ll make three of them again. Like I mentioned, this cookbook is one I already use a lot, so I consider this a successful exercise in expanding my options.

What’s next?

Well, inspired by the current season of The Great British Baking Show, I’m going to turn to a baking cookbook I’ve had on my shelf for a while . . .

I’ve got a couple of favorite recipes in this cookbook already, but I’m eager to try other options in the book. And I just love Dorie Greenspan. I think this is the perfect season for baking — and Tom is thrilled about my choice.  So stay tuned! I’ll report back in about a month.

In the meantime, have you tried any good recipes lately? And are you a fan of The Great British Baking Show? (Who’s your favorite baker this season???)


Past cookbooks I’ve unpacked:

Season Two

Lemon Love & Olive Oil (Mina Stone) — September 2023

Season One

Smitten Kitchen Keepers (Deb Perelman) — May 2023

Love Real Food (Kathryne Taylor) — April 2023

I Dream of Dinner (so you don’t have to) (Ali Slagle) – March 2023

Dinner in One (Melissa Clark) – February 2023

Bittman Bread (Mark Bittman and Kerri Conan) – January 2023

Go-To Dinners (Ina Garten) – December 2022

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Mark Bittman) – November 2022