Read up on some of 2013's most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.
Homemade with Love is a wonderful cookbook with a refreshingly simple premise: Cooking from scratch is possible -- and even achievable -- for busy, working families. While this concept has been done by others, in Jennifer Perillo’s hands, it feels original. Reading and cooking from this book made me feel like I was hanging out with an old friend. The tone of the book is warm, easygoing, and encouraging. The photography is charming, and the slice-of-life headnotes are anecdotal and inviting, persuading me to make many of these recipes, from the Lemon Buttermilk Doughnuts to the Broccoli Rabe and Fresh Ricotta Frittata.
Jennie, a long-time Food52 member (the book features several of her winning recipes, including the amazing Creamy Homemade Ricotta and Homemade Manicotti), is the author of the popular blog In Jennie’s Kitchen, where she writes about family and food and how they intersect. A few years ago, Jennie’s life changed when her husband, Mikey, passed away suddenly. His presence, as well as that of their two young daughters, can be deeply felt in the pages of this book. Cooking helped Jennie to grieve, heal, and connect with loved ones again.
Jennie encourages readers to stock a “from-scratch” pantry as she does. I was surprised at how little active time I needed to invest in her pantry recipes. I loved the nut butters and the Vegetable Bouillon, both of which came together quickly. I was initially skeptical of the All-Purpose Baking Mix, but became a convert when I realized that I could use it to make warm breakfasts, even on busy weekday mornings. With this baking mix on hand, pancakes can be on the table in just 15 minutes.
Jennie’s cooking mantra is to eat locally and seasonally, and although she's not a vegetarian, she features lots of fresh vegetables in her cooking. Most of her recipes contain easy-to-find ingredients and are simple to prepare. That said, Jennie offers some creative twists to her recipes that lift them above the ordinary, and every recipe I tried was a hit. I loved her chicken pot pie, which uses easy-to-make drop biscuits instead of the usual daunting pastry crust. Her tomato and fresh mozzarella panzanella salad has you slow-roast the tomatoes, which brings out their sweetness and contrasts beautifully with the creamy mozzarella cheese. Her delicious vegetarian meatballs are made with ricotta and lentils, which result in a less pricey, healthier alternative to those made with ground beef. And her chocolate cupcakes were quickly embraced by my eight-year-old daughter; I too adored how moist and tender they were, and how the cocoa gave them just enough chocolate heft. But most of all, I loved that I could whip them together with a whisk and no mixer.
While this book is tilted toward beginning cooks, there is plenty here to appeal to those more experienced in the kitchen. I wish that this book had a little more depth (more seafood and meat and poultry recipes, please), but that’s a minor quibble. What won me over was how Jennie has reinvented and streamlined classic home comfort food recipes that are exactly what I want to cook and eat now. I tested about ten recipes, and I have post-its on a dozen more pages. I look forward to continuing to make my way through this lovely, inspiring cookbook.