Whether you call it a Dutch oven, French oven, cocotte, or simply a pot, I will take one in each color and size, please. I have a penchant for enameled cast iron (so much so that I work in a kitchen shop in a sleepy tourist city on the west coast of Canada), so when I saw Chernila smiling over an impressive cast iron collection, I saw a kindred spirit (and fellow cocotte hoarder).
Cast iron lust aside, I chose to cook from The Homemade Kitchen based on the subtitle: “Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure.” I was curious to read a collection of recipes written not only with pleasure in mind, but with pleasure as the guiding force. After all, what is life but a chance to make and eat beautiful things?
Alana structures the chapters of her second book (her first is The Homemade Pantry) with words she strives to live by. Lines like, “don’t be afraid of food” and “do your best, and then let go” become the mantras that inform the recipes in each section.
For example, the first chapter, “start where you are,” offers rudimentary guidelines for egg preparations—poached, scrambled, etc.—and moves onto other basics like vinaigrettes, how to cook various vegetables and grains, how to roast a chicken, and finally, concludes with more intimidating ventures, like how to make yogurt, fresh pasta, and pie crust.
The fact that Chernila puts pie crust in the same chapter as scrambled eggs is surprisingly reassuring. I find myself thinking, “If I can make eggs, maybe I can make pie, too?” She seduces you with the simplicity of it all. So there are poetic details—the observation that “time moves differently in an orchard”—and an uncluttered outlook on cooking, but the book also asks you to seize the type of cooking you want.
Never pushy or dogmatic, Chernila’s writing gently offers an array of options—a choose-your-own-adventure approach to cooking, if you will—and then steps back and lets you go wherever you’re going to go. Do you feel like making your own ricotta, tomato sauce, and fresh pasta from scratch for tonight’s dinner? Perhaps it’s a wide-open Saturday, and the expansiveness of the afternoon hours puts you in an ambitious mood, so the answer is “yes.” The Homemade Kitchen will show you how. Not feeling it? It’s a hectic, hangry Wednesday? That’s okay. No judgment. Arrive at the ingredients in whatever manner you do, and proceed from there.
This was my experience with the recipe for preserved lemon. I had every intention of making them myself, setting a gorgeous Kilner jar on my windowsill and watching the salty progress, but I forgot to allow for the full three weeks needed for the fermenting. I had only two weeks available, so I bought some at the market, and the Preserved Lemon Hummus and Fettuccine with Preserved Lemon and Roasted Garlic were still beautiful and delicious.
Next on my list will be the Broccoli Raab with Cheddar Polenta, Kefir Banana Cake, and a Chicken Potpie that looks so comforting with its pillowy biscuit topping that you might want to curl up on the kitchen floor and nap beside it.
Words and recipes aside, I was excited to discover that all of the photography in the book appears to have been taken truly in Chernila’s home using her own cookware. This is a weird detail to appreciate, but being hyperaware of her cast iron, I recognized the same pots from the first pages in later shots. There is something quite intimate about getting a window into the author’s kitchen and being privy to which pot she uses for which dish.
The stardust in this cookbook is the space Chernila leaves for you (and for herself) to be exactly who we are in this moment. It is her honesty about who she is and her willingness to endure a few fumbles along the way that help, by example, to bridge the gap between the “glowy,” romantic version of yourself and the mundane reality—because the latter, too, is precious.
In Chernila’s own words, she hopes the book will be a map leading to “the recognition that you can create the life you want out of all of the small, ordinary moments of every day.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a pie to make.
The Homemade Kitchen and author Alana Chernila
What Other Testers Had to Say:
"Best of all was gaining new confidence in my cooking abilities and skills, knowing I don’t have to be perfect. After all, as Alana says, 'Don’t be afraid of food.' While many books advocating homemade foods are intimidating, this one is reassuring and forgiving rather than daunting, like having a supportive friend in the kitchen with you. How many other cookbook authors would declare, 'Homemade food is the opposite of perfection'?
"My favorite recipe so far is the Butternut Squash Pasta with Bacon and Sage Brown Butter (using homemade pasta). The sweetness of the roasted onions and butternut squash perfectly complemented the saltiness of the bacon and subtle sage flavor that pleased even most ardent meat eater among our dinner guests. The pasta dough was not difficult to handle, and because the fresh pasta cooks in just minutes, once the vegetables and bacon were roasted, it was an easy meal to put together at the last minute. This will be a dinner party staple in my house from now on."
"The Homemade Kitchen is a cookbook for beginners—in the very best way. Alana spends time and pages explaining things like how to cook an egg or a vegetable, the value she puts on her wooden cooking tools and the joy of having her friends over to share a meal."
"In particular, it was the third chapter, Be Active, which made me realize that this book would take the home cook to a new level. Chernila explains fermentation in a simple way and helps the readers put the meaning into context in their own lives. Recipes for kefir, kimchi and preserved lemons frightened me a bit. My fear was soon replaced with anticipation as I read the recipes and realized they were very doable. I tackled the preserved lemons and I am excited for them to “grow." I cannot wait to make the hummus with preserved lemons!"
The Piglet—inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books—is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a NCAA-style bracketed tournament. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!
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