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I connected with Kelis from the opening line of her introduction in My Life on a Plate:“I am my mother’s daughter.” I could not help but pause and think about how I, too, would not have the undying love for food that I have today without my mom’s influence.
Kelis vividly recounts the moments spent assisting her mother in a bustling catering kitchen as a child; she goes on to tell the story of how she transitioned into a young musician, traveling and eating her way across the globe for shows, and then taking the leap into culinary school. Her recipes accurately depict her worldly travels: They’re full of bold, robust flavors. And that’s why I originally picked My Life on a Plate to review—I was drawn to the diversity. The recipes are unfamiliar to me, but simultaneously very approachable. This book has something for everyone; it’s a cookbook that can you can grow from and with as a home cook.
The book is divided into five distinct sections: party starters, soups and stews, sides and salads, main dishes, and treats. Kelis opens each recipe with a personal backstory or history. The tone in each, and throughout the entire book, is conversational—I could not help but think that she was there with me while I cooked and read. Each section has recipes that range from simple (Black Bean Hummus or Crispy Peking Duck) to more complex (I’m looking at you, Pastelón with Sweet Corn Béchamel!). And while some might find it strange to have a recipe for Swedish meatballs just a few pages from a recipe for pineapple-tinged stir-fry, I found this to be a charming reflection of Kelis background as a cook and an eater. Each page turn is a surprise and adventure.
For the most part, the recipes were straightforward and well-written, and I only encountered one major setback: I had high hopes for Kelis’ recipe for Butternut Squash Soup. After all, it was as effortless as chopping vegetables, simmering in liquid, and then blending. But with whole herb sprigs, intact cinnamon sticks, and dried bay leaves added to the pot, there should have been specific instructions on removing these ingredients before blending.
Even more, the instructions also lacked a specific fluid amount to be added, leaving a big margin of error depending upon the size of pot you may be using. Sadly, this soup turned out bitter (for which I blame the cinnamon) and took lots of tweaking (with citrus, salt, sugar, and heavy cream) to become edible.
After the discouraging start with the soup, I moved on to another manageable dish: Brussels Sprouts with Currants & Almonds. Brussels sprouts are easily my favorite vegetable, and I could not rest without giving Kelis’ version a shot. I usually roast my sprouts, which can take at least 35 to 40 minutes; I was absolutely blown away with the simplicity of searing and sautéing them on the stovetop. I may never go back to roasted sprouts again! The almonds and currants added a crunchy and sweet component that took the basic side dish to a more sophisticated level.
There are a fair amount of recipes in My Life on a Plate that build off one another, like a sauce in one section that’s included in a main dish recipe later in the book. This can make some of the recipes more complicated and involved than they initially appear, but at the same time, having the sauce on hand can simplify your life and future cooking.
I whipped up a batch of Kelis’ Ginger Sesame Glaze (which she also bottles and sells under the brand Bounty & Full) to go with the Shrimp and Bok Choy dish. This came together very quickly, once the glaze was made, and made for a beautiful presentation with the addition of pomegranate seeds on top. I’m big on presentation, and this meal could only be described as Instagram-worthy!
As a self-proclaimed cornbread fanatic, Kelis’ Skillet Cornbread with Candied Ginger was immediately jumping off the page at me. It was very sweet, thanks to a trifecta of sweeteners (granulated sugar, candied ginger, and a honey glaze), and therefore rightfully tucked in the sweet treats section of the book—amidst other playful pies, cakes, and donuts. Who knew that ginger and corn would pair so well together? It’s not the type of cornbread to have with your next bowl of chili, but, from experience, I’d recommend it with a cup of hot coffee on a wintry afternoon.
The wide and varied selection of recipes, for me, makes up for any downfalls I experienced with My Life on a Plate. It should come as no surprise that the artist so well known for a hit single titled “Milkshake”—and albums like “Food” and “Tasty”—would write a cookbook packed full of appealing recipes. It should be a part of every home cook’s colorful collection.