If you're a long-time reader of my blog - in which case, how are you still here? and also why the hell haven't you said anything this whole time? - you might remember an older series I used to write on this blog, called "Tastee-Reads," in which I would give general reviews to cookbooks I'd read and enjoyed.
Here's the deal, though: while I love reading cookbooks all the time, I'm a lot worse at actually remembering to use them. I'm a champion of frantic, last-minute Pinterest searching for an easy recipe or a quick fix for something in my fridge, but when it comes to actually referring to these stacks of printed marvels scattered across my room, I'm not exactly at the top of my game.
So, towards the end of 2020, when I was setting more than a few cooking-related resolutions for the year - "learn how to bake bread," "get better at tasting wine," "figure out salad dressing," "find a signature no-fail way to roast chicken" - I also decided to embark on a bit of a project: for the next twelve months, I'd focus on one cookbook for the whole of the month. I would read it cover to cover, including all of the appendixes, intros, and other various parts I don't always read, and most importantly, I would use it to cook, at a bare minimum, three different recipes contained therein.
To recap: 1. Choose one cookbook per month. 2. Read the whole cookbook. 3. Use it to test at least three different recipes. Doesn't sound too difficult, right? All it would take from me is a little bit of effort, a little bit of grocery planning, and some maybe outside-my-wheelhouse techniques or ingredients.
Without a lot of thought, I embarked into my first month of the Resolution, with one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, Christina Tosi's Milk Bar Life.
reviewing the cookbook
(Psst! I've actually reviewed Milk Bar Life on the blog before, as a part of the aforementioned Tastee-Reads series. I even made one of the recipes from the cookbook, for her mom's signature "Greta Cookie Bars." But that doesn't really mean I've fully verbalized my affection for this book.)
I was first drawn to Christina Tosi's Milk Bar Life cookbook, when I first plucked it from the shelves of my local library, shortly after its publication in 2015. The cover - filled with Fruity Pebbles, potato chips, pretzels, and Ritz crackers, and a shocking neon pink title - was more than enough to thrill me... back when I had never heard of Tosi before.
Upon entering its pages, though, I really got to encounter not only these supermarket standbys, but the technical acumen and impressive resume of Tosi herself. I came for the home-baked feelings of her Midwestern upbringing, but stayed for the insider peek at the life of a successful chef and kitchen manager. It wasn't just youthful spark and energy that coursed through its pages, flinging around ingredients like Tang powder and Doritos with unrestrained glee, but the industry savvy and professional know-how that generated chapter divisions for "Family Meals" before shifts, or "Weak Nights," for days when pro-cheffing has run you ragged. She drops important names and brags about how she orders takeout from restaurants with three-hour waiting lists, because she knows the owner. On the other hand, her recipe for "Cinnamon Buns" is proposed in the framing of a morning after a sleepover, the ingredients list portioned under the headers of "Dem Bunz" and "Dat Goo."
Tosi has attained a level of professional success and industry accolades that few are able to obtain, let alone sustain. Now, the overseer of Milk Bars (and their affiliated franchising) across the country, as well as a judge on Master Chef and regular fixture of various forms of food media - one of her now-iconic cakes was used throughout the promotional marketing for the second season of Netflix's Chef's Table - Tosi is a verifiable celebrity chef... one that has never lost her roots.
Maybe that's why I still love this cookbook better than any of her others, and why I still check it out multiple times a year. Funny enough, I haven't actually cooked all that much from this cookbook at all; barring a past foray into the Greta Square cookies, the recipes house here have remained merely inspirational, or, in the case of the "Spaghetti-O and Breakfast Sausage Sandwich," firmly in the realm of entertainment.
Truly, this is a cookbook worth reading in its own right, even if you never pick up a spatula yourself. It remains completely within the correct genre, but communicates its subject as personally and authentically as any memoir. I didn't really learn to cook a lot from Christina Tosi, but I learned a lot about Christina Tosi from her cookbook, and being that so much of food and the restaurant industry is about sharing perspectives, Milk Bar Life can be counted - in my view - as a real credit to the genre.
Despite the fact that I've read this cookbook multiple times over the past five years, I've not really given much thought to what among them I'd cook. Instead, I installed myself on the comfy side of my bed one afternoon with a large stack of sticky notes, and painstakingly made my way through every single recipe, reading every single introduction, ingredients list, and instruction to figure out which would fit within my particular skill set and interests. Here's what I picked out:
Upon exiting the oven, my brother took a bewildered bite, and said, "I'm confused. It's good, but confusing." A crunchy, delicious cookie, partially constructed from crumbled Ritz crackers added to a fairly rudimentary sugar cookie dough. It did force me to confront an unfamiliar cooking ingredient - nonfat powdered milk! - that offered an interesting tang and depth, as well as a really full container left to figure out how to use elsewhere in my life. After a few days sitting in Tupperware, they got a little too dense and chewy, so if you make them, eat them quickly!
Burnt Honey Butter (and Burnt Honey Butter Kale)
Ooh, boy. I'm a little confused about how to describe this one... on one hand, t was pretty cool to do a controlled burn on a quarter cup of honey; on the other hand, I didn't really love the outcome (too bitter, not all that sweet... then again, that might have been my bad, as the end result was entirely too salty!). The butter's best application was probably in kale format, to mitigate some of that fatty feeling. Just make sure you don't overcook it, as the kale will attempt to disintegrate on touch if left in for too long!
Like I said, one of my other intentions with this coming cooking year, is to figure out a signature, no-fail way to cook a chicken... and despite this being a strong first attempt, as you can tell from the picture, it didn't quite turn out the way I wanted it to. That all being said, it did result in a really flavorful, moist bird, with a little bit of lemon-y flavor, that yielded plenty of leftovers throughout the week!
The perfect means of utilizing that leftover chicken meat, these Chicken Puffs are a crazy-easy means of making best use of a few recognizable supermarket staples! Just grab yourself a block of cream cheese, a tube of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, and some seasoned bread crumbs, and you've whipped up an easy, warm, handheld dish for these colder months.
Overall, I'm really pleased with how this first foray into following my resolution has gone! Sure, there were some hiccups - for instance, don't leave a whole important monthly resolution thing for the last five days before your non-renewable library copy is due back - but for the most part, I learned a lot, and had a lot of fun.
In particular, so many of these lessons came just from my first attempt at a Roast Chicken. This is one of those resolutions I thought of as really daunting at first, and I totally made more than a few mistakes with this initial undertaking (note to self: learn how to carve a chicken properly before your next attempt!). However, all that's going to do is set me up for more success in the future, as I learn more, and try out new techniques.
And at the end of the day, I'm still crazy in love with this cookbook! Sure, not everything worked out like I wanted it to, and I'm probably going to stay away from caramelizing honey for a little while. I've still got my own favorite cookie recipes, none of which are found in Tosi's lineup. But it is so bright, cheerful, inviting, and inspiring, I feel like it deserves a place of better prominence in not only my bookshelf, but Tosi's catalog, as well. I really just need to suck it up, and buy a copy for myself!
What do you think of my Resoution? Are you a Christina Tosi fan? Let me know, in the comments below!