Cook it Up! A Cookbook Challenge

I'm late to the party. I'm always late to the party. Except when it comes to arriving at actual parties - those we are often obnoxiously on-time for, unstylishly punctual because my husband believes on time is late. So, here I am, showing up late, apologizing, but here.

Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity dreamed up a new Challenge a few weeks ago: use the cookbooks that have been gathering dust on your shelves for too long. I've been playing around with some new meal-planning ideas lately, so I was in. But then, Saturday's link-up arrived, and we were helping friends move, so late. Ah well. Let's Cook it Up, shall we?

A few Christmases ago, I bought myself The Smitten Kitchen cookbook. Paid full price. Almost pre-ordered it, but then held out that someone would get it for me for Christmas. They didn't, so I did. And it is as beautiful and fun as Deb's blog (which keeps being deliciously good even after a book). If you are a long-time reader around here, you may recall my initial response to the book, however, was less than favorable. The word for it was underwhelming. At the end of that post, I mentioned a Black Bean Ragout recipe that might be the answer to my prayers, so we were holding out hope. 

But then. THEN. I made the recipe, and it, too, was underwhelming. Not bad, certainly. Just not what I was hoping. Granted, I may have not had a dried chile at the time or had to make minor changes, but it just wasn't great. Yesterday, I decided to give it another chance. Y'all. I am so glad I did.

These beans are easy, delicious, and just about perfect after a few changes made to suit our preferences. Deb has come through once again!

The other new recipe I tried didn't come from a cookbook exactly. The thing is, I pin recipes on Pinterest like it's my job, and sometimes they sit there forever without being tried. So, my Cook it Up challenge is gonna involve a real book recipe and a Pinterest recipe each time. Deal with it. Trish said I could make my own rules.

Last night it was Classic Crab Cakes from Cooking Light magazine. They too were really easy! Totally a weeknight meal, but finished like a restaurant dish. I don't have photos though they were really pretty and golden. Sorry bout that. So, success. Thanks, Trish, for the great idea and the push to make some great food. 

Oh, and the aforementioned meal-planning change? I am loving it. I have switched from planning our meals for the next week each weekend to planning our meals for each MONTH near the end of each month. I sit down with my calendar and my computer, and I number the days of that month out on a piece of notebook paper. Then, I jot down any activities that will affect our dinner plans - things like Joel having a dinner presentation at school, or a weekend trip, or whatever. Then, I open Pinterest (or my cookbooks!) and choose a meal for each night we need dinner. I schedule a few days as OPEN because there will undoubtedly be times we go to friends' or need to eat leftovers, but this way, most days have something already planned. It guarantees that I will be more creative because I used to be thoughtful about providing variation to each week of meals, but now I am reluctant to repeat anything (except pizza, which I could eat everyday) during a single month. It is also flexible, so if I have salmon on the menu for the third week, but it goes on sale during the second week, I can pick it up on sale, and shift whatever was there to that slot in the third week. Finally, it reduces the number of opportunities for me to muck up the plans and end up having to grab something out, so it should save us some money too! 

Once I've got it planned, I transfer it to a Google Drive document and stick the original paper list in my notebook (which carried my whole life in it). Here's what it looks like with the links from Pinterest added in. This way, I can also put my shopping list right there and have it at hand wherever I may be. 

Though planning a whole month might seem like a lot for some, for me, it feels quicker and easier to do it all at once. I highly recommend it!


  1. Your bean dish looks delicious and I've pinned the crab cake recipe. The recipe I recently tried is much more basic, but I'll bet the Old Bay, dijon,etc. give this much more flavor!

    I usually plan menus for a week, but am so impressed you are organized enough to do it a month in advance!

    1. I'm not convinced it takes more organization exactly - just more commitment in the moment. But even then, it doesn't take that long to just roll it all out. The dijon did make the crab cakes extra yum in my opinion. Thanks for stopping by, JoAnn!

  2. I don't know if I could plan for a whole month! I think I would just get bored with what I already decided or life would get in the way and I'd throw out the whole plan. I'm bad at plans like that ;). But I love hearing about other people's plans! I wasn't wowed by the Smitten Kitchen book, I just prefer her blog. I do think I'm going to have to participate in this challenge this month, though!!!

    1. Do participate!! It is always fun to have something to push you in a different direction, and Trish is so good at that! I understand that planning the whole month might not be for everyone, but it works for me. For instance, we got invited to eat with friends one night this week, so now I just need to go in and shift the meal for that day to one of the open days. It's good for me to limit my options that much while still keeping creative. Good to hear from you, Lu! And congrats again on the move!