Having lived in New York for the past five years, I found that making the time to cook on a regular basis is never easy. Long working hours combined with the allure of new restaurants can easily trump planning and preparing a meal at home, whether I’m cooking for one, two, or more.
And as the cookbooks pile up on my work desk—with embellished covers and glossy photos that seem more fit for display than a messy kitchen—it can feel all the more overwhelming to take on a dish that sounds like it belongs on the Eleven Madison Park menu. Needless to say, it’s easy to make excuses.
Eli and Max Sussman’s latest contribution to the culinary scene, This is A Cookbook: Recipes For Real Life, is a light at the end of this tunnel. Even the name itself is as much a testimony to their idea of what a cookbook should look and feel like as it’s a clever nod to the fact that the paperback—which at first glance looks more like a hipster DIY manual—is actually fit for the busy person’s cooking habits.
“The last thing we want is for this book to sit on someone’s coffee table,” says Eli, a line cook at New York’s Mile EndDelicatessen. “We want this book to be dog-eared in your kitchen, and really mucked up with grease and fingerprints and flour.”
Organized into chapters like “Lazy Brunch,” “Backyard Grub,” or a “A Night In,” their’s is an expectation that is hard to resist and easy to fulfill. “Cooking is supposed to be fun and not stressful,” says Max, chef de cuisine at Roberta’sin Brooklyn. “Enjoy the process of it, put some music on, and don’t worry so much.” The guys made this last bit even easier in the iPad version, embedding their favorite cooking and party playlists right into the cookbook, so you can download them directly from iTunes.
Turns out, what these guys say is true. The recipes were not only delicious, but also straightforward and relatively inexpensive to produce. The shopping took two quick stops at the market—only because I keep my butcher and produce separate—and the prep itself required nothing but the typical tools of the trade. (As a caveat, perhaps I should add that, while I may have grown up in the kitchen, my only “training” comes from time spent with my mother, sister, and friends—an ad hoc education gleaned from the pages of Alice Waters, Ina Garten, and Mario Batali.)
Although I had to fight my dinner guests for the extra mushroom and potatoes, next time I make the beets I plan to leave out much of the yogurt and cut down on the lemon juice. But it was the pork, brined in the fridge for 24 hours, that was the highlight of the meal for everyone involved, toping the charts for the most tender meat we’d ever tasted. Lightly infused with thyme, rosemary, and garlic, even the cold leftovers were bone-licking good.
In truth, the cookbook makes for a great resource for the holidays, either to supplement the traditions at your dinner table, or as the perfect gift for an at-home cook—no matter how busy. Indeed, this cookbook is very much for real life. —Sasha Levine (@sashalevine)