Last fall, I was standing in line to meet one of my idols, Chrissy Teigen, at the Los Angeles launch of her latest cookbook, Hungry for More. I'd spent the past year cooking her first cookbook from cover to cover — and I was finally going to get to meet her in person to tell her about it.
But let me start at the beginning.
A few years ago, I set a New Year's resolution to cook my way through Chrissy Teigen's first cookbook, Cravings. She was one of my idols — and this was going to be my version of Julie & Julia. Except instead of Julie Powell and Julia Child, it'd be me and Chrissy. And instead of learning how to master beef bourguignon, I'd master homemade Buffalo wings.
So I got to work. I outlined what I'd hoped to do: Cook every single recipe in her book, take photos of each meal, and (because I have no shame in social media), tweet Chrissy every single time. I gave myself a year to do it all.
Fast forward to now, and I'm proud to report that I DID IT. The whole thing started out as just a fun personal challenge, but I actually ended up taking a ton away from the experience. So whether you're a beginner cook or a total pro — or if you're also considering cooking an entire cookbook from start to finish — here's everything I learned along the way.
Anyone can cook.
This may seem obvious, but if you're new to the kitchen, the idea that you can't cook (or that your recipes won't turn out) can be something that holds you back. You can, and they will. The best thing you can do is start simple. In Chrissy's book, she's got an entire section devoted to putting stuff on toast. It's super easy, and the confidence that'll come from successfully nailing your first recipe — even if it's just assembly — will set you up for more.
Planning your meals around shared ingredients keeps costs down.
I knew cooking an entire cookbook would be expensive. (And let's be honest: I'm not made of John Legend money.) Going into it, I broke the book down by ingredients to cut costs and limit waste. For example, if a recipe called for prosciutto, I'd compile all the other recipes that also used it, and tackle those for the day or week ahead. For breakfast I might do Spicy Tomato Skillet Eggs with Prosciutto, then Caprese Salad with Prosciutto for lunch, and Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Chicken Breasts for dinner. Even if you're not cooking a whole cookbook, the same ingredient-first thinking can apply to any sort of meal planning.
Going at your own pace is totally fine.
I gave myself a year to complete this project. I work full-time, and just like any other 20-something, I knew I wasn't going to want to be in the kitchen making from-scratch meals every single night. On average, I cooked three or four meals every week. Giving myself some days off also meant I could save time and money, and, let's be real, squeeze in some extra gym sessions. (When I'm not #CookingWithChrissy, my diet usually consists of grilled chicken and salads.)
This works even if you're cooking for one.
I am mainly cooking for one, but eating for more than that, hence those extra gym sessions. (I'm still trying to figure out how her Mac and Cheese with Cheesy Garlic Bread Crumbs serves eight to 12 when I finished it in record time.) If your plan is to similarly try everything, you can use recipe converters online to cut recipes in half, or more. I also found it helpful to invest in things like smaller, personal ramekins so every bite of mac and cheese is full of cheesy, crusty goodness. Not a mathematician? Cook the full recipe, and share with people you love.
It's important to have an open mind.
One word: catfish. I'd never tried catfish — or even wanted to — before starting Chrissy's book. But I can now say catfish is one of my favorite fishes, and I continue to eat it to this day. If you've never cooked fish before, catfish is a great starter in both technique and taste. It's extremely difficult to overcook and it manages to taste meaty but light at the same time. Her Cajun Catfish with Over-Easy Eggs will make you a convert, too.
Not all ingredients are set in stone.
I came into this adventure fully intending to make every recipe exactly as Chrissy wrote it. But her Skillet-Charred Fish Tacos ended this intention fast. The recipe called for tilapia, and I detest tilapia. I still tried it (because I wanted to trust the queen), but you can guess how that turned out. I revisited the recipe again with chicken and it was a winner. The lesson? With any recipe you are the one eating the end result, so swap in what you like and ditch what you hate.
But there are certain ingredients that shouldn't be swapped.
For me? Cream. I wish unsweetened almond milk could save the world's problems, but it just doesn't cut it in soups and casseroles. Some of the recipes call for full-fat milk, full-fat coconut milk, or cream. It's a consistency thing. My pot pie soup, tuna (chicken) noodle casserole, scalloped potatoes, and green bean casserole all tasted great, but they were too runny. Keep the cream and savor the calories.
Don't be intimidated by dishes you'd only order at restaurants.
For me, that was risotto. Even in Chrissy's version, there was no way around stirring the pot for 25 minutes — but Chrissy suggested watching bad reality TV while doing so, and in all honesty, watching Vanderpump Rules really did make the time fly. Same thing with gnocchi. It sounded way too involved to attempt making it from scratch, but I trusted Chrissy's instructions — and the joke was on me. The gnocchi itself only consisted of three ingredients (plus an easy brown butter sauce) and was done in under 30 minutes! The takeaway? Don't not try something just because a dish might seem out of your league. The instructions are there for a reason, and often times following them is easier than you think.
Cooking methods aren't make-or-break.
Pretty quickly, I realized most of Chrissy's recipes that were supposed to be fried could actually be baked. And they tasted just as good! I even baked her famous fried chicken wings. I'm still kind of embarrassed about that, but after covering them in honey and Frank's Red Hot, they were still amazing.
Chrissy calls for baking bacon, too. It's a game-changer: easy, tasty, and time-efficient. Simply place the bacon (don't overlap) onto a baking sheet, sprinkle with chopped garlic, and roast for 12 to 15 minutes. You'll end up with the most delicious, crispy bacon ever. Onion rings, however, are a no-go. I repeat: ONION RINGS CANNOT BE BAKED. I tried, I failed, I learned.
Some things might seem bizarre, but they'll turn out to be brilliant.
Before Cravings, I'd never heard of anyone putting a brick on top of chicken when cooking it. I've also lived in a Los Angeles apartment for way too long that I actually didn't even know where to find a brick. (Spoiler: Home Depot.) "Why," past me asked, "would anyone ever put a brick on chicken?" Well, friends: I found the brick, wrapped it in foil, and I ended up with some of the crispiest chicken skin ever.
Cookbooks don't always have all the answers. (But Google — and/or Martha Stewart — do.)
There's a recipe for whole-roasted branzino in Chrissy's book — it's something that she's obsessed with. But the recipe isn't exactly for rookies: it calls for you to filet and stuff the entire thing, which I had never done. Thankfully, these days there are free online how-tos for everything. Take advantage of them! Special shoutout to Martha Stewart for providing the perfect filet video tutorial. And yes, I still managed to avoid looking my charred friend in the eyes the entire time.
It's totally fine to take shortcuts.
As Ina Garten says, store-bought is fine. Seriously. In Chrissy's book, there's a recipe called I Can't Believe It's Not Gardetto's. My advice is to save yourself $15 in ingredients and an hour of your time by buying a bag of Gardetto's snack mix instead. Toast it for a few minutes in the oven with some more seasoning and pull it out when guests arrive — they won't believe it's not Gardetto's either.
Most of all? Have fun with it!
Cooking doesn't always have to be so serious. Every time I cooked a recipe, I'd do what every millennial does: snap a photo and tweet it to @chrissyteigen. (Her and John both have liked many of my posts — including me recreating Chrissy's now-infamous chicken wings photo — which added fuel to my fire.) It was fun, and it also kept me motivated and on track. Similarly, if you're looking for ways to make sure you stick with something, like a resolution to cook more, tell others about it! Instagram it, invite friends over to try it, make it social.
Today, I'm one third of the way cooking through my autographed copy of Cravings 2, and Chrissy has hit another home run. The saga continues and I'm looking forward to the next chapter of dishes, laughs, and learnings. Hail to the queen.