"The question I get asked most is, 'How do I learn to cook without a recipe?'" Says writer and cookbook author Dawn Perry. "And that's, just learning to cook. I liken it to getting from A to B on a map. If I've never been there before, I need directions. Once I've been there a couple of times, then I can throw away the maps and the apps."
It's true. The best way to become the kind of person who can put together some easy dishes from whatever is in the kitchen is to first understand how to cook. It's not about becoming a chef with master level knife skills; it's just about discovering your own tastes. It takes trying out recipes to learn that a dish is better if you double the garlic or add a squeeze of lemon (true, by the way, 90% of the time.). "But," as Perry says, "It's not very nice to push people beyond their comfort level. So I think you've got to give them some easily executed steps to build confidence."
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Perry's her new book, "Ready, Set, Cook: How To Make Good Food with What's On Hand (No Fancy Skills, Fancy Equipment, or Fancy Budget Required)" delivers exactly what the title promises. It's both a cookbook and a guidebook, a step-by-step outline for creating a real world kitchen routine to live with. Build a smart larder, cook a bunch of vegetables ahead of time and pull them out all week, and elevate it all with some homemade spice blends, marinades and crunchy things. Her recipes for comfort classics like pan roasted chicken thighs and pasta with meatballs deliver because they trust you, the home cook, to bring what you have on hand to the party.
I knew Perry was the virtual friend I wanted at my side as soon as I saw her croutons recipe — because if you've got croutons, you're pretty much always halfway to dinner. I was likewise cheered to see her inclusion of a recipe for coconut crisps, the most addictive snack in the world.
I first started making coconut chips several years ago, when I developed an expensive addiction to a brand called Dang! chips. Making my own version in the oven was cheap and easy, and the end result was even better tasting than the original. Since then, I've branched out to chipping other foods as well — like apples and tomatoes. You don't need any special equipment, just a little patience.
But coconut remains my top love. My recipe tweaks Perry's a little; I omit the paprika and sub maple syrup for sugar. Feel free to improvise your own verison. These take all of two minutes to prepare, and you'll want to put them on everything. They're fantastic on yogurt or added to granola; they look very nice on top of a cake. The best way to enjoy them, however, is straight out of your hand whenever a hunger attack occurs. They're perfect — salty, sweet, toasty and so, so crunchy.
Salty and sweet maple coconut chips
Inspired by Dawn Perry's "Ready, Set, Cook"
Makes 1 cup
- 1 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes (sometimes labeled coconut chips)
- 1/2 teaspoon of flaky salt
- 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon of coconut or olive oil
- Preheat your oven to 300°F.
- Line your largest baking sheet with parchment.
- In a large bowl, toss coconut, salt, syrup and oil until well coated.
- Spread your coconut all over the sheet and bake from 5 - 10 minutes, checking after 5. They should be lightly golden.
- Remove from oven and let cool completely before storing, so they don't steam and get limp.
- Store in an airtight container up to three months — they will not last nearly that long.
More easy recipes we love:
- The best brownies are gluten free and have soy sauce in them — really
- A chocolate sandwich tastes exactly as comforting as it sounds
- Nadiya Hussain's bread pudding will have you baking with ice cream