I Tried to Learn to Cook With Celebrity Cookbooks (And It Almost Worked)

My spirit guides in the battle for culinary competence.

Three of my major adult relationships have been with chefs and I don't think it's a coincidence. I can't cook and I won't cook. I hate everything about it. I hate the boring amount of prep. I hate standing next to a hot stove for an interminably long time. And I definitely hate doing dishes.

When not dating chefs, my life is fueled exclusively by a combination of take-out, stuff I can make from Trader Joe's in 10 minutes (pasta, packet risotto, etc) and crap I can throw into ovens and ignore (frozen pizza, spanakopita, samosas). Well aware of the fact that this is no way to live, my new year's resolution was to learn how to cook for myself without becoming morbidly depressed in the process. So I did what I do whenever I'm having a personal crisis—I turned to famous people.

I picked up a randomly selected bunch of celeb cookbooks from my friends' kitchens and threw myself at my woefully underused kitchen. Recipes were mostly selected by a process of meat avoidance because my fear of salmonella is real.

Here's how it went...

Book 1: Food, Health and Happiness, Oprah Winfrey

Sponsored

Dish: Basic Tomato Soup 

Oprah was top of my list for many reasons. Her unerring commitment to helping every day Americans. Her vocal appreciation of bread. Her horror at white people's inability to season chicken. And—best of all—she made a recipe with the word "basic" in front of it! The b-word made me think this soup would require minimum effort. But I was wrong. I was so very, very wrong. Do you know how long it takes to peel and dice six large tomatoes, a large carrot, two sticks of celery and 3 cloves of garlic? Significantly longer than walking to the store and buying tomato soup, I'll tell you that much...

Result: It was fine. It tasted like Pacific tomato soup with worse consistency and more basil. Then it gave me heartburn. Massive fail.

Oprah's is the one that looks like soup. Mine's the one that looks like salsa.
Oprah's is the one that looks like soup. Mine's the one that looks like salsa.

 

Book 2: Cravings, Chrissy Teigen

Dish: (John Was Skeptical About This) Vegetable Tortilla Stew

At the end of 2018, Cravings had sold almost half a million copies, and Chrissy's follow-up, Hungry For More, was flying off the bookshelves. This undeniable popularity made me assume the recipes would be accessible and straight-forward, so I was disappointed by how time-consuming they turned out to be. To make this tortilla stew easier, I decided to cut a pretty major corner and not put any rice in it. (Look. Every time I attempt to make rice, I have to throw a saucepan out, and I am just really sick of doing that...) Unfortunately, once I realized how insanely, burn-your-lips-off spicy this was sans rice, I flew into a blind panic and started throwing things in it in an attempt to take the edge off. Those things were as follows: a ton of grated cheese, nutritional yeast, half a block of tofu and a single Laughing Cow triangle (it was my last one!).

Result: This thing had to be on the stove for, like, an hour. Are there even any nutrients left in food if you cook it for an hour?! This was less of a stew, in the end, and more of a spicy vegetable-tofu-cheese mash up. It was pretty tasty but definitely not worth the hassle.

I tried to make the thing on the left. It was too hard, so I made the thing on the right instead.

 

Book 3: The Kind Diet, Alicia Silverstone

Dish: Crispy Tofu Slices With Orange Dipping Sauce 

I was vegan for two years and it is literally the most hated I have ever felt in my entire life. There is resentment towards this particular lifestyle choice that borders on the hysterical. So I was keen to include Alicia's Kind Diet to prove all the veg-haters wrong and maybe do something a little healthier. I love tofu, I love orange. This dish looked like a perfect after-work snack. Things started out great. During the cooking process, I was so stoked.  "Look what I can do!" I yelled at my dog at one point, far too smugly. "Could fried tofu really be this simple?"

Result:  Well, no actually. Mine ended up looking fine, but tasting like slices of nothing that had been rolled in sand. As for the sauce? I followed exact instructions and it came out way too watery, and exactly what you think maple syrup and orange juice mixed together would taste like. Goddamnit, Alicia, I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!

No. I don't know why my orange sauce looks like miso soup.
No. I don't know why my orange sauce looks like miso soup.


Book 4: In the Kitchen With Kris, Kris Jenner

Dish: Turkey and Cheese Enchiladas 

Initially, when I started this dish, I felt bitter about taking cooking instructions from a woman who transparently hasn't stepped foot in a kitchen for anything other than Chardonnay since the mid-'90s. However, the benefit of this quickly presented itself, as Kris actively asked me to cut corners. Enchilada sauce? Buy it from a supermarket! Roast turkey? Get it from a deli! As a result, the recipe was so foolproof, even when I added avocado and bell pepper to the dish (because adult meals are supposed to have some sort of vegetable content), it was a piece of cake.

Result: You know those people who think Kris Jenner's main talent is making talentless people feel talented? They're right! This made me feel like a competent cook for the first time in my entire life. My enchilada came out so freakin' delicious (like, restaurant-level good), I could make it for another human and not even be mortified afterward. Finally, some progress! Can I have a makeup line now please, Aunty Kris, because I feel unstoppable!

The fancy orange dish I used was a gift that had only previously been used as a key holder.
The fancy orange dish I used was a gift that had only previously been used as a key holder.

 

Book 5: Stirring Up Fun With Food,
Sarah Michelle Gellar (and Gia Russo)

Dish: Roasted Vegetable Lasagna Cups  

I don't know if it was the high that comes with one's first enchilada win, or simply the spirit of Buffy propelling me forth, but this is the first dish (EVER IN MY LIFE) that I have legitimately enjoyed making. Which is truly bizarre, given the fact that I had to roast multiple vegetables, make a cream sauce (something I considered entirely impossible a week ago) and deal with awkward slices of pasta. But, incredibly, the book title is accurate—this was fun with food!

Result: My lasagna cups were a legitimate success: delicious and they actually stayed intact outside of the pan. Eating these, I felt more proud of myself than I ever have graduating from anything, and I have Buffy the Vampire Slayer to thank for it.

Sarah Michelle's lasagne cups mid-prep are on the left, and my crispy cheese champions are on the right.
Sarah Michelle's lasagna cups mid-prep on the left, and my crispy cheese champions on the right.

Sponsored

There is hope for me yet.

Volume
KQED Live
Live Stream
LATEST NEWSCAST
KQED
NPR
Live Stream information currently unavailable.
Share
LATEST NEWSCAST
KQED
NPR
KQED Live

Live Stream

Live Stream information currently unavailable.