If you’ve written a cookbook with the likes of Mario Batali, Gwyneth Paltrow and Dana Cowin (former editor of Food and Wine magazine) and with restaurants such as New York’s Buvette and Hot Bread Kitchen, where do you go from there? If you’re Julia Turshen, you strike out on your own.
In “Small Victories,” Turshen generously offers readers and cooks hundreds of tricks, tips and recipes garnered from her lifelong love affair with cooking. But don’t expect Goop-approved healthy recipes a la Paltrow, or cultural deep-dives via Batali: These recipes are a relaxed promenade through Turshen’s own kitchen.
“I want to get people to feel comfortable about cooking,” Turshen says. “These are all very approachable recipes, flavors that will get you excited.”
The book’s foreword is written by none other than the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. “Julia’s love of two things come together in this book — her total delight in great food and … cooking for people she loves,” wrote Garten. “(The book) is like her — totally accessible.”
Indeed, Turshen’s recipes — from easy pasta dough to peach-and-bourbon milkshakes — are reminiscent of Garten’s own cooking style: flavor-focused, generous with knowledge but forgiving in execution.
The crux of the cookbook comes in what Turshen calls small victories, tidbits of universal techniques or knowledge she has gathered over her years as a private chef, recipe developer and avowed home cook: How to shuck corn. How to make a one-pot clambake.
The book totals 95 dishes, but the author also offers a number of spinoffs for each recipe, building on her small victories (a corn soup “the texture of cashmere,” for instance).
One of Turshen’s favorite victories is found in her zucchini, red onion and pistachio salad, which makes use of an incidental byproduct of preserved lemons. “I loved using them, but would look at the liquid left in jars and think, ‘This seems great. Why would I pour this down the drain?’” says Turshen. “I love anything that gives you a two-for-one moment, and the juice here is as useful as the main ingredient — I whisk it with olive oil to make one of my favorite dressings.”
Easy to read and well-designed, “Small Victories” also features the work of photography team Gentl + Hyers, with its earthy and sumptuous close-ups of the finished dishes and individual ingredients shot in Turshen’s kitchen in upstate New York. The photography jumps off the page, not because the dishes are well-composed (though they are), but because the photos themselves look lived-in. “The recipes came from my kitchen,” says Turshen, “and these photos reflect that. It felt like the right thing to do.”
And don’t be afraid to make the recipes your own, she insists.
“I also encourage people to expand and experiment,” she says. “I hope people use the recipes as jumping-off points. I’d love to know what (they) tweak and change.”