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I’ve never been a lover of cooking, I’ll start there.  My grandma cooked some great meals when I was little, but I never helped enough in the kitchen to actually learn what she was doing.  My mom is a cook of specialty dishes: she makes amazing tamales, potato salad for EVERY family function (the family is not usually happy if there’s no Achi potato salad at any given event, ha!), and amazing traditional Guatemalan dishes, like pepian.  But being just the two of us when I was little, I also wasn’t in the kitchen much for the day to day cooking.

When Jeff and I first moved in together to our little apartment in Irvine, I’d venture to say he was the main cook.  Or he’d make the main dish and I’d make the sides.

I’m not exactly sure when the shift happened, but I’d say it was after we had Jake – when going out to dinner became less and less of an option, haha.  And having to buckle down on finances.  When we moved into our Lake Forest apartment, we’d been living with Jeff’s parents for a couple years, and I got to observe my mother-in-law cooking some really great meals – when I wasn’t busy sleeping on the couch…

I think all of those things combined forced me to start cooking more at home.  I’m by no means a natural chef…I’m a cook-by-the-recipe “chef” (not sure you can call someone that follows a recipe a chef…but I’ll give myself that title for now).  I think I’m just recently getting comfortable enough to improvise here and there – but only in small ways.  Jeff and I joke around about me messing with recipes – my experiments rarely work for the best, haha.  But I’ve come up with some good recipes for veggies and such small plates.

Anywho, a little over a year ago I was at Costco waiting on a cake order, and I gravitated to the book section to kill some time (everyone gravitates to the book section, right?!), and found this cook book:

I’ll admit, I’ve become quite a skeptic of cook books because I end up buying them and then realizing I don’t like any of the recipes in them (we’re not adventurous eaters…).  [How am I a recipe chef without cookbooks?  Most of my tried and true recipes come from allrecipes.com, but I digress again.]  But I kept skimming this one and finding several recipes that caught my eye, and after a good five-minute hesitation I decided to buy it.

I’m not exaggerating: this book has changed our life, haha.  The harissa chicken recipe is seriously our favorite dinner, and it’s my go-to when I want to impress family/friends.  It’s also easy to double and make for larger crowds.  A couple things I’ve learned from making it several times:

  • I use skinless chicken thighs rather than skin on
  • I add lemon rind to the yogurt sauce (I did it by accident the first time, as the lemon rind is also used for something else, but now we love it)
  • I cut the harissa in half since it can be pretty spicy.  Trader Joe’s used to carry an amazing harissa sauce but has discontinued it (we were heartbroken).  We’ve found a different version at a local Persian store – it’s not the same but it will do.
  • Harissa sauce spoils quickly, so it was a bummer to buy a jar and have it mold in my refrigerator before I had a chance to make it again.  A coworker who I shared the recipe with came up with a brilliant idea that has worked great for me: freeze a couple tablespoons in snack-size ziplock bags and freeze!  I can take it out just before using and unfreeze pretty quickly.

I also love the pizza chicken recipe.  This one I’ve paired up with angel hair spaghetti and it goes great.  I also freeze extra sauce and use it for a second spaghetti night – it’s a perfect spaghetti sauce!

The other recipe I make regularly is the chicken salad – with crispy skin!  It’s such a light and refreshing meal, but I do cut the sauce out (I made it the first time and realized it’s just not our taste).

What are your favorite recipes or cook books?