One of the very first cookbooks I bought for myself when I was learning to cook was “In the Kitchen with Rosie, Oprah’s Favorite Recipes” by Rosie Daley, which was published in 1994, right after I graduated from college. I was just learning to cook. Even though I’d grown up watching my mom cook light and efficient dinners, I never actually learned how to cook beyond making nachos with my sister after school. (That recipe is easy enough: sprinkle shredded cheddar over original Doritos and microwave until the cheese is melted. Serve immediately.)
One of the recipes I remember most from “In the Kitchen” is Angel Hair Pasta with Lemon and Garlic, served with a light tomato sauce. One of the ingredients was white wine. White wine! It felt so fancy to cook with white wine, and I remember having no idea what kind to buy (it would be years before I’d learn from Ina Garten to cook with a wine you’d drink). Nowadays I don’t usually drink white wine (it gives me a headache). I wonder if Prosecco could be a worthwhile substitute?
But the recipe I apparently used the most, based on the stains in the cookbooks (was I really that messy?), was the Grilled Chicken Salad recipe. Looking back, this recipe reminds me of a favorite salad of mine from Sammy’s, a local restaurant I loved going to in college (San Diegans will know the original location on Pearl Street in La Jolla). To start, you marinade the chicken in lemon juice, soy sauce and garlic. Today I’d probably use coconut aminos. The dressing includes more garlic, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. There’s some red onion and blue cheese involved. Oprah encourages the home chef to think beyond iceberg lettuce to Boston, chicory, radicchio, arugula and even endive when considered salad greens.
When I look through the cookbook now with a middle-aged view of cooking, I see that Rosie and Oprah were ahead of their time. There are recipes for un-fried chicken, un-fried French fries, and un-fried crabcakes. Chocolate cheesecake is reimagined as chocolate tofu cake. There’s even a “festive dish of Paella for a dinner party.”
I think back to my 20-something self, eager to learn how to cook, patiently trying again when I burned or undercooked a dish, and I want to thank her for persisting in the kitchen. Who knew that I’d eventually turn into a moderately accomplished home cook with her own food blog? Or at least someone known in local bunco and book club circles for her robust chopped salads.
This essay was originally published on Substack.