The Cook Your Shelves Challenge
Book Recommendations, Cooking School, Goals, Homemaking

The “Cook Your Shelves” Challenge (+ 11 Family-Friendly Cookbooks!)

If you’re anything like me, you have scads of cookbooks shoved on a shelf somewhere. Some are well-loved, with spatters of grease and chocolate smeared across multiple pages and several handwritten notations on favorite recipes. Others are in pristine condition, maybe having only been cracked open once or twice soon after being acquired.

With the advent of Pinterest and cooking blogs, I noticed a definite trend a few years ago. Rather than going to my own cookbooks FIRST when I was planning out what to make for the week, I was ignoring them almost entirely in lieu of the easier, Google-searchable options online. Sure, I still pulled out a cookbook now and then to look for a recipe I’d already made and knew I loved.

But I wasn’t really making much NEW anymore out of the cookbooks I owned, either.

So, back at the beginning of 2018, I set a goal as part of my 101 in 1001 list to cook my way through a whole cookbook. Little did I know that the process would be, at the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, life-changing. Not only did forcing myself to make EVERY recipe (esp. the ones I normally would shun because they seemed “weird” or “complicated”) make me a MUCH better, more confident cook, but it also lit a fire under me so that now, I want to cook through ALLLLLL of my cookbooks.

That’s why one of my 2020 resolutions this year was to choose a different cookbook from my shelves each month and make at least 4 recipes out of it, in addition to continuing to cook my way through The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner book for my 101 in 1001 challenge.

A page out of my to-do notebook, with my weekly menu

In case you’re curious, here are the 12 cookbooks I’ve chosen, along with any recipes I’ve already made out of them and some general info about each.

Note: There are affiliate links in this post, which means I may get a small commission on any purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you.

January – The Best Simple Recipes

Awhile back, I published a post about the five resources I use the most when trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Multiple readers commented with their favorite resources, and the ones that kept coming up over and over again were the cookbooks put out by America’s Test Kitchen. At the time, I didn’t own any. Now I own four, three of which are featured on this list! The pull for this particular one is that all the recipes in it take 30 minutes or less to make, which definitely comes in handy when I need to get dinner on the table pronto.

  • Some favorite recipes (so far): BBQ Chicken Pizza (with added bacon), Tikka Masala Chicken

February – Two Peas and Their Pod

This is a cookbook I just got this last Christmas, and there are some serious winners in this one! I’ve already made five recipes out of this, and I like that they are simple to prep, use pretty “normal” ingredients (many of which I already have on hand), and they’re also healthy (but not *too* healthy, if you know what I mean) to boot. Also, I love that there is a whole section devoted to cookies in here because cookies are basically my love language. (Check out my Pinterest Board “I Am the Cookie Monster” for proof!)

  • Some favorites (so far): Chocolate Banana Bread, Creamy Lentil Soup, Black Bean Quinoa Enchilada Bake

March – Our Best Bites

If/When I do another challenge to cook my way through a whole cookbook, this one will be a serious contender. I got this as a wedding present, and everything that I’ve made from it has been pretty phenomenal (their breadstick recipe is my go-to for soup nights!). Obviously I’m a huge fan of their work since you’ll notice I have their other two cookbooks on this list as well.

April – A Year With Six Sisters’ Stuff

April this year is going to be crazy for us, as we’re flying to Hawaii, celebrate Easter and Raven’s birthday on the same day this year, and have a bunch of traditions (Baby Animal Days!) and homesteading stuff (more chicks!) planned for this month already. For that reason, I chose this cookbook by Six Sisters’ Stuff because nearly everything they do is suuuper easy and quick to pull together and they tend to use a lot of stuff from the pantry. Oh, plus everything is delicious (naturally!). This cookbook is unique in that it’s divided into 52 different “menus,” each with an entree and two sides of some kind (whether it’s a dessert, salad, drink, bread, whatever) that go well together. I fully plan to buy some of their other cookbooks as well, one of which is actually in my Amazon cart as we speak!

  • Some favorites (so far): homemade wheat dinner rolls (this is one of my go-to recipes!), fudge crinkle cookies

May – The Complete Baby + Toddler Cookbook

This is another one from America’s Test Kitchen, and I purposely chose it for May because that’s when my baby should be about ready to start solids. This cookbook is a lot more than baby food purees though–it also includes recipes for good finger foods and kid-friendly healthy recipes for the whole family. Each section is broken down by age (so, 6+ months, 9+ months, 12+ months, etc.), so it’s a super easy way to save money by making baby food yourself AND it gives you good recipes that everyone can enjoy. I haven’t made anything out of this yet, but I’m sure excited to! (Also, bonus—this one is currently 50% off right now on Amazon!)

Some favorites (so far): I haven’t made any yet, but I’ll be sure to update this once I have!

June – The Whole 30

Matt’s aunt just gifted this one to us, which was good timing since it’s looking like he might have celiac (womp womp). We won’t find out for sure if he does until March, but this will provide us some awesome recipes to try out if he is (as will the gluten-free cookbook that same aunt gave us awhile back). We’re not planning on going on the whole program (at least not at this point), but I’ve heard good things about this book, so I’m excited to start cooking out of it.

Some favorites (so far): I haven’t made any yet, but I’ll be sure to update this once I have!

July – Our Best Bites: Savoring the Seasons

I’ve been trying to get into more seasonal cooking lately (aka, making dishes based on the produce that we ourselves are growing or that’s in season at the moment), and that’s exactly how this book is laid out, along with specific sections for the different holidays as well. I’ve made the most recipes out of the “Fall” section of this, so it will be good to branch out and make some out of the “Summer” section, especially as it includes recipes for grilling and no-oven meals, which is exactly what I’m looking for in the dead of summer!

Some favorites (so far): Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta with Pumpkin Sauce, Creamy Tomato-Basil Soup

August – Taste of Home Most-Requested Recipes

This is an oldie but goodie. I’m a long-time fan of Taste of Home, and their “Best of” special issue magazines and this cookbook were some of the very first cookbooks I ever owned. I’ve gotten so distracted by the “new and shiny” cookbooks I’ve bought over the past several years though that I haven’t looked at this one in ages (although I was flipping through it the other week to see if I wanted to use it for this challenge and ended up making this recipe for Honey Muffins from it, which is a new favorite around here!). I’ve had very few Taste of Home recipes that we haven’t really enjoyed, so I’m sure there will be a ton of winners in this one (even more than the ones I’ve already tried over the years).

Some favorites (so far): Slow Cooker Italian Chicken, Chicken and Bows, Speedy Brownies

September – The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook

A new school year always gives me that “fresh start” feeling, which usually leads to me wanting to eat better, as well. This America’s Test Kitchen is a favorite of my close friend Katie, who was the one who urged me to buy it for myself. I haven’t been sorry! Thanks to this cookbook, we were able to perfect our homemade pizza game, and as we tend to eat meatless a few nights a week, this is a great resource for those nights. However, we’ve probably only made about 7 or 8 recipes out of this so far, and with over 700 to choose from, we’ve barely scratched the surface here!

Some favorites (so far): Mushroom Spinach Pizza

October – The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner…Again!

Obviously since I loved her first cookbook enough to do my whole 101 in 1001 challenge around it, I HAD to pick up her second one! In her first one, the cuisine is largely “American,” and even her “Mexican” and “Italian” sections in that are a bit Americanized. In this one, she branches out a bit and goes for some Middle Eastern flavors, as well as some more “authentic” dishes from other cuisines. She also does a much greater emphasis on meatless options in this one, as well. Basically, all of those differences are great for me and what I like to make, so as long as she keeps putting out cookbooks, I’ll probably keep buying them! (Fun note: I’m now well over halfway through cooking my way through her first one, and I’ve literally only had two or three duds out of the 115 or so recipes I’ve made so far–everything else has been AWESOME, and I’ve made several of the recipes many, many times over!)

Some favorites (so far): Melt-in-your-Mouth Burritos (soooo good and a great option for when there’s not much else in the pantry!)

November – The Baking Bible

This was a gift I bought for myself using some money I got last Christmas, and it’s definitely the most “technical” out of any of the cookbooks listed here. I definitely favor cookbooks that don’t call for complicated ingredients or methods and that stand a bit of improvisation, but I purposely bought this one to stretch myself, since baking is a great love of mine, and I want to become even better at it. I figured November would be the perfect time to try this one out, as it’s a time of family gatherings (more people to share with!) and cold days (more incentive to turn on the oven!).

Some favorites (so far): I haven’t made any yet, but I’ll be sure to update this once I have!

December – 400 Calories or Less With Our Best Bites

Every January, I swear I’m not going to indulge so much over the holidays, and every December, what do I do? I indulge. A lot. So, in an effort to at least try and counteract all that indulging, I’m choosing this cookbook by Our Best Bites, which focuses on low-calorie, healthy meals that feature a lot of fruits and vegetables. I might still be ready to eat a lot of salads come January, but at least I won’t have subsisted the entire holiday season on sugar and bread alone.

Some favorites (so far): Slow Cooker Taco Chicken, Slow Cooker Pot Roast

What are some of the cookbooks on YOUR shelves that you’d like to cook more out of?

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