Behind-the-Scenes Writing a Family Cookbook

Andy and I write a bi-monthly column for Bon Appetit called “The Providers,” and the following story (and recipe for Tony’s steak, above, shot by Marcus Nilsson) is what appeared in the June issue. 

By the end of last September, even Abby — my pie-loving 7-year-old — was sick of my apple galette. There was a week-long stretch there where she was having a slice (with ice cream) after dinner, a slice (no ice cream) for breakfast, and would come home from school to find another still-warm golden-crusted lovely sitting on the counter. At first, she couldn’t believe her luck – “You’re the best mom ever!” – but then, by the end of the week, as she picked at the still-too-cinnamony apple filling in the backseat on the way to ballet, her voice had taken on that tone usually reserved for long road trips: “Mom, are you done with this cookbook yet?”

I wasn’t almost done. In fact, I was just beginning the recipe-testing phase for Dinner: A Love Story. But I didn’t want to break the news to her and her 9-year-old sister that this was only the beginning. Once I nailed the apple galette we would be spending the next few months beating over 50 family favorites into submission, too: Spicy oven fries, chicken pot pie, old fashioned cole slaw, fish tacos, lamb burgers, crispy fish cakes, salmon salad, and Tony’s sweet-and-salty grilled flank steak, named after my brother-in-law whose recipe converted my then-picky-eating daughter into a dedicated steak lover.

Which of course begs the question: If these recipes are family favorites and you’ve been making them for so long, why do you even need to test them? Here’s why: Because when I tell Andy — husband, fellow Provider, and resident outdoor-cooker — to give me the recipe for Tony’s steak, this is how he replies: “You just throw a bunch of s#@t in a bag and then grill it.” For almost a decade this system has worked out great for scrambling working parents just trying to get a meal on the table. But I’m not so sure our readers would find it very helpful.

Sure, there are people who test recipes as a profession – and I certainly took advantage of them for about half of the 120 dishes in my book — but because this project was so personal and essentially a history of our family dinners over the past 14 years, I double-tested, triple-tested, and – in the case of the old-fashioned cole slaw — quintuple-tested in my own house, too. These were the meals that have defined my kids’ dinner table, aka their childhoods, for the past decade. And in the end, it was their sign-off that mattered the most.

Reminder: Tell me your favorite part of the book (not on this page, but through the official contest survey) and be eligible to win some pretty awesome prizes. You have one month to enter so get reading!


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I am the mother of an 18 month old and even though I’ve been reading your blog for a year, I have just gone back to work full time. And even though I realize that you’ve been working on this book for years, it’s like you decided to publish it right now to help me make the transition. So, thank you!


Jenny–I pre-ordered your book ages ago and have been waiting for it to come in…my mom needed back surgery so I arranged to come out and stay with her for a week and help out. So, now, my book is at home and I am across the country…I can’t wait to get my hands on it! I considered asking my husband to ship it but I knew he would think I was crazy!!


I got the book two days ago and have been pouring over it every evening after I put the kids to bed. It is fantastic. I will probably try every recipe eventually.


I can’t wait to find out what actually goes into the “S@#% in a bag” to make such a beautiful looking steak! I just bought a copy of DALS and am eagerly awaiting its arrival so that I can start putting all of the recipes to good use.

Kat Gordon

Congrats on the cookbook, Jenny! Your apple galette story reminded me of a B+B my husband and I stayed at in Vermont. The owners had 3 sons who apparently would complain at breakfast: “blueberry scones, again?!” Tough life, these kids.


I don’t want to win anything and am too lazy to click to the other page anyway, just wanted to say I just bawled reading the Nesting and Expecting section. My 3 yr old looked at me and asked if I was sick. Who knew a “cookbook” could make a girl cry…I guess being 5 months pregnant doesn’t hurt either. Thank you!

Val @ Tips on Healthy Living

One of the best parts of your BA column is the spirit of improvisation and spontaneity that you and your husband have about cooking for the family. That’s hard to get into a cookbook but having ideas on how to do variations on a theme and substitutions for picky eaters would be a great read. Maybe for the next cookbook! 😉

The Wholesome Hedonist

I know exactly what you mean about testing recipes. I just put up a recipe for Rotini with Beet Pesto on my site, and looked up my handwritten recipe, in which the first ingredient was ‘a whole mess of beets.’ This recipe thing: not as easy as it looks…


Jenny, I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to get my pre-ordered copy of your book. I wasn’t expecting so much story…I love that it is more a manifesto than a cookbook. The take home message for me? Drop the guilt. As a mother of twin preschoolers who are picky eaters, I was so reassured to know that you, you!, queen of the family dinner, also spent an uncomfortable amount of time trying to figure out how to get the child to eat. (My favourite part was when you were talking about how the kid didn’t have to even like the food…as long as it went into the mouth–and stayed there–the meal was a win. We feel like that all the time.) Congratulations on writing a book that I’ll keep forever.


Tony’s Steak! We tried it tonight with a grilled vegetable salad from Bon Appetite. I say we because I do the marinating part and my husband grills. It was a big hit with everyone including our five year old son. He’s been telling me that he’s mad at meat and has been refusing to eat it, I have no idea why, but tonight after trying this with some Soyaki he had three helpings. Yay! Definately going into the summer dinner rotation. Thanks!