Cooking a meal for the people I care about is one of my favorite things. But it can be a stressful affair, especially when there’s people you really want to impress: in-laws, perhaps, or that one friend that you’d like to be more than a friend. Orchestrating when dishes go into the oven and when drinks are served is a balancing act of temperatures and timing. “The hardest part of any meal isn’t preparing any single dish. It’s nailing the timing,” says Julia Turshen in her new cookbook Now & Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus + Endless Ideas for Reinventing Leftovers. “The best way to handle this? Don’t be afraid to choose things that are great at room temperature!”
Practical advice like this is peppered throughout each of the 20 different menus in the book, each one with both a season and a theme: There are “Red Checkered Tablecloth Late Saturday Lunch,” “Grilled Vietnamese Breakfast” and “Passover Seder” menus, each with three to six dishes. At the head of each menu, Turshen gives advice on which things can be made ahead: Up to a day ahead, you can make the dressing and chop all the veggies and herbs for the sautéed zucchini with green goddess dressing—meaning you can just throw the zucchini in a pan when your guests hit the door. Pickles and stocks and sauces can (and should!) be made several days in advance to give you fewer things to worry about on the day of the event. With these small, time-maximizing tips, Turshen makes dinner parties feel less like an ordeal and more like something you actually want to do.
The other aspect of Now & Again is the creative ways that Turshen encourages reusing your leftovers. At the end of each menu is a list of mini-recipes and tips for turning the leftovers into entirely new dishes—the beet salad with poppy seed dressing (p. 56) can be put through a food processor and made into a dip for bread or crackers; the sauce from the chicken and roasted tomato enchiladas can be made in a double batch and then turned into tomato bisque. At the end of the book are even more resources for repurposing those leftovers: there’s a list of “Seven Things to Do With Cooked Rice” and “Seven Things to Do With Not-So-New Produce,” among others. I hesitate to use the term “life hack” in 2018, but a lot of Turshen’s ideas in these lists are pretty brilliant ways to make your food, dollar and time go farther. Not-so-good chiles can be cooked down and turned into hot sauce, herb stems turned into salsa verde and the dregs of those bottles of wine from the party are perfect for making coq au vin.
One of my favorite things about Julia Turshen? She has an agenda, and she is in no way ashamed about it. At the end of the book is a list titled “Give Back + Do Good,” and it’s where she addresses all the ways readers can use their time, cooking ability and knowledge to help out people who need it. Some of these ways include bringing food to those going through a period of grief or loss, or even those who have a new baby and no time to spare for cooking. Some of these ideas are less obvious, though: “Support food businesses that have social impact woven into their missions,” or “Bake something simple and take it to your local firehouse, police station, public library, emergency room, and/or the teacher’s room at your public school and thank whoever you’re giving it to for their service.”
And of course, the personal is political too, and Turshen doesn’t shy away from talking about the personal in Now & Again. One recipe is called “Healthy, Happy Wife Cake,” and it’s an updated version of her “Happy Wife, Happy Life Cake” from her first cookbook. “As these things go, though, life changed quite a bit between the time I wrote that recipe and when the book came out,” Turshen says in the headnote. “During the interim, Grace [Turshen’s wife] was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and that cake became more of a beloved memory than something we regularly eat.” Not only is Turshen unique as an out and vocal gay woman cookbook author, but she gives readers a window into other aspects of her life as well: celebrating Hanukkah with her family and Christmas with her wife’s family, for instance. It’s these details that make Now & Again a beautiful book to read rather than just a list of recipes. The stories and personal significance attached to each dish are what make Turshen write so lovingly.
With the tenderness and hand-holding that Turshen provides, Now & Again is a great tool in a cook’s arsenal for approaching dinner parties. When recipes get a little intricate and twisty—such as the way the scallion and sesame pancakes are rolled so that the chopped scallions incorporate into the dough—there are step-by-step illustrations that clarify the process. Turshen makes recipes easy by offering substitute ingredients if you’re missing one and giving advice on technique. This book would make a great addition to the kitchen of somebody just moving into their first house (or even apartment) who wants to start hosting dinners, or even for the master host who’s looking to simplify their party planning for the sake of sanity. With the biggest dinner party of the year upon us this week, you might be interested in picking up a copy for yourself—and flipping straight to the “No Stress Thanksgiving” menu.