Make it or Buy it?

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Should you make your own salsa? After all, it’s not hard to get a good commercial version — for about what it would cost to make your own — that would take no effort. Why bother?

Three reasons. First, are tomatoes are in season? If you have ripe fresh local tomatoes, then the resulting deliciousness of however you prepare them will significantly top store-bought any day.

Second, as good as store-bought can be, you can’t beat pure, fresh ingredients. Homemade, when it’s well made, has the edge. …


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Celebrations call for cake. You don’t have birthday pie. Wedding brownies. Graduation tart. No. You have cake.

And not just any cake. For me, a celebratory cake is a layer cake. There’s something in the scale of it, the impact of tier upon tier, that excites anticipation. Sheet cake feels like a letdown to me. Fake cake.

Though I love layer cakes, I don’t usually bake them. They feel outsized for the intimate parties I host. If I want to bake a cake I go for cupcakes or whoopie pies, or maybe a loaf cake. Not…


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After college, I backpacked across Europe for a few months. I traveled from country to country, staying for the most part in youth hostels. My mother was very impressed with my adventurous spirit. “She’s going to all of these different places and staying in those brothels,” she would tell people, until one of my sisters reluctantly corrected her.

Since I was but a poor tourist who was indeed not working her way across the continent, I traveled very frugally and seldom experienced anything even remotely like fine dining. …


On the first day of spring this year I went to a barbecue. I brought homemade potato salad.

Normally, something like that is nothing to write about (posts on a good many social media feeds notwithstanding). But in New York City, where I live, these times of Covid are anything but normal.

This barbecue was only the third in-person social engagement I’ve had this year. It was just the second time I have been to anyone’s home since last fall. …

My Return to an Old Favorite

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It’s the starter food of Indian cuisine.

Chicken Tikka Masala, bites of chicken in a creamy tomato curry, is served in restaurants around the globe. It’s what my friends ordered for me when they introduced me to Indian food at a small place on Curry Row in Manhattan’s East Village — my first taste of ethnic food beyond a beef taco in a hard shell or Fettuccini Alfredo.

That meal launched my openness to new tastes when dining out, but in my home cooking? Not so much. It took a long time for me…

Big Impact with Little Effort

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I used to greet every dinner party as a challenge. Nothing readymade, only homemade food — and plenty of it. Four appetizers are too few! Crudité is so ordinary — we need empanadas! Let’s add a soup course! How about two dessert options!?

Can I just tell you, I evolved. I learned that there is no need to serve a meal’s worth of appetizers before guests settle down to dinner. I found an extremely good packaged hummus that opened the door for me to incorporate other readymades. Courses are optional, right?

And most important, I discovered that even the simplest…

Easier than I’d thought to make; better than I’d hoped to eat

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In the spirit of doing one thing every day that scares me I made a cheesecake.

Cheesecake was my brother-in-law’s stepmom’s specialty. Rosie baked several cheesecakes most weeks of her long working life for the local diner where she was also a waitress. Take a minute and google “New Jersey Diner Cheesecake.” We’re talking serious dessert here. She continued to make her cheesecakes for family gatherings until she was well into her nineties. That’s a tough springform pan to fill.

I was under the impression that it’s difficult…

Paired with Cheddar Biscuits

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That stew meat I had squirreled away in the freezer beckoned.

Inspired by a vegan meal I’d made for a friend, I had been following a more or less plant-based diet for the past two weeks. I might include milk, cheese, or eggs with breakfast, but lunches and dinners were meatless. …

Show Some Love

Come early November I start cleaning out my freezer. No more cooking big batches of chili and freezing the leftovers. No more buying pork tenderloins on sale and stashing them for later or roasting a chicken then making and freezing the stock. I plan menus around what I already have frozen.

It’s not about a clean slate for a new year. It’s about making room for my holiday bake-fest.

Come December each year I bake scores of batches of cookies and holiday cakes to bring to parties and give as gifts; if I don’t bake ahead and…

In Praise of a Classic

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By Dara O’Brien
Creative Director, Lake Isle Press

The sight of a deviled egg transports me to the backyard barbecues of my childhood. This could be any barbecue on any occasion in any year, because whenever my dad put match to charcoal it meant just one thing: hamburgers and hot dogs, accompanied by baked beans and macaroni salad. Potato chips and deviled eggs were our appetizers.

It took me a while to try my mom’s deviled eggs because they had mayonnaise in them, and if you know anything about my history with food, you know…

Dara O'Brien

Dara O’Brien is the Creative Director of Lake Isle Press. When she isn’t cooking or writing about cookbooks, she writes plays and sometimes acts in them.

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