Tag Archives: From Scratch

From Scratch: The Quarantine Cookbook Queen Supreme

Editor’s Note: This cookbook contains numerous delicious recipes.  To read about our efforts to recreate one of them – Ruhlman’s classic Five Layer Lasagna – click here.  Spoiler alert – it was delicious!


Over the past few weeks our already outrageous cookbook collection has grown by at least sixteen additions with more set to deliver every few days for the next few weeks. Fueled by the anxiety of having too much time on our hands and the need to feel productive, as well as an almost compulsive obsession with learning about the world through food, my husband, Scott, and I (with the help of the rest of the family) have set ourselves to the task of poring over these books for new ideas, ingredients, and recipes, and recreating their contents in our own kitchen. The result has been a house that smells different from one meal to the next, several pairs of pants that I now only look at longingly, and an incredible appreciation for what we have come to regard as the most important ingredient we have at our disposal- time.

Through the many tomes we’ve combed through on a daily basis, none have embraced this concept as strongly or with as much deference as Michael Ruhlman’s From Scratch. In a moment when the world is in complete chaos, it’s comforting to read through these pages and gain a new appreciation and understanding of what it means to cook and to be cooks. As Ruhlman says, “cooking made us human and I believe that cooking can keep us human.” (Ruhlman, 12). Looking through his recipes and his ideas it becomes clear that this is not merely a gimmick or a catchphrase- it is the driving force and motive behind this particular collection of recipes and the broader theme of the rest of his works.

The book itself is made up of ten distinct chapters each focused on a particular dish or meal that can be made entirely ‘from scratch’. These dishes are not complicated or fussy, rather they center on comfort foods and classics, foods that many people are already accustomed to eating and possibly even to cooking but with a depth of scope found in few other places. By his own account, Ruhlman’s goal here is to expand upon familiar concepts as he believes through “exploring several, familiar, staple meals, we can learn just about everything we need to know in order to cook, well, anything.” (Ruhlman, 12) True to his word Ruhlman uses these ten base recipes as a means to explore not just the end result of the dishes themselves, but the complexity of the ingredients that go into making them, ways to simplify parts of those ingredients to tailor the recipe to your particular time or skill constraints, and ways to apply those ingredients and skills learned to future recipes. 

Take for example the chapter on Roast Chicken, a dish that by his own account “scarcely needs its own recipe” (Ruhlman, 28). Rather than providing a single page account in which readers are instructed to turn on their oven, salt a chicken, place chicken in oven, and wait, Ruhlman uses this chapter as an opportunity to talk about using the chicken to flavor its sides by creating a pan sauce from the remnants of the cooked bird, taking the bones and creating your own simple chicken stock (so easy you can ‘do it in your sleep’), and then how to make chicken soup using the leftover pieces of chicken from dinner and the stock you made from that chicken’s bones. For those with less time on their hands he suggests a completely unfussy shortcut version of his ‘scratch’ meal that relies on a store-bought rotisserie chicken and chicken broth. For most chefs and cookbook authors this would likely be considered cheating but as Ruhlman charmingly and forgivingly mentions throughout his pages “from scratch is an attitude, not a recipe or a rigid set of instructions.” (Ruhlman, 24)

At this point in time the levity, insight, and poignancy with which Rulhman attacks his recipes throughout this book come as a welcome relief. It becomes clear both through reading and cooking your way through his pages that there is no judgement to be found either from the author or the recipes themselves. While there is always an idea of striving for perfection, even a lasagna that only turns out halfway* the way you intended, or uses half store bought and half scratch made ingredients, is still lasagna and is still going to be pretty darn good. While the chapters themselves may seem simple, and many of the base recipes are, each dish is only as simple as you want to make it and the pages are full of intriguing sauces, stocks, and ways to leverage your leftovers into delicious meals unto themselves. The lingering sentiment from this book for me has been Rulhman’s musing about what it means to be ‘from scratch’, what qualifies us to take pride in our cooking, and what we should strive for. His answer is to ask yourself ‘’Is this the best I can do with the ingredients on hand, the time I have, and the energy I feel like expending?” (Ruhlman, 13). No single part of that answer is more important than the other; for right now, sometimes the act of cooking is enough, whatever your ingredients or results may be. 


Recommended for: Confident beginners and experienced home cooks looking for new inspiration. Ruhlman has chosen recipes that can lead to perfection but don’t require it and strikes a good balance between creating intricate recipes to challenge experienced cooks and thoughtful shortcuts so as not to intimidate beginners. 


Ease of Recipes: Moderate. A few of the recipes rely on a little bit of practice and know-how but the majority are a ‘choose your own adventure novel’ of difficulty as he suggests ways to cut corners or supplement your from scratch cooking with store bought items that won’t sacrifice the quality of the overall dish. The recipes are also written in a different format than most traditional cookbooks- Ruhlman doesn’t list out step by step procedures for each dish but adopts more of an essay format wherein one step leads into the next, and the next until you have a fully completed dish. While not at all a bad thing, and definitely lends itself to a more enjoyable cookbook reading experience, I caution anyone attempting to make these recipes to read them through in their entirety at least once as it’s easy to miss ingredients or steps if you’re skimming. 


Overall Rating: 4/5 : This book is an absolute pleasure to read and has some really thoughtful and helpful recipes and insight into why you take certain steps to cook things. The writing style is clear, direct, and yet has moments of levity and humor that aren’t often found in cookbooks. The recipes are interspersed with personal anecdotes, thoughts and lessons on food and food culture, and endless amounts of encouragement. While the majority of the chapters are based around fairly simple recipes, Rulhman brings new insight to the creation of those dishes, offering readers a chance to leverage their understanding of one skill and apply it to countless other dishes. While this book may not contain the most exciting range of recipes it’s hard not to get excited by the way Rulhman takes even the most daunting tasks and makes them feel not just possible but easy.   


Click here to read about Ruhlman's classic Five Layer Lasagna and our daylong creation of this recipe "from scratch."
Click here to read about Ruhlman’s classic Five Layer Lasagna and our daylong creation of this recipe “from scratch.”



Our already outrageous cookbook collection has grown Read more

Editor's Note: This cookbook contains numerous delicious recipes.  To read about our efforts to recreate one of them - Ruhlman's classic Five ...

Michael Ruhlman’s Classic Five-Layer Lasagna with Bolognese, Bechamel, and Mozzarella

Editor’s note – This lasagna recipe was taken from Michael Ruhlman’s From Scratch cookbook, which was reviewed recently by Lindsey Menard. To read her review click here.

Lasagna (1)

The thing people often forget about lasagna is that while the end result is one beautiful bite of pasta, the lead up to that result is three to five individual, time consuming recipes that are all layered together to create that bite. There is no reason that you can’t skip some of those steps by buying dried pasta and fresh mozzarella, using store bought bolognese (gasp!), or substituting the bechamel for a blend of cheeses that will melt down to mimic the flavor, but there is definitely something satisfying about going through the motions of creating each of those components yourself from scratch. Taking a bite of lasagna, any lasagna, simply means more, becomes more special once you have made it once from scratch, as you learn how to decipher the different parts that have been layered together and acknowledge the hard work of the person serving it to you.

For our purposes we set out to make our lasagna mostly from scratch in that we wanted to use the shredded mozzarella we already had on hand rather than wait until we could seek out the ingredients (citric acid, rennet) that were missing from our pantry. We opted to make ricotta instead to balance the need for a creamier cheese to top our lasagna. We made the ricotta first because it’s one of the few steps you can’t hurry along by turning up the heat if you get impatient.

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Lessons learned from making ricotta: It is incredibly simple. It also uses way more milk than you’d think.


Making pasta from scratch is one of the most rewarding things you can do, and is also something that gets far easier the more you do it. There are no real tricks to making pasta, you just have to take your lead from the ingredients you’re using and work at it until you learn the feel for what is correct and what needs adjusted. Having a pasta machine helps but isn’t necessary- the only thing that’s necessary is having the time and patience to work your dough until it’s done.

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Lessons learned from making pasta: Always make more than you think you’ll need because there is absolutely no downside to having fresh pasta stored in your freezer for later on in the week.


Next come the sauces. Yes- sauces, plural. The first step, one you can absolutely skip if pressed for time but definitely enhances your feeling of accomplishment at the end is making your own tomato sauce as a base for the bolognese. This step is not complicated- it merely requires sauteing onions in olive oil (or butter) and then simmering them in pureed tomatoes over low heat for about an hour. If you’re using high quality canned tomatoes, you can definitely skip this step (and you can do so even if you aren’t) but embracing it lends a depth of sweetness and flavor to your bolognese that makes the added time worth it.

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Lessons learned from making tomato sauce: don’t use an immersion blender in a short container- make sure whatever you’re blending has enough room to splash around without staining your favorite shirt.


Once that tomato sauce has simmered, or while it’s simmering if you have enough functional burners to run two things simultaneously, start to work on the Bolognese. Again, there’s nothing fancy here- Bolognese is simply a pot of chopped vegetables cooked for a long time with alternating choices of liquids starting with milk and wine, and ending with your beautiful tomato sauce. The most important thing about cooking the Bolognese is patience- let the individual pieces cook as long as they need to before moving on to the next step- there are few benefits to rushing them.

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Lessons learned from making Bolognese: Precise knife cuts matter less when you’re cooking something over a long period of time. Also that there is milk in Bolognese- who knew?


The final component to make before you get to stacking is the Bechamel. Making Bechamel is basically an intricate dance of applying heat and creating motion so as not to let it become too hot. As I’ve said many times (twice) the two main ingredients of Bechamel are milk and a spoon.

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Lessons learned from making Bechamel: Use a long handled spoon because it gets really hot really quick over the burner. Make sure you buy a ton of milk before setting out to make lasagna- seriously the dish is apparently mostly milk.


The next and final step is arguably the most fun. Take all of these delicious ingredients you’ve made and start stacking them together. Tomato sauce first, noodle second, bolognese and bechamel third, and repeat until your dish is nearly full and then sprinkle as much cheese as you can possibly fit on top. The lasagna needs to bake for an hour and then sit for forty-five minutes before it’s ready to serve so that it holds its shape which gives you plenty of time to let your mouth water over the sight and smell of a perfectly browned lasagna.

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Lessons from making lasagna: Make sure you carve out enough time and space to make all the components. Many of them can be made days in advance and can be reheated to assemble when you’re ready. You never need as many noodles as you think to build your lasagna but leftover lasagna noodles make a great maltagliati later in the week. There are very few ways to irreparably ruin a lasagna.

Lasagna made "From Scratch" Read more

Editor's note - This lasagna recipe was taken from Michael Ruhlman's From Scratch cookbook, which was reviewed recently by Lindsey Menard. To ...