Tanorria Askew has just added a new element to her ever-growing food empire: her very first cookbook, Staples +5: 100 Simple Recipes to Make the Most of Your Pantry. The premise is simple in the best possible way with the recipes relying on a set of nonperishable ingredients supplemented by up to five additional items. Even a novice like myself found it easy to understand and every one looks absolutely delicious.
The former Masterchef contestant chatted with us about how the book came to be, its culinary influences, and some advice for both cooks and would-be authors.
Congrats on your first cookbook! I’m sure you had so many different ideas for what you wanted this book to be. How did you land on the concept for Staples +5?
Thank you so much! Staples +5 came from a few different experiences. My family has always cooked everything from scratch and I often watched my mom make magic in the kitchen with minimal ingredients. She and my grandmother taught me to rely on essential pantry items to make delicious food.
I also gleaned from my experience on MasterChef. We knew we could rely on a small staple pantry at our cook station during most of our competitions. The time in the test kitchen was often spent honing our cooking skills based on recipes from those staple ingredients.
Lastly, COVID. When the grocery store shelves were bare, I wasn’t worried. I knew I could count on my staple pantry and what I had in the freezer. I was able to keep trips to the grocery store to a minimum, only needing to replenish fresh items from time to time.
I love that this book has so much to offer the experienced cook, but also those who are less so. What advice would you give to those of us who still get intimidated at the thought of preparing a proper meal?
My first piece of advice is to relax. The kitchen doesn’t bite. I think a lot of newer cooks get intimidated cooking a meal. The end goal is to prepare something tasty for you and maybe a loved one. You do not have to be a Michelin star chef to do that. When following a recipe, read the entire recipe before getting started. Set yourself up for success by making sure you have everything you need in reach. Lastly, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Some of our most loved dishes were accidents. While that’s not what you’re going after, you still need to give yourself grace while cooking.
Your book combines both the Southern and Midwestern influences in your life. What do you think living in the Midwest and Indiana has brought to the mix?
The Midwest is all about meat and potatoes. You will find the best steak, pork chop, and burger here in the Midwest so quite a few recipes are celebrating those types of dishes in Staples +5. Guests at dinner parties often compliment me on a southern dish I prepared while explaining that it reminded them of their midwestern grandmother. It’s all about nostalgia for me.
What was the hardest part about the book writing and publishing process for you? Any lessons to pass along?
If I were to change anything about this entire book writing process, I would ask for a bit more time, and I’d get the books from the printer myself! Dreaming up recipes, testing them, perfecting them, and writing them is a lot. I really enjoyed the entire process, but deadlines are very real in the publishing world.
I think every author experienced supply chain issues and changes to their publication date this year. I would’ve swum out to the middle of the ocean and gotten the book myself had I known that. The anticipation for it to be in everyone’s hands has been intense! Go into book writing with a Gumby-like mentality. Edits are not a personal attack. They make you better.
Finally, if you could only make one recipe from Staples +5 for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I’m going to cheat and tell you the one complete meal I’d make from Staples +5. I can’t pick just one recipe. I’d make Surf & Turf with the Pan Seared Scallops with Browned Butter Sauce and the Cast Iron-Seared Steak. I’d serve that on top of the Herby Risotto and make the Sweet Potato Pie Bars for dessert. The Sweet Potato Pie Bars are a nod to my grandmother, Lillie. She made the best sweet potato pie. Any time I make a pie or those bars, I feel her in the kitchen with me.