Cook the Book: 'The Art of Eating In'

20100222theartofeatingin.jpgAuthor's Note: We are excited to introduce this week's Cook the Book, The Art of Eating In, a memoir filled with wonderful recipes by Cathy Erway. In September of 2006 Erway decided to forgo eating in restaurants in favor of cooking at home, no small feat for a New Yorker. For two solid years she cooked at home, brown-bagged it, and found creative ways to eat "out" without eating in restaurants all the while chronicling her meals and experiences on her blog Not Eating Out in New York. Before diving into her recipes, we thought we'd have a little chit-chat with Cathy about her project.

Can you tell us a little about how the project started? It was a combination of wanting to save money and wanting to have a better understanding of my food. I thought that cooking for myself 24/7 was such the reverse of what everyone around me was doing—eating out, all the time. So I wanted to see what it would be like from the other extreme.

What are some of the most useful cooking skills that you picked up during your two years of eating in? Learning to bake bread, which of course led to lots of other kitchen skills for leftover, stale bread. I'm not sure how "useful" it is rather than just for pure fun, but making ice cream definitely became a penchant of mine, too.

Did your project inspire any of your friends or family to eat in more often? I'm deeply touched when I hear that some of my closest friends or family members felt inspired to cook something, and found they really liked it. A friend of mine who didn't cook terribly much before now makes the Korean Veggie Pancakes that was posted on my blog once all the time. And for all the reasons that I hope are helpful to readers: it's healthy, quick and economical.

What are the five kitchen appliances/tools that you can't live without? So funny, I just wrote a post all about this very question. It's part of a kick-off for The Week of Eating In challenge at the Huffington Post, and in it, I chose: a heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, a food processor, a Dutch oven, a good knife, mixing bowls that can double as serving bowls, roasting pans, and a high-heat silicone spatula.

cathyerwayctb.jpgTell us about your most triumphant and most disastrous cooking adventures. I kind of get this kick out of spending the least possible amount of work, time and money for the highest return in deliciousness. So I was very pleased recently, when I made a really satisfying lunch out of a poached egg and some creamy white bean puree. That had to be the most no-frills recipe I've posted.

Most disastrous cooking adventure: On a recent trip to a farm, I tried to bake my much-bragged-about loaf of rustic country bread in the rustic, wood-burning oven. We got the oven blazing hot with flaming logs, and I managed to burn the whole loaf to smithereens.

Can you tell us about some of your secret weapons for hosting successful dinner parties? Just do it! Or actually, do it when you found your kitchen suddenly swamped with too many ingredients for your own use. This happens from time to time—I go a little overboard at the Greenmarket one day, or have a huge pot of leftover rice or something like that. Then, invite your friends over and figure it out. Have them bring the drinks, and anything else (if you're not into making desserts, then that!).

What items do you always have stocked in your fridge and pantry? Rice, flour and grains of all types lately, dried beans, and some basic spices like cayenne pepper. In the fridge, there's usually eggs, a lot of carrots lately, which are great for snacking as well as roasting, a bag of two of X veggie purchase of the week, and jarred pickles from previous experiments.

You seem like a very intuitive cook, are there any cookbooks that you reference on a regular basis? I love cookbooks, but I tend to read them for pleasure and inspiration rather than to follow straight recipes. I have been peeking into a Japanese home cooking book called Washoku for plenty of references in a cuisine I'm not really too adept at. Same for Arabesque, a Middle Eastern cookbook by Claudia Roden.

If you had to pick one benefit of forgoing restaurants in favor of cooking at home, what would it be? In a nutshell, saving up. But, more importantly, getting to put the extra money saved toward purchasing where your values are. Or, to use it for just anything that's way more important to you than a cheap slice of pizza.

Win 'The Art of Eating In'

Thanks to the generous folks over at Gotham Books, we are giving away five (5) copies of The Art of Eating In this week. All you have to do is tell us about your favorite reasons to eat at home in the comments section below.

Five (5) people will be chosen at random among the eligible comments below. We're sorry, but entry is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. Comments will close Monday, March 1 at noon ET. The standard Serious Eats contest rules apply.