Over the holidays I was catching up on some magazine reading and it seems like one cookbook kept popping as recommended reading: Cook Beautiful by Athena Calderone.

I have to admit, I’ve never heard of Athena, but she is the creator of Eyeswoon, a super popular blog. I checked out her book from the local library (as is my habit before investing in cookbooks) and cracked the cover to see what all the fuss was about. I have to say, I felt like we bonded when I read that she loves to fall asleep reading cookbooks (so do I!). 

I was instantly inspired by the photography and design of this book. This is one of those books I would call a “designers cookbook” with many photos shot from overhead and in beautiful natural light. The photography was done by Johnny Miller and published by Abrams, New York.

The designer in me especially loves the “grid pages” that give tips for each season — there is a tablescape for the season and then a grid page that breaks down specific tips on presentation, flowers, dishes, ect.

I also found Athena Calderone’s writing voice to be friendly and practical, explaining why she asks you to do an extra step.

When it came time to actually cook from the book, I selected some easy (looking) recipes that featured ingredients that are in season right now, and that I knew we would like.

I found a lot of her recipes called for Aleppo pepper — what is this I wondered? Where can I find it? To the Google!

Aleppo pepper is a fruity, spicy pepper that is typically used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. If you can’t find it in a local store, you can find it online. — source


I think this cookbook is well written and photographed, and the tips are legit – honey does slow down browning on the apple better than lemon juice!

Overall, this is a beautifully designed, well considered cookbook — but not one I would recommend for a beginner. It’s great for someone who is a moderate to well experienced home cook and looking for some tips to “level up” their game and make their presentations shine. The reason I’m not recommending it for a beginner is because I think many of the recipes call for too many ingredients and ingredients that are too difficult to find. I also think a couple of the methods of cooking are less accessible to a cook who is just learning.

Some of the book is a little bit of a fantasy. As much as I want to believe that her family would enjoy a picnic on the beach at sunset – I know the reality is that sand would be in the food, the food would be cold, and it would all take far too much work to really enjoy the result. It’s a lovely idea, however, and I will basque in the fantasy a little long from my couch.

Recipes I made:

Tuscan Kale Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dressing on page 158

kale and apple salad

I think this was my favorite recipe from the ones I tried, and I loved the honey and apple trick.

Farro Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Red Onion, and Goat Cheese on page 225

sweet potatoes and farro salad

I know I said I picked recipes with ingredients that I knew we would like, buuuuut then I made this and realized we don’t like farro salads. So there you have it. However, I loved the combination of sweet potatoes, radish, dill and goat cheese – a combo I wouldn’t have tried without this book.

Pan Seared Tangy Brussel Sprouts on page 229

My husband doesn’t like it when I mess with his sprouts. So this dish wasn’t his favorite. I liked the alternative method of cooking them, rather than oven roasting or steaming. However this method isn’t exactly easy and requires more hands on attention, so I will probably not make this dish again.

Buy it or Check it? 

I think this book is great inspiration for design, decorating and photography. I think I would use this as a way to get inspired to combine different flavors, but it isn’t a book I would keep on the “essentials” shelf. If this book is available at your local library, I would recommend checking it out rather then purchasing it — unless you have a large cookbook budget 🙂