I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

What I Learned From the 2022 Cook Book Challenge

What I learned from the 2022 Cook Book Challenge

Last December, I bought myself a Christmas present--Magnolia Table, vol. 2. You see, I had made a goal to work my way through an entire cookbook in one year and needed a cookbook that would create a realistic and worthwhile challenge.

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What I Learned From the 2022 Cook Book Challenge

The selection process 

Prior to my purchase, I had checked out a handful of cookbooks from the library in order to spend my year with the best of the bunch. The one that I selected needed to include a reasonable number of recipes. After all, a goal is only worth setting if it is actually attainable. (Sorry, Irma, your Joy of Cooking with its 500+ entries was an automatic "no" for me.) The bulk of the recipes had to be both budget and family-friendly. I didn't want to plunk down piles of real cash money for ingredients I'd never use again to make meals that no one at the table wanted to eat. While not a deal-breaker, I also didn't want a book containing versions of too many meals I already made. 

Selfishly, I wanted a cookbook that paired each recipe with a full-color photo of its completed dish. How's a girl supposed to know if she's made the meal correctly if there's not picture to use for comparison? (Publishers, bookstore shelves are buckling under the weight of all your black-and-white, photo-less cookbooks because no one wants to try recipes they can not see. Do better.)

Basically, I went looking for a spotted unicorn and by mid-December, I thought I found one in the second of a two-part series by famed shiplapper Joanna Gaines. 

Full disclosure, I skipped over Magnolia Table, vol. 1 because it seemed to include many semi-homemade meals that required pre-packaged boxes of this and store-bought cans of that. Since one of my kids has a health issue that is exacerbated by MSG and food preservatives, I knew the first book would be a bust in my home.

Magnolia Table, vol. 2 was the clear winner!

Magnolia Table Vol 2

The planning

Between Christmas and New Year's, I read through the entire cookbook--the ancillary food prep tips, Jo's personal commentary on each dish, and every recipe's title and basic ingredients. After counting the recipes (145) and dividing them by the number of weeks in a year (52), I calculated that I'd have to make around 3 recipes a week to finish the book by the last day of the year. Since some of the recipes had to be made with other recipes in order to create one complete dish--like the graham cracker crust and the cheesecake--I figured I could get ahead some weeks to account for weeks I fell behind. 

I also knew that certain recipes were quite seasonal whether that was because of the ingredients they included which could only be purchased at certain times of the year or because the dish is traditionally served at certain times of the year like Friendsgiving Casserole that looked to be made with the leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner. 

My plan was to skim through the book each week when I made our weekly menu, and select one recipe from at least three different categories. 

The categories included are as follows: 
  • Scratch Made
  • Breads
  • Breakfast & Brunch
  • Soups & Salads
  • Appetizers & Starters
  • Side Dishes
  • Dinner
  • Desserts

Braided bread

The process

Starting on January 1st, I began cooking. Whenever I whipped up a new dish, I tried to stick to the recipe exactly, even when I felt like there was an easier or better way to prepare or assemble it. Occasionally, I had to borrow a kitchen item, like a waffle maker, from a friend in order to complete a dish. 

While I did make a handful of the recipes to bring to potlucks or parties, I made sure that I set aside enough of every single dish so that my husband and kids could at least take a bite of them all. 

Each time I served up something new, I asked my family to rate the dish on a 5-star scale. I did some quick math and determined the overall collective rating. Because my kids knew that these were not "my" recipes, that my feelings would not be hurt by their opinions, and that the point of the rating system was to give honest feedback on each dish, they did not hold back. 

To record the year-long results, I took a picture of each dish, added the picture to a "Cookbook Challenge" or Cookbook Challenge 2 highlight I had created on Instagram, and wrote down the following information in the upper corner of the corresponding page of the cookbook: the date, the star rating, any substitutions or changes I'd make to the recipe should I ever want to make it again in the future.

Cherry Cake

The results

It's the last week in December and I still have 35 recipes left. (Unmade recipes by sections: Scratch Made 2, Breads 1, Breakfasts & Brunches 1, Soups & Salads 0, Appetizers & Starters 6, Side Dishes 4, Dinner 10, Desserts 11)

When my summer took an unexpected turn, I was not able to keep up and the challenge took a back burner. I do plan to finish the book in the first few weeks of the new year, however. Once completed, I plan to keep the cookbook as a tangible reminder of the experience. (As a minimalist, I typically do not keep recipe books. Instead, I copy and/or print out any recipe I like from various cookbooks and online sites, place it in a clear plastic sleeve, and file it in the appropriate section of a 3-ring binder I created for all our favorite meals.) 

Broccoli and Wild Rice Casserole

What I thought of the challenge overall

I'm a person who likes to try new recipes. Prior to the challenge, I almost always added one new-to-us dish to our menu each week. That said, adding three new dishes was rigorous. In order to see the challenge through to completion, I ended up sacrificing certain kitchen habits like my "fix it once, eat it twice" policy. (I don't like doubling new recipes because I run the risk of being stuck with a casserole dish of food no one wants to eat.) Consequently, my freezer meal stash dwindled quickly. 

When planning the 2022-2023 school year this past summer, I decided that my boys would use the Eat Your Way Through the USA cookbook. They'd make one state-specific meal each week to correspond with our US Geography study. In hindsight, I now know that working through two cookbooks at the same time is complicated. In general, new recipes require more prep time which means all our cookbook meals had to be allocated to weeknights that weren't already filled with extra things. During busy weeks, juggling after-school activities and meal-making became brain-breaking business. 

By September, 4 out of our 7 dinners each week were earmarked for cookbook recipes. Although I subscribe to Taste of Home Magazine and follow several accounts on Instagram that share new recipes each week, I was not able to try new recipes from any of these other sources. I just didn't have it in me. With a twinge of disappointment, I earmarked them for later and moved on.

That said, I'm still really glad I challenged myself to finish a book in one year. The recipes forced us all to try new-to-us ingredients and created built-in discussion topics at meal time. As we ate, we talked about what we liked about each dish, what we didn't, what we'd change about it, and what we'd keep the same.

Chicken Florentine

What I thought of Magnolia Table, vol. 2

Overall, I think the cookbook worked for a wide variety of tastes. Unlike some books that are heavy on main dish recipes and light on side dishes, bread, desserts, and appetizers, I think this one included a nice mix of all. Some of the recipes were so delish that I've already put them in our regular meal rotation.

I found the "seasoning blends" section to be quite helpful as it included the basic spice blends of pantry staples like poultry seasoning, fajita seasoning, taco seasoning, and Italian seasoning.

That said, contrary to my original assessment when I was vetting cookbooks, I would not consider this one to be a family-friendly workhorse. It is more of the entertaining or special occasion variety. Many of the recipes included ingredients that are too expensive to serve in a weekly lineup like steak for breakfast or salmon for lunch. However, substitutions can certainly be made in most of the recipes in order to cut costs like using swiss cheese instead of gruyere. (Miss Jo likes her gruyere, guys. It's like she made a bet with her editor to see how many recipes she could sneak it into.) Additionally, some of the ingredients were difficult to find at the grocery store like bulgar (I had to google that one!), grape leaves, and orecchiette pasta.

To be honest, the recipes weren't always well written, were occasionally better suited for an industrial kitchen with multiple ovens, and were at times, unnecessarily tedious. Case in point: I make peanut butter balls every Christmas. My recipe uses simple ingredients, has only a few steps, and takes less than an hour to make. Jo's version tasted quite similar, included a few more ingredients, and took over three hours to make. In fact, I ended up throwing 1/3 of the dough away because the entire process was too painstaking to continue. 

Chicken Stack

The ratings

When feeding at least six people at every meal, you learn quickly that 5-star meals are elusive. Every person that gathers around the table will have very unique tastes and eating preferences. More often than not, when one of my kids loves a dish, another one dry heaves just thinking about it.

For that reason, I knew going into this challenge that the majority of the recipes would receive mixed reviews. I was not wrong. There were however a few wholly celebrated dishes--ones that ranked high numbers all around the table. There were also a few that left our tongues feeling tortured and abused--ones that we couldn't even muster enough effort to choke down. Here are the highs and the lows: 

Grilled Bruschetta Chicken

Recipes with the highest scores

  • Grilled Bruschetta Chicken 5.0
  • Pulled Pork Street Tacos 5.0
  • Garlic Knots 4.9
  • Pretzels 4.9
  • French Toast 4.8 
  • Homemade Pizza Dough 4.8 (although I've since discovered this one that is even better)
  • Silo Cookies 4.8
  • Bacon & Leek Quiche 4.7
  • Italian Chicken Stack 4.7
  • Chicken Parmesan 4.7
  • Linnie Mae's Pound Cake 4.7
  • Pecan Pancakes 4.6

Mushroom Gruyere Quiche

Recipes with the lowest scores

  • Mushroom Gruyere Quiche .5
  • Holiday Cranberry Sauce 1.0
  • Old-Fashioned Corn Casserole 1.8
  • Table Skillet Porridge 2.2 (As a general rule, my family doesn't like oatmeal. But I really enjoyed this one.) 
  • Vermicelli Salad 2.2
  • Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes 2.2 (This recipe did not stand a chance with my sweet potato-averse men/boys.)
  • Spring Vegetable Risotto 2.2
  • Oatmeal Cream Pies 2.3
  • Bulgar Salad 2.4 
  • Mom's Seaweed Soup 2.4
  • Asian Salad 2.6
  • Avocado Grapefruit Salad 2.8

Recipe book notes

Final Thoughts

I made a goal to work my way through a cookbook in one year. Although I didn't make every single recipe, I did make 110 of them. I tossed together 110 new dishes that stretched my skills, stretched our taste buds, and at times, stretched our budgets. Instead of looking at the unmet goal as one big loss, I choose to see it as a collection of 110 wins! 

So, when asked recently if I would ever do another cookbook challenge, I gave my answer without even flinching. Absolutely! Maybe not this coming year, but certainly sometime in the future.


  1. What a fun challenge! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I like the idea of a cookbook challenge over the year. I may try it this year.

  3. Thank you for sharing. Holy Hygge recipe page in the making?

  4. Oh my gosh…you were making me laugh. 😂 “One person loves it and another is dry heaving just thinking about it” That is hilarious! Kuddos to you for sticking to something like that! I completely agree that cookbooks need pictures for everything. That’s what I love about Pioneer Woman books. ❤️

    1. I've liked a few of her recipes. Unfortunately, her taste tends to be more tex-mex and than our liking.

  5. What a fun post! I love cookbooks and love new recipes as well. I plan on checking this book out from the library and trying some of your family's favorites! (By the way, I can't imagine why your family didn't like seaweed soup! lol)

    1. One of my sons actually really liked it. The rest of us gave it the side eye.

  6. As I read your Instagram post and had just watched Julie & Julia, I was contemplating doing the challenge with one of the Magnolia cookbooks. Thank you for sharing your experience, I may just do vol 2!

    1. I've since looked more closely at the first one and know that I chose the right one.

  7. My sister and I are committing to one new recipe a week this year. The recipes we pick are to force us to try new ingredients. Love your article and wondered about this book!

  8. Perhaps you should compile a suggestion list of fun challenges for moms to try

    1. That would be an interesting challenge in and of itself.

  9. This was super fun to read. Sounds like a great way to try new dishes, which is always welcomed by my hubby.
    I'm certainly intrigued to try my own cookbook challenge. I have a couple of cookbooks on hand but they will need serious vetting. I appreciate the consideration you took in deciding which cookbook could work for your family's tastes and budget and time.
    I have the Faith, Family, and the Feast by Kent Rollins (or something like that) and a lot of recipes look great but not sure if every recipe would be welcomed at our table.
    Hmm. Thinking about it. Also like you you I don't like to cook extra of a meal the first time, but I do like to cook once and eat twice, still learning to do that more often.
    Thanks for sharing your cookbook challenge!

    1. The trouble is, I don't think there is a cookbook out there that would include only winning recipes. Inevitably, you'll have to wade through a few duds. But, I do think there are more family-friendly ones worth looking into.

  10. I followed along on IG and enjoyed your comments on the dishes. I really would love to try to cook through Nom Nom Paleo in 2023. I have Jo Gaine's first cookbook and found that I would need to do too many gluten adjustments to cook through her book. Please keep sharing the next few weeks!

    1. Will do! I can only imagine how her cookbooks would be difficult for someone who has special dietary restrictions. The recipes are full of gluten and dairy.

  11. What a fun idea! I love trying new recipes while my family would like me to stick to the old faithful ones. Joy of Cooking was written by Irma Rombauer. Julia Child's book is Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I tried to follow the link to your highlights, but it didn't take me to your IG. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Yes, my mistake. Thank you for pointing that out. I'm not sure why the link didn't take you to the highlight. It seems to work for me??? But I'm not very techy, so I certainly could have done something wrong to the link.

  12. I'm learning that busyness is a myth. People will always make time for the things they find most important. In saying YES to a challenge like this, I also said NO to other things. Time is always a grand trade-off.

  13. This is such a fun challenge! Especially because I LOVE her cookbooks and have all 3! They are my go-to for every birthday celebration or get-together. And you are so right, Joanna LOVES her gruyere 😂