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Lidey Heuck’s ‘Cooking in Real Life’ Is Fun and Approachable

Cookbook's simple, delicious recipes are sure to boost your kitchen confidence

spinner image lidey heuck holding piece of cake on plate; blue background with outlines of kitchen utensils on it
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: Dane Tashima)

While looking for a job during her senior year at Maine’s Bowdoin College, Lidey Heuck took a chance. A college friend’s father was the attorney for celebrity chef Ina Garten — would he pass along a note asking if she needed any help? “It was fortuitous timing, because she just happened to be looking for someone to join her team and do social media. I went down to East Hampton, and I had an interview, and we had a great talk,” Heuck says. “A few weeks later, [Garten] called and said, ‘I want you to come work for me.’ It was pretty incredible.”

During her seven years working for Garten, Heuck, 32, was an eager protégée, learning by testing recipes at work and practicing by “cooking incessantly” in her off-hours. Today, she’s a New York Times recipe developer and writer, and she’s debuting her first cookbook, Cooking in Real Life: Delicious & Doable Recipes for Every Day, complete with a heartfelt foreward by Garten, 76.

The book offers more than 100 recipes designed to build your confidence in the kitchen,  including snacks, main courses, veggie-forward sides and desserts. The approachable recipes are peppered with insightful tips, so home cooks can adapt them to suit their lifestyles and their family’s preferences, while adding new favorites to their mealtime repertoire.

Heuck shares with AARP her recipe inspirations, how she came to work for Garten, and the one skill she recommends home chefs practice.

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How do you hope someone feels when they read through Cooking in Real Life?

First of all, I hope they feel inspired by the recipes. I also hope that they feel capable and confident that they’ll be able to make them. Every recipe in this book is meant to be for any cook, with any [level of] experience. They’re meant to be really doable, easy recipes that fit into your everyday life. Not everyone feels comfortable in the kitchen. I really wanted my book to be a helpful tool for making people more comfortable. Something can look really beautiful and taste delicious, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a complicated recipe.

What are your earliest memories of wanting to be in the kitchen? What drew you there?

spinner image book cover that says cooking in real life, lidey heuck, foreword by ina garten
Simon Element, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Cook With Lidey

Heuck shared three recipes from Cooking in Real Life for AARP members to try:

Baked Crab Dip With Sweet Corn & Old Bay

Creamy baked dips are always a hit, and with fresh crab and corn kernels off the cob, this one feels especially luxurious.

Grilled Skirt Steak

Piled on top of grilled skirt steak, this salsa turns this everyday cut of meat into a total showstopper.

Strawberry Rhubarb Shortcake

Hot pink slivers of tart, roasted rhubarb mixed in with strawberries make for a balanced and undeniably gorgeous dessert.

My extended family was centered around food because two of my uncles owned a restaurant, and my grandfather was a really good cook. We would have these family dinners, and the kitchen was always kind of the place to be. I always found myself just hanging out in the kitchen, bugging my aunts and uncles and just learning. There was something appealing that made me kind of gravitate towards the energy and the warmth of a kitchen, and by extension, cooking and food.

What is your relationship with Ina like?

She’s been incredibly supportive of everything that I’ve done and wanted me to figure out what I wanted to do after working for her. She’s just such a wealth of knowledge and support. She’s had many experiences in food and business, so she’s just an incredible resource and also a friend. She very generously wrote the incredible foreword for my book.

What is one essential skill home cooks should learn to become better in the kitchen?

[Get] a good knife and work on your knife skills. I think it’s the tool you use most in the kitchen. You can even watch YouTube tutorials — there’s so many resources now for working on knife skills. [It’s also important to] keep them sharp and not use dull knives that are going to slip.

Your parents are both writers. Has that shaped your desire to write recipes and a cookbook?

Because my parents were in creative fields, they were always very supportive of doing things that were a little bit outside the box. I’ve always loved to write, and that’s what I saw myself doing as a kid. Growing up, I never thought about food as a job. Writing has always been the thing that I’ve felt most comfortable and good at, and so combining that with food, which I sort of fell into, ended up being a perfect combination.

If you’re throwing a dinner party, do you have a go-to menu?

I’ll usually start with the main dish. In my book, I’ve got so many good dinner party recipes … a braised short rib and a recipe for a steak. Then I just fill out [the menu] with maybe a green salad or something with a lot of veggies. I like to use a lot of whatever produce is in season so everything feels really colorful and fresh and abundant. I try to keep things super simple. That’s one thing I learned from Ina: When you’re entertaining, you have enough other things going on, so to take on some sort of crazily difficult menu just adds stress. I try to keep it simple for an appetizer or bite while people are having a drink. I will do a cheese board, roasted nuts or simple dips. Making it simple so that you can be relaxed and have fun with your friends is very important.

How do you get inspiration for new dishes?

I get inspiration everywhere! My husband [attorney Joe Piscina] and I have a shared note we’re always updating whenever either one of us sees a good recipe. We’re always brainstorming new recipe ideas together. [Beyond that], eating in restaurants, traveling and just getting out of the house.

What dishes are part of your comfort food rotation?

We make a lot of really simple pastas with a jar of good marinara and whatever’s in the pantry like a nice jar of tuna. One thing from the book that I make a lot is chicken meatballs with marinara and pasta. They are really delicious, moist chicken meatballs, and they also freeze well. It’s good to make it as a double batch and then just have it on hand to defrost. There’s a salmon recipe with honey and chile crunch in the book that we make probably every other week. Sweet and spicy — it’s one of my favorite things ever.


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