Go to the archives

Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs

Julia Turshen

By Jesse kornbluth
Published: Sep 27, 2016
Category: Food and Wine

If I were Julia Turshen’s mother, I’d be bragging all over town about my kid’s new book.

The thing is, Julia Turshen’s mother is one of my favorite people in the world, and when we had lunch, she was so low-key about the book I had to ask her to get me a copy.

So much for disclosure. And excellent parenting.

Here’s the bottom line: “Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs” is now the cookbook that’s too good to sit on a shelf next to books by the other Julia, Marcella Hazan, Michael Anthony, and Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer — it now lives in the kitchen, where it will soon be grease-spattered, dog-eared and thoroughly cherished.

“Small Victories” is a book that asks to be loved for the best possible reason — it loves you first. Julia Turshen has personality to spare, and she doesn’t hold back. Her book is a collection of the foods she likes to cook, stories about those recipes, life lessons learned from cooking, and “small victories” — little tricks and home truths that make easy recipes easier and better.

Who is Julia Turshen? A missionary who came to her mission early. She opened her first “restaurant” at 3 and became known as “Julia the Child.” At 6, “I threw a black-tie Valentine’s Day party for my family and our closest friends. I wrote out a grocery list and a timetable for the evening. My father obligingly put on his tuxedo. My dress was black, white and red, but I was careful not to change into it until I’d set out the platters of butter cookies filled with raspberry jam and cream cheese sandwiches stamped with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.” She had business cards at 13, interned at a food magazine, became a private chef after college and a collaborator of celebrity cookbooks (Mario Batali, Gwyneth Paltrow).

Turshen becomes your new best friend very quickly, mostly because she is so… reassuring. “If you can make spaghetti, you can also make rice, quinoa, or soba noodles,” she writes. “If you know how to grill a hamburger, you know how to grill anything.” And this, above all: “Stress makes food taste bad.”

I’m not the only one thrilled by this book. Amazon named it a Book of the Month for September 2016, Epicurious named it first in a list of The 25 Most Exciting New Cookbooks, and Eater called it one of the Biggest New Cookbooks of 2016. Oh, and the Times just named “Small Victories” one of the best cookbooks of the fall: “a clear, complete vision for what modern home cooking should look like: comforting, practical, often vegetable-focused and with a global point of view.” [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Olive oil? For most recipes, she says Trader Joe is just fine. The chicken soup is from her Aunt Renee, who carried fake Vuitton bags. For “Julia’s Caesar” salad, she substitutes a spoonful of mayonnaise for raw egg. She cooks a favorite of Chinese take out: string beans with pork, ginger and red chile. Don’t fry meatballs, bake them. She makes Black Pepper Bloody Marys with my favorite pepper mill. Gluten-free? Turshen has your back. And, at the end, she offers 7 lists of 7 things you can do with chicken, ground meat, pizza dough and seafood.

Some recipes…


The first thing I ever cooked for my wife, Grace, were these meatballs. I made the mixture at my apartment, then packed it up with a box of pasta, ingredients for sauce and a pot (she told me she had only a skillet) and took it all to her apartment… which soon became my apartment, too. The not-so-small victories here are getting someone to marry me (!), and also making meatballs that are a cinch, as well as light and tender. I’ve found that by adding a generous amount of ricotta cheese in the mixture you can skip the usual bread crumbs and eggs, which also makes this recipe gluten-free. Yet another (small) victory is baking the meatballs instead of frying them. It’s much less messy and so easy — a win-win. Serve the meatballs with pasta or just on their own! Whichever way you choose, be sure to sprinkle them with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 8, or 4 with lots of leftovers (makes about 30 meatballs)

2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
7 garlic cloves; 4 thinly sliced, 3 minced
Kosher salt
1 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 lb ground turkey (preferably dark meat), at room temperature

Pour the contents of the tomato cans into a large bowl (set the cans aside) and crush the tomatoes with your hands (this is a messy but fun job, and a very good one for children).
Rinse one of the cans with about 1/4 cup water, pour it into the second can and swish it around to get all the excess tomato out of the cans and then pour the water into the tomato bowl.
In a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, add the sliced garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes and a very large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced and has lost any tin-can taste, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425F.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil on the baking sheet and use your hands to rub it over the entire surface of the sheet. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the minced garlic, basil, parsley, ricotta, Parmesan, turkey and 1 tablespoon of salt. Blend everything together gently but authoritatively with your hands (they’re the best tool for the job) until well mixed. Then, use your hands to form the mixture into golf ball–sized meatballs; the mixture will be sticky, so wet your hands with a bit of water to help prevent the meat from sticking to them.
Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet as you form them (it’s okay if they are touching a little). Drizzle the meatballs with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and roast until they’re browned and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to the simmering sauce (discard whatever juice and fat is left on the baking sheet).
Cook the meatballs for 10 minutes in the sauce (they can be left in the gently simmering sauce for up to 1 hour) and serve over prepared pasta


Makes 1 cup

24 scallions, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh chives, plus more for serving
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 tsp. Kosher salt
Potato chips for serving, preferably plain or salt-and-vinegar

Preheat oven to 425°.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Put scallions on prepared baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with salt. Rub scallions to coat with oil and spread into an even layer. Roast, stirring once, until softened and browned in spots, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse scallions, mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, chives, and 1/2 tsp. pepper until combined. (Dip should be relatively but not completely smooth.)
Transfer dip to a bowl, top with additional chives, and serve with chips. Dip will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days; if serving dip cold, season again before serving, as cold temperatures tend to mute flavors.