Welcome to The Pioneer Woman Cookbook Club! This month, we’re featuring Jen Hatmaker, the hilarious best-selling author, inspirational speaker, and host of For the Love podcast (where she’s even interviewed our very own Ree Drummond!). Out now with her debut cookbook, Feed These People: Slam-Dunk Recipes for Your CrewJen shows us how she went from a clueless cook to a cookbook author, her number-one tip for expanding a picky child’s palate, and her mouthwatering recipe for no-fuss loaded grilled cheese!
Many cookbook authors profess to be for the everyday cook, guaranteeing useful recipes you can throw together for an easy dinner. with Feed These PeopleJen Hatmaker has written the rare cookbook that actually fulfills that promise.
Jen is not a fancy chef. She’s not a chef at all, according to the introduction of her cookbook. She did not grow up in a household full of cooks and, until her kids were born, she didn’t even know where to find ginger or garlic in the grocery store. Instead, she grew up in Kansas in the ’80s with frozen chicken patties and Veg-all. When they wanted to be adventurous, her family would put Arby’s Horsey Sauce on a roast beef sandwich. “I didn’t grow up with any cooking skills at all, nor did I get married with any skills. I was a culinary tragedy,” Jen says.
Flash forward to today, and Jen has learned a thing or two about cooking. Not only does she know exactly what to do with a layman, but she also regularly uses curry paste and drowns herself in jalapeños. And now, the beloved motivational writer has also collected a Rolodex of family meal ideas into one hilarious, irreverent book: Feed These People.
But Jen’s culinary transformation didn’t happen overnight. As with many people, she decided to learn how to cook for the sole purpose of feeding the gaggle of little kids demanding dinner seven nights a week. It began in a very clunky, rudimentary way with a million missteps. She looked to the Food Network as her culinary school, and her study guides were the latest cookbooks to hit the shelves. She aimed for one new recipe a week and made sure to try that recipe more than once. The whole adventure was a learning curve for everyone—including her children. “I channeled the moms from the ’70s and ’80s who were like, ‘you’re gonna eat this, or you’re gonna eat it tomorrow morning for breakfast!'”
2020, Feed These People had its tentative title but almost died in the water after Jen lost her 26-year marriage. “I just thought everything was ruined. feed these people, for me, meant my family,” explains Jen. Her whole team rallied and reminded her that she still had plenty of people she fed daily, including her kids. “Writing this book, I had a chance to re-evaluate what food meant to me,” Jen says. “The relationship between food and family is everything. It’s all of it—the beginning, middle, and the end of the story.”
Feed These People doesn’t follow many protocols, and it’s probably outside most cookbook standards. It’s a book for regular cooks, like Jen, to feed the people they love. “I’m just a normal person who stands in her kitchen and cooks for the people who live here,” she says.
Her approach: Use simple ingredients to create zero-fuss, low-stakes recipes that her family (and hopefully yours) will enjoy. From Southern comfort classics to Vietnamese-inspired grilled pork bahn mi, she constantly asks herself how to get more flavor, spice, crunch, and layers into any recipe.
For instance, a simple grilled cheese in Jen Hatmaker’s hands veers into an explosion of flavor with layers of potato chips, bacon, raspberry jam, and gruyere cheese. “I can only guess that this recipe came out of a fever dream,” Jen jokes. “I mean, what sort of sociopath puts this in a cookbook?” The recipe is located in a section called “Food for Your Picky Spouse or Spawn” (we kid you not!) and it’s all about combining crispy, gooey, buttery, and crunchy.