Mexican Black-Bean Ball

Photo: Jason Wyche

The Cheese Ball
For many of us, while growing up, holiday gatherings weren't complete without a requisite sphere of cheese covered in herbs or nuts. It turns out there are a few key steps to making these wondrous creations, which Michelle Buffardi reveals in her book Great Balls of Cheese. First, mix everything together using a stand mixer, a hand-held mixer or a spatula and a bowl—not a food processor, since it would combine the ingredients so vigorously that it would take an excessively long time for the ball to set. Second, refrigerate the ball before serving, so the mix-ins mingle well and the ball holds its shape.

Get the recipe: Mexican Black-Bean Ball
One-Pot Stew

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The Beef (or Veal, or Pork) Stew
A hot bowl of vegetables and meat so tender you can pull it apart with a fork is a universal family dinner staple, and this version, from The Old World Kitchen by Elisabeth Luard, is wonderfully adaptable. Even if you've never made stew, you can't screw this up. You can use meat cut from the shoulder of beef, veal or pork; nearly any root vegetable, from carrots to turnips to leeks; your choice of cabbage or green beans; and just about any fresh herb. It's a comforting one-pot meal that needs no accompaniment, save for a slice of good bread to mop up the gravy.

Get the recipe: One-Pot Stew
Pasta sauce

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The Pasta Sauce
A back-pocket recipe that deserves to be in the regular-meal rotation, homemade marinara, can elevate a $2.19 box of supermarket penne to a filling and satisfying meal. As cookbook author Domenica Marchetti explains in her recipe, there are a couple of tricks to getting the best flavor: Use a wooden spoon to press down the garlic while it's warming in the olive oil to help release its flavor. And don't cook the sauce too long—this isn't gravy that needs to simmer all day. A half hour, 35 minutes max, should be plenty of time for the sauce to thicken to ideal pasta-coating consistency.

Get the recipe: Simple Tomato Sauce

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The Popovers
These airy, hollow puffs can turn any meal, from brunch to dinner, into a gathering that feels like a special occasion. And despite their mystique, popovers actually turn out better when you're a bit lazy. Mixing the batter like crazy is a no-no (you actually want an irregular texture so the rolls pop up), as is cracking open the oven during the baking to see how the popovers are doing (they'll collapse). Follow this ultrasimple recipe from Essentials of Southern Cooking by Damon Lee Fowler once, and you'll have the method down pat.

Get the recipe: Old-Fashioned Popovers
The Yellow Cake

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The Yellow Cake
In their book The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook, Brent Ridge, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Sandy Gluck say this is the cake your mom may have made for your birthday every year—and it just might be the only cake recipe you'll ever need. It's refreshingly basic (no weird ingredients!) and tastes delicious whether you slather it with frosting or place one layer in a springform pan, spread ice cream over the top, set another layer over that and freeze for an ice-cream cake.

Get the recipe: Do-It-All Yellow Cake