A wedding gift they'll actually use: 'The 8 x 8 Cookbook' and a classic Pyrex dish

If you want to give a wedding gift that will actually get used, consider giving an 8x8 baking dish.

And a copy of "The 8x8 Cookbook."

The 8x8 baking dish is the unsung hero in any kitchen — but especially a tiny kitchen — because it can do everything from bake brownies to mac and cheese, and its size means there are never too many leftovers. (Important, when you're just starting out on your own and trying new recipes... No one wants a vat of a dish that was just meh.)

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We asked entrepreneur Kathy Strahs about what led her to write "The 8x8 Cookbook" — the idea came to her as a newlywed living in Solana Beach — and for some tips for putting it to good use for newlyweds, college students or young adults striking out on their own.

You’ll find that 8x8 pans come in all different colors and materials, but we’ve found that glass dishes with rounded corners make cleanup easiest. Strahs says you can’t go wrong with simple Pyrex.

Her single best tip? Don't be put off by cooking times required for many 8x8 recipes, which can range from 30 minutes or so to about an hour. The meals can be prepped in mere minutes, and the baking time is actually a relief. Strahs suggests using that time to tend to some chores, or, better yet, quickly tidy up the kitchen. Then after dinner, you've just got just a few dishes and utensils to clean up. (Cooking spray and crafty use of parchment paper make cleaning up the 8x8 pan easy too.)

Why is the 8x8 so magical? Why not the 9x13? Or an even larger casserole dish?

Too big. When we were starting out, so many recipes that I wanted to make called for the 9x13 pan. But it was just the two of us, and some dishes were hits, some weren't, and then we had all these leftovers... we didn't have a big freezer to freeze it all. I would bring out the 8x8 pan and try to modify those recipes so I wouldn't have a whole lot of leftovers for too many days. I thought, "It sure would be nice to find one place for these [8x8] recipes." And then I thought, "There could be a cookbook there..."

How many people can you feed with an 8x8 dish?

It depends on your family's appetites. My husband likes to take his lunch to work, so when it was just the two of us, it was perfect for dinner, and then lunch for us the next day. Even when we had two kids, it was still the right size for dinner, and maybe one extra serving, so that's a lunch for my husband. It depends on what else we're having, and how hungry everyone is, but it’s about six or so servings.

What's the biggest mistake people make when they start trying to tackle dinner-time cooking?

They try to do too much. It doesn't have to be a five-star gourmet meal. It just needs to be dinner. Start by trying the things you enjoyed while you were growing up. Flavors that are familiar [so there's a better chance you'll like the finished dish]. And stick to flavors that are pretty darn simple. And then, every once in awhile, I announce, 'Today we're trying something new.' But even then, I tend to stick to those familiar flavor profiles. And when you find something you like, make it part of your rotation.

What about sides?

A lot of the recipes [in “The 8x8 Cookbook”] are designed to be one-pan meals. In many cases, you've got your protein and a vegetable, so you may not need a side. But you can always do a simple green salad, or a vegetable on the side if you want it.

Your recipes are easy, but they're not necessarily quick. You say that's actually a bonus.

It's not a quick meal, necessarily, but it gives you a pocket of time to get stuff done. Get it all in the oven, and then if you need to clean the house, or help the kids with the homework, that’s great. Or you can just kick back and relax. You don't have to stand there and watch the stove the whole time. The oven is doing the work.

What are the recipes that get the most play in your house?

The honey glazed chicken. That has vegetables, so it is truly a one-dish meal. Make that, and you're done. The favorite in my house is probably the mac and cheese, no surprise. My family also like the chicken enchiladas. If you use rotisserie chicken for that, it's a real time-saver.

OK, you've cut down the pots and pans we need to drag out for dinner. Any magic tips for cleaning up?

I make good use of parchment paper. I [insert it into the pan and then] spray it with Pam or melted butter. It's not just for brownies or any baked goods... It all comes out neatly, and then cleanup is easy.

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