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Tieghan Gerard
Tieghan Gerard
Courtesy of Tieghan Gerard

Tucked in her custom-renovated barn amid the snow-capped mountains of Colorado, Tieghan Gerard spends her days cooking with seasonal ingredients, bathed in natural sunlight. It's so charming, and so picturesque, it'd be easy for her to be unrelatable.

But that's not the case. She may be a 25-year-old with millions of people following her creations on Pinterest and Instagram, but she also accidentally lights towels on fire.

"[W]eekly's SO bad," she wrote of the incident on a recent blog post.

Gerard has a knack for photographing and styling her dishes (and cocktails) in a way that makes them look like art—but everything gets eaten, too. Her five brothers are all snowboarders, including Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard, and they tend to crash her kitchen after their runs at nearby parks.

Money talked with Gerard about how to throw a dinner party for four on $20, that time she royally messed up a Thanksgiving staple—and the one kitchen essential she can't live without. The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What does a normal workday look like for you?

Monday through Friday I'm in the kitchen from 9 am until whenever the sun sets. I only use natural light (for photos) so I use that as a guide for when to start and end my cooking. I'm working on my second cookbook right now, so recipe testing is pretty intense. I'm generally cooking at least five days a week, and I'm on the computer, like, all night long basically. It's pretty equal. There's a lot of time spent on the computer and a lot of time spent in the kitchen.

Can you share any details about the cookbook?

Yes, I haven't really announced it yet. It's Half-Baked Harvest Super Simple, with sheet-pan recipes and things like that. I've seen my readers really respond to that. It's stuff that is still flavorful and my style of cooking but done in a super simple way.

How much is a typical weekly grocery bill for you?

It really depends. I want to say between $175 and $200. So it's not cheap, but I'm testing recipes multiple times and buying a lot of ingredients. I am sometimes cooking for like 20 people. That's not an everyday thing, but it is often. Or I'm testing 30-plus recipes in a week.

Shredded brussels sprout bacon salad with warm cider vinaigrette and pomegranate, a common ingredient in Gerard's fall recipes.
Courtesy of Tieghan Gerard

What do you do with the food after all the recipe testing?

I'm really lucky because I have a huge family. I'm one of seven kids, and five of those are boys. They all snowboard, and they have friends who are in town constantly in the fall and winter months, so they'll end up back here eating. We also have some neighbors who we'll shove food off onto. And then when we have a lot of excess, there's a local church, and we'll freeze it for them. So we're not wasting much, which is great because there really is so much food.

Do you have any tips for someone new to cooking who's trying to stick to a budget?

It really helps if you can plan what you're actually going to need. I know everyone says it, but it's just the cold-hard truth. You've got to take 30 minutes and figure out when it is you're going to be eating at home and what you want to eat. I also take into consideration leftovers. People often ask, 'How can I make this recipe for two people?' But I'm not big on two-people serving sizes. I think it's great if you have leftovers for lunch the next day or to incorporate into other recipes. Like I'm doing a chili for the book and then turning the leftover meat into enchiladas. You're stretching out the meals, so it's like a two-for-one deal.

If I gave you $20 to throw a dinner party for four, what'd be on the menu?

I'll entertain with a lot of things, but pasta is one of my favorites. When we have a ton of people, I'll do lasagnas. But if it's just four people, I posted a recipe a couple weeks ago that was pumpkin pasta shells, and it was so cheap and easy to make. And then I'd add a really big colorful salad, because when you're eating pasta, you want something green, plus a colorful salad looks pretty on the table, so it doubles as an easy way to make your table look really nice. The recipe I'm thinking of is a pumpkin sauce pasta with ricotta and a little bit of pesto. It's really good and really simple. You just prep it and throw it in the oven. That's better, because it's so much less pressure since you don't have to get it right from the stove to the table. I'm all about having something in the oven so you're not running around the kitchen. It's really hard to be entertaining guests and also thinking, 'Oh no, am I overcooking my pasta?'

Spicy Pumpkin and Pesto Stuffed Shells, Gerard's recommendation for a fall dinner party that's easy on the wallet.
Courtesy of Tieghan Gerard

That's a great tip. It's so stressful to try to follow a recipe while talking with guests.

Yeah, especially with first-time entertainers, I feel like that happens all time, and it's just not fun and it can be so easily avoided.

What's a pricey kitchen appliance you use all the time, something you couldn't live without?

It's not an appliance, but if you need one cooking thing, invest in some really nice cast iron pots. I could not live without my Staub cast iron. [A 7-quart round cocotte lists for over $500, though they often sell on sale for roughly half that price.] I do so much with it. It goes from oven to table, from stove top to oven. There are so many different things I can do with it. And they're pretty and so durable. They're just my favorite.

Gerard's homemade gravy.
Courtesy of Tieghan Gerard

What about the opposite? Anything in the kitchen that's not worth the money?

I was thinking about an air fryer. I know some people love it but it's just not my thing. All you can do is cook small-batch things in it. And I just don't need another appliance. I'm really minimal when it comes to appliances. I have the KitchenAid stand mixer, my food processor, and a blender. Even a microwave, I don't ever use. We have a microwave in the studio now, but when I was working out of my house, I never used one and I never missed it.

Give me a handful of pantry staples everyone needs to keep in their kitchen.

Definitely pasta, rice, quinoa. Olive oil and spices. I like to keep jarred sun-dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers, so if you don't have any fresh vegetables, you can use those in place. And then I also really like to have beans on hand. You can do so much with pantry staples.

Do you have any cheap guilty pleasures?

I don't know if this counts but puff pastry is one of the best things ever. I don't know why you'd make homemade puff pastry. It seems so much easier to make it from the box.

Is there a food or drink item you spend too much money on?

I'll spend a lot of money on good vanilla. I do bake a lot and if you do, don't get the cheap stuff. Good vanilla really matters.

What's your favorite brand of vanilla?

There's one from Williams and Sonoma that is great. But the one I'm using right now is from Rodelle. It's really good. If you do holiday baking, you should definitely invest.

Chai pumpkin cake with maple browned butter frosting
Courtesy of Tieghan Gerard

You mentioned earlier that your brothers can be picky eaters. Are you? Is there anything you wouldn't eat, even if I paid you $1,000?

Oh, $1,000 is a lot of money! I've never been a picky eater. But I don't think I'd ever eat Spam. I've never tried it but it just doesn't interest me. And weird animal parts. I'm not big on the weird meats.

Do you have any good stories about recent kitchen failures, a recipe that went all wrong?

So many. Sometimes I'm just going too fast and you mess up when you're going too fast. But this particular one is embarrassing because it's so basic. Last Thanksgiving, we went back to Ohio for Thanksgiving, and I was cooking the dinner in my grandma's kitchen. In my defense, it's not exactly the best set up kitchen, and I was working with cooking utensils from the nineties. But my gravy was just bad. I don't even know what happened but it was the worst gravy ever. And everyone needs gravy with their turkey. It wasn't a fond moment. So for all those people out there who have had that Thanksgiving mess-up, I did too. I'm with you.