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Philosophical Monday: The Tri-Weekly Habit – Adventures in Recipe Testing

badcookSo as you may or may not remember, I’m on a 21-day challenge not to spend money on anything but necessities. After the first week, I decided that man cannot live on fresh & easy pre-prepared and frozen meals alone, and decided to volunteer my uniquely inept services to test a series of recipes from a cook book for singles that Delia Hauser from “Chic Geek” is currently writing.

The 3 chicken recipes were designed to be  affordable, all derived from a simple list, filling and sophisticated without having a ton of stuff left over. Everything was super-tasty. Moreover, I’ve been making my breakfast and lunch more exciting thanks to the few leftover ingredients. I only had three complaints as a recipe tester. Two are useful for would-be cook book writers, the other is just me being trifling:

1.) When I was young, I asked my mother, who was not a good cook, when I might be able to cook myself. She answered that if I wanted to cook, all I had to do was read. “Anyone who can read, can cook.” For the most part, I believe this to be true. I’m a decent cook, b/c I can follow instructions. However, I do realize that anyone who can read can’t necessarily cook super-well. And people who write cookbooks are often really good and intuitive cooks. I don’t have an intuitive bone in my body when it comes to cooking. I don’t just follow a recipe, I do exactly what it tells me. Therefore any instruction like “cook until tender” or “salt and pepper to taste” or “a pat of butter” doesn’t work for me. I don’t taste anything as I go along, and I need exact measurements and exact times for everything. That’s because I’m not a great cook. But “not great cooks” are the ones that actually buy cookbooks, so great cooks should keep that in mind while transcribing their recipes. Basically explain everything to us like we’re complete idiots, which I am (in the kitchen).

2.) If any of your recipes call for an action that involves a tool other than a knife or pan, explain how it can be done with a common household item. At one point, I was called upon to mash a vegetable medley for soup. However, being someone who doesn’t usually truck with recipes that take over 20 minutes and who insists on buying everything pre-chopped and who didn’t even believe in posessions before she married her husband, I don’t have a masher. I’ve seen them in various friends and relative’s houses, so I know what one looks like, but I don’t actually own one. I ended up with a “sort of mashed with a measuring cup medley” — though it didn’t seem to adversely effect the soup. It was delicious.

3.) I watched The Visitor last night, and laughed when the main character, who was eating dinner alone at home, had a bowl of cereal with a glass of wine. “I’ve done that,” I said to CH. “Me too!” he said.

I loved the results of actually taking 40 minutes to an hour to chop stuff up and cook something beautiful for myself. But at the end of the day — especially at the end of a work day, I found myself tempted to make a 15 minute pasta instead. The problem with cooking for oneself, is that you don’t necessarily want to work that hard for yourself. That’s why your self-manicure almost never looks as good as the ones they give you at the shop — even when you use the exact same tools. Delia’s system of one shopping list — three recipes was brilliant, because I cooked in order to avoid food spoilage. But I doubt a recipe for one meal that took over 30 minutes for me to make from start to finish would work for me otherwise.

I hope these three observations helps anyone thinking of writing a cookbook — especially one for single eaters, which we need more of. I’m still looking for single-eater recipes, since I’m going to have to cook for myself throughout the rest of my pregnancy. So if you have any suggestions, shout them out in the comments.

Also, I’m looking for suggestions for my next 21-day habit towards self-improvement, so if you have any ideas, let me know, otherwise I might have to go with my last resort “not interrupting” —  and the thought of tackling that bad habit is rather harrowing.

. photo credit: Nick Wheeler