Psst. I know what everyone is really hoping you’ll cook this weekend, and I’m sorry, it is not that kale salad. Okay, maybe not if these people are gluten-free, or opposed to butter, burnt sugar and stretchy yeasted breakfast treats. You probably shouldn’t make this for anyone on a juice cleanse or auditioning a paleo lifestyle. And now that I’ve ruled most of the people on this earth out, maybe I should stop talking about “everyone” when what I really mean is me.
Several awesome things are happening this weekend: babysitting, the promise of assaulting my friends’ eyeballs with my latest hopeless attempt at “fashion” [a jumpsuit that fits perfectly enough now in month eight to only a give off a slight snake-that’s-swallowed-a-goat vibe — Google it. I’ll wait here, cracking up], a party that celebrates both some fight that I guess must be a big deal or something and, if that were not enough, the Kentucky Derby. Needless to say, all excuses to fete bourbon, mint, big hats and horsies are taken seriously around here, especially because it’s finally given me a chance to talk about the deliciousness that is Not Derby Pie.
I would like to go on record as stating that I was not in the market for a new chocolate chip cookie recipe. Maybe I’m getting a little cranky in my advanced food blogging age, but I have found little evidence over the years that there’s anything new to add to the chocolate chip cookie conversation. (See: Item #9.) In fact, whenever there has been a new/perfect/ideal/ultimate/consummate recipe making the rounds and I have eventually caved and tried it, I’m generally underwhelmed, not because they are not good — I mean, I’m not dead inside, no chocolate chip cookies go to waste around here — but because they’re just weren’t new or different or special enough to get me to permanently stray from my go-to. *
What makes a recipe great? In my head, there’s a list of ten things and eight of them are different ways of saying the first one, which is “It works.”
- It works.
- For everyone. In every kitchen.
- Without requiring an advanced cooking degree or preexisting mastery of obscure techniques.
- Or voodoo.
- Definitely not prayer.
- It explains what you need to do in the clearest language possible.
- It anticipates where most home cooks might struggle. If something is a game-changer — i.e. it will kill the recipe if you don’t adhere closely to a step — it will warn you.
- Did I mention that it needs to work? Because it doesn’t matter what you’re making or who gave you the recipe or how transcendent it was at the Michelin-starred restaurant that night, if the recipe printed in a publication intended for home cooks doesn’t work for most of us at home, it sucks as a recipe. It leads to bad meals, bad moods and take-out. A recipe flop is about the worst way to spend your limited free time. It is a 100% guarantee that you’re not going to feel like cooking next time you have a chance.
There is a whole catalog of cooking devoted to what to make when you peer nervously into your bank account and find the balance lacking — one could even argue that the affordable preparation and dissemination of nutrients has always been the primary goal of cooking, before we got distracted by $700 blenders and organically milled heirloom cornmeal porridge (ahem, guilty as charged). Yet what better time to celebrate meals that don’t weigh heavily on our wallets than in the hours after our annual reckoning with the IRS? From the world’s cheapest protein (eggs, crispy, scrambled, smashed and omelet-ed with potatoes), to the most humble (beans, in soup, in curries, stews and chilis) to inexpensive cuts of meat, cooked and stretched forever (in tacos, over orzo, Jewish-style or in the heartiest of soups), most of the time when we’re talking about budget cooking, we’re talking, understandably, about dinner. But one cannot survive on stews and slops alone or at least one should not be expected to in the third trimester; somewhere it is written, or at least it is now.
As someone who claims that her favorite food on earth is artichokes, it’s strange that this cooking website boasts so few recipes that feature them, that the last one was over 5 years ago, and I came to the conclusion years later that I liked it better without the artichokes. Something is not adding up. But while I like to believe that I cook what I want — it’s all about me, me, me, baby — and not solely that which will please a real or imagined audience, the reality is that it’s not much fun to make food that few people get as excited about as you do. It would be like inviting everyone you knew to a viewing party on the latest Science Channel documentary on, say, how rolling luggage is made only to find that all of your friends were simultaneously, apologetically busy that night. (WTH, you want us to return to the dark ages of lifting luggage by hand?)
There are a lot of great reasons to make your own soda syrup. You can use real sugar, rather than the HFCS devil that lurks in most bottles. You can make flavors that make you happy, from real seasonal ingredients with complexity and intensity, and you can use up excesses of things in your fridge like, say, the time you assumed strawberries being on sale meant that you were going to eat a few pounds of them before they went bad. You can use the syrup as a foundation for cocktails, because it’s Friday and baby, you’ve earned it, and you can package bottles up as gifts for friends, because you’re just that awesome of a person.