The Unexpected Joy of Cooking the Same Thing Over and Over
You know those beat-up recipe cards and cookbooks our grandparents used to keep track of the dishes they loved? I inherited several from my grandmother, who was an excellent, budget-conscious cook with so many recipes that she self-published a cookbook. My mom and each of her siblings got one when they graduated from college, but the most coveted copy was the one my grandmother referred to, continuing to make notes in the margins of the recipes, specifying a specific brand of baking chocolate or changing a measurement to her own preferences.
Those notes are the mark of a great cook—one with a repertoire of dishes that she executed over and over, tweaking them each time to approach perfection.
I’ve been thinking about her a lot as I’m stuck in my house during this period of self-isolation. I have limited ingredients, and I’m making many of the same dishes over and over. Canned tomatoes become marinara sauce, tweaked with each iteration to the exact level of spicy, garlicky brightness that I prefer. Chocolate chips become cookies, adding walnuts to one batch and browned butter to the next, changing the flavor and texture of the cookie with each version, edging ever closer to my perfect cookie. (My perfect cookie has a mixture of chopped chocolate, a good hit of browned butter, and plenty of salt, in case you were wondering.) Bags of all-purpose flour become focaccia, each version rising for different amounts of time, always noticing how much salt, how much time, yields the best result. The time and temperature for roast chicken is adjusted to yield the crispiest skin with the most succulent flesh. Cooking becomes a learning process, almost a meditation.
This is the greatest joy of cooking in your own home—the ability to learn exactly how you like a dish to come out, and execute to that preference over and over. Cookbooks and culinary teachers will tell you there’s a correct way to do things: that cookies should be baked through and pasta should be al dente, but in the privacy of your own home, you’re free to make things exactly how you want them.
If you, like me, are lucky enough to be cooped up in your own home, with plenty of food and time on your hands, absolutely losing your mind, pick something you love, and make it over and over. Share cookies and bread with your neighbors. Eat roast chicken for breakfast. Skip your meditation app in favor of learning to feed yourself.