OK, I’ve now been on such a cooking bender, I have literally flayed my knuckles with all the hand-washing. My hands look like they’ve been dipped in boiling oil. Time to break, and this is WAY overdue:
So yeah, I cook a lot. Five or six nights a week lot. (These holiday-season all-day baking marathons aren’t the norm, but I’m baking often too, from biweekly work birthday cakes to little desserts for potlucks.) And though I’m clearly partial to one-pot soups and stews and, of course, pasta dishes of every stripe — approachable weeknight cooking, it seems, is the unofficial focus of these pages — I don’t go for sad-single-person-at-home-alone cooking.
I may be single and home alone, but I cook for four as a rule: Me and a little more than me for dinner 1. Lunch for me the next day. Maybe lunch for me again the following day or, depending on the dish, something to sock away in the freezer for one of those nights when I just can’t get it together (this makes things like last week’s late-night pulled-pork sandwich dinner possible).
Do I invite anyone over? Barring the occasional calls from bored or drunk friends who ambush me at the last minute with demands to be fed (which I’m delighted to accommodate — there aren’t a lot of expectations around food on the fly), and the very rare houseguest, I almost never host dinner. Too scary.
Really, I blame cooking school. I can cook, and people know I can cook. I mean, for whatever it’s worth, I cooked in real restaurants before. I have knives. But I am also neurotic. What if it sucks?
I am fully aware that most people do not give a crap, and in fact would be delighted simply to be fed. They want to come hang out, gossip, drink wine, maybe meet someone new, drink more wine. The food is the excuse, not the focus. It’s just a bonus if they remember the food fondly. I know this from going to dinner at nearly all of my friends’ homes at one time or another. And then not reciprocating.
I am now becoming more worried about being a rude friend than a bad host, so it’s time to get some balls.
Enter Forking Fantastic, Tamara Reynolds and Zora O’Neill’s hilarious guide to putting “the party back in dinner party” — a crash course in intuitive cooking for apprehensive cooks and a handbook for freaks like me who just can’t grasp the idea that inviting friends (or even strangers, gasp!) to dinner does not have to be the prelude to a nervous breakdown.
Now, I’ve known Zora for years, and we used to live together in a house whose mantra was FOOD = LOVE, so it’s no surprise to me that these gals know their food. I might take issue with a couple of details (I was taught to never let my chicken stock boil, but I always flout that one, and my stock is damn good), but directions to add a handful of this, a glug of that, and a couple of roughly chopped whatever are right up my alley. (This is likely the reason Mark Bittman is my hero and I have a not-secret crush on Jamie Oliver.) Savory cooking is all about taste and smell and sound and feel, not slavish devotion to recipes, and this book champions the cause with a healthy helping of refreshing cursing and buckets of wine.
I’d recommend this book for the entertainment value alone — c’mon, can you really pass on a book that discusses carnivore squeamishness under the heading Meat Is Murder (Tasty, Tasty Murder!)? — and I adore Zora and Tamara’s passionate call to novice cooks to just go for it (Part 1 is titled Cautious Beginners, Start Here). But the recipes and menus are also so fun, sophisticated, and maybe most important, manageable, even a less-novice but freaked-out idiot like me is about ready to start the guest list. I’ve already added a few dishes and ingredients (pomegranate molasses, woo!) to my repertoire.
Menus are laid out with not only recipes but also complete “Plans of Attack”; booze recommendations (”Drink Up!”); hilarious and encouraging party-planning advice (”Horde Management,” “The Hour of Self-Loathing”); and tips designed to calm your panic and make your dinner run smoothly, all culled from the authors’ personal experience (”Learn from Our Mistakes!”). I’m partial to the choose-your-own-adventure buttermilk fried chicken menu, titled Are You Insane? (Yes gets you a recipe for 30, No scales it down for a few friends) — I haven’t even tried it yet, but I do agree that if you’re going to fry, you might as well go nuts, and the enthusiasm is goddamn infectious.
That they swear a lot along the way is just icing on the cake for me, a testament to their enthusiasm, and a reminder that I’m not that different from Zora and Tamara, really. Maybe I can fry for 30 without having a nervous breakdown.