This is one of the great questions in cooking: is it better to get it done, or get it done right?
I remember this debate raging among the staff at Fine Cooking as they struggled to find a balance between fussy (though some would argue “fun”) project recipes and weeknight (some would argue “cheaters”) cooking.
This question continues to trouble our kitchen, too. Mom, after many years of doing it right, has admittedly moved into a kind of get-it-done mentality, Maggy is up for the occasional project but loves a good shortcut, and I tend to be the staunch purist among us. I would rather make my own pie dough, use slow cooking polenta, boil old school lasagna noodles, bake an elaborate cake, and stir up my own pudding. I recognize, however, that I am in that romantic phase of cooking—an idealistic, near-obsessive attitude that pushes me to four different stores to find the perfect ingredients and costs me many (wonderful) hours in front of the stove. I want to keep living in this place for as long as I can.
I still love the sound and feel of a sharp knife chopping through an onion. I love taking a pile of whole ingredients and turning them into a sauce that tastes nothing like any one of those ingredients, but something like all of them. I like running my fingers through a bag of Arborio rice, and stirring risotto until my arm is about to fall off.
I truly believe that, like almost everything else, cooking is something that some people are born to love, but that everyone can at least come to like. Not everyone wants to spend a whole weekend making homemade croissants, or Chinese dumplings from scratch (I am starting to pencil these things into my calendar). But I think we tend to avoid things that we’re afraid we’re not good at. Much like the Nike Company, my motto in the kitchen has become—for God’s sake, Just Do It. Find a recipe, find a friend, find a bottle of wine, and just go for it. Tony and I made Osso Buco this weekend, and last weekend we cooked a whole leg of lamb. Did I have any idea what I was doing? No. Did it turn out well? Absolutely.
The more I cook, the more comfortable I am in the kitchen. And the more comfortable I am, the more I actually want to be there—the more I want to challenge myself.
That said, cooking on weeknights is an art form in itself. But prepared ingredients still sometimes make me cringe. I think there is a simplicity to it that needs to be respected: I wouldn’t try to make a pie on a Wednesday evening, because that would mean buying Pillsbury dough. Though I’d venture a guess that I’ll feel differently about all of this if I ever have more than one mouth to feed every single night of the week.