The best recipe

So, I managed to save myself from buying any new knives, albeit it only by ordering a cool new sharpening kit. For some reason, I seem to have excellent restraint in some shopping categories and am a borderline shopaholic in others.

I have all the kitchen gear I need. My ten-inch skillet is wearing out, and I’d like to replace it one with an oven-safe handle. Someday I’d like a rice cooker with a nonstick finish. And I do admit to looking forward to the day my scale dies so I can replace it with a cool new one that holds more weight and has a better display. But there’s really nothing I need for the kitchen right now, and there are probably a few things I could stand to get rid of. On the acquisitiveness scale (aka the Trump score) here, I give myself a 3.

When it comes to computer gadgets and software, I’m one of those guys. I’m already wishing we could replace the computer we bought less than a year ago with the newer, faster model. I’m always wondering whether I might like a different keyboard or mouse, and I register shareware all the time. One time I went out to get my iPod fixed and came home with a new laptop. Honestly, I’m not proud of this. I’m giving myself a Trump score of 8 in this category.

There are plenty of other categories in which I get a score of 0, just because I don’t like shopping for those things, like clothes. It’s either rock shirts or Lands’ End. (I’m guessing Laurie didn’t marry me for my fashion sense.)

While I was working on that knife post, I realized that there’s another category in which I surprise myself by being not at all acquisitive. It’s recipes.

When I make brownies, I make Alice Medrich’s New Classic Brownies. I might make a totally different kind of brownie at some point, like a cheesecake brownie or a peanut butter brownie, but for plain chocolate brownies I’m not going to bother trying other recipes. Probably there’s another brownie recipe out there I would like better, but finding it is not worth making a hundred pans of not-so-great brownies. (I don’t mean to say that your brownie recipe is worse than mine, but if you’re in a fighting mood: Your brownies blow. Steve Bath 4EVA, sucka.)

When I want chowder, I crack open some clams and 50 Chowders.

And for many, many other recipes, I put myself in the weathered, plow-weary hands of Christopher Kimball.

The term everyone seems to be using for this approach is “satisficing”–that is, I stop when I find something that meets my criteria, without worrying about whether there’s something better.

I guess after I try making something two or three times, I give up and figure I’ll order it some time when we go out. Spaghetti carbonara is going into this category. Every time I make it, the sauce is overcooked or undercooked. (I’m not blaming the recipes for this, of course.) So screw it.

Actually, if anyone has carbonara tips, let me know. (My Trump score has just gone up by one.)

12 thoughts on “The best recipe

  1. Lore

    The Mark Bittman “How to Cook Everything” (or is it “Anything”?) carbonara recipe is pretty easy, tasty, and I haven’t screwed it up yet.

  2. mamster Post author

    OK, I’ll take a look–it’s not a recipe issue, though; I assume there’s a trick (short of adding cream) to getting the sauce cooked just right. Serving bowl temperature is my problem, I think.

    A book called “How Not to Cook Anything” would be funny.

  3. Wendy

    Huh. None of my Italian cookbooks HAVE recipes for carbonara, and I’m sure my original language one that’s back at home would, but it would probably translate something like “put it in a pan and cook it”. I think I remember something about taking it off the heat when you add the eggs? Or is that how it’s always made?

    Also, when you do get a new computer, can I buy your old one?

  4. Lore

    The sauce doesn’t get cooked at all, because it’s all eggy and cheesy and would essentially turn into curdled scrambled eggs. Instead you just get eggs that are fresh enough that you don’t have to worry about salmonella (much), mix them with the cheese, cook the pasta, then dump the pasta, cheesy eggy stuff, and bacon in a bowl you’ve warmed with the drained-off pasta water. So, yeah, apart from frying bacon and boiling pasta there’s not a lot of actual cooking going on.

    Sorry for getting sorta pedantic, but I just LOVE carbonara. :-)

    And please do write “How Not to Cook Anything”. Or, rather, have Iris write it. Sounds like her kind of humor!

  5. mamster Post author

    Ooh, “How Not to Cook Anything” would be a good name for a book about sashimi. Or raw food, but preferably it should be about something good.

    Thanks for the carbonara hints. So, you drain the pasta over the serving bowl and then dump out the cooking water? How long do you let it sit in there? Just a couple seconds?

  6. mamster Post author

    Hmm, I wonder if it would help to bring the eggs up to room temperature.

    Wendy, you can certainly buy our old computer, but we’re not actually getting a new computer soon. I can usually go a year or two between the time newcomputeritis sets in and when we actually get a new one.

  7. Geoff

    I’m not fond of wet, overly eggy carbonara. I prefer drier noodles where the pecorino and cracked pepper dominate. The eggs (no more than two per pound of pasta!) should be a supporting player, not dripping from the fork. Some recipes add cream to the mix, and thus unnecessary wetness. If the two-egg formula is too dry for your taste, you can always add pasta water. Oh, and I used to make carbonara with either guanciale or pancetta, fancying myself a purist. Recent batches have featured Hempler’s pepper bacon and boy, they were good.

  8. Lore

    Mmmmm… pepper bacon…

    I think Geoff’s two-egg formula matches Bittman’s recipe. As for heating the bowl, I brought too much water up to a boil for the noodles, then ladled the extra into the serving bowl when I put the noodles in to boil.

    “How Not to Cook Anything” could also be about horrible kitchen mistakes. “Warning! You should never cook ANYTHING that way!”

  9. Lore

    Oh, and I’ll trade you the Bittman carbonara recipe for the Medrich brownie recipe. ;-)

  10. Christos Dimitrakakis

    Carbonara? Cooked? Never. I just mix the cheese with the eggs yoklks, pepper and parsil until it becomes a smooth paste. When the pasta has been cooked I drain it and then immediately add the pancetta and the paste and mix everything together until the paste sticks to the pasta.

  11. Wendy Miller

    I use one egg and one egg yolk for 1/2 lb or so. eggs at room temp whisked with cheese in a warm serving bowl. Then the bacon with the rendered fat and finally the pasta which has not been completely drained so there is still a bit of pasta water. Lots of pepper of course. mmmmmm…..carbonara!

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