This is part three of a six-part series on Casual Kitchen’s core principles. Find the beginning of this series here.
CK Core Principle #3: Identify and Exploit Simple, Scalable and Minimalist Recipes
Many recipes are "bad" in the sense that they’re labor intensive, require lots of prep work, contain a long list of costly ingredients, and are a general pain in the ass to make.
If you enjoy spending all day in the kitchen making recipes like this, go for it. But if you’re like most Casual Kitchen readers looking to get delicious and healthy dinners on the table with a minimum of time and fuss, it's a critical skill to be able to identify "good" recipes. Meaning: a recipe that’s both easy and delicious.
This skill isn’t hard to develop. All you have to do is ask yourself three quick questions as you read any recipe:
1) Does this recipe involve lots of prep work, several steps or a long list of ingredients?
2) Does it contain expensive or difficult-to-find ingredients?
3) Will it be difficult to double this recipe?
If you answer yes (or even maybe) to any of these three questions, "next" this recipe. Immediately. There are zillions of recipes out there that are shorter, easier and equally delicious. Go pick another one.
Now, am I telling you never to cook challenging and difficult recipes? Heavens no! I’m merely saying this: if you want an easier experience putting healthy food in front of your family, proper recipe selection is 90% of the battle. Short, simple and easy recipes have enormous advantages over complicated and difficult ones. They cost less. They take far less time. And they can be just as as delicious. Moreover, the shorter and simpler a recipe is, the less likely you’ll make a mistake, skip a step or otherwise mess up the recipe. Result? Dinner is on the table with a minimum of risk.
Okay. Let me share a quick thought on the double batch rule--one of the best sources of efficiency in cooking. Here at Casual Kitchen, we’re always on the lookout for what we call "scalable" recipes: recipes that can be easily doubled (or even tripled) with minimal incremental work.The point to making double batches, of course, is a double batch gives you not only dinner for tonight, but also dinner for future nights too. After all, there's no easier way to put a good dinner on the table than to reheat a dinner you've already made.
Generally, any simple recipe that meets the three questions test above will be a good candidate for the double batch rule. Go back and take another quick look at those three questions: you’ll find that for any given recipe, whatever answer you come up with for questions 1 and 2, you’re likely to get the same answer for question 3 as well.
Many recipes offer still more scale opportunities if you keep your mind open for them. It takes next to no time to slice up, say, six stalks of celery rather than three--just pile them up together and make the same number of cuts. Further, your costs per serving often go much lower thanks to scale benefits. Those incremental three stalks of celery came with the full-size package of celery you bought in the first place, right? Better to eat them now rather than have them rot in your fridge. Another example: Does it take any more effort to open a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes rather than a 14-ounce can? Nope, and yet your cost per unit for those tomatoes is significantly lower.
One last thought: There are dozens of highly scalable recipes here at Casual Kitchen that are both easy and excellent doubling candidates. All are available to readers for free. For a few prime examples, see my Chicken Mole, Black Beans and Rice, Smoky Brazilian Black Bean Soup, Navy Bean and Kielbasa Soup, Thai Pasta Salad and Viennese Potato Soup. These recipes are glorious gold mines of cooking efficiency and they can help you make tons of healthy food for your family with surprisingly little effort.
1) Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home contains a staggering collection of easy, interesting recipes.
2) Jules Clancy’s books, such as Five Ingredients, Ten Minutes and her blog, Stonesoup, offer classic, easy, minimalist recipes.
3) Jay Solomon’s Vegetarian Soup Cuisine: 125 Soups and Stews from Around the World
is an exceptional resource for simple, scalable and hearty soups and stews. Perfect for part time vegetarians. Note that this wonderful book is getting increasingly difficult to find!
4) For more context on the principles above, see:
How To Tell If a Recipe is Worth Cooking In Five Easy Questions
How To Get Faster At Cooking
Seven Rules To Ensure Mistake-Free Cooking, and
Casual Kitchen’s 25 Best Laughably Cheap Recipes, which is quickly becoming my all-time most trafficked post.
Next up! Core Principle #4: Focus On First-Order Foods
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Posted by Daniel at 3:11 AM on Saturday, June 07, 2014