30 Meals, 1,000 Dishes
A Cooking Challenge of Unusual Proportion
Thursday, December 13, 2007
By Heather Tufts
Out of boredom and the desire to challenge myself with a simple cooking experiment came the idea to test my stubborn persistence: make a unique homemade dish every day for a month. To bring this one zany idea to fruition I needed:
• 28-31 days
• 18 trips to 5 markets
• 9 cuisines from around the world
• 6 new recipes
• 1 spectacular failure
• 2 cookbooks
• salt and pepper with friends to taste
Set aside a few selected meals intended for guests, so you don’t use the prime recipes before their time. Next, head to the store to pick up the necessary items for the next few days. Wash the dishes that are sitting, dirty, in the sink, but only those that you need to make the current meal. Prepare and serve, preferably to adventurous friends who gush over your talent in the kitchen. Stare at the dirty dishes. Vow to do them all tomorrow and get the kitchen all cleaned up. Go to bed, and repeat for one month.
Some of the more notable results followed:
Szechuan Fried Fish — We all must start somewhere, and my roots are in Hong Kong and China. So, in the beginning it was good.
Pork Tenderloin — Again, I showed my roots with a garlic, ginger, and soy marinade. The tenderloin was seared before roasting just to medium. Why do so many people overcook pork?
Taco Stew — This is one of those meals where the hardest part is operating the can opener. It’s really soup, but my husband, won’t eat soup. So, when he’s around, it’s "stew."
Parmesan-Crusted Snapper — This dish was most notable for the fact that it was the most hideously awful meal I made all month. It smelled like feet and I couldn’t stomach more than a couple bites. Of course, my husband ate it anyway, including the leftovers. I guess there’s really no accounting for taste.
Lentil Chili — Since I have relatives from Texas, I would appreciate it if no one told them that I made a meatless chili (with beans, even!), and especially not that I liked it.
Balsamic Vinegar and Oil with Pasta — Two weeks in and I was hitting the backsplash. My husband generously offered to make the meal I told him to make, but only because it has less than five ingredients.
Other — I may have missed a meal in here somewhere. Let’s try not to harp on that, shall we?
Bulgogi — This is an easy meal (literally “fire meat” in Korean) to make, and a terrible one to have to clean up.
Mardi Gras Pasta — All you fusion chefs out there, eat your heart out on my Cajun-Italian entry.
Szechuan Fried Chicken — I know this may look like my entry from day one, but I promise, they are nothing alike. And I cannot tell a lie.
French Toast — With my husband out of town for work, I decided I could break the rules and eat breakfast for dinner.
Hoi Sin Chilean Sea Bass — This must’ve turned out well. Two weeks later, my dad is still talking about how good it was. I was just happy that Mom helped me with the dishes.
Penne Arrabiata — I love the irony of serving “angry” pasta to my parents.
Thanksgiving — I made the full traditional spread, from turkey and dressing to homemade apple pie and ice cream. It’s my favorite meal of the year. No planning necessary.
Tortilla Soup — This is really nothing like the Taco Stew, which is mostly beans. It’s just a flavorful broth to spoon over avocados and chips and cheese.
Thai Basil Chicken — Delicious, but its only resemblance to the food of Thailand was the use of native basil.
Shrimp Curry — I made this meal with a can of Yeo’s Singapore Curry Gravy. Really good stuff when you’ve only got 45 minutes to make curry.
Lamb Ragoût — A brilliant success, which will likely make it into the regular dinner rotation in the future.
Ham and Mushroom Waffles — Again, this isn’t a repeat of my French-Toast-for-dinner meal. When you put Swiss cheese and buttermilk with ham and mushrooms and pour it all over cornmeal waffles, it’s dinnertime somewhere.
Chicken Marsala — Twenty-nine days into the month and I was just cooking on autopilot. I’m pretty sure I ate it, but I can’t remember.
Green Chicken Enchiladas — I finished the month with a lovely stacked enchilada done in the Crockpot, which is my favorite kitchen appliance, so it seemed a fitting way to end the month’s effort.
If I learned anything from this month of cooking, it’s that I hate to do dishes. We’ve got to get one of those fancy dishwasher things … and a garbage disposal … and maybe one of those water sprayers for the sink. That would be nice. I also learned that I really only use two cookbooks. I’m not sure why I have all the others on the shelf, but I constantly refer to Solomon’s The Complete Asian Cookbook and Hazan’s The Classic Pasta Cookbook. Everything else is either one of Mom’s recipes or an improvisational masterpiece (or a parmesan-crusted disaster). Finally, and most unexpectedly, I found that I don’t really like to eat my cooking. I lost three pounds this month cooking something new every day, and I didn’t have three pounds to lose. I think this has to do with the fact that after shopping and prepping and cooking and tasting, I just am not interested in the meal when it gets to the table. I would love to hear if other people take this challenge and come to a similar conclusion. It could be the next diet phenomenon to sweep the nation — “cook more, eat less.”
But next time, someone else can do the dishes.
Kinda surreal. But it was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I had the opportunity. It's always neat to see how these things sometimes happen. No worries, I haven't quit my day job, but it was a fun little diversion.