Want to know at least one difference between a happy non-cook and the rest of us?
Even people who don’t cook can be happy if they already know their one dish.
Witness a demonstration I saw at a post-holiday party. Looking around for my spouse, I spotted him with a cluster of people who were nosh-face down around a plate in the kitchen. They were scooping up a hot artichoke dip like people who had been crawling through a desert and suddenly found a water hole.
Standing by them and looking tickled was the friend who had brought the artichoke dip. Now, I know this friend doesn’t cook much. She’s one of those people who would be quick to assure me of that. But in that moment, she was happy and the reason was simple: She knows her dish.
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One dish is all she needs. She might flail around at other meal times, but by golly, when a party arrives, she’s got it covered. She’s made herself known for that one thing, people look forward to it and ask for it, and no one else would dare bring it because they know that hot artichoke dip is Mary Stewart Duffy’s thing and they leave it to her.
Happy is the head that has memorized one recipe that will always work.
The best one-dish recipe is the simplest one, the one you can whip up at a moment’s notice, the one that transports easily and fits a variety of occasions.
I used to struggle with this concept. After all, I’m a creative cook, I have a cooking reputation (which is both a blessing and curse), and I have to try new recipes constantly so I have new things to write about.
Just pick one thing and make it my own? It didn’t seem to fit me, frankly.
And yet, as time has gone on, I have learned the wisdom of it. One of my go-to dishes is a broccoli salad with pecans and dried cranberries. You can make a big batch or a small one, it’s reasonably healthy if you use reduced-fat mayonnaise, it can be made in advance, and it ensures there’s at least one thing at the potluck that doesn’t have meat.
I have others, of course: A baked ziti I make if the occasion involves hordes of teenagers. Jazzed-up deviled eggs. My sister-in-law’s chipped beef cheese ball, a recipe I only got by swearing I would never make it within 50 miles of her home in Tallahassee.
Some people, of course, don’t want to do this. Being locked into one dish isn’t their style, and that’s great.
Still, if you want to make the idea work for you, it’s simple to find a dish to make yours. Look around the next time you’re at a party and notice which dish gets emptied first, and which owner of that dish is standing around looking happy and relaxed.
There’s one hard part, though: You’ll have to get a whole new set of friends. Poaching someone else’s one dish can be dangerous if you both go to the same parties.
Do you hear that, Mary Stewart? I promise: I’ll never make hot artichoke dip anywhere in this hemisphere. It’s all yours, girl.