Welcome to Fake It ‘Till You Bake It, So Yummy’s newly minted food advice column! Here, we’re not just teaching you how to slice a tomato or how to cook a chicken — we’re here to handle really real kitchen conundrums. We’re talking about those moments when you’re stress-sweating over your stove as you await your mother-in-law’s lunchtime knock on the front door… as you prep for the partner you’re about to propose to during dinner… as you contemplate brownies for your daughter’s oddly competitive bake sale. For those moments when your kitchen seems like a dungeon and you’re at a loss while Pinterest-ing recipes that make you want to nap, who you gonna call?
Us. Email us at email@example.com if you’ve got 99 problems and what to make in the kitchen is definitely one.
Dear Fake It ‘Till You Bake It,
I agreed to have my ex over for dinner this weekend. I’m not totally over it yet, and don’t ask why I’m having her over. The point is that I want to make something that looks and tastes super impressive, but not something that looks like I spent too much time (because if I were actually over a relationship, why would I devote so much of my time to cooking a meal, right?). Basically… effortless, but delicious. I want to look like I threw something together, but don’t actually care. What should I make?
— Effortlessly Not Over It
Dear Effortlessly Not Over It,
If it makes you feel any better, I think I’ve spent a lifetime effortlessly making far more of an effort than I care to admit. Casual dinners at my place may be casual for those in attendance, but final moments leading up to them inevitably involve minor meltdowns, multiple swipes of Secret Clinical Strength Stress Sweat deodorant, and a nonchalant sprinkling of over-priced, flakey finishing salt meticulously reordered with food tweezers. Don’t mistake my serene demeanor for relaxation — it’s exhaustion.
The words “just swing by whenever and we’ll figure out dinner” may come out of my mouth, but the reality is I figured out dinner two days ago and thoughtfully remembered you have a love of slow-roasted lamb shanks and Petite Sirah. “Oh this? I was making it anyway.” (No, I wasn’t. I would have had a boiled sweet potato if you weren’t coming.) “You like lamb? Oh good! I had no idea.” (Lies.)
In short, I feel ya.
And the reality is, with personality traits like this, whether you’re over an ex or not, you’ll never want to be seen as anything other than the one that got away — the one who made the best damn roast potatoes and cinnamon rolls ever… and got away.
So, I’m not going to ask you why you’re having her over (been there), and I’m not going to tell you it’s not a big deal (of course it is!), but I am going to tell you you can make a simple dish and still have her questioning why on earth you’re not Lady and the Tramp’ing it over a bowl of spaghetti every night.
One of my favorite pasta dishes of all time hails from The River Cafe in London. Their penne alla carbonara is probably the best carbonara I’ve ever had, and with just a few simple ingredients and a prep time of roughly 30 minutes, it’s also one of the simplest to make. There’s just something about making carbonara from scratch, isn’t there? It’s pretty damn impressive and yet, it’s still just a bowl of pasta.
You’re going to score points with this one — it’s up to you what you do with those points.
The River Cafe’s Penne alla Carbonara
- Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, until al dente.
- While your pasta cooks, heat your oil in a pan, and fry up the pancetta until golden and crisp.
- Whisk together the egg yolks and cream, and season with black pepper and a little salt. Remember, your pancetta and cheese are salty, so proceed cautiously. Then, mix in half of the cheese.
- Drain the cooked pasta, add your cooked pancetta and any oil from the pan, and stir to combine.
- Finally, stir in the cream and egg mixture, until all pasta is evenly coated and the heat from the penne warms and cooks the eggs. Finish with remaining parmesan and a couple of turns from the pepper mill.
The beauty about being scrupulously casual and fastidiously indifferent is that no one need ever know. You, my friend, can spend a day and a half brining and spatchcocking a game hen in the privacy of your own panic, and somehow still open the door wearing sweatpants and a warm glow, while a mountain of dishes teeters precariously on the racks of your neatly closed and covered oven. You’ve got this.
Just make sure your ex doesn’t stay for breakfast — you’ll need another plan for that!