Have you heard of the #cook90 challenge? I hadn’t until very recently. It’s a cooking challenge put forward by David Tamarkin and Epicurious. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this was Tamarkin’s first post on it:
The rules, as stated online, are:
1. COOK EVERY MEAL YOU EAT THE ENTIRE MONTH
If you’ve transformed raw ingredients with heat, you’ve cooked. Likewise, if you’ve taken two or more raw ingredients and combined them to make something greater than the sum of their parts (a salad, a sandwich, etc), you’ve also cooked. On the flip side, heating a frozen pizza in the oven, or warming a can of soup on the stovetop—these things are not cooking.
2. NEVER COOK THE SAME THING MORE THAN TWICE…
That’s right, you can’t make cacio e pepe night after night (though that does sound sort of nice). Forcing yourself to cook new recipes is exactly the thing that will earn you new skills, new favorites to put in your repertoire—and maybe even some new accolades from your family.
3. …EXCEPT WHEN IT COMES TO BREAKFAST
Breakfast is its own beast—you can eat the same thing for breakfast for the entire month. As long as you’re preparing your own breakfast and not buying it—no BECs from the corner deli, no McMuffins—you’re good.
4. RELY ON LEFTOVERS, BUT NOT TOO MUCH
#Cook90 is all about fitting home-cooked food into a hectic, busy life. Leftovers—and nextovers (more on that here)—are key to the strategy (half the point of making a killer chicken parm is so you can eat it again for lunch the next day). But also key to #cook90 is branching out and really flexing those cooking muscles. So eat leftovers once. Eat them twice if you need to. But after that, it’s time to move on.
5. TAKE 3 BREAKS
You get three passes on #cook90—three meals that you can eat at a restaurant, order in, or just have somebody else cook for you. You don’t have to use these, of course, but #cook90 will probably go easier if you do.
6.COOK WITH OTHER PEOPLE!
Making dinner with friends and family totally counts, and it can prevent you from feeling isolated in the kitchen. So plan a few dinner parties , or just invite a friend or two over on a Tuesday night. As long as you cook a reasonable amount of the food (we’re working on the honor system here), it counts.
Much like Bon Appetit’s Food-Lovers Cleanse, the challenge and its curated recipes were popular enough and printed into a book. The book is divided into three main sections:
- Part One – Welcome to Cook90 (Introduction, Rules, Fatigue, 12 Questions, etc.)
- Part Two – The Four Part Plan for Cooking Everyday (Meal Planning, Shopping, Pantry, “Nextovers”)
- Part Three – A Month of Cooking Everyday (Suggested Meal Plans, Recipes, Breakfast, Lunch, Weeknights, Weekends)
There is also a front recipe index is divided into 30 min or less, 15 min or less, and main ingredients, which makes recipe perusal easy when you’re not sure what you want to make.
Things to I’d like to try:
- Blueberry – Tahini – Oatmeal Smoothie
- Ricotta with Tomatoes, Lemon, and Mint
- Savory Yogurt Bowl
- Mojo Chicken with Rice and Beans
- Quick Chicken Tikka Masala
- Quick Sesame Chicken with Broccoli
- Sweet Potatoes with Chorizo, Mushrooms, and Lime Cream
- Braised Rotisserie Chicken with Bacon, Tomatoes, and Kale
- Vietnamese Port Patty Salad with Rice Noodles
- Smoky Beans and Greens on Toast
I can’t comment on any recipes that I’m not interested because the review copy of the book I have is not the final copy. There might be misprinting, and there is a little bit of missing content. So, I cannot make any criticisms in good conscience.
For the purpose of this book review, I made the grain bowl with spiced squash, mushrooms, and curried yogurt. (I did not realize until just now that the same recipe is available on the Epicurious website.) I used some quick cooking Trader Joe’s farro for the grain portion, acorn squash (because I couldn’t find delicata), and used arugula over watercress because it was already in my kitchen.
It was a simple recipe but not boring. My kitchen smelled amazing the whole time the veggies were in the oven. Regarding the final results, I found the flavors to be a little busy. I felt like the mushrooms, arugula, and curry yogurt dominated all other flavors. But still, I feel like I won some random non-scale victory here. I’ve used the curry yogurt on other things, and I’m now tempted to cook acorn squash with onions and cinnamon more often.
Do I think this is a fun book? Yes. I’m not sure I’d ever do the real challenge, but aspects of it appeals to me. I cook all my own meals Sunday through Friday, and have done so for the last couple of years. I pretty much eat the same thing for breakfast everyday because Tamarkin is right on the mark – breakfast can be a beast! I technically don’t cook the same thing in one month, but I have been known to cook the same protein twice in a row with different dry rubs (just enough of a difference so I don’t get completely bored). I go out to eat maybe only twice a month. Probably against the rules, my family likes to meet up once a week for dinner and it’s typically my mother who does the cooking. Sometimes, family meals is take out from Chinatown. lol!
But the one rule I know I’d have trouble with not breaking is no. 4 for “don’t rely on leftovers.” I cook just for myself, so I’ll typically cook a standard 4 serving recipe and eat it throughout the week. Tamarkin might call it leftovers but I prefer to call it meal prep. A lot of nights, I’m starving and not getting home until 6:30p. I can’t wait to cook and then eat. Getting “hangry” is not an option. So, food has to be re-heated quickly, which means employing some help from Chef Mike (“Mike” as in microwave).
Overall though, the recipes aren’t intimidating and they shouldn’t be because the authors want you to succeed. The recipes are also good meal prep recipes. Tamarkin and the Epicurious team isn’t totally against meal prep. They just call it “nextovers.” That is to say that “the portions you don’t eat are your nextovers—ready for you to turn into something different than tonight’s dinner the very next day.” I’m just… unlikely to do that.
Pick up a copy of Cook90 if the challenge is something you want to tackle. Or pick up a copy if you’re just looking to expand your arsenal of “everyday friendly” recipes.
The book is officially released on December 11th but, in the meantime, you can and should check out the related content on the Epicurious website.
Disclaimer – I received this book from Little, Brown and Company for this review. I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.