There are lots of reasons you may want to try a recipe: a stunning photo, the technique isn’t more challenging than your skill, or you just feel like eating whatever stars in that dish.
And there are even more factors involved when a recipe becomes a favorite. Those are never a nuisance and you never tire of them. My short list includes a little spread to nibble with homemade pita toasts, roast chicken, a hearty soup, fish stew, chocolate-chip cookies. But each season I change things up, though they never become complicated. Right now, the spread is feta cheese mixed with the peppery Moroccan condiment harissa, the chicken is roasted on a bed of angel hair with sauteed cherry tomatoes, the hearty bowls are filled with a long-simmered vegetarian soup of cabbage and white beans, the fish stew is made with shrimp and turkey sausages, and the chips, hand-cut from a bar of dark chocolate, are mixed into ultra-gingery gingersnaps. Shopping is a breeze and many items are already in my pantry.
One benefit of having a collection of favorites is that you don’t have to think too hard to pull them together (you know you have the necessary equipment on hand). Another may be that you have something pretty to present it in. A dish you know well and have total confidence in invariably makes a splendid effect at the table. And that’s part of the point: You may love to feed people, enjoy the intimacy of the table and the lively conversation, but you also want your guests to be a little knocked out.
We have always thought that what makes you a competent cook is a number of dishes you can make easily and often. The root of the word repertoire, after all, is from the word “repeat.” When you have a repertoire of things you love, that don’t tie you to the kitchen when guests arrive, and are just very honest dishes you’re pleased to bring to the table, that’s all you need. A relaxed, satisfied, happy cook makes good food. It works every time.