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Sep 2, 2010 09:41 AM

My cooking has gotten simpler over the years...

At least in terms of ingredients, seasonings and spices. I've found as my technical skill in cooking has grown, I use fewer, but more carefully-chosen ingredients. This became clear to me recently when I found an old recipe I'd written down for a sauce I'd improvised one time, that my GF liked so much she insisted I write it down. Stuff I'd be unlikely to do nowadays; it involved deglazing, sauteeing a bewildering number of ingredients, a strainer and a blender... I followed it and made it again, and it wasn't worth all the fussiness; I could make a better sauce more easily now. Lately, on the other hand, I tend to use far fewer ingredients - often only salt and pepper - and pay more attention to cooking technique: preparation, cooking method, heat level, etc. So basically more precision, less scattershot use of ingredients and spices. This is of course when I'm not following a recipe, which is most of the time; if I'm cooking something I've never made before I follow recipes fairly closely, and use it as a way to learn about seasonings I may not be that familiar with. And overall my cooking has gotten better. Practice, you know.

Anyone else have a similar experience? Or the opposite - are you using more stuff than before?

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  1. I am having a similar experience.

    I went from having zero cooking skills (or desire) to going completely overboard (oh the flood of kitchen gear, the cookbooks, the all day recipes) to a comfortable-with-what-I-am-doing place in life.

    I am paying much more attention to my meats. Years ago, I would have bought any 'ol meat off of the grocery store cooler shelf and devoted tons of time to a complicated recipe.

    Now, we get our meats straight off the farm and I do simplier dishes, which are far far superior to my past efforts.

    1. Was just thinking the same thing.

      I think that the measure of a good cook is being able to do a lot with a little. It's easy to hide a lack of skill behind fancy ingredients and complicated preparations. After a while, you either get better, broke or bored. I prefer to think I got better.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Ernie Diamond

        Dunno - I think it's easier to show lack of skill when making complicated preparations or using fancy (expensive) ingredients because steps compound errors and it's pretty evident when someone's made a hash of good ingredients.

        I can see significant improvements in my cooking (thank you digital camera) but I'd say that the more improvements there are, the more I'm also going broke. Better cooking begets wanting to use/taste/eat the best ingredients available, which ups the materials costs ($1800 jamon? Japanese matsutake? sure - they'll be great). Better cooking also begets curiousity in developing technique and upgrades to key tools (knives, cookware, circulating water bath), which in combo don't help the old bank account either.

        1. re: wattacetti

          I agree to some extent but I think it is a bell curve for many people, for me at least.

          I started at zero, quickly became enthralled by the use of expensive ingredients and elaborate preparations and methods (sous vide, et al) but have now come to realize and appreciate the level of skill that it takes to transform simple components, like bread, salt and tomatoes or beans, onions and bacon to real transformative foods. I like to think that I have gone from wide eyed wonder to somewhat more tightly focused. It also helps that I am confident enough in my abilities that I can present to someone a meal comprised of only three ingredients and know full well that it will be spectacular. An aspect of that, of course, is simpler tastes.

          I will say that I thank my past self every day for skipping on rent checks in order to buy knives and cookware. I have a much better kitchen because of it.

          And to your first point, we may have to agree to disagree. It is easier to cover up mistakes along the way when making eggs benedict and western omlettes than it is to cover up a less than perfect oeuf mollet.

      2. My cooking has certainly gotten much simpler as well - or maybe I just got old and lazy. I'll see the complexities contained in certain recipes or even other 'hound's posts and think, "Sh*t, why not just throw it on the grill? Maybe add some salt or somethin' . . ."

        It may also be worth noting that my "tastes" have become simpler too, in a sense. I am much more attentive to the taste of individual ingredients or components. I prefer liquor neat, salads simply and lightly dressed. I rarely use condiments on protiens. I'd rather have a few good elements and make a meal out of it than a big production plate. For example, I'd rather have a hunk of bread and a wedge of cheese than mac-n-cheese, anyday.

        2 Replies
        1. re: MGZ

          Yes, this is basically what I was trying to get at, and you've clarified the issue for me - letting high-quality ingredients speak for themselves. And my tastes reflect this as well, as well as my shopping. Yes, I do throw something on the grill very often, too....

          1. re: Bat Guano

            For me it's not either/or. I sometimes cook involved dishes; sometimes dinner is simplicity itself, although I will say that my simple cooking is often indebted to techniques and processes learned from more complicated affairs. I also think everyone tends to cook more simply as they gain the experience, skill, and confidence to throw together a weeknight dinner without consulting recipes.

            But we've heard chefs and folks on cooking programs brag about "respecting the integrity of X (insert anything from wild salmon to an heirloom tomato)" and "letting the ingredients speak" so much in the last few years that it's become a running joke in our house.

            "A little sriracha with your frozen Hawaiian pizza, hon?"
            "Nah, I'm going to respect the integrity of this canned pineapple and allow this processed ham to share its story."

            Which is all a way of saying it's gone a bit far for me. For example, I think deglazing---far from being overly complicated or fussy---plays an integral role in straightforward and honest Western home cooking. And I wouldn't even want to think about cooking without a wide variety of spices, chiles, and fresh herbs---It would also be impossible to cook from many of the cuisines of the world without them.

        2. I can't say mine has gotten simpler since I never used an extraordinarily large number of ingredients. It has gotten more complex in that I spend more time on technique and I will tackle things I would never have approached before like crispy sweetbreads and grill octopus to name a couple. I also tend to take less short cuts and rarely use pre made sauces or the like.

          1. Yes, my cooking has gotten simpler with experience.
            However, according to my wife, I still use all the pots, pans and gadgets I can find. :-D