The delicate taste of a fresh corn on the cob, the crispness of fresh lettuce, the hearty flavors of a long simmered soup, a well developed cheddar cheese, the bite of an aged wine vinegar, the filling aspect of a piece of toasted sourdough bread, the heady smell of garlic, the fresh flavors of herbs; these are the smells and sights I love to see in my kitchen.
Sometimes we miss the simple delights of food in our pursuit of making a dish be the “ultimate” dish. Gourmet food, in my mind, involves a lot more than sifting your flour three times before baking, and cooking with the most expensive ingredients. It involves using fresh produce and real food. But the sad thing is that sometimes we are so used to food being over flavored, or worse yet, flavored enhanced with MSG, that we haven’t learned to truly appreciate the art of eating simple food.
Gourmet food can definitely be a triple decker chocolate cake, frosted with the richest ganache you can make, with fresh raspberry sauce for a garnish. But gourmet food can also as simple as well developed french bread, rubbed with a garlic clove and grilled with olive oil.
Enjoy Simple Flavors
To develop a palate that can truly enjoy food, you must learn to not only enjoy that spicy, flavorful curry, but you must also learn to enjoy simple, fresh flavors. Do you ever notice what you are eating? Have you admired the sweet taste a fresh carrot? The luxury of a good butter spread on sourdough bread? Can you enjoy the simple as well as the complex?
Taking it Easy.. in time and money
Learning to enjoy simple food has more benefits than allowing you to enjoy food more. Sometimes, women committed to cooking wholesome, nourishing food from scratch get overwhelmed trying to produce dish after dish of complex, many stepped meals. Then, you can start to pull your hair out if you try to do that on a budget. If you can learn to enjoy more simple food, not only will you save time, but money as well.
When I first got married (okay… for the first 6 weeks before morning sickness knocked me down flat), I was aiming for perfection. I wasn’t as good of a cook as I am now, but my sights were high in my culinary aspirations for dinner. Then morning sickness had me so sick that I couldn’t even walk into the kitchen without losing everything. Even after morning sickness, I was so tired I learned to set my sights a little lower. I just didn’t have the energy to cook like I did before I was pregnant. A little while later, I was pregnant with my second girl, as just as tired as before. And then I started to get it… a lesson well learned.
If you use quality ingredients, you can enjoy simple cooking. I realized some recipes that were as simple as can be, were so good!
After Elena (my second little girl) was born, my cooking went very basic. I made a roast chicken every week, served with rice, salad and another vegetable. Out of the bones and some uncooked chicken, I made a lot of broth, which usually served for at least two more dinners of soups. These soups were simple and took about 30 minutes to make (yup, that’s all!). While the soup cooked, I whipped up a dressing, washed lettuce and cut homemade bread. On the other nights I would made Italian rice salad, easy…easy…easy…. Another common dinner was brown rice, ground beef flavored with garlic and rosemary or with curry powder, served with stir fried vegetables. All of these dinners were basic, simple and made from scratch. But they are still some of our favorites!
I am in a new season right now where I am exploring a wide variety of cooking again. I do make things that take more time, and enjoy their more complex flavors. But I don’t like to spend hours in the kitchen every day, not when there is so much other things to do.
Besides, we enjoy simple cooking almost as well as my more fancy meals.
I don’t know what it is about people’s palates that makes some of us more able to jump from a very flavorful stew that has developed flavor all day, to the next meal enjoying a simple “peasant” meal of potatoes and buckwheat. But I do know that my little family is not alone in this ability to jump from my “ultimate” recipe for dinner one night, to a simple one the next.
Historical evidence that I am not alone!
I love reading cookbooks that don’t just share “ultimate” recipes, but ones that show how a culture really eats on a daily basis. I read through a Russian cookbook recently which illustrated how many of their recipes were quite full flavored, where others were very simple and (dare I say it?) plain. In the cookbook, Lidia’s Family Table, a Italian cookbook, I feel I get the same perspective. Some recipes are chock full of cheeses, garlic, herbs, long simmered sauces, and many ingredients, but many are relatively simple. Such as pasta with butter and a single herb, simple Garlicky White Beans and Broth, or Polenta served with an egg yolk cooked on top. These are the dishes that are served around her “family table”. While these dishes aren’t lacking in flavor, it isn’t the same type of flavor as the more complex dishes. Serving simple meals some days, helped make possible the recipes like homemade ravioli on other days, I am sure!
As I have just started exploring some Asian cooking, once again I have found complex and simple recipes. We have found that we love miso soup made with just chicken broth and miso paste (although it’s traditionally made with a fish broth). It’s so easy, and a great way to get in extra nutrition with homemade broth.
So why do so many people run themselves ragged trying to produce a three course meal every night? It’s really not necessary. You can fully enjoy your cooking, without always spending hours in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I often make fancier dinners and enjoy spending hours in the kitchen. I just don’t do it every day. It’s all about balance.
Here are a few thoughts for developing simple eating.
1-Number one rule is to use high quality ingredients. Old lettuce needs MSG filled dressing to make it edible! Fresh greens need only a light dressing of olive oil and a flavorful vinegar to taste good.
2-Once you have your high quality ingredients, taste them individually. Perhaps those carrots don’t need to be covered up with sugared majo. Or maybe that piece of flavorful cheese doesn’t need to be shredded and mixed with cans of cream of mushroom soup, and poured over low quality meat and noodles. Perhaps all it needs is to be lightly toasted in the oven on bread and served with a salad and/or soup. A more nutritious, and simple meal.
3-You will have our own preferences. Find yours as you develop your palate. Many of our most simple recipes I have chosen not to include on this blog because I know that many would not enjoy them. But I do urge you to explore the simplicity of cooking simple, high quality food. You will save time, money, and gain an appreciation for food that is priceless.
And that is one of the most important kitchen tips I can give!