“Most cooks I know are constantly looking for new recipes the way some folks are constantly on the lookout for antiques, clothes, computer software, or specials down at Price Chopper. There is nothing wrong with living life vicariously through recipes-we all do it to some extent-but the problem with most home cooks is that they have too many recipes rather than too few.”
–Christopher Kimball, The Kitchen Detective
Cooking has changed drastically over the last century. Our grandmothers and great- grandmothers cooked most of their food from scratch and worked from a limited set of recipes that they probably knew by heart. Through their senses, intuition and repetition, they became experts in the kitchen. We, on the other hand, live in a unique age in which we are absolutely inundated with recipes. Cookbooks, magazines, the Internet…..there is no shortage of ideas for tonight’s dinner.
Before you buy another cookbook or leaf through another cooking magazine, consider this: maybe our ancestors were on to something. What if the secret to becoming a good home cook, to becoming self-reliant in the kitchen, is having fewer recipes? Developing the skills to prepare simple foods for ourselves gives us power in the kitchen, power that we have largely given away to food corporations, diet experts and celebrity chefs in recent years. Once we are confident with the basics, we are free to engage more creatively with the ingredients in front of us, and to make our own choices.
In his book, The Kitchen Detective, Christopher Kimball suggests that we begin with a shortlist of 25 recipes and stick with them for a while: “Like good musicians, good cooks realized that restricting one’s repertoire has great advantages: It allows one to focus on the underlying technique instead of just a new set of notes.”
I’m not sure if I can pare my list down to 25 recipes, but I love the idea of simplifying my recipe collection; of getting back to basics and taking the time to establish a foundation of skills in the kitchen. I love the idea of becoming an intuitive cook rather than simply a reader of recipes, a cook who is mindfully engaged in the creative process of cooking. And simple, of course, does not necessarily mean boring. The simplification of anything can be an art. Think of a pared down wardrobe that is stylish, elegant and has everything you need. Scandinavian design. A juicy, crisp-skinned whole roast chicken.
Like so many other things in life, less is more when it comes to our recipe collections. More skill, more confidence and, ultimately, more freedom and creativity. How might you benefit from a limited repertoire in the kitchen? What might your 25 recipes be?