Kate explores the Good Enough Revolution in the kitchen, forgoing the superfluous and concentrating on simplicity, featuring "Good Enough to Eat" Recipes and Tips, plus her suggestions for What To Eat This Month.
Top Trend 2010:
The "Good Enough" Revolution
And the Value-to-Time Balance Sheet
by Kate Heyhoe
This year, I'm going good enough. "Good enough" is not a bad thing, and it doesn't mean mediocre. Let me explain...
From the Food Network to Phil Lempert, culinary experts have dished up their annual food trend predictions. Most agree that home cooking is on the rebound, that sustainability is hot and endangered bluefin tuna is not, and that generic store brands can be both budget- and flavor-friendly.
Details aside, I see one lifestyle trend that encompasses everything, from iPod apps to organic green purchases: value, or more specifically, value in the context of personal time. It's been called the Good Enough Revolution in the tech world, where speed, ease of use, and accessibility trump features like fidelity (in the case of MP3s), or pixel count (in digital images). (WIRED explores the Good Enough Revolution here.)
Good Enough to Eat
Translate the same Good Enough principle to cooking, and you have non-fussy recipes that don't demand a lot of time or hard to find ingredients, or require master chef skills, yet they still satisfy, nourish, are no less than tasty, and can even make you swoon in their deliciousness. They can be extraordinary and sophisticated, or straight out of grandma's kitchen. But they don't have to be complicated or time-consuming. Just point-and-shoot, so to speak.
I predict 2010 will be the Year of Good Enough experiences, where the Value-to-Time Ratio doesn't mean mediocre; instead, it's a more Zen-like consideration. With tech products, for instance, the less costly, good enough version still gets the job done. Sure, you lose some of the richness of the experience, but that's part of the trade off. What do you gain by going good enough? Typically, you increase mobility, accessibility, and flexibility; which means you streamline without stress, reduce clutter, and overall, gain time. Quality used to mean bigger, sharper, or more complex; today, we value quality in terms of ease of use and ease of sharing—enhancing the overall experience—and this is just as valid in the food world as it is with digital cameras.
Gourmet food trucks are one example of the good enough movement: they're fast, affordable meals (usually lunch and breakfast) meant for people on the go, but the food is typically tastier, freshly made, and healthier than at MacDonald's. The chefs, too, find their food-truck lifestyle good enough: less money, but also less headaches and more flexibility than at a sit-down restaurant. No more sixteen-hour days working late into the night. Finally, dinners at home with spouse and kids!
Time has always been the ultimate measure of luxury. Isn't time the single most desired attribute in our lives? Don't we want (or need) more time—whether it's for recreation, reading, researching or relaxing? Or just for making ends meet? Give me more play time, please!
Mobility is a subset of time, as in mobile media, smart phones, and teeny digital cameras: we're getting what we want now, when we need it, and not waiting for the answer or the result. Mobility can give us more time, if we use it wisely. Ditto for instant downloads, iTunes, and podcasts. But new media results can devolve into time-sucking events, too; as when searching the Internet endlessly, tweeting mindlessly, and putting your faith into online posts or podcasts fraught with erroneous information (for every true expert online, there are thousands of wannabe's passing out free but mediocre or even wrong information).
Back to the Value-to-Time Ratio
Fast food, microwave conveniences and Hamburger Helper grew into a national way of life because they plugged into the time part of the equation so well. But over the years the other values, like our tastes and health awareness, have changed. Time-saving alone just isn't good enough to justify mediocre eating experiences, or practices that harm the planet. Time-saving is valuable only when it delivers results of a certain acceptable quality. In other words, saving time is good when it improves overall lifestyle or enhances other personal values. But when those other values suffer, then saving time is, well, a waste of time.
On the other end of the scale, we've feasted on an era of conspicuous consumption, over-the-top techniques, and exotic but hard to find ingredients. It's been fun. But right now, when both time and money are scarce, I think we're all looking to balance our value-to-time ratio, not just in the tech devices we use, but in every bite we take and make.
If this is the era of "good enough," then as I see it, "good" cooking can be really great in the balance of value-to-time. It's a lifestyle thing where the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. Quality can come solely from the freshness of ingredients and the appropriateness of the preparation, without a laundry list of flavors or highly detailed process.
Embracing Good Enough
I never have enough time for all the things I want to do. Sound familiar? This year I'm determined to give myself more time, without sacrificing quality or flavor in the meals I make, by embracing a "good enough" kitchen strategy.
How does one create cooking that's good enough? One way is to master a technique or skill that will prove useful in the long haul, making it a skill whose value never wanes. Like mastering the Mother Sauces, from which all other sauces derive, and which take only minutes to make. Or focus on simple recipes that never fail, and always satisfy.
For instance, every chef I know, including cutting edge molecular gastronomists, ranks a classic roast chicken as one of their favorite meals. The dish itself is rarely unflawed, because the breast and legs cook at different speeds, yet the simplicity of the process and seasonings, and the end results, are satisfying enough to act as a poster-child for "good enough" recipes.
Remember this: Great cooks know how to shut up and let the food speak for itself. You can get fancy with bells and whistles later, when good enough loses its appeal and embellishment resurges (or personal time frees up). But for now, focus on exploring just how good simple ingredients can taste when not overly nipped, tucked, stretched, vaporized, gilded or gassed.
No doubt, it will be time well spent.
Kate's "Good Enough" to Eat Tips
for improving your Value-to-Time ratio
- Let the ingredients do the work. Choose fresh foods and quality ingredients, and prepare them simply. Take time to savor and appreciate the clear, clean flavors of fresh foods in season. There's nothing more tasty than a perfect berry, peach, or red ripe tomato.
- Focus on fewer ingredients. Less can be more. Top pasta with just butter, garlic and Parmesan cheese. It's delicious. Crisp fry a few fresh sage leaves in butter or olive oil, and serve them on simply cooked meats, grains or vegetables. Use fewer ingredients, and choose ones with ample flavor to shine through.
- Rediscover salt and pepper. Before cooking, season chicken, steaks or chops with just salt and freshly ground pepper (over a light coating of olive oil, if you like). You'll be amazed at how perfect this straightforward, no-measure combination is.
- Get sauced. Master a few simple sauces and flavor boosts to make on the fly. As a must-have resource, consider George Geary's great book 500 Best Sauces, Salad Dressings, Marinades and More. He's got the essential Mother Sauces in it, too.
- Go nuts, and get seedy. The quickest way to ramp up flavor, texture, and nutrition is to toss in some nuts or sesame seeds, especially toasted ones. I also sprinkle tamari-toasted pumpkin seeds (from the bulk bin aisle) over salads, vegetables, soups and chicken. These foods can be real winners in the value-to-time balance sheet, and in the list of planet-friendly, sustainable green foods. (Another favorite: coarsely process walnuts, cranberries, and oranges with honey for an instant relish, as in my recipe for Cranberry-Orange Relish.
- Buy in bulk. Especially with nuts, grains, and even honey. Some stores offer seasoning blends in bulk, too, like lemon-pepper. You can get the amount that's just right for you, from a spoonful to a cup, or a few ounces to a pound or gallon, with reduced packaging waste (hence greener). This way you can keep a small variety of fresh, flavorful pantry goods on hand, to toss into a dish at will.
- Use high notes to banish blandness, for a gourmet touch. Just a few drops of vinegar, lemon juice, or other acid perk up favors and add contrast. Stir some rice vinegar into a risotto, lemon juice into cooked broccoli, or balsamic vinegar into braised chicken. Sparkle up chili with a splash of red wine vinegar. For dessert sauces, add sea salt or chili to caramel or dark chocolate. In just a few seconds, you've enhanced the whole dish.
- Chop and store. When you need just a portion of an onion, go ahead and chop the whole onion and store the rest in the fridge for use in other recipes. Same goes for a carrots, celery and green onions (instant salad ingredients). Mix extra chopped garlic in olive oil or butter, and store in the fridge for a ready-to-use seasoning.
- Make time to save time. Set aside an hour or two a week to just prep food. For salad ready greens, rinse lettuce leaves, roll them in kitchen towels, tuck them in a plastic bag and store them in the crisper. Batch-cook chili or grilled chicken and freeze half.
- Save a skosh. My husband laughs at the tiny jars in my fridge, but you'd be surprised what a few morsels can do when added to other dishes. A spoonful of pesto or sun dried tomatoes on a sandwich, tortilla or in a sauce. Leftover roasted chicken drippings, turkey gravy, black beans, salsa, or spaghetti in a canned soup. A near-empty mustard jar rinsed with vinegar and poured into a salad dressing. The more powerful the flavors, the less you need.
Finally, it's okay to trade "Over the Top" for "Good Enough." If it takes longer to read the recipe than to prep the dish, make it on a day when you've got time to burn. You may learn some great techniques to use later. But either way, you'll be most satisfied when your kitchen experience fits into your current Value-to-Time ratio.
My focus in 2010: "Good enough" meals that reward with plenty of flavor and free time. The list below is a great place to start.
"Good Enough to Eat" Recipes
- Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon Salt (by Michael Chiarello)
- Kate's Cranberry-Orange Relish
- Sliced Tomato Salad with Ten Variations
- Marinated Herbed Cheese
- Albanian Cornmeal Pie with Cheese and Scallions
- Kate's Slow-Simmered Pork with Salt and Pepper (Crockpot recipe)
- Quinoa Pilaf
- Basic Black Beans
- Pasta with Caramelized Garlic and Fresh Parsley
- Minty Raita-Style Cole Slaw
- Saffron Basmati Rice
Find thousands of other recipes in our Recipe Search feature.
And in case you forgot what's been going on up to now...
- What's Hot, What's Not in 2009
- What's Hot, What's Not in 2008
- Stewing Over Two Decades: 1987 to 2007
What to Eat This Month
Stay warm and cozy this month with one or more of these recipes:
- Billi Bi (Cream of Mussel Soup)
- Cheese Fondue Soup
- Chinese Egg Drop Soup
- Corn Chowder
- Smoked Duck and Andouille Gumbo
Chicken of the Month:
Copyright © 2010, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified January 2010