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Things you already know how to do

Back in my college days, my math professors would emphasize a core problem-solving tactic for mathematicians: reduce a problem down to one you already know how to solve. I don’t have to reinvent every single step at a very granular level; I just need to break the problem into a sequence of high-level concepts that I’ve already mastered.

Cooking often works the same way. Chicken Marsala looks and sounds intimidating, until you realize that it’s really just doing two things you probably already know: pan-roasting chicken breasts, and making a basic reduction sauce. The specific ingredients are a little different, but the process is the same.

We practice the basics when learning to cook because most complex recipes are just unique combinations of, or twists on, the basics. The recognition of “I know how to do that!” is one of the best confidence boosters when you’re learning how to cook.

Even if there is 20% new stuff in a recipe, being able to identify the 80% that is old-hat tells you where you need to focus your attention and in which parts you can relax because you’ve done it a hundred times before.

Peace, love, and biscuits,


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