Elise Bauer with her dad and mom

Simply Recipes / Elise Bauer

Table Talk Voices

Looking Back on 20 Years: A Letter from Elise Bauer, the Founder of Simply Recipes

"Home cooks feed humanity, every day."

Hello readers of Simply Recipes, welcome! This year, 2023, marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of Simply Recipes. Whether you have been coming here since the beginning, or have only recently stumbled upon our little corner of the web, thank you for being here.

Back in 2003 when I first created the site, I was 42 years old. I had just moved home with my parents in Sacramento, coming from San Francisco where I had been a start-up tech exec, but hadn’t been able to work due to debilitating chronic fatigue. 

Although I had been collecting my family’s recipes for years, while at home I thought, why not take this time to really learn from my mom and dad, and put the recipes in a blog?

My parents are both excellent home cooks, by necessity. They raised six kids on a state worker’s salary. By putting their recipes on a website, not only could I save these simple recipes for myself, but I would be able to share them with the world.

Hence, Simply Recipes was born. 

The first few years of the site I cooked with my parents almost daily, peering over their shoulders, pencil and paper in hand, writing down ingredients, amounts, and methods, asking lots of questions, and taking photos. We made dishes like beef stew, roast chicken, cheese enchiladas, fish stew, chili beans, spareribs and sauerkraut, pot roast, apple pie, and oatmeal raisin cookies, the kinds of dishes that you wouldn’t usually find going out to eat, but are staples of American home cooking.

My mother (now 88) rarely makes a dish the same way twice. She taught herself how to cook when she was first married and since then has just followed her instincts, knowing which ingredients go well together, and how to balance the flavor of a dish with salt, acid, sugar, fat, and spices. My father (now 93) on the other hand, Mr. Follow-A-Recipe-Exactly-As-Written, is the baker in the family. Woe be it to the one who presents my dad with a poorly written recipe!

My parents’ kitchen became our test kitchen, where we tried out new recipes, cooking together in the spirit of experimentation, enjoying our successes and relying on good humor when inevitably some of those experiments failed.

Why Simply Recipes Will Always Be a Resource for Home Cooks 

Our family’s approach to cooking is similar to that of millions of families around the world. Home cooks feed humanity, every day. We home cooks aim to provide well-balanced meals to nourish ourselves and our families. We are often constrained by budget, time, and available ingredients. 

Cooking is biology, history, culture, math, art, science, taste, pleasure, and love, all wrapped up together. It’s a skill with infinite possibilities, and the better you get at it, the more you can enjoy its results.

My vision for Simply Recipes has always been to be a website that is useful for home cooks, with techniques that you can easily master, and recipes that taste great and are worth repeating. Are there recipes on the site that you like so much they’re now “in the rotation"? If so, great! That is exactly our aim.

Elise Bauer with her dad and mom
Elise Bauer with her dad and mom.

Simply Recipes / Elise Bauer

How Simply Recipes Became a Team Effort

After several years, when I was finally recovered well enough to live on my own again, I moved down the street from my parents, and started collaborating with friends and chefs like Hank Shaw, Garrett McCord, and Kathi Riley. Cooking is so much more fun when you do it with others, don’t you think? 

When we cook together we learn from each other’s experience and expertise. I have learned so much from my colleagues over the last two decades and have been so happy to have been able to share their knowledge with you.

I sold Simply Recipes in 2016, and since then the site has continued to expand in the number and variety of excellent recipes that are published, and the talented contributors whose work is featured. I am so pleased to have passed the torch on to such a passionate group of culinary professionals, who are as committed to helping home cooks as I am.

Elise's dad holding a pineapple

Simply Recipes / Elise Bauer

How Home Cooking Has Changed Over the Last 20 Years 

The foods we eat and how we cook constantly evolve over time. During the last two decades what stands out to me the most is the use of devices such as pressure cookers like the Instant Pot, air fryers, and slow cookers.

My mother has been using a pressure cooker for 50 years, but it wasn’t until the Instant Pot that pressure cooking really took off, with its built-in electronic safety features. Pressure cooking allows you to cook beans in 30 minutes, and even tough meats cook to fall-apart tenderness in less than half the time as on the stove-top or in the oven.

Our diets continue to evolve as well, with more people choosing specific diets such as vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten-free, alcohol-free, dairy-free, and anti-inflammatory. So the ability to be flexible with ingredients is key, especially when you are cooking for people with varying dietary preferences.

Our palates are expanding, as more foods and seasonings from cultures around the world make their way to our local markets, like harissa or chermoula from North Africa, miso from Japan, or gochujang from Korea.

Cooking appears, at least to me, to be more valued as an activity today than it was 20 years ago. Social media, for all its faults, has allowed us to easily share and celebrate what we are cooking, inspiring many to get in the kitchen. Less and less is home cooking considered “women’s work,” taken for granted. What a welcome development, right?

Elise Bauer with a lasagna

Simply Recipes / Elise Bauer

What I’m Up to Today 

Mostly retired, these days I spend more time trying out other people’s recipes rather than developing new ones. I do Aikido, a Japanese martial art, which I have practiced for decades, take art classes, and spend time with my parents and my sweetheart, Guy. Guy’s son and daughter-in-law have a new baby girl who is just now starting on solids. If a messy face is any evidence, granddaughter Josephine loved the refried black beans I made the other day!

Always on the hunt for recipes that incorporate lots of greens, my favorite recipe on the site these days is the Winter Greens Pasta Sauce from Laurel Randolph. I make it with kale and add lemon zest. It’s so vibrant and green, and easy to make! I’ve even used it as a substitute for tomato sauce in my vegetarian mushroom lasagna. Highly recommend.

Back in 2003, pre-social media, publishing anything was mostly a one-way phenomena. The technology of the Internet, and blogging in particular, opened up the ability for a reader to instantly post a comment or question about a recipe. Over the years your comments and questions have educated me, challenged me, inspired me, and made me laugh. I felt then as I still do, that through interacting with our readers, we are connected to the experience and brilliance of multitudes. 

So thank you for your brilliance and for continuing to join us on this journey.