29 May Three things I learned from cooking at home (pandemic edition post)
“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.”
— Julia Child
What do people do, when the world around them stops and everything is closed? First, they hoard flour, among other things. Then, they bake. According to Farnam street, “one unexpected activity that many people are turning to now that they have time and are more introspective is baking. In fact, this week Google searches for bread recipes hit a noticeable high.”
(link in comments)
I don’t bake (there is a future post somewhere about it). But I am a pretty mean cook. This is what I learned throughout my years of cooking.
Cooking is an art.
You are allowed to experiment, set your own rules and substitute ingredients. But just like in any art project, you need good tools and foundation. Here are the basics:
– invest in good knives (you only will need 3 or 4, don’t buy those 37-knives sets which will clutter your counter.)
– You need some good pans and pots. Again, 4 or 5 will do. I go with the AllClad brand, but there is so much to choose from.
Now, that you have your “brushes and canvas”, we can move to the ingredients! That’s the fun part. Start with soup: soups are forgiving and it’s a universal comfort food. Which we need now. A soup has four parts to it: liquid, starch, vegetables and protein. Mix and match as you wish. No carrots? Add celery. No rice? Try noodles. No broth at the house? Water will do. Last time I checked, there was no shortage of kale at the stores (or fresh produce for that matter) and you can add it to just about any soup. Try it!
Note: soups get better the next day. Same with your PPT presentation: leave it alone overnight, look at it the next day. Tweak and adjust seasoning.
But cooking is also a science.
You don’t always need a precise recipe (see #1 above), but you will need some kind of a map. If you simply dump all your vegetables in cold water and wait for a miracle, it won’t happen. It’s okay to make mistakes. But not huge mistakes. If in doubt, always add salt last – you can never take it out.
You need to know each ingredient (just like your need to know your team members) – everything and everybody likes a personal touch. Caramelize (slowly, where are you in a rush for?) your onions, add your carrots and celery – and – at the very last moment, add garlic! Because it will burn if you add it too soon.
Put too many jalapenos in your first salsa? Add a drop ( not a gulp) of honey: it will take the heat down. Want your spices to shine more? Toast them lightly. Want your healthy chicken breast not to be so dry? Soak it in buttermilk overnight (or sourcream or yogurt.) Thank you, lactic acid!
I often cook with a 1:1 ratio of butter and oil. Oil stops the butter from burning and the butter adds richness to the dish.
See – feel free to mix and match, but with some science behind it. To sum it up, we need to know our science before we go on adventure.
Cooking makes for a very rewarding project:
You can start and complete in less than an hour or two. And show instant results. Which is a comforting and satisfying thought to many of us, who work on endless endeavors involving lots of Powerpoints, memos, socializing, selling, convincing, negotiating, etc.
You run around all day, but at the end, you end up with the same old Powerpoint, all depleted and beaten up. Not with cooking! You don’t need to consult with anyone (there is McDonalds down the street if they don’t like what you made), you don’t need to socialize, vote and approve.
No need to assemble a project team: you are your own chef and chief bottle washer. You just need to show up, chop, cut, mix, stir and wait. And – Voila – you have a very tangible result: a family dinner. Kudos to you, you are a champion!
Why am I telling you all this? Because cooking teaches you to be in the moment and – especially now – proceed with the ingredients we have on hand. It teaches us to appreciate the day and be grateful for what we have. It also gives us a satisfact that – yes- we accomplished something today! But you need to show up and do the work. Bon Apetit!