Tag Archives: cooking

Common Cooking Mistakes

We all make mistakes when cooking, right? Cooking Light says that “the creative cook can often cook her way out of a kitchen error, but the smart cook aims to prevent such creativity from being necessary”. In order to help you along your way to “smart cook” status, Cooking Light compiled a list of forty-three common cooking mistakes you can learn to avoid.

Such mistakes include: slicing meat with the grain, not ‘shocking’ vegetables once they’ve reached the desired texture, and not letting meats get to room temperature before putting them in the oven. I need to pay particular attention to common mistake number one:

1. You don’t taste as you go.

Result: The flavors or textures of an otherwise excellent dish are out of balance or unappealing.

For most cooks, tasting is automatic, but when it’s not, the price can be high. Recipes don’t always call for the “right” amount of seasoning, cooking times are estimates, and results vary depending on your ingredients, your stove, altitude…and a million other factors. Your palate is the control factor.

via b3ta

The Rise of Cooking Shows, the Fall of Cooking (and Happiness)

I almost ignored this bit-too-long piece on the rise of the TV cooking show and the simultaneous fall of the home cooked meal (via @borrodell).

That decline has several causes: women working outside the home; food companies persuading Americans to let them do the cooking; and advances in technology that made it easier for them to do so. Cooking is no longer obligatory, and for many people, women especially, that has been a blessing. But perhaps a mixed blessing, to judge by the culture’s continuing, if not deepening, fascination with the subject. It has been easier for us to give up cooking than it has been to give up talking about it — and watching it.

But combined with this short article discussing the joys a cooking show brought to one family, and the myriad benefits it brought to their children, I felt they were perfect complements.

A funny thing happened on the way through the cooking show obsession. What we were seeing on the screen began trickling into our kitchen. The kids suddenly perked up during our weekly visits to the local farmers’ market, insisting on checking out exotic fruits and vegetables and, even better, buying, preparing, and eating them. […]

What are they learning? How do I count the ways? Fine motor skills from chopping garlic. Multi-tasking from sautéing vegetables in olive oil. (Case in point is their startling realization that you can’t just leave a saucepan unattended; this skill requires the need to overcome any tendencies for ADD.) They’ve honed their organization and math skills, practiced quick thinking, and stretched to develop some original ideas. […] And, best of all, my kids are actually eating and enjoying copious vegetables and a variety of other healthful and exotic foods.

The latter article also notes that a strong negative correlation has been found between the amount of television watched and happiness. This does not surprise me.

Our Fascination with Cookbooks

Cookbooks are designed to help us attain the “ideal sugar-salt-saturated-fat state” in our cooking while hiding that fact between the sautéing of onions and the reduction of the sauce.

That wonderful proposition comes from Adam Gopnik’s look at our long-standing fascination with cookbooks, and how they are used in our homes.

The first thing a cadet cook learns is that words can become tastes, the second is that a space exists between what the rules promise and what the cook gets. It is partly that the steps between […] are often more satisfying than the finished cake. But the trouble also lies in the same good words that got you going. How do you know when a thing “just begins to boil”? How can you be sure that the milk has scorched but not burned? Or touch something too hot to touch, or tell firm peaks from stiff peaks? How do you define “chopped”? […]

Grammars teach foreign tongues, and the advantage of [Mark Bittman’s] approach is that it can teach you how to cook. But is learning how to cook from a grammar book—item by item, and by rote—really learning how to cook? Doesn’t it miss the social context—the dialogue of generations, the commonality of the family recipe—that makes cooking something more than just assembling calories and nutrients? […]

[Conservative political philosopher Michael Oakeshott’s] much repeated point was that one could no more learn how to make good government from a set of rules than one could learn how to bake a cake by reading recipe books. The cookbook, like the constitution, was only the residue of a practice. Even the most grammatical of cookbooks dies without living cooks to illuminate its principles.

My ideal cookbook: one that explains why certain recipes work. Not a book on ‘grammar’, but a science book mixed with art.

And one final quote:

In cooking, the primal scene, or substance, is salt, sugar, and fat held in maximum solution with starch; add protein as necessary, and finish with caffeine (coffee or chocolate) as desired. That’s what, suitably disguised in some decent dimension of dressup, we always end up making.

The Evolutionary Role of Cooking

Cooking is “the evolutionary change that underpins all others” and is what makes us human, according to Richard Wrangham, Harvard University. The theory: the process of cooking makes our food more digestible, freeing up a huge amount of calories that are then expended on other, more important, activities.

And with Homo sapiens, what makes the species unique in Dr Wrangham’s opinion is that its food is so often cooked.

Cooking is a human universal. No society is without it. No one other than a few faddists tries to survive on raw food alone. And the consumption of a cooked meal in the evening, usually in the company of family and friends, is normal in every known society. Moreover, without cooking, the human brain (which consumes 20-25% of the body’s energy) could not keep running. Dr Wrangham thus believes that cooking and humanity are coeval.

via Link Banana