A while ago, I came across this interesting column in the New York Times about cooking personalities.
You can take the little quiz and see what type you are .
I think I’m the “healthy cook” type. Most of the food I cook, I don’t really do much tasting, and it may come out bland. Joe’s a better cook than me, when it comes to making the flavours sing. I’m conscious about using rather salt sparingly.
By default, we incorporate a lot of veggies (from the garden and farmer’s market.) We do cook fish and meat, but in rather small amounts. My favourite techniques are stir-fry, broil, and steam. We consume very little processed foods at home. I’m also lazy about following recipes, so I just end up making the same old things over and over again. Poor Joe gets stuck with caprese salad all the time in the summer, and boiled kale with onions or parmesan rinds ad nauseum in the winter.
Of course, to balance all these healthy ingredients we eat at home, we eat out a lot. With restaurants, you can’t always expect them to use good quality/nutritious ingredients, or expect them to make everything from scratch. So we get our dosage of ‘bad-for-you’ food there. (Plus about 4 pints of ice-cream and several bars of dark chocolate on hand at home all the time.)
On the occasions that someone is eating at our place and says “this tastes good,” it’s usually because (1) the fruit we get at farmer’s market tastes better than supermarket fruit; or (2) whatever meat we cook, we marinate for 1 – 24 hours, and well (3) broiling makes anything taste good.
If I had to choose between bringing a toaster over or microwave to a desert island, I’d definitely take the toaster oven. We eat broiled salmon once a week. We eat broiled portabella mushrooms once every two weeks. (Like I said, I’m too lazy to look up creative recipes.) In the summer, the broiler in the toaster over is useful for ‘grilling’ vegetables without having to fire up the bbq.
With climate change awareness, I also think about which types of cooking techniques are use less energy. For instance, my theory is that steaming, stir-frying and broiling use less energy. (I’m sure someone out there has done some sort of study on the energy efficiency of different cooking methods, but I’m too lazy to look it up right now.)
Baking and roasting uses a lot of energy, because you have to heat up the entire volume of air in the oven space, plus air is not a very good conductor of heat. Broiling is at least a blast of direct heat onto the food you’re cooking. For any given item, I think it takes less time to cook something by broiling than by baking, but perhaps broiling is a more intense use of energy?
So many American/Western recipes call for baking. Maybe that’s why I don’t bake deserts (cookies, brownies, etc.) or try out baking/roasting recipes very often. Yet I have to admit, baked/roasted veggies often taste better than steamed or stir-fried ones. Something about the carmelization and slow heat that does the trick, I guess. (For instance, I never quite understood why most recipes calls for an extra step of baking the macaroni and cheese in a casserole, when it’s perfectly edible after you’d made the cheese sauce and mixed in the cooked pasta on the stovetop.)
In making stock from chicken (or whatever) bones, is it more energy efficient to just pop it into the slow-cooker at the low setting for a longer period, or is it better to cook it in a stockpot on the stovetop for a quicker time? (And how much difference would there be in taste?)
The other trick I have to save energy while cooking involves calculated risk-taking. I take out whatever ingredients (meats and/or veggies) out of the refrigerator about an hour or two before I start cooking. Essentially the closer those ingredients get to room temperature before I start cooking, the smaller the temperature differential between the start and end of cooking (and hence the less energy consumed along the way.) Plus, our fridge is set at such a cold temperature, it actually hurts my hands to handle such cold ingredients (i.e. peeling and cutting.)
When I take lunch to work, I pack it in the morning from the fridge at home. But I leave it on my office desk, so that by noon time, it’s come to room temperature, and I don’t really need to microwave it. Come to think of it, I think that’s how people in India bring their lunch to work in those tiffin carrier; traditionally, the spices would keep the food from spoiling for those several hours in the morning?
The risk is the bacterial growth thing, but USDA guidelines are very conservative. I think if you use good ingredients (that were produced at high standards), and if you cook everything to a high enough temperature, it’ll be fine. Either that or we still have very strong GI immune systems!