Sunday, December 31, 2023

Hobbies: Cooking

So I inventoried the spices yesterday, because I got a cross-cut miter box for Christmas and I want to build a spice rack, because spice racks with ~100-jar capacity are basically nonexistent.  I probably won't build 100-jar capacity; I need to go through the list and denote which ones are recurring purchases and which are one-off spice blend purchases that we probably won't replace.  But either way, we have... a lot of spices.

I did not expect cooking to be one of the things I did a deep-dive into.  Baking, yes.  I like baking, because I like cookies, cake, etc.  Also baking is basically chemistry, and I like chemistry.  Cooking is frequently less precise and more improvisation.  That's fine too, but it frequently requires more active time, and I like set-it-and-forget-it food production.

For a variety of reasons, we have home-cooked food six nights a week; salt is the biggest reason, hence the prodigious variety of herbs, spices, and spice blends taking up space in the cabinets.  (We effectively have two shelves' worth of spices in the cabinets.)  This has also meant finding recipes that we can make flavorful with minimal salt, and that MSG is a regular part of our seasoning plan, to reduce the sodium and boost flavors.

Although my grandmother was the one with the reputation as an outstanding cook, the bulk of my cooking techniques that I learned before moving out came from my mother (baking, stove-top cooking, slow cooker cooking), and a little bit from my father (primarily for pancakes; I still have not mastered skillet potatoes).  There are some foods I have not bothered to learn to cook well, because my husband fills that niche (steak, most pasta dishes that are not lasagna, tacos).

Cooking for dietary needs means I've tried recipes from a wide variety of cuisines, mostly through cookbooks and online recipe sites (especially the New York Times cooking section).  Recent dishes include moo goo gai pan (100% will make again), hot chocolate cookies (100% will not make again), and chicken cordon bleu (100% will make again, with improved technique).

Moo goo gai pan

Some things I've learned for time-saving and not wasting food over the years include weekly meal planning to build the grocery list (we use a shared Google doc); making extra rice to freeze in 1-cup portions when I make rice; and making the entire 5-lb. bag of potatoes as mashed potatoes and freezing the extra, rather than letting the potatoes languish and rot.  (Buying potatoes in 5-lb. bags is cheaper per pound at our grocery than buying loose potatoes.)  I've also stopped looking for recipes that only serve two and just freeze leftovers now to take for lunches or have for dinner on Wednesdays I'm too tired to cook.  My husband and I split the six nights we cook at home equally, but I usually make something that will cover two nights on Sunday, since Monday night is D&D and it's easier to do leftovers, and Wednesdays frequently end up freezer food if I'm too tired to cook.  Egg dishes are a frequent Wednesday meal, as well.

There are still some cooking techniques I would like to learn, primarily in the realm of candy making; my next goal is soft caramels.

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