Wednesday, April 3, 2013

More habits of happy cooks: Readers' edition

My column (link here) on the habits of people who like cooking got an immediate response: Before it even came out in the paper, replies were already coming in from readers sharing their habits that help them like cooking.

As promised, I'll share them here. And I'll keep updating as new ones come in. You can add them as comments here as well.

I'd also like to hear from anyone who switched from a reluctant cook to a happy one. What did you learn or start to do that made a difference?

Jesse Jones: Here is one I've been working on lately, which seems particularly apt for those of use cooking for only two (or one): Start meal planning by thinking of what is already in the pantry and refrigerator, be it half a box of penne, fresh oregano, cream, Parmesan, etc.

Ann Cricchi, Fort Mill: Happy cooks think food is entertainment. They pick up a food magazine in the doctor’s office. They go to farmer markets for the fun of it. They are happier in Publix than Macy’s. They like the physical acts of chopping and stirring. Interesting food is their top criteria for selecting a restaurant. They love the challenge of turning leftovers into a feast.

Garrell Keesler: To your list , I'd add to cook ahead.  Roast chicken breast for dinner tonight, shred leftovers for an Asian wrap tomorrow.  Roast vegetables today and add leftovers, some nuts and rosemary to quinoa the next.  Even if you need only half a lemon, squeeze the whole thing  and store the leftover juice. It's a great feeling to approach dinner preparation knowing you're a few steps ahead because of the extra work the day before.
To your "don't overcomplicate" I'd add:  invest your energy in one part of the meal. Use frozen brown rice, steamed green beans with olive oil and sea salt, grill white fish and spend more time preparing a mango salsa or tomatoes, olives and capers sauce. 

@clt_foodie:  I love your 10 habits and already use most of them without even thinking about it. Except the cleaning as you go. Need to work on that. Here are my top three habits that make me look forward to cooking:
1. Have a backup. I’m much more willing to try something I’ve never made before if the worst case scenario is we have a frozen pizza for dinner. Knowing I may not have to eat it if it is awful makes the risk-taking less stressful.
2. Take a cooking class. Turns out w/ a little professional instruction I’m a French sauce savant and I should NEVER EVER try to roll my own sushi again. Lesson learned. And yes, if you’re eating at my house, it’s probably going to have a sauce on it. I’ve learned sauces hide a multitude of cooking sins I may have committed in my adventurous dish preparation (refer to rule 1).
3. Wine. Relax, make cooking a social activity, not a chore. As WC Fields once said: “ I love cooking with wine. Sometimes, I even add it to the food”. My thoughts exactly. Just make sure you’re done cutting things up before you’re done with the glass of wine. And friends or family helping you in the kitchen don’t distract you from the pan of hot oil at your elbow.

Martyn: I always enjoy tinkering and experimenting. The funniest experience was with Durian. I went to buy a whole one that was being thawed out at the Oriental food store on Central Ave. The cute girl asked me if I had ever tried it to which I replied no. She made a gesture of holding her nose as she was putting something in her mouth saying "smell bad. Taste good". She suggested I buy a little package of frozen durian and try it. She was quite right. A while later on vacation in my old home town Toronto I was walking through China Town and a vendor was selling home made ice creams and one was durian. She also asked me if I had durian before. When I said yes, it was like passing a test. The ice cream was very good.
At the moment, I'm experiments with a drum coffee roaster and 5-pound lots of Costa Rican green coffee beans. Altogether too much fun! I even used to smoke my own bacon and thick-slice it. I have even cold-smoked cheeses. The irony is, I used to be a meat and potato sort of guy.

Kathy Cathey: I love home-cooked meals and find that if I spend a day once every month or so, I can make up a batch of dinners for my freezer such as meatloaf separated into individual baggies for two that I can quickly thaw, cover with sauce and bake in muffin cups for a quick meal. Or homemade meat balls. I often double batches when I have time, then have a backup meal for when I don't have time. Example: stuffed shells, lasagna.
It's all about the planning. Saves lots of money by not eating out.

UPDATE: Newest replies:
Joan: I have one idea (not a habit, however).  Good, sharp knives are essential to be a good (happy) cook.

Robin:  I am always asking for recipes!  If I am at a covered dish or a party, at work, anywhere I try a recipe that I like.  That way I have already tasted it and I know I like it. It is also a great way to collect a nice variety of recipes from people I know or  have met.

Pam: I would be a far less happy cook without the wonders of Reynolds Wrap nonstick foil. I line every pan with it when baking, and line casserole dishes with it, too. You put the lined, filled casserole dish in the freezer , and when it's solid you just pop it out. You end up with a clean casserole dish and a frozen casserole that takes up way less room in the freezer . When you need it, peel the foil away, slip it back into the same dish and pop it in the oven.

Nina: I not only love to cook – I love cookbooks and recipes. My collections fill cabinets and are not always organized.  The trial of a new recipe is that if it doesn’t get at least an A-, it goes in the “trash.” My husband gets to grade the meals. Sometimes, a B does get a second chance with modifications either of us think would make it better.  We both consider recipes a suggested starting point.  In 10 years, we have had a share of A, B and C’s but only one F – which ended up with the entire crockpot getting dumped, not just the contents.

Kaye: LEFTOVERS make me a happier cook.  Even if it's just a side like lima beans or rice.  It's easy to add a little something new to a few leftovers.  I am not a planner.  I usually plan my meals two hours ahead.  But I cook all my meals from scratch, so I have lots of stuff on hand. 


Clem's Son said...

I don’t really make meal plans; I tend to think about what kind of food I’m in the mood for and start thinking about what I want to cook around lunch time. I have a whole folder of links to food sites and recipes that I use for inspiration. And the best way to accommodate flexibility is to have a well-stocked pantry, fridge, freezer with all the basics. But well-stocked doesn’t have to mean one of every type of sauce from the grocery store. I try to simplify what I need to have on hand. One of the latest tricks I learned, from watching a past Good Eats show, is that instead of keeping a shelf full of all kinds of canned tomato products, all you really need to buy are whole peeled tomatoes. I think the whole tomatoes retain better flavor, and you can get the consistency you want by cutting them up into chunks, letting them cook to mush from whole, or using a hand blender in the pot to get the final consistency you want, from chunky to puree.

Alison said...

Don't cook when you're rushed. If you're a new cook and want to enjoy it, you have to give yourself time. Cook on the weekends and fall back on leftovers or Stouffers during the week.

Cook for others. Not your mother-in-law of the legendary Thanksgiving buffet, but for good friends who will laugh with you if the top layer of lasagna has to be peeled off and tossed out.

Find a mentor--a relative or friend who enjoys cooking, and who will stand at your elbow while you roll out pie dough.

Don't set the bar too high. You may never grow to enjoy the experience of cooking (like I never enjoyed knitting), so don't force yourself to learn how to make chicken à la king when chicken noodle casserole will suffice. Homemade is more important than gourmet.

Christine said...

A simple piece of wisdom I have always carried with me: My mother always told me to never apologize for cooking something - even if it is a disaster! If I mess up cooking, I cook out of love and tend not to apologize for that!