Tuesday, 12 May 2009

My cooking philosophy

My DSP buddy, Jean Laroche, told me I should have a cooking blog. Since I already started a blog, I thought I would just enlarge this one --- besides, who wants to hear me whine and complain about linux administration all the time?

So, since I lead a food centered life, I thought I would start by writing about my cooking ideas and philosophy. I don't believe in fast food, I believe in slow food. I don't like to buy other people's ideas of how things should taste, so I don't buy prepared food (for the most part). One of my strongest beliefs is in the transformative ability of a great meal. Babette's Feast is my example of what a meal can be. Not every day, but every once in a while.

Most of my cooking is of the Italian/French variety, in part because I am a carbohydrate eater and I like pasta. I have cooked other styles including indian and chinese, but because most of my life I am cooking like a short-order demon, I choose what I can do fast -- with minimum prep work. Most of the time I cook without measuring. And cooking requires all the senses: besides sight, I listen to the timbre of the frying food, I feel the meat to see if it's done and I smell what I am cooking. I taste when I am in doubt, but my sense of smell is often enough.

I am much more of a cook than a baker --- which is a bit strange since I excelled in the chemistry lab in both high school and college. But I am now to the point where I can use yeast very reliably. But to get the crust to have that nice crunch, that requires steam in the oven. I've tried but it just don't compare with what I can get from the nearby bakery. That's a topic for another entry.

There a very important aspect to reading a recipe: imagining what it will look like in the various steps. I can't explain how I know what to expect, but I do. I think this can only be gained by experience. So, when I read a recipe, I have to understand the transformation at every step. Only when I understand the procedure will I start. In complex meals, I will take the time to diagram the "flow" so that I know what I can do in parallel. It's task scheduling and it's NP-complete!

My last comment concerns guests: I look forward to having guests because they are my excuse to experiment and try new and complex recipes. But I don't have many guests for dinner these days, so most of my cooking is of the fast "trattoria style".


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

About that crust: my good friend David told me of a recipe that he read in cooks illustrated that involves getting a dutch oven really hot, then cooking the bread inside of it, with the lid on it (which means the steam from the bread itself is trapped inside, and provides what's needed for the crust). I haven't tried it myself, but I've seen his bread and it definitely had the nice, desirable crust!