Open Thread: Food

Yummy Mince Pies by Petr Kratochvil

Last year in 2012, I discovered the joy of cooking classes. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but I’ve always been terribly bad at it. My own mother never really learned to cook (and didn’t derive any enjoyment from it at all, so I can hardly blame her!), and I never had any relatives around to teach me as a child, so there was a big knowledge void there for me. Slowly I’ve been catching up from “completely ignorant” to “moderately competent” and it’s been a huge self-esteem boost for me. I CAN MAKE FOOD!

What kinds of foods do you like to make and/or eat? Do you have any favorite comfort foods for specific time periods or weather conditions?

~ Ana Mardoll


9 thoughts on “Open Thread: Food

  1. christhecynic January 16, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Once upon a time I made pie, I even have pictures to prove it. I had freshly picked rhubarb (pronounced rue-bub in my accent*) in danger of going bad through disuse, it needed to be used and so, pie. with strawberries of course.

    I can make brownies, have been able to since a young age (once upon a time it was the only thing I could make) and should do so more often.

    Mostly I only cook things that are one step long: put in conventional/microwave oven for [time].

    * Which is actually somewhat odd because generally a removed R will be given a very strong vowel sound, often with a bit of a consonantal y, to replace it. (Here and there become he-YA and they-A for example. In the pure accent at least, mine is significantly watered down by a fair degree of American Standard.)

  2. Firedrake January 16, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Similarly brought up without cooking skills, but my girlfriend gave me the basics when I moved into my own place. The one downside of our current cohabitation is that she’s still much better at cooking than I am, so I don’t get to do it much any more.

    Things I like to make: Bolognese sauce. Goatburgers. Emergency ‘Drake Restorer (tin of corned beef, smashed up, fried; tin of chopped tomatoes stuck in on top).

  3. That Other Jean January 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks to some long-ago cooking classes, I can make better-than-a-restaurant fried rice and sweet-and-sour anything.

    With gratitude to my late mother-in-law, I make killer spaghetti sauce, involving bacon, tomato sauce, carrots, tons of garlic, and all day simmering in a huge cast-iron skillet.

    Thanks to the Society for Creative Anachronism, I have several tasty medieval recipes for meat pies and other stuff. My favorites are Lombard Tarts, which are mostly beets and cheese but taste wonderful in spite of that, and Chicken and Cherries Pie, which is pretty much self explanatory. And a great no-cooking-necessary dessert, Hais,–Middle Eastern date-nut balls.

    Both my husband and I like to cook, unfortunately, and occasionally argue over who gets to make dinner–because the loser gets to clean the kitchen.

  4. storiteller January 16, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    I only cook vegetarian, and I basically taught myself by getting How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman and making a whole bunch of recipes from it. Ironically, I taught myself because my husband was working nights at a restaurant and I still had to eat. Since then I’ve learned a lot from him, but a lot of it is still developing skills by trial and error. There are some things in cooking that you just need a “feel” for – there’s a lot of cooking skills that are difficult to describe in a book.

    Almost all of my recipes are what my husband teasingly calls “vegetarian mush” – stews, soups, curries, vegetables over pasta. I tried to get ambitious for the holidays and made pirogies, but it took forever.

  5. Catherine January 18, 2013 at 7:18 am

    All the women in my family are excellent cooks and have a bit of an obsession with food and feeding people. The only exception is my mother, who is a good cook, but is rather bemused by the collective fascination with food among the rest of us.

    Despite this, I pretty much learned to cook from books after I moved out of home when I was 19 or so. I had to – my repertoire consisted of baked potatoes and spaghetti bolognese (not together), and since I managed to explode a potato in a friend’s oven a few months after moving out (nobody had ever told me you need to prick them before baking), I’m not sure the baked potatoes get to count. I still cook a lot of pasta, though.

    Anyway, the result is that I can make vegan confectionery and gluten, dairy, egg and nut-free wedding cupcakes without turning too many hairs but am a bit hazy on stuff like how to boil an egg, because cookbooks never tell you that. Mostly, I like to cook sweet things, but over the last few years, I’ve become the person who does allergy-friendly and vegan cooking, which is a bit odd, since I have no food allergies and I’m an omnivore. But my in-laws are vegetarian, and I have one friend who can’t eat eggs or nuts, and another who can’t eat gluten or dairy, and one who is fructose intolerant, and one who is vegan, and since I really do need to feed everybody all the time, I’ve kind of had to learn this sort of cooking in self-defense.

    Also, I have a terrible, horrible cookbook addiction, which is particularly silly since I never follow recipes properly anyway…

  6. froborr January 18, 2013 at 10:36 am

    I love to cook! I do almost all the cooking in our house–Viga makes good eggs, good waffles, great hash browns, great burgers, and amazing fried chicken, but everything else is me.

    I make a steak that’s restaurant caliber–you have to get into the $60, $70 price range to find better. The tricks are a very hot, well-seasoned cast iron pan, heavily sprinkling the steak with sea salt just before it touches the pan, and a marinade based on balsamic vinegar, horseradish mustard, garlic, and pepper.

    I also am pretty good at “dressing up” jarred spaghetti sauces–I buy a couple of jars of sauce and then add lots of seasonings, veggies, sometimes chicken.

    Viga’s favorite thing I make is blackened chicken alfredo, but I prefer my quasi-blackened tilapia (I coat it in the same spices I use for blackening, but I don’t add any fat, and I bake it instead of pan-frying).

    A big comfort food for me is roast broccoli. You toss it in olive oil, garlic, pepper, and rosemary, and the result’s pretty close to ambrosial.

  7. storiteller January 18, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    but am a bit hazy on stuff like how to boil an egg, because cookbooks never tell you that.

    If you’re interested in both the “how” and the “why” of cooking, I find both Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food and the entire magazine/website of Cook’s Illustrated really useful. Alton Brown has a lot of good techniques that apply to lots of different types of recipes. Cook’s Illustrated takes traditional recipes (like strawberry shortcake or chicken soup), breaks them apart, figures out what makes them work or not, and then reconstructs them. It’s a very scientific / experimental approach to home cooking, which I appreciate. I tend to follow a recipe blindly unless I know why something is one particular way. When I can understand that, then I can revise the recipe as necessary or even fix it if something has gone wrong.

  8. Catherine January 18, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    I’ll look into that, thanks!

    Actually, if you like science in your cooking, I really recommend Harold McGee ‘On Food and Cooking’, which is about the chemistry of cooking. The new edition is more or less an encyclopedia by ingredient, very useful, but I recommend the first edition, which is full of random anecdotes, not to mention this rather interesting description of why vegetables start off crisp but go limp in the fridge:

    When a cell reaches its limit in water content, the vacuole swells and presses the cytoplasm against the cell membrane, which in turn presses against the cell wall. The wall is somewhat flexible, and bulges a little to accommodate the swollen cell. The mutual pressure exerted by many cells against each other results in an erect, rigid tissue, or what we would judge a crisp texture. As we bite into the turgid vegetable, we experience an initial resistance and then a burst of juice as the walls rupture. But if the tissue has lost water, the vacuoles have shrunk, the cell membranes have drawn away from the walls, and the vegetable has become limp and flaccid.

    I never thought I’d see a cookbook becoming eligible for the Bad Sex In Fiction Award, but this just might do it…


  9. storiteller January 23, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I’ve heard good things about Harold McGee, so I’ll have to check that out. It might be one of the rare cookbooks my husband would use, as he never uses recipes but in theory, does find cooking theory/technique useful.

    As for the excerpt – it could easily be awarded with just a tweak in some of the wording…

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