Sunday, January 2, 2011
Cooking has never been one of my passions; it’s more a commitment which follows from liking to eat. This past year I find myself enjoying cooking more, and spending more time at it. There are a number of contributing, idiosyncratic factors like my new sunny kitchen and its wall-mounted radio, so NPR can keep me company when I’m slicing, stirring, or mixing. And my new IPad allowing me to easily download and listen to interesting podcasts and living near enough to Weavers Way Food Coop to shop daily. The fact that my children grew up means I both have more time and two fewer picky palates to please, also making the cooking process less stressful.
But there are some way simpler, replicable things which have contributed to making my cooking more efficient, and therefore more gratifying. I did a budget check and realized how much we were paying to eat in restaurants, often because I just didn’t have the energy to decide what to make for dinner at the end of a long day. Once I realized it would pay back, it justified my putting more time into meal planning. I created a simple data base of weeknight menu combinations which we both enjoy eating, including any unusual ingredients and advance prep that facilitates getting the meal to the table. By doing the thinking in advance and entering it in my google-doc, I can just refer to it, make a menu decision earlier in the day, and plan accordingly. If it will be chili, I know I need to get the rice started in advance, that sort of thing. Since I actually finding the menu decision more onerous than the cooking, this has made a huge difference!
A small investment in better cooking utensils has vastly improved the cooking experience. Better knives, larger frying pans, a sturdy long-handled spatula and new goodies like a roll-up cutting mat have been so much nicer to use. Purchasing a duplicate set of measuring spoons and measuring cups is an embarrassingly simple upgrade. If some are in the dishwasher, I don’t need to rummage around to find them. If I want to prepare two dishes in a row, I don’t need to stop and wash them. Duh! Why didn’t I think of this 35 years ago? The cost of this enhancement is paid for by one stay-at-home meal.
The internet has also livened up the cooking process. Recipes, techniques, cooking blogs, even unusual products – these are all available with one click. If you’re someone with a large cookbook collection, you might want to join EatYourCookbooks, a site which features tens of thousands of indexed cookbooks. Register the cookbooks you own and use, and when you search by recipe title or ingredient, it will find the recipe and ingredient list. Where’s that great recipe for pecan lemon pound cake? This site will locate it. It doesn’t bring up the recipe itself, but will tell you which cookbook it’s in. The first five cookbooks are free; after that there is an annual fee.
Eating at home is cheaper and healthier. Another motivator, on the environmental front: at-home food preparation has a much smaller eco-footprint. Unless you would walk to the restaurant, you save the round-trip drive. Restaurants themselves are extremely high consumers of water, electricity, fuel, chemical cleaners, and disposables. While the diner might focus on wasted food (portions which are ridiculously large, uneaten bread which can’t be reserved, Styrofoam clamshells to take home, double-wrapped in plastic bags) most of the waste is out of the diners’ sight. There are some greener restaurants which compost, but most generate huge volumes of trash and food waste, none of which is reused or recycled. Restaurants are not, by law, allowed to serve leftovers!