Recipe-Free Cooking, In a Nutshell

As time has gone by, I think I can safely say I’ve matured as a cook in many ways. But in other ways, I’ve also found myself plateauing – getting sick of using the same flavors over and over again, not elevating my dishes, etc. Part of that has to do with the very limited contents in my pantry and fridge and part of it probably has to do with sheer laziness.

But one of the best pieces of advice I’ve picked up over the years is to learn techniques, not recipes. You could use a recipe for everything you cook and end up cooking a fantastically dizzying array of dishes – but all knowledge just ends up going to short-term memory store. Heck, I’ve made the famous Allrecipes banana crumb muffins recipe hundreds of times and I still have to refer it every single time.

Learning techniques, on the other hand, establishes a base formula that 1) gets refined and perfected over time, and 2) enables a whole bunch of creativity and customization on top of it. It doesn’t mean you’ll never use a recipe again, but that you’ll just use a lot fewer of them over time.

As a good example, I recently made a sausage and potato chowder from scratch with no recipe. I think I was attempting to emulate the Zuppa Toscana soup at Olive Garden but there were probably other inspirations thrown in there. At any rate, it ended up turning out very well simply because I was able to put together techniques and basic knowledge of cooking processes.

The breakdown was, more or less:

  1. Brown the meat
  2. Saute vegetables to deglaze the fond
  3. Make a stock
  4. Create a béchamel sauce
  5. Combine the two!

And the results:

Cooking becomes incredibly easy when one gets comfortable with the techniques. Then you can mix and match and start creating your own dishes, all recipe-free. Just learn to shop for new ingredients if you don’t want to get sick of eating the same boring crap.

What Christians Should Find Accurate and Annoying About “The Mist”

Screen capture of Mrs. Carmody and company from The Mist

It’s been a few years since I last watched The Mist, but for whatever reason, I often find myself thinking about the 2007 film. On the cinematic front, it’s well done to be sure – artfully encapsulating everything that is creepy about a Stephen King novel. It may not be a Shawshank-rivaling masterpiece, but it’s a well-crafted work nonetheless.

But as a Christian, I’m drawn more to both the truths and falsehoods of the film’s narrative. Every film has its share of what is true and what is false. I suppose what makes The Mist more compelling than others is how well it underscores one of the core doctrines of the Christian faith while utterly repudiating at least one other.

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I Don’t Have Time For Anything

So, I’m really really bad at regularly updating this blog. A lot of that is a function of other life priorities that are more important right now. And some of it has to do with the fact that I can be an awfully slow writer who has to empty out the proverbial “wastepaper basket” over and over until I churn out a final product I’m satisfied with. So to that end, I give massive kudos to people who are able to blog regularly on the side and not, like, die in the process.

That said, I figured it would be good to touch on two things in this post: 1) laying out my excuses for my long absence, and 2) thinking through the direction of this blog moving forward.

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Cooking Failure Diaires (II) – Lion’s Head Meatballs

I have to preface that my second entry in our chronicles of cooking failures may not really live up to the name. A lot of time, I make food that ends up being perfectly edible and actually tastes pretty good, but somewhere along the way, I think hell is breaking loose. Thus, the failure moniker, or so I think.

This time’s experiment belongs in the realm where the food ends up tasting great if you don’t mind eating blindfolded. Okay, it’s not that bad. But admittedly when it comes to the presentation, there’s much left to be desired. For this go-round, I made Lion’s Head Meatballs or 獅子頭, a staple in traditional Chinese cuisine that blends the savory fattiness of pork, tenderness of overcooked napa cabbage, and slipperiness of bean thread vermicelli.

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Cooking Failure Diaries (I) – Pad Thai

As much as I’d like to think of myself as the grand chieftain of culinary virtuosity, there is admittedly a spectacular amount of failure that goes into becoming a proficient cook. Believe you me when I say I’d rather post my successes. Yet I think there’s value in documenting the abysmal disasters that occasionally haunt my residences in the kitchen. Today, I present my first victim: Phail Thai. Oops, I meant Pad Thai.

Around two-thirds of my cooking is of the Asian variety, which usually involves lots of soups, noodles, and stir-frys. This isn’t the first time I’ve tackled Pad Thai so my pre-experiment naïveté presumed that this endeavor would be an easy one. After all, Pad Thai is just a noodle stir-fry. If the street vendors in Bangkok can bang out a dish in a few minutes’ time, surely my hours-long investment would prove fruitful, right?

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Cooking, the Passion

One of the great pleasures I find in life is the creation and enjoyment of food. There’s much to be said about food’s impact on individuals, cultures, and societies. And I’ve seldom met people who said they didn’t enjoy food. I consider myself fortunate in that I’m not a picky or selective eater – I’ll crave Waffle House (okay, I’ve never actually been there) as much as I’ll have hankerings for an Indian paneer dish, or enjoy tacos de lengua as much as I would fresh sashimi.

I hope to dedicate some bandwidth on this blog to food, whether that’s a restaurant review, recipe, or just plain ol’ commentary on the sustenance of life. But first, I want to give a little introductory groundwork on my personal passion for food and cooking and how it’s turned into one of my most enjoyable hobbies.

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The Carrots and Sticks in Life

I often think about what life would have been like had I stayed in industry as a working professional rather than come back to grad school. As an engineering student, I’ve more recently begun to process these thoughts transactionally. For example, in addition to the cost of a graduate degree, what other opportunity costs am I shelling out by coming back to school?

Hindsight is often said to be 20/20 but I’m not sure that really applies in this case. I’m often unsatisfied with the status quo so I’m apt to romanticize the past and future elements of my life while grumbling about the present. In other words, I’ve found that I never find satisfaction being in here and now and tend to either think about how great things used to be, or long for what’s to come.

To clarify my remark about clouded hindsight, I think about the times when I was working, feeling unsatisfied, and romanticizing about the new opportunities grad school could create for me. Certainly I had some expectation of rigor, work, and the finitude of time, but I was always willing to submit those practical trade-offs for the glory of it being “worth it.”

It’s very easy to reverse that in my present situation – i.e., wish I were back in the working world – or just shift the time frame forward – i.e., think about how awesome life will be after I graduate. The fact of the matter is, it will always be easy to gripe about the current situation and try to pursue something that’s bigger and better. It’s no wonder why so many young professionals switch jobs at the rate that they do.

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