Cooking: A Course for Absolute Beginners
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This is a cooking course for absolute and complete beginners! Designed explicitly for total beginners like you, this course will catch you up on everything you've missed. By the end of this course, you'll be effective, savvy, and street-smart around food.
Best of all, this course works. Unlike cookbooks, this course progresses through recipes in a careful sequence, in order to build an intelligent foundation around food. We'll explore how to eat in real life, and explain what the Man doesn't want you to know about cooking. By the end of this course, you'll be a better chef than most!
Along the way, we'll learn how cooking can help lose weight, alleviate illness and depression, and improve your social life. Your friends will be impressed. If you don't have any friends, you'll be impressed!
CONTENT AND OVERVIEW
The instructor of this course used to be a "cooking orphan" -- that is, someone who grew up without learning anything about food. After learning to cook, which helped him lose fifty pounds and alleviate depression, he realized he had a passion for helping other beginners learn practical cooking skills. This is a graduated introductory course for adult beginners by someone who remembers what it was like to know absolutely nothing about food.
Your future self is waiting! We'll see you in the course.
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Certificate of completion.
|Section 1: The Beginning of Everything|
Hey! Congrats on making your way to this course. It means you have some good things in store for you! My name is Hadrian, and it's my goal to do everything in my power to not only help you learn to cook, but also become healthier and happier and two inches taller. It's no secret that cooking has the power to transform your life: it's a key that unlocks weight loss, improved performance, can make you feel better and alleviate depression, make friends, and save you money. It's nicer than it sounds!
This course is the fruit of my own experiences I had trying to learn to cook. It was frustrating being an absolute beginner! Things just weren't tied together properly, it was hard to make lasting changes in my own life. So unlike cookbooks or the usual blogs, I wanted to create a course that works, for total beginners, that has the power to help you make real changes in your life. (For instance, if you don't cook at all, maybe this will get you regularly cooking a couple times a week.)
I am your friend! One of the great things about Udemy is that it's possible to interact with your instructor. Please, at any time, ask questions, email me, complain, tell stories, make suggestions, give feedback. I'll be here to give you a friendly reply, and help as best I can! Everything you send my way makes me happier and stronger. Really, I want to hear from you!
Throughout this course, always remember to check the lecture description (here!) for more information, supplemental stuff, links, cryptic quotations of unidentified origins, and downloads.
You'll want some printed downloads to help out with the shopping and cooking. Download everything right here, and print 'em off. (Or sprint back and forth awkwardly from your computer.)
Good luck and have fun!
In this course, we've taken away the one thing that's always held you back: free will! Phew, good riddance! So instead of picking and choosing recipes like you would in a cookbook, go ahead and do this course in the order it's presented in. It'll make your learning experience quick and effective.
But what if I'm not a total beginner, just a sort of beginner? I already know how to do some of this stuff. I'd go ahead and stick to the order of things! This is because I'll also talk about some important conceptual stuff, in addition to giving cooking instruction. And revisiting things may be helpful! Hopefully, it won't be long before we're traipsing through fertile unexplored ground.
What if I find this course is just too simple for me? No worries! Email Udemy within thirty days, and you can get your money back.
Caution/Forewarning: I am an RPG fan. It's just the way I was born. There may be jokes or references or shameless pilfering of genre tropes. Laugh politely or scowl angrily.
Here's a list of everything you'll need to get through this course! Find a more descriptive list in the downloadable Cooking Orphan's Cookbook, or in the downloads below.Main items:
This is everything that will be used in this course. Does that sound like a lot? Well, it is and it isn't. These are the minimal things you need to have a happy culinary life, and they'll be with you forever. You'll find that many other cookbooks and blogs think the "essential" list is much longer -- and to that, I say, meh. It depends on what you like to cook, how advanced you are, how much money you have, how big your kitchen is, etc.
Most sensible is to start with this stuff, and then as you get further through the course, you'll have a better idea of what you do and don't need.
Check the downloads for a more in-depth description of these - how to identify what you have, how to get what you don't, and how to keep them healthy and happy.
|Lecture 4||40 pages|
DOWNLOAD ME! You'll want this cookbook for reference and for more in-depth instruction on how to purchase food and equipment.
|Section 2: Level 1: Cooking for Beginning Adventurers|
Ready to hit up a grocery store? Watch through the entire lecture, beginning to end, pull up the shopping list in the downloadable materials, and hit the store. Only once you've gotten back safely, and stored your food in the proper places, should you move ahead to the first encounter. Who knows what you'll find on the road ahead? You need to be prepared!
For more in-depth information on shopping for these items, check The Cooking Orphan's Cookbook.
Sauces and spreads
Q: So where do I store these things?
Refrigerated items can go anywhere in the fridge. (Sometimes fridges have drawers and nooks and flip down screens -- those don't matter all that much. Anywhere is about as good as anywhere else.)
How do I know if something's a pantry item? We'll go over that more in Shopping trip: lvl 2, when we talk more about how and why stuff decays. Your intuitive guess is probably correct, but when in doubt, ask Google!
- Real people collect and store a pantry of items to facilitate the process of eating. By starting your own pantry, you too can be a real person one day!
- Begin pondering the possibility that food is intuitive. Unlike if you were trying to pick up a programming language or theoretical physics, food and cooking is something you learn from experience.
I find it akin to starting out in a new computer game. It doesn't cross my mind that I'd need to read the wiki in order to start the first few hours — I expect to learn the basics and subtleties through trial and error, and the prospect of doing so doesn't hold any terror or annoyance. It's fun to learn by trial and error. It's afterwards that fiddling with guides and mods becomes meaningful and improves the experience, and brings out an appreciation for all the nuances and alterations and choices.
How do you tell if something is good? The fear here is that something in the pile of produce is secretly rotted and you'll pick the wrong one and die. Don't worry about it too much: remember that food is intuitive, and what you think is okay probably is okay. Also remember that vegetables are pretty benign. If it doesn't actively look horrible, then you probably won't get sick from it. So if there isn't visible mold, bruises, or other nastiness, it's fine for our purposes.
Finally, use Google but not everything is 100% correct. The people on websites and blogs may seem like they have all the answers, but they're as fallible and stupid in proportion to the rest of the population. (And please, don't take anything I say as gospel either!)
There's an old cooking joke that goes like this: A young girl is watching her mother bake a ham, and the mother cuts it in half and puts it on the pan. "Mom, why do you cut the ham in half?" the girl asks. "I don't know!" the mom said, "but that's how my mom did it."
But then the mother is curious, so she calls her mother. "Why did you cut the ham in half?" she asks. "'I don't know!" her mom replied. "That's how your grandmother did it!"
So the mother calls her grandmother, who says: "I cut the ham in half because the pan wasn't big enough!"
This comes up a lot in cooking: cooking is traditional, and sometimes what's handed down becomes conservative over time. So people will share things that they learned that may or may not be true, and so the most important thing is to keep an open mind and expect to change up your steps over time with new information.
So you enter into a dark and (frankly) terrifying Yam Woods. The yam-wolves howl in the distance. What do you do?
Welcome to the first encounter! There are numerous encounters in this course, each more pleasant (fearsome?) than the last. In each encounter, watch the entire lecture, then use a downloaded printout to attempt it on your own. The videos aren't designed to be watched while cooking.
After every lecture, there'll be a super hip cool afterparty that you're totally invited to and you should head there immediately after you finish cooking to learn some really super things.
(This lecture uses an oven. What about if I have an oven? No worries! Watch the lecture, and then move on the the next one.)
The first thing to know about food, is that food is easy. A yam will show us how simple cooking and eating is. (A metaphor: is riding a bike hard? Nah. Do kids learn on the first push? Not usually. But it's foolish to compare the initial hurdle to the final effort. This is true for most cooking. So be okay with a couple slip ups, even if it's on something I say is easy!)
Equipment – dry cloth or oven mitt
Food – yam
Total time: beginners 1.5h; experienced 5m; cost about $1.00
- Different ovens have different heating instructions, but they should be discernible by looking at yours. On most oven models, you'll set the oven's 'mode' to "BAKE" and then specify the temperature with another knob. Set that to 375 degrees. Leave the yam outside the oven for now. This is called preheating your oven.
- The oven will indicate when it's finished preheating. This might take 5-40 minutes, depending on how nice and new your oven is. Sometimes a light will turn off, or the oven will beep as indication. From here, you're ready to put in the yam. First, poke some shallow hole sin it with a fork, to allow gasses to escape. Put it anywhere in the oven, not touching a wall, and close the oven.
- The yam will soften as it cooks. You want the final consistency to be somewhere around the consistency of mashed potatoes. There's no set time, since the total time depends on how large the yam is. Instead, you can check to see when the yam is done! At 45 minutes, reach in with a dry cloth insulating your hand and give your yam a squeeze. Does it feel soft and pliable? Maybe like it's full of mashed potatoes? If it isn't, close the door and let it have another 10 minutes, and check again. It might take as long as an hour and a half. If the yam is done, get a plate and use your cloth to slide the yam out. Use a knife to cut it open, and let it cool. (It might take five or ten minutes to cool -- be patient!)
N.B - Always avoid direct skin contact with things heated by an oven. Guess what would happen if you stuck your hand in boiling water? You'd ruin your skin forever. Three hundred seventy-five degrees is 150 degrees hotter than boiling water, so use a dry hand towel or other cloth to protect your hand whenever your hand goes in the oven. (A wet cloth will conduct heat and boil.) Always, always use a cloth or oven mitt when removing or feeling up a yam.
Your oven probably has a pleasant enough personality, but don't forget that, deep down, she would care nothing about “accidentally” burning your children or your hands. Don't let her! Use common-sense safety protocols — open the oven door all the way, squat to get a better angle of entry, be careful of the oven edges. If there are children nearby, be extra mindful. (My mom would always yell “opening the oven” like she was calling a fly ball.) Finally, remember to turn the damn thing off whenever you're done.--
Earnest Gilroy asks: I accidentally threw my yam to the very back of the rack. Do I need to use a yardstick to get it out?
A: Oven racks pull out. Use a protected hand to pull out the rack until you can reach and manipulate the item. If the yam is in a place you don't feel comfortable extracting, just turn off the oven and remove the corpse after the oven fully cools.Salacious Stephanie asks: Why do we preheat the oven?
Prehistoric humans carefully remove yams from the ground and stack them in baskets. Stored in depressed shelters, they last for months as a sign of wealth and abundance. Dozens are baked at a time, and you see them lined up in little rows on the ground to cool.
What's the timeframe for the course? Because of how food keeps and spoils, this course works best if all encounters in a level are done within a day or two of each other, and an individual level finished within a week after starting. Don't feel downtrodden by this! It can be helpful; sometimes working around a timeline is something that helps us eat properly.
If, later in this course, you're just to busy and some of your stores go bad, don't worry about it. Pick up some more when you have the chance. At lvl 1, this isn't a huge problem, but in later levels we'll be using meat, which is particularly perishable. (The curse of meat!) We'll talk more about it later, but for now, steel yourself against procrastination.
- Food is simple. Yams aren't all that complex. Neither is rice or salt or beans. You applied heat to change the consistency of food, and you were able to determine when it was finished. At their core, most recipes are simply variations on themes as simple and graspable as this one.
- Food is experiential. You learn about food over time, by using it. Like everything else, it's nearly impossible to learn things in an ivory tower to the point where you can do it on your own. So don't feel like you can't do something until after you've learned it: instead, you learn it by doing it. (You can apply this to other things as well -- learning to dance, to sing, to play an instrument, to be a successful conversation partner: the indispensable part is doing, not learning.)
Homework! You have another yam. (Or sweet potato -- the terms are usually interchangeable, although sweet potatoes are generally sweeter.) Bake it before adventuring into level 2, which lies several encounters hence. Do it on your own time. Make a plan! Tomorrow night? This Saturday for a snack?
Go ahead and begin the second encounter at any time.
"Beginners 1.5h; experienced 5m; cost about $1.00"
The time it takes you the first time is not indicative of how long it'll take as someone who's done it a few times. If your first attempt at making, say, spaghetti sauce, took three hours, don't think that means it takes three hours to make! Eventually, the time required will lesson enormously. Think of Grandma using the internet, or your kid tying his shoes, only faster.
Sages speak of The Wonderful Basic Super-Simple Stir Fry in hallowed tones. Peasants celebrate it in festivals of obscure and ancient origins. They say it's a harbinger of many wonderful things to come.
This is both a base we'll use to improve other dishes, and a simple stir fry. Stir fries are great ways to eat: they're improvisational, efficient, and can be easily varied to your whims.
Tools — cutting board, knife, skillet, wooden spoon, teaspoon measure, two containers
In this course, we'll use our containers a lot for leftovers or prepped food. Any container that can be fitted with a tight lid can become a storage bowl, which can transfer leftovers or prepped food into the refrigerator. Similarly, any container can be used as a ready bowl, a place where you'll stash chopped onion or prepped rice while they're waiting to be used. I call them "bowls" because why not.
Food — all the onion you bought (1 large head or 2 small), garlic cloves (about 4), baby carrots, soy sauce
Total time: beginner time 30m; experienced time 6m; cost about $1.00
- Get your knife out and make friends with it if you haven't before. If you haven't used it much, start slowly and with an eye to learn the lay of the land. Lay a small handful of carrots on the cutting board and carefully chop them into smaller pieces, and place them in a ready bowl. Then take the onion, cut it carefully in half, remove the root ends, and take the skin and first layer of onion off. Be careful when cutting the onion! The skin can slide and make the knife slide with it. Make sure your fingers are clear of the blade. Discard the onion ends and skin, and then chop into small sized pieces. Watch the video for a visual demonstration. Place half the chopped onion bits in with the carrots, and the other half into a storage bowl. Finally, mince the garlic. Separate some cloves from the head, chop them in half, and remove the skin. Discard. Then chop the cloves fairly finely and add half of them to the ready bowl, and half to the storage bowl with the onions. Lid and refrigerate the storage bowl.
- Pour everything into the skillet and add in about a teaspoon of soy sauce. Turn the heat to medium or medium low. Since foods cook fine in a range of temperatures, and different stoves handle differently, there's no specific temperature that's correct. Pick a setting, generally less than half a turn of the knob, and experiment over several encounters. At too high a temperature, things will burn, and at too low a temperature, things take forever. Like the yam, you can tell when your food is done by checking. Stir frequently, and when the onions look like they've had significant change, use your spoon to take a piece of onion out. Let it cool, then eat it. Is it soft, and no longer very raw-y? Then it's done.
- Remove and eat!
Nota Bene: It may be that this recipe doesn't thrill your soul. Were are the hunks of venison, the ancient wines, the slabs of exotic fruit of your youth? Don't worry! We're making this for practice, not just because I think you'll love it. Measured steps to get to where we want. So don't be too worried if we haven't reached some nirvana of culinary existence yet.
Also don't be too worried by people suggesting that things should be done in a different way. "Did they tell you to put X in it? It's soo much better with X in it." We'll get there in good time! We want to avoid burnout, and promote a firm understanding of what's going on. That requires a humble origin story.
It may seem a little odd, but most people who have eaten yams have never eaten a plain yam before. It just never came up. Same with basic onion stir fries. This will give you a leg up over all the enemies you meet in your life. And it won't be long before you're adding whatever ornamentation you like, knowing why you do it and understanding its relation to everything. Friends will marvel at your perspective.
The afterparty awaits! See you in the next lecture.
Knives are fundamental tools. The world is full of play tools that are for games and not for living; it's empowering to be able to use, daily, something so basic and atavistic, something so powerful and uncapped that it has capacity to hurt ourselves. Sometimes the world gets so caught up in putting up guardrails and signs that we forget our own agency. Other people do everything for us – they make our foods, our machines, harvest the energy our transportation uses, produce our entertainment. Recovering some control and utility in the world always feels satisfying and good.
Imagine eating before there were knives and sharp blades. Imagine eating before there were pots and pans. What sort of cooking would happen then? The simple act of owning our metalware makes us powerful. When we use our cooking equipment, we are taking control of our lives, and taking care of ourselves in a way that using radios, computers, and watches doesn't.
- You combined ingredients to make a sum total that is, by some measures, better than the parts. This is the essence of cooking, and will occur over and over again with various levels of complexity.
- You discovered a knife! Yes! Finally, some equipment. No more fending off rats with sticks! For some, using a knife is a little unsettling and slow the first couple times, but, like driving over 30 miles an hour, it's something you'll quickly become dangerously over-acclimated too. You'll reap productivity bonus points, and your life score goes up.
- You found a skillet! Amazing what you can discover under rocks and rotten logs.
- You met soy sauce! He asks to join your party.
- You over-prepared your vegetables! It's part of the ancient art of overkill-as-an-efficiency-tool, practiced whenever you wash all your underwear at once instead of only what you need for that day. By piggybacking some extra work on your current productivity, you have some extra garlic and onion prepped and ready to go. Perhaps they'll prove useful later...
- Food is done when it's done. There is rarely a magic "done" time that instructions can put down. (And if the instructions do, it's often because cooks don't haven't learned, like we are now, to be flexible.) Instead, you have to watch, pay attention, learn over time, and realize that you're much more capable of determine when something is done than written instructions. For beginners, it's a little frustrating in the short term, because it means you can't be guaranteed of being right right now. But in the long run, it'll give you an amazing amount of freedom that'll make you feel happy and in control in whatever cooking situation. It's a key part of making your way through the barren world and becoming a cooking hero. It's part of developing a sixth sense for cooking.
Homework! Have some carrots and hummus! Dip the carrots into hummus and eat them slowly and deliberately. Bean paste is delicious. Eat some carrots and hummus with meals as a side or as a snack when you feel like munching on something.
Trapped at the table with the terrible Ms Beansworth, you plot your escape. Time to put your prepared onion and garlic to good use.
Equipment – knife and cutting board, skillet and wooden spoon, can opener
Food – can of black beans, prepared onion and garlic
- Use your can opener to open the beans, and drain most of the liquid down the sink. Get your prepared onion and garlic out. (You're so clever to have all that chopping nonsense out of the way!) If you haven't already, try a piece of raw onion and garlic.
- Cook the onion and garlic like you did last time. Turn the burner on to a medium, medium low heat. Feel free to experiment with a higher or lower temperature than last time. Stir frequently. You can determine when they're cooked by tasting a piece of onion. Is it soft and no longer tastes like raw onion? Is it starting to turn transparent? Then it's done! For beginners, onions are generally left on a little longer than you initially think.
- Pour the can of black beans into the skillet. This will cool the pan so that onions aren't cooking: everything is just heating up. Take a taste occasionally to see if it's warm enough. When it is, put it into a bowl, and eat!
N.B. -- The heated bottoms of pots and pans can burn counters, so never put a hot pan or pot on the counter unless you're putting it on a thick cloth or rubber insulator. (Sometimes called a "trivet.")
A stir fry using only onions, carrots, and garlic is an ancient meal, as is a bean dish flavored with onion and garlic. They predate modern conceptions about food — conceptions built up on billions of dollars of advertising and subsidized corn. It predates storable and easily obtainable meat. It uses root vegetables that are long-lasting, flavorful, and naturally sweet. Meals free of oils, sugars, wheat, and dairy are rare today, and it's worth thinking about how food has changed in a relatively recent period of time.
Maybe it's been a while since you've had something as healthy as an plate of black beans and onions. What are the side effects of a meal like this? Are they only positive?
Sometimes people are flummoxed by the prospect of eating onion, something they've studiously worked to avoid their entire lives. Try it and see how it goes! It's worth a little effort to see if you can learn to like onions, and many people are able to acclimate fairly quickly to foods if they keep an open mind. Onions are put in just about everything -- probably in places you never even noticed. Often, they're cut up small enough and cooked for long enough that the main things people dislike about them becomes blended and hidden. So even if you find these large, crunchy onion chunks aren't doing it for you, remember that later onions can become better hidden while still improving what you're making.
Finally, some questions to think about when you're contemplating onions, or any food you're not especially drawn too:
When was the last time I had an onion dish? What specific experiences do I have that make me feel that an onion dish would not be good, and how long ago were they? What's the difference between “disliking” and “not liking” something? Is a default avoidance of onions something positive or something negative? Are my “tasty” foods grouped around SweeTarts and pizza, and is that what good taste is? And how is that tied up in my expectation of what food is supposed to be?
In this campaign, don't shy away from an encounter if it involves things you think you won't want to eat! You're learning to cook: that means encounters are included for educational reasons, not just because you're looking for food soulmates. So complete encounters and follow the steps and toil appropriately, even if you suspect that at the end, you'll only have a few bites before retiring it. And how knows? Maybe you'll realize the stuff you picked off your plate as a kid isn't as offensive as you thought it was.
Phew! Three encounters in, and now you're ready for level 2! Bright level up lights and cool stat points. We have another shopping list coming up. See you there!
Homework! Clean your space up, and make sure to bake the second yam before venturing forth. When cleaning, don't forget that small progress is better than no progress!
BONUS: Hummus is pretty versatile. What else can it go on? If you have a sandwich, maybe try using it in place of mayonnaise. How's that taste? What else can you experiment with hummus?
|Section 3: Level 2: Cooking for Hungry Adventurers|
The landscape becomes grimmer and more terrible. But by following small signs left by previous cooking orphans, etched on trees and marked by stacks of small stones, you know you're on the right path!
Here's the supplies you'll need to make it through safely to level 3.
You should also have left over from the previous level some garlic, baby carrots, and soy sauce. Carrots should still be moist and visually appealing, garlic should look calm and collected, and the soy sauce should still be in its bottle. Pick up some more if one of them no longer numbers among you.
What happens to garlic and onion as they age? Well... they sprout. They're like giant seeds, and eventually a pretty new green stalk will break out and search for light. Sometimes you might cut open garlic or onion and see that there's a green shoot growing inside. They're still edible and good to eat when this happens, although some of the potency is lost. I enjoy eating garlic sprouts. I pretend they're a rare delicacy.
Q: Simple Sally asks: What's a bulk section?
People tend to make fun of places like Whole Foods for being elitist and expensive, but their produce (and general atmosphere) is undeniably more pleasant. Their produce often has (but not always) better growing practices, and taste better. So while much of Whole Foods (or other such stores) is silly in a misguided wealth way, like their bizarre health products and vegan beauty supplies, paying ten or twenty cents extra for happy produce isn't actually as grievously insulting as some people seem to think.
People go out and spend enormous amounts of money on burgers or beer or clothes from nice outlets -- and in comparison, getting better produce or better raised meat is hardly the worst sin of affluence.
If you've never shopped at a nice grocery store, give it a try sometime! It may make a difference.
Over the silver mountains,
Sir Walter Raleigh was kind of a dork, but damn, this curry is pretty good stuff. This is a three part lecture, full of linchpin foundational stuff. Watch all three lectures, then give it a shot yourself.
Tools — cutting board, knife, pot w/lid, can opener, 1 large mixing bowl, 1 ready bowl, 1 storage bowl, 1 cup measuring cup
Food — Cabbage, broccoli, one can coconut milk, rice, curry paste, fish sauce
Total time: beginner time 2h; experienced time 15m; cost per meal $4, produces about 2 meals
- Prepare the vegetables by washing them and then cutting them into smaller pieces. Cut up a head or two of broccoli, and half the cabbage. Return the other half to the fridge. Put the chopped vegetables in a ready bowl. For visual reference, check the video.
- Rice needs to be boiled and hydrated in a specific amount of water. The ratio is 1 part rice to a little less than 2 parts water. Add in two cups of rice to the pot, then measure in four cups of water. Bring the water to a boil by turning the burner on to high. When the water reaches a rolling boil, it's ready to be reduced to a simmer. Turn the burner down to its lowest setting. The water will leisurely calm itself down a simmer, a very low boil. From here, you need to give the rice it's space for forty minutes. Set a timer. After forty minutes, check to see what you've got. Reach to the bottom with a wooden spoon. Is there little to no water left? Then it's done. Turn off the burner and remove the rice to a mixing bowl. Rinse out the pot for reassignment.
- Use a can opener to open the coconut milk, and add it into an empty pot. You may need to use a spoon to dig out the lovely coconut milk solids at the top. As it heats, the milk will become a consistent consistency and color. Begin heating to a boil and stir in about two spoonfuls of curry paste, and then add in the vegetables. Cover with the lid.
- The steam will soften and cook the vegetables; check periodically by forking out a broccoli floret with a fork, letting it cool, and eating it.
- When the broccoli no longer tastes raw, and before it gets really soft, it's done. Turn off the burner, and pour it into the mixing bowl with the rice. Let everything cool. Eat, and refrigerate the leftovers.
Agriculture Games. Do you like to play games with industrial agriculture? One of their favorites is where they put pesticides on our food, and we eat them. It's funny, because it can cause hormonal disruption or cell death or cancer.
Pesticides are good for the growers, and not good for us. They're not some vague hypothetical problem – they're big players in body dysfunctions, including birth defects, cancer, and neurological degeneration. Crops are frequently sprayed with multiple pesticides or herbicides, which our bodies carefully store in our colon, inside which you yourself probably have quite a collection residing and building. It's a problem.
Why do growers put poison on our food? It makes for quantitatively larger crops. Underbrush and weeds really do slow the growth and productivity of plants, so your income increases if you can keep fields devoted solely to one crop. Unfortunately, that's opposed to a weed's philosophical outlook on life. You've probably seen some daringly opportunistic weeds growing on the tops of tires or in in the cracks of buildings. So imagine how they do when they come across plowed and fertilized fields with nothing on them. Holy shit, party on, bruh. To prevent that, the the growers spray the soil with herbicides.
Similarly, if you're a caterpillar that likes to eat orange tree leaves, imagine you came across miles and miles of nothing but absurdly large orange trees, made huge from breeding and fertilizer and careful farmer love. You'd be a happy caterpillar, so happy you might even destroy the entire crop. So the farmers buy pesticides, which can repel them or kill them outright. (I've always thought it scary to imagine thinking about being sprayed with a substance that would kill you.)
So by some yardsticks, pesticides are effective things that allow for sprawling monoculture crops. This allows for cheaper production and more efficient land use. On the other hand, it's a little silly in that it doesn't do your body, or the environment at large, any favors. (After all, everything put into the soil eventually finds its way to streams or groundwater.) Some foods accrue more toxicity than others, like grapes or celery, which we'll mention more in depth later.
It's also worth some thinking about whether stores like McDonald's are buying apples and tomatoes with your health in mind or their profits. So which way do you think they lean on the pesticide amountage?
When opening a bag of rice, it helps to carefully clip off a corner of the bag with scissors or your knife. This makes it pour easily.
Troubleshooting rice: So something bad happened. There are a number of possibilities. It could have run out of water and become dry and hard. Sometimes this happens by being left on a high boil for too long, or letting too much water escape as steam, or letting it sit at a simmer for too long.
Rice can also be too watery. If you check the bottom and there's still a pool full of water, you can give the rice some more time to try to reabsorb. Let it go another five minutes, and then check again. Repeat if needed. If there's still water after a couple goes, it's possible you made a mistake in your measurements. (Highly unlikely, I know.)
In rare cases, there might be a pool of water on the bottom, and you try some rice with a spoon, and it's still hard and uncooked. If this happens, it means the lowest setting on your burner isn't high enough to maintain a simmer, and the rice stopped cooking. Next time, you'll have to remember to go reduce to a slightly higher temperature than low. To try to save the batch, return to a full boil, reduce to a (higher) simmer, and check the water level every ten minutes.
How is rice supposed to taste? Ideally, it should be fluffy and light, neither dry nor soggy. The exact ratio is closer to 1 part rice to 1 3/4 parts water. Often times beginners let too much water out through steam, so it's okay to start with a little extra. An extra quarter cup of water won't kill you.
Rice can first be checked on at about 35 minutes, and rice is done once all the water is absorbed. So if the water is all gone at 35 minutes, take it off. If it takes until 45 minutes, it takes until 45 minutes. (I'll wait for you, rice! She sobs as he boards the train.)
Eventually, rice is incredibly low key to make. You open the lid, stick a spoon in, shrug, and then come back.
Sometimes cabbage and broccoli yield a larger amount than we expect. In some cases, you may even end up with more than can fit in the pot! If this happens, stay calm and don't panic! Put the extras in the fridge, in a storage container, and then cook them with the vegetables in the third encounter. Check the lecture notes to see what to do with them.
Say hi to fish sauce for me! Remember that it's very powerful -- a few drops is all it takes. You don't want to notice the fish sauce.
Okay! Nicely done! A lot of work, but well worth it!
Rice has grown and sustained populations for thousands of years. Sensing the power of scale, early societies completed complex irrigation systems to allow for massive surpluses, laying the foundation of empire and existence in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, and Indonesia. Angkor, the largest of all pre-industrial cities, larger than Rome or Constantinople or Paris, achieved it's enormous population through irrigation works and massive rice farming, as well as from tributes of rice from neighboring kingdoms. Angkor built dozens of colossal temples on rice surpluses available to pay laborers.
Food items like corn are of limited use, used for luxury and harmful items like corn syrup and cattle feed. When we eat foods like rice, which are designed to go directly into the population pool, we can have a calmer experience, that doesn't require much of the step-by-step organizational chains and marketing needed to create and deliver so much of what we eat.
Today, the food we eat connects us with a wider experience. How much coconut milk could German peasants have eaten? What foods would you have never eaten if you lived ten thousand years ago? What foods have you eaten in your life that are a first for your generational line?
This curry is great. It's an excellent meal, and you'll find that the second or third time, it can be prepared quickly and effortlessly.
Secret tip: Sometimes I eat the curry without the rice. Why do I do that? When I'm desperately hungry and don't have rice on hand, it only takes about ten minutes or less to make without rice, and it's just as good.
- You met produce. Yeah, we know, produce is distractingly sexy. Get over it. Things with vegetables are pretty simple. There's no secret ritual, no texts to study. They behave fairly uniformly, so even when facing vegetables you haven't used before, you should feel confident that you could think you way out. They're just understandable in that way! (Produce also has pesticides on it. Gross!)
- You met rice. Rice is nice. It cooks at a ratio of 1 part rice to a little less than 2 parts rice. With rice and water in the pot, bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to a simmer. At that point, it takes about 35-45 minutes to cook fully. When all the water is absorbed, it's fully cooked. Rice is cheap, satisfying, and useful at spreading out flavor.
- You had a liaison with fish sauce. You maybe don't know it yet, but fish sauce will be a reoccurring romance option. It confuses you.
Fish sauce adds depth to dishes, and is often the difference between amazing and flat. Feel free to experiment with it. Just add a few drops of it in various things and see what it does. What's it like in mac & cheese, ramen, or chicken soup? You'll have mixed results. Fish sauce should be added to the end.
- You found a pot! It seems to be imbued with special powers of indeterminate nature. Perhaps a smithy could tell you more?
- Efficiency puzzles. Are everywhere. They're fun to solve and have tangible rewards -- even better than Candy Farmer III. How can this meal be more efficient? For one, you can have two pots. Then the work goes like this:
Ahh! Efficiency! It's super exciting. How else could you save time?
Homework! Do you have leftovers? I hope so, that was a lot of food! Put them in the fridge and eat them later. Reheat them on a stove or in a microwave. To reheat on a stove, just turn the burner on low to medium-low, blop the food on to it, and taste occasionally. It's worth it to reheat food all the way -- forcing yourself to eat cold leftovers eventually shreds your soul.
Fat is a common scapegoat. The truth is a little more complicated.
Those enormous eggs you picked up in the aviary proved to be nothing but trouble.
(Note: In the video, I use a weirdly large amount of spinach. Feel free to use much less than that to start!)
Tools - skillet, spatula, bowl, fork
Ingredients - eggs, spinach
Beginner time 30m; experienced time 5m; cost per meal about $1.5
- Bring out the eggs, and crack two open into the skillet. To open an egg, give it a rap on a flat surface, enough to break the cohesion of the shell with a slight indent, which will allow you to insert your thumbs and pry it open. Turn the burner on to the same temperature you've used before, and stir the eggs frequently with a wooden spoon as they cook. The eggs will be done when there's no more liquid or squishy gelatinous parts. Remove them into a bowl.
- Throw on some spinach in the pan right after you take off the eggs, and then add in a small amount of water (using your hands, a cup, etc). Spinach cooks pretty quickly, and will shrink and turn a darker green. When it's all small and clumped together, turn off the burner, and remove it onto the eggs. Tada!
Eggs, like apples, wheat, strawberries, and snow, are a seasonal food. Who knew? Like all reproducing animals, chickens lay eggs in the spring, coinciding with food and warmth. This is why Easter is still associated with eggs – there's a festival as ancient as the mind celebrating eggs and spring, with a Christian holiday recently stacked on top.
But in a horrifying turn of events for chickens, humans discovered that they could be manipulated with artificial light and heat lamps to lay year round. Hens used to lay 15-20 eggs a year, predominantly in the spring, except for the occasional “everlasting layer.” Now, due to breeding and parlor tricks with light and heat, they can lay around 300. That's an egg every 30 hours! Fuck! And you thought menstruating once a month was bad.
So don't underappreciate eggs, and don't forget about the hen that produced it. Not much of our timeline has had access to eggs like we do today.
Since hens don't naturally lay eggs year round, egg farming didn't use to be a business capable of making money year round. Egg farming evolved as a side business of families and farms, often run by women, as a means for supplemental income. The egg pool of a city was accumulated from a diverse number of family and farms. In the early 19th century, they would be stored in great egg warehouses, cooled with ice blocks harvested from New England lakes.
After it was discovered how to manipulate a chicken's biological functioning, dedicated egg farms became economically feasible, and small egg farmers were permanently obsoleted by economized and competing egg farms, run by men, and functioning by treating chickens in ways that they had never been treated before in the history of the world.
Eggs are one of the most amazing foods in the world, with amazing and bizarre properties and many ways to prepare them. Simple cooked egg meals like this are great in providing fast and warm meals, at any time of the day.
- You came across the tome "Balanced Meal." It wants to raise your stat points. We could eat just eggs. But why don't we? Because it's better all around to eat eggs with spinach. Because it's easier to eat spinach with eggs than it is to just make spinach and eat it plain. Because if you have spinach with eggs a couple times, it becomes natural and normal and a source of well-being. This is part of habit-development, the essential thing in reaching happier places.
Homework! Get your raw, unsalted almonds. Eye them with suspicion. The room is empty, just the almond and you.
Individual almonds have a wonderful flavor. Butt heads with that sentiment for a while. Sign the waiver please, we have an experiment to do and you're the guinea pig. Go ahead and try one almond. How is it?
Most people, who are unused to unsalted almonds, don't think that they have a particularly wonderful flavor at first. They find them a little bitter and sort of bland, especially compared to the salted almonds they've been exposed to their entire lives. But the twist is this: most people, who eat unsalted almonds over a period of time end up eventually discovering for themselves that individual almonds have a wonderful flavor. They convert past their initial impression. They learn to love them for who they are. It's a little creepy.
But why is that? Why would the full flavor of something take a week or so to appear? What's wrong with the here and now?
In addition to becoming accustomed to bitterness, it's also tied up with the distinction between taste and flavor. While in conversation they refer to the same thing, taste and flavor technically refer to different things. There are only five tastes our tongues are capable of discerning: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami, like in fish sauce. On the other side of the fence, there are as many flavors as there are foods. Spinach has spinach flavor and yams have their yam flavor. Foods can have both flavors and tastes – so coffee might have a coffee flavor and a bitter taste, unless you liberate it with sugar whereupon it would have a coffee flavor and a bitter/sweet taste. Tastes are always the same – the saltiness on your pork chops is the same saltiness that's on your seaweed chips. Good so far?
Generally speaking, tastes are stronger than flavors. For instance, most people think they like chocolate – but give them a bar of unsweetened chocolate, and they'll find that they've rated the sweet of sugar or corn syrup more important than the flavor of the chocolate. Similarly, people probably wouldn't care much for unsalted French fries, despite the voraciousness they consume salted one. It's the same reason people will eat SweeTarts, despite the fact that they have next to no flavor, or why people like flavorless Heinz ketchup (but with all five tastes!) over more flavorful, tomato-like ketchup alternatives. It's the tastes!
This is the secret mechanism behind companies like McDonalds: they serve hamburgers that are in themselves mostly flavorless, but serve as vehicles for the condiments – all that salty, sweet, and sour stuff. The flavor of the meat and bun is not important, which is one of the reasons they can sell low-quality hamburgers to so many people.
But is it really true that sugar is more important than the flavor of chocolate? It's not, thankfully, not always – there's an important wrinkle not commonly known but very important, so listen carefully, wanderer: taste is relative to exposure. When you have a lot of salt, your tongue desensitizes to salt and then it takes more salt to seem salty. Same for sugar. And the more salt and sugar you have, the less ability your tongue has to register flavors. So if you drink a lot of pop and eat a lot of Milk Duds, flavors will become very quiet as your tongue desensitizes to flavors, and even deliciously flavorful things like chocolate, when lightly sweetened, will seem bland. You can imagine how this leads to salt and sugar creep in foods: if you're getting pharmaceutical amounts of sugar from your soft drinks and your tongue is looking for sugar, your ketchup is going to start tasting bland. So the ketchup company puts in more sugar, and the actual flavor of it becomes less important.
This tongue relativity is a temporary thing. If you were to cut out salt and sugar for seven days (or more extremely, go on a seven day fast) and reset your taste buds, you'd discover a very different world. Hamburger patties would be almost too salty to eat, where before you didn't think to notice any salt was in them at all. Ketchup would be sickly sweet. Chocolate would taste amazing. Chain pizza, being mostly bland cheese and bread, would be flavorless, too salty, and very sweet. It's an experience many immigrants to America find — that the foods are simply too salty or sweet to eat! (Thankfully (unfortunately), they often find ways to adapt.) Your ability to register flavors would stop being repressed from so much salt and sweetness, and flavors everywhere would be very intense. Chocolate would taste amazing. Broccoli would have nuance, chicken have layers. It's really neat.
If you've ever seen an obnoxiously healthy person recoil from your offer of candy or pop, its likely not solely because they're watching their figure with militant diligence (though it might be) – people who cut back on salt and sugar truly taste things differently. They find that things like Milky Ways and Coca-Cola are just too sweet, and that they affect them too strongly. These people and their taste buds aren't different biologically than you. You'd be the same as them, weeks hence if you were on a good diet.
Which brings us to almonds, and the purpose of this experiment in general. Most people are accustomed to salt on their nuts and so are are thrown off, because their tongues are searching for salt. But you can teach yourself to look for flavors, which you might've forgotten to look for. Try paying attention, concentrating on flavor, and see if you can discover a greater flavor than you thought existing in your almonds. At first, the flavors will seem subdued, unremarkable, or absent, and the bitterness may bother you. Go through your almonds in the space of about a week. Eat them a few at a time, and puzzle over them. Focus on your tongue and what's happening down there. What's flavor-land like?
Most of our students go from moderate dislike or uncaringness to finding that individual almonds have a wonderful flavor. It's cool! See if it happens to you. This is the key to not just being a sophisticated snob in front of your friends, but to really, truly, enjoying what you make and eat. It makes your food more vivid, varied, and wonderful. It's like realizing that there are movies other than '80s action films. Salt- and sugar- based cuisine is more monotonous than we realize.
It also has broader implications too, about how we can sustainably and happily wean ourselves off from destructive foods like soda and candy. If you lower your sweet register, you'll be able to eat less sugar and enjoy it more. Bonus all around!
It can also make us see our food culture in new light. There are realizations to be made that puts the world in a crazy place, stuck in bizarre habits, eating flavorless, poisonous stuff for no reason. If these visions start happening to you, then you'll be a sad and tortured loner-hero! Women will talk about your palette behind your back with dreamy looks on their faces.So finish off the nuts over the course of a week. Space them out. Go nuts.
The most romantic flower. The river nymphs are pleased but still not impressed.
Equipment — pot, cutting board, knife, ready bowl, storage bowl
Food — chicken, cauliflower
Beginner time 40m; experienced time 15m; cost per meal $5, makes about 2 meals
- Wash and break apart the cauliflower into little pieces. See the video for visual reference. Add into a pot, along with a small amount of water -- you just need enough water so that it won't all boil away by the end, maybe half an inch or an inch. [If you had any leftover vegetables from the curry that didn't fit in your pot, you can cook them here. Just add and remove them with the cauliflower.] Cover the pot with the lid to keep the steam inside, turn on high, and occasionally fork out a floret, run it under water to cool it, and eat it. When it no longer tastes raw, but before it gets soft, turn of the stove, pour out the water, and dump everything into the ready bowl.
- Next, add the chicken into a pot, being mindful of cross-contamination and what the chicken touches. Raw chicken juice can be harmful! Add in enough water that the chicken is entirely submerged, and then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. From here, set a timer for 10 minutes. At the ten minute mark, fork out a breast, and cut it in half. Is fully cooked? Is there no gross pink stuff inside? Are the juices clear? If not, put it back in and try again in two minutes. If it's done, use your chef's knife to dice it, and put half in the fridge for a later encounter. Go ahead and eat the cauliflower and chicken. Keep the chicken water in the pot for the homework.
Who Am I, My Chicken's Keeper? Flowers keep well in a vase. Meat does not. It'll spoil in a matter of hours on the counter, and even in the fridge it'll go bad in about five days. That's fast.
Your body loves eating meat, because it's condensed energy. Imagine how much more organization your thigh needs to move your body than a bunch of spinach does to sit in the sun. This organization breaks down wonderfully; no wonder we like our steaks!
But for the same reason we like to eat meat, bacteria does too. And they're going to beat you to it. Apples will sit on your counter for weeks. Onion and garlic for months. But leave your raw chicken on the counter for a couple hours and its ruined! Argh, there was a kinky mitosis party and you weren't invited!
Keeping around meat that's dead is kind of unnatural. After all, if meat spoils on the counter in a couple of hours, that means that for most of human history livestock or game that was killed had to be eaten or converted into jerky in a matter of hours. Else it would become worthless! If you were living on a small farm in Europe before 1950 and had a thousand pound cow, you couldn't just kill and eat it – how is your family going to eat seven hundred pounds of beef in a couple of hours? Far better to keep the meat safely preserved inside the living cow, and maybe sell it to someone who would sell it in a city, where it could be butchered and shared with lots of people. (If a cow holds 1400 meals in it, that's a lot of value… no wonder the homesteader are so pissed when you mess with their livestock.)
If you don't think you'll get around to eating your meat in a couple of days, stick it in the freezer. Freezing, alarmingly, doesn't kill bacteria; freezing only pauses the decay counter without resetting it. Don't thaw chicken, or any meat, by leaving it on the counter. The outsides will thaws first, and will be turned into slimy bacteria excretion while the insides are still thawing. A good way to get sick! Instead, thaw uncooked meat by leaving it overnight in the refrigerator, or by submerging it underwater in a plastic baggy for an hour or two.
Since the very first mud city grew in Mesopotamia, cities have been supplied with meat and vegetables from their surrounding farmland, and created the first urban trade networks. This constrained the size of cities, and led to a hinterland that was similar from city to city, from Paris to Chang'an.
With the advent of refrigeration and railroads, this cap came off – cattle could travel further and faster than it could “on the hoof,” allowing meat to be packed and shipped from, in America, Chicago, and eggs and vegetables from California. Cities grew and became disconnected from their hinterlands for the first time. Butchers became unskilled retail workers. The concept of local farming broke down under economies of scale, and huge consolidated farms were created, powered by migrant, powerless, labor forces.
It allowed for tremendous wealth to be concentrated into the hands of a few. How much wealth was created by all the cattle that would flow into a city? Now imagine that a few companies now had their hand in the cows that supplied every city.
This was how Argentina became the 7th wealthiest country in the world in 1910, their vast herds of cattle for the first time able to be brought profitably to the world market with refrigerated shipping. Newspapers mocked this new “dead meat” trade. French refused to buy meat that had been frozen, and on occasion publicly destroyed refrigerators. Butchers went on strike.
What sort of changes lie in the future of the meat industry, and how do you think people will react to it? How will you react when cloned animal meat, artificially grown flesh, and genetically modified animals reach stores? Is there any risk in this?
- You poached your chicken, an easy method of cooking it that avoids handling it directly. Which is nice, because raw meat is gross! Ten minutes at a simmer will cook regular sized chicken cuts that are fully thawed. Take them out and cut them open to check, to make sure there's no pink rawness anywhere. Sometimes, the center is still a little frozen, and then cooks a little irregularly.
Homework! Is your chicken water still in the pot? Good! When it's cool, take a spoonful and taste it! Does it taste a little like chicken?
Yes! You've just discovered the secret way soups work! This is exactly how many soups are made. Boiling food leeches flavor out into the water, creating broth, and the flavor of the broth leeches into what's boiling. How do you think the taste of our chicken water (and our chicken) would have changed if we added celery and carrots while we poached it?
MAYBE WE'LL FIND OUT! Toss the water into the sink and get ready for exciting things. Poaching chicken sometimes leaves chicken froth on the pot, and this should be scrubbed out with soap before using again.
Argh, no! MINIBOSS! Cheap theme music and repetitive strafing tactics ensue. Ready yourself.
Equipment — pot, knife, bowl, cutting bowl, storage bowl
Food — frozen peas, cabbage, chicken, rice, onion, garlic, soy sauce, eggs
Beginner time 40m; experienced time 15m; cost per meal about $6 (about 2 meals)
- Start with mise en place, getting everything ready. Take all the ingredients out and place them nearby. Dice the chicken a little finer. Wash and chop the cabbage, skin and chop the onion and garlic.
- Add the onion and garlic to a pot, along with a 2 tbsp of soy sauce and cook them.
- When they're nearly done, add in the cabbage. Adding a small handful of water can help things cook a little faster, but be aware that too much can make things soggy.
- When the cabbage has shrunk and wilted and is no longer crunchy, add in a handful or two of frozen peas, and then crack in two eggs. Stir everything around.
-When the eggs have fully cooked, and turned into a solid, add in the rice and chicken.
- Taste to see when everything's warm enough. Also add in additional soy sauce if you decide it's a little bland and could use a little more flavor and salt.
That's it! Delicious fried rice.
Where do cooking orphans come from? The legends vary. Some say they crept from the cracks in the ground when the earth was first formed – other says they're the left-behind children of culture. For generations they slinked in the shadows, eating mac & cheese and pizza rolls, bewildered by the bright lights of the food world, and slowly, patiently, perhaps without consciously knowing, they bided their time…
That's it for level 2! Beautiful level up noises! New stat points all around. Take a few extra charisma points just because. Your skill progression is already the envy of your friends.
You're halfway through the adventure. By level 4, you'll be strong enough to enjoy semi-autonomousness, equipped, should you like, to eat every meal of the day at home, as well as be ready to dabble in some more impressive and refined recipes and concepts. Things'll ramp up quickly!
- Meat. We started talking about Meat & You, a fun talk that will continue later. Sometimes it drives people mad with ego-frenzy. You can always extend your quantity of meat by making it smaller.
- We cooked for, and with, leftovers. Real people do it. You should too. Cooking everything from scratch everyday would drive you mad. Would this recipe have been more obnoxious to make, had a higher effort threshold, if you also had to cook rice and chicken? You betcha. Rice in particular is really, really nice to have on hand. It stores forgivingly and lasts for days. When you're cooking rice, is there any reason you wouldn't make some extra for later? Not unless you're leaving town. The same is true even when it comes to meals themselves – if you make enough of a recipe to last for two or three meals, then you have the satisfying knowledge that you're secure in food, that your fridge is full of wonderful good stuff, and you can reheat it any time and not have the need to cook weighing perniciously in the back of your mind.
When you find recipes that you really like, eating leftovers becomes an enjoyable affair. These recipes do exist, so keep your eyes open for them. Maybe you'll find some in the arcanum of later levels.
- Finally, we started seasoning to taste. It's not that hard. You're not trying to make it taste to any other standards than yours, so be relaxed about it. When you're trying to decide if it's good or not, and it's only for you, how can you be wrong? You have taste buds just like everyone else.
Eventually you'll be able to explore more exotic lands, and start to get an understanding of spices and herbs. It just takes a graduated introduction and a good method to approaching things you don't know. If you leave behind the concept that it's hard, you'll find it's pretty easy.
See you in level 3!
Hey! Did you know that less than 3% of students on udemy leave a review? Shocking, I know! Thankfully, we're a higher caliber group than the average by far. Defy the statistics and write a review! Yes, you! Reviews are the critical step to helping (and encouraging!) other cooking orphans to find us! It also helps me improve the course.
So please rate the course, and leave an honest review! Yes! Really! You can do it now. The other absolute beginners are counting on you! And please send me a message, if you have any feedback, suggestions or comments, I want to hear from you! (Really and truly and honestly!) So please, send me a message.
Congrats to you for taking the course, and I hope you've been breaking barriers and learning lots of useful things. I'll see you in the next level!
|Section 4: Level 3: Cooking for Somewhat Experienced Adventurers|
So you've made it to level 3. Congrats, but I must inform you the GM is displeased. He was hoping your character wouldn't have the stamina, nay, the chops-heroic, to get this far. So difficulty will ratchet up. You'll restart over and over again due to the same lame ambush. Twitch skills are the currency of the day. But the rewards will outweigh the frustrations.
Shopping trip! Here's everything you need to advance on to the next level.
In addition, you should also have a few things left over: baby carrots, garlic, onions, (uncooked) rice, eggs, and spinach. If you're out of any of these, pick up some more.
Q: Salubrious Susan asks: I've had my spinach for a while! Is it still good? Can I use the use-by-date on the box to determine when my [spinach/eggs/cream] needs to be pitched?
A: Unfortunately, those use-by-dates are not your friends! They're just arbitrarily stamped on by the grocer (not the harvester/packer/manufacturer), and so there's no oversight in how it's done. Especially since it's easy to tell by yourself, the use-by-dates are pretty much straight-up sales tools to try to get you to pitch the food and buy more.
Grocery stores are incentivised to make early use by dates, because if it convinces you to pitch your spinach a day or two (or a week) early, then you'll buy more. Americans are notoriously bad at managing their food: 30-40% of all food in the USA ends up as waste. For anyone with a passing interest in any sort of sensibility, that's a ludicrous number. While a good portion of that is commercial and industrial waste, a not insignificant portion happens in the home, both in prematurely discarded food and food that's been left alone for too long.
So what can you do instead? You can check! Remember two things: 1) with veggies, you can usually tell intuitively, by examining it. When spinach goes bad, it starts to get little moist spots in the leaves. Brown liquid starts to collect on the bottom of the bag or box. You don't need to use the use-by-date to see these. If it looks fine, and the use-by-date says it's past, trust your senses. What does a stamp know? And 2), vegetables are pretty benign. If it's not visibly repulsive, you probably won't get sick. The other day I had some salad, and I was like, Can I pick out the bad leaves and eat the rest? So I tried one, and it tasted a little weird, so I pitched it. I didn't die. If food is on or a little past the edge, nothing terrible will happen from consuming it. It'll taste bad: your body using a key sense to warn you off it.
For more information, and specifics on how long things last, use the excellent http://www.eatbydate.com/
Gullible Gilbert asks: What sort of brands am I supposed to buy? There's so many of them! Does it matter?
A: Don't sweat it! At the beginning, any brand will work. Many times there is a correlation between price and quality/environmental practices, but not always. The 6 dollar can of salmon probably will taste much better than the 2 dollar can. The hoity-toity olive oils might taste a little better. What you get is up to you. I find having a little bit of pride in my food makes me happier to eat it -- i.e. spending an extra dollar or two on peanut butter that doesn't have additives or has better business practices somehow makes consuming it better.
Other brands you'll prefer based on your preferences, and often the only way to know is to try them out. Marinara sauces (tomato sauce) varies quite a bit from brand to brand, as will the consistency of hummus.
Sometimes recognizable brands are expensive, but not necessarily of higher quality, like Chicken of the Sea, breakfast cereals, etc. They've built up brand names through advertising, a bit like how Dominoes Pizza exists almost entirely due to advertising and franchising and not to taste.
What about Store Brand foods? If you shop at a Kroger's or a Safeway, you'll see that, next to the Spaghetti-Os, they'll have the Kroger's brand Spaghetti-circles. These are generic brands. These are usually cheaper because the store is able to undercut other brands by paying no advertising costs. Safeway isn't actually making the stuff -- either a smaller company is making generic food that they'll selling packaged with another company's name on it. Other times, it might be a big company just diversifying -- so Campbell's might make a frozen pizza and have it sold as Kroger's Pizza, as a means of competing in the market.
In general, I avoid the cheapest stuff. Which is often true in other things as well. The Shortcut Fallacy is taking the immediately expedient route (I'll save money by buying cheaper stuff!), when over a long period of time, it turns out that the fastest way would have been spending a little more on things. (Buying food that I love eating lets me eat at home more and enjoy it!)
Astute Amy asks: Why doesn't everything just go in a refrigerator?
A: The taste of some things degrade in a refrigerator. Yams and potatoes and tomatoes don't do well in there. Onions will get soft and make the refrigerator smell like onion. Some things just have no need, like spices.
In general, refrigerators are less necessary than most people think. That is not to say that they're not useful or vital when in regards to things like meat, but some people get angsty when the butter's been left out, or the soy sauce, or the broccoli. Be concerned about it, but don't be uptight about it.
Interestingly, many (subcontinent) Indians don't use refrigerators by preference. That's because their diet is based around things that are long lasting. What sort of food do you associate with Indian food? Dried things, like rice and lentils and wheat. Eggs last a relatively long time unrefrigerated. Butter, which goes bad over time when not made from pasturized milk, is boiled to make ghee, which is butter with the animal proteins removed, which doesn't need refrigeration. When I make ghee, I just leave it in my cupboard. Many Indians are vegetarian, but for vegetables and those who eat meat, they live close enough somewhere where they can just buy it on a daily basis.
So that's the good news -- when the apocalypse happens, society will adapt just fine without refrigerators.
Money. Somewhat surprising, it's a crucial part of cooking. For most of us, it dictates what sort of things we eat, and what we do to them. (For instance, the inclusion of vegetables can come as a bit of a shock to the budget.) And it doesn't help that money is always tied in to everything else. How can we most effectively think about it?
1): realize that every dollar you spend a day adds up to 350 annually. If someone gets 10 dollar take out every day for a year, how much money does that translate too? (Yikes, 3500 dollars a year.) How much does getting four dollar coffee every morning? (And then not just food, but everything else as well -- bus passes, micro transactions, subscription to streaming services, etc.)
2): realize that some food expenses are non-optional, and others are marked-up frills or straight-forward junk. A rule of thumb is that anything you buy you could make at at least half that price (at often much more). So if you spend a thousand dollars eating out this year, about $500 could have been recovered at home. Junk is entirely recoverable money, since it doesn't contribute to satiety or nutrition.
3): track every food dollar. Keep a list of it. Every day, write down everything you spend on food, and categorize it as Food, Outside Food, and Junk. Don't judge it yet! Just see where it goes. Keep daily track, and then tally everything up at the end of the month. What are the totals like? Are they in line with what you'd like in your life? How do they extrapolate as a yearly total? Is the trade off of money and health for junk food worth it? How much of your outside food brought you happiness and how much was a mindless purchase?
The greatest indicator of change is not moral exhortation, not steely will, but tracking data. Our minds start seeing it as a game or project. It keeps it in our mind. Start recording every dollar today. Use excel, a dedicated notebook, etc. An app I liked for it's simplicity was Finance 41. It's one of the few budgeting apps out there that allows easy manual entry. (There is a small monthly fee, however.)
If you've never had any formal budget instruction, Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin is an essential and accessible read. Go get it! It'll help you feel a little more secure and in charge of your money.
Our heroes return to the eggs, this time better prepared for the horrors below.
Equipment – skillet, pot, wooden spoon, bowl
Food – eggs, spinach, butter, salt, pepper
Total time: beginners 20m; experienced 5m; cost about $1.50
- What is preheating? Preheating is heating your skillet (or pot) when nothing's in it, or only oil or butter. What this does is (eventually) shave a minute or two from your cooking, but heating it while you do other things. Go ahead and turn the stove on to the heat you've been using.
- While it's preheating, get everything out, the eggs, spinach, butter, salt, pepper.
- Use a knife or fork to scrape out a generous pat of butter into the skillet, and stir it around until fully melted. The butter acts as a good barometer to how heated the skillet is based on the speed on which it melts. The pan is fully heated when the butter is melted and you can see some motion going on internally in the butter. (Why do we use butter? Butter makes our egg tastes better, and prevents them from sticking to skillet.)
- Break and scramble two or three eggs. For more detailed instructions on eggs, review lecture 21.
- When the eggs are done, when there's no longer any gelatinous-ness, remove them into a bowl, and add spinach to the skillet, along with a small handful of water to help it cook.
- When the spinach is uniformly dark and huddled, remove the spinach into a bowl, and salt and pepper it to taste. You want to be conservative with the salt: when you're only adding seasoning to a bowl, literally a tiny pinch stirred around will be enough. You can always add more. Pepper is generally more forgiving. A little bit is good, and a lot starts giving it a biting, peppery-sweet kick.
Troubleshooting: butter burns fairly easily. When it starts to burn, it turns brown and releases a burnt smell. Different foods have different burn points, based on temperature and length on the stove. Olive oil starts to burn before canola oil. Garlic burns easier than onions. If your butter burns, next time you'll need to use a lower heat. Slight browning would be okay, but if it gets really burned, put it down the sink, let the pan cool a little, and try again.When eating breakfast, it's good to have a solid meal. Sometimes people are watching calories, and so they have a two hundred calorie light breakfast bar or something. And then what happens? They immediately get hungry three hours later, because they've had 200 calories in the past 12 hours, so at 11:30 they're starving and then devour a massive bowl of food. (And when you're hungry, they often go for size -- the cheap carbohydrate meals, which are counterproductive to all the reasons they had a tiny breakfast in the first place.)
This happens too when people have a banal cereal breakfast. Have some protein for breakfast, and don't skimp. Have some fat too. It'll help you consolidate your day.
We'll go into some breakfast variations later. Nuts, yogurt, ham, salmon, are all excellent things awaiting you in your breakfast future.
For centuries, pepper was the world's most important commodity. In the same way that oil mobilizes entire countries and underlines trade and diplomacy, pepper similarly forced the world to modernize and compete and take a global perspective. Why was Columbus looking for a sea route to Asia?
Magellan's ill-fated voyage, where most of the crew died and all but one of the ships lost, still ended up providing a modest profit for the backers. The money (goods) itself spent on pepper by the crew turned a 2500% profit. Imagine what a commodity like that would do to people.The outcome of this was an arms race of finance, technology, exploration, and corporate structure, as well as political events like the creation of the British East India Company and subsequent British colonization and (mis)management of large parts of the world, including India, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The VOC, the genocidal Dutch East India Compnay, regularly outperformed their ponderous British counterpart, and traded the island of Manhattan to the British, in exchange for a small pacific island, on which all the spice trees had already been burnt.
--Q: Bashful Derek asks: Isn't salt bad for you?
A: It's bad for you in pharmaceutical quantities, which it is in many restaurants and processed foods. If you took someone who made and salted their own food however, it's unlikely that they'd add enough that it'd be particularly harmful. So don't worry about the stuff you add -- if you do want to be concerned, worry first about the stuff you don't make yourself.
For scale, a literal pinch of salt ends up being 100-200 milligrams of salt. Start looking at the nutritional value of your foods to see how much salt they have. Also try to notice how salty a pinch of salt makes your eggs.
Salt is essential, in that if you don't eat any, you'd be in a tough spot. Be aware that you acclimate to salt -- the more you have, the more salt it takes to actually takes salty. What's your salt-acclimation level at?
Homework! Use your cumin! Tomorrow, make these same eggs -- but this time, when they're in your bowl, add in a very small amount of cumin. You need less than you think, just a few grains. Too much and it becomes off-putting. (For instance, a teaspoon is what you'd use for an entire pot of chili -- so how much less do you need to season two measly eggs?) Stir it around. How does it taste? Cumin is used in all sorts of stuff. Try to tie a memory of cumin to these eggs, so you can remember it later.
The Health Rabbit Hole
The health rabbit hole goes pretty far down. When is it crazy, and when is it worth pursuing? How do we know if it's a fad or if it's true, especially when there's conflicting information?
Let's take the idea of pink Himalayan salt (or similar things, like Celtic Sea Salt). People propose it as a "healthier" alternative to refined salt. ("Sea salt" is a meaningless term. Since all salt deposits were at one point formed by the sea, it's a flexible label.)
The idea here is that when salt is "refined," like almost all salt has been, it's been treated so all the minerals are removed and the only thing left is salt. This gets rid of, say, dangerous heavy pollutants, like lead, but also gets rid of trace minerals, which seem to be pretty healthy to humans.
So if you eat salt mined in the Himalayas, they say, it predates modern pollution, and you can get all the tasty and healthy trace minerals that come with it.
So what do we do with that? Do we mock it or buy into it? Is it superstitious, mommy-bloggerish? And if it is a positive thing, is it an inconsequential good, or a significant one? Or might it even be harmfully misguided?
And so here we get the the problem with healthy eating issues. You have two pulls: the establishment disputing all new claims, which, based on their historical record (on pesticides, pollutants, trans fats, sugar, grains, etc) is pretty suspicious. And then you have the health blogs, which get more views by exaggerating health benefits, or by pushing studies that are improperly correlated with health or that support pre-hoped for conclusions.
So how do you evaluate this stuff? You have to use your own judgement and intuition and guidelines. Because there'll never, ever be a controlled test that manages to isolate the effects of Himalayan salt on humans. And there'll never be anyone interested in how things effect you, personally, more than yourself.
Here are three things I recommend when evaluating weird health stuff:
1) Am I losing sight of the big picture? Say sea salt gives you 1 unit of good. But if you stopped drinking soda at restaurants, you'd do 50 units of good. So it's weird to say that taking sea salt, whatever the benefits, is contributing to health if it's distracting you from current problems, or larger benefits, like trying to eat an orange more than once a year. Don't get distracted from the bigger game by the appearance of smaller rabbits, and don't let yourself fall into the trap of allowing ritualistic things (eating pink salt) trick yourself into thinking you're healthy.
2) Is it simplifying my life? (i.e., does "health" involve tracking, mathematics, daily values or total, or additional, hard to add foods?) If it's not simplifying your life, I'm inclined to be skeptical.
3) Finally, is it an additive or subtractive solution? I am very suspicious of additive solutions. There are two ways to try to find a solution. You can add things. Or you can take things away. Additive solutions go like this: I'm depressed, so I take anti-depressants. I'm sleepy, so I take a lot of caffeine. I'm not happy, so I buy a lot of clothes. I'm not healthy, so I buy goji berries. We can't grow enough food, so we genetically engineer the crops.
Subtractive solutions go like this: I'm depressed, so I find ways to reduce stress, even if that means working less or ending stressful relationships or friendships. I'm sleepy, so I don't watch as much TV in order to go to bed earlier. I'm not happy, so I simplify my life by focusing on a few things that do make me happy. I'm not healthy, so I stop drinking pop and eating candy. We can't grow enough food, so we reduce waste and reduce consumption of resource heavy foods (like cattle).
Can you see the difference? Additive solutions are addressing symptoms, while subtractive solutions are addressing root causes. Additive solutions generally lead to more complications. Subtractive solutions are really, really hard. It's easier to eat Kelp Chips and Chia Seeds than it is to eat less carbohydrates. It's easier to take anti-depressants than make major life changes. But in general, taking things away is usually a realer solution than adding things in.
Nutrition is a grey-zone science, still very much a foggy world of anecdotes and finger pointing. You'll have to use your own judgement, and not trust any source too deeply. Who's promoting this view and why? What interests, if any, are behind it?
Is it easier to wing everything all the time, or have some preparation done beforehand? Is it easier to shop and buy a week or two worth of groceries at once, or is it easier to go shopping every day? Is it easier to try to make everything from scratch everyday, or is it easier to prepare some things the day before?
Real life cooking involves some raft building -- preparing food to help us get through the week painlessly. Remember how we could make chicken and rice last chapter, and use leftover bits to make fried rice later? We'll be doing something similar again today. We'll get an excellent rice bowl to eat today, and some leftovers to play with later in the week. This is a critical skill in learning to cook and eat in real life.
Equipment – pot, four storage bowls, knife, cutting board
Food – rice, chicken, butter, broccoli, salt, and pepper
- Cook two cups of dried rice. For a comprehensive review on rice, see lecture 17. If you have a second pot, you can go ahead and poach the chicken and steam the broccoli while the rice cooks.
- When the rice finishes, put two thirds of it into the refrigerator for later, and put the other third in a bowl. To keep the rice you leave out warm, you can cover it with a plate or a lid.
- For a comprehensive review on how to poach chicken, see lecture 23
- Dice chicken into tiny chunks chunks, set aside a quarter for today and add it into the bowl with the rice. Separate the rest into two different storage bowls and refrigerate
- Steam the broccoli. Start by breaking it apart into manageable florets with your fingers or a knife. For comprehensive review on how to steam vegetables, see lecture 23.
- Store half the cooked broccoli in a storage container and refrigerate.
- Add the rest of the broccoli to your rice bowl. You're done! Add a pat of butter, a sprinkle of salt, and some pepper. If the the rice is still warm, the butter will melt and you can stir it around. If not, you can reheat everything in a microwave or a quick run on the stove.
Don't pick at the food in the fridge! We'll use it soon. (And don't wait too long! Meat spoils in about five days.) The leftover broccoli, however, you can eat at your leisure. How does it taste cold? Does it make a nice snack?
What a nice little bowl!
One hundred thousand years ago, there was no money. It's nearly impossible to imagine life without it -- one has to think back to living with their family, which in some cases worked together in non-financial arrangements. Unfortunately for us today, the human brain is not fundamentally wired for logic -- at least where things like money is concerned.
Hunter-gatherers on pre-agricultural Earth had to spend only about four hours a day to gather food, upkeep shelter, and make clothes. The rest of their time was spent in rest, socialization, ritual, or creative endeavors. What would that be like?
Sometimes, when we can't force ourselves with our steely strength of will to do something, we need to find ways to engineer compliance. For instance, why did we separate the chicken into two containers instead of just one? Couldn't you put it into one, and then just scoop half out later?
Well, sometimes you can. But what happens when you buy an entire large pizza? You're like Score! Eight slices, at two a day, means it'll last me four meals! And then as soon as it arrives, you eat the entire thing. The compliance engineering trick is to, right when it arrives, before eating any, is to get three baggies and put two slices in each, and then put that in the fridge. And then start eating. Engineer compliance.
That's what we did with the chicken. They're like little food-ammo cartridges. (Some people have better self-control around food than others -- it's just a personality type. My brother keeps a bowl of candy on the hearth for visitors, and has two a year. I eat it all at once.)
Nota Bene: Any containers that stored meat will need to be washed with soap. Broccoli containers can probably get buy with a good rinse.
Homework! Make a rough estimate of your realistic wage per hour. Sit down with pen and paper and work it out. How much money do you make in an hour? It's usually less that it seems on the surface. Our jobs want to spin us the most optimistic view. You get a $40,000 dollar a year salary? That's like 20 dollars an hour, working 40 hours a week. You're rich!
That's the most positive spin view. There are other, more realistic, ways to see things. This includes extra time you spend on your job, like commute, decompression, and email worry, as well as extra expenses, like having to eat out, parking, a presentable car, owning nice shirts, as well as taxes.
So if you spend two hours a day on commute (including things like parking and walking), all of a sudden you're not working 40 hours, but 50, and so the true reimbursement of your time is now down to $16 an hour. If you pay 4,000 in taxes, now you're down to $14 an hour. And so it goes.
What's the point of all this? Well, for one, it's interesting. It means that making ten dollars an hour working next door can often not be that much less money doing something else farther away, that's more intense, and more professional, but pays a higher wage.
Perhaps more importantly, it allows us to better conceptualize spending money as trading time for stuff. If you trade an hour of your life to make 10 dollars, and then you spend twenty dollars on a t-shirt, that means you've just spent two hours of your life exchanged for a t-shirt. And then the question becomes, is that worth it?
Next time you make a purchase, put it through the time-worthiness test: "Would I stand in line for two hours for it? Would I drive to a town two hours away to pick it up? Would I rather have spent the two hours I spent working playing one of those games I don't have time to play, or with my girlfriend, or my kids, or working on a side business?" If the answer is yes (i.e. getting lunch with a friend you haven't seen in forever, getting a new lamp that you use every day and love, ice cream), then great. You're pursuing happiness.
But when you come across something that you realize is a mindless purchase, maybe over-priced frozen yogurt, seven dollars for a burrito, a fifty dollar shirt, this can be a way of helping us stay on track. (At the grocery store, sometimes I'll throw chocolate covered almonds in the cart, and then realize -- holy cow, that's an extra hour of my life.)
Remember our concept of a negawatt: the cheapest and cleanest form of energy is not to make more from clean sources, but to use less from any source, even if it's from dirty power. It's the exact same for money. You can have more money to spend on things you might actually want to spend time on. It it help safeguards the time in our life.
So unless you make ten thousand dollars an hour, spend some time (with paper!) figuring your realistic wage. And start looking at your purchases through this lines. Start with food: chocolate? Fast food? and then move on to extrapolated things ($700 yearly dollars on coffee?). And then the more important corrallary is to try to figure: what promotes happiness? What makes me feel good? What do I spend money on that makes me happy, and what is spent mindlessly?
Hard boiled eggs. The magic missile of the eating world.
Equipment – pot, four storage bowls, knife, cutting board
Food – eggs, two yams, cinnamon, butter
Total time: beginner 35m; experienced 15m
- For a comprehensive review on how to bake yams, check lecture 6. Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees, poking holes in the yams, and then baking them for 45 minutes. Check their consistency by squeezing them with a cloth, and if they're done, take them out. Otherwise, let them have as long as they need.
- Put water and eggs in pot, enough water that the eggs are fully submerged. Bring to a boil. When the water reaches a rolling boil, turn off the stove and remove the pot to a cool burner. The eggs are still cooking on the cool burner. From here, start a timer and let them have twelve minutes.
- When twelve minutes are up, you need to cool the eggs to prevent them from overcooking and becoming dry and less appetizing. Pour the water into the sink and fill the pot with cold water. Repeat until the water stays cool. Then set aside an egg or two to eat now, and put the rest in the fridge. Discard the water.
- When the yams are done, carefully remove them and slice them open to cool. Put one in a storage container to try later as leftover. The other, add butter and cinnamon. Lightly add the cinnamon: you can always add more. Be sure to give your yam a couple minutes to cool. Don't be a tool like me and try to eat it right away!
Twelve minutes is fairly standard when boiling eggs, but like everything else, they cook on a continuum. Cook them for less time, and the yokes are softer, sometimes even a little runny. Cook them for longer, and they get harder and crumblier and drier. In general, find that hard boiled eggs are overcooked, and I prefer them a little softer, so I often shoot for ten minutes. That also gives me a little leeway time.
To open a hard boiled egg, roll it around on a surface, and peel the shell off the egg. The shells sometimes stick to the egg, and you may end up losing some or most of the white. That's okay! Later on, the fix is to use older eggs, a week or two old. (We'll also use vinegar to help later.) I usually designate a spot in my fridge as the holding area for eggs-to-be-boiled. And when they're boiled, I move another carton into the spot.
Cinnamon is pretty great, and maybe mystically healthy, but don't overdo it: too much of a good thing is unappetizing.
Fresh fish has a completely different dimension of flavor than what you can buy in stores. In general, the fresher the food, the better it taste, from bread to apples to beef to asparagus. It's the difference between homemade cookies and the stuff you buy wrapped in plastic.
The River Thames used to be a major salmon run. When the salmon were running, pre-historic humans could scoop them out and eat as many of them as they wanted to, for free. There's not many salmon there today.
For better or worse, at this point in time we've sacrificed a certain intensity of flavor in exchange for commercial convenience. It's something worth thinking about.
Did you know you can tell the quality of an egg by it's yoke? The brighter and more vibrantly yellow it is, the better it tastes and the better the chickens were raised. You can look at the pre-made salads in plastic containers with diced hard boiled eggs and see the crappy eggs they've used.
What animals eat really does have an effect on how they taste. Real chickens eat mostly bugs and scavenged grains, which is very different than the feed used to raise chickens in industrial pens. A more natural diet makes the yokes healthier and hardier, less prone to breaking. And they taste much better.
Somewhat similarly, the nutritional profile of vegetables varies based on where it was grown. Broccoli grown in depleted, heavily used soil, will have less nutrients in it than one grown in different circumstances.
Raft building - raft building is important to eating at home. A little preparation goes a long way, lowers the effort threshold quite a bit. It extends your range immensely. And it tilts you into eating, because you don't want your food to spoil.
Cinnamon - She's cute. She also has some interesting health benefits. In general, cinnamon sold in supermarkets ins't really cinnamon, but a cheaper variant called cassia. It's still good, and everything: but maybe not as much as true cinnamon.
Hard boiled lifestyle - hard boiled eggs can be used for just about anything. They can be breakfast when you're hungry, a snack when you're peckish, brought along to work or school. They can also be chopped up and used in stuff, which we'll do later. (If you bring them to work or school, sometimes it's helpful to peel them before you leave, that way you don't need to worry about the skeletal remains.)
Homework! Sometimes, I feel so hungry that the idea of cooking just seems to take to damn long. And who the heck wants to cook anyway? I want to eat, now! So I get in my car and drive to Panda Express. Or walk three blocks to the Subway. It seems like the faster, easier way to gratify hunger. But what's the real time burden?
In order to start getting a real view of time, use a timer to actually time things out. How long does going to Subway really take? From getting up off the couch to returning home, or from pulling into Chipotle on the way home from work, etc. Is it a comparable time to making your own food at home (10-20 minutes)? Yep! Is it more expensive? Yep, yep. In general, the "time saving" gains aren't what they appear to be. You also lose out on health nonsense. (Even the fastest foods, like pizza pockets, are less quick than you might think, especially compared to things like salads or cheese and meats. And they're terrible for you.)
What's the point of all this? Well, realizing that our other options are about a similar time burden, it makes cooking at home feel less onerous. Sometimes we mistakenly see spending 10 minutes cooking as an optional, additional thing to our day. But in reality, you almost always have to spend 10 minutes a day getting a meal, at least, you do if you want to do it without sacrificing health or money.
Which is good! If you shower in the morning, you make time for it and don't begrudge it. That's how it ends up with cooking with a little practice and adjustment. When we have to do something, we have to do it and that takes care of that.
You come across a dangerous magical stone. It make soup! You sell it for 1000 gp. Home made soups excellent. (I am, however, embarrassed to say that in the video, I forgot to add the spinach! Ten demerits. 2/5 stars. Preorder cancelled.)
Equipment – pot, cutting board, knife
Food – carrots, chicken stock, salt and pepper, spinach, eggs, celery, leftover rice & chicken
- Pour about 4 cups of chicken stock into the pot. Four cups makes about two bowlfuls of broth. The exact amount of broth doesn't really matter, you could make soup with one cup or ten: at the moment we're aiming for a ratio of broth to ingredients that you like. Some people like more broth, some people like it more stew-y. Add in carrots and celery, and bring to a simmer.
- After ten minutes, the broth will have garnered some additional taste. Add in the beaten eggs, stir them around, add in the leftover rice and chicken, as well as a handful of spinach.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add in enough salt so that it no longer tastes flat, and add in lots of pepper. Put in some salt, stir it around, taste it. Add in more, repeat until it's at your satisfaction.
- You have a simple soup! Eat it!
Don't forget to refrigerate any leftover chicken stock you have. Use a sharpie to write the date opened. It'll last about two weeks. (What can I do with it? Make more soup!)
Who knew how easy soups were? We'll do more in the future.
Frozen soldiers in World War I were served soup to keep warm. What are the characteristics of soup that makes it useful to serve to large numbers of people?
When Chinese coolies were brought in to build railroads and do other physical tasks, western laborers mocked them for their foreign ways, like their habit of drinking tea. But the Chinese boiled their water to make tea and stayed healthy, and the Americans drank ditch water and go ill. Simple soups, made with water, serve the same function.
How much variety do you need to be happy? The Lunchbox Fallacy is the belief that we need a lot of it, especially in food. After all, if cookbooks have five hundreds of recipes in them, and restaurants have dozens of choices, how on earth are we ever supposed to master all that? We're doomed from the start.
Thankfully, we don't need all that much variety to be happy. You could probably eat the same ten things for the rest of your life and be pretty happy with only a little variety interspersed here and there. In the same way you probably get the same thing at your favorite restaurant each time, and in the same way you had a ham or turkey sandwich every day in middle school, it's possible to cook and eat happily on the same rotation of food. All you need is a good base, maybe five or ten things, that you enjoy eating and making.
And from there, it's easy to every couple weeks or months try something new, to see if it's worthy of slotting into your rotation. And it means that cooking doesn't have to be a mind-draining struggle against the infinite variations that exist out in the world. Hurray!
Okay, nicely done! You still have some chicken, which will go bad eventually, so make sure to hit the next encounter soon!
Homework! What are you going to do with all that celery? Yikes! Why do they grow in such enormous bunches?
Try eating them with peanut butter. Take a stick of celery, wash it, and fill in the celery groove with peanut butter. And then eat it loudly. It makes for a pretty solid snack. Make a plateful, and eat it while watching movies. Blop some peanut butter into a container, bring some celery, and dip in during work or school. Peanut butter is pretty great. Keep an eye on how we use it later.
Depending on your meal rotation, celery can become a staple item that you'll always have on hand. It's great in soups and stir fries, and it's a good medium to ingest peanut butter.
Q: Do I need to refrigerate peanut butter when it's opened? A: Many commercially processed peanut butters do not. Some of the more natural ones do need refrigeration; if it does, it'll tell you on the label. Some peanut butters get water on the top -- this is natural, and means there isn't any anti-separation agents in it, which is probably a good thing. Just mix any water back in with a spoon before using.
Salad is the king of foods. It's nearly instantaneous to make, it's extremely healthy, and it's incredibly easy to vary to keep it fresh and exciting. Many people see salad as a side dish, or appetizer. They've been lied too. Salads are serious business. They're powerful friends, but they'll pop your kneecaps if you cross them.
Equipment – mixing bowl, teaspoon
Food – salad mix, sunflower seeds, hard boiled eggs, leftover chicken, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper
- Pour a teaspoon of vinegar onto the salad, and then pour two teaspoons of olive oil.
- Add on some pepper and a small amount of salt. Mix everything around.
Nice. A serious salad, and they're only going to get better as we go on. Make sure to take a small sip if balsamic vinegar. What does it taste like? Is it better than you thought? You probably wouldn't chug it, but very different than how we usually think of "vinegar."
The amount of dressing is entirely up to you. Maybe you'll want twice as much. A later important step is to buy a reusable dressing container, with a lid, just like commercial salad dressings, and then pre-make dressings, with salt and pepper already added. That makes things even faster and easier. Later, we'll try our hand at a more involved dressing, which can really make eating salad a happy affair. What we made today is the most basic form of a vinaigrette. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Conventionally in a 2:1 ratio.
How do you know if chicken is still good? There are three signs of bad meat: 1) the color is off, 2) it smells bad, and 3) it's slimy. If it has two of these three, it's bad and you should pitch it. Don't play around with meat, but also don't be so overcautious that you pitch everything after two or three days. (A more important test is whether or not your intuition is uneasy with it. If it is, you should get rid of it regardless. After all, salad is completely fine without meat.)
“One farmer says to me, 'You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with;' and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle.” - Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Nice. Salads. How do you feel after eating it?
It's kind of a funny question, but sometimes we don't connect how we feel with what we ate, particularly when it's an hour or two after the event. Psychologists call this overshadowing. The initial stimulus ("Man, this 32 oz coke is delicious") is connected to food, which is often positive and connected with social feelings. But then the later effects ("I feel tired and am having trouble concentrating") is usually not tied to anything, even though it's directly caused by what we eat.
If you pay attention to your food and how you feel in relation to them, you can start to get a more honest conditioning to what the food does to you. Some people don't even realize the sort of funk their food habit puts them into. Half an hour, an hour down the line, try to think how do I feel now, after eating that food? Sometimes it's interesting.
Salads can do anything. Like unicorns and wishes, you can make them do anything. Sometimes I add in sausage or bacon, sometimes I use deli ham, sometimes bacon bits. Sometimes I heat up the meat, because a little warmth in our salad is awesome. Meat used to be the carrot that let me look forward to salads, but now I usually just leave it off, since it's easier and cheaper.
You can add in other nuts, like crushed walnuts or pine nuts. You can use different salad mixes, add vegetables, like finely shredded carrots or cucumbers. Cooked vegetables are very good too, like broccoli or caramelized onions. Feta cheese, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese. And dresses like you wouldn't believe: somewhere out there are beautiful dressings just waiting for you. We'll hit up some dressing bars later to try to wangle them up.
Often, I have a salad almost every night for dinner. Why not? It's so easy and quick, and it's healthy and I enjoy the complexity of all the ingredients. It also makes for great work/school food, since it doesn't slow you down all that much.
Homework! Make another salad tomorrow, just like this one. Only instead of chicken, add in your can of tuna. Open it with the can opener, drain the water, and plop it into your salad with the other stuff. It's really good.
We return to the operatic masterpiece, FAT.
Again, dietary fat (with the exception of trans fats) isn't particularly bad for you, and it doesn't especially translate into weight gain, since it doesn't break down as readily into glucose. Carbohydrates are worse, calorie per calorie, at causing weight gain.
For additional reading on insulin and glucose, I'd recommend The Blood Sugar Solution, by Mark Hyman. I know, health books. But it's better than the title and cover make it seem. I'd especially check it out if you have diabetes or are over twenty or thirty pounds overweight. (And it's also worth reading if you're depressed, ill, or simply health-curious.)
So do I need to feel awful every time I eat a potato now? This sucks! Nah. You should try to be happy, not healthy. Eventually, with information and gradual increments, those two will move closer together. Instead, if you're trying to lose weight, start with turtle steps. Can you be happy with not making mashed potatoes at home? Can you make half as much rice as you usually do? Try these things and see if you can be happy that you're working towards something cool.
Another simpler turtle step is to have more fats and proteins. Put some butter on warm rice, have almonds, eggs, meat. (But don't go meat crazy -- that's gross.) By trying to eat more of these, especially at home, you'll start to switch the ratio of what you eat.
Hey, guess what the number one source of calories in America is? High-fructose corn syrup! Oof! That means nothing good. Corn syrup is not biochemically like sugar, even though they both taste sweet. And while both are bad for you, high-fructose corn syrup has some extra negatives to it, from causing liver damage, to questionable contents, to an intimidating corn lobby.
More importantly is that high-fructose corn syrup is a marker for poor-quality food and food-like substance. Your pizza has high fructose corn syrup in it? Your cookie, your tomato sauce? That's the first clue that no good will come from it. It was not made well, not made for good reasons.
Refined sugar and corn syrup has zero nutritional value. Zero. What does it too to your body? Increase appetite, weight gain, obesity, diabetes, accelerated aging, heart disease, cancer, dementia, depression, acne, fatigue, and so on. Nothing good comes from all that sugar. Nothing. Someone has to tell you plainly: people fuck up their body with how much sugar they eating.
Homework! Resolve to oust soda from your life entirely. This is including soda-like beverages, like juice and sweetened tea. They're like bad friends that you need to get rid off. ("But we've been friends forever!" you say, but you'd be happier finding new ones.)
I used to drink a lot of soda. I used to be indignant about health freaks telling me to do unreasonable things. And not just unreasonable things, but impossible things! Like giving up soda! Thankfully, there are a number of reasons why giving up soda is easier than it might at first sound.
- 1) The majority of soda consumption tends to be more of a habit than a desire. Sure, it stinks the first week to get water instead of coke at Jimmy Johns. But after that, you don't really think about it that much.
- 2) You immediately get positive feedback from your body. If you're a soda drinker, there may never be as big a change in your health as cutting back on sugar, particularly from sweetened beverages. It's not like people trying to tell you to eat vegetables so you don't feel as bad when you're eighty. If you're overweight, stop drinking soda and you'll lose several pounds this month. You're not so much losing sugar as gaining something else. Think of all the good things that come from it.
Here are four steps to eliminating soda:
Take your health into your hands. You're a peacock that needs to fly!
1) Always get water first at restaurants. Tell yourself that, after you drink the glass of water, if you really feel you still want too, you can get soda. You'll find that water pairs better with all foods than do super-sweet beverages, and that you're in control of yourself after water.
2) When you crave sweet beverages after working out or a hot day, tell yourself you can have it after you have a big glass of water. You'll find that that usually clears up any craving for sweetened beverages.
3) Don't buy it at grocery stores. Just don't have it in the house. You won't miss what's not there.
4) Try going a week with zero and see how it goes. Cold turkey. Tell your girlfriend or mother so they can keep you honest. See how hard it is, and how it makes you feel. Is it impossible? Do you feel happy or awful pursuing better health?
And if the world doesn't end, then try going a month. You'll find getting rid of it is no big deal.
And for gods sake, stay away from diet sodas and artificial sweetener. They are in ever way worse. They make you gain more weight than normal soda. They give rats cancer at significantly higher rates than sugar. It's a sucker's drink. Every time you drink it, some CEO is high-fiving their marketing time, saying "that sap's doing something completely illogical and against his interest for no reason!" Don't believe, me spend a little time googling around.
You're almost out into the open world! But the exit is guarded by a frightening miniboss. No problem, you're an old hand at this.
Equipment – pot, pan, can opener, knife, cutting board, mixing bowl
Food – uncooked rice, canned salmon, green onion, yellow onion, salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, black beans.
- Start preheating your stove. Don't forget that the stove is on! You don't want to leave it on overnight, and you also don't want to leave it on long enough that the bottom of the pan burns. If your vegetables are taking a long time to cut, don't be afraid to turn off the heat.
- Chop the yellow onion, garlic, and green onion. Green onion is sold as several stalks wrapped together: take out three or four stalks, wash them, and cut them into little rounds to up about halfway up, using both the green and white part. Discard the rooty bottoms. To peel garlic faster, use the flat of your blade to pound the cloves, which will separate the clove from the skin. When cutting onions, try angling your cut towards the center of the onion, rather than straight down. Try cutting things much finer than you have before, which will make them cook faster and blend into the dish better.
- Add everything into the pan and cook until medium heat. But first, add in enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of the pan. This reduces sticking, helps things cook evenly, and adds satiety. Cook until onions are fully soft.
- Add in the beans and salmon and heat them up. They don't need to cook, just warm up. Turn off and move to a cool burner when warm, or pour into a large mixing bowl.
- Combine with rice when finished.
- Season to taste with pepper and salt.
Troubleshooting: Help! My oil is jumping! When oil reaches a certain heat, it gets hot enough that bubbles form and pop, scattering tiny oil blops out of the pan. This can be annoying because it's hot and because it makes the stove greasy. If this happens, you can turn the heat down a little, or remove the pan to a cool burner for a while.
This is an excellent meal. Some brands of salmon include bones in the can -- these will be good to eat, as they're made soft by the canning process. Other brands are like tuna, not much in them other than flakes of fish.
Q: Rapacious Ralph asks how do we know if the stuff in cans is cooked?
Rice is the world's most widely consumed staple food, eaten by billions of people around the world every day. How many rice paddies do you think that is? Worldwide, there is about 163 million hectares devoted to rice cultivation (100 hectares is 1 square kilometer), which ends up being an area four times the size of California. Or about the size of western Europe. Just. For. Rice.
An equal amount of land is spent on maize (corn), and wheat is grown over an amount of land 25% larger than those, at about 200 million hectares.
How much of the world is spent on farming food? What are the implications of that, regarding water usage, fertilizer, pesticides, and so on?
Hey! You made it! Level four awaits. Congrats all around.
Thanks for coming all this way with me, and I hope you've found that food is, really, pretty simple and non-intimidating. And I hope you also realize that you can use cooking to improve your life!
Homework! The time has come to tie everything together with the most important homework of the course. Meal planning!
What, you thought meal planning was only something bored housewives do? No -- planning ahead is key to not going crazy and not getting trapped in a hunger corner. To start with, physically write stuff down. Plan three days of meals. (They don't all have to be homemade -- include a slot or two for frozen pizza or lunch outings. The idea is to feel that you have control over what you do when.) Then make a list of everything you need and go shopping for them. And then stick, as best you can, to the schedule.
Sunday: Evening -- cook rice, chicken and broccoli, and hard boil eggs
Additionally, you should still be working on two longer term projects: an experimental soda reduction for a week, and then a month, and tracking your money spent on food. Such exciting stuff!
Hey! Congrats! You've finished what we have at the moment! There's more on the way: chapter 4 will cover some great dishes: chili, spiced turkey dishes, and more.
If you had a good experience with this course, and/or would like to see more chapters, leave us a review! Really, go ahead and do it now! It'll help other people trying to learn to cook find us.
So what now? It's my hope that food seems a little less accessible than it might have! Hopefully, you feel comfortable that you can just, go out there and continue to learn. You have a couple questions to ask yourself: What are my goals with food? What's a realistic budget to set with food? What do I like to eat? And then go out and start exploring!
In addition, there are three things you should do: 1) Ask friends and families for recipes that they like and enjoy, which will likely yield much better stuff than you'll find cruising blogs. 2) Set aside time to try to make things you like from fast food restaurants, like a chicken bacon sub, hamburger, bean and cheese burrito. You'll find that they're not hard, and that you'll find making them satisfying and fun. 3) Set aside time every two or three weeks (I literally write it down on the calendar) to try to make something new. You'll find that even trying something new once a month will push you in good directions.
My sister writes down all the recipes in her rotation on note cards, and magnet them to the refrigerator. That way she could reference and see at a glance what she could eat.
- Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin, is a wonderful and essential primer to money. You'll find expanded (and better put) stuff about money that I included in this course.
What good are health books? They tend to be poorly written, extreme, and kind of silly. But you'll find that they do a great job of motivating you to eat better.
- The Blood Sugar Solution by Mark Hyman is probably the first health book you should pick up and read. He talks about the relationship between insulin and diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer's, and how lowing your blood sugar (and insulin) can make you healthier. Absolutely essential reading for anyone who is obese, diabetic, or knows someone who is. Also important for anyone who is overweight, depressed, or just health-curious.
-Super Immunity by Joel Furhman, talks about what vegetables can do for you. If you want to be excited about vegetables, this is the book for you.
- Primal Body, Primal Mind, by Nora Gedgaudas, is probably the craziest, most radical food book you'll ever read. Is it truth? Lies? Crazed ramblings? It's hard to know for sure! Advocating a more extreme version of the Paleo Diet, it's guaranteed to make you angry and feel weird and change the way you see food forever. If you have an illness like MS or cancer, I'd definitely give this a read. Also read it if you're curious about what one of the most radical books ever written is like.
Pepper: A History of the World's Most Influential Spice, by Marjorie Schaffer, is an enchanting tale about far away adventures.
Steering by Starlight, by Martha Beck sounds silly, doesn't it? But if you're looking for happiness and would like a possible lead, this is as good a place to start as any. I thought I was too manly for this book for a while, but then I read it and felt better. (She also has a stronger book with practical steps for overcoming grief and loss called Finding Your North Star that'd I'd recommend if you feel you have emotional shrapnel lodged in you.)
How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman is a bit of a classic, but exemplifies everything I don't like about cookbooks. It has two thousand (!) recipes, weird organization, range of budget and health things. But recipes are sometimes accessible.
Have you found a good cookbook? Let me know!
Remember, don't trust the things you read, only insofar as it agrees with your own sense and reason. All these authors, Joel Furhman, Mark Hyman, they're applying a certain world view. Which. You know.
What to expect in Chapter 4 --
I'm super pleased to have the opportunity to help you with cooking! I want to hear how your experience was! Right a review, and send me a message! Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, or at my Blog. I'd love to hear your experience -- it'd help me improve everything.
That's it! You're awesome. See you soon.
I have been teaching absolute beginners to cook for a while now - a task I am well suited, because I myself was, until recently, an adult beginner with zero knowledge about food. And I learned firsthand how difficult it was to find organized materials to learn to cook!
My cooking story starts when I was very young -- that was when I was abandoned by the side of the cooking dumpster, left to fend for myself in cruel food world. Alas! I was a Cooking Orphan -- someone who, for one reason or another, grows up without being taught how to cook and eat. There are lots of us in the world! And like many, I grabbed whatever was near. Candy, frozen pizza, mac and cheese boxes. I grew soft and hazy.
But later, after some fortuitous events and omens, as well as a hundred years of hard work, I learned to cook. (The Cooking Gods, one finds, are jealous of their knowledge.) My labors bore fruit: I lost fifty pounds, my manic depressive disorder calmed, and I regularly hosted whimsical dinner parties.
But learning to cook shouldn't be so hard -- especially since it's an essential skill that everyone should learn -- cooking orphans included. So why was it hard to find things ordered for beginners in any pedagogical sense? How come experts forget what it's like to be a true beginner? And why do real-life factors (busy-ness, budget, kitchen size) tend to fall by the wayside? After all, the stuff that matters first is the stuff you might make 95% of the time.
And so I decided to try my hand at making a primer in realistic cooking. Something that might make the journey to Cookingdom a little easier and more straightforward. (After all, we Cooking Orphans have to stick together!)
When I'm not teaching others to cook, I'm an alternative education shaman. I left college in order to self-study and explore alternatives to conventional institutional learning. How can one self-study effectively, optimally, and what is the role of institutions in all of that? And, he frowns perplexedly, what is worth learning?
I currently live in Portland, OR.