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Tuesday, 22 November 2022


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I always saute In olive oil - as that's all we have. I would also think "to taste" is personal. If you think it tastes good, then everything has been added correctly (you can always change things a bit the next time). Don't fret over how much spices etc to put in.
I also think one of the reasons for increasing obesity is the artificial sweetener trend (in particular diet soda). When you consume those diet sodas (or whatever) your body expects a certain number of calories to go with the sweetness, and because to doesn't get those calories you keep eating.

The only tactic I have found to help with mess is to immediately scrape most of the stuff off whatever kitchen implement I am using (or run under the faucet for a second) and then place it in the dishwasher, not the sink.

Then, it's just a matter of remembering to turn the dishwasher on when you go to bed that night, or in the morning if you forgot, as opposed to having to clean out the sink.

Also, dishwashers don't need dishes to be cleaned out before hand. They actually work better if you don't. If you have the time, there is a great Technology Connections video on this:

He followed it up a year later with even more info:

My mother (now 82) is a marvelous cook and she recently produced a recipe book with my father, for the benefit of the family. They have put so much attention, personal stories and love in the book, it is a joy to read and to experiment with it. And yet some recipes are impossible to follow if you are not my mother. Indeed it is hard to transcript in words what we call in French "tour de main", know-how or experience...
I long believed that star chefs were conceiling essential points in their recipe books but no, you just can't write some elements that may not even be done conciously. And sometimes they believe that it is unnecessary to state the obvious.
But now there is a very good option for average cooks like me, to produce more than decent and varied dishes: cooking robots! We now save a lot of time, eat healthier meals and have opened our horizons since we invested in a "Thermomix". I am unsure this one is available in your country but there will be equivalent options. You may want to have a look, it changed our busy lifes for the best!
And of course, when I have enough time, it is back to traditional cooking. There is nothing like messing up the entire kitchen.

Olive oil is all I use for sautéing onions, making mirepoix, and all other basic cooking. Partly that's growing up in an Italian American family.

I wouldn't use olive oil for deep frying, or very hot frying, as it has a low smoke point. But you were fine.

A wonderful article. I fight my weight like you, salty fatty is my crack, and am gratified to find that it isn’t a personal failing, but still needs addressing. I am sure you’ll hear from the calorie in, calorie out crowd.

Mike, you’re not so terrible a cook as you might think if you began your dish by cooking the onions in olive oil. I do it nearly every day. Olive oil tastes better and is better for you than vegetable oil. Keep the heat to medium or low and let them onions turn soft and translucent, then on to the next step!

As to oils, olive oil is, indeed, a vegetable ( fruit?) oil. It is also mostly monounsaturated, a good thing. The only reasons not to sauté with it are a fairly low smoke point and it imparts flavor. Foe red beans and rice it is fine. Canola oil and peanut oil are equally monounsaturated, have a higher smoke point, and are neutral in taste.

I love to cook, so I do. If you don’t enjoy it, it must be one frustration after the next.

There’s lots of debate about it in health nut places, but you can use olive oil in place of pretty much any specified oil and the overall difference won’t be material unless you have a very sensitive palate! Unless I’m want a strong flavour (e.g. peanut or sesame oil), I use olive oil for just about everything - just remember there’s no need waste super super high quality virgin olive oil (first pressing) if you’re cooking with it - the heat will kill the flavour differences anyway - save the expensive stuff for salad dressings, etc.

I've been living on my own for sixty years, and have cooking down pat. About twice a month I make macaroni & cheese (not from a package). Assuming you like this dish (who doesn't?) I recommend you do the same. Your region of New York makes some fine sharp cheddars. Use those, and top the casserole with a few slices of fried bacon and some Panko bread crumbs.

If this helps:
Cooking food. Making prints in the darkroom. Start with a recipe. Make your first print. Adjust from that starting point. Maybe a bit more salt and pepper, sage if you like it. Vary exposure, time in developer. Is the stop bath fresh? Toning, maybe to taste ... your taste.
"To taste," means until you think it tastes good. And the print satisfies.

No shame in using olive oil. I use organic EVOO to saute, since I always have it right there. Vegetable oil gets pushed way back in the cabinet, eventually gets rancid, so why bother?

Decades ago I read somewhere that if you can cook, you can do darkroom work. This seems to make sense, but maybe it just doesn't work the other way round.

But perhaps you are right; it's down to aptitude. I once knew a lawyer who had an extensive knowledge of English law. He could think his way through the logic of any legal problem we presented to him, and had defended some quite high profile clients.

He was a very intelligent man, but could not begin to think his way through the logic puzzle of a fault on his motorcycle. For a solution to his problem, he had to turn to one of us.

You can sauté with olive oil you just have to be careful about the heat level. Compared to some other oils olive oil has a relatively low smoke point.

All that aside you're right about recipes being of marginal value under many circumstances because, as you say, good cooks have a lot of "assumed knowledge", practice, and muscle memory.

I would make an analogy to darkroom printing, where the real magic is not in the rote following of fixed directions but in using experience and touch to get what you want out of the materials.

As you have said before.

"Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.+
-Michael Pollen.

I add that most processed "foods" including sucrose(sugar) are not actual food. So a critical thing to figure out is "what is food?"

I won't mention diet, I've read your previous posts on this subject, and opinions vary. I've got my body in check by, Ta Da!.... eating less and execising.

I eat burgers, pizza, and bread, just less and I exercise daily. I'm the son of two obese parents, 65 and 170lbs with a 32 inch waist. YMMV.

But regarding 1980, think of what technological innovations happened around that year. Screens! It started with VCRs and moved on to real computers, but people spent more time not moving. This is Thanksgiving week and school is out. There's not one kid out riding a bike, playing catch, or shooting baskets, the streets are empty. They're inside on some screen completely seditary and making their adolescent metabolism turn into that of an elderly person. You can't go from pre-1980 active kids, out playing and in near constant motion to being completely sedentary and atrophying the part of the body that eats calories even at rest:muscle. Of course we're bigger now.

I still believe in eating less and exercise. There's no magic. Its math.

Before Photography (BP) I took a job as a "Pearl Diver" (dish washer) at the diner next to my Jr High School. A year later I was a grill man at this diner and moved on to another diner "down the shore." After a stint in the Army (Hoo-ra!) I went into a kitchen in the city. Two years later I quit when a Sous-chef at Longchamps in the Empire State building. I'd had enough of the great work and crappy hours. Never had any formal training it just came to me by doing. I enrolled at the NY Institute of Photography then the School of Visual Arts. I still cook for the family. One of my joys!
Relax! There will be no test, just taste!

Keep at it, Mike! Good cooks are made, not born. I got decent by watching a variety of cooking shows, trying to suss out the fundamentals; focusing on learning one technique, process or dish at a time; and accepting that I'd suck until I didn't and not taking the misses along the way too seriously. (The last is a lot easier if you remember to have a backup ready in the freezer, pantry or on speed-dial.) Relish your amateur status and focus on whatever intrigues you, whether particular dishes, cuisines, ingredients or techniques (within reason, of course).

IMO, the difference between a "bad" cook and a "great" one is a matter of percentages rather than perfection, in no small part owed to learning enough along the way to work around problems as they come up.

Re body weight: Coincidentally, there was a "diet soda" boom in the 1980s, with brands spending gobs of money in promotion (in part thanks to the FDA's contentious approval of aspartame, which saved the industry from successive cancer warnings about previous sweeteners).

Recently, though, "diet" sodas have been linked to sugar cravings, increased appetite and weight gain (see the links at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/11/well/eat/diet-coke-addiction.html).

That said, some experts worry that we focus too much on weight as an indicator of health or longevity.

Anyway, here's a trip down memory lane in the form of star-powered 1980s diet soda commercials:


Short comment
1. Extra Virgin Olive oil is good for EVERYTHING
2. Try to cook ITALIAN dishes, they are very simple.
Full disclosure: I was born in Caserta, Italy. (Look up the pictures of the Royal palace, it’s worth it).

This time of year, with relatives over, I'm surrounded by an excess of delicious foods I shouldn't eat. I especially should avoid the salty stuff and most of it is salty, and that's the hardest at holidays, because no one wants bland holiday food. So I find myself cheating, and hoping for the best, and waiting for January and the resolutions.

"Olives are vegetables, right?"
They're technically fruits because the stones inside act as seeds. In the botanist's book, they're technically classified as fruits, specifically drupes (stone fruits - "fruit" refers to the seed-bearing structure of a flowering plant). Also, tomatoes are technically a fruit, but legally they are considered a vegetable. Look it up as the question: “is a tomato a fruit or vegetable?” went through the U.S. Supreme Court in the 19th century because a fruit importer claimed they were a fruit, so he did not have to pay the 10% import tax (there was zero tax on fruit). The Supreme Court acknowledged that, botanically speaking, tomatoes are technically fruits. Still, it was decided that they should be taxed as vegetables based on their most common culinary uses (salads, etc.). I learned this through my crate-label business.

Cooking Oils
I keep a spray bottle of avocado oil for spraying food when cooking and another spray bottle of olive oil for adding to food for eating. You can find ‘cooking oil spray bottles’ on amazon for under $10. Once you get the hang of what oil to cook with and what to eat, it’s not hard, especially if you have designated spray bottles for them.

Cooking/roasting vegetables is easier today, thanks to the air fryer. An air fryer is a small convection oven; because it is small, it heats up fast and cooks some things quickly and with minimal oil (avocado oil in my house). If you like roasted vegetables, I highly encourage you to get a small air fryer. I purchased mine at Costco for $39 marked down, which has been wonderful for this vegetarian. Many people use it for cooking meat as well.

When I tried to teach my son to cook in his later high school years, he protested loudly. We compromised on five meals he liked, and I made them as simple as possible but emphasized the need to cook on a med-low burner. I know you are 65 and do not need to hear suggestions for cooking now, but maybe if you pick five cooked meals you enjoy eating, that might help you get the basics down. Cooking is an art you can learn, whereas baking is a science. My mom was an incredible baker, but I am not, nor do I have the time and enough interest to be, but I know there is a difference. I enjoy cooking because I like eating a certain type of diet.

Maybe think about getting an air fryer and roast all those yummy veggies the farmers offer in your neck of the woods.

I clean up as I cook, or my kitchen will get messy in minutes. An emptied dishwasher can be the nicest thing in my kitchen before I start cooking. Another thing about the type of air fryer I have, it is so easy to clean the basket when I am done cooking. When I cut up all my veggies before cooking, a lot of mess can happen, so I save plastic bags and toss the cuttings in the bag as I prep the veggies; then, in the rubbish can they go for composting. I keep my seasonings down to a minimum: salt, pepper, thyme, and basil for veggies with a splash of olive oil. Sometimes I will add nutritional yeast (cheesy taste) depending upon the veggie.

As far as everyone looking like they are not starving --- well, we’re not!

About people being fatter, if we ask about statistically what has happened (and thus not applicable to any one individual—so no offense meant), it seems to me:

(1) There are far more fast food places and it is normal to see many people going to them. I remember (in the 1950’s) going to a hamburger joint or an ice cream parlor was a special treat, not usually what you did.

(2) People don’t take as much responsibility for what they do—either for themselves or for others. This is something I see every day/everywhere. From people driving 120+ mph on city highways, to being unable to/refusing to drive to work because there is 6 inches of snow. Etc. Etc.

(3) Although there is a lot more science/knowledge now, the level of critical thinking (A causes B) is abysmal—this from my teaching science/engineering. If that is the case for them, imagine the ordinary Joe.

Like you, I don't really like cooking. If I could exist without eating, I would be fine. Sure, I'd miss some foods -- scrambled eggs in the morning are hard to resist, as long as they're not runny at all. Most foods I liked as a kid hold no appeal to me anymore. Pancakes? Good luck getting some that aren't like dry bread on the inside. Pizza? I wouldn't miss it. Now a good meatloaf is something I'd miss. But don't put all sorts of junk on top of it. Put the catsup on it after it has baked, not before!

You have to really work to find decent food at a grocery store. The store managers used to offer good food before everyone had to make the last nickel on a sale. The best food is usually at an honest farmer's market.

Don't get me started on the fish and meats that wither down to nothing when you cook them! Lousy crooks!

Somehow, I've managed to keep the same weight as when I graduated high school. I can't say I'm in the same shape, but not bad for my age. I may not have fresh vegetables at most meals, but at least I do have veggies from a can. I hate the feeling of overeating, so I swore away that bad habit when I was 18 years old.

The best invention besides the dishwasher was the slow cooker. I pretend I'm working as a prep cook in a restaurant and just plow through the slicing and dicing, then throw the junk in the slow cooker and let 'er rip. I couldn't care less how it looks when it's finished. It'll be eaten soon enough and the leftovers put in the fridge.

“In 1962, the Golden Arches replaced Speedee as the universal mascot. The mascot, clown Ronald McDonald, was introduced in 1965. He appeared in advertising to target their audience of children.” - Wikipedia

[Sounds a bit sinister now, doesn't it?! --Mike]

Bill Gaston "Cameraman" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2347216.The_Cameraman

"You can't be a great photographer if you can't recognise Pepsi and Cola in a blind test." (quoted from memory)

It's really quite simple - calories across the lips.

Michael Pollan writes about this. In the US food scientists have found a way to expand the stomach by making processed food tastier and to pack more calories per serving (ie: corn - examine the protein structure and you'll see what I mean).

Living in Europe, I can tell an American with 80 to 90 percent accuracy simply by body shape. Americans carry weight differently than, say, other overweight nations, like England. Most Americans I see here could be considered overweight.

Three words: American Test Kitchen.
Their shows run on PBS or, of course on line if you desire. They are one of the few shows where you get the complete list of ingredients and techniques in the video itself.

They test and tweak each recipe using techniques that you would be familiar with from your darkroom days.

They have an additional line of shows called "Cooks Country"

We have found a lot of good recipes from them, including an excellent updated Julia Child recipe for turkey, where you remove the thighs and drumsticks and stuff them. You also remove the backbone. The bones and giblets are roasted for the best gravy ever, and since the turkey is so much smaller it cooks relatively quickly.

in my immediate family everyone is a good cook...well there is one brother who is color blind and thinks everything tastes like crap

the surprising thing is almost all of us embrace chaos and just cook stuff...well there is my wife who must have a recipe...yikes!

if you don't like to cook or can never master it, you can always buy food ready-to-eat...well until you run out of money

Our ancestors may have been cooking meat (well, fish in this case) long before 200,000 years ago. Who knows if there was a technology transfer down the line.


I rarely ever see a competitive swimmer who is obese. It's not an either/or formula. Exercise AND good eating habits are the secret. Not one or the other.

To place your emphasis only on eating plants and whole foods is to do the work with only half the tools and then expect a full result.

If one hour a day of exercise doesn't take the weight off then maybe two hours of more intense exercise will do the trick.... And yes, eating whole foods is just considered routine for people who want to stay physically competitive.

It's a pity we live far away from each other, Mike, as I would love to invite you to make a good rice at home.

I am not a good cooker (my wife is excellent on that), but I am very good at some meals, and specifically I can make very good rice (not paella, but kind of). What shocks me from your post is that, in my case, cooking is just a pleasure: I take my time to make the recipe quietly, with care, and in the mean time I take some good wine and some appetizers. The whole experience is really nice and usually, the end result is also very enjoyable.

I think you shoul change your approach! :-)

I fear you were cheated out of learning to cook as a child from your parents. This happened to a lot of people (not me, thankfully) who later learned to cook beautifully as adults, so it's not hopeless by any means.

Cooking is a skill, just like working in the darkroom. Practice, repetition, and failures inform intuition and creativity. Cooking for one is harder than cooking for "customers" and cooking a wide variety is hard if you don't have skills and intuition.

I'd start like any new complex area of interest: pick a few techniques and iterate on them. Once they become comfortable, add a new technique. I say technique vs recipe because if you perceive a recipe as a technique or set of techniques you think about how to adapt it other ingredients. For example, you can make chili beans with different kinds of beans, vegetables, and proteins. The key is getting the cook on the beans and the seasonings right.

The many cooking shows on TV and YouTube are helpful, but you have to plunge into it with a high level of focus in the beginning--just like any new thing you want to master.

You can do it if you persevere. Since we all need to eat, it's probably worth the effort.

[My mother grew up in a household with servants and cooks, so she never learned how to cook either. Neither of my grandparents--Mom's parents--ever cooked for themselves (I lost my Dad's parents when I was still too young to cook). My Mom had to learn how to cook after she got married. She was okay at it, but her cooking was very basic, and it probably never crossed her mind to teach her boys to do it--she was married at 23 in '55 so she shared the gender assumptions of the '50s. Even so, my middle brother is quite an enthusiastic cook. --Mike]

Its all about time and temperature. Cooking or working in the darkroom. You got this and that...
And another thing- I never cook a meal when I'm already hungry. I wind up eating cheese and crackers (bad) and I'm not hungry by the time my cooking is finished.

Olives are a fruit not a vegetable.

However, you can sauté just fine in olive oil. I do it all the time and when I need to sauté at higher temperatures, I use Avocado oil.

Not an issue.

It’s been said: junk food, even when just as raw ingredients.

My wife was a great cook; coming from Scotland, you’d think that the meat we found back there would be hard to beat: the first experience she had of buying it here, in Spain, was that the Spanish offer was so much better. Her mother used to make wonderful ham; came the time she could no longer buy the raw product to cook: the butcher told her he could not get supplies - the stuff was now all sold to industrial clients.

Yeah, sedentary lifestyles don’t help, but then lots of folks always had sedentary working lives, too, and that didn’t mean all typists and bank clerks were fat.

I think it’s partly genetic, but also down to your own metabolic rate: as a nervous sort of person, I consume myself, in a sense, so have always been like a mantis. I have a great appetite, but also have a hiatus hernia which means I can no longer eat at night, or I wake up choking. Once or twice I’ve thought it was hasta la vista, Rob, but managed to clear my pipes before going unconscious. At least nobody would steal the Rolex from the bedside table: that got stolen on the street in ‘19. Maybe we should all be banned from the street after reaching 80, even if we are not fat.

Blame it on the sugar lobby and fast food chains like Rotten Ronnie's.

When Mickey D's first came to our city the built as main outlets within 2 blocks of high schools as possible. Then they gave every student enough free meals to get on on the sugar craving cycle.

These food corporations are no better than tobacco companies imho.

As Eric Rose remarked, the junk food industry is rotten to its corporate core. In a world where they could devote time, resources and effort to something nourishing, they choose to subvert good food by creating a society of addicts to crap.

Cynicism writ large. Worse, it’s heading into mass murder territory. Unfortunately, it’s a US product that Europe could well have done without. You can’t really blame the victims, either: they have been conditioned from birth.

There are books for beginners. Mark Bitterman, How to Cook Everything starts with the assumption that you know nothing.

As for why we are fatter, a major reason is the success of the agricultural policy to make food cheaper. This began to pay off in the 1960s and 70s and portion sizes started to increase. Scientists are working on why we eat more when there is more to eat, rather than being self-regulating. Even the poor have access to cheap calories, which are the hardest to control. All those fruits and fresh veggies are expensive - ag policy was about industrial ag because it scales up to make cheap grain and cheap meat from cheap grain. Fruit and veggies do not scale well.

Fruit and vegetables have a big drawback: they go off very quickly. I suppose the wastage rate must be high, so the supermarkets can’t sell ‘em cheaply. I love mandarins, yet out of every six that I buy, you can bet that at least one will have gone rotten in two days. I used to enjoy bananas; these past few years seem to have produced a new kind that has no flavour whatsoever. I stopped buying. So have many others: there appear to be fewer on sale, and they all look distressed. Apples. You’re joking! Like bricks.

Fish and meat have both shot up in price recently, and how convenient there’s a war to blame! I bet neither fish nor cow gets a red cent more for dying. Soon, there has to be a readjustment, or many of those currently screwing the supply chain will find themselves without customers for a vast range of produce. Market forces are being very slow this time.

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