Monday, February 1, 2010

Your New Mantra: Cooking!

On Sunday, I read through a blog post about five things you should eat for breakfast.

Even with its health food bent, the first commenter on the blog complained that the food wasn’t healthy enough and then spouted bull about how every meal should be 25% protein (WHAT?!), 50% vegetable, and I forget what the remaining 25% was. The original list was disgusting and tasteless enough as it was without following this bizarre advice.

I’m an overweight person. I didn’t get this way by eating delicious food. I got this way by letting stress rule my mind (and thus body) and eating processed food. Stress signals your body to store food, and it is a contributing factor in many cases of insomnia. Insomnia also prevents you from burning stored energy effectively.

America’s obsession with healthy eating is something I totally understand. I’ve lived with health nuts all my life. I’ve seen people seriously trying every diet fad short of the “one food only” (ie rice-only, grapefruit-only, whatever-only) diets.

I’m here to tell you as an internet know-it-all and lover of good food: I don’t care if your diet helps you live to be 200 years old. If you’re not eating awesome food every day, you didn’t live those 200 years, you tolerated them.

This is your new mantra: I deserve awesome food. I deserve a mouth-wateringly delicious meal at least once a week. And if the only way I can get it is to learn to cook, then—by all that is good in the universe—that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Here are my four hints for awesome food:

  1. Vegetables are awesome. Don’t make corn or potatoes your primary veggie. Make sure you have lots of dark leafy greens. Veggies should be the bulk of your food. Use sauces (preferably ones you make yourself) and seasonings to bring out their best flavor. Don’t use the microwave for vegetables. I don’t care what anyone says, microwaves make veggies rubbery and 90% of good food is texture. Rubbery is for Calamari, not veggies.
  2. Don’t overcook. Overcooking is a sin. If you don’t already know what I’m talking about, then I guarantee you that most of the food you eat is overcooked. Chicken is especially difficult to get right. It should be juicy without being oily. Use a heat thermometer, but remember that meat’s temperature keeps rising after it is taken out of the heat. Work with it until you figure out how to get it to the safe temperature without going over after the cooking stops. If your veggies are mush, you’ve overdone them.
  3. Use simple recipes. I don’t mean ones that tell you to put in a can of Brand Name Nacho Cheese, but ones that don’t have a lot of complex ingredients. Brand Name Nacho Cheese is a complex ingredient. Good food is simple food that’s well-prepared. If the recipe you’re looking at has lots of ingredients, see if there’s one that involves fewer ingredients. For the oil painters out there, just like you shouldn’t combine more than three colors of oil paint, you should avoid combining too many ingredients. There are exceptions (like with cajun cooking), but mostly too many ingredients complicates without adding anything worthwhile.
  4. I care about this a lot and could probably be pestered to give out more advice. That said, my friend Dino (Dino knows me better as Zeeb Ra, long story) is a phenomenal vegan chef and has a lot more experience than I do. Dino, like me, does not believe in substitutes. No Tofurkey, that sort of thing. Even though I’m not a vegan, Dino’s advice is really practical and informative (I just have to go elsewhere for meat advice). His podcast on oil is literally the most important thing you can listen to if you’re going to be using oil in cooking. If you’re going to be cooking, you’ll be using oil, so just go listen to it.

So, from time to time, I'll probably blog about some of my experiences with cooking. And I'll try to keep them more practical rather than emotional like this one.

Love you all. Eat awesome. -J


Martin @ Insomnia Land said...

We bought a steamer just under 2 years ago for our veggies and haven't looked back. It's probably the most used piece of equipment in our kitchen besides the kettle.

You're definitely right about chicken being easy to overcook - I wonder whether we are eager to do this because of the health risks associated with undercooked chicken.

As for insomnia preventing you from burning stored energy effectively - I was unaware of this. Where did you learn about that?

J. McNeill said...

I'm generally bad about remembering to bookmark important information in a location I'll be able to find later. And it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that it prevents you from burning fat effectively.

An MSNBC article (based on the work of Madelyn Fernstrom) from four years ago mentions the concept, and Dr. Lawrence Epstein comes at the theory from the opposite end. He says that sleep deprivation stimulates us to eat.

I know that being hungry can keep me from sleeping, but I'm more inclined to believe that there is, for many of us insomniacs, a connection between stress, insomnia, and weight gain since I rarely overeat simply because I'm not sleeping.