Way back in March of 2020, when things were closing down and I really started working from home, one of the first things I did was watch Street Food: Asia on Netflix. It was both a great idea and the worst thing I could do because it just fueled my desire NOT to be stuck in the house.
Once I finished that show, it didn’t stop. For the past year, I’ve been bingeing food and cooking documentaries on and off. At the same time, I started really expanding my palate both in eating and cooking. The more I watch and read, the more I want to be adventurous with food in all aspects.
To help with this, I received the Salt, Fat, Acid,Heat cookbook by Samin Nosrat, the book that inspired the Netflix series, as a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law.
I’ve stocked my cabinets and fridge with things like miso, rice wine vinegar, za’atar, and dried chiles and really taken into consideration when and how I’m salting my foods, as well as why I might cook it a certain way. I’ve always considered myself a pretty good cook, and I have no ambition to become a professional chef, but slowing down and really thinking about the ingredients and methods in a dish has elevated what I’m bringing to the dinner table.
My husband has also joined in the fun, baking and cooking some of his own delicious dishes, such as cast iron apple bourbon pork chops and a strawberry mascarpone tea cake.
I’ve certainly learned some things cooking more at home, cooking more complex and culturally diverse dishes, and watching all these shows. Some observations:
- It’s difficult to pin down true American cuisine. What is it? Where is it? Does it primarily consist of burgers and pizza and chicken fingers? Barbeque, Cajun cuisine, and other more niche foods may qualify as uniquely American, but what flavors, techniques, etc. really could define our foods as a cultural aspect the way that French and Italian have their identifying characteristics?
- Food from other cultures has tradition, symbolism, perhaps even superstitions and other contexts that American food doesn’t appear to have. We eat pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They make a certain loaf of bread only during a particular holiday or for a particular event. There’s a reason behind the way the stew cooks that goes beyond “grandma did it this way.” Was it ever there and we just lost or diluted it, or was our food just food from the beginning?
- There are so many flavors out there, and they go well beyond the basic salty, savory, sour, sweet. The nuances of seasoning food, really infusing it with flavors, is magic. And being able to create this magic in your own kitchen, without having to be a master chef, is so, so satisfying.
- Cooking is actually pretty cheap. Some ingredients can be relatively expensive (certain seafood, specific cuts of meat, some spices), but probably not as expensive as one might think. Cooking a steak dinner at home is significantly cheaper than a steak dinner out, and it’s the same for most meals. You can also intentionally make additional meals rather than just taking home your single serve fast food burger or that side of potatoes you couldn’t finish but also probably will throw out after a week, meaning more bang for your buck. Cooking more and going out less, despite cooking “fancy” meals, has actually kept more money in the bank.
This has been quite the adventure, and I’m looking forward to more food documentaries and delectable creations. I’ve been going through some of my favorite cookbooks for more ideas to try and also look forward to incorporating what I’m cooking into my fitness goals.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve been able to dive into a new (or renewed!) hobby during the craziness of the past year!