Tag → food

Cook Like You're Not on MasterChef

part of the “what I learned after four years at MIT” series, I guess?

When I was very young, I thought cooking was easy. I sliced plastic vegetables with a toy knife and then Velcroed them back together, ad infinitum. For at least some time, I wanted to be a chef when I grew up.

When I was slightly less young, I thought cooking was hard. My reference points were mostly (1) my parents, who seemed to know how to make a million different dishes in inscrutable ways without thinking, and (2) MasterChef contestants (who I assume were better at cooking than my parents because they were, well, on MasterChef) messing things up and getting kicked off the show.

Now, I think I probably elided some meaningful distinctions there in my youthful naïveté. Cooking food that will keep you from getting kicked off MasterChef is hard. Cooking edible food is easy.1 Cooking storebought dumplings in particular is so stupidly easy it’s unfair. More generally, though, most recipes tolerate a lot of substitutions,2 number fudging,3 and even straight-up skipping pesky instructions, like the ones in baking recipes where you mix two sets of ingredients separately in specific orders. There are reasons for those steps, but ignoring them and dumping everything into the same mixing bowl usually won’t make your results inedible. You can also just decide to omit ingredients you don’t like. Probably the least tolerant ingredient measurements in recipes are the measurements of baking soda or baking powder, which by the way are different things, in baking recipes. But otherwise you’d really be surprised how many corners you can get away with cutting — I’ve even completely winged one baking soda/powder measurement with decent results. I think this is especially important to know for people from technical backgrounds like me, who have an instinct to treat the numbers in recipes as precisely measured, painstakingly optimized choices to produce the best dish. They usually aren’t, and even if they are optimized for the recipe author’s palate, they probably won’t be optimized for yours.4 And they certainly aren’t optimized for any tradeoffs you might want to make between food quality versus the time and effort you’re putting into cooking. Make the tradeoffs you want. You’re not on MasterChef.

[CIMC 2015 Part 3] Monsters and Pandas and Tigers, Oh My!

My inner perfectionist is crying that I have to post this, in particular over my pathetic snowclone title, but my inner pragmatist knows that, judging by my old blogging patterns, it’s now or never.

18.06: 56%, haven’t touched it in a while, but I think I can do lots more on the plane.

As a non-contestant, I confess I feel totally uninvested in the results and find the Closing Ceremony boring. All contestants go up, country by country, and have their awards read off. No effort is made to make any sort of buildup to a climax. But maybe this is for the best; we don’t want anybody feeling shafted or discouraged from continuing to do math due to a mere elementary-/middle-school competition. Meanwhile, though, I’m browsing reddit on my phone.

After this ceremony, the entire Taiwan delegation spends some time walking around outside while the guides make confused phone calls trying to decide where we eat lunch. My parents offer me some potato chips they bought somewhere, which are (as the label is really eager to point out) baked, not fried. Some time passes this way; eventually, the guides figure it out and we go through amazingly long queues to eat at the cafeteria, as usual. Then we are sent to a massive shopping mall for the afternoon, a place so large that its exits have number labels that go up into the double digits so that people don’t get lost.

I take trippy failed panorama photos from the bus windows. [trippy panorama of a shopping mall]