Food

It is easy to be annoyed by the need to eat, which generally takes more effort than other human physiological needs. But it can also be a source of joy, and as with many other areas, trying to avoid learning about it leads to poor and/or overpriced results. I'm consuming food fairly regularly, so decided to write down some notes on it too.

Dietary guidelines

There are healthy diet guidelines issued by WHO and some governments, which seem sensible: they recommend to consume a lot of fruits and vegetables (at least 400 grams per day), some cereal, meat (proteins; including fish and eggs), and dairy. They also recommend to reduce sugar, salt, and butter consumption. If you mix together and heat up sugar, salt, and butter, you get toffee or similar confections (depending on temperature and other minor parameters). Saturated fat and alcohol are also recommended to avoid, and physical activity is recommended by some of those (despite not being directly related to food).

Humans evolved to survive on available food in bad conditions, so it's not a big deal if proportions are imperfect: eating edible foods you're not sick of should keep you alive. Trying to balance them and not completely ignoring some of the food groups should be pretty healthy.

Apparently it's still unclear how useful dietary supplements (multivitamins and others) are, assuming a relatively healthy and diverse diet. Speaking of things with little evidence and a lot of marketing or followers, there also are "organic food", GMO conspiracy theories, fad diets. So beware of dubious marketing, if you try to stick to evidence/science/studies.

Motivation and time

Cooking (and even eating) may be seen as a chore and inconvenience, but to many even computing does look that way, and in both cases it's possible to enjoy the process, making it a hobby. There's a bunch of hacks one may attempt to reduce bothering with food (meal replacements, eating out, relying on others to cook in general), but the results seem similar to people avoiding bothering with computers: reluctance to put a bit of time and effort into learning leads to poor results and continuous frustration, while after learning the basics it's rather fun to tinker. Also as with computers, maths, and likely most of the other activities, it can be intimidating at first, but experience builds confidence and makes it easier. For increased inspiration and motivation, there is plenty of cooking videos available online. It does take some time though.

Kitchen setup

A nice kitchen setup and handy utensils are important for happy cooking. One of the important aspects (as with most of other manual labour) is lighting: see my notes on lighting for that.

The situation with cookware is similar to that with hand tools: plenty of odd brands hiding the companies/manufacturers behind them, sometimes pretending to be German, or local to a place they are sold at, while being Chinese or Indian. With established brands there's at least a hope for quality control, even if they are manufactured in China too. There are occasional stores that pick nice cookware/brands before selling it. And it wouldn't harm to investigate which utensils you need, which kinds of those exist, the properties of materials they are made of.

Common advices in articles and videos on kitchen setup are straightforward: keep the items you need often easily accessible and easy to fetch: pots and pans hanging instead of being stacked and stashed somewhere, knives on a magnetic bar, oils and spices visible and at hand, not hidden in a closed cabinet. While the unused stuff shouldn't occupy valuable space.

Knives

Much of food preparation is about slicing and chopping vegetables, which can be time-consuming. To speed it up, it's a good idea to learn how to hold and guide a knife properly, as well as to keep it sharp. Here is a couple of videos demonstrating the usage basics: "Basic Knife Skills", "The Only Knife Skills Guide You Need". For basic sharpening and re-aligning, see "How To Sharpen Dull Knives".

European-style knives are made of softer steel, making them easier to sharpen. while Japanese ones are harder (and harder to sharpen too). It's generally suggested to avoid buying knife sets/blocks, since they have some knives you won't use, while taking space.

Cookware

There's a Wikipedia article on cookware and bakeware. The most common materials:

Ceramic and other non-stick surfaces
Non-stick and easy to clean. Require non-metal tools, lower temperatures (that is, not quite suitable for searing), and they wear down anyway over time. With teflon, PTFE can be unsafe at higher temperatures, PFOA is toxic, and apparently the environmental impact of their production is pretty bad too. There's also plenty of dubious "granite" or "marble" non-stick surfaces, which don't contain granite or marble, or "diamond", which apparently contain diamond dust, so care should be taken with unusual ones.
Cast iron, carbon steel, cast aluminium
Those are non-stick with seasoning, durable, cast iron ones have high heat retention and are suitable for searing (with Maillard reaction producing a tasty brown crust, instead of just grey meat). Shouldn't be used with acidic food too much (tomatoes, wine, vinegar, lemon juice, blueberries, and see more in the Master List of Typical pH and Acid Content of Fruits and Vegetables for Home Canning and Preserving; might be hard to look pH values up online, since apparently many people who write about food started using "alkaline" and "acidic" to mean "good" and "bad" respectively) or cleaned with soap, since it can ruin the seasoning. The overall maintenance (seasoning, cleaning, not ruining the seasoning) is relatively tricky, though apparently becomes easier with experience.
Stainless steel
Durable and easy to maintain, but sticky (some employ deglazing and make pan sauces to deal with it, though even occasional scrubbing may be easier than dealing with cast iron). Clad aluminium ones are commonly used to improve heat distribution (either a sandwich/disk on the base, or clad/entire pan, which is supposedly better), though not clear how well it works. A supposedly suitable temperature to reduce sticking can be tested using Leidenfrost effect, with "water drop test". Suitable for pretty much any task, just not the best for searing.
Copper
Apparently most uniform heat and good conductivity. Commonly lined with stainless steel or other corrosion-resistant surfaces.

I'm mostly using stainless steel ones (without non-stick surfaces), with cast iron only for searing. But searing is possible with stainless steel too, and one can use a single stainless steel saute pan (or saucier; a relatively deep or tall pan) for pretty much any cooking needs.

Discovery

Dishes

There's plenty of ways to discover new dishes, including Wikipedia's articles on regional cuisines (e.g., Italian cuisine, Spanish cuisine, American cuisine), websites with recipes, cooking shows, and just mentions during conversations, in books, and in movies. I found it useful to not dismiss dishes and food items based on distaste for local, cheap, and/or poorly cooked versions of those, since they can be very different. That applies to store-bought dishes as well, including confections: apparently many of the odd and unpleasant ones are just unsuccessful attempts to reproduce good ones.

Along with dishes themselves, meal structures are interesting to learn and experiment with: see outline of meals and Italian meal structure, for instance. And there's usually plenty to learn about each ingredient individually (which helps to pick more suitable for a given dish or otherwise better ones); as with many other things, Wikipedia is a good starting point, and then one can proceed to reading past online discussions and/or trying and discussing them online.

Discovering that odd local foods and beverages you have never liked are not consumed anywhere else, and one can live without them, is another nice possibility.

Some websites and databases with recipes: Wikimedia Cookbook, Supercook (handy recipe search based on available ingredients), SimplyRecipes, Allrecipes.

Ingredients

It's useful to look closely into every ingredient: learn about their types, find reputable brands, try and find out which ones one prefers, and possibly even order them from specialized stores.

Rather often authentic ingredients won't be available (particularly in Russia, due to the import substitution), but then it's still better to substitute them and improvise than just to give up without trying.

Cooking

There are books on cooking (including Wikimedia Cookbook), but plenty of useful knowledge can be absorbed from just cooking videos with explanations (though in a less systematic way). Here are some YouTube channels with nice recipes and occasional explanations:

Pro Home Cooks
Nice and practical everyday recipes with focus on home cooking, also explaining how things work.
Ethan Chlebowski
More of everyday cooking, with explanations and tips too.
Alex
Goes pretty deep into details and techniques, good for learning about cooking in general (and not just particular recipes).
Adam Ragusea
More of general tips and comprehensive explanations, as well as specific recipes.
Claire Saffitz x Dessert Person
Desserts. Plenty of those, with comments/explanations. But US-based, so the sugar from those recipes can be cut in half.
Gennaro Contaldo
Italian cuisine, though the videos may be strangely emotional, making a show of it. Not that much of explanations, mostly quick cooking.
Vincenzo's Plate
Features Italian cuisine too, and similarly a bit strange/showy.
Jamie Oliver
Shares many recipes.
Tasty
Many assorted recipes, apparently a part of BuzzFeed, occasional explanations.
Gordon Ramsay
Known for abusing people in cooking shows, and being abused by another cook in the past, but shares many recipes, as well as occasional cooking guides.
Joshua Weissman
A weird channel: dirty jokes, weird visual and audio effects, the host sings, slaps food and himself, but uploads many nice recipes still.
MOMables - Laura Fuentes
Recipes focusing on practicality, but still nice: one-pot dishes, freezing advices, meal prep.
Epicurious
A mix of regular recipes and slightly chaotic comparisons of different methods of cooking the same dishes.
NOT ANOTHER COOKING SHOW
Yet another cooking show. Mostly recipes, some guides.

There also are shows not strictly related to learning how to cook, but food-related and interesting and/or entertaining: Townsends often covers 18th century cooking practices, Tasting History with Max Miller presents recipes from more places and periods, Weird History and other history-related channels cover topics such as historical diets and history of various food products, Food Factory and standalone documentaries demonstrate (though usually only cursorily, not getting into industrial and manufacturing engineering) food mass manufacturing processes.

Meals by complexity

I find it useful to compose a menu of the dishes you like and know how to cook. Below is mine, with meals grouped by complexity and cooking time.

Virtually no cooking

The following dishes don't require any heating, or even much of cutting, and are mostly about putting things together (or just eating them whole):

Minimal cooking

The following dishes are comparable in complexity to brewing tea/coffee/cocoa, requiring just a few ingredients (hence little planning), little skill or action, and not much of attention:

Many of these can be used as bases to build upon: leftovers and fruits/vegetables can be added into soups (including pre-mixed ones), on top of frozen pizzas and lasagnas, into scrambled eggs, and into other dishes. Relishes are easy to add to some of those. Stocks/broths (either store-bought or homemade) are useful for soups, needed for risotto, and one can make sauces with them.

Medium complexity

The following dishes require some planning to get and use the ingredients, some timings and attention, but still nothing fancy and not too easy to mess up:

While these take longer to cook, they can be stored in a refrigerator and re-heated for a few days, so the cooking time per meal is not long.

Planning

In addition to reducing the number of grocery store trips, planning (or sufficiently good improvisation) may help to spend less time cooking by preparing multiple meals at once, as well as to get nicer meals (with stocks, possibly sauces, and other homemade ingredients one may prepare separately and/or for multiple dishes at once). Materials on the topic can be found using the "meal prep" keywords.

Peeling

While a lot of fruits and vegetables should be consumed, and many of the fresh ones have a rather short shelf life, an additional difficulty for me is that I have rather unpleasant reaction to biting some of their skins (goosebumps and brief toothache), so peeling is needed. Some also peel them simply because they don't like the skins, and in some cases those aren't quite edible.

Blanching (putting food into boiling water, and optionally into cold water afterwards) sometimes makes skins easy to peel; works with tomatoes and peaches.

A process for pepper peeling is somewhat similar to blanching: it's easier to peel after a few minutes in an oven (or a grill, or rotating on an open fire) and 5 to 60 minutes in an airtight container (which is supposed to produce moisture under its skin). Apparently some people (those cooking chiles en nogada), using certain varieties of peppers, manage to carefully stuff them after skinning, but at least with bell peppers I found it to be very difficult, tiring, and time-consuming to peel a pepper without it falling apart, whether with a vegetable peeler and knife, or open fire or an oven, steaming, and knife. A much better idea is to go slightly less fancy and just make a casserole, with pepper (if you want it) simply chopped into the mix: then you don't care if it falls apart.

A vegetable peeler is handy for carrots and cucumbers. A bit less handy (but quite suitable) for potatoes. One can use it for pepper too, but for bell pepper it works better to cut it before peeling, so that there's no concave bits inaccessible to the peeler.

Pretty much everything can be peeled with a knife, possibly leaving a bit more waste and/or taking a bit longer than with the alternatives.

Safe cooking temperatures

Overcooking meat, poultry, or fish makes it tough and dry, yet it's pretty common, while undercooking is unsafe. So it's a good idea to use a thermometer, possibly to employ techniques that make it easier to reach and sustain desirable temperatures (that is, cooking longer, but at lower temperatures: poaching, sous vide). See Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart, "Keep food safe with time and temperature control". It should also be cooled quickly, and sometimes time can be traded for temperature. Here's a copy of the USDA chart, since I'm checking it often, and it'll save a click:

Beef, Pork, Veal and Lamb Steaks, chops, roasts 145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Ground Meats 160 °F (71.1 °C)
Ground Poultry 165 °F (73.9 °C)
Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked) 145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Fully Cooked Ham (to reheat) Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 °F (60 °C) and all others to 165 °F (73.9 °C).
All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing) 165 °F (73.9 °C)
Eggs 160 °F (71.1 °C)
Fish and Shellfish 145 °F (62.8 °C)
Leftovers 165 °F (73.9 °C)
Casseroles 165 °F (73.9 °C)

Somewhat related are tips on thawing (e.g., How to Defrost Fish): it's suggested to defrost in either a refrigerator or in cold water (if it has to be done quickly), but not at a room temperature.