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, and PFOA is toxic. 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
Those are durable and have high heat retention, suitable for searing, non-stick with seasoning. Shouldn't be used with acidic food (tomatoes, wine, vinegar, lemon juice, etc) or cleaned with soap, since it'd destroy the seasoning. The overall maintenance (seasoning, cleaning) is relatively tricky.
Stainless steel
Durable and easy to maintain, but sticky (some employ deglazing and make pan sauces to deal with it). Clad aluminium ones are commonly used to improve heat distribution (either a disk on the base, or entire pan, which is supposedly better), though not clear how well it works. Suitable for pretty much any task, just not the best for (high-temperature) frying.

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: 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, but plenty of useful knowledge can be absorbed from just cooking videos with explanations (though in a less systematic way).

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) and about 15 minutes in an airtight container (which is supposed to produce moisture under its skin).

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.