Cooking is 90% habit.
The more time you’ve spent cooking, the more you can cruise along on autopilot, even in the midst of kitchen chaos. With a bit of practice, you will no longer stare in horror as your simmering homemade jam suddenly quadruples in size into a Hot Burny Sugar Monster intent on devouring your stove. Instead, you will lift the pan from the burner even as you adjust the temperature, barely breaking your cooking stride.
This allows us to attempt increasingly difficult culinary manouvers. When we no longer consciously think through every choice in the kitchen, we find ourselves with brain power left over to make a Croquembouche.
So what’s so bad about kitchen habits when they facilitate jam with a chance of Croquembouche?
The problem is that habits are hard to change. And for me, this year is all about change. This is the year I learn every technique in Leith’s Technique Bible. This week my challenge has been to measure all my ingredients before cooking each time. It should be as easy as falling off a log.
So far I haven’t succeeded once.
My best attempt has involved jumbling the ingredients for Bigoli in Salsa in a pile on the bench, which looked a bit as if I’d upended a shopping bag there.
Every change-resistant bone in my body is trying to rationalize my current way of cooking. My current method, by the way, is to grab things from the panty and fridge as necessarily, chopping ingredients the moment before they’re needed. Sometimes the moment after. It’s frantic, which makes it feel like it must be the most efficient way of getting the job done. (I don’t think it looks efficient. In a galley kitchen with a dog and a toddler I think it looks like I’m playing a high-speed version of 3D Twister).
I refuse to fall at the first (seemingly embarrassingly easy) hurdle.
Tomorrow night I am picking an unfamiliar recipe in an unfamiliar cuisine, to force myself to actually follow the recipe. For once. Then I’m going to measure every damn ingredient from that recipe into a little glass bowl. And then I will see just what it’s like to cook without tripping over the dog while rushing to the pantry. It better be magical.
If my attempts at pre-measuring ingredients so far are anything to go by, breaking this habit is certainly going to be a challenge.
What cooking habits would you find hardest to change? Is habit your friend or enemy in the kitchen?