Cooking and Creativity
Julia Landauer 0:04 Hello, everybody and welcome back to another episode of if I'm honest with Julia Landauer. How was everyone's weekend? mine was kind of dense Ben and I have been putting in active effort to try to be more social, try to get out and do more things. We have the incredible ability to be massive homebodies. So we've been trying to counter that. And so on Friday, we tried a new restaurant called Menya, which is a ramen place in the Elizabeth neighborhood of Charlotte really liked it. I liked the vibe, it was a lot of bar seating and then one row of tables, and just felt really cool to see them prepare everything I thought the gyoza are some of the best in my life. I love the edamame, and the ramen was really good. So I recommend Menya in Charlotte. And then we actually came home and completely rearranged our living room entryway and little foyer between our kitchen and our staircase. And that was to facilitate bringing in all the herbs that Ben has been growing outside so that we can keep them inside. Now it's getting colder. And it's a little bit of a work in progress. The living rooms not quite there, but it is fun to have a little change. And then on Saturday, we had a cooking day with a few friends and their little babies and Ben made some fresh pasta, which was really delightful. We're watching Breaking Bad. So we definitely put in a few episodes worth this weekend. And then on Sunday, we helped our friends move which was a full day endeavor. And it was fine. There are a lot of us that came together which was helpful. And we had some fun pizza with something called Benny's pizza in Charlotte, which I've never heard of. I think it's Benny's. And they were the biggest boxes of pizza, the biggest pizzas I've ever seen, so much so that these friends moved into an older house and the boxes did not fit through one of the doorways. So we had to leave them in a in a room, you know, earlier in the house. So anyway, that was a lot of fun. And then the start of the week was good. I have finalized something new I'm working on which I will share at a later date. And I am yeah, I'm really excited. And I'm realy looking forward to jumping in to today's episode because it's all about cooking. So for those of you who have been following me on Instagram for a while, you'll know that Ben's cooking both the process and the final dishes is a big part of my Instagram story presence. Ben is great cook. I'll get into this a little bit more later. But you may have noticed over the past few months that he has not been featured as prominently on my stories. Don't worry, nothing has happened with us, we are very good. But we've been traveling more, he's been gone a lot more than he was over the last few years. And even when he is home, he's also been really busy at work. So he's had later nights. So it's only fair for me to take on more of the cooking in this process. You know, I I feel a deep amount of pressure when I need to cook for Ben. And again, if you haven't seen his cooking, go to my Instagram, look at my food highlight majority of the cooking is him and majority of the food featured there is his cooking. So anyway, I feel pressure. I'll get into this more later, too. But a little while ago, both of us got a promotion for HelloFresh. And since I'm having to cook more than I would typically care to, we decided to try it. And I think a little too both of our surprises, we've actually really enjoyed it. And it's for a number of reasons. One, in terms of how much we spend on groceries, it's kind of comparable to what we spend on groceries, if we were to get all of our groceries at the store, they gave you all the ingredients that are pre measured, you get to choose from flavors and dishes that I wouldn't normally think to cook. And also by the way, this is not sponsored by HelloFresh I wish it was HelloFresh if you would like to sponsor please, you know, reach out slide into my DMs I love to work with you. But anyway, just this meal prep service in general, it's easier. And I feel like the recipes are fairly straightforward. And I feel a lot more confident cooking meals for Ben this great, you know, amateur chef, with this service as a guide. And this whole experience and me recognizing a very big difference in how I'm approaching meals and cooking with some help versus if I'm doing it by myself, got me thinking about cooking. It got me thinking about creativity. It got me thinking about the pressure that I feel. And so I wanted to discuss it with you because I feel like this might be relevant. So again, for some quick background context beyond what I've already talked about. Ben is an amazing amateur chef. He got into cooking really during the pandemic when I was living in Europe for three months without him and so he had time and he could experiment and he has historically been cooking most nights and I sous chef and I wash the dishes. It's a very rigorous and involved task but one of us has to do it. And I think it's really incredible the technique that he's developed and the flavor profile that he's developed and again go check on my Instagram because they're beautiful dishes he He made a deconstructed French onion soup and took the flavor elements and kind of redid them in different ways, which was so cool. He made a really incredible egg yolk ravioli with seared scallops and pan fried mushrooms. That was one dish, he rocks a duck breast too he rocks, making his own pizza dough and pizza. He's made sushi. I mean, he's just, it is so cool. I'm very lucky. I'm really grateful. I'm a little sad that he's not cooking as much right now. But anyway, everything is so delicious. I'm spoiled. And I've also realized that I've built up a bit of an inferiority complex. And I realized that I am kind of having and creating these power dynamics in the kitchen, in my own head. Whether or not it's sane or not, it is there it is what I'm doing, I am self sabotaging that way. And if I'm honest, every time he would ask me to cook dinner, historically, I feel a little bit of dread. On the one hand, he has become such a good cook. And I just know what I cook is not going to be as exciting or as well cooked. As as his is. So that's one thing. And I'm competitive person, I want to be really good at what I do, I want to master what I do. And I'm a recovering people pleaser. So I want to impress him, and I want to make sure that he likes what I'm cooking. So anyway, that's all at play as well. Another part is that I don't get as much joy out of cooking as I think he does. And I can find it to be quite overwhelming, especially when there's a lot of pans and pots involved. Or if the timings getting a little off or something's not going the way it should I just I get overwhelmed with that kind of quickly. I'm also aware that I have some slight more compulsions about making sure foods cooked fully, especially meats. And so I will tend to err on the side of over cooking instead of under cooking, where I know that there's a happy medium, I'm just a little nervous about making sure I don't under do it. And so yeah, and I want to make him proud and all this stuff. So I recognize that I'm putting a lot of these pressures on myself. And I know that he appreciates, when I cook, I know that I actually cook pretty well, he has not had anything that he really doesn't like that I cook like, I know, he will eat what I put in front of him. But I put these pressures on myself. And so it just makes the whole experience a little more stressful than it probably has to be in an effort to take some of this pressure off of myself and try to have some more enjoyment with cooking because we will be cooking for each other for the rest of our lives. I wanted to analyze how he approaches cooking and how I approach cooking, especially in the context of knowing each other's personalities and how we do things. And he I think comes up with flavor combinations and is able to conceptualize in his brain these flavor combinations and spices and techniques and things to try in a way that is more freeform and creative and their ideas that I don't feel like I come up with and I see this in other areas of our life as well like he's the idea guy. And so that's one thing I know that I'm actually quite good at following a recipe and I'm good at having the instructions and being able to do all the meals on pause and preparation and my technique is getting better but I need that direction I need the the instruction and guidance and how to get to where I'm going and another thing just preference wise is like I'm fine with a whole smorgasbord of flavors and textures and like a grain bowl with meat and vegetable and dairy and dressing and crunch and softness like all that is really cool and good to me and he definitely doesn't like all those texture combinations. Although he did clarify for me that if if it's done really well if the textures are really complementary in like a really synergistic way he doesn't mind but when I cook for him specifically he has found that maybe I don't have that that touch to make all the textures come together in a way that is pleasing to Him that's when he doesn't like it so much. He he said that when when it's like a piece of crunchy vegetable and some rice and some protein and there's not that cohesive nature to the texture he said quote, it's weird in my mouth quote. So that's that. Typically I've found that I don't need a dish to have a cohesive flavor profile throughout. Although now I am recognizing that some things just really don't go together very well. Like I love a soy garlic green bean situation and I could eat it all day. I could eat it warm, icky cold, but I made it with a tomato based pasta dish and got to be honest, if I'm honest as it were It really was not fantastic didn't complement each other as well as I had thought it might. But he really likes more complimentary flavor dish. And all of this is to say that we have different styles, we have different strengths and ways that our brain works. And I felt like I needed to identify that for myself an outline that for myself to be more comfortable that even though he's so good at cooking, I can also carry my own, and it'll be okay. So anyway, back to HelloFresh. And what I liked about it, I'm sure this is for any, any meal prep service that allows you to cook it yourself. I really liked the ease and the diversity of flavors, I love that everything's pre measured. I like that I don't need to do as much cleanup a lot of them are really compact dishes and only require a few pots and pans. I also like that I am a good enough cook that I can apply my own knowledge to the recipe to enhance it. And this is something where I've worked with Ben on this for a little while I've watched him cook for a while but like some examples are, if we're making a sauce, whether it's cream sauce, or something else, tomato paste is actually a really good addition because it can help thicken the sauce, it adds a sweet depth of flavor. So that's a really cool thing that now pretty much an all sauces that I tried to make on my own, I will add some tomato paste. Another fun trick that I learned was that adding Parmesan to bread crumbs, if you're doing a bread crumb meat or whatever it might be, it adds also that depth of flavor and putting dried things in the breadcrumb mix, whether that's cheese or salt and pepper or other spices, it really adds a depth that makes it so much more delicious. And something that I cannot emphasize enough and I forgot to do this the other night is to always salt your meat before cooking in. And that allows the meat itself to carry its own flavor. So you do this with chicken with beef. My example is that I had gotten ground beef in one of these pre sorted meals, and I forgot to salt it. Now I forgot to say before that salting meat also helps tenderize the meat. So it's a consistency and a texture that's a little more enjoyable and easy to do. But anyway, so I forgot to salt the meat, I put it in the pan, it's in us, you know there's some salt once it gets into the pan and I have the oil and you know the other flavors, and I made the sauce and the sauce was pretty decent. But when I when I bit the meat, oh my gosh, that sounds really weird. But anyway, when I when I bit the meat, it clearly did not carry its own flavor. So I had the sauce around it and the flavor for that. And then it just kind of tasted like boring cooked beef. So anyway, always, always thought your meat it goes a long way for the dish. So I'm excited to continue to enhance these dishes and then also be able to take the confidence that I have built over the last few weeks of using this back to more unstructured cooking. And that's been an interesting positive for this as in addition to the meals being easier to cook and having, you know, decent tasting food to have at night, I do feel a bunch more confident I feel a little more control. My cooking doesn't have to be super elaborate. But I'm getting enough ideas of different things to cook and I'm I'm able to already enhance them with my technique. So I'm looking forward to it. I wanted to now take a few moments to talk about the cookbooks and the chefs and the inspiration that I use for my own cooking. And again, I'm someone who likes an easier to prepare meal, I don't need a lot of steps. I prefer to not have a ton of ingredients. I think that makes for just a smoother process for me and what I want to do. And so some cookbooks that I really like are first and foremost, my favorite is any of the Molly Baz cookbooks. So she had her first book called cook this book. And that was really cool because it's very educational. I got to learn some basic tips from it. And I just love every recipe that I have tried and Ben really likes those recipes too. They are very punchy with flavor really not that complex. They don't have a ton of ingredients. But she's just so clear and helping you cook it really well to enhance the flavor that you are using. And I had pre ordered her second cookbook more is more. And I've looked through it. It's so fantastic. I'm really excited. This week. I'm going to try making her Dilly beans and burrata with frizzled shallots, and then over the weekend I'm going to make the crispy salmon with coconut rice and crackled sauce. So 10/10 Recommend Molly baz and her cookbooks. The other cookbook that I refer to a lot is Alison Roman's dining in and I do that primarily at this point for inspiration for ingredients to use AND to combine but she's also really good for techniques. And then I have a few Instagram accounts that I I draw a lot of inspiration from and the first is wishbonekitchen. And I need to subscribe to her newsletter actually, now that I mentioned it, but I see a lot of her dishes and use that as inspiration. I also like EatChoFood for Chinese recipes and Chinese food recipes. And the last one that I have saved a lot of recipes from is omnivorescookbook. So those are some of the Instagram accounts that I really enjoy following some have more explicit recipes. Others have just inspiration that I try to replicate through other random online recipes. And they are quite good. So to wrap up this episode, I wanted to treat everyone myself included and bring Ben on and ask him what his three key cooking tips are. Because we know that he's a fantastic chef and the star of my Instagram account. So I think it was important to ask him for his advice. So with that, Ben, welcome to if I'm honest for the first time. Thank you. Are you so excited to be here? So excited? Excellent. So the listeners are dying to know, three tips that you may have for them on their cooking journey as they're whether there are newer chefs, more seasoned amateur chefs, what what have you learned along the way that has been particularly helpful? Ben Walter 16:20 Well, I would say through struggle really, one of the big main step is to understand how to make your mise en place properly. And when you know how to make your mise en place properly, well, then you can go into the cooking, so it means on top, it's all the preparation, making sure your veggies are cut, making sure your meat is seasoned, making sure that everything is ready on the table, even the spoon that you're going to need later on to based or you're going to need to stir your pasta to whatever everything is ready, everything has kind of an order. Because of the time you're going to start cooking. You know whether you put your pasta in the water, whether you put your meat in the in the pan, it's go time and there is no there's no turning back. And also the idea is that when everything is done, while you want to eat while it's warm, and you know at the beginning, just so many times I've just eaten cold or just barely warm. And so having a proper mise en place can allows you to tackle three pots, one oven, something else around, and then you just good to go and eat war and do more thing at once. Julia Landauer 17:34 Amazing, mise en place, so important. And that's that's also I think, for me, because I can find cooking overwhelming sometimes I talked about it earlier in this episode that having a museum plus really helps compartmentalize. So very cool museum plus first tip. Second tip. Ben Walter 17:50 Second tip is a little linked to the mise en place, but it's just to see everything as micro steps. So you know, people can do that at work as well in a lot of people, they look at their day, and they can break it down into multiple half hour of tasks. Well, it's kind of the same here. And that's what the mise en place is going to help you to achieve is that you just prepare everything and you look at everything as a step when you can but you need in there that that's a step you know cooking, your meat the pasta step all the other all the other things around which is you know, making you sauce. Preparing side dish that goes around, if you see everything as a step down, you can actually go around and kind of train just this one can better than this one, you can have one dish that you can kind of mess up because there's one thing what you know, good, whether it's your searing you know, good at you searing technique for your steak, and then you have a steak that's properly seared. Okay, well, then you can try to concentrate on that or whether it's all the seasoning for your vegetables, you don't like it, you don't you're not happy with it? Well, again, now you try to understand how you can get better at this. And if you see everything as a as a micro task, you can train just that micro task, and then you can just kind of improve the whole dish at the end. Julia Landauer 19:16 Yeah. Which then also goes back to that feeling, at least I'm relating it to myself or feeling overwhelmed where it's like, if if a dish did not turn out? Well, yeah, if you can pinpoint that one area that can be trained, you can isolate it. Ben Walter 19:27 And then you can go deep down into like real techniques. You know, you go on apps that are called Gronda where it's actually Michelin star chefs that that shows you they show you how they make their dishes. And we're talking you know, sometime like many many, many hours was even some part of the dish that you can start two or three days prior, whether it's a pickling whether whether it's dough, whether it's many other things and and so you can just, you know, move to then, you know, like, I would say some harder technique and just start to learn them and improve them. But end of the day, if you take everything in micro steps, you just realize that cooking is a succession of simple ish tasks. And obviously, it's not everything easy. But if you break it down into small part, cooking is not that hard. It's just the organization and management of your time, all together, that can make it hard because you feel overwhelmed. You just feel there's too much going on. And then it's like cooking is difficult. No, it's organizing your time that everything goes smooth together, that's actually very difficult. Julia Landauer 20:36 And I'll link that app in the description so that people want to check out the Michelin star chefs. Amazing. So we have mise en place as the first tip. The second tip is to see each step as an isolated step that you can then go back and perfect. What is your third and final cooking tip for our listeners? Ben Walter 20:54 Oh, there's one thing that's important in those two, first part is that kind of taste everything at every step, because you you, you can also pinpoint where you lack and also pinpoint where you need to tweak sometime a recipe that you're reading, or someone you know, sometimes you just think about a recipe and you'd go for it. And you know, by adding salt by adding pepper or just like, Oh, we're going to need to add a little more balsamic vinegar to that, oh, I'm going to add a little more oil into that. And if you don't taste it in pretty much every step of the process, and obviously make sure that it's safe to it, you know, don't taste it when it's chicken that's not cooked. But at every part of the step when you can taste it, just taste it. So first of all, you can change the flavor profile and kind of change direction into that. And you can just go somewhere else if you think that it's not going the way you want. And that just allows you to not be at the end of the dish and actually kind of not liking it. It happened to me it was like a god. And he's like, Well, that's not what I thought it was. But I didn't have the day I didn't test all the way. So I could have corrected it in the middle if I if we had tested it. Julia Landauer 22:08 Well, I feel like when we cook there, there are plenty times where halfway through making a sauce for something. We'll both say it is a little on the salty side. So then adding cream or butter or unsalted butter, but Ben Walter 22:20 yeah, butter. Yeah, well, I'm French. So obviously Julia Landauer 22:23 we support the butter, but maybe it's oil like whatever it might be something you can also just easily look up things that counter certain flavors or types of tastes. Yeah, absolutely. Ben Walter 22:35 And, and you know, even you know, Julia, very often she is kind of my official tester, I get a little spoon and I run around the house wherever she was like, what do you think, like, more salt less salt and she goes have a very good flavor. analyzer. I mean, you taste very well, Julia Landauer 22:54 I have a pretty strong sense of smell also, which I think helps with the flavor testing, as we talk about, like I find plain pasta can be so incredible, and rich and flavorful. But when it comes to your flavor testing, yeah, I do that. And I like to call myself the quality control person just she does. So Ben, thank you so much. To recap, our three tips are to always prepare your meals on pause, make sure that's all ready to go. So you're not scrambling in the kitchen. And then to look at every step as an isolated process that you can then go back and perfect. And then to taste at every step of the cooking process to make sure that you're happy with it, Ben Walter 23:37 and have fun. And if you don't have fun, find someone else to cook. Julia Landauer 23:43 Go find that put that as the priority on your dating profile. Absolutely. Well, Ben, thank you so much. I hope this was helpful in terms of normalizing anxiety around cooking in terms of giving some tips for how you might be able to improve your own cooking I know that these guidelines and get Ben's guidance has really helped me and that is our show. If you enjoyed this episode, please go ahead and rate the podcast wherever you listen to podcast. If you have friends who are on cooking journeys, who might enjoy hearing some of this, I hope that you'll send the episode to them. I'd also love to hear who some of your cooking inspiration people are, whether it's people Instagram accounts, cookbooks, chefs, whatever it is, if you could drop a comment, I'd love to expand my cooking inspiration list. And thank you again for letting me be honest with you and I look forward to seeing you next week.