Thought Leadership

How I do cooking

By Colin Walls

If I start listing my interests, away from embedded software, there are a fair number. I have often written about photography, but others include reading/writing and food and drink. I have written posts in my “6 of The Best” series covering drinks, food and cheese specifically. There has never been a list of my favourite 6 restaurants, as I probably do not have one! It might be a surprise to hear that I do not get very excited about eating out …

To my mind, there are 3 reasons why I might commonly eat at a restaurant:

  1. I am traveling on business or on vacation and I need to eat somewhere.
  2. It is a social event with friends.
  3. The place is special in some way – typically offering food that I would not be able to prepare at home.

Of course, there also a fourth possibility: I am feeling too lazy/tired to make food at home, but going to a restaurant as a result of this is very rare.

For #1 and #2, the restaurant is not particularly important – the food just needs to be at least satisfactory. It is #3 that troubles me. I have encountered too many places that are over-rated, over-priced or [commonly] both. They may do what they do well enough, but it is often no better than I could achieve at home [at much lower cost]. So often I encounter a restaurant, that people rave about, but I have a feeling that I am witnessing another case of “the emporer’s new clothes”.

I guess it would be different if I was not capable of cooking food or even just did not enjoy doing it. However, I do find food preparation quite rewarding. Although I cannot be bothered to go to any trouble, if I am alone for a meal [that is when Domino’s Pizza comes into play!]. Libby is always appreciative and I often get the chance to cook for friends – maybe someone dropping by for a very casual supper or a group for dinner.

I have been asked about how I get recipes and learn to cook things and how I organise myself. I strongly favor finding recipes online, as this leads into the way I work. I keep copies of interesting recipes in Evernote. When I am preparing a meal, I make a new note and copy the recipe [or maybe recipes] into it. This is now a “living document” that I can “scribble” on – add check boxes, maybe timings and adjust quantities if I am scaling up or down. I later archive the note as a handy record of what I served. Normally, my iPad sits on the kitchen table, with the note open. I just need to be careful with sticky/wet hands.

There are many standard dishes that I cook with no recipe, but other times I do need some instruction. With a new recipe, I normally follow it carefully the first time, but, as I get a feel for the way it works, I can “play tunes” – adapt it to my needs. I have a great aversion to recipes that are too complex, of have ingredients that I do not recognise or just too many ingredients. Libby recently gave me a recipe book to address some of my issues. All the recipes have no more than 5 ingredients and they are not too complex to prepare. However, the author does take some liberties with these constraints. He assumes a very well stocked store cupboard. For example, who routinely keeps red wine vinegar?

This reminds me of an amusing practice in an up-market UK supermarket chain [that British readers will recognize]. They have a range of basic, own-brand products, that they call “Essential”. Many of them make sense – like bread, milk, various vegetables. But Essential quails eggs?

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at