Aleksandra Mir

How Not to Cook Something

By Aleksandra Mir
Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, June 2008

How Not to Cook Something - Lessons learned the Hard Way
First published in conjunction with the exhibition 'Cottage Industry' at the Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, 2008. A project by L.A. Auerbach.


1/ When cooking pasta, do not let it sit and warm in the pot or it gets soggy. Also don't rinse pasta in cold water, this removes the whole point of pasta which is to bind a sauce to itself. An overcooked rinsed pasta can not support anything.

2/ When flavoring heated oil with garlic, don't let the garlic brown or the whole meal you are about to prepare will get bitter.

3/ When salting, don't pour the salt from the container directly into your pot without holding it in your hand as this cuts the physical relation between you and the food and you are more likely to oversalt.

4/ When making spicy chai, do not add more hot spices such as pepper and anise than sweet ones such as cardamom and cloves, or the drink will lose its comforting qualities.

5/ When making mashed wild strawberry and brown sugar sweet sauce for your vanilla ice cream, do not leave the small pan on the stove and walk away. When boiling, the sugar turns into caramel very quickly and when the sauce bubbles up all over on the stove it is not only a mess to clean up, but an absolute heartbreak.

6/ Do not scrape a non-stick pan with sharp objects or things will stick. Also, if you use the sharp object with the nonstick pan it can scrape of the coating and then you are eating nonstick coating with your food.

7/ Do not microwave one leaf of kale on "high" for five minutes in order to experiment. It will catch fire, break the microwave glass rotating plate, scorch the inside of the microwave permanently and fill the kitchen with smoke.

8/ If holding a squid's eyes firmly while you cut off the tentacles just beneath disgusts you, you can hold onto the tentacles instead while you cut off the head, but since they are very slippery, the chance to cut your fingers increases radically.

9/ Never stop stirring a risotto, no matter how boring it gets, or it will not get creamy. Waiting time can only be cut out on TV shows, not in real life.

10/ If you are salting the salad with moist sea salt, and you didn't break the salt apart while you are sprinkling with your fingers or you didn't toss the salad very well, you or yours may inadvertently consume a "salt bomb".

11/ When popcorn stuffing a turkey, do not assume unpopped popcorn kernels will just pop inside the turkey, they won't, and your Thanksgiving guests will break their teeth. Use popped popcorn if you must.

12/ Never walk away from something that is on the stove (see #5), this is worth repeating. An espresso pot is easily destroyed, the plastic handle melted, the gasket annihilated. A pot of covered beans unattended will rattle and shake, spitting hot water everywhere. You may be in another room crediting the neighbors with the racket, but it is your problem, and eventually your scorched beans and ruined pan.

13/ Just because you have managed to master a recipe doesn't mean it will turn out great every time. Variability always exists. Ingredients are fresher or less fresh, harvested near or far, and factors such as the happiness of plants and animals are unpredictable and wild. Accept this.

14/ When you have totally lost control over a dish, don't keep adding ingredients to cover up your mistake. Take a pause and then start over calm. If there are no more ingredients to use, order in.