Now that I’ve stopped walking through The 4-Hour Chef and started applying the knowledge that I gained from doing the work in the first section of the book, my focus on writing about the journey needs to change. Also, I’ve got a new focus I will be giving (mostly) weekly updates on – following the DDP Yoga program. So now my cooking with joy posts will be about specific experiments and happy accidents I encounter and sharing the lessons learned. Most, like today’s post will be successes but if a failure (though these rarely happen) is bad enough I might write about that as well. This post’s happy accident is about Oatmeal Scrambled Eggs.
The Happy Accident
So far things were going well with the nutritional part of the DDP Yoga program then yesterday I looked in the fridge to find there was no whole grain bread to make toast to go along with my breakfast. Along with that, there wasn’t much else that I wanted to add for my complex carbohydrate at breakfast. I thought about making a sweet potato but it really was too early for that. Then I saw my wife’s oatmeal sitting in the fridge. She makes oatmeal for herself in a larger batch than she’ll eat in one day and takes a bit each day and reheats it. It felt more like breakfast so I put some in a small bowl and made my eggs. When I was done and sat down at the table I looked the the braveuse (snotty looking) scrambled eggs and looked at the oatmeal. I wondered what it would be like to mix the two together. I mixed them together and wow! This was a great combination. The texture was wonderful and I’m thinking the flavor combination I used was the right one.
My recipe was basically made the same but I changed up the flavoring I went with. One of the most valuable things I’ve gotten out of The 4-Hour Chef was a list of 44 flavor combination and there is one I’ve been using a lot lately because it is very tasty but mostly to use up the fish sauce I haven’t been using anywhere else. For flavoring I’ve been using curry powder, chili powder and fish sauce. Much like the lemon juice used in the base recipe, I put the fish sauce in at the end. Unlike the base recipe I use 2 3-fingered pinches of the spices with my eggs. However, feel free to start with one and work your way up.
I did this recipe again this morning to take pictures. I also got a chance to see if it was still as great a breakfast meal as I remember and it was. If you try this recipe, try with the other flavor combinations as well. I will. From the base recipe you have at least 2 other flavor combinations to try. If you’d like more feel free to read other cooking with joy posts and/or leave comments in the posts requesting more information.
Foods don’t always seem great together until you try them. That’s how recipes get made. If I get a hankering to put two things together I’ve never done before I’ll do it. At minimum I’ll post them to my twitter account but if they are really good (or really bad), I’ll likely post them here as well. You might also like to follow my tumblr feed as well. It seems I’ve finally found a use for it and it is posting mysterious pictures about what I am cooking. Of course, I reblog a thing or two as well as share other pics from my life. Have fun and cook with joy.
It’s been a few weeks since my last post and it all started, or rather stopped, with SFIT. As I had guessed, I was beat that Sunday. Even though I did cook a meal, I most definitely did not do it with joy. My lack of joy, and sleep, had me go to bed early and not write my usual article. We find ourselves Almost a month and several meals later. While I will mention the meals from the past, I’ll probably rush past them because my memory is a bit fuzzy. Along with weeks off, I also (mostly) finished the first section of the book labeled the domestic. Rather than move onto the wild, I moved out of The 4-Hour Chef and moved into cooking from a different cookbook this weekend. Time to see if I learned anything useful in the weeks before. However, before we talk about that let’s discuss the last 3 recipes I made in the book.
Sous-Vide Chicken Breast
This was made the Sunday after my long day at SFIT and I was beat. I was in a miserable mood and while I was cooking I was cursing under my breath constantly. Despite this bad attitude the meal turned out great. The two skills I was suppose to learn from this lesson were sous-vide and multi-tasking. If you have been following my cooking with joy updates thus far you’ll realize I’ve already done quite a bit of multitasking. However, I’ve never cooked sous-vide style before. I probably won’t do it much but I wouldn’t be afraid to do it in the future if I felt there was a good reason.
This was a crazy meal to try with the kids. Not because of the scallops wrapped in prosciutto, because that was quite delicious. Right up there with the eel I made before. No, the reason this was crazy to try with the kids was that one of the skills was loving bitterness. Let’s just say none of us fell for bitterness in this meal. I will say I enjoyed learning about the bitter taste a little though. i might even be able to get used to it if I ate bitter foods more often.
MLBJ – The ML stands for Meatloaf
Let’s start of with the name of this silly recipe – MLBJ. Tim Ferriss writes this book a bit like an annoying frat boy and while the ML stands for meat loaf the BJ stands for blow job due to some anecdote he wanted to tell in the intro to this recipe. Anyway, just had to get that out of my head because it has annoyed me since I read the anecdote way back in November. All bad opinions about writing style aside, this is a good recipe for meatloaf. It came out well and I will probably make this or something similar in the future. This meatloaf did not come across as the usual gut busting hung o’ ground beef that meat loaves can some times be. Thanks to the many mix ins and the center of goat cheese and spinach we had some wonderful flavor. With this, and many other meals over the weeks, I’ve been making the arugula, avocaado and roma tomato salad I made many weeks back. Its a good salad and I’m getting pretty quick at throwing it together.
Leaving the guidebook – Old recipes made new
There are a couple reasons I decided not to keep pushing my way through the recipes in the book. The first reason is, it felt like I was pushing my way through the book and my resolution is cooking with joy. Another reason is that the recipes keep teaching new things and I wanted to see if I was actually learning anything by trying other recipes. Finally, I want to start making meals and the book doesn’t do a great job of pairing the foods up together by themselves. This lead me to my choice in a cookbook called Vegan Express which has pairings with each of the recipes inside of it. You may have noticed from the fact that I have made meat loaf, scallops, and chicken that I am not a vegan. It’s okay! Non-vegans can eat vegan/vegetarian food and enjoy it. In fact I love the chain restaurant Veggie Delight. Anyhow, I made Golden Tofu in a peanut sauce along with an accompanying salad recommended in the book. I’ve made this recipe before so I knew I would enjoy it. However it was a good test to see if I could use any lessons learned.
Wash the dishes beforehand, especially if you’ve got a small kitchen. I’ve been meaning to say this in almost all my updates. For the most enjoyment in preparing your food have a clean work space. I didn’t do this tonight and I was kicking myself. Also, if you have a small kitchen you may want to wash dishes as you go.
Don’t be a stirrer. He talks about this in the book, don’t stir or shake unless it is actually necessary. I got a better golden result on my tofu this way than in the past.
Tool selection: Peltex is good for turning over soft foods like tofu. In the past I’ve had trouble making this recipe (which probably stemmed from stirring/shaking that had me end up with less triangle shapes and a bit more tofu crumble. The Peltex spatula did well in this roll.
I should have made the salad the same way I make the arugula, avocado, roma tomato salad. When you toss a salad with all the parts together, the non lettuce ends up on the bottom. Better to toss each of the ingredients in the salad separately and put together a better presentation in each persons’ salad bowl.
Be prepared and split up your meal. I got a little overwhelmed multi-tasking in this meal. In the 4-Hour Chef he splits it up into prep and cooking. In no other cookbook I own does this split exist. There is definitely some work I could have done ahead of time to make my space less cramped and my cooking more relaxing. Gotta be relaxed to cook with joy.
I needs must remember to keep cooking with joy. This will keep me cooking and this will keep me writing about it. Hopefully, inspiring others. If you would like any more details on any of the recipes above please leave comments. I will do my best to get back to them. I still am enjoying cooking, even if my kids aren’t enjoying eating my little experiments. Until next time, take care.
Let’s call this week’s update bonuses and broiled eel because that is what it seemed like this week. I had a couple bonus recipes I didn’t get to last week, which I did this week. I chose 1 of 4 sauces to make with my immersion blender because that was the next lesson in The 4-Hour Chef. However that wasn’t a meal so I went on to the next lesson, broiled eel! Yes, I made eel and I’ll let you know how it went when we make our way to the end of the week. But first, the bonuses that I did earlier in the week.
From making the arugula, avocado, and roma salad I learned two things. First, how to easily de-pit and slice up an avocado for use in many recipes. Second, I learned of the existence of the eggocado. I’m a fan of avocados and have been making eggs quite a bit so I really wanted to give this a try and bought 2 extra last week so that I could make it as a treat for my wife and I. The avocados I purchased weren’t ripe enough on Sunday so I had to wait and treat her on Monday.
Here’s a pro tip for anything special you want to make. Tell the other people who use food in the house that you have plans for certain ingredients or else they may disappear. My wife gave one of the avocados to my son for dinner on Monday so I was down to a single avocado and no time to get another one.
First, this was a tasty treat. It could be a good appetizer or snack. It takes a bit of time in the oven though so it does have to be planned. In the book it says that if you use the popular yet smaller haas variety you may have to make the pit hole a bit deeper. I ran into a problem with this when I didn’t make extra room so go ahead and do it. It won’t remove too much extra tasty goodness. Besides, you can put it on top of the egg when you are through in some way shape or form. I haven’t done this yet but why not.
The balancing act of cutting the back of the avocado was a problem that I will pay more attention to in the future. On one half the cut was not parallel to the top so much of the egg spilled out. Egg spillage occurs quite easily too as it likes to stick together. So if you are making this, take care with your cut and try to be as parallel as possible.
Keeping with the theme of night time treats with my wife I made some roasted garlic. This was part of the lesson that had me make gazpacho. I meant to make it with that meal but didn’t plan my oven time well enough so it became a late night treat later in the week. When I started to make it I decided to be a bit cheeky about it and posted mysterious messages on the social networks.
I’ll make this again, though maybe I’ll make more for a group of people. I think I could leave it in the oven for much longer than I did so I can probably do it next to some other dishes.
After last week’s update’, the next lesson wasn’t a meal or even a dish. It was instead a choice of one of 4 sauces to make with the immersion blender. The pesto seemed the simplest and worked with eggs so I decided to make it before I made my eggs this morning. Right up front I’ll let you know that it was tasty. After all, this is basically the italian flavoring I used on eggs and pasta before but with fresh ingredients, greater aroma and added cashews. However, I ran into an issue with basil I’d like to tell anyone reading my blog.
If you are experienced in the kitchen with basil you can probably move on. I am not experienced with fresh basil so this is what happened to me. The first store I went to only had fresh thai basil so I got that. The store I went to for eel had thai basil and basil. For learning purposes I got basil from there as well and did a couple experiments. Visually they are fairly similar. However, the thai basil has red stems and the leaves seemed more defined. I also noticed that the thai was much more aromatic than the regular basil. A taste test revealed not much difference to me. In the future I’d say go with either one. The aroma of the thai basil was very nice though so if you like it go with that.
On the skills learned during a lesson front, this lesson didn’t have any spelled out in the beginning of the section. However, I got a bit more practice using my immersion blenders chopper attachment and I learned how to chiffonade basil (as well as any other large leaf thing). So that’s there for you if you are headed down the same path.
I was very excited about this, excited and nervous. Eel! Would I be able to even find it? How would it taste? Would it be easy to make?
First the lesson basics, what skill was supposed to be taught in this lesson? The answer was unusual proteins. In a way I feel this is true, now that I’ve made this dish once I feel I could easily make it again. Also, in my search for eel I ran into all sorts of unusual proteins in the fish area. Funny enough, I found vegetarian (fake) eel before I found the real deal eel. However, I feel the real skill I learned this lesson was using broccoli as an alternate to rice. Not only was it a skill I learned but it is a tasty alternate with much less starch content. Very nice.
Now let’s go through my questions above. I was obviously able to find it, though it did take some searching to do so. The eel part was probably the easiest, I just broiled it for a couple of minutes and it was ready to go. As for taste, it was great. However, more details need to be said in this area. When you read this recipe you see that it is inspired by unagi sushi and that flavor comes across. I like sushi quite a bit so the fact that this tasted like sushi was great. In fact, this is my favorite dish I have made so far. If the eel weren’t as expensive as it is, though all meat is really, I would make it all the frickin’ time.
The only problem with this recipe was the broccoli. Much like glitter that gets everywhere and you can’t get rid of it easily, the broccoli bits got everywhere and were a pain to clean up. I think I got them all and the clean up was well worth the flavor. The kids weren’t big fans of the whole meal but they did eat the eel so that’s good.
Until next time
So next week is SFIT so I will be busy especially on my main shopping day of Saturday. Next week may or may not have an update depending on what I decide to make. I will still be cooking the dinner meal on next Sunday but it may not be a new dish. However, I’ll be making arugula, avocado, and roma salad with baby arugula (aka rocket) as I found it where I should have looked in the first place. It was in the pre-packaged lettuce area. So if you are getting inspired by any of my writing and want to find baby arugula, that’s the place to look. I found it at a plain old Safeway. So keep an eye on me via twitter(some might say follow) to see how that and anything else I might try this week, there are 3 other sauces to try with my immersion blender, turns out. Until next time, have fun and let me know what you find out.
For my fourth update in the adventures of my 2013 resolution, I made 2 new recipes from The 4-Hour Chef and would like to revisit a couple things from the past. The two recipes I did from the book were Sexy-Time Steak and Gazpacho. They are split up in the book by a dinner party, but since I have already done that (and successfully I might add) I skipped it here. I did however use a note from the section on throwing a dinner party to help with preparing the steak for my whole family. Before we get to the main recipes I’d like to talk about my scrambled eggs experiments and revisit last week’s Bittman Chinese Chicken with Bok Choy.
Scramble Eggs and Flavor Combinations
At this point I’ve pretty much come to the end of the flavor combinations that I’m going to try at the moment. I haven’t tried all of them, but the ones in bold are all taken care of. I just thought I would share some of my favorites that I have already come back to often.
France, Italy, Greece flavorings – These olive oil based flavorings are all very similar and very light flavorings compared to some of the others. As I said in last week’s post, this helped me get past boring pasta noodles with the kids.
Vietnam flavoring was a surprise win for me. A simple mix of fish sauce (which I had never used before) and lemon. Not only does this make the eggs I’ve been experimenting taste good, but they make the color of the eggs, if you make them as recommended in this book, an amazing yellow that just makes you want to eat them.
Some other win flavorings that I’m a fan of are, in no particular order; Chinese, Nepal and Mexican. Let me know if you’d like the very simple combinations to make these flavorings. I’d be happy to share.
Leftovers and Bittman Chinese Chicken
I still had some leftover fake confit sauce from last week and I had to cook dinner for just me and my son who loved the chicken dinner we had then. That was an easy enough dinner to do so I did it again and this time used regular bok choy instead of baby bok choy. First off, not having to make the sauce again made this dinner extremely simple. My recommendation for anyone else following in my footsteps, make too much fake confit so that you have to make it again soon. The chicken was just as good as I remembered. The regular bok choy did make a difference though. It was still a decent looking garnish to make the dish look good but it wasn’t something I found very edible. The baby bok choy was.
On a side note with more info to come later, I a little more chicken than I needed for just the two of us. I also, still had a little extra fake confit sauce left over. I just put the chicken and the sauce together in a Lock & Lock container with plan to have that for myself. I’ll let you know how that turns out in a future post. If you’d like to find out sooner, watch my twitter feed.
The new meals
Before I get to notes on the new meals a couple important notes. I knew the steak would be a major undertaking as there were many importantly timed steps. The only reason I decided to go with 2 recipes is because gazpacho is served cold and could easily be made the night before. With this I got to do the early prep for the steak at the same time as all the work for the gazpacho.
In The 4-Hour Chef this is paired with roasted garlic, which I didn’t do. Because of this, I only got to do one of the 2 skills in this section. It was a good skill though, immersion blender. My newest kitchen toy needed to be put to use and that was probably the bigger push for me to do this recipe this week. Though the immersion blender is the biggest part of this recipe there is more than that which I got out of it.
First of all, my knife speed and accuracy is improving. For this recipe I had to cut up the cucumber and bell pepper. I was pleasantly surprised at my ability at both. I have been focusing a lot on proper technique when I’ve been cutting things with a knife all week. I also got a chance to teach my six year old about what a garlic press is for. It was interesting to him, but he didn’t want to taste the garlic by itself.
Before I start with the immersion blender bit I’m going to write something up front that I wish was written up front in the book. Do this in batches, don’t make the whole recipe at once. Make half the recipe at a time. I made the recipe as written and my chopper attachment was just a bit too small, even with my ultra precise measuring, and I made a mess. This led to the following twitter post and a response by the twitter account of an immersion hand blender.
First time using my immersion blender. Attempting to make gazpacho soup. Made a mess. Must be the @reddwarfhq fan in me. #gazpachoSoup
Okay, so making a mistake is a great way to learn. So achievement unlocked in that area. The immersion blender worked like a charm and had no problem blending the diced tomatoes, sliced cucumber and chopped bell pepper. I’ve got a good idea on how far to fill the chopper attachment for future soups and sauces. Fun note about this recipe, it calls for the use of the kitchen scale to get about half the weight of tomatoes for your bell pepper and cucumber. I was very proud of myself for getting exactly half of both ingredients. All that pride went away with the leaking all over the counter that I had to clean, and clean, then clean some more because of the oil in the recipe.
Not surprisingly, gazpacho didn’t play wonderfully with the family. Both kids tried it and stopped eating it after that. The flavor was strong so I can’t completely fault them on that. My wife did find it interesting and ate quite a bit more than I expected. She abhors bell peppers so I didn’t let her know the ingredients right away. Not a big deal, its a back pocket recipe that doesn’t take much to put together. I could make it in a pinch for something different.
This recipe was there to teach the skills of dry brining and using the probe thermometer. Dry brining is nice for 2 reasons. The first, it allows you to brine your meat without the chance of it getting water logged. Second, I was able to do this step without even touching the meat by using the 3 fingered pinch of salt method to put salt on the meat. I still washed my hands though because I did touch the steak wrapping.
Dry brining is pretty cool, however this might have led to me nicknaming this salty-time steak instead of sexy-time steak. Probably not the brining steps fault, but there is a pickup step where you rub the steak with half a garlic clove then put some pepper and salt on the steak. In the part about putting salt and pepper on the steak he writes, “If you want to get all sciency, use 0.5%…Personally, I just coat the sucker. It’s hard to overdo it.” He’s wrong. It is easy to overdo the salt. Next time I make this recipe I’ll leave out the salt on this step and see if that solves my problem.
The next part of this steak recipe has you elevating the steak on plates. He recommends using a cake rack(which you might have from a previous recipe) or pencils. I had one cake rack and I wasn’t going to use pencils under raw meat (I like pencils, they are useful) so I looked around and came up with a good idea if you’ve ever been to an Chinese or fast food restaurant. Chopsticks and strong, thick straws work just as well as pencils for this step. If you’ve been collecting them when you’ve gone out, now is the time to use them.
The recipe in the book really talks about making just one steak. Probably to be split between you and your date from the way the chapter is written. However, I have a wife and 2 kids so I had to be creative and cook 4 steaks. For the kids I got thin sliced steaks. I probably could have just done 3 and and cut the one for them in half and timing the meat would have been easier. I used a throwaway sentence from the section on throwing the dinner party to help manage it all though. I ended up using the two parts of my dutch oven for double the surface area to make the extra steaks all at the same time.
Final note on the recipe related to the skill of probe thermometer. For my experience, the temp he says to cook it at has the meat extremely rare. Probably too rare. He does write that it is best to plan on under cooking the meat as you can always cook it longer. That’s what I ended up doing so that mindset worked well. Overcooked steak is very unsatisfying.
Despite the length of my writing and the amount of time it takes to dry brine the meat, this steak technique is still fairly simple. I was easily able to adapt it to feed more than 1 or 2 people. I wouldn’t do much more though. I will definitely be making steak again in the future. Hopefully reducing the amount of salt used in the brining and freezer drying steps will help the saltiness factor. Gazpacho is a strongly flavored dish that I probably won’t make too often. However, I did learn a valuable lesson about using my immersion blender and that’s what I was supposed to learn in that section.
I missed a couple things I wanted to make this week: Roasted garlic and The Eggocado. I hope to make these during the week and will write about them in my next update. If you can’t wait, follow me on twitter as I’ll probably say something about it between now and then.
For this, my 3rd update on my 2013 resolution I’ve title Cooking With Joy, I continue working through The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss. For this update I will discuss one of the catalysts for my resolution was affected this week by earlier scrambled egg flavor experiments. After that I will get to my Sunday dinner meal which consisted of two different recipes from the book. Once again there was a consequence to doing 2 different recipes in one meal and I’ll discuss that in my notes on the meal overall. The overall meal notes will also discuss main catalyst for my resolution and how it has been affected with all the meals I have done so far.
Flavor Experiments tried elsewhere
The second recipe of The 4-Hour Chef is scrambled eggs. It is shown to practice different flavor combinations. The point is not to learn lots of flavor combinations for eggs but to learn the different flavor combinations you might want to try in other dishes. There was something I wanted to try new flavor on all right…noodles! My kids have the same thing for lunch almost every day they are at home. Noodles, hot dogs (no nitrates or nitrites) and baby carrots. Making this for them on the weekends and eating with them has driven me to try to find a sauce to put on the noodles (other than spaghetti sauce, as we might be having that for dinner) that the kids will eat and makes the noodles interesting. This quest was one of the big factors in me taking on the resolution of Cooking With Joy. In fact it was probably the main reason. I wanted to learn how to make food I would enjoy again while at the same time have the kids expand their palettes.
Last week I had a spicy(ish) mexican inspired flavor combination I tried on the noodles. Not really a sauce but I had to see how it would work out. I learned a few things from this.
I don’t have to make a sauce to put on the noodles, I can just add flavors.
My pasta eating child, who will eat 3 plates of pasta, can be made to not want pasta if it is spicy.
My finicky child, who finds ways not to eat his food, likes spicy food.
This made the experiment a 2/3rds win in my book and gave me the idea to move forward. This week I stayed away from spicy food and kept it simpler while still adding flavor. It seemed that I eyeballed all the ingredients (there were 3) in perfect amounts because both kids enjoyed the flavor combination this week and the noodles actually tasted like something to me. No Velveeta cheese sauce in sight (which I had done but was never entirely satisfied with). Instead I just added extra virgin olive oil, garlic powder , and basil – basic Italian flavoring. There it was, a nice easy way to make noodles good without a lot of extra work. Lunch was now tasty again. On to dinner.
A two plate dinner
The dinner I made consisted of the next 2 recipes in The 4-Hour Chef. The main dish I cooked was titled “Bittman Chinese Chicken with Bok Choy.” The side dish I made was an arugula, avocado, and roma tomato salad. Both went over well enough to do again. Both also taught me lessons on what I would do different next time.
Bittman Chinese Checken with Bok Choy
The chicken part of this was a hit. My wife specifically commented that I should make it again. The bok choy was good too but not great for kids. The cool thing about the baby bok choy is it could act as a visual garnish to the dish so if no one eats it no big deal. For that dinner party, a good looking dish makes you look like a pro. This dish was dead simple as well. It taught the two skills it was supposed to and made me feel quite good about using these in the future.
The two skills it was labeled with were steaming and fake confit. These two together are what made this dish so simple. First there was steaming. The chicken breasts and the baby bok choy were steamed together (though they could have been steamed separately). Chicken breasts are usually quite dry when you cook them and this method kept them nice and moist. Chicken breasts are also pretty tasteless (which is why so many people like dark meat) and that’s where the fake confit came it. Honestly, I have no sense of what real confit is or tastes like. The sauce I made and put on this chicken, however, made the chicken taste like it had been marinating in goodness overnight. ‘Twas good and I have leftover sauce (because once again I overestimated) so I’m guessing we’ll be having this again soon. Even if I didn’t have sauce though, it was simple to make the night before (or in this case the morning before) so can do it again. One added note, the sauce needed green onions so I had to practice my cutting skills and I am getting much quicker.
Arugula, Avocado, and Roma Salad
I may have mentioned that one of my sons (surprisingly the food finicky one) has taken to salads lately – or more to the point salad dressing. He’s been taking lettuce and dipping it in different dressings and had yet to find one he didn’t like so I thought this would be a fairly safe test with the kids. Well, safe for one of them anyway. The recipe recommended baby arugula (or Rocket in the land of Posh Spice) but we could find any at our two grocery stores so we used regular arugula. This worked but next time I’ll put in a bit more prep and trim many of the stems. If you are making this for the first time and can only find arugula, I recommend removing most of the stems. My salad eater liked the arugula lettuce and even though the salad was tossed with the dressing I gave him a side dish of the dressing so he could enjoy dipping it. My other son ate the avocado. I finished the remainders of both their salads. From an adult perspective, the salad was good and the dressing was perfect for the strong flavor of the arugula. I’ll likely try this recipe again for other adults. Now that I’ve read the notes on how to properly toss the salad with the dressing I hope I’ll get that better next time as well.
The skill this recipe was supposed to teach was semi-composed salads. I’m not entirely sure that is a skill per se but I did make a decent salad. Achievement unlocked?
Notes on the meal
On the whole this was a good meal that I’ve already mentioned I’ll do again. Unlike last week’s multi-recipe experiment, these dishes could work together in a meal. The salad could go with any of the main dishes I made so far though so that’s not a surprise. Doing 2 new dishes in one meal though wasn’t a great idea. If I were truly learning how to cook by this process I would have gotten more overwhelmed trying to do them both at the same time. Now that I have a better sense of what both dishes are, I could prepare better before hand and have less work to do at the same time. This is especially true with the salad which was not well laid out with this in mind. The tomatoes and avocados could have been more prepared before I started making the salad and in the future I will set up my “meez” properly.
Other than the food itself I was happy with a few aspects of making the meal. Steaming the chicken and bok choy, in the method described was super simple and I love that. I’ve tried boiling chicken in the past with mixed results and this (not boiling) just worked. The salad taught me some cool techniques for working with an avocado. Avocados are great but have always been a mess when I’ve used them before. The skills I learned here reduced the mess greatly and feel a bit like cool party tricks. Okay, probably just good pieces of small talk to pass along to others asking about my salad.
Cooking with Joy so far
Almost a month into the year and more than a month since I decided to go down this path, it’s a good time to check in and see how things are going. I was truly skeptical in the beginning, My first update even had a tinge of that skepticism in a sentence about the price of the book. The book is worth $10 if you want to pick up some quality cooking skills. I thought I’d only be learning some recipes and not be able to apply the lessons elsewhere. I already have applied the lessons though, especially with the flavor combinations but other skills are being used as well. The first recipes in this book are difficult to mess up and yet are recipes most people don’t make. Look good making good food for your friends, or at the very least eat good meals by yourself. This is just the first (well technically second) part of this book – and I’m only about half way through that. While you’re at it, you could also be learning about how to break down other things you want to learn in life, for instance playing the guitar is goal you might want to get good at after you master this cooking thing.
The other thing I like about this year’s resolution is that it has me writing. Not only am I writing, but I’m feeling good about my writing. I like the voice I’m writing in and the direction it is going in. I’m a developer, and I love doing that, but I haven’t written many articles on that which I’ve been as happy with. Even the ones I put together into an e-book a long while back. Also, I like to think I’m making a difference in the sales of The 4-Hour Chef. It’s nice to fantasize that there are invisible readers of my blog who then go out and buy a book I had nothing to do with.
It’s easy to do when you see a tweet like this after you’ve written about a book a couple of times.
The 4-Hour Chef is back to #1 on Amazon, 2 months after pub date. Thank you, all! amzn.to/LQjLlm
I jest. I know that I’m having minuscule, if any, effect on the book sales. In fact, I don’t care that much at all. I just hope that I can help to inspire someone else or, at the very least, help someone who is making their way through this book as well. I’d love to hear from you if you are inspired or helped by any of my posts.
My resolution for 2013 is cooking with joy. With my second update I broke from the plan laid out in The 4-Hour Chef in 2 ways. First, I decided to cook 2 different dishes from the book in one meal. Second, my wife planned to have some people over so it turned into a dinner party a few weeks early. Dealing with change is a great thing to tell you about though so allons-y!
2 Different Dishes
As I looked to what I would make for this week in the book, I saw that it was a zucchini side dish called Union Square Zucchini. I wanted to do something different for my entree than the past 2 meals I made of braised meat so I looked at the next recipe – Harrissa Crab Cakes. Even though, as written, it too is a side dish I decided to treat it as the entree and make a go of it. First I’ll discuss the zucchini, then the crab cakes. After that I’ll give write about the difficulties of doing them at the same time and a bit of cooking for the group.
Union Square Zucchini
The zucchini dish was interesting on a couple levels. First, I’m not a big fan of the stuff but this dish turned out pretty good. Second, it looked as if I was making way more than I needed. However, when it cooked down and I gave everyone a serving spoonful on their plate it was just about the right amount. All the recipes in The 4-Hour Chef have skills they are meant to teach so you have a growing skill base as you progress. The skills for Union Square Zucchini were using the star peeler and sauteing. With regards to the peeler, as obvious and simple as this skill was I felt pretty dang good about it when I was doing it. Also, cutting the zucchini this thin in this way kept it from getting mushy in the way we usually cook it that I don’t like. Sauteing was something that I kind of feel I didn’t really get from this recipe. Either that, or the trick with the garlic on the fork was the thing that was taught and I didn’t realize it. Perhaps when I’m not cooking for so many people, I’ll have a lot less zucchini and feel like I’m actually sauteing it.
Notes on Union Square Zucchini
First of all, one zucchini per person is the right amount and the plus one just ensures you have enough. I had plus 2 because one person didn’t show up for the dinner party and it all worked out with some leftovers. Second, you can be skimpy on the red pepper with this one. Following my note from the flavor combinations with scrambled eggs in my first update, I went a little heavy with the red pepper flakes because I was cooking so much zucchini. I got a mostly positive response from my tasters but I feel it could have been less. Also, I found out one of my kids likes spicy food. Not the one I expected but one of them. So, one kid like ’em and ate almost all his veggies. Yay! I had the though that I could work on zucchini much like the scrambled eggs – try flavor combinations and see what works. It will be an interesting test to see if I really am getting anything from the flavor experiments with eggs.
Harrissa Crab Cakes
These turned out better than expected and didn’t take that much work at all. The skills being taught with this recipe were using egg whites and cutting with the knife without cutting yourself. I did use egg whites to keep the crab cakes together, in fact I also decided to brush the outside of them with an extra egg white to make sure they stayed together. This step was probably not needed but I was throwing a dinner party so I wanted to make sure. Holding the food and cutting with the knife is going to take some work though. Because the item I was slicing was green onions it was difficult unless I went one at a time, which I did. I guess I’ll have to work my way up to that. The crab cakes were tasty though and everyone ate them except one son who tore his apart and wasn’t keen on the texture of it all spread out. I’ll definitely make these again.
Cooking 2 New Dishes For A Dinner Party
Both cooking 2 new dishes and adding half again as many people to cook for had me test something discussed in the book, separating preparation from actually cooking. This made it very easy to just cook when I had to by having everything I needed ready. A couple hours before we wanted to do dinner I sliced all the zucchini. That is when I got a little concerned about maybe cooking too much of it. Then I got started practicing my knife work on the scallions. Good thing too, that took more time than mentioned in the recipe but as I get faster that won’t be the truth. Preparation for the crab cakes had me actually create the patties. With a little over an hour left I placed the crab cakes in the fridge, which probably helped keep them together.
Having cooked before, I wasn’t too concerned about the dinner party. Also, before my wife realized I would be cooking dinner for the people who came over she was thinking we would just order some pizza. If everything went down the tubes we were covered and very much like recommend in The 4-Hour Chef at the end of the lesson calendar. If you don’t feel comfortable cooking it might be a little too much. Also, recipes you are already comfortable with are probably fine to accompany your side dish(es). In fact, I think they would be better as these two dishes, though good, didn’t really compliment each other very well. So if you want to throw a dinner party, get some more dishes under your belt so you know what will go well together. The book recommends the osso “buko” with the crab cakes.
While I was planning my meal this week, an update to the kindle edition of The 4-Hour Chef was made that fixed the missing step #3 from osso “Buko”. That gives me good hope that the book will only improve and be easy for new chefs to follow.
My main resolution for 2013 is cooking with joy. I have cooked a lot and I used to cook with joy before the kids made it hard to be very creative in the kitchen. Now that they are old enough I can take on cooking again.
The genesis of the idea to take on cooking with joy as my 2013 resolution was the book, The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss. I got the book after listening to an interview with Tim Ferriss on The New Man Podcast. In the interview Tim mentioned that the book was a book about how to get great at anything fast but using cooking, and his applying methodologies to learning to cook, as the vehicle for this information. Because of this my updates that link in my work from this book will also be a piece-meal review of the sections of the book I reference for my own resolution.
After I listened to the interview, I went online and found out that The 4-Hour Chef was available on Kindle for the sale price of $4.99. As of this writing it is $9.99. At $5, it was most assuredly worth it. At $10, your mileage may vary. The book did inspire me for my resolution, and so far I have had success (more on that shortly), but there are some hiccups along the way.
I got this book at the end of November and I started reading it then. The first section, entitled “Meta” is really the meat of the get great at anything fast information. The DS3 and CaFE methodology makes sense but you don’t hear much about it (at least directly) after this section. The actual cooking, and a great place to start if you only care about the cooking, is in the second section “The Domestic.” I held off on being “The Domestic” until the new year, because Christmas was coming and I thought to put some of the better kitchen items recommended on my wish list. It worked for my initial needs. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been working my way, slowly, through the topics and recipes. Using what I learn or am attempting to learn to make dinner for my family each Sunday. Here’s how the lessons and meals have gone for me so far.
First Recipe/First Dinner – Osso “Buko”
This recipe was an easy win and claimed to teach braising and blade grip. I was worried that I would buy expensive lamb shanks and only my wife and I would like the meal (the main reason I stopped cooking when the kids were younger). However, both my kids loved the meal. My 9 year old has a thing for eating meat from the bone right now so it was right up his alley. My 6 year told me it was tasty.
As this was the first thing in the book and it was a main dish, I used the carrots that are cooked with it as the vegetable and had some rice and leftover bread for the starch. The carrots were okay, they were basically stewed carrots. So if you like that you’ll be fine. My kids were less than impressed and I’ve never been a fan of stewed carrots so – meh. I might try it without the carrots in the future and pick a vegetable that will contrast with the entree more.
Other notes from my first meal
I used a pan-saver type bag with my dutch oven and it did make cleanup easy. This was especially nice since my wife wanted to use the juices in a broth she was making. However, I have yet to try without the pan savers so I don’t know if overall cleanup without bags is really that bad. How to hold your blade was taught along with the direction to cut the ends of the carrots. This is a nice and easy introduction as opposed to something deeper. More knife handling techniques are taught later as necessary. Part of me likes this low-stakes approach to learning to cook but the other part of me feels a little cheated. However, he did just say blade grip so I did learn what he said I would.
One editing note about the kindle edition of this book. It seems step 3 is not written down in the recipe and I did things out of order. If you look at the A, B, C picture and realize that step 3 is related to picture C you’ll be a-okay. It didn’t seem to affect the meal though so no big deal. I was just wondering why I had bought a big can of whole tomatoes for a second.
Second Recipe – Scrambled Eggs
Scrambled eggs are a very neutral food and as such are used to teach flavor combinations. This recipe is actually ongoing. So far I’ve tried the first two flavor combinations for North East African and Middle East flavorings. I’ve also tried different ratios of egg whites to egg yolks. My initial thoughts on the white to yolk ratio is that, it isn’t a big deal. I can notice a difference, but if I’m cooking for myself I’m not going to waste any of the egg parts. However, he does make a point to give options for how to use leftover egg whites. As for the flavor combinations I’m learning that you don’t want to be timid with the flavoring. At this point he talks about a 3 finger pinch and eyeballing the amounts. You can go more and learn to back off if it is too much. Right now you are learning flavors. A little bonus for me today, Safeway had all the spices BOGO so I bought a bunch that I wasn’t planning on so I hope to learn some new flavor combinations I can add to other recipes. I’ve already applied the North East African (mint, cumin, garlic) to a sauce I was making – that’s when I learned I can use more. By the way, the snotty texture he recommends making are absolutely stellar. I did, surprisingly, improve my ability to make a basic like scrambled eggs.
Third Recipe/Second Dinner – Coconut Cauliflower Curry Mash
This alliteratively named dish is aimed at teaching the skill of Mash Anything and I must admit I was skeptical. I had read the recipe so many times and I didn’t feel like I would have the sense that I could mash anything after all was said and done. Turns out, I did feel like I could do it. After I finished I went back to the book and read the sidebar section titled, “Mashing Variations” and I think I’ll try them out in future dinners. The kids didn’t really dig the cauliflower mash, though one did say he though it tasted good. Or, was that “interesting?” Of course, they don’t usually like cauliflower anyway so I wasn’t expecting much. It was an unexpected texture and flavor combination and it was very filling. Because it was a side dish I had to come up with a main dish. For the main dish I did the bonus points recipe from Osso “Buko” which was named Jude’s Chuck Roast. I braised again and it turned out amazing. I used 10oz cans of the broth, consommé and soup which was plenty for braising in the dutch oven. For extra bonus points I used the cipollini onions, a very good idea.
Overall I’d say the recipe was good, even if not a hit with the kids. The chuck roast was a hit with the kids though so I did have a win with the dinner. In the introduction to the recipe he does mention the C3 mash as a good alternative when you need a snack. I think it would be, it was surprisingly filling and tasted good. Another editing note on the kindle edition for this recipe as well. He says you need a dutch oven for the recipe but I don’t think that is necessary. For one, the pictures in the book don’t match him using a dutch oven. For the other, I was using the dutch oven for my meat dish in the oven already so I just used a regular pot and it turned out fine. On a personal note, I thought there wasn’t enough liquid in the mash when I was suppose to get it boiling so I put the whole can of coconut milk in – this wasn’t necessary. In the end I had to do a mixture of draining the pot and cooking the excess liquid off to get it to a thicker consistency.
First update conclusions
So far, so good with the resolution. I’ve been happy and successful working at the pace I am with the stakes that I’ve set. The book may be written in a weird, jockish, frat boy voice (on purpose) and may have some editing problems but it seems to deliver on what it claims with regards to cooking. As for the get great at anything fast business, we’ll see. Also, I’ve read through the entire “The Domestic” section along with the section titled “The Wild” and only just began the section titled “The Scientist.” I’m not sure how much if any I’ll do beyond “The Domestic”, especially the part about pigeons, but we’ll see and I’ll update here.
Speaking of updates, I’ve already noticed and mentioned some editing issues with the kindle edition of the book. I don’t know if these affect the hardcover edition. However, since I am talking about the Kindle edition I hope some edits can be made and the book can be updated for myself and future readers. This is one of the benefits of Kindle books that is underutilized in my opinion.