Tag Archives: Tim Ferriss

Cooking with (and without) Joy – Update #6

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.

Seared Scallops

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.

Notes

  • 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.

Conclusion

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.

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Cooking With Joy: Update #3

Digging into A Meal Dad madeFor 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.

  1. I don’t have to make a sauce to put on the noodles, I can just add flavors.
  2. My pasta eating child, who will eat 3 plates of pasta, can be made to not want pasta if it is spicy.
  3. 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

Bittman's Chinese Chicken with Bok ChoyThe 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

Arugula, Avocado, Roma SaladI 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

A placesetting of the mealOn 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.

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.

Resolution 2013:Cooking With Joy – first update

Me with my first 2013 resolution mealMy 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.

Pre-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.