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.