Cooking With Joy: Update #2
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.