Cooking With Joy: Update #3
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
— Tim Ferriss (@tferriss) January 24, 2013
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.