Week 19: You need some Cook Books.

I know what you are thinking. “I have cookbooks” But do you? Or do you have recipe books? Are your books just lists of ingredients, times and temperatures? Or do they delve into in-depth instruction on cooking techniques? This is the difference in recipe books and cook books. Look for a couple books that teach techniques for basic and more advanced cooking that can be applied to any list of ingredients. A recipe book may call for you to sauté some ingredients where a cook or cooking book will teach you how to sauté. I’ve never seen a recipe book discuss the Maillard Reaction. If you don’t know what that is, you need some cooking books.

A recipe book and a cook book.

Above are two great books. Very different in purpose and scope but equally important. On the left is Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients. It is at heart, a recipe book. Wonderful recipes with only five ingredients that most people should be able to cook with techniques they have already picked up. It is not intended to to teach cooking technique.

On the right is Ken Forkish’s masterpiece on bread. It contains several recipes but they are all variations on just four ingredients. Flour, water, salt and yeast. The rest of the book is techniques to get the most out of these ingredients and some wonderful essays on the history and culture of bread. The essays alone are worth the price of the book.

Far too many cooks have an assortment of recipe books but are hobbling themselves by not increasing their knowledge on cooking techniques. If you think you have mastered your culinary skills, stretch you horizons. If you have mastered frying and sautéing, try your hand at Wok Hei. You will be humbled as you master what is called The Breath of the Wok. If you think your skillet is hot try an iron wok at the proper temperature. You will be in awe of what can be done with proper wok technique. There are books dedicated to Wok Hei as well as most other techniques.

Stretch your culinary legs and read some cooking books. Yes I said READ them. A recipe book is just lists of ingredients and basic instructions. A great cook book teaches techniques but should also have a great amount of readable material. History, family stories, philosophies as well as recipes. Take my challenge and read a cookbook.

See you next week. John


Week 7: 101 Goals in 1001 Days. Or, How I finally got to Culinary School.

Late night snack of Clams and Muscles in Garlic Butter and Cognac.

My wife and I have always been adamant about the importance of goal setting. Some goals require active, dedicated work to achieve. Sometimes this work is a short sprint, other times it takes years to finish. There are other goals that are more passive, Just writing them down and occasionally reviewing them is the hardest part.

Let’s say you are a starving student with a very limited budget and you want a sofa. If you just wish you had a decent sofa chances are you will not find a sofa. But if you write “I Need A Sofa. Find A Sofa” on a piece of paper and tape it to the refrigerator and read it everyday You will find a sofa. The message of finding a sofa will permeate your subconscious and your subconscious will alert you to hints about a sofa. Maybe you will see a listing for a free sofa out of the corner of your eye or half overhear a conversation from someone about getting rid of a sofa. Your subconsious mind will pick up the hint and alert the active part of your mind.

This is not mysticism, it is basic psychology. It really works. You find what you are looking for. It still requires work because even if you get a hint about a sofa you still need to put forth the effort to make contact and get the sofa and arrange a way to get it home. Wishing for a sofa will not make a sofa just magic itself into your house. But setting the goal will alert you to the opportunity. Then you just need to put forth the work to bring the goal to fruition.

Several years ago my wife and I got into the “101 things in 1001 days” idea of goal setting. Just type up a list of 101 simple goals that you want to accomplishing and set a date that is 1001 days in the future to finish them by. These should be simple and the more specific the better but give yourself room for interpretation as the months move along. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish all of them or if you even drop some of them part way through the 1001 days. Some goals will not be relevant months from now and others will have been surpassed by many degrees of magnitude.

Something like Finish My PHD is not appropriate for this type of goal setting exercise. That goal has too much scope. Even something like Lose 10 Pounds might be better written as Walk An Extra Mile each day because it is more specific. Just keep it simple and fun and this system works.

I made my list and taped it to the bathroom mirror and I review it about once a week but just having those ideas in the back of my head is where the magic is and it is fun to check them off as they are finished. But how did this lead me to Culinary School? That was never on the list. A few of my goals included things like Take A ClassWith My Wife. That could be anything. Take a Class By Myself. I was actually thinking something along the line of Photoshop. Take A Cooking Class. Cook 25 New Dishes (Stovetop) Bake 25 New Dishes (Savory baked in oven) Bake 25 New Goods (Sweet pastries, pies etc. in the oven). So you see several of my goals were about classes and/or cooking.

Then it all came together. My daughter moved into her own apartment and I bought her a couple of professional grade kitchen knives. I later learned she never used them because she was intimidated by them. I suggested that she come over for a knife skills class. My other kids thought it would be fun for the entire family to go take a knife class somewhere. They think I can be a harsh teacher. So I started looking for local classes that we could all take. Some were free as a marketing tool to get you into the store in the hope that you will spend money. Actually a good marketing plan. Others were very expensive but included the knife you used in the class.

I just didn’t find what I was looking for. Then I found an advertisement for the Park City Culinary Institute. Along with the full culinary program they offered weekend classes including a knife skills class. Perfect! They were even having an open house on Saturday where the instructors were teaching Crepes and how top chefs poach eggs. I’m always willing to learn better cooking skills. So we decided to go check out the school and get more info on the knife classes.

Walking into a professional kitchen while presenting an open house can be a sensory overload. Sights, sounds, smells, Chefs, guests and hosts can be a lot to take in at first. It was wonderful. The general commotion and energy was inviting to me. This was not just a cooking class. This was different. We thought it was a great place to take our kids for a knife class and the instruction on Crepes and eggs was great. And it fit in with my goals of cooking and taking classes. But something else was nagging at me. More visceral, at more of an emotional level. In short, I felt I was home. I needed to be here. I needed to be here thirty years ago. A talk with the staff and the director, Laurie Moldawer, followed by a trip to the bank and I was enrolled. It was without a doubt one of the best decisions of my life.

If you want really live your life, set some goals and do something. Life is too short to be a spectator and let it pass by. Instead do as Henry David Thoreau wrote and “Live Deep and suck out all the marrow of life”. If you love to cook, if you respect culinary arts and traditions set some goals in those areas. Learn a new flavor palette. Discover a new style of cooking. I have recently been turned onto Discada cooking from Northern Mexico. Take some classes. Even the worlds top chefs are always learning, that’s why they are so good. Become a Chef yourself. I know someone reading this has had that thought in the back of their head. Step up and go to culinary school. Put your energy where your heart is. Once you earn a Chef’s coat you will never be the same again, but more on that another time.

“Saturday” bread from Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish.
Wonderful cookbook I highly recommend.

This weeks menu was just basic coking and relying on canned and bottled foods because of our hectic schedules. Fettuccine Alfredo twice. Once plain, once with broccoli and shrimp. Bottled sauce and dried pasta. One night we were on the road until very late. We bought drinks, cheese, deli meat and crackers from a roadside grocery store. Meatloaf and loaded mashed potatoes. Canned soup and homemade bread. Poached eggs and ham on English Muffins. I am trying to make fresh food as much as I can but necessity dictates that I will need to rely on canned and pre-made foods when needed.

Thanks. John