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Friday, April 26, 2013

Wary of The 4-Hour Chef

Never having read The 4-Hour Workweek, but hearing that its author was somewhat out there, I picked up his latest tome, The 4-Hour Chef, with low expectations.  I started to read it through, and was hooked, skimming through the entire book, and putting it down only when I got to the last page.

Lots of cookbooks cover old ground, and it's rare that I find more than one or two bits of information that I haven't heard before.  During my quick read of The 4-Hour Chef, I found so many useful tips and techniques, that I ended up going back and combing  through it  carefully, looking for anything I may have missed.

The 4-Hour Chef  truly IS out there, in many ways.  Ferriss includes numerous detours and sidebars in what I would actually term a cookbook slash experiential memoir, of him  learning  to cook from very accomplished and famous chefs.

Take the entire "Wild" section for example.  Here you will find  info (beware - graphic photos!) on butchering rabbits, chickens, deer, squirrels  and various other animals.  These I skipped, (at my peril, I suppose, in case there is ever a nationwide disaster).

Another section called "Sci" explores molecular gastronomy, if by any chance you want to add to your cooking repertoire gels, foams, and powders after the techniques made famous by Ferran Adria, of elBulli in Spain.  (Not today, thank you.)

Not only that, but interspersed among  these esoteric wanderings are treatises on  how to learn a foreign language, what is the best survival gear, etc.  What?  But you'll also find great recipes from master chefs and eminently  usable and valuable information.  For example, there are informative sections on educating your palate, practicing knife skills, and purchasing good kitchen equipment.

Rosemary cookies al fresco.

My first foray into these recipes was trying the Rosemary Pistachio Cookies from the Science section.  I must say, people really liked these.  They were similar to brown sugar chocolate chip cookies,  but with the chocolate exchanged for white chocolate, the walnuts for pistachios, and fresh rosemary added for a subtle and delicious nuance.

There is no way I would call Ferris' writing subtle.  Much of it is irreverent and colloquial, but undoubtably there is a great deal of accurate and useful information here. If you choose to follow  his "Dom" for Domestic section alone, you would, as advertised by the title, be well on your way to acquiring  a solid foundation for a lifetime of cooking without recipes.

Kokkari Shrimp, with added artichokes.

Recipes I tried and loved:  Kokkari Shrimp, Harissa Crab Cakes, and Coconut Cauliflower Mash with cashews.  Only the cookie recipe needed to be tweaked a little, adding 1 Tablespoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt to all-purpose flour instead of  using self-rising flour, because, after all, who HAS that?

Harissa Crab Cakes and Coconut Curry Cauliflower.

This is an altogether fun and valuable book, whose recipes, by the way,  follow the precepts which he espoused in The 4-Hour Body, (a book  I was compelled to pick up next, figuring that if Ferris had great  information about cooking, maybe he had some good ideas about being fit too: jury still out on that).  The 4-Hour Chef recipes are easy, emphasize good quality ingredients, and generally exclude white starches.  A bonus:  the recipes are sophisticated, but simple enough to require a minimal number of pots and pans which translates into easy clean-up.

Although Tim Ferris is most definitely a nut, he is a well researched, successful, rich and smart one too.  Try this recipe below as an alternative to rice or potatoes, or it's great on its own too.

Easy cauliflower prep tip.
The delicious result.

Coconut Cauliflower Curry Mash  adapted from Tim Ferris' The 4-Hour Chef

1 small head caulifower
1/4 cup roasted cashews
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (such as Thai Kitchen)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pull off all the green leaves from the cauliflower.  Center the stem on a tea towel, pull up the sides to cover the top, and hold it,  smashing the stem down on a cutting board.  All the florets will break off, leaving the stem.  (Is this a great technique or what?)  Cut up any larger florets, so that the pieces are of uniform size and will cook evenly.  Discard the stem.

Put the florets in a medium saucepan, adding the cashews and coconut milk.  Heat until boiling, then reduce to a simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until tender.  Off heat, stir in the salt, curry and cinnamon.  Mash with a fork or a potato masher until of the desired consistency.

Diane Whitman
Reference Librarian
Learning Not to Make Snap Judgements (Sometimes)

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