The Story

For those of you following the DGR Twitter feed, you are probably aware (whether you care to be or not) of my summer decree: learn to feed self.  Seriously, it’s like I just moved out of my parents house.  I realize how juvenile it may sound, but 12 years of living alone and working hours that almost never allow for a self-prepared meal make for some pretty stupid eating habits.  Fortunately, my job provides some down time in the summer, which I will use this year in what will surely be an embarrassing, if not exciting, attempt to learn how to cook.  And I mean REALLY cook.

Of course, there is  the running joke on the Robot Panic site about me asking John how to cook SpaghettiOs in college.  Sadly, while slightly misrepresented (barely), it is mostly true… entirely.  Since that time, I had learned to make my own pasta noodles, ravioli, various sauces, seafood, etc., but those are extremely time intensive meals that only appear for special occasions.  In the meantime, I was throwing away piles of produce that I couldn’t eat before it went bad and stocking up on processed food (because it lasted forever), which is terrible for your health.  After spending some time with a few people who genuinely cared about their food, I began to develop an appreciation for eating better and also noticing the general benefits that followed: higher energy levels, improved physical health, etc.

All that aside, I have begun with a few new tools and am about five weeks into my little, but increasingly expensive experiment.  Fortunately, it’s worth every penny.  Probably by a factor of ten, if I can keep it going.  So far, I am very much enjoying the change of pace and loving the results.  The first purchases were the following:

The Books

The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook: Eating Well for Better Health – 2004; paperback edition – 2009 (MSRP $34.95)

Don’t they cure cancer and grow noses?  I bet they can cook.  I found this one for $10 at a Barnes and Noble and it is widely available online for between $10-$20.

Mexican Everyday: Rick Bayless – 2005 (MSRP $29.95)

He just cooked a state dinner for the president of Mexico.  A step up from the Bell, one could argue.  If you have an iPad, you can buy a digital copy of this book for around $15.  I, however, do not want salsa on my Jesus machine, so I ponied up for the full hardcover version.  Also, you should follow him on Twitter.  He shares everything.  Pretty generous for a guy that makes his money off his ideas.

Authentic Mexican 20th Anniversary Ed: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico – 2007 (MSRP $32.50)

This is a book I do not have, however, Hilden assures me it is well-worth the investment.  While visiting Bayless’ flagship restaurant in Chicago, Toplobampo, he was cruising the gift shop looking for a book to take home.  One of the cooks who happened to be on break saw Hilden looking at the cookbooks handed him this one.  I suppose he would know.  Sounds like all the fundamentals of excellent Mexican cooking are covered.  It’s not a sexy book with big color pictures, but it must pack a pretty serious punch.

The Knife

Victorinox 8″ Chef’s Knife by Forschner (MSRP $40.00)

I bought this on recommendation from Hilden, who found it through the people at America’s Test Kitchen.  Simply put, it is amazing.  Well-balanced, remarkably sharp right out of the packaging, and has a handle that seemingly cannot become slippery, regardless of how long you hold it in the toilet.  Not to mention it can be had for just over $25 from Amazon and ships for free if you don’t need it within two days.

The Pans

10-piece Tramontina 18/10 Stainless Steel TriPly-Clad Cookware Set (MSRP $279.97)

These were just ordered and I cannot wait for them to arrive.  For those unfamiliar with clad cookware, imagine a solid aluminum or copper pot entirely wrapped in stainless steel, inside and out.  The advantage is that the entire pan heats even and quick, so much so that the cooking temperatures are lower due to the ridiculous efficiency of the conductive material.  In this case, that would be aluminum in the core.  This style of pan construction was made famous by the extremely expensive All-Clad brand, however, mine were had from the devil, Wal-Mart, for $199.  The 10-piece package is only available online (there is an 8-piece package available in some Wal-Mart stores for $150), but both come highly recommended, once again, by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen.  And I assure you, those people know their stuff.

The Food

I’m not going to reproduce any of the recipes here because you should buy the books.  That way you live better, they live better. Everybody wins.

Now that we’re all legal:

Meal #1

Courtesy of the Mayo Clinic:

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Summer Squash, Red Pepper, Zucchini, and Sauteed Garlic

You all missed OUT!  I opened a bottle of wine and had two fantastic meals.  Pasta with oil in the sauce doesn’t reheat terribly well, but if you have a foil pan (metal pan), you can add a little water and toss the whole thing in the oven around 250 for about 10 minutes.  Be sure to cover the food with tin foil.  Microwaves kind of suck for foods with oils: i.e. cheese.

Meal #2

Courtesy of the Mayo Clinic:

Black Bean and Sweet Pepper Burgers with Chipotle Ketchup

This was the pre-podcast meal to celebrate the unveiling of the new DGR studio that took far too long to prepare and was so worth the time.  Both studio and burgers.  I had little to no idea what was happening at any given moment, but as soon as I have the chance to do it again, I’m all over that recipe for rounds 2-10.

Meal #3

Courtesy of Rick Bayless:

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with Chicken in White Corn Tortillas and Queso Fresco

Perhaps you read about them on Twitter.  They were the best John’s wife ever had.  Her words.  This was the same thing Hilden made one evening at my place.  Turns out, with minimal preparation, this is cheap, lasts for at least a week in the fridge, and still tastes fantastic reheated.  Not to mention it’s probably my favorite dish at the moment, though I doubt John shares my enthusiasm.  Bayless has a great tip for making store-bought corn tortillas edible, which involves paper towels and microwaves, but you should really buy his books.  Seriously.

Meal #4

Courtesy of Mayo and Bayliss:

Roasted Peppers on Butter Lettuce with Creamy Anejo Dressing

Corn Tamales with Tomatillo-Avacado Salsa…. and Beer

Mixed Berries in Vanilla-Ginger Sauce

This meal was in response to John’s discomfort with my extremely successful lunch with his wife.  I cooked for the three of us on Memorial Day (there’s a name for this in French I once knew…)  Salad was quite good, but the picture you see is a recreation with baby spring greens.  Sorry.  The tamales were steamed, which was probably because it was from the Mayo book, healthy and all, but when I make them again they’ll be cooked on the grill.  Steaming left the tamales a little spongy.  The salsa, however, was amazing.  Berries were delicious.  The sauce lasted for over a week and eventually amounted to something like 8-10 generous servings.

Next Meal

Swiss Chard Tacos with Caramelized Onion, Queso Fresco, and Red Chile

I love Rick Bayless.  Not as much as Hilden does.  But almost…

The Conclusion

Bottom line, if you can find the time it is so worth the effort.  While the first go-round with all these took me forever (I am, after all, an idiot), subsequent efforts have been significantly faster and far more efficient.  Good tools help.  A lot.

My challenge to you this summer: grab a friend or two (family works, if you like them) and start by baking some bread.  Be sure to eat it while it’s still warm.  Then spend the afternoon-evening cooking a few courses of food you all enjoy.  Block out the entire evening so you’ll have no distractions.  Don’t rush anything and be sure take whatever time is necessary to cook right, listen to good music, and surround yourselves with plenty of cold drinks.  At the very least, grab a bottle of wine/beer, a loaf of artisan bread, fruit, and some cheese you haven’t tried before.  Sit on the deck and enjoy what little time we have with the sun.  That’s how it is living up here next to Santa’s reindeer stable.  Happy summer to you all.

Eat well.  Your body, your friends, and their wives will thank you.

Especially their wives.

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4 Responses to Operation Feed Self

  1. Oldave says:

    Here are some great Vegetarian Cookbooks you might want to check out. I’ve used them for years, and they always amaze.

    The New Moosewood Cookbook and The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest each by Mollie Katzen. Good variety of recipes, excellent instructions.

    I have to be careful though, black beans make me fart up a storm…

  2. damo says:

    Awesome stuff, Moe. My mouth is watering right now. My love of cooking began in college, when we all decided that the dining hall food and the evenings in the bathroom it caused were just not worth it. And, I’ve loved cooking ever since!

    One of the best things we ever made back then (~2001) was the Soup Nazi’s Indian Mulligatawny from Seinfeld. that’s the version since topsecretrecipes seems to be charging for recipes now…

    Have you thought about purchasing a cast iron pan? There just plain isn’t anything better for cooking in my opinion (besides fire and a grill).

  3. MNGwinn says:

    That swiss chard taco recipe is excellent. You’ll like it.

    If you’re looking for good general purpose cookbooks, I’d strongly recommend “How to Cook Everything” and “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” by Mark Bittman, “I’m just here for the food” by Alton Brown and “New Best Recipes” by the America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated gang.

    You have discovered Clancey’s, right?

  4. MNGwinn says:

    Oh! I missed the bit where you weren’t starting entirely from scratch….

    Anyway, I’d also like to throw a plug in for Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop. It’s the single best cookbook I’ve found for CSA box/impulse farmer’s market purchases/random produce in the fridge.

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