Day 11 - Low Hassle, Full Flavor
I enjoy cooking.
I can’t play a musical instrument and I’m not a painter, but I enjoy putting together flavors that work together.
Cooking is my creative outlet. And there’s something satisfying about cooking something that you know tastes great and is helping make you and people you care about just a little healthier.
I love cooking but I’m not a big fan of meticulous measurement.
If I’m baking something or making a sauce I’ll usually measure stuff the first time or two, but I’m always happier when I’m comfortable enough with where I’m going that I can eyeball the quantities.
That approach is why I’m a big fan of Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s The Flavor Bible, Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab.
These 3 books are linked in my kitchen essentials section. They each help you understand how to develop flavor.
The Flavor Bible is great because it helps you understand what flavors work well together. Let’s say that you have pork chops and you want to figure out something to do with them. You could go to google and look up pork chop recipes and you’ll find tons of recipes. But another way to do it is to go to The Flavor Bible and look up Pork Chops and you’ll find out that they go great with apples, mustard, sage and balsamic or cider vinegar.
Now you could just wing it with those ingredients or you could enter those in google and see what recipes you find. I like it because it makes me think about new flavor combinations.
Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat will just flat out make you a better cook. It will give you the essentials, the building blocks of how to make a good meal taste great. You’ll realize pretty quickly that you’ve upped your game without having to spend a lot of time or money. You’ll be surprised what a little vinegar or a squeeze of lime or lemon can do for a meal.
And finally, J. Kenji López-Alt’s The Food Lab shows what happens when someone who studies at M.I.T, works in restaurants and spends time as a test chef for Cooks Illustrated helps you understand the basic ends and outs of successful cooking. (If you’re not familiar with Cooks Illustrated you should check them out. They take a tried and true recipe and then they go to work figuring out how to make it better and explain what changes they made and why they made them.)
Lopez-Alt does a great job of breaking down a key cooking tip where it’s easy to understand.
One example is dispelling the myth that you want to sear meat to seal in the juices. Lopez-Alt proves that searing meat does not make it juicier. But what it does do is to increase the level of flavor via the Maillard reaction.
Bottom line is if you read his book, he’ll help make you a better, more confident cook.
OK, so what else can help you make great tasting food that’s not a hassle to prepare. I think it comes down to 3 things:
1. Start with quality ingredients. I’m a big fan of farmer’s markets. The produce is typically fresher and it was picked when it was ripe vs. something that was picked prior to being ripe and shipped halfway across the country. Farmer’s markets are a great source of grass-fed and pastured meats and you’re supporting local farmers and ranchers.
2. Invest in tools that you enjoy cooking with. First thing I want is a sharp chef’s knife that feels good in my hand, same thing for a paring knife.
I started out with a set of Wusthofs 10 years ago and they’re still going strong. I’ve got a kitchen essentials section and a product review section on the website where I cover what I use and why I like them.
Besides the basic knives, pots, pans, tongs, etc. I have a handful of cooking tools that I depend on.
My Weber grill and my Big Green Egg are indispensable. I’ve worn out three sets of grates on my Weber and I’ve replaced a couple of parts on my Big Green Egg because they both get plenty of use.
I resisted the Instant Pot hype for as long as I could but finally caved and I’m glad that I did. It’s the poster child for low hassle, full flavor.
Pork roast in about 30 minutes, bone broth in 2 hours, beef short ribs in about an hour, chicken thighs in minutes.
But it’s not just about the time, it’s about the flavor. I love how the Instant Pot gives you fork tender protein without cooking all of the flavor and juiciness out of the meat.
Since I’ve gotten my Instant Pot I don’t use my Anova Sous Vide as often as I used to, but it’s still a valued part of my cooking rotation.
You clamp the Anova Sous Vide into a large pot of water or if I’m cooking a brisket I’ll fill a medium-sized ice chest with hot water, clamp the Sous Vide inside of it and it will circulate the water and keep it exactly 155 degrees. I’ll season the brisket and seal it in vacuum seal bags and let it hang out in the ice chest at 155 degrees for 24 hours.
After 24 hours I’ll pull it out of the ice chest and out of the vacuum sealed bags, cover it with a rub of smoked salt, pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, coconut sugar, and dry mustard and put it on the Big Green Egg for an hour. Perfect!
3. Be curious. Figure out what you like and don’t be afraid to try new things. I like discovering new flavors that work together so I don’t have to eat the same thing over and over again. I’ve included some of my favorites in the Protein Profiles. But feel free to change them up and make them your own.
Life’s too short to eat food that doesn’t make you smile.
That’s why I love leftovers. I cook what I enjoy so I don’t have a problem with eating it again.
I always want to make enough food so that any meal that I fix will feed us for several days.
I usually make a couple of different proteins and then I’ll make big batches of veggies so that several of our meals is just putting a protein and some veggies together.
If you’re going to the effort of cooking a great meal, why not have that effort go farther than just one meal?
I fix an Instant Pot version of boiled eggs. Actually, they’re steamed. You put the trivet in the Instant Pot, put in a cup of water and however many eggs you’re going to fix and set the pressure-cooking setting to 5 minutes. When you pull them out you put them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and bingo – you’ve got boiled eggs that are super easy to peel.
If I’m making an omelet or a scramble I’ll make one with 8-10 eggs, lots of veggies and maybe some goat cheese and then we’ve got breakfast for 2 or 3 days.
If I’m cooking something on the grill or the Big Green Egg, I’ll make a big batch and vacuum seal some of it and freeze it for later.
What I’m suggesting here is that you find ways to reduce some of the hassle. I enjoy cooking, but I also like having times where all I have to do is put together something that I’ve already cooked.
What’s your version of full flavor, low hassle?
Do you have a favorite farmer’s market in your area?
Is a grill or a smoker part of your cooking arsenal? If so, how often do you use them?
Do you have an InstantPot and if so, what’s your favorite thing to fix?
Today’s assignments – Walk, Solid Sleep and Avoid Screen Time 2 Hours before bed, Pushups, Squats and Wall Sits as mini-workouts throughout your day. See how many you can fit in and record it in your journal.
On the food front – experiment with lemons, limes or different vinegars with one of your meals today. You want to pay attention to how acid can brighten up a dish. This link will give you some helpful suggestions.