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An Instructo-Geek Reviews The 4-Hour Chef 204

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-burn-the-water dept.
Bennett Haselton writes "Recently I wrote an article about what I considered to be the sorry state of cooking instructions on the web (and how-to instructions in general), using as a jumping-off point a passage from Evgeny Morozov's new book To Save Everything, Click Here. My point was that most "newbie" instructions never seemed to get judged by the basic criteria by which all instructions should be judged: If you give these instructions to a group of beginners, and have them attempt to follow the instructions without any additional help from the author, what kind of results do they get? The original title of my article was "Better Cooking Through Algorithms," but due to some confusion in the submission process the title got changed to "Book Review: To Save Everything, Click Here" even though, as multiple commenters pointed out, it didn't make much sense as a "book review" since it only mentioned a short passage from the actual book. This article, on the other hand, really is intended as a review of The 4-Hour Chef, even though the article only covers a similarly tiny fraction of the book's 671-page length. That's because even before buying the book, I was determined to review it according to a simple process: Try three recipes from the book. Follow the directions step by step. (If any direction is ambiguous, then follow what could be a plausible interpretation of the directions.) My estimation of the quality of the book, as an instructional cooking guide for beginners, is then determined by the quality of the food produced by my attempt to follow the directions. (I've done this so many times for so many "beginner cookbooks," that I've probably lost my true "beginner" cook status in the process — which means that the results obtained by a real beginner using The 4-Hour Chef, would probably be a little worse than what I achieved.)" Read on for the rest of Bennett's Thoughts

I bought the book with tempered high hopes. Watching Tim Ferriss in his TV interviews and reading the enthusiasm that leaps off of every page (each recipe even comes with a "song pairing," music to jam out to while making the dish), it's hard not to take a quick liking to him. He comes across as a man who who really does want to share his passion and not just sell books. He's goofily handsome in that way that women and some men often confuse with "confidence", although he does seem to possess a lot of actual confidence. But enthusiasm is the enemy of objectivity, and I was determined to review the book according to the criterion of how well the directions actually work, not based on how much fun it would be to hang out with Tim. Even though it would probably be fun.

In his interview on Jimmy Fallon, for example, they looked like they were having a great time, but Jimmy told Tim that he read the book and tried following the directions for making bacon-infused bourbon, then proceeded to show some "action shots" of the result that he achieved: a jar of what looked like solid bacon fat, which Jimmy said he did not drink. OK, I thought, that means that whatever comes next, in that case the directions failed. Tim proceeded to explain that you have to be careful not to overblend it, and to leave it in the freezer long enough to be able to scrape more of the fat off, so that if you get a result that looks like Fallon's jar of goo, then that's probably what you did wrong. Great advice, but, not in the book. "Bacon-infused bourbon" sounds like precisely the kind of recipe that will sell a lot of books (not surprisingly, it's listed on the back cover of the book jacket), but which is hard to write good directions for.

In the same interview, Ferriss showed how he cooked sea bass sous vide in a hotel kitchen sink and then finished it by searing it with the hotel's travel iron, which he cheerfully admitted the hotel was not too happy about. I'm all for re-purposing common household items to find a new way to achieve something, but only if it's an improvement over the more mundane way of doing things; otherwise, it's just doing things inefficiently for the sake of being weird as an end in itself. (When I posted a photo of my bookshelf with a hollow-core wooden plank C-clamped to it at one end, with the other end used as an anchor for my XOOM tablet so I could watch movies while lying flat in bed, it was because that was the easiest way I could find to do that.) To be fair, Tim's suggestion of searing fish with a travel iron was probably intended to get the reader into the adventurous spirit, not as literal advice -- but then, my mission remains to evaluate the actual cooking advice, according to the results it produces.

The short answer: Of the three recipes I tried, one came out barely edible, and the other two were palatable mostly to the degree that the raw ingredients themselves were tasty, so I might as well have just snacked on the ingredients separately instead of combining them. All recipes definitely showed signs that they could have been greatly improved by being worked over by the process I described in my last article — i.e., show the recipes to a group of genuine newbies, listen to their feedback about all the points where they get stuck, then keep revising according to that feedback until you reach the point where the latest round of newbie testers is able to get through the directions with no problem. (You may notice that this sounds like a very obvious idea, but most how-to directions show very little sign of having been put through this kind of scrutiny.)

The first recipe in the book was for "Osso Buko", Ferriss's "knock-off" version of ossobuco, using lamb shanks instead of veal shanks. With $60 for a new porcelain Dutch oven, $20 for the lamb shanks, and other miscellaneous expenses, it cost me about $100 just to try the recipe to see if it worked (although Fred Meyer let me return the Dutch oven after I realized I was never going to try this again, and yes, I know you can find cheaper ones). A few times in the recipe, the directions used an unfamiliar term that I would have expected to be defined in a text for true beginners (for example, I didn't know what a "dry wine" was, and even the Wikipedia article wasn't much help, but the grocery store stockboy helped me out). The bigger problem was that at multiple points in the recipe, the instructions were too ambiguous to know if I was following them correctly, or I was unable to follow them exactly and didn't know how big of an adjustment I needed to make (e.g. what to do if the smallest shanks I could find were bigger than the recommended size). I still have no idea if the mediocre results were caused by one big screwup at one particular step, or the accumulation of many small deviations from what a real chef would have done.

Specifically: (1) The recipe calls for a Dutch oven. Ferriss has a brand he recommends, but can I use one from the local Fred Meyer? How big? The recipe doesn't say. I picked a five-quart since it was big enough to hold the lamb shanks. (2) The recipe calls for "lamb shanks." Fore shanks or hind shanks? Does it matter? My grocery store only has "lamb foreshanks" anyway. (3) The recipe says each shank should be 12 oz, but the smallest ones I could find were all 16 oz. What adjustments do I make? I have no idea. (4) The recipe called for "1/3 of a bottle" of wine, but later said to pour in enough "to cover 1/2-3/4 of the meat," and I couldn't do that without pouring in the whole bottle. I assumed the "cover 1/2 of the meat" direction took precedence over the "use 1/3 of the bottle" direction, but at that point I was sure that I'd deviated so far from the intent of the directions that the dish wasn't going to work. I put the whole thing into the oven at 350 degrees for two hours, which is about the only part of the recipe that I was sure that I followed correctly.

The results came out barely edible (I said "barely" — I still ate them, but I would never serve them or bring them to a party). Mostly it was a lot of work to cut through the tendons and small bones to get to the meat; if the Dutch oven was supposed to soften the meat so that everything fell off the bone, it didn't work.

The second recipe I tried was for crab cakes with harissa sauce. Right away I ran into a problem, since even in my fairly cosmopolitan city with multiple ethnic and specialty grocery stores, none of the ones I visited had ever heard of "harissa sauce." Now for directions that have been thoroughly beta-tested, this is where they would typically say, "Harissa sauce can be difficult to find, so here's where to look; otherwise, you can use this as a substitute." I found some forums saying you could use hot sauce, so I went with that. The crab cakes came out fine, but probably mostly due to the expensive crab ingredient, and I didn't like them enough to make them again.

The third recipe that I tried was for coconut cauliflower curry mash. The directions called for "crushed cashews," and said "If they're uncrushed, you can then crush them in your hands directly into the bowl. This is how Chuck Norris does it." By this time I was getting a little tired of the book being cute at the expense of being helpful — roasted cashews are physically impossible for most people to crush in their hands — but I flattened some under a rolling pin and followed the rest of the recipe. The result tasted OK, but probably only about as good as if I'd just mixed up the nuts and cauliflower and other ingredients and cooked them in a pot.

And that was the end of the ride for me. Three recipes and three results that I never thought about making again (one that was barely edible, and two that tasted only slightly better than the component ingredients mixed together, neither one all that good). Based on those sample results, my estimation is that for a true beginner going through the recipes in the book, the "success rate" would not be high enough to justify the time and money that they'd spend.

Full disclosure compels me to report that I did successfully prepare and "serve" one recipe in the book: bacon roses, which turned out about as well in my own kitchen as the ones he showed off on Jimmy Fallon. Most artificial roses have removable heads, and if you bake a couple of rolled-up slices of raw bacon, they come out resembling roses that can be threaded on the artificial-rose stems. But even then, the instructions in the book were overkill, requiring the reader to take a cupcake baking pan and drill holes in the bottom of each cupcake holder, so that you can cook the bacon in the cupcake holders while draining the fat out (but which also ruins the cupcake pan for the purpose of making actual cupcakes). For one thing, you can use silicone cupcake molds and just poke a hole in the bottom rather than drilling through aluminum; these can also be stacked when you're done, so that they take up much less storage space than a 12-muffin baking pan. But in any case I found that you could get perfectly good results just by rolling up the pieces of bacon and baking them sideways on a broiler rack; they hold their shape just as well as if you had baked them in the cupcake holders, since the rolled-up bacon hardly expands anyway. (This is the kind of thing that you also find if you have people beta-testing your recipes.)

To be fair, I'm only narrowly reviewing the book as an instructional guide to cooking. The book claims that the principles taught in its pages can be used to transform your life in a wide range of ways, including becoming world-class in "any skill" in about six months, which Ferriss says he has used to learn kickboxing, Spanish, shooting basketball 3-pointers, and Japanese horseback archery. Next on his list: writing cooking directions!

But now I'm being a smartass, and the truth is that there is potential for the recipes in these book to be transformed into something that could produce fantastic results in the hands of a beginner. Normally when I try out a "beginner's cookbook" — usually by using Amazon's "Look Inside" feature to sample a few recipes from the cookbook and print them out for free — if the first three recipes produce inedible results, I throw them out and never give the cookbook a second thought. But I'm more optimistic about re-working Ferriss's recipes in accordance with the beta-testing process above, for two reasons. First, he really does seem to have a passion for helping people and not just selling books (that's important, because it's hardly going to drive book sales to take recipes from the book and beta-test them and improve them as a free web-based project). Second, he has legions of fans who would probably volunteer as beta testers. I myself would be happy to volunteer, since the commitment of a beta tester is minimal, by design, because you're supposed to simulate the experience of a real user without overthinking it: go through the instructions one time, and record the quality of the result you get at the end. (Optionally, make a note of any ambiguous directions you encountered along the way, which might affect the quality of the end result.)

As they're written now, I don't think the recipes in the book would pass the definitional test of good directions: Give them to beginners, have them try to follow the steps, and record the results. I had essentially the same thought about the business-launching advice in Tim Ferriss's first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, which I only bought as a companion to the new book. Now I think The 4-Hour Workweek does contain a lot of useful self-help advice — for example, to get over your fear of the worst-case outcome by visualizing it entirely and realizing that it's not that bad. (Although I cracked up at the part about "outsourcing your work," thinking of a certain Verizon employee who took the advice too literally.) But for a book whose key premise is that you can liberate yourself from a 40-hour workweek, the advice about how to start a successful business to do this, occupies a surprisingly small portion of the book (pp. 150-200, if you leave out the subsequent chapter about how to automate your business once it's successful). Well, I've been a part of various entrepreneur communities since before I graduated college, and over the years I've seen many people follow some variation of the steps in those chapters, and the reality is that even if the founder does everything right, most new businesses still fizzle out just like my mediocre "osso buko."

The key difference, I think, is that any formula on how to start your own wildly successful business and shrink your workweek down to 4 hours, cannot work without a lot of luck — if it could, angel investors would just start hiring "entrepreneurs" to follow the formula exactly, if every one of those entrepreneurs (or even 25% of them) hit it out of the park with their new business venture, the investors would make out like gangbusters. Most methodical research suggests that actually only about 5% of VC-backed businesses hit their projected break-even on cash flow -- suggesting that even the best VCs can't find any combination of personal attributes, or action steps, that leads to entrepreneurial success without a big dose of luck. (Ferriss himself says that The 4-Hour Workweek was turned down by 28 out of 29 publishers, which sounds like a testament to the importance of persistence; but most authors whose work is turned down by the first 28 publishers, will usually get turned down by the 29th one too, and there was obviously a certain amount of luck in the fact that that didn't happen to him.)

On the other hand, following a recipe and producing a delicious dish, ought to be possible without luck. What you need, though, are precise directions that have been picked apart by beginner beta testers to remove any ambiguities, until you reach the point where the latest wave of beta testers was able to get through the directions with no confusion, and produce great results in nearly every case. The recipes in The 4-Hour Chef aren't at that point, but Tim Ferriss has the fan-based manpower at his disposal to test and transform those recipes into truly idiot-proof directions for delicious food, if he wants to.

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An Instructo-Geek Reviews The 4-Hour Chef

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    • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday March 22, 2013 @11:57AM (#43247301)

      You don't have to read the whole thing.

      Sentence #4 after the "fold":

      He's goofily handsome in that way that women and some men often confuse with "confidence", although he does seem to possess a lot of actual confidence.

      That's where I stopped reading. I'm not a cannibal. I don't care how attractive or confident the cook is. I don't care what women think of him.

    • by lahvak (69490)

      TSDR, judging grom the few pieces that I managed to get to before giving up.

      In just to make things clear, the S does not mean "short".

      • TSDR, judging grom the few pieces that I managed to get to before giving up.

        The first paragraph tells the story, everything after is to prove the first paragraph.
        - My high school journalism class.

        When I saw the articles length after hitting the "Read" link, I just took their word for it.

  • First clue. (Score:5, Funny)

    by sunking2 (521698) on Friday March 22, 2013 @11:46AM (#43247173)
    Any recipe that calls out a Dutch Oven is not something I'm going to try.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Any recipe that calls out a Dutch Oven is not something I'm going to try.

      there are two kinds of people I hate in this World:

      1. folks who are intolerant of other people.

      2. And the Dutch.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Your loss, dutch ovens are awesome. It's a slow cooker AND an oven, that you can take camping. Although I would never recommend a porcelain one. Cast iron or nothing.

      • by fl!ptop (902193)

        Cast iron or nothing.

        Amen to that. I had a stainless one that we inherited after my wife's grandmother died, and I was never able to get as good a casserole or even roast cooked in it as I can w/ my cast iron one. Not sure about the other commenter who said to take it camping, it's damn heavy.

        • Not sure about the other commenter who said to take it camping, it's damn heavy.

          People take them camping because you can put them literally into the campfire, cover them with coals and slow (or fast) cook. I think even the Boy Scout manual has some recipes for using a cast-iron dutch oven. Pro Tip: Bring a small one - Dutch Oven, not Boy Scout :-)

        • by HCase (533294)

          You take them if you are car camping, not when backpacking.

      • by Dorianny (1847922)
        enameled cast iron is also very good. It has the advantage of having a better non-stick surface. It has the disadvantage of the enamel being easy to chip.
  • "Dry wine"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gordonjcp (186804) on Friday March 22, 2013 @11:48AM (#43247191) Homepage

    for example, I didn't know what a "dry wine" was

    How on earth do you reach adulthood without knowing what a dry wine is?

    • by Custard Horse (1527495) on Friday March 22, 2013 @11:54AM (#43247261)

      How on earth do you reach adulthood without knowing what a dry wine is?

      They don't serve it in prison...

    • by raburton (1281780) on Friday March 22, 2013 @11:55AM (#43247269)

      This is the point I stopped reading. If looking at wine in a shop to see which ones are labelled as dry is beyond him I'm not surprised the results of his attempt to follow a recipe weren't great. Just because a book is intended for a "newbie" doesn't mean it'll work equally well for a retard.

      • Re:"Dry wine"? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cayenne8 (626475) on Friday March 22, 2013 @12:11PM (#43247439) Homepage Journal
        Yeah, wine terminology should be pretty simple for most any adult, I guess except those that do no alcohol whatsoever (God I feel sorry for them, when they wake up in the morning, THAT is the best they're gonna feel all day!!), and I'd guess they'd not be even cooking with wine, since all the ethanol does not burn off.

        That being said, I'm really puzzled about why so many people (especially women these days) can't seem to cook?

        Didn't ya'lls mom's get you in the kitchen to help when you were young? If for nothing else, mine did to get help in the house, but also to make sure I knew how to take care of myself when I did leave the 'nest'.

        But hell, of late, I can't hardly find a woman that knows how to cook shit. What happened there?

        Actually, I know...somehow, somewhere along the way...everyone started eating out and eating crap.

        I didn't realize this till after Katrina...when I lived with some friends while I got a place to live and job, etc.

        I stayed with one family, two small kids...about 8-9 yrs old. The dad was out of town, so just me there with the wife and kids. I was shocked to see that so many meals at night were: Popeye's, Sonic....fast food. The others that were 'home cooked'...frozen, prepared food from the store. The home cooked meal from scratch was a rarity.

        Me? I'm the opposite. I love to cook, and tho I don't have a lot of time, I dedicate my Sunday's to cooking. I cook often 2-4 entrees, and the same sides...and eat those throughout the week for lunches and dinner, finishing them by about Friday or so. Or, during the summer, I like to grill things...grill some meats and LOTS of veggies. And during the week, those are quick to warm up for salads, or pita sandwiches (whip up a quick taziki sauce)..or stuff like that.

        I'd rather save up my pennies for dining out at a REAL restaurant. Not a chain, but a place with a real chef, and honest to goodness service and good wine, etc. I'd rather blow a good chunk of coin fine dining than a little bit here and there on crap food and no service .

        And let's face it...fast food isn't all that cheap anymore. I do occasionally like a crap food day...Taco Bell was nearly $10. Ouch.

        But anyway....cooking is easy. Good tools do help, money spent on good knives and pans are well spent. Drop some coin on a good Wusthof-Trident knives (a couple of basic ones will do), and maybe a couple of good All-Clad SS fry pans/pots. Yes, they are $$, but they will last you a lifetime.

        Hell, start out with good cast iron, that is cheap and when cared for...will last you the same lifetime.

        And then....look at the grocery store ads in your town. See what ingredients are on sale that week. Get on the internet, and look up recipes with those ingredients and pick something fun to try, and do it.

        And try this too...to be a bit healthier. When shopping at the grocery store, try to shop ONLY along the outside perimeter of the store, where the real, non-processed foods are: veggies, meats, dairy. (It is ok to venture into the aisles if that's where they keep the beer, wine and liquor tho).

        But seriously, it isn't rocket science. Try it. And if you're a guy, you can definitely impress the ladies with cooking skills, AND...it is a great excuse to get them into YOUR house, where you likely have a bed nearby.

        • plus if you are a "civilian contractor" that needs to at times "redact" a client being able to cook gives you a GREAT way to do the job

        • by Rinikusu (28164)

          /* wine terminology should be pretty simple for most any adult */

          I must preface my response to "Where the fuck do you live?" Wine knowledge in America is dismal. It's downright horrible. America, in general, is not a wine drinking country. Yes, there are many many exceptions and most of them are very socioeconomic. My parents did not drink wine. Beer? Yes. And I don't mean Microbrews, I mean Budweiser. My entire extended family is the same. Wine? Why get wine when you can drink Budweiser, or if y

        • by mattack2 (1165421)

          But hell, of late, I can't hardly find a woman that knows how to cook shit. What happened there?

          That's not at all sexist.. nope.

          Me? I'm the opposite. I love to cook, and tho I don't have a lot of time, I dedicate my Sunday's to cooking. I cook often 2-4 entrees, and the same sides...and eat those throughout the week for lunches and dinner, finishing them by about Friday or so.

          You "don't have a lot of time", yet you *dedicate* hours and hours one day a week to cooking.

          It definitely sounds like you LIKE cook

    • Re:"Dry wine"? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mjr167 (2477430) on Friday March 22, 2013 @12:28PM (#43247659)

      By not drinking wines? What makes a wine "dry" and not "wet"? Pretty much the only thing I know about wine is that some are red and some are white and some are pink and it doesn't froth properly.

      Not to mention that the wine description terms are all bizarre and might get you fired if someone heard them out of context.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        It's not 1950. There's this thing called the Internet. If you don't know what something is, then look it up. Even in the 50s, this could be done by using some reference material. The database was on paper and it was a bit of a bother, but it was still available.

        Clueless in 2013? Just Google it.

        • Re:"Dry wine"? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mjr167 (2477430) on Friday March 22, 2013 @01:59PM (#43248933)

          According to Google, the definition of a "dry" wine is one that is not "sweet." They are not labeled "sweet" or "dry" when you go to the grocery store to buy one. Their descriptions have things like "baked, feminine aroma with tight, zesty, legs" or some other such nonsense.

          Wine is something that it really sucks to have to buy for those of us that don't do it very often. What's the difference between a $100 bottle of wine, a $30 bottle of wine, and a $10 bottle of wine? Which do I want to pour on top of my roast? Will any "dry" wine do? Do I want one from California or from Argentina? And no, the guy stocking selves in the grocery store cannot answer these questions and google does not know which varieties of wine my grocery store has in stock today.

          If I am just going to go and "ask google" how to make my roast, why the fuck did I buy a cook book?

          • They are not labeled "sweet" or "dry" when you go to the grocery store to buy one. Their descriptions have things like "baked, feminine aroma with tight, zesty, legs" or some other such nonsense.

            Except, that's only true in strawmanland. Wine terminology is pretty consistent and reproducible. Exception, as usually, exist. Also, don't you have at least one decent wine store in the region where you just could ask something like "I need something to braise a lamb shank in, what would you recommend?". They tend to know their stuff.

          • They are not labeled "sweet" or "dry" when you go to the grocery store to buy one.

            True. Round here it says shit like "doux" or "sec". WTF is all that about?

          • The local liquor store has the sweetness codes for each wine as part of the label, right beside the name/price/etc.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        same that makes everything else either dry or sweet. what is lamb? what is a pot? what is salty?

        I'm just wondering what the fuck is a lazy ass book review of a shitty cooking book doing on slashdot..

    • Similarly - How on earth do you survive in modern times without knowing how to Google or having the common sense to ask for help?

      The author is a complete ass, and this crappy "review" disinclines me to listen to anything else he has to say. Cooking is like any other skill, you can't follow instructions robotically and expect to come out with an edible result - you have to think and you have to practice. Yes, you'll screw stuff up, but you won't learn without trying.

      • It is a particularly prevalent point when it comes to cooking, though - people somewhat accept that they can't crank out top notch code after reading JavaScript for dummies, but when it comes to cooking, suddenly there is some weird expectation that you should be perfect without practice, experience and common sense.
    • How on earth do you reach adulthood without knowing what a dry wine is?

      Too busy with his furniture hacks? [slashdot.org]

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      â¦you are someone who doesn't drink alcohol (to any serious degree, though I have had sips of various things)?

      (Purposefully possibly wrong: I *think* it just means it's not sweet, but given various wine, I couldn't tell where the dividing line between dry and not dry is.)

  • Wrong objective (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Friday March 22, 2013 @11:49AM (#43247205) Homepage
    Cooks don't write cookbooks so that people can make the foods. They write cookbooks so that they can be writers. That's the objective. Most people who buy cookbooks just read them and gaze lovingly at the photos (which of course have been specially staged by professional photographers). Successfully enabling novices (I hate the word "newbie" outside its computer context) to successfully make delicious food isn't even on the menu.
    • by Gordonjcp (186804)

      A proper "cookbook for geeks" wouldn't have complete recipes, it would have a bunch of examples of techniques - here's how to make a roux, here's how to make that into a white sauce, you can do a bunch of stuff to that white sauce now like make it a cheese sauce, that kind of thing.

      Reading the "review" it sounds like he really doesn't have much idea about food or cooking. I don't really understand how someone can grow up not knowing the basics of cooking and eating.

      • A proper "cookbook for geeks" wouldn't have complete recipes, it would have a bunch of examples of techniques - here's how to make a roux, here's how to make that into a white sauce, you can do a bunch of stuff to that white sauce now like make it a cheese sauce, that kind of thing.

        There's enough of that kind available - Jacques Pepin's Techniques is quite good, though the illustration quality lacks sadly.

        But, yeah, that review is atrocious. Sadly, enough people seem indeed to grow up withour knowing the basics of cooking and eating. We are losing parts of an essential cultural technique outside of some niches. Hell, I once saw premade scrambled eggs on toast deep-frozen in a supermarket. WTF.

        • I saw frozen mashed potatoes once. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but if you can't be arsed to make them properly (and I sometimes can't) isn't that what the powder/granules are for? Kids today...

      • A proper "cookbook for geeks" wouldn't have complete recipes, it would have a bunch of examples of techniques...

        Irma Rombauer's timeless classic "Joy Of Cooking" is such a book. It should be the "starting point" of any culinary flowchart.
        Dinner: Sorted.

        • Seconded, if you only buy one cookbook, buy that one. It's not (at least the editions I've used) terribly useful for ethnic foods or specialty items but if you're cooking classic dishes from scratch it's an outstanding resource.
      • A proper "cookbook for geeks" wouldn't have complete recipes, it would have a bunch of examples of techniques - here's how to make a roux, here's how to make that into a white sauce, you can do a bunch of stuff to that white sauce now like make it a cheese sauce, that kind of thing.

        Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle already wrote that book.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 22, 2013 @11:52AM (#43247237)

    Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking [amazon.com]

    On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen [amazon.com]

    The Science of Good Cooking (Cook's Illustrated Cookbooks) [amazon.com]

    Posted this instead of bitching about this review not being "News for Nerds and all that Matters."

    • by SlashdotOgre (739181) on Friday March 22, 2013 @12:41PM (#43247827) Journal

      I would also add, "CookWise: The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking, The Secrets of Cooking Revealed" by Shirley O. Corriher to the list. It explains rational behind why things work the way they do (i.e. why lard or shortening produce a flakier crust than butter). It doesn't shy away from details, discussing things like Maillard reactions, and the recipes are well chosen to focus on what's being described and tasty too.

    • I have all of the above books and being a chef as well, i'm going to watch this one argument play out.

      I would add that Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher are great influences in the food scene.

      Nathan Mhyrvold is a great guy with the dough to pull off what he did with Modernist Cuisine.

      Mcghee's book is standard learning now.

      Anything by Cooks should be regarded as well done, they don't miss much if anything.

      • Anything by Cooks should be regarded as well done

        Great, I hate finding blood in my steak after ordering it well done.

  • " porcelain Dutch oven"

    All the dutch ovens I've ever seen are cast iron- designed for their original purpose- to be an iron oven you can drop into a campfire and bake stuff in.

    • by jfengel (409917) on Friday March 22, 2013 @12:26PM (#43247619) Homepage Journal

      He's talking about enamel-covered iron Dutch ovens. They're nice in that they don't rust and can be thrown in a dishwasher. They're generally white inside, which can be an advantage over the black cast iron ones, especially in a recipe like this where it helps to see the brown stuff sticking to the bottom of the pan.

      The best-known ones run $200+ from La Creuset, but I picked up one by Tramontina for under $40 and it does a fine job. It's a nice item to have on hand, and you can also use it for general large-pot purposes (making pasta, soups, etc.) You could use a plain cast-iron pot about as well, and considerably cheaper, though honestly if all you have is your basic six-quart steel pot, it would also serve for this recipe. (Do avoid the ultra-cheap flimsy aluminum ones, which will burn your food, and then the handles will fall off.)

      • by Hatta (162192)

        If you can't drop it in a campfire, what good is it? I have a cast iron "dutch oven" without legs and no rim on the lid. I can't figure out what it's good for. I already have a slow cooker and an oven, so...?

        • by jfengel (409917)

          Sounds like it's pretty redundant, though if you cook a lot you might find there are days when you need a second large pot.

          I don't have a slow cooker, but I'll often use my large cast iron dutch oven in the oven set to a low temperature (150 or 180). That accomplishes much the same purpose, with the bonus that I could start it on the stove top (say, for browning meat or sweating onions).

          That takes up oven space, of course. One great thing about a slow cooker is that it works off an electric outlet, and it d

          • by Hatta (162192)

            Oh, I forgot the other thing a dutch oven is good for. Frying. Can't do that in a slow cooker. Though you can do that in a wok.

      • He might be talking about a ceramic one... they do make them out of pure ceramic, and they are as good at retaining heat as the cast iron, but dishwasher safe.

      • Remember to get the metal knob. Melting the plastic one when making bread does not a happy home cook make.
        http://www.amazon.com/Le-Creuset-Stainless-Medium-Replacement/dp/B006MVYE44/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363990411&sr=8-1&keywords=metal+knob+le+creuset [amazon.com]

  • Songs for cooking? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat (796938) on Friday March 22, 2013 @11:59AM (#43247325) Homepage Journal

    If this book comes with songs for each recipe that you can cook by, that should have been your clue things weren't going to end well.

    As to the reviewers comment about using the instructions as if a beginner were going to read them, that is the same approach I take when developing installation instructions. You have to assume the person reading the instructions has no clue of what they're doing and give them step-by-step instructions.

    It might seem simplistic, but it insures there is no misunderstanding of what needs to be done. Including pictures does wonders to help get an idea across to someone.

    The FOSS community should take note of this practice when releasing products into the wild. Maybe their software would be more readily accepted instead of people having to search web sites or being told, "RTFM newb!".

    • by ddtstudio (61065)

      Mod parent up... as a UX person, I can never seem to remind people often enough that they are not the user. Sure, you know what everything does and why, because _you built it that way_. Every other person, not so much.

      You have to laugh at how the core of Ferriss's time- and effort-saving plans all seem to involve variations on, "have other people do it", "have expensive devices that can do it for you", "take advantage of other people" (in this example, ruining a hotel's iron so that nobody else can use it)

      • Are you hiring or know someone who is? I might be losing my job sometime this year (government related) and would prefer not to wait until I'm kicked out the door to find something else.

      • as a UX person, I can never seem to remind people often enough that they are not the user. Sure, you know what everything does and why, because _you built it that way_.

        That's not what UX people do. It's what ergonomists/human factors specialists do.

        UX "people" tell you to make all the icons invisible until you press them because that looks more elegant.

  • by fermion (181285) on Friday March 22, 2013 @12:02PM (#43247347) Homepage Journal
    Can you teach a kid to tie their shoes only with instructions [ehow.com]. I don't know. We would have to find a adult who can read the language the instructions are written in, has experience comprehending and following instruction, and has experience with string, maybe even tying knots. Then we could give them these instruction and see how well they do.

    I can tell you in most cases people cannot follow instructions for the following reasons: low level of literacy, unfamiliar with art, or some sort of manual dexterity is required. We do not sit athletes down with books and just let them practice. We go to great expense to provide them with coaches because there is a process of physical movements that must be observed and corrected.

    At it's basic level cooking does not require much physical dexterity, but to expect a begineer to be able to follow instructions for the first time and get it right is like thinking a beginner can read a book on basketball and then make a shot for the first time. It is not a reasonable expectation.

    The reason some people think it is a reasonable expectation is that they have background. If I took a person who has been shooting baskets for her entire life, then yes they might be able to read a book and do a better job. Likewise a person who has experience in the kitchen, is familiar with the art, can equally understand and be a better cook. Such a person has experience with the tools, the heat, the pans, the knives. They have context.

    But without context then practice is required. Even boiling noodles is not going to happen the first time.

    The point of this that any cook book requires some previous knowledge. If one have never used a dutch oven to cook in the oven, then there is going to be no possibility of success. If one does not understand how an item is supposed to be transformed in cooking, then there is no possibility of success. Cooking is not magic where you throw some stuff in a better stuff miraculously appears. It is a high skill. Sometimes I think that because it is traditionally 'women's work' some cannot comprehend how difficult it is. One would not expect a random person off the street to come in a code even 'hello world' in C simply from instructions. Yet everyone who can boil water and make Ramen noodles think they should be able to make a Soufflé.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      At it's basic level cooking does not require much physical dexterity, but to expect a begineer to be able to follow instructions for the first time and get it right is like thinking a beginner can read a book on basketball and then make a shot for the first time. It is not a reasonable expectation.

      Physical dexterity has to be learned. Like you say, there's no physical dexterity in cooking. So this isn't a valid analogy at all.

      The reason some people think it is a reasonable expectation is that they have b

      • . Like you say, there's no physical dexterity in cooking. So this isn't a valid analogy at all.

        Knife skills are physical dexterity. Fileting a fish. Deboning a chicken. It's not all about dexterity, sure, but it plays into it. The analogy is fine - some things, like estimating done-ness of a piece of meat, you only learn by trial and experience and not by reading a recipe.

        • Correctly combining the egg foam and almond in a French Macaron is certainly something requiring learned dexterity and much swearing while learning it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You can't follow most types of cookbook recipes verbatim because ingredients vary... flavor intensity, fat content, availability, and everything else about ingredients is highly seasonal and regional. On top of that, individual tastes vary and most cookbooks "play it safe" by under-counting spices and flavorful ingredients so that if someone does follow the recipe verbatim they won't complain that the results were overly spicy. The only exceptions to this rule are when very specific chemistry is involved,

    • Cookbooks are to provide ideas and get you to try new/unfamiliar techniques. They aren't to give you a step-by-step guide for making specific dishes.

      Julia Childs must be spinning in her grave to read this, at precisely 2409 rpm.

  • I cook every day and describe what I've done at: EatOutInEveryNight.blogspot.com
  • (http colon //24.5-cent.us/egoless_documentation.doc), published in SysAdmin mag.

    Try writing recipes that way.... Note that I saw *DRAFT* when I give it to users, *before* publishing....

                    mark

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Friday March 22, 2013 @12:38PM (#43247805)

    Except instead take "cookbooks" and replace it with Open Source documentation and you have the same exact dilemma. A bunch of idyllic elite snobs writing instructions they find painfully obvious and unimportant but missing the 400 steps and details required to do set up something correctly so that it actually works.

  • by Ian 0x57 (688051) on Friday March 22, 2013 @12:39PM (#43247813)
    I have to say, that reading the review made me feel like the person doing the reviewing was a big part of the problem.
  • by SlashdotOgre (739181) on Friday March 22, 2013 @12:50PM (#43247943) Journal

    Just go watch some old episodes of Julia Child or anything by Jacques Pepin. If you're an Amazon Prime member, all 10 seasons of Julia Child's "The French Chef" are available for instant viewing.

    If you prefer to read, then the same two people are both great choices. While all of Julia's books are worth reading in my opinion, the first volume of "The Art of French Cooking" and "The Way to Cook" (which she considered her magnum opus) are excellent. Julia doesn't just provide recipes, but she explains techniques (dice vs chop vs mince vs etc.) and rational (i.e. why drying meat before browning is critical).

    On the Jacques Pepin side, his Complete Technique is like a textbook for how to cook anything. The best part is there's literally thousands of photos of how to do every step. As the book is really just a translation of his two french books ("La Technique" & "La Methode") there are some parts that might not be too applicable for most Americans, but overall it's well worth a read.

    • I second that. As a next step, I suggest Robuchon's "The Complete Robuchon" - it's a mixture of technique and actual recipes, showing basic preparations for all kinds of meats and produce. French tradition at its finest, in particular the potato chapter.
      • I second that. As a next step, I suggest Robuchon's "The Complete Robuchon" - it's a mixture of technique and actual recipes, showing basic preparations for all kinds of meats and produce. French tradition at its finest, in particular the potato chapter.

        My and my wife ate a 16 course tasting menu at Joel Robuchon's restaurant in Vegas. $700 per head. Best meal of my life and cheaper than blackjack. The man knows how to cook.

        • Never had the pleasure myself. But I can imagine just from what I have learned from his books. Simplicity, coaxing out the flavors of ingredients - straightforward, yet brillant french tradition.
    • by rueger (210566) *
      For beginners I always suggest the Joy of Cooking, the older the edition the better. For simple "American" fare you can't beat it.

      Plus it has the culinary equivalent to MAN pages.

      Though I'll always take Julia Child for sheer delight.
  • There are good cookbooks, and then there are cookbooks, like this one, that are published by a celebrity or celebrity chef. Other bad cookbooks include those with big glossy pictures intended for a coffee table and pop culture / fad cookbooks.
    • Massively illustrated cookbooks are not necessarily bad - though I give you that most people just use them for the coffee table. One book in my collection that I really like is Murata's "Kaiseki". Sure, the recipes in there are only a footnote in culinary shorthand and you REALLY need to know what you are doing if you want to reproduce them, but I learned a lot about the aesthetics of plating even if most of the recipes are clearly above my level.
  • I was really hoping this was a book about configuration management. :(
  • Really, do you need to know anything more?
  • The result tasted OK, but probably only about as good as if I'd just mixed up the nuts and cauliflower and other ingredients and cooked them in a pot.

    It's cooking, not alchemy. Why did you expect cauliflower and nuts cooked in a pot to not taste like cauliflower and nuts cooked in a pot?

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