Monday, October 18, 2010

Book/Food Review: Cooking For Geeks (1)

Confession: I can't cook. In two and a half years of marriage I have probably cooked less than a few dozen times.  There are two main reasons I don't like to cook.
1) I don't know how to do it and it seems really hard to learn - that's time that could be spent reading!

2) I am incredibly picky - it's easier just to order what I want cooked exactly the way I want it from a restaurant than to figure out how to modify a recipe to suit me

When I saw Cooking For Geeks by Jeff Potter I knew it was the perfect way for me to learn.  I'm a geek!  I love geek things!  I have Dr. Who artwork hanging on the wall in my house!  I contacted the author for a review copy and he was gracious enough to not only send me a PDF for my Nook, but also to answer interview questions as I go through his book and test out my new cooking knowledge.  Along for the ride are my expert tasters: Bestie, Bestie's husband, and my husband.

This week was the first chapter of the book, which deals with the need for preparedness.  The reader learns how important it is to read the entire recipe first, make sure you have all your ingredients and tools, and then start.  But let's be real - this is me we are talking about.  I thought, "Self you are way too awesome for advance preparations.  Send Luke to the store and wing it!"  So that's exactly what I did.  It turns out, Jeff is definitely on to something with this idea about thinking ahead when you cook.  Here's what happened when I made steak tips and rosemary mashed potatoes.

Step One: Take the dogs to the park.  Tell husband you must leave no later than 4.  Stay until 5.

Step Two: Rush home and shower.  Send husband to the store with a grocery list.

Step Three: Get out recipe and realize it calls for vacuum-sealed food bags and a thermometer.  Panic.  Lay on the couch and read blogs until husband gets home and whine that you can't make dinner after all.

Step Four: Sudden burst of inspiration!  You can make your own vacuum sealed bag with ziploc!  Find thermometer in pile of unused wedding gifts stashed in back drawer.

Step Five: Use fancy spoons from same pile of unused wedding gifts to rig your not-quite vacuum sealed bag so that it doesn't float.

Step Six: Peel some potatoes.  Pout about how your genius is being wasted on insignificant and menial tasks such as potato peeling.

Step Seven: Company arrives - panic.  Make insecure self-deprecating jokes to cover feelings of intense inadequacy.  Serving a meal you cooked (as a non-cooker) is somewhat like those dreams where you are standing in front of your middle school peers in your underwear. 

Step Seven: Serve dinner.

And that, friends, is how it's done.  Now for the food reviews.

From Bestie:
Out of 10 possible stars for a homecooked meal, I give it a 7. The beef tips were very good, especially dipped in the gravy. I really really liked adding rosemary to the mashed potatoes, it gave it a different flavor that was delicious. I think that overall, the meal was a success. My only suggestion is to add a third side to the meal, perhaps a green like asparagus or broccoli.

From Bestie's husband:
The meal was delicious. I think the gravy pulled everything together and tasted great. The meat tasted perfect. I think the only thing that would have made it better was a little more planning and confidence in your cooking. You were able to make a great meal, but you were slightly stressed about it, when you didn't need to be. No worries, it was great!

So, what did I learn?  When an expert writes an entire chapter on the importance of reading directions - you might want to consider reading the directions.  Next week I'll be reading the recipes ahead of time, buying the ingredients myself, and giving myself more time to prepare.  I'll also have the answers to the questions I asked Jeff about this week's meal.


  1. Congrats on the dinner Julie!

    I've been making dinner since I was about 14 or so but even then, sometimes I find myself unprepared and it sucks! I know how that feeling is all to well and it's quite frustrating.

    Can't wait to see how the next one goes!

  2. Haha, I can't cook either! If I follow a recipe EXACTLY, then mostly it comes out edible. I try to stick to baking cakes and stuff, because I'm pretty good at that (once again, if I have an exact recipe). Glad someone else shares my pain! Hey if you get a chance you should check out my book blog. We don't really have the same taste in books, but maybe I'll review one that you'll want to try. I see some on your blog that I want to check out! You can check out my book blog here: Bookerella

  3. Crystal - I'm so jealous of your cooking skills! Every time I've eaten at your house it has been delicious! Maybe I should interview you to find out some of your secrets...

    Jamester - Thanks for stopping by! I love your blog and I always enjoy branching out in my reading!

  4. Aw, thanks :-) You know where to find me if you decide to do so. Next time you guys come over I'm going to have to make this awesome Chicken Taco stuff. It takes FOREVER to make but it's SOO good.