In the Company of Geniuses

I completed my 10 Weeks of Cooking Genius Recipes last week, where I cooked from Food52’s Genius Recipes cookbook and sometimes online column. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please scroll down and check out my Instagram account below, where I chronicled this cooking challenge. It actually took more than 10 weeks because I took a couple of trips to the beach in between, and sometimes work got too busy. Here’s a little summary of how it all began and what happened along the way.

Picking the Recipes

I didn’t even plan out all 10 recipes at the beginning. I just picked the recipes based on what I wanted to eat and what seemed simple enough. That’s why in the beginning of the challenge, I made quite a few vegetable dishes because as a cook I’m generally more comfortable with cooking vegetables than meat. Roy Finamore’s Broccoli Cooked Forever, for example, was totally within my comfort zone. As for Roger Vergé’s Fried Eggs with Wine Vinegar, it was something I wanted to try again because I didn’t like it the first time. But then there was Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman’s Ginger Fried Rice that I thought I was going to breeze through but actually shook my confidence a bit. When I noticed that perhaps I wasn’t challenging myself enough, I began making conscious choices, like cook a large amount of meat (Diana Kennedy’s Carnitas where I cooked over a kilo of pork), make a soup (Heidi Swanson’s Chickpea Stew with Saffron, Yogurt, and Garlic), make a good carbonara and cut the onion into ribbons (Michel Richard’s Onion Carbonara), bake (The Silver Palate’s Molasses Cookies), and cook something using leftovers (Bert Greene’s Potato Scallion Cakes, where I had to cook mashed potatoes for the first time).

What Happened

This is how Kristen Miglore describes Genius Recipes in her introduction to the cookbook: “These recipes are about reworking what we’ve been taught and skipping past all the canonical versions to a smarter way.” That should have consoled me, but it didn’t until about seven or eight recipes in. I had constantly feared disasters up until that point. Little by little, I felt I was able to tell myself, “This is actually pretty easy.” I still approached the last three recipes with a small amount of doubt and anxiety, but by then I had also realized that I wasn’t that bad at following instructions and that I didn’t actually dislike following them. You see, I used to never like reading instructions, every kind of instructions. I had little patience for them and tended to skip over them. But I guess with this cooking challenge, I was in a different mindset. My life didn’t depend on it. The stakes weren’t high, but I suppose practicing, improving, acquiring new skills, and gaining confidence were so important to me that going carefully from step to step felt like learning and accomplishing something. It felt fun and rewarding. And I’m happy to report that there were no disasters. I actually enjoyed eating all the 10 things I made.

The Verdict

I’m definitely coming back to these 10 recipes. I want to improve on all of them. I also want to keep coming back to the book and the column as there are many interesting recipes I have yet to try, like Claudia Roden’s Orange and Almond Cake, Suzanne Goin’s Grilled Pork Burgers, Dan Barber’s Cauliflower Steaks, Daniel Patterson’s Poached Scrambled Eggs, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Basic Hummus, Roberto Santibanez’s Classic Guacamole, Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, and many many more. I definitely recommend this book and the column for beginners. They are unintimidating and come packed with tips and techniques that make life easier. I wasn’t looking for easy, though, when I started this challenge. I think looking to become smarter at cooking is more useful in the long run. And Genius Recipes is about cooking smarter instead of just making food that tastes good.

What’s Next?

The next cookbook I’m cooking from is Small Victories by Julia Turshen. I’m going to be cooking one recipe from each of the eight sections of the book. The tentative title for this challenge is 8 Recipes 12 Victories. And I might bring the challenge onto the blog instead of just chronicling it on Instagram. So stay tuned!


Cooking Genius Recipes Challenge: Recipe List

 Week 1: Broccoli Cooked Forever | Roy Finamore

Week 2: Fried Eggs with Wine Vinegar | Roger Vergé

Week 3: Ginger Fried Rice | Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman

Week 4: Pasta with Let-my-eggplant-go-free Puree | Francis Lam

Week 5: Diva of a Grilled Cheese | Ruth Reichl

Week 6: Chickpea Stew with Saffron, Yogurt, and Garlic | Heidi Swanson

Week 7: Carnitas | Diana Kennedy

Week 8: Onion Carbonara | Michel Richard

Week 9: Potato Scallion Cakes (Frittera) | Bert Greene

Week 10: Molasses Cookies | The Silver Palate