A few months ago, I was gifted The Food Lab by Kenji Lopez-Alt. It is a big honking, beautiful, brick of a book. If cooking is not your thing, it also works as an effective weapon against intruders.
If you like knowing the science and mechanics behind your food, this is the book for you. If you like to go off book when you’re cooking, maybe stick with “Do What You Want” Stew. His recipes can be meticulous, and specific, and frankly, a little involved, but having tried a good number of his dishes, the results are typically amazing. His recipe for extra-crunchy fried chicken is still some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.
I’ve mentioned previously, I use my Sundays to prep my food for the whole week, and all signs point to this being a long one. Cue breakfast! Breakfast is the best, you guys. I don’t understand people who don’t like breakfast.* There is nothing more comforting than a breakfast sandwich, a cup of coffee and a book, preferably about Queen Victoria. She was a weirdo, but she’s my kind of weirdo.
I digress. I remember once as I child, my mom saying, “we’re having breakfast for dinner,” and thinking it was truly the ultimate rebellion. Breakfast for dinner?! Get out of this town. Breakfast is for morning time!
I always was a rule follower.
So with a little help from my culinarily-rebellious half, let’s see how Kenji does breakfast. This week’s agenda: lemon ricotta pancakes, potato hash with corned beef, and bacon. Because of course, bacon.
Lemon Ricotta Pancakes:Both the good thing and bad thing about The Food Lab is Kenji includes the recipe for everything. Everything. You get excited about a recipe, and get ready to cook, and suddenly you realize that you were supposed to make your own fresh ricotta and dry pancake mix for this recipe, as well as craft your own mixing bowl from clay you gathered during your travels.** But don’t worry, those recipes are all included.
Ultimately, I don’t think you’re going to ruin anything by buying pre-made ingredients from the grocery store, especially if you have a track record of not making cheese very well, but I tend to get a little paranoid about that, given how specific his instructions are.
For example, the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of melted butter, that has been slightly cooled. How slight is slightly? Or the instruction to, “heat 1/2 teaspoon oil in a 12-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers.” Until it shimmers? What if I have a generally-shimmery outlook on life? I don’t, but what if I did??
In my kitchen shimmers=when I’m worried the pan is getting too hot, and my kitchen lighting isn’t conducive to shimmering so just do it already!
Snark aside, this was a pretty straightforward recipe, and truthfully, pretty lovely to prepare. Zesting lemons always leaves my studio apartment smelling nice and clean. And the reality is, my apartment is kind of nice and not at all clean. I chose to save the rest of the batter, and fix the pancakes on the spot throughout the week. That also allows me to change it up a little bit, if I want to mix in some blueberries and raspberries. Would I make it again? Definitely, yes.
I’m pretty sure I burnt them, but the pancakes had a nice subtle flavor that paired with the potato hash really well. And speaking of…
(You don’t have to tell me how clever I am. Unless you want to. Then send it to me in an email because compliments make me uncomfortable.)
Sigh. I am once again microwave-less when a recipe calls for a microwave. According to the recipe, I’m supposed to cook the potatoes in the microwave till “slightly undercooked.” I employed the Meredith “Poke it and See What Happens” method. If you are unfamiliar, and you are cooking potatoes in an oven, when you should be cooking them in a microwave but you don’t have a microwave, preheat the oven to 400. Leave them in there for 8 minutes. Then, poke them to see if they feel slightly undercooked. No? Stick them back in the oven. Yes? Awesome. Thanks for using the Meredith “Poke it and see What Happens” method. It was a pleasure to have you.
Don’t be intimidated, I’m just very good at food.
I’m less good at deli counters. I was trying to buy corned beef today at the deli counter, and asked for “8 ounces of corned beef in thick slices,” what I got was 8 slices of corned beef in “very thin slices.” Come on, deli guy! I just mastered the meat counter! Don’t ruin my confidence!
So this recipe, originally advertised as potato hash with corned beef, has turned into potato hash with dreams of corned beef. A corned beef after taste. An air of corned beef. The corned beef is basically a garnish.
As for the recipe, it’s pretty good. It’s hard to mess up what equates to a big skillet full of stuff. Because I’m pairing this with the lemon ricotta pancakes, I plan on adding a cup of spinach to the pan when I reheat it to try to calm down carb central. On that note, I also went 50/50 on the russet potatoes and the sweet potatoes. The recipe calls for all russet, but when you eat sweet potatoes it at least looks like you’re trying to be healthy. Would I make it again? Yeah, if I had a craving.
Pretty much what you would expect out of a recipe that explains how to cook bacon.
- Have frying pan.
- Put bacon in frying pan.
- Eat bacon.
So I don’t have a lot to say on the matter. Much like the hash, it’s hard to mess up bacon.
Timeout: I’m eating these things as I type this post. I’m not a big pancake person, but I HIGHLY recommend them. I cooked two servings of the batter for dinner tonight, and I want to go make more. I’m definitely going to make these again.
If you want a cookbook with specific dishes that you can quickly make on a weeknight after work, this is not the book for you. If you want a cookbook that will teach you technique and culinary staples that, once mastered, you can use over and over again, The Food Lab is more your speed.
And if you fear intruders, I’m telling you, it’s got some heft.
You guys! This was pretty successful! I love when recipes don’t end in me wondering if I should just throw away a pan!
*I don’t know if we’ve discussed this, but I don’t actually like chocolate. When people discover that, I always grow weary with the inevitable response, “but it’s chocolate!” But when I hear people don’t like breakfast, an indignant, “but it’s BREAKFAST!” is not far behind. I stand by my indignation. Chocolate continues to be mediocre.
**That last one is a lie. But if you do make clay mixing bowls, I think it would probably help.