Cookbook Review – L.A. Son

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You don’t get Roy Choi’s cookbook L.A. Son because you want ideas of what to make for dinner. You don’t even get it because you want to replicate the delicious food you’ve had on his truck or restaurants. You get his book because you love Roy Choi and love L.A. His book is part memoir and part cookbook. I loved the memoir part. He did a great job conveying the immigrant experience – an immigrant growing into an American kid trying to embrace or at least fit in with two cultures. Coincidentally, I just read Gary Shteyngart’s memoir, Little Failure, which covered much of the same ground. Bet you never thought you’d get that comparison in a food blog, right?

I love Roy Choi. I had been hearing about his Kogi truck but never wanted to stand in the long lines that he always gets. And then miraculously, the Kogi truck showed up in front of my house! It turned out that our neighbors were having a party and invited us to join. The Kogi truck food was amazing. The strong flavors of Korean barbecue beef on a taco – it was a natural. The blackjack quesadilla – amazing. It seems simple to say, but the food is so good because the flavors are so strong.

And then there was the time that I went to Choi’s restaurant Chego…on the day Jonathan Gold was reviewing it. Talk about food celebrity! If you look at the L.A. Times online photo gallery with Gold’s review, you can see a blurred out picture of my friends and me. The next time I went to Chego, I saw the man, Roy Choi, himself. He was sitting outside looking at his phone. Here is my lunch companion’s selfie that just happened to have Roy Choi in the background – how did that happen?

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Back to L.A. Son. Since the book is really a memoir, the recipes make no sense unless you read the chapters. I tried some of the recipes and they’re a little crazy but some of them were very, very good. The recipes call for a lot of ingredients, many of which are Asian and must be found in an Asian market. On the other hand, some of the recipes with a lot of ingredients are very easy. It seemed like Choi’s basic instruction is throw all of these ingredients into the blender, pour into a pan, add protein, cook, done. I made an eggplant curry dish this way (he had you add raw diced eggplant into the sauce and cook for about 10 minutes or so – it worked – it tasted no different than if I had sauteed the eggplant first). Same for Korean short ribs – blend a bunch of ingredients, pour into pan, add short ribs, cook for a few hours, add some veggies and cook a while longer. Delicious. Even his crazy dish of chili spaghetti was fantastic. Why don’t we always put chili on spaghetti? I will definitely make that for a Super Bowl party.

Beware of several things, which you’ll notice right away. His recipes seem to be scaled for large quantities so you may have to adjust. Also, the dishes are delicious because they’re highly flavored. Sometimes the recipes get carried away, like the one which called for copious amounts of cayenne pepper. (I don’t think so.) Or he’ll have you throw the whole serrano pepper, stem, seeds and all, into the blender.

I found that I couldn’t find that many recipes that I wanted to cook out of the cookbook. But the ones that I tried were so boldly flavored that my regular weeknight fare seems so bland in comparison. I’m glad I read and cooked out of L.A. Son, but it’s not going to be my go-to cookbook any time soon. Sadly.

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Cookbook Review – VB6

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Ah Mark Bittman, why don’t I like your recipes more?

I like Mark Bittman.  I like his approach to cooking and eating and I like what he has to say about food.  I have his “How to Cook Everything” and “Minimalist Cooks Dinner” cookbooks.  “How to Cook Everything” has pages falling out of it because I refer to it alot – it really does have recipes for pretty much anything you want to make, with lots of variations.  None of the recipes are the best one you’re going to find for that particular dish but they’re passable.  I only cooked from “Minimalist Cooks Dinner” a few times because the recipes were, meh.

I first heard about Bittman’s VB6 diet at a lecture he gave in 2012.  I arrived early, hoping to stalk him – I mean make chit chat with him, and get a good seat.  He was sequestered away in a private room so stalking was not possible but I did get an excellent seat.  His talk was about the type of food Americans eat (bad) and where it comes from (also bad).  I kept forgetting that I wasn’t listening to Michael Pollan — their messages are similar.  During the Q&A, he talked about his diet which he calls VB6, or Vegan Before 6:00.  (The VB6 cookbook hadn’t come out yet.) He needed to lose some weight and had some health problems so his doctor recommended that he become a vegan.  His compromise was VB6.  He eats vegan for breakfast, lunch, and any midday snacks and eats what he wants for dinner.  The diet was successful for him and over time, his dinners became less meat heavy and healthier. He still has the flexibility to eat what he wants or splurge from time to time, but his overall diet is good.

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I found the VB6 cookbook to be a bit overwhelming.  To follow the suggested diet, you’d have to cook breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  Bittman gives alternatives, for example when you’re eating in a restaurant, but I get the impression that this should be an exception.  I generally eat toast (no cooking involved) and coffee with frothed milk (one of my reasons for living – coffee with frothed Clover whole milk – no way am I giving that up) for breakfast, I go out for lunch when I can (my opportunity to take advantage of the wonders that is Los Angeles) and dinner is the meal that I cook every day. I went on a three-week cleanse once and had to cook all three meals and snacks and although the food was delicious and healthy, it was alot of work.  I was so happy to go back to my morning toast and coffee.

However, I did cook some recipes from VB6.  I liked that the recipes, even the ones with meat, were veggie-centric. I make a vegetable-laden pasta sauce that yielded enough for two meals — I froze half (sauce was ok, nothing spectacular), baked falafel (bad idea or maybe it was just my execution), a vegetable-laden frittata (very good), muesli (excellent and simple, a worthy replacement for my morning toast), and baked ziti with greens (by this time, I had returned the book to the library and had to remember the recipe along with some improvisation).

Bottom line, I did not love any of the recipes.  However, I do like the VB6 approach if you’re the type that needs rules to guide your diet yet also don’t want to be denied the foods you love.