Book Review: The 4-Hour Chef

by | Nov 21, 2012

The 4-Hour Chef

In my humble opinion, there are few things on this earth that improve your life (not to mention your physique) more than learning to cook.

Like most urban kids in the late 20th century, I grew up thinking that “cooking” meant heating frozen lasagna or adding orange powder and butter to tubular noodles. Heating food is hardly the same as cooking, but even if you love Kraft’s neon version of Mac N’ Cheese, if this is where your culinary adventures end you’re selling yourself sadly short.

That said, by no stretch of the imagination do I consider myself a chef. The most common request I get from readers is for more recipes. But while I am touched by the overwhelming positive responses to my roasted cauliflower and delicata squash dishes (both ultra-simple kitchen homeruns), it has been difficult for me to provide more detailed cooking instructions on a regular basis.

The reason for this is that I almost never use recipes myself. I find them constraining, which means they generate a certain amount of stress for me—not dissimilar from the feelings I had running experiments in the lab (you can keep your frozen aliquots of DNAse, thanks). It’s slightly comforting knowing I could cook by the book if I had to. But the reality is I have more fun being creative with the ingredients I have at the moment, sort of winging it as I go.

The result of this method is that while I often eat delicious food, I rarely cook exactly the same thing twice, which does not make for reliable recipe development. If I do share a recipe here on the blog, it is usually because I’ve found a simple technique to make an ingredient taste lightyears better than it had ever turned out on accident with my random kitchen hacking methods. These are discoveries I think will change your life, and I am very confident you can reproduce.

Of course when I first started cooking I was not proficient enough to be so whimsical. It took years of kitchen experiments and more than a few screw-ups to get to a place where most of the things I cook at home are edible. This skill level (nothing particularly impressive, but head and shoulders above most open-heat-serve American dinners) is the minimum you should strive for if you’re serious about optimizing your healthstyle.

Enter: The 4-Hour Chef. Despite the cooking theme, this is not a cookbook. Think of it more as a cooking class, where each recipe is designed to teach a skill (e.g. braising, sautéing, knife skills, etc.) and every subsequent recipe builds upon those of the last. The idea is to teach the principles of cooking, so that after finishing the book you can tackle any recipe you come across and, more important, have the skills to improvise on your own.

If you’ve struggled with cooking in the past, this alone is enough of a reason to pick up the book. Not only will it ensure that you have the essentials under your belt, it’ll also give you a few crowd-pleasers to dazzle dates and parents alike. But the fun doesn’t stop there.

The 4-Hour Chef is divided into five main parts: Meta-Learning, The Domestic, The Wild, The Scientist, and The Professional. For those familiar with Tim Ferriss‘ previous work, these subdivisions make perfect sense. If not, here’s a quick rundown:

Tim* is a bit of a self-made savant, and has built his career on starting as a no-name, know-nothing then transforming himself into a world-class _(fill in the blank)    . The “blank” for Tim has included holding a world record in tango, being a champion Chinese kickboxer, #1 best-selling author, etc. The full list of Tim’s accomplishments is astounding. As such he’s developed a reputation for learning things incredibly quickly, unusually and effectively. In The 4-Hour Chef he unveils the secrets of this “meta-learning” using cooking (a skill he’d always struggled with) as an example.

At first glance I was most excited about the Meta-Learning, Domestic and Scientist sections (go figure), and I was not disappointed. In “Meta” he breaks down the basics of deconstructing problems (e.g. language learning, tango, swimming, tasting, launching companies, etc.) and solving them in the most effective way possible. (It also includes how to say “I must eat” in 9 different languages. Win.). Long-time Ferriss fans will love this section.

Despite having a decent idea of how to navigate a kitchen, I learned a lot from the “Dom” section as well, and found its instructions far more logical than most introduction cookbooks. He focuses on transferable skills, like learning to “eyeball” measurements (while clarifying when you need to be exact) and knowing when something is “done.” There are also dozens of little tips and tricks that’ll instantly skyrocket your kitchen confidence, which is half the battle of sticking with it. Though I didn’t cook my way through the lesson plan (I’ve only had the book for a few days), it seemed highly approachable and even a little fun. The first day you’ll learn to make osso “buko” without ever touching a knife.

The “Sci” section wasn’t at all what I expected (come to think of it, I have no idea what I expected—I just like science). It turned out to be a crash course in molecular gastronomy, which left me a bit crestfallen at first. While I love eating at fancy restaurants that serve elegant foams and spherical droplets of surprising flavors, I’ve never had any desire to recreate these things at home; some things are best left to the professionals. But the second I saw his “Crunchy Bloody Mary” recipe where chipotle infused vodka and bloody mary mix is transformed into a gel used to fill mini celery sticks, I had a change of heart. Reading the science behind all the culinary magic of restaurants like Alinea and El Bulli is fascinating, and I picked up a few parlor tricks to impress my friends. This section is a great way to feed your inner food geek.

I didn’t expect to be as impressed with the “Wild” section. Catching city pigeons in the park with my bare hands? Thanks, but no thanks. Yet sure enough, I was roped in after a few pages. The recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy really drove home the importance of this section. Though he dives deeper into shelter building and arrow carving than I probably need (Tim may beg to differ), this section is an excellent lesson on the value of life, the importance of life skills, and even a few things you’ll use on a more regular basis, like quartering a chicken. To my surprise, I found myself enthralled by the details of cooking a squirrel over a fire and removing pigeon (aka squab) breasts from a whole bird (feathers and all) with bare hands. Yum.

The “Pro” section was another surprise. As I’ve said, I’ve never aspired to cook like a pro at home. I just want simple, tasty food. And the quicker the better. But this section is essential for transferring the skills from the rest of the book into things you can use in the real world. It also covers some essential “classic” dishes, like roasted chicken, that weren’t covered in the “Dom” section. Most important, this section teaches you the basics of kitchen creativity, and how to branch out and improvise on your own using the techniques from the earlier sections.

The 4-Hour Chef is an incredibly ambitious book, but it is clear from the beginning that the goal is always to simplify and distill the essence of any task to its basic elements. It teaches the principles of cooking (and learning in general), not one-off recipes that you may or may not get around to making. I anticipate using it for years as a reference, whether it’s to find restaurant recommendations in NYC or as a reminder of the essential few ingredients that define a specific ethnic cuisine. I’ve flagged dozens of pages to revisit in the future.

On that note, I’d highly recommend getting the hardcover if you plan to buy it. I have both the print copy and the Kindle version, and while the latter will certainly suffice (and is much lighter, if that’s an issue for you) you really miss out on the beautiful design and experience of the printed book. That said, both the print ($21.00) and the Kindle versions ($4.99) are on sale right now, so you can get both for less than the price of one originally priced hard copy ($35).

Lastly, I also love that Tim revisits life philosophies in this book, which I loved in The 4-Hour Work Week, but missed in The 4-Hour Body. The 4-Hour Chef touches on several invaluable life lessons, including why it is important to not waste food (especially if it comes from an animal), and how cooking is a path that brings you closer to love and life. Feeding ourselves is one of our most basic human needs, and is at the root of our life, our culture and ultimately our happiness.

Bon appetit! 

*Full disclosure: As many of you know, Tim is a friend. He even included a jumbotron shot of me stuffing my face in the first few pages of the book. Hence my using his first name in this review and not his surname, which is more conventional in journalism. That said, he did not ask me to write this review, nor am I being compensated in any way for writing it (unless you count the $0.20 Amazon affiliate commission I’d get from reviewing any book in their inventory—blogging isn’t particularly profitable). The truth is I would have reviewed The 4-Hour Chef whether I knew Tim or not (I was a fan before we were friends, The 4-Hour Work Week changed my life), because I knew it had the potential to be particularly valuable to you (my readers). You may think you want more recipes, but what you really want is to feed yourself well in as many ways as possible. This book is the equivalent of teaching you to fish, rather than giving you fish. If you still have conflict of interest concerns, feel free to voice them in the comments. Just keep in mind that nothing trumps trust on the internet and I’ve spent years working to gain yours. As much as I like Tim, I’d be an idiot to jeopardize that.

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Book Review: Wheat Belly

by | Dec 14, 2011

I had no idea what to expect from Wheat Belly, the new book by Dr. William Davis. Several of you had asked me about it so I picked it up, not knowing much about the author or its content.

Davis is apparently a medical doctor who treats patients for heart disease and other ailments using a wheat-free diet. Though this isn’t particularly revolutionary I was immediately intrigued by the first chapter of Wheat Belly, which gives a detailed explanation of how modern wheat is different both physically and genetically from the wheat “our grandparents grew up eating.”

How interesting!

He explains that selective breeding and genetic manipulation to increase wheat yield have dramatically changed the chromosome number of modern wheat compared to earlier versions grown before the 1950s. This, he claims, fundamentally changed the molecular properties of wheat and we are supposedly not yet adapted to the new product.

I haven’t gone through all the plant biology to determine if any of these claims hold water, but the premise is fascinating. If modern wheat were really a primary cause of the health issues plaguing Western society, not only would gluten be off the hook (once I started reading I thought this was going to be another gluten-free diet book), but all other grains would be back on the table, even older versions of wheat.

Had Wheat Belly gone on to further explore the differences between modern and traditional wheat and, most importantly, how they affect people differently, then this could have been a groundbreaking book. Unfortunately, that isn’t what this book is really about.

Davis doesn’t present a shred of evidence that modern wheat has a worse (or even different) impact on human health than pre-industrial wheat. The only anecdotal case he makes is that he personally found a farmer who grows traditional wheat, made a loaf of bread, ate it himself and seemed to be fine. This is not science.

Instead the rest of the book focuses on how his patients have benefited from removing wheat (presumably modern) from their diets, a premise that is much easier to swallow but brings us right back to Dr. Atkins. Wheat is the most abundant refined carbohydrate, and refined carbohydrates are almost certainly the biggest contributor to human health problems on the planet. Is it any wonder that eliminating the major one—not to mention the ingredient that is most often paired with sugar—would make people feel better?

When push comes to shove, the bulk of Davis’ argument is not about modern wheat at all, but about the Glycemic Index (GI) of foods (he’s sure to point out that the GI of wheat is even higher than sugar). His prescription is not just wheat elimination or even gluten elimination, but removal of all grains, sugars and starchy foods like potatoes and even beans.

Haven’t I heard this somewhere before?

To his credit, Davis promotes a relatively healthy diet. He discourages the use of gluten-free flour substitutes because for the most part they are just another form of unhealthy food. Though these ingredients can obviously play a role in the lives of people with serious gluten sensitivities, I agree that they do not qualify as health food just because they do not contain gluten. But extrapolating from processed carbohydrates to nutritious whole foods like beans and potatoes that most of us can eat without increasing risk of disease or obesity is less than helpful.

But all my criticisms aside, I think there are some valuable messages in Wheat Belly worth considering. Gluten (and maybe just modern wheat, who knows) is known to be one of the most inflammatory substances consumed by humans and many people would likely benefit from cutting it out. Davis recommends eliminating wheat for 4-8 weeks to see if there is an improvement in symptoms.

If you regularly struggle with any of the following issues, a temporary gluten-free experiment may be worth it for you:

  • fatigue
  • depression
  • arthritis
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • autoimmune problems
  • attention deficit disorder
  • hair loss
  • bone loss
  • anemia

And there are probably many more. The nice thing is that while eliminating gluten for 4-8 weeks does take some effort, it is still a relatively simple, non-invasive way to troubleshoot health problems and potentially improve your life dramatically. If nothing improves, you can always go back to your bagels and Cheerios. It is important to keep in mind though, that many symptoms require an extended period without gluten before improvement is seen.

To summarize, I really wish Davis had done a better job of convincing me that it is modern wheat and not processed foods in general that is particularly problematic in the Western diet. From that perspective, this book is just another Atkins diet with a better title. That said, I do think Davis does a good job of illustrating how many ways patients could benefit from a temporary wheat elimination. The prescription is easy and harmless, and definitely worth trying if you have health problems you and your doctor can’t seem to solve.

Grade: B-

What did you think of Wheat Belly?

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UPdate: Jawbone Up is still really cool, but far from perfect

by | Dec 5, 2011

After a month I figured it’s a good time to check back in and give you my latest opinion on the Jawbone Up, since a lot of you are asking. I had only used it for five days when I wrote my last review (below), and how I’ve been using it over the past weeks has definitely evolved.

Apparently a lot of people are having trouble with the device. I’m on my second one (my first wouldn’t charge properly and eventually stopped working), but to be fair I’m on my third Fitbit as well. Since I’ve had the new one I’ve had no problems and it works perfectly (so does the latest Fitbit). I wonder if it’s working better because I stopped wearing it in the shower? Who knows.

I’ve heard a few people say they are having issues with the accuracy of tracking, but mine has consistently registered within a few hundreds steps of Fitbit, a difference that is virtually irrelevant. Someone in the comments here said their device counts steps when they drive their car, pushing the numbers very high. I don’t drive so can’t attest to this issue, but I would be pretty upset if it were true. I’ve also heard that a lot of people lose their plug caps, which hasn’t happened to me but would be annoying. To their credit, from what I understand Jawbone has been cool about replacing devices and caps for those with problems.

Hardware issues aside I still think the Jawbone Up is really cool, and I absolutely love the hourly reminders to get off my ass and move around. I set these myself, so the nudges aren’t a prerequisite for using the device, but I think they are by far the best reason to get the Up. (Are you listening Fitbit?)

As a pedometer, the lack of bluetooth wireless syncing bothers me more than I expected. This is especially true since I’m still using my Fitbit, which has a beautiful display of my steps (not to mention calories, stair flights, miles traveled and the time) at the push of a button. Though plugging the Up into your iPhone is easy enough, to get your data you need to launch the app and sync the device. This takes the better part of a minute and feels very laborious compared to the simplicity of the Fitbit that I can check easily without a second thought.

That said I do love that the Up presents my data in a graphical form that has me making progress toward a defined goal (10,000 steps). There’s something innately inspiring about seeing your activity build over the course of the day, and it is even more powerful when you can see it compared with friends (I’ll get more into the social side shortly). Once again, inspiration is probably the greatest advantage of the Up.

As much as I love data, however, I stopped using the Up to track sleep and food. I’m not a big food tracker anyway, but the interface is a bit too cumbersome despite its attempt at simplicity. It just isn’t very intuitive and doesn’t translate well onto my personal eating style (low-maintenance). I’d be interested to hear if any of you have found a way to make the food tracking worthwhile. If not, I’d recommend Jawbone kill this feature or spend some serious time rethinking how to make it work.

The reason I stopped using the sleep tracker is more rudimentary: I don’t like sleeping with a bracelet on. I think Jawbone did a great job of making a sleek, cool looking device for wearing during the day. But when I sleep I have a tendency to move around a lot and I like to slide my arms under blankets, between pillows and other cozy places. In that setting the Up is obtrusively bulky. As much as I love the idea of naturally waking up every morning during the perfect time in my sleep cycle, it won’t happen for me with the current bracelet design.

Back to the app, the social aspect was the part I was most excited about and it kills me how difficult it is to find friends on Up. Why is there no Facebook or Twitter integration? This is baffling. The search function for friends is ridiculously difficult to use, and I don’t think there is any way to discover other friends who are using the device if you don’t already know they’re on there. From what I understand this is a fairly simple feature to add and I don’t understand why it wasn’t built in at launch. I share Alexia’s dream of Up seamlessly integrating with social services, but for now it’s a major social FAIL.

To summarize, I like the Up and still think it has tremendous potential. I still might choose it over Fitbit for that reason (a lot of these issues can be solved with software updates), as well as the buzz reminders. But if you aren’t the social butterfly I am (or if you happen to be an Android user) at this stage Fitbit is still an excellent alternative if you’re just looking to move more for health reasons.

How is your Up working out?

UPDATE from Jawbone (12/8/11):

I receive this email from Jawbone today guaranteeing a full refund, even without returning your Up. They say that have found a few hardware issues and are stopping production until the problems are fully resolved. There will still be software updates as necessary. Here’s the complete letter from the Jawbone CEO:

UPDATE FROM THE CEO
The UP™ No Questions Asked Guarantee
To the UP Community:

Earlier this year, we unveiled Jawbone’s vision to help people live a healthier life with UP. We’ve been thrilled by the passionate response to this product. We heard from tens of thousands of you through emails, tweets, blog posts and on our forums about how you’re changing your lifestyle and becoming consumers of your own health. In just four weeks, UP users have collectively taken over three billion steps, gotten more than 300 years of sleep and captured hundreds of thousands of meals.

While many of you continue to enjoy the UP experience, we know that some of you have experienced issues with your UP band. Given our commitment to delivering the highest quality products, this is unacceptable and you have our deepest apologies. We’ve been working around the clock to identify the root causes and we’d like to thank everyone who has provided us with information and returned their bands to us for troubleshooting. With your help, we’ve found an issue with two specific capacitors in the power system that affects the ability to hold a charge in some of our bands. We’re also fixing an issue with syncing related to the band hardware. Typically, these issues surface within the first seven to ten days of use. The glitches are purely performance related and do not pose any safety risk.

We’ve also received helpful feedback on the application experience, including bug reports, ways to make signup and finding friends easier, user interface suggestions and new feature requests. Your comments are invaluable as we continue to improve, so please keep them coming and check back frequently for updates to ensure you’re always enjoying the latest features and enhancements.

We recognize that this product has not yet lived up to everyone’s expectations – including our own – so we’re taking action:

The UP No Questions Asked Guarantee

This means that for whatever reason, or no reason at all, you can receive a full refund for UP. This is true even if you decide to keep your UP band. We are so committed to this product that we’re offering you the option of using it for free.

The program starts December 9th and full details can be found at http://jawbone.com/uprefund.

For most of you, this program is simply meant to offer peace of mind. Please continue to enjoy your UP band and keep sharing your experience with us. If you encounter any problems with your UP band, contact Jawbone directly for your choice of a replacement and/or refund under this program. It’s that simple.

Jawbone remains deeply committed to addressing all issues with UP, investing in the category and giving our customers the tools to live a healthier life. We’ve temporarily paused production of UP bands and will begin taking new orders once these issues have been sorted out. In the meantime, we’ll continue to release app updates for existing users.

We regret any disappointment we’ve created for our community of users and appreciate the trust you’ve put in us. The fact that you’ve taken the time to talk with us and help us make a better product is simply phenomenal. Our customers have always been part of our team and we’re incredibly grateful for that.

Please know that we’re doing – and will continue to do – everything we can to make things right. This is just the beginning for UP and we are excited to keep improving until we realize the powerful vision of what this category can be.

If there is absolutely anything else we can do for you, please let us know.

Hosain Rahman
CEO
Jawbone

Jawbone Up is the coolest pedometer in the history of the universe

November 9, 2011

I don’t write a lot of product reviews, mainly because I don’t use a lot of products. For my healthstyle I prefer simplicity, and until recently the only health tracking I’ve done regularly involves making sure the same jeans fit me year-after-year. Super fancy, I know.

That was until a few months ago when I realized that it is very easy for me to lose track of how much walking I do, which I’ve learned is absolutely critical for maintaining my weight. Since then I’ve been tracking my steps with a Fitbit (that I adore), and in just two months I’m back down to what I consider my ideal size.

But as much as I love my Fitbit, the Jawbone Up I got last weekend is way cooler.

What is it?

Like any pedometer, the Up tracks your steps. I’ve been wearing both my Up and Fitbit for a few days and the numbers are very similar.

Instead of clipping to your pants like the Fitbit, Up is a water-proof wristband that you wear at all times. The Up plugs directly into your iPhone sound port, and syncs with an app that displays the data.

It has three different modes: regular, sleep and active. There is a single button on the device you use to change modes. Generally you keep it in the normal mode, but if you are exercising vigorously the active mode will give you more accurate readings. The sleep mode tracks how much sleep you get and displays when during the night you were in light versus deep sleep.

The Up allows you to track your meals as well, which is powerful when combined with the various challenges you can set up for yourself. For instance, if you take a picture of your lunch and you have also challenged yourself to eat something green at both lunch and dinner, you will have the option of giving yourself credit for that meal.

Up is also proactive. It has a built in vibration that can be used as an alarm clock that gently wakes you up at the right time of your sleep cycle around the time you specify. Or if you want to break the habit of sitting at your desk for long stretches of time, you can have it nudge you if you’ve been inactive for a set amount of time.

Why it’s awesome

Where Up has a huge advantage over Fitbit is how the data is displayed. For the most part the app interface is beautiful and intuitive, making it easy and fun to use. You can scroll through your days and look for the patterns of activity, and the sky appears to cycle between night and day as you look back in time.

The social integration is also way better in Up than Fitbit, and it is highly customizable for any goals you may have. Your engagement can be friendly or competitive, so you can set it up for whatever motivates you best. It’s really fun when there are two devices in one house, it’s a constant competition here over who takes the most steps every day (I always win).

The sleep mode is also awesome. While Fitbit has a sleep mode as well, it’s a pain to use and doesn’t give you much insight. The Up sleep data is more similar to the Zeo personal sleep manager, but has the advantage of not requiring you to sleep with the equivalent of a camping headlamp strapped to your face, which is nice. The sleep data is simple and gives you information that is actually useful.

I also like what they’ve done with the meal tracking. This is usually a tough sell for me, because tracking can easily become way too labor intensive to be practical. The Up only requires a picture, but it is also proactive in that it will remind you to evaluate how you feel a couple hours after the meal. The simplicity is key, and I think this could actually be helpful in selectively building and breaking various eating habits.

I think this app has huge potential for habit building. With the challenges and built in reminders, tracking and nudging has never been more simple. And since the key to habit building is repetition and consistency, these tools are incredibly powerful for making meaningful behavioral changes.

Lastly, the Up is surprisingly cool looking and is relatively comfortable to wear. I expected it to look something like the rubber LIVESTRONG bracelets (which fit better on my ankle than my wrist), but the form factor is much more elegant. I got a black band and I love it, but it also comes in bright red, bright blue or silver, and dark brown, dark red and white are coming soon.

Down sides

So far I don’t have many complaints. There is the obvious disadvantage that it cannot be used if you don’t have an iPhone, but I could write pages about why the iPhone is the best thing I’ve ever bought in my life so I personally don’t think this is a major negative.

There are still a few imperfections in the app UI, which can easily be addressed. For example, it isn’t particularly easy to search for friends to add to teams. But presumably all this will can be fixed in software updates.

It would be nice if the Up tracked elevation like the new Fitbits do. I encourage all of you to be taking the stairs whenever possible, and elevation data is a nice feature in that regard.

My last critique is that you can’t see your data with just a push of a button like you can with Fitbit. The Up requires you take it off and plug it into your phone, which isn’t that much of a hassle but makes me slightly less inclined to check my status.

But considering you’re basically getting Fitbit, Zeo and Health Month rolled into one, at $100 it’s hard to beat.

You can order yours on Amazon or the Jawbone Up website.

What do you think of the new Up?

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What’s For Dinner? Ask Your iPhone

by | May 11, 2009

locavore-app

Healthy eating can sometimes seem like a daunting task. You know you should be eating local, seasonal ingredients and lots of vegetables, but how do you know what to get? Once you have it, how do you cook it?

Enter iPhone. I can confidently say that my iPhone has made my life more convenient than any single electronic device since my first laptop. Sure plain cell phones are great, but honestly text messages annoy me more than they improve my quality of life.

An iPhone offers so much more than calls and texts, especially when you delve into the world of applications or “apps.” Apps are third party software programs that can be downloaded to your phone to perform specific (usually awesome) functions. Apps are what set iPhone apart from all other phones. Today I’m going to tell you about two apps in particular–Locavore and Epicurious–that can be used together to help you decide what to do for dinner.

Locavore ($3) is an app that finds all the farmers markets near you along with the produce in season in your area. It does this according to your physical location on earth using the built in iPhone GPS. Isn’t that brilliant? (Yes, I’m totally jealous that I didn’t make this app myself.)

I get questions every week about how to find a good farmers market in a given area. Honestly I had never had an answer much better than “Google it.” With Locavore’s “Markets” feature, you get a list of farmers markets in your area ranked by their distance to you. If you click on the market you want to visit it gives you all the essential information, such as what time of year it runs and its hours of operation. Locavore also allows you to browse by region (U.S. only) or specific food to find seasonal availability.

The farmers market information used by Locavore is from a website called Local Harvest. Even if you do not have an iPhone Local Harvest is a fantastic resource for finding farms, markets and CSAs near you. When you have located the market you would like to go to be sure to check near the bottom of the information paragraph for the last time the site was updated. In my experience farmers are not particularly tech savvy and often forget to update their websites. I always recommend calling before you go, just to confirm the market still exists and hasn’t changed its hours.

In the Locavore app, once you have found your market you can check the “In Season” feature. This will give you a list of items that are supposed to be in season in your area (information gathered from the Natural Resources Defense Council website).

Unfortunately, the list is more an approximation of reality than a true market browse through. I’ve been following my own market on Locavore since I first downloaded the app several weeks ago, and I’d say it is about 90% accurate. Definitely I have seen the list include some items that are not available and I would not expect to be available this time of year in my area (e.g. boysenberries). Also, my market is large and specialized enough that there are always unique finds that the NRDC does not know about.

You can, however, get an idea of items that should be easy to find. To avoid hunting down ingredients that may not be available, be sure to check the pie graph icons to the left of each item. These represent the number of months left until that specific vegetable or fruit goes out of season (again, this is approximate and depends substantially on the weather). If there is less than one month left, you probably shouldn’t plan your entire meal around that one ingredient since there is a good chance it won’t be there. If the pie is full (green), that means you can find the item year round in your area. In general, the Locavore produce list is fairly thorough and accurate and can be used to create a seasonal dinner menu.

One of the coolest features of Locavore is its connection to the recipe website Epicurious. If you find a seasonal ingredient you would like to try but need ideas on how to prepare it, simply click the item and a page will open to show you all the states it is available along with the its Wikipedia listing (in case you aren’t sure exactly what it is) and a link to Epicurious. If you follow the Epicurious link it takes you to a list of recipes using your ingredient. Click the dish that sounds the most delicious and get a complete recipe and shepicurious-appopping list. Use this to make sure you get all the ingredients you need at the market.

Conveniently Epicurious has its own app (free) if you already know the ingredient you want to use and do not need to find a farmers market. You can search by meal, event or specific ingredient, and create shopping lists for your favorite recipes. As you can imagine, I’m particularly fond of the “Healthy Lunches” option. Another bonus is the Epicurious app contains the entire contents of the Big Yellow Cookbook by Gourmet.

Overall Locavore and Epicurious are both fantastic apps for anyone interested in cooking local, seasonal meals. Together they are a powerful resource for finding ingredients and cooking the best seasonal meals possible.

Have you used either the Locavore or Epicurious iPhone apps?

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