This cookbook has a copyright of 2009. I bought this from Amazon.com a few weeks ago. I have never cooked from this before.
This book scares me. Bittman wrote it to make me think. Wait, no he wrote it to stop me from thinking. Oh I don't know I just know he wrote it not like any other cookbook I have in my collection and it took me a bit to wrap my brain around it.
See. There are no recipes. At
least like I'm used to. There isn't a list of ingredients. There is
just one paragraph for each dish that tells you what to do with the
food. Bittman calls the recipes "precisely imprecise". Oh, he gives you
some help here and there by mentioning a teaspoon of this or a couple
of that. But most recipes? Take some chicken. Rub with olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper
and dredge lightly in flour. Add some herbs. Saute till done. My precise recipe focused mind says:
Wait...chicken? What kind of chicken? You don't tell me how much. What
if I have too much chicken? OH MY GOD I'LL RUIN THE DISH! No, Bittman is
making me take a step back. He's making me take a deep breath.
He's trying to make me a cook that thinks like a pot cook and not a
knife cook. He's trying to make me cook without stress, without boundaries, HE'S TRYING TO SET ME FREE!!!!! You may laugh but for some
of us "recipe" cooks, Bittmans asking a lot. He's asking us to take a
chance. To maybe make
something that we can throw together without having to spend half an hour trying to figure out what to put on the table. I think he really is trying to set us free.
But it still scares the hell out of me.
Reviews of this books say it's not for beginners. That you have to know how to cook to use the book. But I think I'm going to disagree here. If you already know how to cook, cooking this way should be easy. But for those of us trying to wade our way through recipe books trying to make ourselves better cooks, to be given a guide like this that kinda just says "go for it" can be a bit liberating. Now, it's true that because my brain doesn't work this way, I may make some mistakes and some of the dishes might not come out quite the way they are expected to. But I'm thinking that's okay. That maybe next time I'll try something a bit different or add a pinch more of this or try another piece of that. Hell Bittman, you may make a cook out of me yet.
There is a wonderful introduction that explains the philosophy of the book. If I could I'd copy it word for word here because it makes perfect sense as to why he wrote the recipes the way he did. Basically what I think he was trying to get across is that every cook and every kitchen is different. The pot you use might not be the exact measurements of the one he uses. The chicken breast you buy at the store might not be the exact size or quality that he was able to get. So that no matter how much direction a recipe gives you, it might not always turn out the way the recipe reads. Which means recipes have to be a bit more forgiving, or you have to be able to "use your own judgment" when cooking.
There is a page on how to use the book (sections are given more for fresh ingredients than seasons, oil should be heating while you are chopping so you will be multitasking a bit, cooking methods are flexible etc.) There is a page about ingredients along with a section on what you should have in your pantry/fridge/freezer to be able to make these dishes in a snap. There is a substitution page where he lets you know if you don't have (or don't like) cauliflower you can substitute broccoli or swap zucchini for eggplant. He also has a section which list desserts you can have no matter what season, recipes that can be used as appetizers, best dishes for reheating...sort of a "here's what else you can do with these dishes". The index is pretty extensive by ingredient. And yes, all the dishes are supposed to takeor less to make...which for me means maybe in less than 45 minutes (your "Rachael Rayness may vary here).
The book has 404 recipes which are divided into four sections: summer, fall, winter and spring. Each section has 101 recipes. They are simple. Most ingredients aren't too out there but something like nam pla, sherry vinegar or bean threads might not be in everyone's pantry and take some work to find. There is just a paragraph of instructions for each dish. If you are familiar at all with Bittmans 'The Minimalist NY Times' columns with things like 101 Simple Salads for the season, the recipes are a lot like that. Again, directions are full of "Mix a cup of sour cream with diced canned chipotles along with a little of their sauce". Yes, my mind screams "But how much? What size can!?". But after a while, I was able to stop the screaming in my head and just realize there were many dishes in the book that I'd love to try even if they are precisely imprecise.
Spicy CHicken Tacos with Chipotle Cream, Crab Cake Burger, Grilled Skirt Steak with Tomatillo Salsa, with Lemony Yogurt Sauce, Blueberry Ricotta Cheesecakes, Pasta with Spicy Shellfish, Blackberries with Champagne and , Deviled Eggs with Crab. And these are all just out of the Summer section.
Will these take me 20 minutes or less? I doubt it. But they do seem pretty quick and easy. Will I have all the ingredients in my pantry? Hardly. I'll be making a grocery list and stopping on my way home from work to pick ingredients up. But I think I can get used to this type of cookbook and I think Bittman is a bit brilliant to make me think without thinking with this cookbook.