For this month’s Cookbook Book Club (my once a month “cooking from the same cookbook” meal with Jan from Family Bites and Jenn from Chocolate Shavings) we used recipes from Mark Bittman. Jan and I used recipes from his latest tome, How to Cook Everything Fast: A Better Way to Cook Great Food (HTCEF) and Jenn found her recipe online.
At over 1000 pages (with over 2000 recipes, including variations), HTCEF is a cookbook you could cook from for years and years and never make the same recipe twice. It’s infinitely readable (I spent over an hour “browsing” when I was looking for a recipe) and Bittman provides endless tips, techniques and tricks for how to get great food on the table fast. With the exception of a few recipes (things like stocks etc..), most meals are said to do-able in 45 minutes or under. For Mark Bittman, that is! I’d hazard a guess that for some more complicated dishes – like Red-Wine Braised Turkey – it might be more like 60 minutes but still… Do-able for weeknights. That’s MY definition of “fast” 😉
Bittman starts the book with some “must read” sections including Fast Ingredients, Fast Equipment and Fast Strategies – all key in being able to get great food on the table fast. Bittman talks pantry, fridge and freezer staples, talks about when it’s “worth it” to buy shortcut ingredients, gives a list of interchangeable ingredients, talks about making sure you have all the right tools for the job (and has an fab diagram of a kitchen “setup for speed”!). His Fast Strategies section includes excellent tips that less experienced cooks might not think of like grating vegetables that are going into a puréed soup instead of chopping, heating elements and the oven before you need them (in fact, before you do anything) and cleaning as you go (it really does make a difference, especially in a small kitchen).
The Prep Shortcuts section includes instructions and handy diagrams showing how to save time preparing various fruits and vegetables and the Techniques section includes tips for speeding up your prep work to get you on the road to dinner sooner! There’s a handy reference page explaining the recipe layout – the prep work is written in blue writing and the actual cooking is in black. This is a great way for you to divvy up jobs if there are a few of you cooking (or, hey, get your kids in the kitchen!). In his recipes, Bittman handily repeats quantities of each ingredient in the body of the text – meaning you don’t have to go back to the ingredient list while you are cooking – and (quite possibly the best part for me!) each recipe includes variations so you can change things up depending on what you have on hand. He also specifies areas where you can go more “from scratch” if you have the time (where making your own really pays off). He also includes ideas for other dishes to accompany the recipes (with a handy page reference, of course!). In my mind, it’s a great blueprint for those who have trouble getting organised in the kitchen and once you’ve made a few of these recipes, you’ll definitely start to see a “work flow” emerging and it will get you thinking about ways to be more efficient in the kitchen. Cooking fast(er).
For my starter for the Cookbook Club, I honestly had a really hard time choosing what to make. I knew I wanted to make a salad but was looking for something seasonal. As soon as I saw the Charred Brussels Sprouts Salad with walnuts, gorgonzola and (a suggested variation, for colour!) apples, I knew this was the one! I was intrigued with the idea of shredding Brussels spouts, tossing them with olive oil and garlic and charring them under a broiler and was skeptical until I tasted them and loved the flavour and texture. I added in toasted pecans and walnuts, some blue cheese and sliced some apples very thinly for some extra colour (otherwise it would have been a brown dish). We all had seconds and Jan’s husband approved too 🙂 I’ll be using this technique again and making this very soon!
Jan was in charge of the main course and she, too, had trouble picking a recipe – there are, in some ways, too many (and they all sound so good!). Finally she settled on a vibrantly coloured and flavoured dish, perfect for a chilly winter evening – Noodles, Sweet Potatoes and Shrimp in Curry Broth.
This was a fabulous dish – we all thought the sweet potatoes were a bit odd in an Asian noodle soup dish but they actually worked really well. It’s a cross between a soup and a stew and the recipe variations include different proteins, different broths and making your own curry powder if you have the time! Jan added the peas for colour (um, can you tell we take photos of food?!) and they were a nice fresh touch too. One to remember, since I usually have these ingredients on hand and it’s a perfect quick winter weeknight dinner.
Though the starter and the main were excellent, Jen stole the show with her dessert. Taken from Bittman’s New York Times column, this Pan-Baked Lemon-Almond Tart is a winner.
It has kind of like a cornbread texture, it’s very moist and not overly sweet, it’s baked in a skillet and it’s gluten free, to boot!. This was so good that Jen’s Oliver requested a taste of the first version she made and she ended up having to make another for the Cookbook Book Club! An easy, tasty and gorgeous dessert – made in well under an hour. My kinda “fast food” 🙂
Get the recipe for Mark Bittman’s Pan-Baked Lemon-Almond Tart on NYT Cooking.
Verdict? For the first time in a long time, our choices weren’t really complementary – each dish was fabulous on its own but it’s not a menu I would repeat again. Would I make these dishes again separately? Indeed I would! No fancy ingredients, simple instructions and quick to prepare? This is a cookbook I could spend a lot of time with!
Interested in our Cookbook Book Club? So far we’ve enjoyed dinner with Marcella, dinner with Nigella, dinner with Ottolenghi, dinner with Maria Speck, dinner with Naomi Duguid, lunch with Jamie Oliver, a dessert party with Butter Baked Goods, dinner with Jacques Pépin, dinner with Smitten Kitchen, recipes from Rachel Khoo and last month we brunched with Donna Hay.
Canadians! Win a copy of How to Cook Everything Fast! Details here.
Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of How to Cook Everything Fast for review purposes. I was not asked to write about the book, nor am I being compensated for doing do. All opinions 100% my own.
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