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Book Review


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#1 Monica Bhide

Monica Bhide
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 2,733 posts
  • Location:Virginia

Posted 15 May 2003 - 06:46 AM

Book Review:

My first exposure to Mark’s writings came from a book he co-authored, “Simple to Spectacular”. It hooked me to his writings and I tuned in to read the Minimalist each week. Today, I would like to talk to you all about two of Mark’s books. One is already a huge best seller, The How to Cook Everything – Basics book and the second – The Minimalist Entertains, that has just been published

The How to Cook Everything – Basics

I have to admit, when I first looked at the title of the book, I was a bit skeptical. “How to cook everything” is really a tall order, even if it is the basics. Reading it and cooking from it, changed my mind. From page 1, Mark has the ability to make you feel welcome and not intimidated. His writing style makes you feel at ease. Its almost as if he is there on each page, holding your hand walking you through each recipe. With fun comments and helpful tips, he makes cooking not only easy but fun. The book really does focus on the basics, once you master these, the possibilities are endless.

The book starts out by explaining basic utensils and cooking techniques. Each chapter provides basic information on recipes, basics preparation and cooking tips and interesting variations on recipes. Layer by layer, he peels away the mysterious of preparing delightful recipes. There are no long complicated ingredient lists, no highly involved cooking methods. This book will teach you the basics and give you the confidence to adapt and improvise.

One interesting point here, I remember reading on egullet a while ago, the importance of pictures in a cookbook. Well, this one does not have any and quite frankly does not need them. The author provides so much information and paints such a vivid picture that you do not miss having pictures at all.

I found a lot of his comments helped me learn a lot. For instance the section on steaks. It provides great information on not only how to prepare (grilling, broiling or pan grilling) them but how to buy them. Since I normally do not buy steaks, this information was quite helpful.

Now the real test. Its well written, clear and concise, but how well do the recipes work. I selected a few to try out in my own test kitchen. When testing a book, I always try the soup recipes. It may be a myth, but my father told me once, that soups are the hardest to cook well. They are either too bland or overdone. So I set about testing the Cream of Broccoli soup along with the Pears Poached in Red wine for dessert. Now mind you, I have a very spicy palate so I was not sure how I would like the dishes. Well, I am happy to report the recipes worked beautifully. My family now officially eats broccoli! The author delivers on the promise of easy to cook and delicious to eat.

This book has found a place on my bookshelf and will have as many stains and wrinkles as my Simple to Spectacular book!


Recipes from “The How to Cook Everything – Basics” By Mark Bittman, Copyright Wiley Books
Cream of Broccoli (or any Vegetable Soup)

Makes 4 Servings
Time 30 minutes

There are thousands of recipes for true cream of vegetable soups, but the differences among them are subtle at best. Basically, you cook the vegetable you want with good flavorings until its done. Then you puree it and reheat with cream. The addition of rice or potatoes makes the soup smooth and creamy without outrageous amounts of cream. One –quarter cup is enough to lighten the color and smooth the texture; 1 full cup lends incomparable richness

[The options:

- The original cooking liquid may be water or milk, but its best if its stock
- The cream may be replaced by milk or yogurt – but again, it’s best if it is cream
- The seasonings can be varied infinitely: Use whatever fresh herbs appeal to you, and take advantages of spices as well – garlic, of course, but also chiles and Indian and Asian spices.

Ingredients:
- About 1 pound broccoli, trimmed and cut up, to yield about 4 loosely packed cups of broccoli, or the equivalent amount of cauliflower, carrots, turnips, celery or other vegetable
- ½ cup rice or 1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into quarters
- 4 cups Quickest Chicken Stock (from the book) or store bought chicken, beef or vegetable broth, or water
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ¼ to 1 cup heavy or light cream or half and half
- Minced fresh parsley leaves or chives for garnish

Directions:

1. Combine the broccoli, rice or potato, and the stock or water in a large, deep saucepan or casserole and tun the heat to medium- high. Bring to a boil,. then lower the heat to medium and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes.
2. Cool slightly, then puree in a food mill or in a blender. (You may prepare he soup in advance up to this point. Cover, refrigerate upto 2 days, and reheat before proceeding)
3. Return to the pot and reheat over medium-low heat. Season with salt and pepper, then add the cream; heat through again, garnish and serve.


Pears poached in Red Wine
A light, simple, and classic dessert. Use not-quite-fully –ripe Bosc pears if possible.

Makes 4 servings
Time: Overnight, largely unattended

Ingredients:
- 4 Bosc pears, ripe but not mushy
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 ½ cups red wine
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 1 cinnamon stick

Directions:
1. Peel the pears; use a melon baller to remove the core from the blossom end, but leave the stem on
2. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, wine and sugar to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the lemon, cinnamon stick, and pears. Cover the pan and simmer until the pears are very tender, at least 20 minutes
3. Remove the pears to a bowl and continue to cook the sauce, over medium high heat, until it reduces by about half and becomes very syrupy. Strain the syrup over the pears and refrigerate overnight.
4. Serve the chilled pears whole, with a little syrup poured over them

To buy the cook, How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman
http://www.amazon.co...X/egulletcom-20


The Minimalist Entertains:

And he does it again! The Minimalist has just been published and I received my copy a few weeks ago. This book takes the fear out of entertaining and will make you (GULP) want to invite a whole bunch of people to show off your cooking skills! Simplicity is the charm of this book. In his easy going style, Mark shows you how to effortlessly pull menus together. Tuesday effort and Sunday taste is how I would sum this one up.
The book lists 40 menus that are easy to prepare and offer a delightful array of textures and tastes. They can be prepared from a modestly stocked pantry, no need to rush out and find exotic ingredients. It destroys the myth that you have to spend hours in the kitchen to prepare tasty and simple food. The recipes provide a wonderful roadmap for the novice ( follow exactly if they like) and for the experienced cook ( to wander off or improvise half way).

One thing the specially appealed to me was the use of Asian and Mediterranean techniques. I also loved the charming and funny names of some of the menus “A meal for questionable weather”! Each menu is prefaced with keys to success, wine recommendations and the biggest help of all – a timetable of what to prepare in advance etc. The timetable is especially helpful when you are preparing multiple dishes. The menus, themselves include recipes for starters, main dishes, side dishes, and desserts. They are tailored for all kinds of parties—barbecues, buffets, picnics, sit-down dinners, cocktail fêtes, and even an indoor or outdoor clambake.

I tested the Coconut Sorbet from the “A quick, light Asian Meal” menu. I loved his wine suggestion with this menu, “Champagne is the typical cop-out (I’m as guilty as anyone) when serving Asian food, and its beautiful here. But a fruity and fairly dry Reisling or Gewurztraminer would do equally well”. The sorbet was easy and luscious.

I picked the second recipe, Soy Dipped Shrimp, “Grilling Asian-style,” (seeing a trend here, are we!). The menu consisted of Soy Dipped Shrimp, Grilled Skirt steak with Thai style sauce, Grilled corn and Pineapple Ginger Sorbet. “Here is a menu built around the grilled, hot-weather food of another continent. The shrimp is a kind of cocktail, though the only ting that it has in common with the Shrimp cocktail is the shrimp…..” said the menu description, but what sold me was the “Timetable” section for the menu, “Grill and eat the shrimp. Then grill and eat the steak and corn. Simple as that.” – simple and to the point. True Minimalist style!
My recommendation on this one: A definite must for the reluctant gourmet!

Recipes from “The Minimalist Entertains”, By Mark Bittman, Copyright Broadway Books, New York

Coconut Sorbet
If you have an ice cream machine, this is one of the fastest, easiest, most satisfying desserts you can make

Makes 1 quart
Time: 5 minutes plus time to freeze

Ingredients
- 3 cans coconut milk, about 32 ounces
- 1 cup sugar, or to taste
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
1. Combine the coconut milk with the sugar and taste; add more sugar if you like. Add the vanilla and stir
2. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the instructions. Serve as soon as possible after making, or freeze and let “warm” in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving. Best the day it is made.


Soy Dipped Shrimp
Many people will find this their idea of paradise: simply grilled shrimp in a strong-flavored soy dipping sauce.

Makes 8 Servings
Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:
- 2 tablespoons medium hot paprika
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 pounds shrimp, peeled
- 1 cup good soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste


Directions:
1. Start a grill fire. Mix the paprika, peanut oil, salt and pepper and rub all over the shrimp. When the fire is moderately hot, grill the shrimp, turning once, until done, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the soy sauce with the garlic, ginger, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper; taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
2. Serve the shrimp hot, with the soy dipping sauce.


To buy the book, The Minimalist Entertains -- by Mark Bittman
http://www.amazon.co...8/egulletcom-20
Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice