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Bittman's "How to Cook Everything"

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34 replies to this topic

#1 cjsadler

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 12:56 PM

I bought this book when I first decided I was going to start improving my cooking skills awhile ago. Then I fell into volunteering as an assistant at a cooking school, learned my basic skills there and never really opened Bittman's book much. I'm in awe of it as a reference work-- it's quite an accomplishment, but I still never open it much (though I still have alot to learn, that's for sure). Had some shrimp that needed to be used the other night, so I dusted off HTCE to see what ideas Bittman had. Ended up using his Shrimp "My Way", which was fine (However, I was a bit surprised to see the instructions telling you to broil the shrimp as close as possible to the heat source for 5-10 minutes! Yikes.)

What good recipes am I missing in HTCE? The one I really like is the simple seviche.
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#2 agnolottigirl

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 01:03 PM

I mainly use it as a reference (both for ideas and for specifics--like, what's the internal temp for pork again?) and then tweak from there. Good stuff that is now part of the standard rotation are some of the lentil recipes, a Thai-style fish cake recipe, and a couple of the chicken-roasting ideas.

I did just make his recipe for strawberry-rhubarb pie the other day, using the "enriched" version of his pie crust recipe, and it was fantastic. Best pie crust I've ever made, for starters, and the pie itself was perfect. (Of course, the fact that the fruit was gorgeous would have made this hard to screw up.)

That said, Mr. Agnolotti recently used a recipe out of the book for chocolate-chip cookies and they sucked. . . we actually threw them away. And for Mr. A to throw away any sort of sweet thing -- well, jeez, come to think of it, I don't think it's ever happened before! :laugh: It's possible he forgot or mismeasured, I suppose?
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#3 Basilgirl

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 01:11 PM

I used to use this book a lot. I like it. It's a great reference book, and I also like the little sidebars like (Blankery-Blank Number) "Fish Dishes for People Who Don't Like Fish" or for people who don't like vegetables.

Favorites include:

Stir Fried Pork with Spinach - I tweak the recipe and marinate the pork for awhile in white wine, soy sauce, more garlic. It's delicious.

Sauteed Chicken Cutlets - good basic recipe with interesting variations

Corn fritters :wub:

Lemon-Tabasco Dipping Sauce for shellfish - so easy, simple, good

Pork Braised with Vinegar and Bay - yum

Sauteed Pork Chops - one of the variations with white wine and lemon juice

Basic Frittata

Oven-Baked Ratatouille

Roasted Vegetables, Catalonian Style

and basic Roasted Vegetables
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#4 KHT20

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 01:44 PM

I use it all the time - crack it open before i try anything (along with the dozens of other cookbooks I seem to be amassing) to get an overall feel for the dish - the Alton Brown "study-the-recipe" method. But his Simple Roast Chicken variations are great - even the SO who would never before touch chicken loves them (particularly the asian-marinated ones).

#5 reesek

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 03:32 PM

i use it for referencing specific amounts - ratios for mayonaise or hollandaise. i tend not to cook much from recipes and like my cookbooks a little pornier (prettier pictures) when i'm looking for inspiration.

baking is another story...i made his chocolate sorbet which is absurdly easy and very good. i've also made ice cream base with his recipe and creme brulee and a fruit tart with pastry cream - a proud moment and one of the prettiest thing i've ever made.
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#6 torakris

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 04:38 PM

I really love this book, I use it for both referencing and cooking.

MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITES:

Tembleque (a coconut pudding) the book's spine is actually broken at this page :biggrin:

Linguine with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Parmasean (this is my husband's favorite pasta sauce and he HATES tomato based sauces!) make sure you use the original recipe with all 5 Tablespoons of butter

Tomato sauce with bay leaves (variation #5) on the Basic tomato sauce, i like to add a can of good chunk tuna to this as well

Spicy Coleslaw (my MIL often brings me a head of cabbage and asks me to make THAT coleslaw for her....)

No Holds Barred Clam or Fish Chowder, I make it with cod

Twice Cooked (Refried) Beans, these are incredible and I end up eating them straight from the frypan with a large spoon

Slow Cooked Green Beans, I make this with half beans and half carrots and it is probably one of my favorite vegetable dishes

Roasted Vegetables Catalonian style, this is great alone but I like to use it as a topping for bruschetta

Apple Bread


OTHER GOOD ONES:

Hummus

Orzo "Risotto"

Risotto alla Milanese

Curried Shrimp

Basic Grilled or Broiled Chicken Cutlets make a great topping for a salad. I especially like the version with honey and cumin, serve with sauteed greens

Sauteed Chicken Cutlets with lime sauce are a family favorite

Roast Pork with Garlic and Rosemary

Braised Cabbage with Wine and Nutmeg

Quick Braised Carrots with Butter

Curried Eggplant with potatoes

Sauteed beans and tomatoes

Banana Bread

Overnight Waffles

Cold mustard Sauce, great on cold poached salmon


DUDS:

Seaweed and cucumber salad, no salt at all?

Blueberry muffins were on the bland side

The chicken cutlets with a sweet soy marinade could have been better with a longer marinade time

Chicken cutlets with herb marinade was bland

Death by Chocolate Torte, not sure what went wrong but this was awful

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#7 Moopheus

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 04:56 PM

A few years ago when I was living by myself and just getting back into cooking, really, and still had an office job, it was great for stuff that could be made without too much hassle after work and still be real food. I don't use it much any more, but would still recommend it for someone who doesn't have a big cookbook collection, and have given copies as gifts. It does cover a lot of ground, has a lot of useful advice and information, and the directions are well written.

Torakris wrote:

the book's spine is actually broken at this page


Mine's broken too--in order to keep the cover price down on the big book the publisher appears to have cheaped out on the binding, which is completely crap. I actually asked a buyer at a bookstore about this, and they told me a lot of copies had this problem.
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#8 agnolottigirl

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 05:12 PM

QUOTE 
the book's spine is actually broken at this page

Mine's broken too--in order to keep the cover price down on the big book the publisher appears to have cheaped out on the binding, which is completely crap.


Oooh, I HATE this too!! Wouldn't you think that, with a book that clearly aspires to be frequently used, you would go the extra 50 cents per copy?! I've seen that the newer versions actually include a CD-ROM. . . me, I'd prefer a non-crap binding! :hmmm:
agnolottigirl
~~~~~~~~~~~
"They eat the dainty food of famous chefs with the same pleasure with which they devour gross peasant dishes, mostly composed of garlic and tomatoes, or fisherman's octopus and shrimps, fried in heavily scented olive oil on a little deserted beach."-- Luigi Barzini, The Italians

#9 cjsadler

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 06:29 PM

Death by Chocolate Torte, not sure what went wrong but this was awful

Yeah, I made that torte too and it was pretty bad. The brownie recipe is a bust as well. I don't know how either was supposed to be any good with only 2oz of chocolate.
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#10 Malawry

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 06:32 PM

My renditions of buttered nuts (ooh), quick waffles, pork chops, and oven-roasted salmon are all based on what Mark suggests in his book. It's amazing, one of my favorites, one I have purchased for many friends. The yellow cake recipe was a dud and I figured I should avoid pastry from it after that experience.

I also own, and reference, his Fish cookbook. Mark really knows his fish.

#11 Marmish

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Posted 20 April 2004 - 08:47 PM

That said, Mr. Agnolotti recently used a recipe out of the book for chocolate-chip cookies and they sucked. . . we actually threw them away. And for Mr. A to throw away any sort of sweet thing -- well, jeez, come to think of it, I don't think it's ever happened before! :laugh: It's possible he forgot or mismeasured, I suppose?

I made chocolate chip cookies from the book last week and I did not like them either. They tasted ok - edible, but not good. But they were flat and ugly. I like a nice round lumpy, bumpy chocolate chip cookie.

I also use the chicken cutlet variations, pancakes, chicken under a brick and some others I can't think of now.

#12 vbmontana

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Posted 21 April 2004 - 02:39 PM

I mainly use Bittman for ideas or for advice on something I am unfamiliar with.

Three favorites that I now make regularly are:

Scallops with a pesto stuffing.
Rack of Lamb coated with breadcrumbs and parsley.
Butternut Squash soup.
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#13 morda

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Posted 21 April 2004 - 06:45 PM

The brownie recipe is a bust as well. I don't know how either was supposed to be any good with only 2oz of chocolate.

Actually, I've made the brownie recipe several times and I think it's great! But the timing is really sensitive, if I leave it in even a few minutes too long, they are ruined. Also, I've tried to cheat by using the wrong kind of chocolate (I think bittersweet instead of unsweetened) and it was awful. Note: I like the fudgy chocolatey kind of brownies, not the cakey type, so that could be a difference.

A few of my favorites (it keeps growing longer as I type this message):
Lemon-Soy Chicken
Broiled Cornish Hens with Vinegar
Roasted Eggplant Dip
Banana Bread
Strawberry Shortcakes
most of the beef or lamb stew recipes

I also love his recipe for Guacamole and his basic techniques for cooking fish and meat (ex. Salmon roasted in butter--wonderfully perfect with fresh wild salmon). As with other people, I use the recipes as a starting point, and I measure everything by eye and feel and personal taste, with the possible exception of the recipes for baked goods.

morda

PS The spine of my copy is breaking as well and I've lost the dust jacket completely, but I love its stained and well-used look.

#14 whippy

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Posted 21 April 2004 - 07:00 PM

i own a couple a books in this genre, and mark bittman's is actually my least favorite. i think both madeleine kamman's 'the new making of a cook' and ann wilan's 'la varenne pratique' are better, but people like different cookbooks for different reasons, and these books are heavier on the technical aspects than is 'htce.'
that said, shout out to torakris: the recipe for Tembleque is elegant, delicious, excellent. i slather in between layers of my coconut cake, it's sublime.

#15 hillvalley

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Posted 21 April 2004 - 07:01 PM

Is it worth getting if I already own Joy of Cooking?
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but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

#16 morda

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Posted 21 April 2004 - 07:02 PM

Is it worth getting if I already own Joy of Cooking?

I would say it depends...how old is your Joy of Cooking?

EDITED because the first time I wrote "how long is your Joy of Cooking?" :raz:

Edited by morda, 21 April 2004 - 07:03 PM.


#17 Malawry

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Posted 22 April 2004 - 04:14 AM

I use them both regularly. I think they're both worth owning. I often refer to what Bittman and Becker have to say about a recipe before deciding how to proceed cooking it.

#18 Callipygos

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Posted 22 April 2004 - 09:45 AM

I've actually found some of Bittman's recipes to be a little on the bland side. His pasta alfredo was a good springboard, as was his pasta carbonara; I liked his barley "risotto," and his beef salad I make a lot.

Other recipes, I've often found either they're bland (if they're savory) or a little too sweet (if they're baked goods). The brownies weren't quite rich enough for my taste, and other things like muffins or such didn't quite have the same zing. I was chalking a lot of that up to my own personal taste, however; I like REALLY rich brownies, and my grandma's cranberry bread, which I've known how to make since I was eight, ran rings around his. So I may have a skewed perspective.

#19 NulloModo

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Posted 22 April 2004 - 10:38 AM

I just purchased this book this past weekend, and I don't even know where to begin. This thread has definately given me some ideas however.

I am a novice with this cooking thing, but I really want to learn how to do it well.
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#20 Knicke

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Posted 22 April 2004 - 12:11 PM

Callipygos Posted on Apr 22 2004, 10:45 AM
  I've actually found some of Bittman's recipes to be a little on the bland side.


I agree with this; it's not just this book, though, it's the Minimalist books (one of which I own) as well. I've tried a couple from "Minimalist Cooks Dinner" that were edible but really BLAH...'tandoori' chicken with maybe 1-3 spices in miniscule amounts? C'mon now...

That said, I like just reading Bittman's books for:

1. basic techniques/cook times/etc. Esp. veggies/large cuts of meat. I like the way he includes helpful hints and things to look for, and sometimes even what NOT to look for or what not to worry about. I don't know how helpful these reminders would be for the complete novice, but for memory helps or for trying out a new vegetable, Bittman's a good place to start.

2. sometimes, new ideas. Not brand-spankin' new, but sorta...and written in such a way as to (at least for me) encourage tweaking and adding.

Since seasoning is such a personal thing and can be done (somewhat) on the fly or without strict measurements, I appreciate that a lot of Bittman's recipes give me the freedom to experiment with and learn about seasoning/spices on my own. Best way to learn!
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An oyster met an oyster
And they were oysters two.
Two oysters met two oysters
And they were oysters too.
Four oysters met a pint of milk
And they were oyster stew.


#21 stevea

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Posted 22 April 2004 - 12:27 PM

This may sound stupid, because the recipe's so simple. But I love Bittman's stir-fried broccoli. There's nothing in it but broccoli, oil, stock, and sugar. But I think it's sublime.
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#22 morda

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Posted 22 April 2004 - 07:20 PM

This may sound stupid, because the recipe's so simple. But I love Bittman's stir-fried broccoli. There's nothing in it but broccoli, oil, stock, and sugar. But I think it's sublime.

No, I think you're right. A lot of his simple recipes are great (actually, I guess he considers all the recipes "simple" since that's the subtitle). I love the salmon roasted in butter, and I think that only has butter, salt, lemon, and the salmon.

I've heard many people complain that Bittman's recipes out a little bland. I think what he's trying to do is bring out natural flavor of the ingredients. A perfect example is the apple pie recipe. A lot of apple pies are heavy on the cinnamon and other spices, but Bittman uses a lighter hand with his version (he mentions this in the text). Both versions taste great. but if you try it his way, you'll have a great apple pie that actually tastes of apple. Maybe it doesn't make much difference if you use grocery store apples in the middle of summer, but if you pick (or buy fresh-picked) apples in the fall, you may find that you can appreciate the taste of the apples more with his version. Just one example.

#23 rlibkind

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Posted 22 April 2004 - 09:06 PM

I rely on HTCE as a basic reference. It's full of good, solid advice and hints and is an excellent starting point when you're trying something new.

Yes, his approach is very simple and could be construed as "bland". But he offers lots of variations and encourages seasoning experimentation.

I find Morda's apple pie example right on target. I used his simple technique last fall with Rhode Island Greenings and enjoyed the best apple pie I have ever tasted. It was all about the apple, not the ancillary ingredients. He's looking to uncover the natural flavor of the foods. When you have access to the highest quality ingredients, that's the way to go.
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#24 Anna N

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Posted 23 April 2004 - 01:08 AM

I just love this thread. I have owned HTCE for some time, in fact, I begged for it when it was first released. I have read it cover to cover but have hardly ever actually cooked from it until I started reading this thread.

Last night we had his pork with vinegar and bay accompanied by his pan-browned potatoes - a hit.

A day or two ago I tried his chicken cutlets (I am with Jinmyo most of the time - no boneless, skinless breasts) but the recipe calling for soy sauce and lime juice proved an eye-opener. They were tender and juicy and the "planned overs" remained juicy for sandwiches the next day.

His chocolate sorbert, on the other hand, went over OK with hubby but tasted to me like frozen cocoa power - exactly what it is!

I have marked up the book with a "thumbs up" sign for all the recipes that are praised in this thread and intend to work my way through them over the next little while.

Sometimes, just reading a recipe fails to inspire but when it gets kudos from others then I am much more likely to give it a shot. Probably points to some psychological defect in my make up. :laugh:
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#25 Harry

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Posted 14 March 2007 - 11:53 AM

His recipe for spaghetti and meatballs is one of the best I've found. He also has an excellent recipe for Bolognese meat sauce, pot roast, and cobbler. I can't think of anything else offhand, but his recipes have rarely disappointed me.

#26 prasantrin

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Posted 14 March 2007 - 02:49 PM

I use his recipe for Bolognese sauce all the time, and the fresh tomato sauce, too. Other than the bechamel recipe (I keep forgetting proportions...), that's all I've really tried, and I've had the book for years...I guess it's time to experiment more!

#27 Pontormo

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 08:59 AM

I really love this book, I use it for both referencing and cooking.

MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITES:

...No Holds Barred Clam or Fish Chowder, I make it with cod...

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Thanks for the inspiration for something to do with a sizeable chunk of cod in the freezer.

This is one of the four "basic" "American" cookbooks I own; I include Madison's heftiest vegetarian book, Craig Claiborne and James Beard. I've used it a lot. First edition has a lot of errors that should have been caught by copy editors and big red splotches from a sloppy printing jobs. These have been corrected in more recent printings by Bittman's current publisher.

I agree with many of the assessments. It's not meant to wow you, but update the notion of an all-purpose cookbook from the era of Craig Claiborne, especially. The author is uncanny in deciding which ingredients or types of dishes were missing in publications of the 70s & 80s and which had to go. There have been only a few times in which I've turned to the book and not found guidelines for cooking something I brought back from a shopping trip.

I'd be interested in knowing if anyone owns and uses the author's own complementary book that nods to multi-culturalism and--I am guessing--streamlines dishes from a wide range of international cuisines.

Two recipes that haven't been mentioned that I really like are the stir-fried beef with onions and the fettuccine with spinach.

Instructions for making different versions of cornbread are good and recipes for chili and clafouti are easy to adapt to personal tastes or preferred ingredients.

Only disaster I've had is the cobbler. Yuck.
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#28 Live It Up

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Posted 22 March 2007 - 08:19 AM

I never would have bought this cookbook for myself, but I received it as a gift and I use it all the time. Mostly I use it as a reference or for baking. I'm sure that I have made savory recipes from it, but I can't actually remember any of them right now. My favorite thing about the book, though, is that he builds variations into most of his recipes. I make a combination of 2 variations on his basic muffin recipe to come up with sour cream coffee cake muffins and they are amazing. I wish I had the book here because I am completely blanking on anything else that I've cooked from it, but I know I have 'cause my copy is all stained and worn.

#29 Basilgirl

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Posted 22 March 2007 - 08:33 AM

Pork chops with wine, corn fritters
I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.

#30 phatj

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Posted 22 March 2007 - 08:44 AM

This was the only cookbook I owned for a few years. I rarely open it any more, but once in a while I do for ideas.

My recipes for beef stew, leg of lamb and onion soup evolved from Bittman's.





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