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ProfessionalHobbit

Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything"

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I belong to a cookbook club here in San Francisco. Our first dinner is in two weeks. It's kind of like a potluck and social thing: everyone cooks from the same book, then on the big day, brings the dish to someone's house for a get-together. It's about cooking, entertaining, belonging and making new friends.

 

It's a groovy thing.

 

What I am so not in love with is the cookbook that was chosen, sort of like an icebreaker, because not everyone attending is on the same skill level. There are some very accomplished cooks who will be attending, including at least one person who has his own catering business. And some newbies, I'm sure. So you need something that will not intimidate. I do appreciate that (and I am far from a beginner).

 

Unfortunately, Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" was the book that was chosen and reading it makes me rage.

 

A recipe for chicken adobo (page 658) calls for 1 cup soy sauce and 1/2 cup vinegar - which, if you think about it - changes it from chicken braised in vinegar with soy sauce and garlic to chicken braised in soy sauce with vinegar and garlic.

 

A recipe for chicken biryani (page 654) calls for 4 tbsp. butter instead of ghee and saffron instead of turmeric. Ghee is butter with the water removed and milk solids are caramelized - so it has a butterier and nuttier flavor than butter, plus you don't need to use that much. 

 

I had heard Bittman's book was "basic" but I hadn't considered that his recipes were nearly unworkable from a technical standpoint. Oh my god...RAGE RAGE RAGE. This guy is supposed to be an authority. On what planet? Dear me, I need a drink.

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I've never understood the Bittman-love either. He always came across to me as the new "Joy of Cooking".

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I'm no Bittman fan, but sounds like the gathering is supposed to be a social thing with food. Will anyone care if they're eating chicken braised in soy sauce with vinegar and garlic instead of chicken braised in vinegar with soy sauce and garlic, as long as it's good? I used to have that book and I gave it away a long time ago, and I am not a good cook; his entire "persona" rubs me the wrong way. But I know I've made things from it that I enjoyed. Maybe look though it until you find something suitable to your standards, I'm sure it's possible. (And no, I'm not being snarky.) 

 

(And Bittman will never, not in a million years, come close to Joy of Cooking!)

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I'm not sure any of it meets my standards. That's the problem. Made as written, it's going to be a challenge....

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The two things for which I will always be grateful to HTCE (and I got it when I was a MUCH less accomplished cook than I am now, not that I'm all that accomplished now) -- pizza dough and fried rice. Worth the price of the book for those two alone.

 

 

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The thing is indeed the new Joy of Cooking, which is both faint praise and damnation. If you are a beginner it is empowering, and I don't make light of that.

 

But one wonders if he actually made some of t he recipes. They are all under-seasoned... amid other problems. Bittman is FOS most of t he time.

 

Why make it as written, @ProfessionalHobbit ?  Fix it. The recipe is a framework not a commandment. Make Bittman look good.

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8 minutes ago, gfweb said:

Why make it as written, @ProfessionalHobbit ?  Fix it. The recipe is a framework not a commandment. Make Bittman look good.

 

I wish I could but one of the rules of the club that you don't know is

 

Quote

No need to scale the dish, simply execute the recipe as it's presented in the book.

 

I thought about "cheating" but the danger is that someone will try to replicate it and come to an altogether different conclusion.

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I sympathise.  I am not a Bittman fan.  Just took all of my Bittman books to the second hand store.  

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18 minutes ago, ProfessionalHobbit said:

 

I wish I could but one of the rules of the club that you don't know is

 

 

I thought about "cheating" but the danger is that someone will try to replicate it and come to an altogether different conclusion.

 

Heh heh. Not cheating. Just tasting the dish and seasoning appropriately. That's just a cooking basic. If they try to make it and fail.... its their fault.

Kidding aside, what can happen if you inadvertently make a palatable dish? Nobody loses.

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Or make a Bittman dessert. Add more salt. Fix the texture. Nobody will know.

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1 minute ago, ProfessionalHobbit said:

So I'll probably make the biryani b/c I'm a sucker for chicken and rice.

And I'm sure everyone will love it. 

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Biryani will be a surprise for some of those cooking out of the Bittman book.  They may be afraid to try it.  I must say HTCE has helped my adult son with cooking, it gives him the basics and he has learned to move on from that - and from cooking with me.  But I’m not close to the accomplished cook that you are @ProfessionalHobbit

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I had that book too but never made anything from it.  Finally dropped it off at the thrift shop so a more useful book could take it's place.

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I hated that book, too. At one point I got so annoyed with him I threw the book across the room. Unfortunately, I forgot it was the Kindle version I was reading and had to buy a new one.  He owes me!

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9 hours ago, ProfessionalHobbit said:

That recipe cries out for curry leaves and mustard seeds but he doesn't even use those. >:(

Make two versions. Yours and his.

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Posted (edited)

Honestly, for folks that are just starting out on adult life (and didn't grow up in Foodie families) I give them Bittman's book and The Best Recipes.  Newbies need to gain a basic appreciation that cooking food is not a herculean task and that even simple recipes, with a little effort, can taste good.  Are they palate shattering?  Are they 300% authentic to regional cuisine? No. But, these kinds of books start folks on their culinary journeys, and once they gain appreciation, they branch out (and some even become foodies like us). Everyone has to start somewhere...heck, I still pull out his book from time to time for his chicken thigh marinade and reminders on how long to cook certain itmes. These types of books open doors, at least in my humble opinion.

 

 


Edited by TechieTechie (log)
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At least it is better than Joy of Cooking. By a big factor.

 

I recall a lot shouting  over on that other food site when I said t hat JoC was a POS a few years ago. It was like I said something nasty about people's mothers.

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Just a thought, but how about making the biranyi or any other recipe, but using its failings as a point of conversation for the club. This is about cooking as well as socializing, correct? Tell others about the curry seeds and mustard leaves and what they would have brought to the dish. Ask them what they think might have been used to improve their recipes. Help newbies come up with 'variations' to their recipes that might make them even better.  It might make the evening even better. 

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10 minutes ago, gfweb said:

At least it is better than Joy of Cooking. By a big factor.

 

I recall a lot shouting  over on that other food site when I said t hat JoC was a POS a few years ago. It was like I said something nasty about people's mothers.

I disagree entirely. I think Bittman is pretty much of a sham, and Joy of Cooking in filled with an incredible amount of information. I don't think you're saying anything about people's mothers, but I'd like to know why you think Joy of Cooking is  "POS." That's very different from just saying that you don't like it. 

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When I was in my 20s, Joy of Cooking introduced me to some basics that I sorely needed. My mom was a terrible cook, so I didn't learn to cook from her, it was from JOC. I branched out from there and got more sophisticated, but it was a valuable starting point.

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Posted (edited)
12 hours ago, Smokeydoke said:

I've never understood the Bittman-love either. He always came across to me as the new "Joy of Cooking".

 

55 minutes ago, gfweb said:

At least it is better than Joy of Cooking. By a big factor.

 

I recall a lot shouting  over on that other food site when I said t hat JoC was a POS a few years ago. It was like I said something nasty about people's mothers.

I always felt that "Joy" was a seminal cookbook for many.  Not only a cookbook either; how to set a table, and other important things.

 

Now, as to whether I actually cook from it, well - no.

 

But = perhaps this can be the beginning of another topic?


Edited by weinoo (log)
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46 minutes ago, weinoo said:

 

I always felt that "Joy" was a seminal cookbook for many.  Not only a cookbook either; how to set a table, and other important things.

 

Now, as to whether I actually cook from it, well - no.

 

But = perhaps this can be the beginning of another topic?

 

Good new topic, but apples and oranges, IMO. I'd still like to know why anyone thinks JOC is a POS. 

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See, JOC is really great. And if that were the book chosen, I'd be more enthusiastic.

 

I don't feel the same way about Bittman's. I've made a few things from JOC and they've generally worked out well. I feel that one of the differences is that JOC doesn't cut corners unlike its competitor. You can clearly see it in the recipes.

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