This is the first time that I’ve been introduced to Mark Bittman and his cookbooks. I was at a local warehouse food shopping and per usual, I was perusing the cookbooks. This one caught my eye. I mean “How to Cook Everything” .. really? Everything? So as I started to flip through it these gorgeous step-by-step photos popped out for each and every single recipe! BONUS!!! See I’m a HUGE fan of pictures of recipes. While I don’t need the step-by-step hand holding I at least want some type of benchmark photo of what my dish *should* look like. That right there sold me on buying it and giving it a whirl.
The book is pretty large; about 483 pages chocked full of tons of recipes and 1,000 photos. WOO HOO!
As I started on chapter 1, Mr. Bittman discusses basics – things you should have in your fridge, your pantry and various kitchen tools. He’s really thorough on providing a good building block of “how-to’s”- holding a knife, chopping veggies, the difference how to measure dry and liquid ingredients. Yes, there really is a difference. His Techniques is pretty cool as he actually shows the difference between boiling and simmering/gently bubbling water. This is all pretty basic info but for anyone that is brand new to the kitchen, these are really invaluable tidbits of information.
Chapter 2 he goes into breakfast stuff. You have your oatmeal and granola recipes, smoothies, french toast to pancakes. There are a ton of recipes for various types of eggs. He has a pretty cool section on Egg Basics – showing the difference between how to make soft and hard boiled eggs. I absolutely LOVE the fact that he commented that when you crack eggs that you crack them against a hard surface and NOT the bowl. This is important for 2 reasons: 1 – you don’t get egg shells into your dish and 2: you don’t minimize contaminant exposure. His cheese omelet recipe is awesome. It’s simple and basic but really good. What I like best about it is that he shows you how to actually make the omelet. How to form it and then how to flip it.
Chapter 3 he dives into appetizers and snacks. I honestly think this is the first time I’ve ever seen a recipe for real buttered popcorn. He has a few pages on salsa and then about 8 or so salsa variations with it. He has about 10 different types of bruschetta you can make which are perfect for a party. For those of you that still buy jarred Roasted Peppers (shame on you actually), there is a great tutorial on how to make your own roasted peppers at home. And no, you don’t need a grill either for them!
Chapter 4 is salad, salad and more salad. What I really like is that he shows people that there is more than just iceberg lettuce! He goes from basic tossed salads to tabbouleh. He expands your horizons to realize that not all salads have to be lettuce-based. There is a recipe for Tomato, Mozzarella and Bread salad that is super yummy! I highly recommend!
Chapter 5 he goes into your soups. Here is defines the Three Bs of soup basics: Brown, Broth and Boil. There’s a recipe in this section that I’m dying to make – Garlicky White Bean Soup. This with one of his bruschetta’s is definitely on tap for a cold winter night! In this section too he shows you exactly how to make vegetable stock. I was actually pretty surprised by how close this recipe was to my own. And what I love, love, LOVE was that he explains that you don’t have to peel the veggies or even cut them nicely. You just throw it all in and let it cool. And I have to say his Corn Chowder with cheddar recipe.. DIVINE!!!
Chapter 6 is all about pasta and grains. He goes through a tutorial of how to cook pasta and how to tell when it’s undercooked/just right or overcooked. And what chapter on pasta wouldn’t be complete without a section about tomato sauce and all the sauce variations you can make: meaty, vegetable, mushrooms, cheesy, meatballs, spicy and so forth. And for those that like pesto, he shows you how make fresh pesto. With this section it’s not just Italian pasta either. There’s Asian inspired Cold Noodles with Peanut Sauce, Thai noodles with shrimp and so forth. The section in here about rice is really good. He shows the differences between the more popular rices and how to cook it properly. And for those that want to be all Fancy Schmancy, he walks you through making Parmesan Risotto (YUM!). This will impress; trust me! And for those who want to be super healthy, there are some recipes for quinoa. Mmmmm.. quinoa!
Chapter 7 talks about vegetables and beans. He provides you the basics from roasting tomatoes to sauteing mushrooms. If you’ve never made caramelized onions, this is a really good recipe. He explains that you don’t add the oil immediately. You add it after the onions sweat out (about 20 minutes). If you add the oil to when you first put the onions in you are frying them instead of sweating them. With summer upon us, this is a great section to use up garden veggies. Zucchini pancakes is a winner here. The second part of this section is all about beans. Cooking beans is a HUGE bonus! It wasn’t until about 7 or 8 years ago did I start cooking my own beans. The taste is so much more awesome when you make them yourself!
Chapter 8 is for all of you Meat lovers out there. Love, love, LOVE how he explains and shows the difference between Rare to Well Done and provides you the temperatures (yes, I’m telling you that you NEED a meat thermometer!). For those that don’t know he breaks it down as to what are the common beef cuts and how to cook them. And the burger.. that all American classic. What is awesome is he shows you how you can grind your own meat in a food processor. If you’ve never done this, then you really need to do this. The flavor is unmatched by any pre-packaged stuff. In here he discusses beef, pork and lamb. I felt this section fell short on delivery. While good, it should have been expanded more; perhaps more dishes.
Chapter 9 is for the birds; Poultry is what he’s talking about here. Here he discusses your chicken basics (cutlets, boneless, wings and fried chicken). The Peanutty Chicken Kebabs stood out for me here. The pictures are really simple to follow and the ingredients are light and bright. For those of you Thanksgiving virgins, you’re in luck! He discusses roasting a turkey, stuffing, pan gravy and all the other extras that go along with this feast. Again, this chapter stacks up to it’s name as it was pretty basic. Other than the kebabs, it was pretty simplistic.
Chapter 10 you’re swimming with the fishes. Seafood! You learn about the 3 groups of fish: thick fillets, thin fillets and fish steaks. He explains to you how to buy seafood and how to store it. I”m a huge fan of “oven-fried” stuff. I love that crunch factor without all the guilt of deep frying! He has a recipe in here for Oven fried fish that actually surprised me. Buttermilk in the recipe. Hmmm.. gonna have to try that. For those of you allergic to shellfish, go to the next chapter 🙂 Right now he goes into shellfish basics. From the ever popular shrimp scampi to the omg-these-are-the-best-things-ever bacon-wrapped scallops (seriously, he had me at bacon!). Now what was a HUGE surprise in here was the recipe for grilled shrimp burger. For me often red meat doesn’t agree with my system and while I love turkey burgers, I get tired of them. I had my first shrimp burger about 3 years ago and fell in love. They are packed with protein and veggies and a bajillion times healthier for you than ground beef burgers. It’s a great alternative to the classic burger. Whether you live in Maine or in Nebraska, you can make a Lobster/Seafood boil at home. This is a great summer dish.
Chapter 11 is your breads. God I love bread. I mean LOOOOOOOOOOOVE bread. I was especially excited about this chapter. Naturally you find your recipe for croutons to your bread basics (leavenings, flours, yeasts…). And of course, no bread chapter would be complete without banana bread or corn bread. Now what I find different with his banana bread is that he butters his pan with butter. Not sure how I feel about that. Next is followed by your biscuits, scones and muffins. Just pretty basic recipes. They provide a food foundation for the new cook. For those of you that love bread but are intimidated by making it yourself, there’s a good recipe in here for no-knead bread. You don’t need a mixer, just a bowl and a spoon. You will, however, need patience here as the biga (starter) has to proof overnight or at least 18 hours. Whether you’re into pizza, sandwich bread or cinnamon rolls, this chapter’s got you covered.
The next chapter is for those of you with a sweet tooth; desserts! Pretty standard recipes in here – brownies, chocolate chip, butter cookies, biscotti, cobblers and crisps. He has a great guide regarding frostings/icings. What the consistency should look like based on the type you’re making. His pie crust tutorial is really informative and has great step-by-step photos for the beginning pie maker. And yes, no self-respecting pie section would be called that if it didn’t have an apple pie recipe. Mmmm.. love apple pie! But hey, not a pie fan, he shows you how to make sorbet too!
While for me, this cookbook was too basic and too beginner, I honestly think this is the best cookbook to get for a newbie in the kitchen. I see this as the perfect cookbook for a college kid in their first apartment, the new graduate in their first place, the newlywed couple just starting off, the bachelor son or the new divorcee. It’s a great beginning guide for someone just starting out or starting over that really doesn’t have much of a clue about kitchen basics. So for those of you that have kids graduating college, friends getting married or one of your closest friends just got divorced and are on their own for the first time in years this book will help guide them through the kitchen. I felt certain sections should have been elaborated more; perhaps more meat and chicken recipes. What is nice about this is that he will often give you a basic recipe but in the side bar he’ll give you 5-10 variations you can do with it.