Mark Bittman’s recipes have always appealed to me. They’re practical, accessible, and super non-fussy. He doesn’t alienate you with his food talk, he pulls you in, asks you to join. He also reminds me so much of a fellow Upper West Sider that I hold a soft spot for him (if he has a car, I would bet large sums of money that it’s a Volvo).
This past week, I put his new cookbook, “How to Cook Everything Fast,” to the test. I cooked from it every night, setting my timer the second that I flipped to the recipe, and stopping it when I took my first bite.
The cookbook is written for efficiency and speed, which means that you don’t really have to think while you’re cooking. Each recipe’s instructions are divided into black and blue text so that the black text is the hands on part: “turn the oven to 450 degrees.” or, “pour two tablespoons of olive oil into a saucepan,” and the blue is what you do in the meantime — the prep steps: “chop 1 small onion,” for example, “rinse your carrots.” My favorite detail: he includes the ingredient quantities in the instructions so you don’t have to look back at the ingredient list. Little things like this make a huge difference!
In true Bittman form, the instructions are painfully clear, to the point, and simple. There’s zero fluff, but there’s just enough information. A beginner cook wouldn’t feel at sea, and an advanced cook would appreciate the clarity. Huge thumbs up for this book. See my five recipe reviews below…
Cabbage with Crisp Tofu and Peanut-Lime Dressing
Time: 21 minutes
I was intrigued by a tofu technique in this recipe that I had never tried before: Basically, you squeeze all the extra liquid out of firm tofu (I used extra firm), and then you crumble it onto a baking sheet, toss it with olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes, and pop it under the broiler until it crisps up. The tofu takes on this entirely new form, a little toasty, crispy, and salty, almost like popcorn or baked feta, and it’s quite good, and totally unexpected.
The Verdict: Killer leftovers, surprisingly filling, and just as good cold. Next time, I’ll go easy on the red onion (I added the recommended amount, which was 1 small red onion, but I still found that to be way too much. The onion was sharp, and I got heartburn!).
Tofu Sandwich with Cucumber and Hoisin Mayo
Time: 11 minutes
I kind of scratched my head when I saw this recipe. Tofu sandwich? On a soft roll? What’s going on?
The Verdict: The photo does not do this sandwich justice. Picture a Momofuku pork bun resurrected, with hot, fried tofu instead of pork, a magical mayo-hoisin combination that is TO DIE FOR, and crisp, thin slices of cucumber. I was obsessed with this sandwich and made it three more times…total keeper (a soft bun, like a hamburger or bulky roll, is key here). These are the kind of Bittman recipes that I love — nothing that I would ever think of, but so clever, easy, and tasty.
Spaghetti and Drop Meatballs with Tomato Sauce
Time: 30 minutes
I couldn’t not try this. I crave spaghetti and meatballs all throughout winter but never end up making it. For some reason, I clam up whenever I think about whipping together a Sunday spaghetti and meatballs feast for myself. The mess. The effort. The quantity. And just me. This recipe called my name — the meatballs are made along with the tomato sauce, and you actually form them with two spoons, rather than your hands.
The Verdict: This was so, so tasty and easy. I will be making it again and again (love that there was fresh parsley in the meatballs, and lots of onion in the tomato sauce.)
Pork, White Bean and Kale Stew
Time: 45 minutes
I made this stew the day that it would not stop pouring and it was such a wise decision. Fatty, tender pieces of pork are browned in a pot and then simmered with white beans, broth, rosemary, and kale. The white beans break down and create this creamy, rich soup, and it’s all so magical.
The Verdict: This was my favorite recipe. I find it only a teeny bit offensive that adding 1/2 cup of grated parmesan at the end is “optional” (IT’S NOT) but we’ll let that slide. Make this as soon as you can — be generous with the seasoning.
See recipe below!
Chicken and Tomato Packages
Time: 45 minutes
I was mainly interested in trying this because a)I’ve never baked chicken in a “package” before (doesn’t that sound so british?) and b) the intro hints at no dirty dishes, minus a cutting board and a knife. Sold.
The Verdict: It smelled amazing in my kitchen, but I had no idea what to expect when I opened the package. I tasted the liquid first — herby, briny from the olives and slightly rich from the rendered chicken fat — I could have poured it into a mug and drank it for dinner. The chicken is essentially poached in this liquid, making it plump and juicy. I would have loved to have this with a side of garlicky mashed potatoes.
Pork, White Bean, and Kale Stew
**note: to mimic the style of the cookbook, I’ve made the text that appears blue in the book bold in the instructions below.
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves
1 small bunch kale
3 cups cooked or canned white beans (I ended up using 2 15-ounce cans)
2 sprigs rosemary (I added thyme too)
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup grated parmesan (not optional)
1. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat.
Cut the pork into 1/2 inch bite size pieces.
2. Add the pork to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until nicely browned, 8-10 minutes.
Peel and thinly slice 3 garlic cloves. Trim and chop the kale. If you’re using canned beans, rinse and drain them.
3. When the pork is browned, add the garlic, kale, beans, 2 rosemary springs, 2 thyme sprigs if you’re using, 1/4 teaspoon chile flakes, 1 1/2 cups stock, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil, then adjust the heat so it simmers gently but steadily. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if necessary, until the beans have broken down a bit, the kale is wilted, and the pork is tender, 25-30 minutes.
5. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Add a splash of liquid if you want to make the stew soupier. Grate in 1/2 cup parmesan, stir, and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly grated black pepper.