One bite of Bittman and I’m tempted to toss out all of my cookbooks, cooking magazines and recipe folders and replace them with only him. If they held Mark Bittman cooking retreats like they do yoga or meditation retreats (not that I’ve ever been on a retreat of any kind, ever), I’d be the first to sign up. He’s that good.
I first heard about Bittman a couple of months ago while he was on a book tour promoting Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes. Like Michael Pollan, Bittman tells readers to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He outlines how eating less meat (and fish, and dairy products) will not only improve your health and help you lose weight, but will make your environmental footprint much smaller. I’d never seen Bittman’s TV shows (Bittman Takes on America’s Chefs and that uber-schlocky piece of crap Spain: On the Road Again with the ridiculously self-important Mario Batali and his arbitrarily-chosen sidekick Gwyneth Paltrow), never heard of his cookbooks (The Minimalist Cooks, How to Cook Everything/Vegetarian), couldn’t remember reading him in the New York Times when I actually subscribed and had time to read it. What intrigued me about him was not just what he had to say, but how he said it. Casual, cut the crap New Yorker. He had the kind of voice you’d expect to hear from someone frying up your chicken-fried steak, not concocting your cassoulet. So I checked out Food Matters from the library. Then I bought it (OK, I asked my brother to buy it for me). Then I bought another book. And I'm quite certain our little love affair is far from over.
Why Bittman makes my heart go pitter patter:
1) Minimalist, intuitive cooking. His books are all about the idea that cooking can be simple, and the basics learned by just about anyone. Once you’ve gathered some experience, he encourages you to let your tastes, and your imagination, drive what you cook.
2) Pantry cooking. A well-stocked pantry (and freezer) and a little planning ahead mean that you can eat well, and fresh, any meal of the day, any day of the week. And for just as cheap (and almost as fast) as fast food.
3) Doesn’t subscribe to food fads or trends or care much about nutritional science, which is constantly revising itself anyway. Just common sense and real food.
4) Eats butter, uses whole milk in his cooking, but doesn’t REQUIRE you to do it.
5) His recipes are flexible and can be used to fit your tastes, dietary restrictions, what have you.
I’ve tried quite a few of his recipes so far, and my favorites include:
Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread
Whole Wheat Pancakes
Eggplant and Chicken Parmesan (amazing and simple, served with lemon spaghetti)
Porridge, Updated (my version: couscous, fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and a drizzle of honey and yoghurt)
Not Your Usual Ratatouille
We've been eating much less meat (though you might not know it from my next post), and all in all I just feel a bit lighter in my skin since discovering Mark Bittman.