Recipe format a food revolution
New cookbook foolproof for cooks at home
When Mark Bittman released his first cookbook, How To Cook Everything, in 1998, we thought about food very differently.
It was a time — if you can imagine it — before “artisanal,” “superfood” and even “kale” were common culinary parlance.
But if we’ve dedicated the nearly two decades since Bittman’s first how-to tome to figuring out how we should shop (locally) and what we should buy (organic), there now remains the practical question of how we do all these ethically sourced, ideologically laboured-over ingredients justice — after a 10-hour workday.
That is to say: How do we cook things correctly, while at the same time cooking them very, very quickly?
Which is why Bittman calls his new book, How To Cook Everything Fast, “the cookbook for right now.”
“Revolutionary is a very strong word and I try to stay away from hyperbole, but it is really a new way of doing things,” Bittman said. With the new book — the third in his Everything series, which also includes How To Cook Everything Vegetarian — Bittman completely revamps the recipe structure as we’ve come to know it, explaining that he’s tailored his new instructions for the home cook, where most (if not all) other cookbooks write recipes as if for professionals with assistants.
“The problem is that everybody who’s written recipes for the past X years has kind of done it wrong,” he says.
“We’ve done it the way that chefs do it, which is to say, here’s all the stuff that you need to make this recipe, have your sous chef put that on the counter for you, with the garlic chopped, basil torn, and so on, and here’s how you would go about making the recipe once you have all this stuff on your counter. That’s not the way anybody cooks.”
So to expedite home cooking without resorting to boxed-food shortcuts, Bittman has incorporated prep into each step.
The process is then seamless and, as a result, speedy, but Bittman quickly corrects the suggestion that the format of How To Cook Everything Fast is simply common sense: “Let’s say this: many things appear to be common sense after they’re done,” he says. “It’s only second nature if you cook a lot. I think this book, whether you know how to cook or not, this book lets you walk into the kitchen and start cooking. The chances of (the recipes) screwing up are close to zero.”
Bittman and his team had to closely examine what he calls the “codification” of kitchen techniques, breaking down the steps in a recipe that seasoned home cooks may chalk up to intuition — when to start boiling a pot of water, for instance, or what to do with kitchen scraps as you create them.
“A beginner does not know how to do that,” Bittman says. “A beginner thinks, oh, I have to have this chopped, I have to have this measured out, and by the time they start cooking, 20 minutes have passed, and it’s only a 20-minute recipe.”
Bittman is of course not the only culinary crusader currently working to dispel the common myth that cooking from scratch is a time-consuming task — just scan any food website or blog and you’ll discover recipes categorized by how little time they take.
Plus, Jamie Oliver — who has basically made a career of revolutionizing food systems one by one — recently took on time as his latest conquest with the TV series Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals.
And while Oliver may ultimately be eyeing a healthy bottom line, the message he and Bittman are pushing — that there’s no such thing as “not enough time to cook” — may be as important and impactful as any we’ve heard since Bittman’s first book.
“I’m very proud of this,” Bittman says of How To Cook Everything Fast. “This is my life’s work. I think it’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever done.”
Butternut Squash Soup With Apples and Bacon
Time: Faster (30 minutes or less)
This soup has it all: It’s sweet, colourful and creamy and even features the smoky crunch of bacon on top. The most timeconsuming thing about preparing squash is peeling and seeding it.
8 slices bacon
1 medium butternut squash 2 large apples 1 small onion
1 tsp (5 mL) allspice
1/4 tsp (1 mL) cayenne
Salt and pepper 5 cups (1-1/4 L) chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 cup cream
1. Put a large pot over medium heat.
2. Chop 8 slices bacon into 1-inch pieces. Add the bacon to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. Line a plate with paper towels.
Cut the squash in half crosswise; peel and trim it, then scoop out the seeds. Cut it into chunks that will fit through the feed tube of a food processor.
Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Trim, peel, and quarter the onion.
3. When the bacon is crisp, transfer it to the paper towels with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat to low. Shred the vegetables and fruit in a food processor with a grating disk; empty the work bowl into the pot as it fills.
4. Raise the heat to mediumhigh. Add allspice, cayenne, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the spices are fragrant, about a minute.
5. Add stock or water and cream. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so that it bubbles gently but steadily, and cook until the squash is fully tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Turn off the heat under the soup and run an immersion blender through the pot or, working in batches, transfer it to an upright blender and puree.
7. Reheat the soup for 1 or 2 minutes if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Divide the soup among 4 bowls, garnish with the bacon, and serve.
Makes 4 servings.
The recipes in Mark Bittman’s new cookbook, How To Cook Everything Fast, are written for home cooks, not chefs.