As if to prove my point about Mark Bittman's straightforward and yet inspiring ways with food, his post yesterday featured that summer staple, bean salads. Not being content to give just one recipe, he does a wonderful "theme and variations" post on bean salad Indian style, French style, Greek style (in the printed recipe area), Japanese style, and Texas style. The diffferent bean colors, herbs and condiments makes for a world tour of flavors that demonstrates why I enjoy learning from Mr. Bittman so much.
Since our older son Evan has been exploring Veganism, I have shared several recipes with him that feature garbanzo beans. I hope to share them here soon, but in the mean time you can get a sneak preview by reading Evan's fine and entertaining article, Battle of the Beans.
Did you read it? Good. So tell me: What is YOUR vote for the best bean of all beans? Let me know in the comment section by the fourth of July and I'll post links to your bean recipes if you have one to share on your blog.
If you are looking for a cook book that will teach you to cook home-style meals that are simple, delicious, versatile and as wonderfully varied as world cuisine itself can get, look no further than Mark Bittman's Quick And Easy Recipes From The New York Times. In a moment I'll tell you why I chose those adjectives for the book, but first let me say a few words about this extraordinary and talented food writer.
Mark Bittman has been writing his food column for the NY Times called The Minimalist for the last decade or more. It can be found online here, and I recommend you bookmark the page and visit it weekly, as I do. Bittman's articles usually profile a specific recipe, and feature a short three or four minute video in which he demonstrates the cooking technique or assembly of the dish in a refreshingly straightforward style (and often a bit of tongue in cheek humor from Mr. Bittman as well.) If I were The Grand Poobah, I would ordain that the NY Times make a compilation of these short videos available for sale. I would purchase it over anything on offer from, say, the Food Network. Links to recipes are available too, but after a few weeks the online Minimalist articles are archived and one must become a paying subscriber to have access.
The Minimalist moniker Bittman has chosen is not only pertinent for his style of cooking, it represents the essence of his food philosophy, which is: Good food need not be complicated, exotic or baroque in it's ingredient list. Rather, good food is that which relies upon good, fresh ingredients, time honored techniques, and which Bittman prefers to reduce to it's simplest components to deliver the biggest and most essential flavor of the dish. Thus " the Minimalist. "
One might think that a minimalist approach to cooking would yield a paltry list of standard fare, but in Bittman's approach just the opposite occurs, because with each recipe he often provides one two or three variations on the theme (an added ingredient here, a substitution or two there), to yield a fantastic variety of flavor possibilities and an education in cooking while you are at it.
As a home cook, a self named Rookie Cook even, I have come to deeply appreciate what Mark Bittman's approach is teaching me about food. And I love that he draws upon the wisdom and respect for home cooks the world over for inspiration and recipes. He has literally opened up the world of cooking for me, in a way that is approachable, not overwhelming or arcane like many other cook books. Following Mark's "themes and variations", I find that learning a basic dish can be something I build upon, whether it is a soup or a saute or a dessert. ... the possibilities are endless.
Here's an example from the section on soups. He shares the theme and variations on "egg drop" type soups, then shares variations from Asia and Italy. Then he gives his formula for any cream soup: Three parts liquid stock, two parts vegetables, one part dairy such as cream, milk, yogurt, etc. Simple and brilliant!
This new book includes virtually all of Bittman's Minimalist articles, which were previously published in three separate volumes titled The Minimalist Cooks at Home, The Minimalist Cooks Dinner, and The Minimalist Entertains. If ever there was a cook book to add to your library, this is it. I have a feeling it will be my "go to" book in the coming year when I want to put something on the table for my family that I know they wil enjoy and maybe even be surprised by.
I have been on a pea salad kick lately. Truth be told, I made this with frozen peas, and didn't even blanch them in hot water. I simply ran some cool water over the cold peas to thaw them, then ever so gently rolled them lightly over a towel to dry them of excess moisture. In a separate bowl, I mix a quarter cup or so of mayonnaise with a splash of red wine vinegar, a couple of teaspoons of mustard, salt and pepper. Then I roughly chop up a couple of green onions and toss them in the dressing too. Coat the peas with the dressing, and if there is time, chill the salad in the fridge for half an hour or so. Delicious!
This is basically the same dressing I use on mashed potatoes. I like it on the tart side (more vinegar). I love pea salad any time of the year but it is especially welcome when the weather is hot and the peas are fresh rather than frozen.
Mark Bittman, (my latest culinary crush), profiles a pea salad recipe in this week's New York Times online Minimalist article. His features the addition of cold, cooked crab and peppers, thus elevating it to a simple but fabulous summer meal rather than just a "side" salad. I'm sure I'll be trying one of his variations soon, because the temperatures here in the California valley are starting to climb into the nineties!
It was while watching the movie Dinner Rush (starring the lovable Danny Aiello) when I heard the main character order "sausages and peppers" for dinner. The irony was, the restaraunt owner was in his own restaurant, and he had to order off the menu. It seems that his son, a talented chef, was running the kitchen-- and insisted on changing the menu to new and fancy cuisine instead of his father's old standby and classic Italian dishes.
The Dad got his order, of course, and I got a new idea for a quick and easy weeknight supper. Here's how it goes: Saute some onions, then add some peppers, then slices of your favorite sausage (chicken with garlic and artichokes is nice).... add a side of salad and a chunk of rustic bread and you've got yourself a soul soothing, savory meal.
As for the movie: "Dinner Rush" may not be the best movie I've ever seen, but I do recommend it. At times it borders on a parody of Italian cultural icons such as mobsters and family drama, but I'd watch it again just for the really wonderful images of the working restaurant kitchen. The drama centers around the issue of Who will control the fate of the restaurant, control of the kitchen, and the lives of the two very different sons of the dinner house. The suspense is paid off in a surprising way at the end, and the movie brims with larger than life characters. And food!
Watch for: a really fun cameo of Sandra Bernhard playing a food critic.
I have several favorite food related films to talk about in upcoming posts-- stay tuned!
I don't usually allow comments with advertisements in them to publish, (I hate spam!)-- but this time I am making an exception. After my last post about Coca Cola's plan to produce a diet cola made with Stevia, the all natural alternative to chemical sweeteners, I learned via the comments that such an alternative beverage already exists! It is called Zevia, and is avaiable in three flavors --cola, orange and "twist", (lemon/lime). If you visit their web site, you can order it or request that your local stores distribute it. If I conduct my own taste test, I'll report about it here.
Can it be true that Coca-Cola is producing a version of their soft drink that uses the safe and natural herb Stevia for a sweetener instead of dangerous chemicals or corn syrup? According to some news reports, Coca Cola, along with Cargill, is doing just that, although it will rename the Stevia as an ingredient called Rebiana.
This is fantastic news, although ironic in the extreme that a company so identified with high sugar diets, obesity, and chemical sweeteners is now embracing the herbal supplements that can deliver sweetness without compromising our health. The sceptic in me wonders if the "rebiana" will be a bastardized version of Stevia, or if Coca Cola is truly offering a healthy alternative.
This is a news story worth watching, with social and health ramifications as huge as that of Walmart offering organic alternatives in their product line. Of course, Coke and Cargill will want us to believe they "discovered" Rebiana while the media ignored and suppressed information and access to Stevia in years past. Let's just hope that the socially progressive natural foods producers who have offered Stevia during the past decade will survive the competition and find new ways to thrive and expand their business in the future.