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.