I was really excited a couple months ago when I realized Mark Bittman had a new cookbook out. As frequent readers can attest, I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with Mr. Bittman. Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating had a big impact in changing the way I eat and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is my go-to cookbook. One day my mother called me from work to tell me that Mark Bittman was on a morning news show–and we don’t even have television! Needless to say, I got my hands on a library copy (always try before you buy!) as soon as I could.
Bittman’s latest offering, Kitchen Express: 404 Inspired Seasonal Dishes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less, didn’t disappoint me. Kitchen Express is unlike any cookbook I’ve ever used before (not that I’m an expert)–the recipes are meant to be “precisely imprecise” and are about “speed, flexibility and relaxation”. With the assumption that the reader has some skill in the kitchen, you’ll be eating “twenty minutes later, max”. The book’s seasonally arranged 404 recipes provide ideas for every meal of the day, including dessert, and feature many different ingredients and proteins. Some of the recipes are for popular dishes (burgers, chicken piccatta, fish tacos, gazpacho, etc) and others are combinations I never would have thought of (Squid Salad with Red Pepper and Cilantro, Crisp Fennel Gratin, Moroccan Lamb Chops with Couscous, Apple Cider and White Wine Slushy)
Recipes, some as short as three lines, are written as paragraphs. They often have no measurements listed, simply “a handful”, “a bunch” or “several”. At first, this took a bit of getting used to. As I’ve mentioned, I like really specific instructions when I cook. But having some flexibility to make the dishes my own added to the fun and lowered the stress of “doing it right”.
Brian and I tried four recipes from Kitchen Express. The dishes I chose were pretty basic and “comfort food-y,” but the book definitely contains items that are more unique.
Fall #11: Curried Coconut-Butternut Squash Soup
Fall #98: Brown Sugar Apple in the Microwave (no photo)
Winter #60: Chicken with Apples and Sage
Fall #84: Penne with Vodka Sauce
I was really pleased with all of the recipes we tried. They were, as promised, simple and delicious. Some took me longer than 20 minutes to make, but I’m willing to make allowances for the time it took me to dice my first butternut squash and peel, core and slice 2 apples (my knife skills are horrible). I, surprisingly, found the lack of specific instructions liberating. Without a “real recipe” in front of me, I felt comfortable adding additional spices or adjusting the amounts. Hopefully, that sort of approach will transfer to my everyday cooking.
I highly recommend Kitchen Express for the intermediate cook who is looking for a cookbook of varied recipes that are great they way they are, but also ripe for innovation. I’ve added it to my wishlist.