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Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express:
404 Inspired Seasonal Dishes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less
ISBN: 1416575669
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: July 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Number of recipes: 404
List price: $26
Type: Quick
Sample recipe: Mark's Famous Spicy Shrimp;  Gruyère Apple Grilled Cheese
Ambitions
Intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
Apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive encyclopedia coffee-table
Meal part: all breakfast/brunch lunch dinner dessert
Competition: outclassed a bit behind in the pack strong challenger likely champ
Content
Variety: too little too much unusual nice mix just right
Practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% ≥80%
# of ingredients: ≤4 ≤7 ≤10 ≤12 >12
Ingredient hunt: airfare required online farmer's market supermarket pantry
Recipe complexity: too hard simple medium challenging professional
Instructions: inadequate verbose minimal complete educational
Time conscious: not conscious bald lies white lies realistic scout's honor
Cooking time: weekend project takes all day takes time ≥30 minutes <30 minutes
Added info: zip overwhelming useful ample generous
Photos/drawings: none drawings b&w photos occasional color all color
Recipe results: ≤dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
Diet/Nutrition/Health
Nutritional info: none overwhelming hit or miss adequate comprehensive
Format/Ease of Use
Layout: ugh cluttered fine kind work of art
Legibility: unpleasant challenging ok clear brilliant
Production quality: cheesy delicate years of service gift quality stunning
Page numbers: hard-to-find spotty sufficient most pages every page
Table of contents: missing frustrating minimal helpful excellent
Index: none confusing adequate nice a treasure
Page flipping: upsetting tedious acceptable rare never
Author
Writing history: beginner writer/journalist food writer writing cook personality
Cooking heritage: unknown self-taught teacher chef celebrity
Summary
Fulfills ambitions: falls short satisfactory successful exceeds home run
Flavor delivered: sad inconsistent tasty delicious exceptional
Overall tone: sterile trying too hard straightforward good friend mom
Value: ouch! a little pricey worth splurging on the money a deal
Overall rating: skip it good very good excellent Ochef Top 100

Comments: We love the story in Genesis where Eve is beguiled by the talking serpent into eating an apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve agrees with the serpent that "the tree was good for food." (Check – good looking apples!) And she agrees that "it was pleasant to the eyes." (Check again – beautiful tree, beautiful fruit! – what's not to like?) Finally she agrees that it was "a tree to be desired to make one wise." (Hmmm – a tree that one would look to for wisdom? A tree?) Regardless of any religious sentiment, that's where we would have to draw the line.

We'll get back to Eve in a moment. Right now, we are smitten with Mark Bittman's new book: 101 20-minute recipes for each season, presented in paragraph form, with quantities and substitutions of your choosing. There is an assumption that you know how to cook already (you have to know how to poach eggs, how to make a frittata, you have to know some traditional recipes by name, as some (Migas, Chilaquiles, etc.) are not at all descriptive). There are no lists of ingredients as in most cookbooks, so you have to read the paragraph carefully so as not to miss an ingredient or two.

How the book is organized is something of a revelation. We grumbled for a while, because while some recipes are clearly seasonal, others are not, and how are you going to find them? And not every soup, or salad, or sandwich is religiously grouped with its brethren. But there are nine pages early in the book that categorize many recipes so you can find them: Dishes that Double as Appetizers, Brown-Bag Lunches, Desserts You Can Eat Any Time of the Year, The Easiest of the Easiest, The Best Recipes for Picnics, The Best Do-Ahead Recipes for Potlucks, Best Recipes for Reheating, Soups You Can Chill, etc., etc. At the back, before a killer index, are another batch of suggestions for combining recipes for a Weeknight Dinner Party, Romantic Supper, Better-Than-Chinese-Takeout, Kid's Night, Room-Temperature Buffet, Picnic or Road Trip, Holiday Blowout, and Weekend Brunch. If you can't find recipes you want in this book, you can't find them in any book.

Many recipes are not main courses; some are side dishes, some desserts, a few breakfasts, a very few drinks, yet even those that are meals might seem a little skimpy to some. Many recipes produce main dishes, but as Bittman is a leading advocate of modest portion size, these will not overwhelm you.

We love that Bittman's seasonality is rooted in the northeast, not somewhere in Berkeley or further south, where it's easy to proselytize about eating seasonally and locally. In the northeast, you have to have real faith.

Our biggest criticism with these recipes is that you don't have rich flavors develop and marry over a few hours of stewing. You have a style of cooking that relies on throwing together fairly assertive ingredients and, unlike the serpent, relatively little subtlety. But they're 20-minute recipes, for heaven's sake, and wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to long-cooking recipes, and many there be which go in thereat. But narrow is the gate and strait is the way that leads to good 20-minute recipes, and few there be that find them.

Now, getting back to Eve, it is Bittman's introduction that throws us a little. He says the style of cooking presented in his book is about three things: speed (check!), flexibility (check, check!), and relaxation (huh?). If you're a modestly competent cook on the lookout for quick, tasty dishes, you'll have somewhere in the vicinity of 404 new, solid recipes that you can tailor to your needs. But if you're anything like us, a 20-minute recipe is likely to induce a certain amount of pressure. Bittman may provide speed and flexibility. But the relaxation bit is something you'll have to find within yourself….



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