How to Cook Everything

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John F
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How to Cook Everything

Post by John F » Sun Jan 31, 2010 8:58 am

Mark Bittman: How to Cook Everything, 2nd edition (Hoboken: Wiley, 2008), 1056 pages, $35.00

Mark Bittman: How to Cook Everything, 1st edition (Hoboken: Wiley, 1998), paperbound, 960 pages, $24.95

Mark Bittman: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Hoboken: Wiley, 2007), 1008 pages, $35.00


Mark Bittman has to be one of the busiest food writers around. Besides a big stack of cookbooks, he writes the New York Times's cooking column "The Minimalist" and its blog "Bitten: Mark Bittman on Food." He has starred in PBS series such as "Bittman Takes on America's Chefs" and "The Best Recipes in the World," in which professional chefs at home and abroad cook a dish for him and he for them. But the foundation of his public career is "How to Cook Everything," a best-seller for more than a decade. Ten years on, Bittman didn't just revise but remake it, and the result could be all the cookbook that most home cooks need.

Some aspire to haute cuisine. My father owned and sometimes used "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and bookstore shelves groan under the weight of countless cookbooks at that level and those devoted to regional and ethnic cuisines, to keep the most ambitious of us occupied. And there are those who don't cook at all, who just pop prepared foods in the microwave or go out to Jean Georges, or McDonald's.

In the middle are those who just want to cook tasty and nutritious food for their home tables. All-purpose books from Fanny Farmer to "The Joy of Cooking" to "The James Beard Cookbook," huge best sellers for many years, have provided such cooks with the variety and, at least with Beard, a bit of the spice of life. "How to Cook Everything" is in that line - I would say, the best yet.

"Everything" has been kicked up a notch in its second edition, not just longer but thoroughly reexamined and rethought. From Bittman's Introduction: "Where 'American' cooking once drew largely from northern European cuisines - these reflected, after all, the origins of many of our first citizens - we now routinely enjoy food from the rest of the world. This new edition...reflects that. It also reflects my further disenchantment with what was once called haute cuisine - fancy food. This, I think, is best left to restaurants. So where in the original 'How to Cook Everything' I made some attempts to address the needs of those who like to replicate restaurant food as a hobby, here I'm leaving most of that behind. Home cooking is best when it's simple, straightforward, unpretentious, and easy."

Bittman's range is very wide, as you'd expect in a 1000-page book, and looking in the index you'll find not just roast chicken but also stir-fried lamb with chili, cumin, and garlic, couscous with almonds and cauliflower as well as baked potato. One of his tactics is to follow a basic recipe with a profusion of variations and add-ins; "Anything-Scented Peas" provides one major variation, "Peas with Bacon, Lettuce, and Mint," and no fewer than 11 flavorings, from chopped herbs to the Japanese condiment miso paste and even minced flowers. The dust cover boasts of 2,000 recipes and variations, and I believe it.

The recipes are entirely practical. Each is precise not just about the quantities of the ingredients and the number of servings, as cookbooks have to be, but about what to do at each step of the recipe and how many minutes it will normally take to do it. And he isn't as finicky about ingredients and procedures as, say, the America's Test Kitchen TV series, though it too is intended for home cooks - one of the recipes called for eggs to be beaten with no more or fewer than 80 strokes, otherwise it would fail. Bittman's recipes don't fail - at least, the two dozen or so I've tried so far have all worked as expected and hoped for.

This is a big, thick book, cumbersome in the kitchen. I have a cookbook stand but it's not very good for cooking more than one dish from the cookbook, or from multiple cookbooks, or just turning the page if a recipe runs over. Those who have a photocopier or all-in-one printer can just xerox the cookbook pages they want. a more elegant and useful solution, though also more laborious, is recipe software such as Living Cookbook (my choice), which can not only print out any recipe you enter into it but scale the ingredients list to the number of servings you want. There are other advantages too, which I'll write out in a separate review.

The original "Everything" is still available in paperback, for $10 less than the 2nd edition. I'm keeping it because Bittman has now dropped some recipes I like very much, such as Rice Pilaf with Wine and Spinach, and I'm sure there are others. For those who have neither edition, I'd say the 2nd is definitely the one to get unless you really need that $10 - but if so, you'll still have a terrific cookbook. And those who already have the 1st edition will surely gain if they pick up the second as well.

Bittman isn't hostile to frozen or dried foods on principle - he strongly prefers fresh produce but isn't fanatic about it. About organic foods: "I'm not convinced that industrially produced 'organic' food is any healthier or more sustainable than industrially produced 'conventional' food... I think buying local is more important and has more impact than supporting organic." Those who rely on dried herbs and preground spices as a practical matter, not to mention garlic powder, will have to adjust some of his recipes, or just skip them. No matter, there are more than enough to turn to. Another practical issue is that while Bittman devotes many pages to vegetables, legumes, and grains - many more than in the first edition - there could be still more.

Not to worry, Bittman has provided another huge book, "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian." The title may be off-putting to those like me who are by no means vegetarians but just want to eats our spinach, and want more non-meat options than most American cookbooks offer. In his Introduction, Bittman writes, "Increasingly, Americans are becoming flexitarians, a recently invented word that describes both vegetarians who aren't that strict and meat-eaters who are striving for a more health-conscious, planet-friendly diet. It's likely that by the time 'How to Cook Everything Vegetarian' is printed, more than 50% of us will meet that description, though fewer than 10% of us describe ourselves as vegetarians (and fewer still as vegans)." His aim is to make vegetables, and even vegetarian meals, appealing and satisfying to just plain folks.

To my taste at least, he's done it. "My Mom's Pan-Cooked Peppers and Onions," on the plate or in a sandwich, is now a standby; so, to my surprise, is Braised and Glazed Brussels Sprouts, which are browned on the outside and taste nutty rather than spinachy or cabbagy. The immense variety of rice dishes, including oriental recipes and pilafs, has kept me from repeating anything yet; last night's pilaf with white wine (actually vermouth) and walnuts is a keeper, but it may be some time before I'm able to have it again.

Times are good for those who cook their own food, with much more variety of fresh meat and produce in the supermarkets, open air markets for locally grown food, and Bittman to guide you in using them. As Julia and Jacques always say, happy cooking, and bon appetit!
John Francis

jbuck919
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:16 pm

John F wrote:
"Everything" has been kicked up a notch in its second edition,
Bam Image

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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IcedNote
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by IcedNote » Sun Jan 31, 2010 6:33 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful review! Both 'Everything' and 'Vegetarian' are on my short list to investigate and possibly buy, and I'm encouraged by what you had to say about both.

I'm beginning to wonder how many mammoth cookbooks one needs. I already have 'The New Best Recipe,' so I wonder if 'Everything' would be too redundant. I mean, how many different ways are their to do a basic steak, you know? Any thoughts?

-G
Harakiried composer reincarnated as a nonprofit development guy.

John F
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by John F » Sun Jan 31, 2010 8:47 pm

If basic steak is all you do... "How to Cook Everything" has several pages on steaks, from choosing the cut of meat (including "What Does Grass-Fed Mean?") to "5 Unexpected Sauces for Steaks." Whether this adds anything to what you already have in "The New Best Recipe," I couldn't say as I don't know it. You might have a browse next time you're in a bookstore and see how Bittman's approach and repertoire strikes you.

For me, the more flavoring ideas, and the more diverse and eclectic they are, the better. I can cook plain rice just fine without cracking a book, and don't need to be told to stir in some standard herbs or drizzle on some soy sauce. But Bittman tells of "Nineteen 30-second ways to jazz up plain rice," including "stir in a tiny bit of ground cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and/or cloves - exercise restraint and be sure to taste." Different, delicious in an Indian kind of way, and even if I'd thought of it, I might not have tried it without a cookbook's encouragement.

I haven't accumulated that many cookbooks myself - it would probably just confuse me. :) Bittman's have now replaced the comprehensive cookbooks I formerly used: Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cook Book, the James Beard Cookbook, and James Beard's American Cookery. I copied some favorite recipes from each into Living Cookbook, fewer of Claiborne's than I might have expected, then took them off the kitchen shelf to make room for the three "Everything" books. Other than a couple of specialized cookbooks, that's all I work from.

Nowadays you can get some usable recipes off the Web, for free. The authors I've added to Living Cookbook include Alton Brown (though he's often too finicky for me), Kathleen Delaemans, and America's Test Kitchen (also sometimes finicky). But if there's a Bittman recipe for much the same dish, it often looks more appealing as well as simpler. And for the kind of cook I am, simpler is definitely better. :)
Last edited by John F on Mon Feb 01, 2010 4:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
John Francis

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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by IcedNote » Sun Jan 31, 2010 10:18 pm

John F wrote:If basic steak is all you do... "How to Cook Everything" has several pages on steaks, from choosing the cut of meat (including "What Does Grass-Fed Mean?") to "5 Unexpected Sauces for Steaks." Whether this adds anything to what you already have in "The New Best Recipe," I couldn't say as I don't know it. You might have a browse next time you're in a bookstore and see how Bittman's approach and repertoire strikes you.
Ha, I don't only do basic steaks; that was just an example! :D But you're right; if each one of these cookbooks has their own, unique variations, they'd be worth picking up.

-G
Harakiried composer reincarnated as a nonprofit development guy.

Chosen Barley
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by Chosen Barley » Mon Jun 07, 2010 2:46 pm

May I put a bad word in for gourmet, complex and exotic cuisine. Those who need it or specialize in it have never been truly hungry.

I once heard a proponent of the Slow Cooking Movement (a movement is not necessarily what it purports to be, though) tell us that she had to run away from the USA to Italy because "there's no tasty food to be found in the USA." Friends, as I live & breathe I could not make this up.

I know the solution to her problem, I really do. Go and do some hard, productive, physical labour. All day, till you are ready to drop. Whatever you have for supper, even if it is just a bowl of porridge - will taste wonderful.

An equally good solution. Grow as much of your own food (or kill it) as you possibly can. It will taste good without complex flavouring or preparation.

Third, Ms. Slow Cooking Snotnose - spare a tear if you can for the few thousand who just expired for lack of anything.

Amen.
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by HoustonDavid » Mon Jun 07, 2010 4:56 pm

It has been my belief for years that the really good food, the tasty dishes, and the ones
that will live forever on the tables of the world's homes are the dishes made up not for the
rich people but the poor people. Those are the dishes that had to be seasoned (at least
initially) to rid them of the taste of ingredients beginning to go bad. That's why spices
became necessary.

Look at food that simmered all day because the individuals going to eat it were laboring,
sweating, and plowing all day. The ingredients were fresh from the nearby gardens of the
(usually) women in the kitchens, baking and preparing dishes for their men. Fancy, shmancy,
these were the dishes that sustained us and became the hallmarks of real dinner tables, not
the palaces of the kings and queens.

Now, of course, with everyone working regardless of gender or status, our dinner tables are
in fast-food restaurants and fried to perfection with no thought other than "fast" to welcome
them to our plastic plates and cutlery. If I could find a way to blame it on Bush and Cheney,
I would, but it is more probably a function of a market economy that requires everyone to
work once they become adults in order to survive and prosper, which means work until dinner
time and eat on the way home to the wife and kids who have done the same. Family meals
mean going home first, then packing everyone in the same car and driving to the nearest
Mickey Dees for a sumptuous repast of more fried cuisine.
Last edited by HoustonDavid on Mon Jun 07, 2010 5:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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John F
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by John F » Mon Jun 07, 2010 5:06 pm

Yeah, there are a lot of food snobs out there. In the Home Cooking section of Chowhound, one idiot started a thread asking what's the point of cooking from recipes, as if good results don't matter, it's only creativity that counts. Quite a few responses seemed to agree with him.

But I don't go in for reverse snobbery either, dissing people who put a premium on eating well and get a kick out of making "gourmet" dishes. It's a hobby, and closer to people's real-life needs than many other hobbies I could name. I do a bit of it myself, as I love Louisiana cajun/creole food, not so easily found in Brooklyn, and now and then make a gumbo or jambalaya just for my own pleasure. These are, of course, food made by and for just plain folks, so I suppose they'd get HoustonDavid's seal of approval. :)

Fortunately, Mark Bittman is no food snob, though he's not a steak-and-potatoes guy either; these aren't the only alternatives. And many of his recipes are easy and quick enough that you don't have to settle for a bowl of porridge, a bologna sandwich, or a microwave meal (or a Big Mac) at the end of a hard day.

The meat, vegetables, and fruit you can get in American supermarkets are indeed less flavorful than some of their European equivalents. Supermarket tomatoes, for example, and the packaged sawdust that's sold as Parmesan cheese. But you don't have to flee the country, or grow your own, to do better. Local farmer's markets, and specialty stores and web sites that carry imports, let you aim higher if you want to.
John Francis

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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jun 07, 2010 8:37 pm

>what's the point of cooking from recipes<

I always use recipes--I scout around--find one that looks interesting and then follow it--it's worked for me for many years. Regards, Len

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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 08, 2010 6:18 am

I was on the library waiting list for five months for Thomas Keller's book of accessible recipes Ad Hoc at Home. However, I'm glad I didn't succumb to the temptation to buy it. It is said that when he re-thinks a classic for one of his restaurants (as opposed to inventing his haute cuisine from scratch as he usually does) he really dresses it up. I was hoping for such insights, if only for the fantasy value (I read cookbooks like other people read junk novels). However, his recipes are very ordinary, and I do not even agree with his approach to some of them. I kept the book for three days and then returned it for the next eagerly patient patron. The Bittman book is probably much more useful.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by John F » Tue Jun 08, 2010 6:48 am

jbuck919 wrote:I was hoping for such insights, if only for the fantasy value (I read cookbooks like other people read junk novels).
And I watch TV cooking shows like other people watch soap operas - or they did when there were any TV soap operas. Hardly ever get a recipe I want to use, but it's kind of fun to watch someone's cooking go perfectly. :)
John Francis

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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 08, 2010 7:30 am

John F wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:I was hoping for such insights, if only for the fantasy value (I read cookbooks like other people read junk novels).
And I watch TV cooking shows like other people watch soap operas - or they did when there were any TV soap operas. Hardly ever get a recipe I want to use, but it's kind of fun to watch someone's cooking go perfectly. :)
And as you know, it only goes perfectly on Iron Chef (where in spite of everything they never fail to produce the five interesting dishes they actually intended) or, at the opposite end, the daytime line-up (which I don't have much use for since Molto Mario) where they (a) aren't making anything very interesting to begin with and (b) get to do re-takes. On all the rest of the shows, even the pros flub things on a regular basis.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Chosen Barley
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by Chosen Barley » Wed Jun 09, 2010 2:28 pm

John F wrote:Yeah, there are a lot of food snobs out there. In the Home Cooking section of Chowhound, one idiot started a thread asking what's the point of cooking from recipes, as if good results don't matter, it's only creativity that counts. Quite a few responses seemed to agree with him.

But I don't go in for reverse snobbery either, dissing people who put a premium on eating well and get a kick out of making "gourmet" dishes. It's a hobby, and closer to people's real-life needs than many other hobbies I could name. I do a bit of it myself, as I love Louisiana cajun/creole food, not so easily found in Brooklyn, and now and then make a gumbo or jambalaya just for my own pleasure. These are, of course, food made by and for just plain folks, so I suppose they'd get HoustonDavid's seal of approval. :)

Fortunately, Mark Bittman is no food snob, though he's not a steak-and-potatoes guy either; these aren't the only alternatives. And many of his recipes are easy and quick enough that you don't have to settle for a bowl of porridge, a bologna sandwich, or a microwave meal (or a Big Mac) at the end of a hard day.

The meat, vegetables, and fruit you can get in American supermarkets are indeed less flavorful than some of their European equivalents. Supermarket tomatoes, for example, and the packaged sawdust that's sold as Parmesan cheese. But you don't have to flee the country, or grow your own, to do better. Local farmer's markets, and specialty stores and web sites that carry imports, let you aim higher if you want to.
You make some good points about snobbery & reverse snobbery. I hope I don't come across as a reverse snob. But I wouldn't make "growing your own" sound like some sort of drastic last resort. If one has a bit of space - you don't need much - growing your own is a good idea for a variety of reasons. And a bowl of porridge is not "settling" in my books. Enjoyment of such simple food is automatic response to true hunger. When there is time and energy, tho, more elaborate dishes are sure welcome in my house.

It's kind of sad that this type of discussion would be considered bizarre in some parts of the world (and even here). I know that if I chose to live in a dreadful hut, that wouldn't help the people "over there" - and then somebody would think they have to collect money for my housing! But with food it's different. I just wondered how on earth anyone can be satisfied with a simple, normal way of eating when they rarely experience the conditions - hard physical work, poverty, or insufficiency in general - that make food "tasty" in the first place?


"’Tis not the meat, but ’tis the appetite
Makes eating a delight"

By John Suckling (how's that for a surname?) I guess he was talking about things in general and not necessarily food & eating, though. :D
Last edited by Chosen Barley on Wed Jun 09, 2010 4:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by HoustonDavid » Wed Jun 09, 2010 4:07 pm

My post may have sounded like I would prefer the "meat and potatoes" of yore, but believe
it or not, my wife (no longer) and I belonged to a gourmet cooking/eating club for years. I
had rope burns on my left index finger from stuffing and tying-with-string some fresh
muscles for 12 people. Vera and I could actually stand toe-to-toe in the kitchen and have
a great time together preparing succulent meals while sipping good wine. Maybe it was the
wine..... :wink:

After our divorce (unrelated to cooking together) I had a window garden in my kitchen devoted
to fresh herbs - I think there were up to seven or eight in there. One was fresh cat-nip for my
furry friend. I have enjoyed cooking for many years and became quite good at New Orleans
cuisine, having lived there for several years. :shock:

Four years ago, I moved into a senior residence and lost my desire to spend time in the kitchen,
don't know why, probably just the accumulation of years and the thought of scrubbing pots.
Fortunately, the stores have substantially increased the variety of frozen food choices for any
and all meals, and they are really quite tasty if you learn which are good and which are bad. :cry:

Banquet's infamous TV chicken dinner is just as bad as it was 40 years ago when it first came
out :mrgreen: , but Marie Callender's has many very tasty choices, and they now sustain me quite nicely.
I still refuse to go out and eat fried everything. 8)
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

lennygoran
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by lennygoran » Wed Jun 09, 2010 4:13 pm

>Marie Callender's has many very tasty choices<

About 3 years ago we bought one of their red sauce Italian products--can't remember which one--it was pretty tasty but the salt content was extremely high. Maybe that's changed now. Regards, Len

John F
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by John F » Wed Jun 09, 2010 5:51 pm

Chosen Barley wrote:But I wouldn't make "growing your own" sound like some sort of drastic last resort. If one has a bit of space - you don't need much - growing your own is a good idea for a variety of reasons.
Well, that's the point, isn't it? The many millions who live in urban apartments, like me on the 4th floor in Brooklyn, don't have the option. (I don't count growing a few herbs in a window box; you can't subsist on chives.) We have to leave the farming to the farmers, and I'm quite happy to do that anyway, as long as I can get decent produce from them.
jbuck919 wrote:it only goes perfectly on Iron Chef
The original Japanese Iron Chef, booted from the Food Channel to what's now the Cooking Channel, is quite wonderful - less about cooking than a kind of martial arts, like John Cleese in "Monty Python" defending against being attacked with a piece of fruit. Did you see the episode in which the secret ingredient was octopus, and the hapless chefs each had to get a live octopus out of the tank and dispatch it in the Kitchen Stadium? Unfortunately, its cult appeal spawned all those American cooking competition shows that are equally tasteless without being funny.
HoustonDavid wrote:My post may have sounded like I would prefer the "meat and potatoes" of yore, but believe it or not, my wife (no longer) and I belonged to a gourmet cooking/eating club for years.
Yes, that's what your post did sound like, and the bit about porridge seemed to say that if people are tired and hungry enough, they'd eat the least appetizing stuff and like it. (Oatmeal doesn't occupy the place in American food culture that it does in the British Isles.) And no doubt that's true. But of course I must believe what you say now.

Myself, I've only come back to cooking for myself in recent years, partly because there's an actual kitchen with a dishwasher in my new apartment - I'd lived without either for many years, and understand what you're saying. So cooking isn't just economical and good for me, it's fun again. But I haven't given up prepared foods, frozen or canned or whatever, and a recently opened Trader Joe's in my neighborhood has gotten me out of the supermarket rut.
John Francis

John F
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by John F » Wed Jun 09, 2010 5:52 pm

[Removed by John F when he noticed that he had merely quoted his own previous message.]
Last edited by John F on Thu Jun 10, 2010 1:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
John Francis

HoustonDavid
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by HoustonDavid » Wed Jun 09, 2010 7:09 pm

John (Francis) did the porridge bit, even I never stooped that low, and I still refuse to go
out for fried anything, although my buddy Grant and I sneak home a bucket of KFC when
he's visiting and no one's looking. Of course, the mashed potatoes and salad are not fried! :wink:
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

Chosen Barley
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by Chosen Barley » Wed Jun 09, 2010 8:11 pm

I remember Ronnie Reagan saying in an interview that Americans know how to live contentedly with what you've got when necessary; he bragged that during the depression his mother made "hamburgers" out of oatmeal. I can't see that happening anymore, though, when the Big Crash comes. (The world is bankrupt, you know.) They'll riot in the streets wanting their regular convenience foods. Moi, I'll eat road kill if I have to...
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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by John F » Thu Jun 10, 2010 1:38 am

Chosen Barley wrote:I remember Ronnie Reagan saying in an interview that Americans know how to live contentedly with what you've got when necessary; he bragged that during the depression his mother made "hamburgers" out of oatmeal.
The first veggie burger! Now it's become up-market food, while the harder-up fatten themselves on Big Macs.
John Francis

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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Jun 10, 2010 6:16 am

John F wrote:The original Japanese Iron Chef, booted from the Food Channel to what's now the Cooking Channel, is quite wonderful - less about cooking than a kind of martial arts, like John Cleese in "Monty Python" defending against being attacked with a piece of fruit. Did you see the episode in which the secret ingredient was octopus, and the hapless chefs each had to get a live octopus out of the tank and dispatch it in the Kitchen Stadium? Unfortunately, its cult appeal spawned all those American cooking competition shows that are equally tasteless without being funny.
I loved that show. Another problem with the US version is that you can't really tell much of what they're doing until they present the dishes. And frankly, I am not sure that all the US chefs are of the caliber of the Japanese (Morimoto of course appears on both series). I have my doubts about Bobby Flay in particular and wonder if he uses a ringer to help him with his ideas. I think he won that re-match in Japan mainly because of their cultural concept of saving face.

In an episode I remember, one of the chefs of undoubted talent (it might have been Morimoto) decided to use the "soft roe" (milt) from a fish to make ice cream. One judge took one taste and said "This is awful." That would never happen on the American show, either.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: How to Cook Everything

Post by lennygoran » Thu Jun 10, 2010 6:57 am

>Bobby Flay <

Over the years my wife and I have been to his Mesa Grill 3 times but not recently--the food was just superb--so innovative and it worked! Regards, Len

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