Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix

Title:  Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix
Author:  Mark Bittman
Publication Information:  Pam Krauss Books. 2015. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0804188017 / 978-0804188012

Book Source:  I received this book through the Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "For years I've said, 'If you can cook 10 recipes, you can cook 10,000,' and while I've always felt it was true, I've never believed it more strongly than I do now."

Favorite Quote:  "Those of us who cook believe that you have to cook to eat well."

Mark Bittman is a food journalist - former columnist for The New York Times and creator of many cookbooks. He is a winner of the many prestigious awards for his food writing. Kitchen Matrix is the latest of his cookbooks and is unlike any that have come before.

This cookbook is organized like many other all purpose cookbooks: Appetizers and Entertaining; Soups, Stews, and Sandwiches; Vegetables; Pasta, Grains, and Beans; Fish and Seafood; Poultry and Eggs; Meat; Condiments and Seasonings; Fruit; and Desserts and Baking. All of these are typical sections in a general cookbook.

It is when you reach into one of these sections that the unique nature of this cookbook comes through.   Going through one section - vegetables - illustrates the difference in this book. First and foremost, the section is not page after page of recipes. Instead, it is a base set of topics - a dish like salad, an ingredient like pumpkin, or a cuisine like vegan. Each topic includes introductory text and base directions; for example, the introduction on salads includes directions on turning any salad into a chopped salad and directions on how to assemble a vinaigrette dressing. This introduction is followed by a few pages on variations a home cook can create; the salad section has ten variations described in two pages. Each one has a full-color picture and a brief listing of ingredients and directions. Some sections also include recipe generators with ingredient categories and universal directions indicating how to pick ingredients; for example, spring rolls (found in the grains section of the cookbook) include a list of proteins, fruits and vegetables, and dipping sauces with universal directions on how to put ingredients together into a spring roll. A lot of information - "more than 700 recipes and techniques" - compacted into a relatively small package - a 300 page cookbook.

I have to admit. I love to cook. I love cookbooks. I very rarely follow an exact recipe except in baking. I improvise and modify recipes based on what ingredients I have on hand and what flavor I want. I use my cookbooks more for inspiration than anything else. This cookbook is perfect for that kind of improvisational cooking. Mind you, the recipes and directions can be followed exactly, but as the introduction states, "Many are meant to facilitate improvisation in the kitchen, catering to all sorts of cooking styles and preferences."

Now to the details of the usability of this book: 

  • The full-color photography in the book is wonderfully appetizing. It is very helpful to envision the completed dish before starting out.
  • The physical book is a good size. (I have a print version of this book.)
  • The beginning of each major section is marked with a bright red cover page that is visible even on the edge of the printed page. This makes it easy to move to a particular section.
  • The ingredients for each recipe are clearly marked in bold print.
  • The ingredients for the recipes seem to be things readily available to the home cook.
  • I love that the book has so many variations on each theme. It allows dishes to be tailored to suit different tastes and different available ingredients.
  • The book includes a detailed index which is helpful.
  • The table of contents at the beginning of the book is only a listing of the main sections as given above. Each section does have its own table of contents also, which helps mitigate this issue.
  • If you are looking to follow an exact recipe, the directions are somewhat scattered. The main introduction of the book has ground rules that apply to all the recipes. The introductory text to each section/topic include directions that apply to that section/topic. The recipes themselves have ingredients and directions.
  • The directions for each recipe are not detailed and assume an understanding of cooking terms and skills. If you are not comfortable in the kitchen, this may not be the book for you.
  • The book has to be turned on its side to follow the recipe generators. On the one hand, it makes the recipe generator sections stand out. On the other hand, it is inconvenient.
Overall, a great addition to my cookbook collection with inspiration for many meals to come.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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