Bittman's "Kitchen Express" Cookbook
I'm an occasional reader of Bittman's column in the New York Times, but have never tried any of his cookbooks. When he was "expert in residence" a couple of weeks ago, I was inspired to check several of his books out of the library, including his latest "Kitchen Express: 404 Inspired Seasonal Dishes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less"
I put most of the books back after I spent as half hour or so with each as I dislike the way his books are organized (by cooking technique, for instance, instead of by key ingredient or course), I don't necessarily buy into his approach on "authenticity" when it comes to "international" recipes, and because many of his books are duplicates of other books that I already own, but I was surprisingly intrigued by Kitchen Express.
This sub-discussion in particular, in the in the E.I.R. thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/641046#4914047, made me curious, what, really, if there's any need for such a book.
Turns out, the book is a slightly more fleshed out, polished version of Bittman's various "101 recipe" columns, but with a good index. You know the ones:
101 Simple Salads for the Season http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/22/dining/22mlist.html?_r=1&em
101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/dining/02mini.html
Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/18/dining/18mini.html?ex=1342497600&en=e76301c448a572af&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink
101 Simple Appetizers in 20 Minutes or Less
Since he's got 404 recipes in his four "101" columns alone, part of me would feel like chump for buying this book. But, though, it does solve the problem the columns had that there was no index, just a listing. He relies on fast-cooking ingredients such as seafood and boneless chicken, cellophane noodles, and quick cooking grains like couscous. Also, canned beans, though in the intro he suggests you make your own beans and stock and freeze them.
I still don't love the organization of the book (for each season, he just lists them 1 through 101, rather than by course, but, they do seem to roughly follow that order anyway), but some of the "recipes" sound pretty interesting, though I haven't tried any yet: Peanut soup with shredded leftover chicken. Cheesy corn bread stuffings. Turkey and pear wrap with curried aioli. Summer rolls with barbecued pork. And so on. These aren't earth shattering, but they do sound quick and easy, like something you would turn to on a week-night when you feel like you're in a rut. Also, they seem pretty healthy. Occasionally, he does "cheat" and calls for prepared ingredients, such as ice cream and cookies to make an ice cream sandwich...
As far as how does this compare to Rachel Ray? Well, I'll confess, I do own a copy of Ray's first book "30 Minute Meals", which I received in a book swap. Her concept relies heavily on pastas, salads, pizzas, chilis and burgers, which she cycles through. Bittman's are more "internationally" inspired.
Anyway, if/when I ever try some of the recipes, I'll post about them, but it doesn't seem like a bad little book if you're looking for something quick and easy on a weeknight and feel like you're in a rut.
Or, you could just print out his "101" columns!
If anyone has tried any of the recipes from this book, or from his 101 lists for that matter, I would love to hear about them.