HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
What's your latest food quest?
TELL US

How Too Cook Everything.....Badly?

Jim Leff Nov 29, 2013 12:02 PM

I rarely cook from recipes. I improvise. But I have very little experience cooking soup, and I found myself with a bunch of leeks I needed to use up. So I hit up "How to Cook Everything", figuring I'd find a no-fail recipe for leek/potato soup.

The recipe was dismayingly hollow. Basically: slice some leeks, cube some potatoes, sauté briefly then boil in broth 20 minutes. Salt and pepper. That's it.

I wasn't hopeful, but figured I'd trust Bittman. After all, sometimes simple things turn out well. So I followed the instructions, and what I got tasted like stock with some leaks and potatoes. A "zero" on my deliciometer. I slurped down a "meh" bowl, then the next day struggled through a leftover bowl, and on the third day I threw the remainder out, bored to tears and wretchedly disappointed. Red pepper flakes helped not at all.

So, I'm not asking for tweaks for making better leek/potato soup. I can find that elsewhere. What I'd like discussion of is whether this is an anomaly, or if a lot of this book is just this hollowly awful. Is there anyone out there who LOVES the book (there apparently are millions) who can assure me that this is the worst recipe in an otherwise useful work?

  1. j
    jaykayen Nov 29, 2013 12:09 PM

    Not sure what to say, that is the basic recipe of leek and potato soup. It is peasant food.

    6 Replies
    1. re: jaykayen
      Will Owen Nov 29, 2013 02:57 PM

      I'm thinking that he's writing recipes as he writes them down for himself - the basics - leaving out the stuff he knows to do while forgetting that not everybody does know those things. I don't have to be told how to do a nice clear broth, but I DID have to be told several hundred gallons ago. I've got several recipes of his for stir-fries and treat them as bare outlines. I got another one sent to me by one of Mrs. O's nieces, who was raving about its goodness, but she's been cooking seriously most of her young life, and having often been on a tight budget she knows about soups and things.

      1. re: Will Owen
        The Dairy Queen Nov 29, 2013 04:24 PM

        There are almost 1600 recipes in HTCE. Imagine the commitment it would take to write and test each recipe to the point of perfection. I think he's in too much of a hurry to have that level of commitment.

        ~TDQ

        1. re: The Dairy Queen
          w
          Westy Dec 2, 2013 12:02 PM

          Not trying to flame or anything, but if a book makes an extravagant promise, then it had better actually live up to them. If I am buying (and using) a book, I am trusting they have been tested, preferably by an amateur cook in a reasonable kitchen.

          In contrast, I have a book ("Dinner for Eight") that was put out by the NYT. The author promises that each recipe is tested in a regular kitchen.

          I liked Bittman when I first learned to cook (the Minimalist series), but have moved on to writers like Slater and Bill Granger. Slater gives you free range in cooking, but is very good at telling you what the food will look like/when to turn, etc..

      2. re: jaykayen
        b
        BangorDin Nov 29, 2013 03:23 PM

        Julia Child's potato leek soup has cream and parsley added, but that would be a "cream of" soup, not actually potato-leek soup. He got the plain soup right.

        1. re: BangorDin
          Ttrockwood Nov 29, 2013 07:03 PM

          Bittman's recipe lists the cream addition as one of the several modifications after the original basic recipe that the OP made

        2. re: jaykayen
          c
          calumin Nov 30, 2013 09:44 PM

          I think if you pureed the soup it might taste better, but other than that I can't really fault the recipe.

          You can add bacon, wine, and other things as you please but it's good to have the basic recipe to work from.

          Maybe too much broth? Or too little salt?

        3. r
          rjbh20 Nov 29, 2013 12:10 PM

          Bittman is a self important hack

          1. Cherylptw Nov 29, 2013 12:36 PM

            If it were me, I'd thicken it up with a slurry and add more potatoes, maybe onions to it. I don't follow Bittman...

            1. The Dairy Queen Nov 29, 2013 12:38 PM

              I always think of that book as HTCE Mediocrely. So, maybe you just got the bad recipe in a compilation of otherwise mediocre recipes.

              Blech.

              I don't think he tests his recipes very thoroughly, to be honest. I think he comes up with an idea that he thinks SOUNDS good, tries it once, and then maybe tweaks it for publication without retesting. And I suspect he often lists out a bunch of variations that I swear he never tests. I don't have any proof of any of this but I find few of his recipes actually work. I don't know how he's sold so many cookbooks.

              Maybe he just has bad taste. I don't know.

              HTCE was COTM a couple of years back if you want to read some feedback on specific recipes people tried. Might give you an overall sense. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/698815
              ~TDQ

              2 Replies
              1. re: The Dairy Queen
                monfrancisco Nov 29, 2013 01:16 PM

                My sentiments exactly, especially the part about the recipes not working. Upon broaching the subject with some of my cook-wise friends, I got universal agreement from all except the ones who've never tried his stuff to begin with because they can't stand his tone.

                1. re: The Dairy Queen
                  flourgirl Dec 1, 2013 07:22 AM

                  I have looked through his books at the library several times and I'm never moved to check one of them out, never mind actually cook from them or buy one. And I buy a LOT of cookbooks. I have almost 1,000 now and don't own a single book of his...

                2. drongo Nov 29, 2013 12:48 PM

                  I thought "How to Cook Everything" sounded so vainglorious... hence I steered clear of it. More recently, I've found Bittman to be such a proudly ignorant blowhard in his NY Times opinion pieces that I'm glad to have avoided his books.

                  1. weezieduzzit Nov 29, 2013 01:01 PM

                    I was under the impression that it was a beginners/ basic cookbook for average people who eat the Standard American Diet (the masses.) The cover of the book uses the word SIMPLE to describe the recipes. Since you're here on Chowhound I imagine you're beyond that.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: weezieduzzit
                      greygarious Nov 29, 2013 01:49 PM

                      Do you realize that the OP is the FOUNDER of CH? Although, for that matter, that shows that he is very interested in good food but does not guarantee that he is a good cook. I have no idea of your level of kitchen prowess, Jim - no slight intended. Too bad that the soup has already been tossed. I'd have suggested either turning it into a chowder (chicken, corn, etc), or adding cheese and beer, then pureeing and additional thickening if needed.

                      Since I don't have cable, I have only seen Bittman on TV a few times but he always struck me as overly impressed with himself so I've never paid attention to his recipes.

                      1. re: greygarious
                        weezieduzzit Nov 29, 2013 02:35 PM

                        No idea who the OP is, it makes no difference to me, I'm here for the food. And, as you said, it doesn't mean they're a skilled cook.

                        1. re: weezieduzzit
                          j
                          julesrules Nov 29, 2013 03:30 PM

                          Seriously you should look into it. Not because Jim is the big guy or anything like that, but because he is teh awesome and came up with the whole 'here for the food' thing in the first place.

                          1. re: julesrules
                            weezieduzzit Nov 29, 2013 04:26 PM

                            To me, everyone here is equal. It's great that he's awesome. Lots of people here are awesome.

                            1. re: weezieduzzit
                              Jim Leff Nov 29, 2013 10:10 PM

                              ---------
                              Everyone here is equal
                              ---------

                              Couldn't agree more. That's why I'd never condescend to "average people who eat the Standard American Diet". Or chide people for being "beyond" wherever I happen to place the culinary bar. So I applaud your egalitarianism!

                            2. re: julesrules
                              pikawicca Nov 29, 2013 05:45 PM

                              I don't think that one voice here should be louder than another.

                          2. re: greygarious
                            Jim Leff Nov 29, 2013 10:20 PM

                            "Too bad that the soup has already been tossed. I'd have suggested either turning it into a chowder (chicken, corn, etc), or adding cheese and beer, then pureeing and additional thickening if needed"

                            Old musician's line: "You can't polish a turd." :)

                            Certain stuff can be improved, of course. But in this case there was just really nothing there at all. I'm real good at resourceful use of leftovers. But I mulled it over a moment, absolutely nothing struck me, and I tossed it.

                            I did feel a tug of remorse re: the needless death of that potato....

                            1. re: greygarious
                              c oliver Nov 30, 2013 08:21 AM

                              Some of us cook and some of us eat and some of us do both. It's generally pretty easy to tell who does what.

                          3. free sample addict aka Tracy L Nov 29, 2013 01:29 PM

                            I have the book and use it mostly as a reference. I was very underwhelmed when I made the recipes as is. After trying several of them I wasn't sure what the fuss was all about. He has come to eschew eating a lot of foods mentioned in HTCE . It makes me wonder how invested he was with the recipes in the book in the first place. I realize his reason for such a drastic change is due to health reasons; however, in Vegan Before 6 he seems to lack any passion for food.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L
                              mcf Nov 30, 2013 05:31 PM

                              And also lacks any knowledge about health, nutrtition and metabolism. I bought his HTCE for my child when she moved out, and it got her cooking, but I wish now I'd read it and his other work first.

                            2. e
                              ellabee Nov 29, 2013 01:41 PM

                              The one place I thought his minimalist approach might make sense is for beginners, and I'm interested in books for starter cooks, so I bought his HTCE: The Basics, which is filled with excellent photos of in-process cooking.

                              But what really bothers me is that he consistently leaves out small but crucial bits of technique that make the difference between 'meh', or even unacceptable, and excellent.

                              One example: making chicken stock. No mention of scum, or skimming it. Of course the photos of the stock -- in process and finished -- show a marvelously clear broth, so of course it WAS skimmed when the scum formed. So why the hell not warn new cooks that it's normal and natural, easy to remove, and that removal is beneficial to the quality of the stock?

                              2nd example: A recipe that involves reconstituting dried mushrooms. But there's no warning of the need to strain the resulting broth through a fine strainer to remove grit. Another case in which a simple step can avoid an unpleasant dining experience.

                              I could go on, but you get the idea. True minimalism is 'what you need and no more', not skipping crucial bits to keep the instructions "simple".

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: ellabee
                                The Dairy Queen Nov 29, 2013 11:05 PM

                                I'm so drawn to BIttman's promise of minimalism, but am always so disappointed. Other cookbook authors do better: Diana Henry "Pure Simple Cooking" or John Gregory Smith "Mighty Spice" or Rozanne Gold "Radically Simple."

                                But these are relatively focused books, all with fewer than 300 recipes.

                                They don't promise everything.

                                ~TDQ

                                1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                  h
                                  HeBrew Nov 30, 2013 05:33 PM

                                  Dairy Queen,

                                  What is it about "minimalism" you like? The soup the OP talks about is minimal and bland. But look at food from India, it's minimal but full of flavor.

                                  1. re: HeBrew
                                    The Dairy Queen Nov 30, 2013 05:58 PM

                                    It's the idea of minimalism that attracts me, but as I've said in a number of places in this thread and others, Bittman's recipes nearly always disappoint me.

                                    ~TDQ

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                      Veggo Nov 30, 2013 06:32 PM

                                      DQ, may I really piss you and my two fiercest detractors off in a single post!
                                      Bittman's lessons in minimalism are on a par with his ability to teach women how to parallel park...:)

                                      1. re: Veggo
                                        The Dairy Queen Nov 30, 2013 06:37 PM

                                        I'm a really awesome parallel parker. Thankfully, I did not learn that talent from Mark Bittman.

                                        As much as I want to be a minimalist, I'm not willing to do so at the expense of deliciousness. To be completely honest, I'd had no luck with being a minimalist in any aspect of my life, and I can't really blame Bittman for all of my failures.

                                        ~TDQ

                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                          Veggo Nov 30, 2013 06:40 PM

                                          TDQ, in my mind's eye you are a genuine success, and too modest.

                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                            c oliver Nov 30, 2013 06:47 PM

                                            TDQ, I will beat damn near anyone NOT from SF when it comes to parallel parking :) And when I'm a minimalist cook it's because of a recipe/chef that I trust implicitly.

                                2. s
                                  smtucker Nov 29, 2013 02:38 PM

                                  I find that book to be a flavorless, black hole for ingredients. Very simple, superficially seasoned food. In general, red pepper flakes don't fix "meh." Try salt.

                                  1. Ttrockwood Nov 29, 2013 02:49 PM

                                    I have referred to my dog-eared splattered and written in copy of HTCE vegetarian for years- i doodled little hearts next to the curried coconut soup with lemongrass and made the garlic fideo soup just a few weeks ago. His recipe for jook was also enjoyed.
                                    Maybe the Veg HTCE has better soup recipes?

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Ttrockwood
                                      1sweetpea Nov 29, 2013 02:58 PM

                                      I own hundreds of cookbooks and love looking at recipes online. I recently borrowed Bittman's book from the library. I sat down to look at each recipe. Had there been a number of great sounding recipes, I'd have ordered a copy online. Instead, I flipped by page after page, barely pausing. If I recall correctly, exactly one recipe sounded vaguely interesting, but I knew I easily find something similar, and possibly better, online.

                                      As a book for total beginners to cooking, it could be very helpful, but I think it's a shame that his recipes seemed very watered down, ingredient wise. Perhaps that's to avoid intimidating beginners with ingredients that are hard to find or exotic, but I really found myself thinking that he was doing many different countries'/cultures' cuisines a disservice.

                                    2. linguafood Nov 29, 2013 02:58 PM

                                      Bittman is for beginners. I'm surprised you even own the book.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: linguafood
                                        m
                                        magiesmom Nov 29, 2013 05:04 PM

                                        It has served my son very well as a beginner, especially all the variations and suggestions about how to change flavor profile.

                                        1. re: magiesmom
                                          m
                                          masha Nov 29, 2013 07:10 PM

                                          Mine too.

                                          1. re: magiesmom
                                            linguafood Nov 30, 2013 09:10 AM

                                            Sounds like we agree.

                                          2. re: linguafood
                                            c oliver Nov 30, 2013 08:23 AM

                                            If you check OPs profile you'll see he's not so into cooking.

                                          3. v
                                            Violatp Nov 29, 2013 03:03 PM

                                            I don't think he actually likes food very much. Perhaps, at heart, he's a "food is fuel" type.

                                            I think his recipes are boring as hell, too. I gave away my copy long ago (and used it as a couch prop for awhile before that) so can't remember the few things I made, but I was underwhelmed across the board.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: Violatp
                                              nofunlatte Nov 30, 2013 12:50 PM

                                              You may have a point here, Violetp. Bittman used to be the editor-in-chief of Prevention or Natural Health (not sure which).

                                              1. re: nofunlatte
                                                The Dairy Queen Nov 30, 2013 12:56 PM

                                                For some reason I thought he was also associated with Cooks Illustrated (which I like to refer to as Cooking Without Joy), though I can't find that anywhere to verify. Am I misremembering that?

                                                ~TDQ

                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                  greygarious Nov 30, 2013 01:38 PM

                                                  They mention him now and again in their articles, but he's not part of that particular clan.

                                                  1. re: greygarious
                                                    s
                                                    smtucker Nov 30, 2013 02:09 PM

                                                    That was his first job actually. Long ago.

                                                    1. re: smtucker
                                                      The Dairy Queen Nov 30, 2013 02:44 PM

                                                      OK, I feel slightly less crazy now. Do you know what he did there? I wish he listed it in his bio.

                                                      ~TDQ

                                                  2. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                    phofiend Nov 30, 2013 02:27 PM

                                                    So funny. I call it "joyless cooking."

                                                    1. re: phofiend
                                                      The Dairy Queen Nov 30, 2013 02:56 PM

                                                      Great minds think alike!

                                                      ~TDQ

                                              2. sal_acid Nov 29, 2013 03:04 PM

                                                HTCE is the current generation's Joy of Cooking. It is an upgrade on JoC, but still not a source for great stuff as far as I can see. HTCE recipes usually need a tweak.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: sal_acid
                                                  r
                                                  ratgirlagogo Nov 30, 2013 03:25 PM

                                                  In no way shape or form is it an improvement on ANY edition of the Joy of Cooking, even the 1997 one that everybody hates. It's a particularly poor book for beginners because he never really explains how to do anything, and cuts so many crucial and not very time-consuming corners that are key to the success of the recipe.

                                                2. Soul Vole Nov 29, 2013 03:41 PM

                                                  An anecdote about Bittman's credibility:

                                                  Shortly after I moved to Mérida in the Yucatan, Bittman published a recipe in the NY Times for xec (also spelled "xek"), a "Mayan citrus salsa". I already knew a bit about Yucatecan cuisine by that time and I'd always understood xek to be a jicama-citrus salad, not a salsa. So I asked a friend, a Yucatecan woman of Mayan descent, "What is xek?" She confirmed -- a jicama-citrus salad. "Is it ever a salsa? Is there a salsa called 'xek' too?" She looked at me strange and shook her head emphatically no.

                                                  He incidentally claims to be an aficionado of Yucatecan cuisine and in the original article claimed that he'd been served this salsa many times in Mérida. In the year and a half that I lived there I never encountered any such thing, but saw plenty of the jicama salad.

                                                  Out of curiosity, I just now did a Spanish language search for "xek receta". All recipes that came up were for the jicama salad -- no salsas. Then I did an English search. There are many results on blog posts and on recipe sites, the majority for citrus salsas like the one Bittman published, typically described as "Mayan citrus salsa".

                                                  Well done, sir, well done.

                                                  17 Replies
                                                  1. re: Soul Vole
                                                    Jim Leff Nov 29, 2013 09:51 PM

                                                    That's the problem with being a food writer. We do our best in an impossibly broad field where even the greatest experts don't even know a fraction of all there is to know, and where all knowledge is highly empirical. Also, being human, we make mistakes.

                                                    But whichever esoteric nook/cranny of the gastronomic world we happen to be plumbing, there'll always be a few souls positioned to catch some errant mistake....and to conclude that we're obviously know-nothing fakes because we got something wrong within the exceedingly narrow purview they happen to know lots about.

                                                    Doctors can make minor mistakes that harm your health, and we forgive them. Mechanics can rebuild our engines incorrectly, and we patiently let them redo it. But a food writer mistakenly linking the word "salsa" to an obscure Mayan term? Unforgivable!

                                                    1. re: Jim Leff
                                                      Soul Vole Nov 29, 2013 10:29 PM

                                                      I'm not judging him by a standard of perfection. I'm judging him by the standards of basic journalistic responsibility and honesty.

                                                      Misrepresenting and ultimately redefining a traditional ethnic dish -- that is no small fuck up. "I'm sorry, I had deadline pressure that day." Bullshit.

                                                      A simple Google search would have told him what xek is and is not. The most basic of due diligence. And we're not talking about Joe Food Blogger or any everyday food writer. We're talking about Mark Bittman of the *New York Times*. If you're going to write a food column for The Grey Lady, at the very least make sure that what you're writing about actually exists.

                                                      There's more due diligence behind at least half of my comments on these forums.

                                                      Meanwhile, where did the recipe that he published, that he claims is a traditional Mayan salsa, that he claims to have had repeatedly in Mérida -- where did it come from? I'd like to know.

                                                      I once looked into this more deeply, and was unable to find any reference to any "xec" salsa that predates his column and recipe. And now this nonexistent salsa is all over the place, at least on the English speaking Internet, obscuring the actual dish.

                                                      You want to make excuses for that? Are you saying that if you were food columnist for the New York Times, you could see yourself doing the same?

                                                      1. re: Soul Vole
                                                        Soul Vole Nov 29, 2013 11:10 PM

                                                        Or let me put it another way. If in an article, column, blog post, whatever, you get a fact or two wrong, you issue a correction and move on. It's in no way an indictment of the author's credibility. Agreed.

                                                        What we're talking about here -- the entire column and recipe were fundamentally in error. And that sort of "minor mistake" does cast a pall over the journalist's credibility.

                                                        1. re: Soul Vole
                                                          Veggo Nov 30, 2013 07:48 AM

                                                          A few years ago Bittman did a column about his 3-day experience in Mexico City and basically trashed it. Some of us who love Mexico City have not forgiven him. He should stick to what he knows, whatever that is.
                                                          My friend Delucacheesemonger, no stranger to good food around the world, and I have discussed a trip to Mexico City for the singular purpose of eating.

                                                          1. re: Veggo
                                                            Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 09:06 AM

                                                            That'd piss me off, too. But it's only recently that the perspective has flipped - that food experts are expected to embrace what are condescendingly termed "ethnic" cuisines. When I started, it was perfectly acceptable to condescend to or even revile anything that wasn't French, Italian, Japanese, or Chinese.

                                                            And the list of sanctioned cuisines has always been shifting. Read food books from before the 1970's, and you'll see remarks like "Chinese food is cut up into tiny little bits like baby food. If you can't be bothered to use cutlery, give it a try" or "The Italians, of course, melt cheese over most everything".

                                                            I'm glad that day is gone (and proud to have helped push in a small way). But he's of that generation. And he's much more open-minded than most of that generation. The flip happened quickly; much more quickly than most people today remember, and it's unreasonable IMO to expect that everyone would be completely caught up.

                                                            1. re: Jim Leff
                                                              c oliver Nov 30, 2013 09:14 AM

                                                              Huh? He's three years younger than *I* am. You may be thinking of his and my parents' generation.

                                                              1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                mcf Nov 30, 2013 05:39 PM

                                                                His peers, older and younger, are way past uncomprehending grasp.

                                                                If you're going to write professionally, you have to research, not just pull stuff out of your butt. If you make an honest mistake, ok. If you make lazy, completely ignorant pronouncements about just about everything pertaining to food and diet, go find a topic you can master instead.

                                                                I'm bitter because Bittman makes me miss all the food writers that used to make me race to the NY Times magazine food column every Sunday. Now it just depresses me, any time I waste time turning to it.

                                                                1. re: mcf
                                                                  c oliver Nov 30, 2013 05:41 PM

                                                                  But I LOVE Frank Bruni's new pieces!

                                                                  1. re: c oliver
                                                                    mcf Nov 30, 2013 06:25 PM

                                                                    Sunday magazine food page?

                                                                    1. re: mcf
                                                                      c oliver Nov 30, 2013 06:48 PM

                                                                      Facebook.

                                                                  2. re: mcf
                                                                    EricMM Dec 1, 2013 08:30 AM

                                                                    I really miss Molly O'Neal...she was my favorite. I hate Bittman's style of presenting recipes in the NY Times mag. Don't give me all these pictures and mix and match and substitute this substitute that....just give me a straight forward recipe written in conventional English.

                                                                    1. re: EricMM
                                                                      mcf Dec 1, 2013 11:06 AM

                                                                      Plus some passion and love for the foods and their associations and possiblities. Not just permutations.

                                                                2. re: Veggo
                                                                  MrsPatmore Dec 1, 2013 12:21 AM

                                                                  Oh veggo, Mexico City is my favorite place to eat. Check out the book and blog, "Good Food in Mexico City" by Nicholas Gilman. And by all means, get thee to Maximo's Bistrot (reviewed on the blog) and avoid the overpriced/overhyped Bika!

                                                                  Back on topic - I have this book but thankfully paid only $1 for it at a second hand shop. I don't generally follow recipes, just use them for inspiration. I found nothing inspirational in HTCE. And now that I hear Mr Bittman disrespected the food in Mexico City, the guy has lost ALL credibility with me. I'll donate his book back to the second hand store.

                                                                  1. re: Veggo
                                                                    Soul Vole Dec 1, 2013 12:46 AM

                                                                    Veggo, yeah, I remember that Mexico City column. An embarrassment of "minor mistakes". That was about two years before the "traditional Mayan citrus salsa" that left me wondering whether eventually he just decided to start making things up.

                                                                    I wonder what Diana Kennedy would have had to say about that Mayan citrus salsa. And, given her close history with the New York Times and Craig Claiborne, I'm pretty sure Bittman could have easily gotten through to her if he'd wanted to. If at any point he had for a moment wondered the same.

                                                              2. re: Jim Leff
                                                                h
                                                                HeBrew Nov 30, 2013 05:55 PM

                                                                Hey Jim, I disagree on this point...

                                                                Doctors make minor mistakes that harm your health, and we forgive them.
                                                                *No I don't*

                                                                Mechanics can rebuild our engines incorrectly, and we patiently let them redo it.
                                                                *No I don't*

                                                                I disagree because the things doctors and mechanics do are not subjective. A heart is broken or it's not, a fuel pump is broken or it's not.

                                                                And this is where I completely agree with you, you do your best at every opportunity to provide good information. CH is an incredibly useful source for good eats.

                                                                1. re: HeBrew
                                                                  Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 06:53 PM

                                                                  "you do your best at every opportunity to provide good information"

                                                                  Yeah, I do; I try really hard, plus I've got a whole lot of knowledge and experience. And I still made lots and lots of mistakes. Can't help it.

                                                                  For example, every Iraqi Jew who read me instructing readers to pronounce "amba" as "oomba" had me pegged for a complete asshole.

                                                                  More grievous mistakes, too (if I could think of them, I'd happily list them). In retrospect, I can see how any one of them would have looked (to the handful of people super knowledgeable about whatever esoteric realm I was dabbling in) like I was sloppy and lazy.

                                                                  As I said, most cuisine knowledge is empirical, and sometimes, even if you're as careful as I am (and Bittman is), you fail to distinguish between stuff you've legitimately learned and stuff that stuck in your mind based on misapprehension.

                                                                  It ain't botany; "right" and "wrong" are squishy in this realm. E.g. I defy anyone to define "quesadilla" (try it and you'll be wrong, I absolutely promise).

                                                                  If I was as famous as Bittman, my assertions would be more widely examined and I, too, would be exposed for the sloppy poseur I appear to be to specialist experts in each of the 900 realms I've covered.

                                                                  Listen, I'm just telling it like it is. Everyone makes mistakes...even botany professors, who can effortlessly check every assertion via an unimpeachable source. Food writers make tons of 'em. Kills me when I do, though.

                                                                  1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                    Veggo Nov 30, 2013 07:00 PM

                                                                    If my quesadillas are wrong, I don't want to be right!
                                                                    Ambrosia +++

                                                            2. chowser Nov 29, 2013 03:42 PM

                                                              I think his best recipe isn't even his--it's Lahey's no knead bread. He's had some recipes in Runners World, good for the audience of those who run and eat to live/run, in other words, quick, easy, meh.

                                                              1. Caroline1 Nov 29, 2013 08:21 PM

                                                                Oh, do be careful! There are hounds lurking around here who think Bittman walks on water! I simply think the guy suffers from fallen taste buds. When a friend moved away nearly a decade ago and gave me his and several other books to lighten her load, I read through his recipes and found many of them were missing key flavor ingredients in "classic" dishes. In other words, only the recipe titles were classic, the flavors of the finished dishes were not. I suspect that may be the case here.

                                                                Here's Anthony Bourdain's recipe for the classic vichyssoise of his childhood from his Les Halles cook book:
                                                                http://www.food.com/recipe/anthony-bo...

                                                                The interesting thing about this recipe is that if you stop at Step 6, after having reserved some of the potatoes and leeks to add after the pureeing process to give it a chunkier texture, then combine and finish as directed, but refrigerate it at least a day then heat it before you eat it, you may come closer to what you're looking for. The aging and marrying overnight is really important. Just like spaghetti sauce, ratatouille, and moussaka!

                                                                Oh, and it's a really terrific vichyssoise if you do it his way all the way too, but age it overnight before eating! Annnnd... when blending ANY hot liquids, ALWAYS use a dish towel that drapes down around the lid enough to catch any scalding liquid that might escape! Nothing wrong with caution, and it can prevent some very nasty burns. And I know you know all of this, but for those who don't....

                                                                Or maybe a Cock A Leekie soup would be good? Google is the world's largest recipe book!

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Caroline1
                                                                  r
                                                                  ratgirlagogo Nov 30, 2013 03:28 PM

                                                                  "the guy suffers from fallen taste buds"

                                                                  Hysterical. You have summed up the problem admirably.

                                                                  1. re: ratgirlagogo
                                                                    Caroline1 Nov 30, 2013 05:01 PM

                                                                    '-) Thank you. I do my best!

                                                                2. ipsedixit Nov 29, 2013 09:54 PM

                                                                  The problem lies less with Bittman and his cookbook and more with our expectations of cookbooks (Bittman'a or any other persons).

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                    r
                                                                    ratgirlagogo Nov 30, 2013 03:30 PM

                                                                    Sort of, but when somebody actually titles his cookbook in all seriousness How To Cook Everything you can kind of see where it might lead to unreasonably heightened expectations.

                                                                  2. Jim Leff Nov 29, 2013 10:05 PM

                                                                    OK: so necessary fine points are often left out, and recipes seem sloppily untested - necessary compromises for a grand-scale work by a busy dude, and partially excused by the fact that it's a basic work designed to help people grind out the hits with as little fuss as possible. And this is far from the only recipe that totally doesn't work as-written, which was mostly what I was wondering.

                                                                    I've learned to cook on my own, via improvisation. But I've never tried to do soup. So I guess I need to bone up on the basics and then do that stuff my own way, too. I was hoping for a short-cut to deliciousness, but it never really works that way. I guess I was wrong to expect it.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                      sbp Nov 30, 2013 05:40 AM

                                                                      I think part of the issue is expectations and ingredients.

                                                                      Re ingredients - did you use homemade stock as a base? Bittman's recipe, as you noted, is essentially stock with some specific vegetables in it. So the stock is the star. I look at that as "make a really delicious chicken soup, then take off from there with different add ons."

                                                                      Re expectations - looking at the recipe, I would not have expected any "wow" factor. Just nothing that's much of a departure from ordinary. On the other hand, I've made Pho from scratch, and it does have a wow factor. But I pretty much expected that given the recipe's spicing and condiments including lime.

                                                                      1. re: sbp
                                                                        c oliver Nov 30, 2013 08:26 AM

                                                                        Excellent point re the quality of ingredients. The fewer of them the better they need to be.

                                                                      2. re: Jim Leff
                                                                        r
                                                                        ratgirlagogo Nov 30, 2013 03:36 PM

                                                                        Jim, I appreciate your desire to be understanding and even-handed in your judgments, but since I'm not a famous food writer like you I can freely say that it's just a shitty book. You would have been better off, really and truly, with the Joy of Cooking, which is a million times more friendly to inexperienced cooks. The Rombauers, especially Marion, are criminally underestimated today.

                                                                      3. j
                                                                        janniecooks Nov 30, 2013 02:09 AM

                                                                        I've tried a number of recipes from this particular book and from other Bittman books, giving up and going back to them after glowing endorsements. Those I've tried are bland and boring. Yes there are millions out there who love this book, sometimes I think it is a result of the New York Times connection - if it's in the NYT it must be true/good/right/valuable. Despite ample evidence to the contrary. IMO, Bittman has no clothes.

                                                                        1. Njchicaa Nov 30, 2013 04:50 AM

                                                                          I bought How to Cook Everything after reading many people's glowing recommendations, including Mario Batali's. I flipped through it once when it arrived in the spring and it has been collecting dust ever since. I was going to give it to a coworker who truly knows how to cook NOTHING but for some reason I keep holding onto it ... not sure why because I haven't bothered to look through it a second time.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: Njchicaa
                                                                            mcf Nov 30, 2013 05:43 PM

                                                                            Maybe you're just too kind to inflict it on anyone else. :-)

                                                                            My daughter learned basic cooking techniques from it, which, fortunately, gave her confidence to branch out into serious flavors from all the various cuisines and ethnic markets in her area.

                                                                          2. BerkshireTsarina Nov 30, 2013 05:25 AM

                                                                            Interesting discussion.
                                                                            I think the emperor never had any clothes.
                                                                            I tossed the hardback HTCE long ago in annoyance. But I do have the (cheaper) app on my iPhone. Why? Because when I'm stuck for an idea, I find it's useful for suggestions of something reasonably basic.
                                                                            OTOH, when I've actually made the recipe as is, it's always bland and/or boring. My rule of thumb (ROT?) is that it has to be jazzed up, kicked up, or looked up on the Internet for more ideas or else face disappointment.
                                                                            I agree with all criticisms here --- vital techniques, hints, or ingredients are always left out. To me these are suggestions, not recipes. JOY of COOKING leaves him in the dust, but somehow (type face? language?) it seems old fashioned and it takes me a while to think of it.
                                                                            For somewhat the same kind of cooking (easy basic everyday, theme and variations) I currently really like Katie Workman's The Mom 100 Cookbook.
                                                                            (And, Jim Leff, I REALLY like chowhound. So thanks.)

                                                                            30 Replies
                                                                            1. re: BerkshireTsarina
                                                                              The Dairy Queen Nov 30, 2013 05:45 AM

                                                                              Not to threadjack, but I'd love to hear more about your experiences with the Mom 100 Cookbook. Would you mind sharing more on that topic? You could switch to this thread (Cooking from Family-Focused Cookbooks), if you prefer http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/903234

                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                                BerkshireTsarina Nov 30, 2013 06:21 AM

                                                                                I'll certainly take a look at the thread, DQ ---
                                                                                My kids are all grown up and THEIR kids are fast growing up as well (and far away). My own cooking is not Family-Focused any more but is for two older adults. And yet the Mom 100 Cookbook is extremely useful for me ---
                                                                                Let me think on this a bit, and I'll post some observations on one of the two threads.

                                                                              2. re: BerkshireTsarina
                                                                                eLizard Nov 30, 2013 05:46 AM

                                                                                ITA, i have the app, not the book. and it works in a pinch if i'm looking for a basic outline of something i might want to eat with the ingredients i have on hand. also, i love the berkshires.

                                                                                1. re: eLizard
                                                                                  BerkshireTsarina Nov 30, 2013 06:16 AM

                                                                                  Ditto, and ditto.
                                                                                  We now live in the Pioneer Valley and enjoy it --- but for beauty and summertime culture and music --- there's still nothing like the B'shires!
                                                                                  This isn't off-thread, even if it seems so --- because bleak as the Berkshire restaurant scene seemed to us when we were living there, the PV scene is dominated by college students who want the maximum amount of food for the least amount of money, and flavor be damned! So I find myself cooking at home more and more, and cookbooks become ever more important!
                                                                                  (With the important exception of two new Asian restaurants here that are the bright spots in the sometimes lackluster scene.)

                                                                                  1. re: BerkshireTsarina
                                                                                    p
                                                                                    Puffin3 Nov 30, 2013 07:28 AM

                                                                                    'I'll bite': Use only the white of the leeks fine chopped. Sauté them in clarified butter VERY slowly. Don't brown them. Add them to SLOW simmering whole 'waxy' potatoes like YG in their skins in an excellent chicken stock. Home made if possible. It must have a good clear/clean flavor. Having the skins on is important. When the potatoes are literally falling apart ( too may people undercook them)remove and cool enough to remove the skins. Rough chop them then back into the stock. I assume the stock had some salt in it so don't add any.
                                                                                    Stick blend to puree. Strain. Season to taste. I add a pinch of white pepper at this point.
                                                                                    It's really in the stock.
                                                                                    I do sneak a glove or two of chopped garlics/ a bay leaf and a t of fresh lemon juice into the stock when the potatoes go in.

                                                                                    1. re: Puffin3
                                                                                      Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 09:11 AM

                                                                                      Puffin, good stuff, though some of it directly contradicts Bittman's recipe (e.g. I think - not 100% sure - he called for peeled potatoes. I hesitated, instinctually, before peeling, but I wanted to give his recipe a fair shake).

                                                                                      Why not brown the potatoes?

                                                                                      You know, the problem here is that I have enough understanding of some forms of cooking to proceed confidently without recipes, and to create whatever result I'm envisioning, by hook or crook. But I lack basic understanding of soup. I need to get up to speed on some of the "moves". That's why I resorted to a cookbook. I think I need to absorb some higher-level soup know-how. Any suggestions for how to go about that?

                                                                                      1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                        linguafood Nov 30, 2013 09:12 AM

                                                                                        Buy a cookbook that predominantly focuses on soups.

                                                                                        1. re: linguafood
                                                                                          Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 09:20 AM

                                                                                          Per my exchange with EricMM below, I'd expect a focus on straining and pureeing. And while I appreciate that sort of soup in restaurant cooking, it's not my vision for the sort of soups I'd like to do at home.

                                                                                          Am I wrong on that?

                                                                                          1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                            linguafood Nov 30, 2013 09:25 AM

                                                                                            I'm pretty sure that most soup cookbooks will offer a large variety of recipes, including non-strained or non-pureed soups.

                                                                                            Besides, nobody's holding a gun to your head forcing you to puree or strain any of the soups if your preference is for chunky. I own "Splendid Soups" by James Peterson, and there are a TON of recipes for any soup imaginable.

                                                                                            Here are a few links you might want to look at:

                                                                                            http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2011/09/15/10-bestselling-soup-stew-cookbooks/
                                                                                            http://www.thekitchn.com/do-you-have-a-favorite-soup-co-136038
                                                                                            http://101cookbooks.com/soups/

                                                                                            And lastly, how about checking the (likely countless) threads about soup on the HC board of this very website you created?

                                                                                            I mean, really.

                                                                                        2. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                          sbp Nov 30, 2013 10:24 AM

                                                                                          Check out Kenji's soup base for ramen. "The Food Lab: How to Make Tonkotsu Ramen Broth at Home"

                                                                                          I haven't made it, but really want to. Just by looking at the ingredients and procedure, I can tell the soup will be amazing. It's long, it's complicated, but it's laid out step by step and I would think once you do that soup once, you'll pretty much have the basics down for ANY soup.

                                                                                          1. re: sbp
                                                                                            Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 10:55 AM

                                                                                            Interesting, thanks! I found the link here:
                                                                                            http://www.seriouseats.com/2013/09/ho...

                                                                                          2. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                            a
                                                                                            acgold7 Nov 30, 2013 11:23 AM

                                                                                            >>>Why not brown the potatoes?<<<

                                                                                            Because the whole point of potato leek soup is for it to be white. If you don't really care about the color you can and should brown the potatoes, because, sure, you'll get a lot more flavor. Use the green part of the leeks too, as they have much more flavor than the white part. Leave the skins on the potatoes and don't strain them out, either, as that will also help, and if you don't want it smooth, make it the way you like.

                                                                                            But I think a bigger problem exists with expectations, some of which have already been mentioned.

                                                                                            To me it's fairly obvious from the title that HTCE is for beginners who want a basic resource. To you it seemed like something else.

                                                                                            More importantly, I'm not sure potato leek soup, while pleasant and certainly delicious, will ever have that "wow" factor. Its flavors are inherently mild and won't ever blow you away like a gumbo or something. But the points about starting with a fantastic stock are well taken. Your final result here can't be better than a bland watery stock, even if all it might have needed were more cooking down or resting time.

                                                                                            1. re: acgold7
                                                                                              Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 11:55 AM

                                                                                              Yeah, I figured browning would mean more flavor. I always prioritize flavor over appearance. For that matter, I've always liked the green part of the leeks.

                                                                                              Stuff like this puts me way out of touch with the mainstream of cooking know-how and confirms my developing feeling that I just need to learn soups via trial/error.

                                                                                              Finally, I believe, almost as a religious precept, that ANYTHING can be "wow". And I reject the notion that quality is measured via BBFs (big bold flavors). Mild can wow....and I've been wowed many times by mild-flavored potato leek soup. Very wowed, in fact. It's all about touches. And the recipe in HTCE made me nervous from the start for its lack of touches. But, per this thread (and your observation), I was wrong to trust this barebones recipe. Sometimes they work, but they've got to be agonizingly well-balanced. And apparently this book isn't for that, either.

                                                                                              1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                                Veggo Nov 30, 2013 12:07 PM

                                                                                                A chilled vichyssoise with enough leeks and white pepper can have an amazing wow factor, one of my favorite cold soups.

                                                                                                1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                                  a
                                                                                                  acgold7 Nov 30, 2013 02:51 PM

                                                                                                  I'm not disagreeing with you, not really, and I do think that we can be blown away by nuanced subtle flavors done by those who are masters of balance and art and craft, and probably Bittman isn't one of those. But if you look at Bourdain's recipe, it isn't all that different than Bittman's so I guess I interpreted your note to mean that the recipe was too simple and the soup bland.

                                                                                                  I didn't mean that quality = BBF and I don't think I said that, only that something whose main ingredient is inherently starchy and mostly flavorless has a pretty good chance of being, as you said, "meh."

                                                                                                  I do think you are spot on when you say that trial and error is going to be the key for you. If there's one thing I've learned from your little baby here, it's there's no best, only what's best for you. People do stuff here that makes me cringe, and I know I do the same, but if they like it, who am I to judge? And boy have I had that pounded into me since I got into "the business"!

                                                                                                  1. re: acgold7
                                                                                                    Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 03:14 PM

                                                                                                    Agreed with all.

                                                                                                    One of the best perqs of being a grown-up is getting to do stuff your own way...suit your own preferences. I treasure that freedom. I agree with John Thorne about cookbooks and recipes; he considers them blueprints to be studied in order to open your mind to interesting "moves". He never faithfully follows a recipe, and I don't usually, either. But I guess I was getting lazy here, hoping for hand-held guidance in a realm where I'm shaky :)

                                                                                                  2. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                                    c oliver Nov 30, 2013 03:14 PM

                                                                                                    In the future when you add "touches," what do you think they might be?

                                                                                                2. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                                  Caroline1 Nov 30, 2013 12:11 PM

                                                                                                  With your knowledge base, maybe a jaunt through the 15 pages of soup recipes in Anthony Bourdaine's Les Halles Cook Book would be time very well spent? I love the soups in that book. It's also a great book for new cooks (MUCH better than HTCE) because if the reader pays attention and applies well what Bourdain shares, they will come out with a pocket edition of a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) education! The URL has a "Look Inside" preview so people can evaluate whether they can handle his writing style. Whether you like Bourdain or not, the recipe and technique information is "on the nose."
                                                                                                  http://tinyurl.com/nnavzet

                                                                                                  1. re: Caroline1
                                                                                                    Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 03:15 PM

                                                                                                    Thanks, I'll order that and the Peterson.

                                                                                                    .....and probably read for a half hour, put them both down, and go cook something totally different!

                                                                                                    1. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                                      b
                                                                                                      bcc Nov 30, 2013 05:26 PM

                                                                                                      You may find this Bittman column on soups from the NYT interesting. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/06/mag...
                                                                                                      When we have large groups over, I make the vegetable broth from this column for the vegetarians and/or chicken-soup-haters (I leave out the celery, because I don't like it). It's always a hit.

                                                                                                      1. re: bcc
                                                                                                        chowser Nov 30, 2013 05:52 PM

                                                                                                        For me, a good soup starts w/ a stock/broth base, not water. He seems to add some vegetables/herbs/spices to water, boil and think that's soup.

                                                                                                        1. re: chowser
                                                                                                          b
                                                                                                          bcc Dec 1, 2013 06:59 AM

                                                                                                          In this vegetable broth recipe the dried porcini mushrooms provide the body that would otherwise be lacking.

                                                                                                      2. re: Jim Leff
                                                                                                        MrsPatmore Dec 1, 2013 12:40 AM

                                                                                                        While you're at it, order a copy of Jacques Pepin's "Complete Techniques" (2001). Gives you all the basics you need to know so you don't feel constrained to follow recipes, and helps you develop instincts on how to make corrections when a dish falls short.

                                                                                                3. re: BerkshireTsarina
                                                                                                  eLizard Dec 2, 2013 08:32 AM

                                                                                                  the farm fresh food in the 'shires is so good in the summer.

                                                                                                  1. re: eLizard
                                                                                                    BerkshireTsarina Dec 2, 2013 12:04 PM

                                                                                                    And of course in the Valley --- that agricultural Mecca. (Or something)
                                                                                                    It makes cooking so satisfying when you've got great produce ---

                                                                                              2. re: BerkshireTsarina
                                                                                                m
                                                                                                masha Nov 30, 2013 08:12 AM

                                                                                                I hate the format of the JOC -- i.e., that there is no ingredient list preceding the recipe. That said, I don't think it has ever failed me when I go in search of a basic recipe, so I put up with the formatting flaws.

                                                                                                1. re: masha
                                                                                                  r
                                                                                                  ratgirlagogo Nov 30, 2013 03:40 PM

                                                                                                  What? Putting the ingredient list first was the most famous innovation of the Joy of Cooking. Which edition are you using?

                                                                                                  1. re: ratgirlagogo
                                                                                                    m
                                                                                                    masha Nov 30, 2013 04:04 PM

                                                                                                    1975. Generally the ingredients are listed in bold in the narrative instruction rather than a completed list at the outset. Maybe more recent editions are different.

                                                                                                    1. re: masha
                                                                                                      a
                                                                                                      acgold7 Nov 30, 2013 11:45 PM

                                                                                                      Same with the 1962, 1997 and 2006 editions. I'm looking at all of them right now. I don't love that either but it's my "go to" first stop.

                                                                                                      I've never seen any edition where the ingredient list was first like a traditional recipe. Would love to find a reference if anyone has a link.

                                                                                                  2. re: masha
                                                                                                    k
                                                                                                    kitchengardengal Dec 1, 2013 08:12 AM

                                                                                                    ---I hate the format of the JOC -- i.e., that there is no ingredient list preceding the recipe.---

                                                                                                    Now, the format of Joy is exactly why I do like to use it. I guess we all comprehend visually in different ways - it's easier for me to organize in my head what I need to get out of the pantry, when I can see the ingredients in stages like that.

                                                                                                2. n
                                                                                                  Nyleve Nov 30, 2013 08:10 AM

                                                                                                  Interesting comments. At the risk of setting myself up for a pile-on, I must come to the defence of Bittman. What he tries to do and, in my opinion, has done is to demystify the process of cooking stuff from scratch and give a beginner the confidence to go ahead and try. This is no small accomplishment. It's his fearless approach and plain language that I appreciate - too many people read a proper recipe and just plain give up before even starting because it all seems so intimidating. Of course his recipes have been simplified in order to do this - often to the point of neutering them. But I believe that if you can get a novice cook to just jump in and try to make something, it will give them the confidence to try something more difficult next time. Eventually they will outgrow Bittman. I have the book. It don't often use it because, as others have said, the recipes are not that great. But I will sometimes flip through it to get an idea of what to cook.

                                                                                                  Truth is that most people (ok, not us) are pretty happy with mediocre. But you know, I'm fine with mediocre home-cooking. It's mediocre restaurant and prepared food that I object to.

                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Nyleve
                                                                                                    Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 09:15 AM

                                                                                                    Hey, Nyleve, thanks for the very helpful posting!

                                                                                                    I'd always imagined, just on marketing and reputation, that HTCE was a higher-end tool. As a complete soup newbie, what I was looking for was an amply tested resource to walk me clearly through the subtleties and produce something simple but great, so I could gain the confidence to add my own wrinkles.

                                                                                                    That's not what this book is. So....my mistake!

                                                                                                    1. re: Nyleve
                                                                                                      The Dairy Queen Nov 30, 2013 10:41 AM

                                                                                                      This is an interesting perspective, and lots of people (including at least a couple in this thread and in other posts on the home cooking board) recommend this book for beginners, so I don't doubt it's shared by many people.

                                                                                                      When I was a beginner cook I always found it discouraging to cook something that didn't come out delicious. I always assumed the results were bad because I was bad, and certainly that was sometimes true, but I've also come to realize that sometimes the recipe is just bad.

                                                                                                      I still don't consider myself a very confident or accomplished cook, but I still find it frustrating to waste my time, ingredients and hopes on a recipe that is lazily written, poorly tested or fundamentally flawed. I don't think I'm ever going to be the kind of intuitive cook who can cook without a recipe, so will probably always rely on recipes. I just find others seem to do a better job of presenting "simple" recipes that yield consistently good results, Jamie Oliver, for instance, as well as some I named above.

                                                                                                      But, there is no doubt this book does work for some people because it's recommended repeatedly. I'm glad it works for some people because it would sure be fantastic to own only one or two cookbooks! I've always wanted his book The Best Recipes in the World to work for me...

                                                                                                      I wonder, though, how many beginner cooks out there have tried Bittman's recipes and, like me, got mediocre results and concluded that they were mediocre cooks and were turned off from cooking?

                                                                                                      ~TDQ

                                                                                                      1. re: Nyleve
                                                                                                        d
                                                                                                        Dcfoodblog Nov 30, 2013 09:35 PM

                                                                                                        I feel that way about The Moosewood Cookbook. When I was first starting cooking it was so great to have a cookbook that felt straightforward with ingredients that were easily accessible (unlike Diet for a Small Planet). And then I realized everything tasted underseasoned and bland with the exception of Montana's Mom's Cheesecake. I am particularly sad about the pie crust recipe that was closer to a zwieback cracker in texture than a tender piecrust. But it was a great foundational cookbook to allow me to add more and more of my own flavors.

                                                                                                      2. EricMM Nov 30, 2013 08:36 AM

                                                                                                        I also find recipe's hard to cook from. I use HTCE as an occasional reference, but only as a starting off point. I'm almost never happy with the details of a recipe, so I modify them. So many soup recipe's involve straining solids or puree'ing. OMG! i could never do something like that....its the solids that I like best! That said, I find Bittman's book an easy enough starting off point...far better than those chef cookbooks that are fun to read and useless without a restaurant kitchen equipment and staff (boy, do I modify those recipe's!).

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: EricMM
                                                                                                          Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 09:17 AM

                                                                                                          Eric, I too would like to avoid too much straining or pureeing. Not out of laziness or lack of meticulous diligence, but....I can't say it any better than you did. I like solids.

                                                                                                          Guess there's no one to hand-hold me. I need to approach soup making like I've evolved my other cooking: via trial and error.

                                                                                                        2. monavano Nov 30, 2013 09:27 AM

                                                                                                          I like Bittman's simple approach to food and cooking, but whenever I watch him cook, he always looks so...pained.
                                                                                                          Maybe he's trying to be understated, but it comes across as disinterested.
                                                                                                          Color me not inspired.

                                                                                                          1. Caroline1 Nov 30, 2013 12:24 PM

                                                                                                            About cooking potatoes, whether for mashing or salad or soup.... Much of the nutrition of potatoes is in the skin. To peel BEFORE cooking depletes their nutritional value by a bunch! Cook whole, slip off the peels while hot, then proceed with your recipe.

                                                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: Caroline1
                                                                                                              greygarious Nov 30, 2013 01:55 PM

                                                                                                              According to those lists of the most pesticide-laden vegetables, on which potatoes have a dubious pride of place, the skin is the most tainted part. I have no idea how much of the chemicals on the skin pervade the flesh, or if cooking conveys nutrients and/or toxins from the skin into the flesh. I am personally resigned to ingestion of harmful compounds and I do value the fiber in potato skins, but IMO the potential harm in potato skins outweighs the nutrition rationale for skin-on cooking.

                                                                                                              1. re: greygarious
                                                                                                                Jim Leff Nov 30, 2013 03:17 PM

                                                                                                                If it worries you, this might be a reason to go organic on this particular veg. Doesn't need to be a religious thing....

                                                                                                                I do likewise for anything to be concentrated (e.g. juices and butters), and for particularly chemed-up items like grapes and potatoes.

                                                                                                                1. re: greygarious
                                                                                                                  Caroline1 Nov 30, 2013 04:54 PM

                                                                                                                  mmmmm... Tainted compared to what? Some quick things to know about when, how, and why of cooking and eating potatoes:
                                                                                                                  1. Potatoes should be stored in the dark because they are a member of the nightshade family and if stored in light the skins may turn green, thereby increasing natural toxins and should be thrown out because peeling does not reduce the risk. If the potato grows "eyes" when stored in darkness, it is safe to remove them with a paring knife.
                                                                                                                  2. Safe food handling is as critical with potatoes as with any and all other foods. Yes, the FDA does list potatoes as one of the 10 most dangerous foods but that is due primarily to food born illness caused by improper handling and storage linked to things such as potato salads and improper handling. Here's a link to the FDA's list:
                                                                                                                  http://www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/cspi_t...
                                                                                                                  Please read the complete entry on potatoes.
                                                                                                                  3. I don't know a lot about how much and what kind of "science lab" genetic modification has been done with potatoes specifically, nor what those modifications were specifically, but I'm pretty certain the peels of apples are likely more dangerous than a well washed and boiled unpeeled potato.

                                                                                                                  The very unfortunate truth is that the more free reign is given to US and Canadian "agribusinesses" and their cohorts such as Monsanto et al., the more our food supply across the board is modified forever, and far far too often to our eternal detriment. Once a dangerously genetically modified plant is approved by the "proper" government agency for farmers to grow commercially, the BIG problem is that the natural unmodified plants of the area are totally unaware and in most cases, incapable of not taking on those GMO traits through natural plant propagation.

                                                                                                                  When it comes to any government of the world regulating and/or banning GMO foods, that's going to be as likely to happen as a government ban against people passing on genetic mutations in the human genome that are caused by exposure to radiation due to Chernobyl or Fukushima or the atomic bombs of WWII. SOME genies refuse to go back in the bottle!

                                                                                                                  Enjoy your potatoes, skins and all. but store and cook properly, '-

                                                                                                                  )

                                                                                                                  To put it another way, Global Warming is NOT the only disaster we have created for ourselves. <sigh>

                                                                                                                  1. re: greygarious
                                                                                                                    mcf Nov 30, 2013 05:48 PM

                                                                                                                    Anything that's treated with multiple pesticides and fungicides is one of those things I only buy organic. I love the skin.

                                                                                                                    1. re: greygarious
                                                                                                                      EricMM Dec 1, 2013 08:42 AM

                                                                                                                      Potatoes are one of the vegetables I insist on getting organically. I even grow my own purple potatoes. After reading Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire (still my favorite Pollan book) it was very hard to buy conventional potatoes, if a choice was available.

                                                                                                                  2. free sample addict aka Tracy L Nov 30, 2013 01:19 PM

                                                                                                                    Adding an additional 2 cents to my previous donation, I think he gained notoriety from his minimalist cooking column. Maybe there would be more truth in advertising if he had titled the book "The Minimalist Cooks (almost everything)"

                                                                                                                    1. t
                                                                                                                      thesandwichlife Nov 30, 2013 01:42 PM

                                                                                                                      I gave that book away after trying numerous recipes that just didn't work for me. I think the ideas are good, the recipes are just carelessly written, maybe just in an attempt to make it seem approachable. I'd rather cook out of the JOY any day. I really want to like him...and I wanted to like the book....but eh....

                                                                                                                      1. g
                                                                                                                        Gloriaa Nov 30, 2013 04:58 PM

                                                                                                                        I, too, do not like this cookbook. I find the recipes boring and too one dimensional. I find the same thing with Donna Hay. I like her and love her photos but the food is never very good. They are both good for inspiration!

                                                                                                                        1. h
                                                                                                                          HeBrew Nov 30, 2013 05:11 PM

                                                                                                                          "The recipe was dismayingly hollow. Basically: slice some leeks, cube some potatoes, sauté briefly then boil in broth 20 minutes. Salt and pepper. That's it."

                                                                                                                          Based on that alone I'll agree with you. You have five mundane ingredients here and not much in the way of flavor.

                                                                                                                          I don't have the book...If this is what the recipes in the book are like I probably wouldn't buy it.

                                                                                                                          I'm not a formally trained chef but I can tell you that the recipe you described is going to be lacking, to say the least.

                                                                                                                          BUT...

                                                                                                                          It can be a base for much more delicious soups and stews.

                                                                                                                          1. susancinsf Nov 30, 2013 07:13 PM

                                                                                                                            Personally, I think at least part of the issue is in the starting premise: potato/leek soup is my least favorite...seriously, does anyone know of a really good version? I think it is almost always as boring at Bittman's recipe sounds. Love leeks, love potatoes, but as a soup together? Meh.

                                                                                                                            There are some recipes in "How to Cook Everything" that I have come to rely on: for instance: when I have snapper or white fish and am not feeling ambitious, I always go back to his oven 'fried' fillet recipe. I also find the book helpful for general ideas. That said, I will admit that these days when I really want ideas on how to cook something, I go back to "Joy of Cooking". Case in point: persimmons. A co-worker gave me a bunch of hachiya persimmons from her farm: HTCE had just a brief mention, but Joy did give a few good ideas that served as a starting point for experimentation and where else to look. (By the way, I put the ripest one into my TD cranberry sauce before cooking it down. it was a nice touch!)

                                                                                                                            1. v
                                                                                                                              Vinnie Vidimangi Dec 1, 2013 09:46 AM

                                                                                                                              1. The hardest part of the journey is the first step for many people. If the recipes are "too much", many people will never start.
                                                                                                                              2. Good teaching often requires that the student be exposed to knowledge in stages and that he be started with a barebones instruction.
                                                                                                                              3. Some people actually like their food the way. Bittman's recipes have it

                                                                                                                              So we have to ask, what is Bittman's purpose with the book and can he achieve his purpose better?
                                                                                                                              It seems that he wants to write an introductory book. If this is his goal than he can do better, he needs to be a better instructor. But it seem stha he has little interest in this.

                                                                                                                              Give him credit for presenting dishes dishes. that attract interest and are palatable Does his book inspire the reader to progress? Depends on the reader?

                                                                                                                              He sets himself up for criticism by holding the book out to be much more than it is. If the book were called "A Child's First Guide to Great Cooking" we would not be attacking the book. Nor would we be buying it. Perhaps he recognizes this and doesn't accept it.

                                                                                                                              What bothers me in all of this is that it seems that Bittman could do much more to teach so that the reader can progress. This failure is mortal. The salsa - salad problem is venial. I think that Bittman just got full of himself , sloppy and lazy. He gains no respect for this. However I would have thought that his helpers would have picked up the error, and at this level he must have helpers. Th error would contribute to my losing confidence in the book for any purpose.

                                                                                                                              Minimalist can be great . Rhubarb and strawberries, cranberries and oranges, etc. are wonderful and require no technique.
                                                                                                                              So, too many of the wrong kind of recipes?

                                                                                                                              Are the Smitten Kitchen recipes of the same genre as Bittman's? Perleman does offer better instruction, though.

                                                                                                                              My part in "our" kitchen is to buy cookboks- more than 400 by now-, read them , and eat my wife's cooking and offer a critique.
                                                                                                                              Bittman's books are not in the Ms.'s collection and I don't think will be.

                                                                                                                              1. h
                                                                                                                                hyperbowler Dec 2, 2013 08:11 AM

                                                                                                                                You are spot on that his potato leek soup "taste[s] like stock with some leaks and potatoes." That's not a bad thing if you want to build a simple and heartier soup around a good quality homemade stock. It's a boring dish,

                                                                                                                                I use HTCE, and the iPhone app, when I'm faced with a new ingredient and don't have time to fully research it. Think of it as a great tool when you're trying to empty your CSA box at the end of a long week. It won't turn up the best recipe in any category, and I don't think it claims to, but it's worth it for the saved time. I also like that his recipes give lots of alternatives. Also, with most cookbooks, I won't toy with a recipe until I've made the basic one first. With HTCE, the recipes are admittedly skeletons with options, so I get the gist while reading it and feel empowered to chose the tastes I would like best. In that respect, it's a great book for novices or people who don't naturally improvise and need some encouragement in seeing how certain ingredients have a similar function in recipes.

                                                                                                                                I've probably cooked a hundred or so of his recipes and only a beets rosti ended in the trash. Baked ziti with radicchio & gorgonzola, baked ziti w/ ricotta, leeks braised in oil, cauliflower mashed w/ cheese, and shaved artichoke salad were edible duds.

                                                                                                                                Some of the recipes I make again and again are chickpeas roasted w/ garlic and spices (it's a great dish to test out a new spice mix), chickpea farinata or socca (usually w/ some aged cheese sprinkled on top when it's done), his tahini soy sauce, angry pasta (from his first edition only, and I now put in the garlic cloves whole and remove them after cooking), and variations on the five-minute drizzle sauce when faced with a strange new vegetable.

                                                                                                                                1. w
                                                                                                                                  Westminstress Dec 2, 2013 11:45 AM

                                                                                                                                  I'm a bit surprised by all the bashing of this book. I am one of the people who uses it instead of Joy of Cooking. I guess it's a generational thing but I don't like JOC. So when I want to know the basic version of a dish, I look it up in HTCE.

                                                                                                                                  There are some recipes in HTCE that I love. For example, his basic method for cooking frittata or pan-seared, oven-finished steak are my go-tos. There is a recipe for butter-braised radishes that I really love and make several times a year, especially in the spring (it is extraordinary when made with good quality sherry vinegar). I've had great results with his clam chowder and clam sauce recipes. The chocolate chip cookies are pretty good too.

                                                                                                                                  I tend to use the book most for simple, american dishes or when I want to look up the plain version of something. Like pie crust, pancakes, etc. Lots of CH posters know how to do this type of thing without a recipe, but I don't. I don't always (or often) use his version of a recipe but it gives me a good basis from which to evaluate the recipes in my other books, which are usually more idiosyncratic.

                                                                                                                                  Re your soup, potato leek soup is pretty plain stuff and the basic recipe sounds right. My guess is that your broth was too weak or you didn't use enough salt. IMO for potato leek soup to be good, you have to use a rich chicken broth OR saute some bacon along with your leeks OR add cream at the end. Without one of these elements, the soup will be too spartan. And potatoes always need lots of salt. If you didn't have good broth, bacon or cream to enrich your soup, a drizzle of good olive oil could have helped as well.

                                                                                                                                  Show Hidden Posts