Monday, February 23, 2009

Cookbook Casting Call: Report Card for How to Cook Everything and A New Week's Book and Menu

Well look! Here we are on a Monday and I'm actually going to post the review for Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Amazing huh?!

Well, not really considering we did most of this food two weeks ago and you remember the menu?

Yea, pretty much throw that out as when it actually came time to cook most of the things on that menu, I was so up against the wall on time owing to having to get back to the office after dinner that I ended up doing a lot of improvising based on what I could quickly defrost and fix.

So here is the revised menu, for the most part. I didn't write everything down on the day I made them, but you will get the picture. Asterisk are the items I made from "How to Cook Everything"

Sunday 2/8:
Dinner: Movie night in NYC with Friends
Dessert: Bread Pudding* with Vanilla Ice Cream

Monday 2/9:
Lunch: Simple Greek Salad*
Dinner: Smoky Slow Cooker Chili (from Jan/Feb 2009 Cooking Light) with Jiffy Mix Corn Bread

Tuesday 2/10:
Lunch: Chili and corn bread
Dinner: Pasta with Porcini* and Fastest Yeast Bread* (I'll be the judge of that!)
Dessert: left over bread pudding

Wednesday 2/11:
Lunch: Chili and corn bread
Dinner: Polenta Pizza*

Thursday 2/12:
Lunch: Leftover polenta pizza (actually Ramen Noodle Cup because well you will have to read why)
Dinner: Samosa* and Kitchens Of India Ready To Eat Pav Bhaji (Mashed Vegetable Curry)nand Ready to Serve Brown Minute Rice

Friday 2/13:
Lunch: Leftover Samosas and Curry
Dinner: Take Out Chinese Food (at work)

So, how did "How to Cook Everything" fare?

First, let me say, I really like watching Mark Bittman on the various PBS and other network food shows and I faithfully read "Bitten" and "The Minimalist" columns in the NYT. And, the roasted root vegetables I did back a few weeks ago were fantastic. But I was kind of dissapointed with the overall food I produced from "How to Cook Everything". I actually found most of it well, bland.

Maybe the premise is that with the recipes from this cookbook, you use them as foundations to explore your own seasonings. I don't know. All I know is that from all the things I cooked from the book, I found two things really extraordinary: Pasta with Porcini

Bittman's HTCE: Pasta with Porcini

and the Samosas

Bittman's HTCE Samosas

and,I had what I think is one of the worst things I've ever put in my mouth, rocky mountain oysters not withstanding, the polenta pizza

Bittman"s HTCE: Polenta Pizza

(which incidently, was featured last week in the Food and Dining section of the NYT).

I am happy to report that the Fastest Yeast Bread is indeed fast

Bittman's HTCE: Fastest Yeast Bread

and, like the recipe says, doesn't have a great crust or flavor, but it was fast and I'll probably make it again but add herbs and cheese to give it some flavor.

The recipe that I had great hopes for but was really dissapointed in the flavor was the roast pork shoulder, Puerto Rican - Style.

Bittman's HTCE: Puerto Rican Style Pork Shoulder

I made it in the slow cooker, after searing it and while, I didn't expect the skin to be crispy, I did expect the flavor of the adobo sauce that Bittman describes as "vastly superior" to the store bought kind to be outstanding. Unfortunately, like so many of the dishes I had, it was rather bland and I found myself adding more garlic and oregano to the meat after I had sliced it.

By this stage of the week, I had learned my lesson and when I was roasting the potatoes I had with the roast pork,

Bittman's HTCE: Puerto Rican Style Pork Shoulder and Oven Roasted Potatoes

I tossed on a good helping of cumin. Like the roast root vegetables, the roasted potatoes were fantastic and I'm going to be making them again.

I wish I could give "How to Cook Everything" a great grade, especially as the cookbook is pretty well written and has nice explainations and well done diagrams; a must have in my humble opinion in a cookbook claiming to be a good all around basic cookbook. However, I am probably going to have to rate "How to Cook Everything" as a B/B-.

In regards to how I did on the winter pantry plan that week, I did pretty good spending $32.06 on all groceries that week. It was a bit higher because I thought I had part of a pork shoulder in the freezer and when I went to get it out to defrost, I realized I had a tenderloin instead. I probably could have used that had I done the pork shoulder in the oven but since I was going to use the slow cooker, I wanted something with a little more fat so it wouldn't dry out over the long cooking time.

Now for this week's cookbook and menu. Drum roll please.....


We are going to be putting that orginal of original compendiums, Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition through it's paces.

75th Anniversary Edition of Joy of Cooking

I've had a little bit of a head start on this week's menu as I started cooking from it last night before telling you about our cookbook but I know you won't hold that against me.

Menu for 2/22 - 2/27 - Week Five of the Cookbook Casting Call and Winter Pantry Plan: Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition

Like always, item's marked with "*" are from this week's cookbook

Sunday 2/22:
Oscar Night Dinner: New England Clam Chowder* and salad
Dessert: Bread Pudding* (This is becoming a must test recipe in all the cookbooks)

Monday 2/23:
Lunch: Leftover Clam Chowder
Dinner: Tomato and Goat Cheese Quiche*

Tuesday 2/24: Paczki Day!
Lunch: Leftover Quiche and Chowder
Dinner: Country Captain*
Dessert: left over bread pudding

Wednesday 2/25:
Lunch: Leftover Country Captain and salad
Dinner: Kale, Potato, and Country Ham Gratin*
Dessert: Wartime Wednesday Apple Brown Betty

Thursday 2/26:
Lunch: In NYC
Dinner: Spaghetti Carbonara*

Friday 2/27:
Lunch: Leftover pasta
Dinner (Puzzle Night): Hot Crab Dip* and frozen appetizers (leftover from pre-Christmas get together)
Dessert: Mini Mississippi Mud Cake*