Most people remember the cookbook that they learned to cook out of. For most it was either their mother's Joy of Cooking or the Betty Crocker plaid binder, both heavy with stains and full of love. For the next generation of cooks, there's an even more complete compendium covering how to cook anything you could find in a modern American grocery store, including some exotic treats that have succeeded in becoming more like staples.
Mark Bittman, a columnist for the New York Times, originally released his all-encompassing tome in 1998. It was a huge hit, selling easily around the world, and helping to teach a new generation the ins and outs of the kitchen. The original book was full of easy multi-cultural recipes and numerous charts, and this newest anniversary edition follows the same format, with even more content and better descriptions. The illustrations are amazingly helpful, even for more advanced cooks. Think this book is only for novices? Mark Bittman teaches you how to grind your own chili powder, which I don't believe is stuff for beginners.
The first recipe I tried was the Everyday Pancakes. It's a very simple recipe, but pancakes are either light and fluffy or tasteless hockey pucks. I wanted to see which way Mark's recipe would lean. The batter was very simple to pull together, and I liked the way it could be made ahead of time and put in the refrigerator until needed. There's nothing I hate more than having to whip up an entire breakfast from scratch when I've just rolled out of bed. The ingredients are pretty usual, but the addition of melted butter lends a silkiness to the pancakes that you don't often find. They fried up crisp and golden on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside. One thing I would probably change would be to substitute some buttermilk for the sweet milk called for in the recipe, but otherwise, these are a delicious and easy breakfast option.
The next recipe I picked was the Deviled Eggs. Since this cookbook is a compendium, Mark Bittman goes out of his way to offer fourteen different options when making the tasty little treats. I have never been very adventurous with my deviled eggs, but when I saw his suggestions, I knew I needed to try some. The first one I made followed the suggestion of adding bacon bits to his standard recipe. These were a revelation. The bacon adds a smoky flavor to the tartness of the egg yolk. These were quickly snatched up in my house. The other option I tried were the eggs with added lightly sautéed spinach. These eggs turned out pretty and jewel-like, and I didn't feel quite so bad about eating several halves since the spinach added some vitamins. These are definitely a good way to get children some extra vegetables.
For my final recipe, I decided to pick something a little less standard, and something I had never tried before. Normally when I make barbecued ribs or chicken, I resort to a bottle from the grocery store. I have never made my own barbecue sauce, so I figured this was the perfect time to start. I must admit that the recipe itself is ridiculously easy, and makes a good argument for never buying a bottle again. The sauce itself is a little spicy and a little tart, and you can control the level of heat by adding more chili powder or hot sauce. It works perfectly on chicken and ribs, and I believe it will become a standard in my household.
Mark Bittman's book, How to Cook Everything, is the perfect book for a beginning cook or a more experienced one that wants to look up an unknown ingredient. The charts and illustrations make almost anything easy (including boning poultry), and just for this reason, it should become a staple on everyone's cookbook shelf. With such easy recipes and familiar ingredients, there's really not any excuse not to have a good, nutritious dinner each night. But I think my favorite part of the book are all of the additional suggestions on familiar recipes, which can allow any basic cook to graduate to more creative dishes over time.