If you're a jazz aficionado, who lives for improvisation and interpretation, then "Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express'' will be music to your culinary soul.
But if you're more a stickler for precision, someone who likes to practice the scales methodically until thoroughly mastered, then the newest cookbook by the prolific New York Times food writer might confound you to no end.
This is a most unusual cookbook. The "recipes,'' such as they are, amount to one paragraph each. Yes, that's for ingredients and directions combined. The measurements are not always precise. A lot of times, you have to take a stab at guessing just how much of an ingredient is required for the dish. And good luck figuring out how many servings the dish makes, because that's not listed, either.
If you're a regular reader of the New York Times Dining section, you've no doubt seen recent cover stories in which Bittman has employed this method of recipe writing. The story might have 100 "recipes'' for the dog days of summer, each of them composed of a one-paragraph description to roughly create a dish.
A story is one thing. A whole 233-page cookbook is another. And one without any photos, either.
The book is arranged by seasons. I decided to try one from the "Summer'' chapter. I'm a ginger fiend, so I couldn't resist the Ginger-Lemon "Ice Cream'' recipe. I don't have an ice cream maker, mostly because I fear having such temptation at my ready disposal. But here was a recipe that promised "mock ice cream'' without the need of such a machine.
All you need is a food processor. The recipe instructs you to add 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, half a cup of sugar, 2 cups of cream (but not specifying "heavy''), and the juice and zest of one lemon. You then add ice, and pulse the mixture. How much ice is not specified. And you would think that amount would have a great bearing on the texture of the resulting ice cream, wouldn't you? You're also told to add some chopped crystallized ginger. Though that amount isn't detailed, either, that's less crucial, in my mind.
So how much ice? I went with 2 cups - a complete guess. In hindsight, I think I would have stopped at 1 cup. Who knew? You're told that the mixture will get thick and icy. But I wasn't sure if it got thicker and icier with more ice or less ice, so I added more. In doing so, though, I think my mixture got a little thinner.
I tasted a spoonful, and really liked the combination of the ginger with the lemon. It was very refreshing. The recipe says you can serve it immediately or freeze it. Frankly, I'm not sure you'd want to eat this immediately, even as wonderful as the flavor was. The texture just isn't dense enough. It would be like eating a bowl of flavored whipped cream. Maybe if you used it as a topping for fresh fruit, it might work just fine like this. But I decided to freeze it in a plastic container instead.
After six hours, the ice cream had firmed up a lot. It still didn't have the heft of real ice cream. It was more like a richer version of ice milk. It melts fairly fast, too. I didn't find it as satisfying as real ice cream. And I doubt that I'd make it again.
I'm not sure I would have bought this book on my own. But since it was given to me to review, I probably will try out another recipe or two. There's one for "Microwaved Honey Eggplant'' that intrigues.
If you're a novice cook, this book may really frustrate you. If you're an experienced cook, you might find one or two flavor combinations or techniques worth exploring that are new to you. But beyond that, most of it will already be familiar to you. In that case, you might just want to save your pennies instead.
Read more about the Ginger-Lemon 'Ice Cream' Carolyn made on her blog FoodGal.
Ginger-Lemon "Ice Cream''
From Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman. Simon & Schuster, 2009
(Add more candied ginger if you like)
In a food processor, puree two tablespoons of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped, with a half cup of sugar, two cups of cream, and the juice and zest of one lemon. Add ice, pulsing and pushing down as necessary, until thick and icy; add a couple of tablespoons of candied ginger at the end and process until just combined. Serve immediately, or freeze for up to several days.
About Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express
Presented here are 404 dishes -- 101 for each season -- that will get you in and out of the kitchen in 20 minutes or less. Mark Bittman's recipe sketches provide exactly the directions a home cook needs to prepare a repertoire of eggs, seafood, poultry, meats, vegetables, sandwiches, and even desserts. Add a salad here, a loaf of bread there, and these dishes become full meals that are better than takeout and far less expensive.Available at Amazon.com
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.