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it's a fatty affair

(post, Donia Clark)

About a month ago, it was my friend Jynell's birthday and I gave her Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. This was hard for me to do because I have a crush on Mark Bittman and I've been wanting that book for a long time. While Bittman's not bad looking, my crush stems from his way of cooking. We share the same philosophy that cooking doesn't need to be as difficult, time-consuming and over-loaded with ingredients as many people make it out to be.

While he's been writing for quite some time, I wasn't turned onto his minimalist concept of cooking until a few years ago when I ran across his column, aptly titled The Minimalist in the New York Times. It was shortly after I had broken my ankle. The cast was off, I was on crutches and back in my own apartment doing DIY physical therapy to literally get me back on my foot. I was jobless. My unemployment covered my rent and nothing else.

Food came from $10 a month in food stamps, visiting food pantries and the kind donations of friends. I was eating a lot of beans, rice and pasta. That first Bittman column I read focused on minimalist dinners. I copied down each of the vegetarian recipes into a notebook and discovered not only a lot of recipes that featured beans, rice and pasta, but the ones that didn't were also cheap and easy to make with the added benefit of being highly delicious.

In his columns, he takes a loose approach with recipes. His book recipes are a bit more structured, but still leave plenty of room for tailoring food to personal taste. Ingredients are mixed, matched, substituted and suggested. Measurements and cooking times are approximations. The message is: "Experiment. Play. Have fun. Let go."

Soon I was making "ghetto" versions of gazpacho, chile rellenos, migas, etc. These recipes spoke to me. They weren't for purists. They were for people who only had three ingredients and a frying pan. They were for poor people like me and they were delicious. They made my meager food supply into enticing entrees. Sure, some of his recipes are too insanely expensive for my budget (caviar and octopus don't come cheap in Illinois), but there's usually an acceptable substitute or if not, another recipe to mess around with. After that, I started reading his column faithfully.

When I came across How To Cook Everything at a book sale, I couldn't believe my good fortune. Finally, I had a Mark Bittman cookbook! For $2! Then, I remembered Jynell's birthday and figured this would make a good gift for her. She likes to cook and she would probably appreciate adding the knowledge of how to cook everything to her set of mad skillz, so I wrapped it in newspaper and presented it to her when we were on our way to a White Sox game. Parting was sweet sorrow for Mark and I, but I did copy a few recipes from the book and I absorbed some of his tips along the way. Hopefully, karma will work its magic and I'll once again come across a cheap copy of How To Cook Everything or one of his other books. The other day, I made his recipe for basic burgers and reveled in its bloody juiciness (I like my beef rare). Listen to Sly & The Family Stone's "There's A Riot Going On" while making. It's as greasy and sizzling as the patties on the grill. You can find Bittman's Basic Burgers here:

http://www.culinate.com/search/q,vt=top,q=basic+burger/39390