If I were going to join a religion it would have to be something dedicated to the chef Mark Bittman. I’ve always wanted to be good at cooking but it didn’t seem to be in my nature. I was too slavishly devoted to the recipe. All I could do was follow it word for word. If I was missing one thing I didn’t know how to substitute and would wind up messing up. It wasn’t a resilient way to cook, but worse, it wasn’t any fun. And so I’d cook the handful of recipes I knew really well, and rarely try much else.
Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, in iPad form, changed all that. The way he presents recipes just clicked with my brain. He gives you a recipe in its most stripped-down form, and then presents a handful of variations. His stripped-down chili non carne, for example, not only omits the meat but also the tomatoes and almost everything other than spice and pinto beans. The variations add them back in and give you an option for “white chili” which I really need to try. It doesn’t hurt that he is a clear, concise and personable writer, but the proof is ultimately in the chili: I have gotten great results nearly every time with his recipes. And the whole approach has hammered into my mind that I can change any recipe I want to anything else. This has been a wonderful, life-transforming thing, no joke. Now I enjoy cooking. It’s not a grim word-for-word recitation, it’s a chance to explore.
The How to Cook Everything app is a little long in the tooth now (never got the iOS 7 makeover), but I still use it all the time. It’s also available in book form and it is ENORMOUS. It’s best thought of as a modern-day Joy of Cooking. He’s got other books, like Kitchen Matrix which takes his variations to their logical extreme. Come. Join me in the Church of Bittman.