Review: “Kitchen Matrix,” Mark Bittman

Pros: Truly a source of great possibilities
Cons: One real change needed…
Rating: 4 out of 5

I was totally stoked to get a review copy of Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix: More Than 700 Simple Recipes and Techniques to Mix and Match for Endless Possibilities. My husband and I both love to cook, and I’m a fan of Mark Bittman’s cookbooks. In this volume, Bittman encourages you to find and create new recipes by changing one or more aspects of a different recipe. He has several ways of demonstrating this.

One type of inspiration is his ‘recipe generator’ applied to a handful of types of dishes. For example, there’s a tartare generator. The categories it pulls from are ‘binders,’ ‘meat, seafood, vegetables,’ and ‘garnishes’. There’s an example on the page that combines raw salmon with capers, scallions, and lemon zest, thus nicely demonstrating that you don’t have to stick to one item from each list.

The rest of the information consists primarily of a short recipe and then variations on that recipe. Sometimes items are organized via ingredient, but there are exceptions, such as type of ingredient (root vegetables), or part of dinner (starters). I’m ambivalent on this, but only because I think one major change is needed. The nice, short example recipe is great. The variations, though, even though they seem to get either as much or almost as much space in the book, are described only in terms of how they alter the original recipe. I get that Bittman is trying to show us how we go about changing things. But I find that whenever I need to make one of the variations, I need to sit down with pen and paper and write it out as a whole recipe. For example, let’s start with a meatball recipe. The main one includes an egg. In the variations, a couple of them say to skip the egg, while one doesn’t say anything at all, which presumably means you do include it. It’s awkward to have to go through and figure out how all the unmentioned steps get changed or not. (By the way, we loved the Chicken “Tikka Masala” Meatballs and the Spicy Cumin Meatballs. But we definitely had to write each of the recipes out before using.)

There are a few sections that use multiple full recipes instead of enumerating variations. One of those is the quick stock entry, which I love. Don’t have stock on hand? Here are nine ways to make one quickly, ranging from an herb stock (we made it and liked it) to coconut stock, tomato stock, prosciutto-parmesan stock, mushroom stock, and more! There are also handfuls of recipes that concentrate on less likely ingredients such as squid. We made a wonderful stew recipe (pictured below) with ginger, chiles, tomatoes, and coconut milk that was fantastic.

Seafood Stew before cooking

Seafood Stew before cooking

We also made a recipe of potatoes curried in coconut milk which was just wonderful. (Again, since it was a variation we had to re-write out the full recipe–the original recipe was a simple braised potato concoction.) From a root vegetable section we made a mixed sautee of shredded root vegetables. Not only was it very tasty, but the leftovers were still delicious.

Shredded root vegetables before cooking

Shredded root vegetables before cooking

The only recipe we made from here that wasn’t so good was the Cold Cream of Tomato and Peach soup. Next time I’d strain out the tomato seeds, but the flavor also seemed to be missing something.

Simmering peaches and tomatoes

Simmering peaches and tomatoes

What with the awkward variation recipes and the fact that many of these recipes never discuss any kind of seasoning with salt, I’d recommend this for non-beginner yet non-expert cook. They’re perfect for folks who’re at that stage where they’ve got the basics down pat, and just need a little nudge to confidently adapt recipes into new and wonderful tastes.

 

This book was provided free for review by Blogging for Books.

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