Book Review: Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix

So this book is a little different to the usual recipe book.

Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix

The blurb states:

“For years, Mark Bittman has shared his formulas, recipes, and kitchen improvisations in his popular New York Times Eat column, in which an ingredient or essential technique is presented in different variations in a bold matrix. Accompanied by striking photographs and brief, straightforward instructions, these thematic matrices show how simple changes in preparation and ingredient swaps in a master recipe can yield dishes that are each completely different from the original, and equally delicious. In Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix, Mark’s matrices come together to create a collection of over 400 flexible recipes covering vegetables, fruits, meats and chicken, and even desserts.  Whether you’re cooking up soup (creamy, brothy, earthy, or hearty), freezing ice pops (in fruity, savory, creamy, or boozy varieties), or preparing asparagus (steamed, roasted, stir-fried, or grilled), following Mark’s approach to culinary improvisation will deliver stand-out results.”

I have never read the New York Times column that the author used to write (that pesky paywall does tend to get in the way sometimes), but the idea sounded interesting to me. The theory is that we don’t want to spend hours making dinner all the time, we have a few basic things we make fairly often, and lots of different variations we can make by substituting ingredients, mixing up techniques…… Endless possibilities and permutations. The book is a collection of things pulled from the Eat column, compiled into a book.

The book is divided into sections on:

  • Appetizers and Entertaining
  • Soups, Stews, and Sandwiches
  • Vegetables
  • Pasta, Grains, and Beans
  • Fish and Seafood
  • Poultry and Eggs
  • Meat
  • Condiments and Seasonings
  • Fruit
  • Desserts and Baking

In the Bittman style, you have either one ingredient or recipe done multiple ways – such as 12 ways with chicken wings, and then also pages dedicated to being a “recipe generator” – such as the one below for spring rolls:

Spring Rolls Recipe Generator

What I like about the book is that it is very much geared towards inspiring creativity in the kitchen. This isn’t a book full of very definitive recipes that involve obscure ingredients and you must do this that and the other, but one that describes different methods of cooking key ingredients – such as 16 ways of using celery, but then very much leaving the end ingredient up to you.

I had an urge for some super buttery shortbread the other day, followed the basic instructions for some simple shortbread – butter, sugar, egg yolk, flour, cornstarch, and salt, formed a log, chilled, sliced, baked:

Shortbread

Done.

But then, sparked by some cookie butter sandwich cookies from Trader Joe’s, I took a couple, filled them with Biscoff cookie butter, then some Bourbon biscuit spread, then some Earl Grey Ice Cream…….

Shortbread

Maybe I should have dipped some in chocolate too?

Overall, this is a great book for inspiring new ideas in the kitchen, straddling somewhere between a novice cook and an experience amateur. A novice who wants to stretch themselves perhaps? None of the recipes are all that difficult, but I think there is enough in it to keep me entertained and interested, and I would count myself as one of the latter.

As always, I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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