Monday, October 26, 2015

I have been BITT MAN! ... by the Kitchen Matrix
I like to picture my brain as a filing system. Filled with to-do lists, factoids, questions for the kid's teacher, scheduling that needs to be relayed to the spouse, books to read, things to Google...

At least my brain is like that. It gets a bit overwhelming and I find lists everywhere, written down in an attempt to close some of those file drawers. Slips of paper, post its, the backs of envelopes, even my phone has an app for my lists.

It is on one of those lists, the digital list on my SmartPhone, that you can find a reference to a cookbook I have been salivating over for years, ever since hearing about it on a public radio piece. Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything

Remember that name, Mark Bittman, you will start to hear it everywhere. Foodies, this man is a real world Michael Pollan, making good food attainable with suggestions and flexibility, rather than rules. 

I was more than pumped to FINALLY get my hands on a cook book of his for my very own collection.
His new book, Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix, will have you reducing your food waste and enjoying every bite. 
That is, most every bite... we'll get to that.
The first thing you will notice about this book is the wonderful pictures and layout, which nods to the clear, organized style of Real Simple magazine. 
I received the book in the mail the day before we headed out of town for a several hour road trip to Ely. We passed the book around the car. Everyone slowly paged through the book, even Moo, at age two paused and placed several menu orders with us. Boo, age 5, held a pile of cards, which he slid in between the pages of all the foods he wanted to eat. The Ogre, who lives his life through a camera lens, set his hunk of camera down to work his way through the book, commenting, of course, on the brilliant photography.

Once we returned from Ely it was time to cook.

My crisper was full of carrots so I looked for something to create with them. Planning on the Creamy Carrot Soup I started a day early, grabbing my bag of frozen veggie bits and chicken parts, tossing them into the slowcooker, and covering them with water to stew a broth out of. I was left with two large containers of golden broth, one of which I froze, the other which I used as a base, along with whole goat milk for the soup.

  I find it important to remind you of my love for the Flexipe. I am reviewing a cookbook here, but I did not follow the recipes to a T. He called for heavy cream and I had whole goat milk. However, his recipes do seem to stand up to these types of substitutions, if not to encourage them as we will get to later.
I pureed the soup in batches in my food processor (the sin! my immersion blender puttered out a couple years back) and added in some spinach that I had frozen (you can just crumple frozen spinach into soup, don't bother cutting or slicing prefreeze)
The soup's colors were beautiful. It did turn out more yellow than orange and I added dry parsley instead of the fresh (I dried it this past summer, if that gives me any points). The soup was yummy, though a bit thin. To use it as a meal I suggest a crusty piece of french bread with a gob of butter. But, alas, my gluten free self stuck to a stack of table crackers.
First recipe? Win. But not enough to run out and buy the book for everyone on my Christmas list.
Next up? GNOCCHI!

As I said I had a lot of carrots, but apparently gnocchi can consist of more than just potatoes, so I called over my friend Meghan for our first ever gnocchi making experiment.

Now, before I tell you how awful the gnocchi turned out, let me tell you we DID have three strikes against us.

1. I have never tasted Gnocchi before. Do I even like it? I don't know, but my friend Pat LOVES the stuff, so I had faith it must be good.

2. As stated, neither of us had attempted to make gnocchi prior to this experience

3. We used, sigh...instant potatoes. The Ogre had brought home a couple boxes this past summer and I never use the flakes, so I figured this would be a good way to clear them out...HA!
4. Cooking was secondary to gossiping and child care. We had to pause several times to nonverbally discuss whether or not the loud noises we heard were sounds of glee or sounds of concussion and respond appropriately.
5. Due to my gimptastic immune system, the flour we used had to be gluten free.
Okay, FIVE strikes. So here they are:

Potato Pudgies.
Hard to swallow, chalky orange turds.
What to do?

We tried frying them...

Adorable little hush puppies.
Nice crunchy outside.
 Same yucky inside with a horrid tongue gunking aftertaste.

In the spirit of waste reduction we tried again. Frying a gnocchi latke and tossing on a square of the Ogre's idea of a delicacy: cheddar cheese with REAL bacon pieces (He really thinks this cheese discovery is stellar, though of course this was PRIOR to us finding out it is carcinogenic... one day late FACEBOOK! If I get colon cancer it is Mark Zuckerburg and the latke's fault)
We decided this creation, if nothing else, was finishable, though probably more enjoyable dipped in ranch.

Then Meghan, truly a waste reduction goddess, kneading the dough with furrowed brow, struck her finger into the air and shouted, "Eureka!" She had a golden idea. Pizza Crust!
And that, dear friends, is how we came upon:
Megan's Gluten Free Carrot Gnocchi Pizza Crust** 
Please note the DIY 3D Deloreans in the back. I simply had to show them off!
Seriously, I admit this crust is worth repeating. It is dense, so it limits the amount of pizza I eat (Beta Carotene AND appetite control! Told you this Meghan is brilliant!)
 I spread it out on the pan and baked it, then added the toppings and baked until the cheese was just to my liking. We had doubled the gnocchi recipe and I had enough to freeze a container to thaw for the next time I need a gluten free crust.
Second Recipe? FAIL!!!! Though perhaps our own fault, don't blame poor Mark because he is really going to redeem himself with 

Somehow Bittman has managed to make a Flexipe Recipe, which he terms a "Recipe Generator"
These recipe generators, my dear friends, are the reason you will want to get this book.

I tried the "Slow Cooker Beans +Recipe Generator" but there are several others I am eager to attempt/consume, including the dessert bar+, spring rolls+, grain salads+ and paella+.
With the recipe generators you choose the ingredients, but Bittman chooses the amounts and the category.

So for the Slow Cooker Beans+ it goes something like this:

1 lb dried beans
3/4 lb meat (optional)
2 lb veggies

Here is what it looked like for me:
I found a half lb of lentils in my cupboard, added on top of that some dried beans from my friend's lingering bean crop, and finishing up the pound with a bit of amaranth (or fish eggs according to Boo)
I added chicken thighs after removing the skin. Mark Bittman gives permission to go over the 3/4 lb which I did significantly per my family's taste. For seasoning I added garlic, curry and peppercorns.

For broth I went a bit out of the box and tossed in the creamy carrot soup with a decent swig of soy sauce to provide the umami, as allowed within Bittman's recipe.
I then added these beautiful end of summer Bok Choy, flowers and all, that I had purchased at the farmer's market the prior day. I did slice them. I also added peeled broccoli medallions from the stems, leftover from a broccoli salad I had compiled in the morning. 
It was pretty in the cooker and by dinner time the house smelled amazing! 

It was a little over-curried for the kids (hot!) but we balanced that with slices of watermelon and secretly rejoiced (MORE LEFTOVERS FOR US!). 

The verdict? This was a WIN!!!
And with so many recipe generators you could basically function for months without getting bored of the flavor combinations.
Bittman gives you permission to be creative with your food while using up what you have. And the result is spectacular.
How can you not get behind that?
*Meghan did come up with the pizza idea, though she did not strike the air in a brilliant Erueka*
*I received this book from Blogging For Books for my review*

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