FOOD  10:52 am January 27, 2011

Best-Ever NYT Columnist Ends Best-Ever Column (It’s a Food Column)

by Ken Layne

This didn’t get a lot of traction on the political blogs yesterday, but the very excellent Mark Bittman of the New York Times announced that he’s ending the greatest newspaper column ever, “The Minimalist,” which is a column that very quickly shows you how to make pretty much anything, with whatever’s in your fridge and pantry (if you actually buy vegetables and spices now and then).

The best thing about Mark Bittman, to us, is how he validated our particular lifelong half-assed “well that looks pretty good enough” cooking habits. Because we were right, all along! There is no single recipe for anything, and people who obsess over measuring and “having all the ingredients” and everything are, basically, insane people. That is not how you cook to eat, which is the point of cooking: to make a meal you are going to eat, at that point in time.

(Last night, for example, we had some almost-getting-bad tomatoes and a couple of leeks in the fridge and not much else, so we threw those in a baking dish with some herbs and olive oil and garlic cloves and let them roast for an hour while we did whatever, and then we made a pot of penne and saved a quarter cup of the starchy salty pasta water and put that in the blender along with almost all of the roasted tasty things and hit puree and put the remaining whole tomatoes and leek chunks on top of the sauce and it was delicious and it took, seriously, five minutes of hands-on preparation. This is a very Bittman-esque way of doing things, we realized when reading his good-bye column just now.)

Anyway, he is joining the Good Food Rebellion with Michelle Obama and Michael Pollan and the rest of the people who have, at this weird point in American Life, dedicated themselves to trying to get Americans to eat real food grown on real farms and in real gardens and cooked, occasionally, in real American kitchens. Sarah Palin doesn’t like that, of course, but she will topple off a melting iceberg pretty soon, and the autopsy will reveal she was only 35% Taco Bell seasoned ground beef. [Mark Bittman]

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CalamityJames January 27, 2011 at 10:58 am

Wait, what did you do with the rest of the salty pasta waters? If you're not gonna share everything, then don't fucking bother. WTF?

Barbara_i January 27, 2011 at 11:02 am

He's certainly not being replaced by my mother-in-law. Everything she cooks taste like feet. It's a shame she'll never be able to share her "moist-free" chicken recipe with the rest of us now. Seriously, she's 68 years-old and I served her something with bacon in it and she said that she needs to learn to cook bacon. If you haven't mastered bacon in almost 7 decades, then you should just avoid it.

OkieDokieDog January 27, 2011 at 11:09 am

Give Mom-in-law a package of microwave bacon. Baby steps.

Billmatic January 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I seriously don't understand microwavable bacon. You can microwave regular bacon!!!

Barbara_i January 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Exactly! And it doesn't cost $5.99 for 8 ounces. Thanks for "getting it" If you are going to pay $12.00 for a pound of anything, let it be well marbled beef.

ttommyunger January 27, 2011 at 11:42 am

I've had some pretty tasty feet in my day, but one has to be in the mood, if you know what I mean, and I'll bet you do.

the_onceler January 27, 2011 at 11:13 am

I demand the right to eat food from large collectivized (oops, I mean corporatist) farms and fast food joints. Bittman and his ilk are making it uncool to become very obese and have to be removed from my house by a government run fire department.

Crank_Tango January 27, 2011 at 11:25 am

Let me just take this opportunity to bring up Spain on the Road Again, or "Fapping to Claudia Bassols" as it is known around my "neck" of the "woods"…what was I talking about again? Who cares! Claudia Bassols!

Callyson January 27, 2011 at 11:36 am

Anyone who really wants to urge Americans to eat healthy can take a tip from this PSA:

ttommyunger January 27, 2011 at 11:44 am

This Country's fixation on food is ridiculous. Face it, we're talking about stuff that is ultimately going to turn to shit within just a few hours; guaranteed!

Ken Layne January 27, 2011 at 11:57 am

I wasn't aware this country had a fixation on food, considering that americans eat most of their six daily anus burgers in front of their teevee or sitting in their car. But it would be nice if people here were a little more interested in what they stuff in their face hole — maybe they wouldn't be such physically repulsive, spiritually empty slugs kept alive only with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of prescription meds.

CrankyLttlCamperette January 27, 2011 at 12:35 pm

It has nothing to do with taste. It has everything to do with instant gratification (and the crutches people use to fill gaping holes in their lives).

PocketsTheClown January 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Ken cares about our fiber!!

Zvi_Bleindmeis January 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Tommy, it turns to puke before it turns to shit.

ttommyunger January 27, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Mmmmmmmm. Puke!

XOhioan January 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm

He taught me that you can throw anything on the grill. Bittman is God.

Ken Layne January 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm

And that other essential bit of Bittman wisdom too many people forget: The plain old broiler in your plain old kitchen oven is as good as using the grill 9 our of 10 times. It is a good reminder when it's snowing outside and you think, "Eh it's not grillin' weather," that there is a perfectly good broiler in your nice indoor kitchen.

Barbara_i January 27, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Ken, I know a man who paid a few thousand dollars to have his outdoor grill built with "natural gas", the same that he has inside his house.

WriteyWriterton January 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I know I risk the banhammer for this, but Ken, Ken, Ken, I am so disappointed in you:

"The plain old broiler in your plain old kitchen oven is as good as using the grill 9 our of 10 times."

No, it's not. Not ever. The grill is always better than the oven. And, by the by, I'm not talking about the abomination in metal form called the gas grill. That is never good for anything. My god, you can't even plath yourself in it, because it's outside and the gas dissipates.

The charcoal powered grill rules. Nothing beats charcoal under the food. Ever. Especially, with smoking chips (hickory or apple) soaked overnight in whatever alcohol I'm otherwise swilling.

And no lighter fluid, either! Newspaper to kindle the flames.

[snark on, cowering in fear of b-hammer]

SayItWithWookies January 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I'm constantly surprised — especially with all the damn cooking shows and columns out there — at how many people would probably starve to death in a fully-stocked and equipped kitchen if they couldn't tear the wrapper off a frozen dinner and nuke it. But I'd be even poorer than I am now if I ate that way, since I managed to scarf a whole pan of stuffed shells in about four days recently.
Oh, which reminds me — sometimes there's no substitute for lots of time. If you're making tomato sauce, just let the damn thing simmer for five hours so the tomatoes sweeten by themselves — few things taste as incongruous as bitter tomato sauce with a dollop of brown sugar (or whatever people throw into it to sweeten it up) sitting on top.

Monsieur_Grumpe January 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm

My wife thinks I'm nuts when I insist on cooking a tomatoes sauce overnight.

I seriously enjoy cooking and rarely follow a recipe. Opening up the fridge and working with what is on hand is my idea of a good time.

I have a feeling that Palin's kids were raised on Hamburger Helper with extra sodium.

jodyleek January 27, 2011 at 12:53 pm

"I seriously enjoy cooking and rarely follow a recipe. Opening up the fridge and working with what is on hand is my idea of a good time. "

I do haz a sole mate!

Will you gay marry me, MG? I'm not gay, and I'm not a guy, but hey, I'm willing to change.

Monsieur_Grumpe January 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm

OK but I'll have to ask my wife.

jodyleek January 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Wives…sheesh! They always spoil all the fun.
Well, that's what my husband says anyway.

Barbara_i January 27, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I love to cook. I would rather cook than shop any day.

JulianaNorwich January 27, 2011 at 9:09 pm

"I seriously enjoy cooking and rarely follow a recipe. Opening up the fridge and working with what is on hand is my idea of a good time."

A friend of mine calls this "zen cooking" when I do it, I call it being half Italian.

For times when I need inspiration, I really like the cookbooks from the Mennonite Central Committee: "More With Less", "Simply in Season", and "Extending the Table". It's not glamorous stuff, but Mennonites are somehow awesome.

Barbara_i January 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Thanks for the cookbook suggestions. I find that when I get a cookbook as a gift it requires ingredients that the most well stocked pantry doesn't have. The beauty of the Mennonite cooking style is that you don't need to find an upscale store that sells "malt powder" or something that you can only find in the gourmet section of Amazon.

It took me a year of living in Albuquerque to figure out that high altitude cooking is an exact science. Water boils at a different temp and frying food can be challenging.

LionelHutzEsq January 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm

You mean it is possible to eat food that hasn't been first turned into a slurry in my blender? Tell me more.

SmutBoffin January 27, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I've developed a type of cooking where you put all of the ingredients you have into the Google and make the first recipe that pops up.

Now who wants cauliflower and kale tacos?

Ken Layne January 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm

That's actually how I often find forgotten old "The Minimalist" columns, when I'm typing into the search thing "one egg … third of a stale baguette … a few leaves of this red lettuce that are edible …. half a shaker of 'dill mix' …. "

Lascauxcaveman January 27, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Here's a good site for people interested in learning to cook some tasty Thai dishes at home

I tried a few recipes there with surprisingly close-to-restaurant-quality results. Even with my substitutions. (I mean, where the hell exactly am I supposed to score fresh Kaffir lime leaves?)

proudgrampa January 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm

At the Kaffir Lime Store?

PocketsTheClown January 27, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Taco Del Mar?

Billmatic January 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Not to be a back-seat editor or anything but I think Sarah Palin should have been crushed by a dump truck full of iceberg lettuce. With Thousand Island on it.

Sue4466 January 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Thanks for the tomato-leek recipe Ken. Couple questions: How many leeks did you use? what temp was the oven? Crap, I've lost my Bittmanesque edge . . .

Ken Layne January 27, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Haha … well this is what I remember: We had maybe five or six romas, plus half an heirloom getting mealy in the fridge, and two big old leeks I bought about 10 days ago at the farmers market and forgot about. Olive-oil your baking dish and cut up the leeks and halve the tomatoes and stick other stuff on/around: garlic cloves, pepper, sea salt, some dried sage and rosemary. Pour some more olive oil over everything, stick it in the oven for an hour or two (hotter if it's an hour, probably 375?). When the leeks are getting all carmelized and delicious-looking, put everything but a couple of tomato and leek chunks (save for on top of each dish) in the blender or processor on puree, dump it on your barilla-plus penne and toast up your half of a stale baguette to make it seem fresh again, hooray! (grate some hard italian cheese on top of the sauce if you want, a little teeny tiny bit.) The end.

Sue4466 January 27, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Thanks! So glad my husband does all the cooking. I'm passing it off to him.

Tundra Grifter January 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Ken – What's the name of that recipe? "Take A Leek…"

Lascauxcaveman January 27, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Molasses, nice call. I've never thought of using that in anything but my choc chip cookies, or basting marinade for ribs/roasts. Will keep it in mind for curries.

karen January 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm

You'd be surprised what a little molasses can do for a recipe. If it's a relatively small amount, it doesn't make it sweet, but instead it's rich and deep. We've also added it to braised cabbage.

WriteyWriterton January 28, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Molasses? Brilliant! You. Are. The. Bomb. It will be in whatever entree I prepare next weekend for my drunken-neighbor-fest.

karen January 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm

For drunken-neighbor-fests I suggest Whiskey Pretzels. Easy to make, easy to grab and shovel in your face when you're three sheets to the wind. The original recipe called for brown sugar, we substituted molasses and DAAAYAAAMN it's yummy.

- 10 cups of pretzels (the small ones are the best, and for brand I'd go with Rold Gold)
- 5 cups almonds (either the whole ones or the sliced ones are fine)
- 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
- 2-3 teaspoons molasses (it depends on how molasses-y you want it)
- 1/3 cup Whiskey (use something somewhat decent. it doesn't have to be $50, but don't buy the rotgut)
- 3/4 teaspoon red cayenne pepper (we personally would like it to be a bit hotter than this, so if you like some heat maybe a teaspoon or 1 1/4 teaspoon?)

Place pretzels and almonds in a big ass bowl. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add the molasses, whiskey, and cayenne. Bring to a boil and boil for one minute (or a little less for more whiskey flavor to come through).

Pour over pretzels and almonds and mix super well.

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and add pretzels. Bake at 300F for 35 minutes (turn/shuffle them after 15 minutes.

Let cool, and ENJOY! This shit is addictive.

HempDogbane January 27, 2011 at 7:43 pm

On those occasions when I'm not winging it with nearly-spoiled vegetables, I get out the recipe book, especially Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. In addition to 500+ pages of recipes, each page has a full sidebar of often scolding and scary information from Sally or others. This is one awesome book.

p. 234 Raw Beef, French Style (Steak Tartare) serves 20 as an appetizer. Right beside the recipe is this:

Animal feeding experiments show that many changes besides bone growth take place when cooked foods are used. One extensive study, involving 900 cats over a period of 10 years, was done by F. M. Pottenger, Jr., M.D. Cats receiving raw meat and raw milk reproduced normally from one generation to the next. All kittens showed the same good bone structure …
… The cooked-meat-fed cats were irritable, the females dangerous to handle, and the males more docile, often to the point of being unaggressive. Sex interest was slack …"

the_problem_child January 27, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Thank you Ken, for recognizing this moment in food history. Bittman is our inspiration at casa de problemo. In that spirit, we rarely follow his recipes, but leave the books open on the stove burners frequently enough that we have set the on fire often enough keep buying them every 4-5 years. "How to Cook Everything" is no longer available in hardcover in Canada City, so we may be replacing more frequently.

HempDogbane January 27, 2011 at 11:07 pm

One thumb-up for each of you, and if I could, the molasses-Americans would get both my thumbs.

Barbara_i January 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Ken, do you brine your turkey?

Ken Layne January 28, 2011 at 1:19 am

Haha yes I have brined the heritage fresh birds like others hoping to turn T-day turkey into something tasty. But last year I gave up on the birds altogether, as my household prefers the "sides" to the dry-ass murdered turkey, so we had our first Thanksgiving and Xmas dinners without the bird. So much better! One day I will write about the incredible sourdough/whole wheat stuffing/dressing I made up at Christmas — even a very dedicated carnivore would, I think, be completely happy with this rich, crunchy/moist onion-y stuff. But Wonkette isn't, I guess, really the place for such pleasant things.

mrblifil January 28, 2011 at 12:45 am

I'd like you to taste the sauce on my penne.

bitchincamaro2 January 28, 2011 at 9:01 am

Bittman over? This is bad new for the NYT. His "How To Cook Everything" app on my little iPod gets more finger time from me than my wife. When Lidia B leaves PBS, I'm throwing in the towel.

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