Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Food Matters: New cookbook outlines just the basics

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Without a single photo in the book, what Mark Bittman's landmark "How To Cook Everything" cookbook lacks in visual appeal, it more than makes up in comprehension. The 1998 book that really put Bittman on the culinary map has more than 1,000 recipes and is the book I often recommend people buy for newlyweds and college graduates.

The New York Times food writer has continued to expand the "How To Cook Everything" brand over the years with a vegetarian version, a 10th anniversary revised edition and elaborate iPhone and iPad apps that are among the most user-friendly that I've seen.

And now he and his publisher, Wiley, have finally - finally! - added photos.

He took his favorite recipes from previous books, added and "minimalized" (his Times column is called "The Minimalist") many more and worked with photographer Romulo Yanes to capture every step, from slice to simmer to serve. The result, "How to Cook Everything The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food," (Wiley, $35) is a Bittman book in every way, including the encouragement and laid-back tone that you often need to go from browsing the book to actually cooking from it. My favorite part of Bittman's cookbooks are the variations that appear with every recipe, which turns 185 recipes in this book into several hundred ideas for what to cook for dinner.

Brownies

Variations: For nutty brownies, substitute 1/4 cup finely ground hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts or pecans (use the food processor or blender to grind them) for 1/4 cup of the flour in step three and add 1 cup lightly toasted, roughly chopped nuts to the batter. For cocoa brownies, after the brownies cool a bit but are still warm, put 2 tablespoons cocoa in a small strainer and shake it over the pan to dust the tops of the brownies.

1 stick butter, plus a little more for greasing the pan

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Pinch salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract, optional

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a square baking pan with butter or line it by overlapping 2 pieces of parchment paper or aluminum foil crosswise and grease the lining. Don't be stingy or the brownies might stick.

Combine the stick of butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan over very low heat, stirring occasionally. (Or microwave them in a large microwave-safe bowl on medium for 10-second intervals, stirring after each.) When the chocolate is just about melted, remove the saucepan from the heat (or bowl from the microwave) and continue to stir until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl (or use the bowl you put in the microwave) and stir in the sugar. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gently stir in the flour, salt, and the vanilla if you're using it, but don't overmix. Some lumps are OK.

Pour and scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until just barely set in the middle. (Don't use the toothpick test on this one. Err on the side of underbaking here.) Cool on a rack until set. If you used parchment, lift it out to remove the brownies. If not, cut them in squares right in the pan. Store, covered, at room temperature, for no more than a day. Makes 9 to 12 brownies.

- Mark Bittman, "How to Cook Everything The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food" (Wiley, $35)

Raw food cleanse promotes wellness

¦ A few local businesses are getting together to host a guided raw food cleanse that starts March 20 and ends March 31. In the middle of the cleanse, they'll host a festival from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 25, at the 6701 Burnet Road Market. CleanseATX organizers are trying to promote wellness after the 10-day binge that is South By Southwest; to learn more about how to participate, go to CleanseATX.com.

¦ Local gardens and farms are bursting with spring produce, which means farmers markets will be even busier than usual in coming weeks. Some area farms, such as Green Gate and Angel Valley, are reopening their farm stands for the season, while others, such as Tecolote Farm, which recently added acreage in Bastrop County, are expanding their community-supported agriculture programs to accommodate more members. (Angel Valley's farm stand hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays at the Asian American Cultural Center, 11713 Jollyville Road, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at the corner of Park Street and RM 1431 in Jonestown. Green Gate's are 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, noon to 6 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at 8310 Canoga Ave.) I'll post an expanded list of CSAs with openings and other farm news on my blog, austin360.com/relishaustin, this week, so if you have openings or news, email abroyles@statesman.com to let me know.

¦ Because of SXSW, the HOPE Farmers Market will move several blocks east to the Hops & Grain brewery, 507 Calles St., which is at the east end of East Sixth Street, on Sunday. The Hops & Grain tasting room opens at noon, and brewers will offer free samples of their brews for farmers market shoppers. In addition to all the farmers, local food artisans and hot food vendors, the market will have some bands playing live music. The market is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The market is also hosting pop-up markets from 3 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday at Cherrywood Coffeehouse, 1400 E. 38 1/2 St. Market manager Greg Esparza says that with all these changes, they are in need of a few more volunteers this month. If you are interested, you can contact them through the website, hopefarmersmarket.org.

¦ Longtime Statesman designer Mike Sutter launched his food and writing career in 2008 as the paper's restaurant critic. After he stepped down from the position last summer, he created FedManWalking.com, a standalone review site that, as of this week, has a fancy new component: a free iPhone app to help you find the best burgers in Austin. As one of his first big projects on the site last year, Sutter reviewed 100 burgers in and around Austin — he's since moved on to successive reviews of eggs dishes and now barbecue — and he has compiled those reviews into an app that lets you search for burgers based on location, rank or quality of the all-important burger companions, fries and onion rings. You can find the app in the App Store.

Coffee filters made of cotton instead of paper

There are few guarantees in life, but one of them is that if you are a morning coffee drinker, one day, you're going to run out of paper filters for your coffee pot. As a quick fix, you'll use paper towels instead and then spend the rest of your morning cleaning up coffee grounds that end up all over the countertop.

Austinite Corina Guillory ran out of filters for her Chemex coffee pot one morning last year, and her husband suggested she use a travel sock that they'd purchased in Costa Rica a few years back. Sure enough, the weave of the fabric allowed the water to steep through without letting the grounds into the coffee. Instead of buying paper filters, she made a reusable filter out of cotton in the shape of the paper ones.

The resulting filter worked so well that the Guillorys decided to create Coffee Sock, a line of filters made with organic, unbleached cotton muslin that they sell in seven sizes (Drip #2, #4 and #6 for electric coffee makers, Chemex, traditional basket, travel and the mug-topping Hario v60-02) at various locations around Central Texas including Dominican Joe, BookPeople and Royal Blue Grocery on Congress Avenue in Austin and Chick-A-Dee in Wimberley. (You can also buy them online at coffeesockco.com.) The socks come in packs of two (except the travel size) and cost $7.95.

Happy Meals serve up fruit instead of cookies

Area McDonald's have changed up the Happy Meal to try to get kids to eat more fruit. The new meal automatically includes apple slices, which are a half serving of fruit, and a smaller portion of french fries.

If you want to or your kids want to, you can skip the fries entirely and get two bags of apples.

You still get the choice of hamburger, cheeseburger or chicken nuggets and a choice of beverage, which could be 1 percent milk or chocolate milk.

What's missing? The cookies. What's added? The automatic fruit.

I think this solves the problem many parents have: You want them to chose the apple slices, but you know they really want the fries. Now everyone wins a bit.

Even with the changes and the reduction of sodium McDonald's has been making in its chicken, it's still not what any of us would call "health" food. With four chicken nuggets, fries, apples and 1 percent milk, kids are getting 410 calories, 170 of them from fat.

Still in the reality that is our lives, if we're hitting the drive-through after a busy day or during a road trip, providing the apples automatically might be one small step to making better food choices.

- Nicole Villalpando