Cook by the Book: Mark Bittman's Quick & Easy Recipes from The New York Times

Every Wednesday I head over to the New York Times online to peruse the food section, and Mark Bittman's column, The Minimalist is the first column I turn to. I like Mark Bittman because he's a bit like me when it comes to cooking. He is not a professional chef and makes no claims about his kitchen skills. He tries all kinds of dishes then sets about simplifying them into recipes that ensure success for even the novice. Can we give this guy a medal or what?

His latest cookbook, Mark Bittman's Quick & Easy Recipes from The New York Times is a must have for just about any home cook because it's full of recipes that take minimum effort but deliver maximum flavor and style. There are no fancy techniques necessary and most of the recipes use supermarket ingredients often with very short ingredient lists. If you need a basic salad recipe or a recipe for French Bread you can make in the food processor that requires no kneading, this is your book. If you've always wanted to cook duck, but feel a bit intimidated, recipes like Panfried Duck or Slow-Cooked Duck Legs with Olives should give you all the confidence you need. Look for variations in the margins so you can make the recipes your own.

The 350 international recipes in the book were originally published in some of his other "Minimalist" books. That means you'll find dishes you can make ahead, serve to company and generally whip up in a flash. Many of the recipes are Asian, Italian or French, but there are a good number of American recipes as well. The book is softcover and has no glossy photos, but most recipes fit on one page making it practical and easier to use than an overblown coffee table book. For years I've recommended his "How to Cook Everything" books for my non-cooking friends. But even when I'm not pressed for time, this is one cookbook that I know I will turn to again and again.

Tomato-Melon Gazpacho
Makes 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes, plus time to chill

4 tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
one 3-pound cantaloupe
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon


1. Cut the tomato flesh into 1-inch chunks. Seed the melon and remove the flesh from the rind; cut into chunks. Put a tablespoon of olive oil in each of two 1-- or 12-inch skillets and turn the heat under both to high (you can do this sequentially if you have only one skillet). Add the melon to one skillet and the tomatoes to the other and cook, stirring, until they become juicy, no longer than 2 minutes.

2. In a blender, puree the melon, tomato, 11/2 cups water of 1 cup water plus 1/2 cup ice cubes, and the basil, along with some salt and pepper. Chill, then add lemon juice to taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve.