Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cookbook Review & Giveaway ~ How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman

It seems that for the most part everyone is just too busy these days and in order to continue to get food on the table and eat well we need food that is nutritious and delicious but in record speed. I’m not talking about every day because there are days (weekends especially) when I like to slow down and really take my time to cook, but during the week there are definitely days when I need something delicious for dinner that doesn’t take long to prepare and cook and will keep everyone happy. I’ve tried using my slow cooker which is ultimately long slow cooking (where you do nothing) with fast and easy preparation but so far have yet to be wowed so How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman seems like the perfect solution…Good food fast.

When I received my copy of How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman it was like Christmas had come early! The doorstopper of a book (and I mean a doorstopper) has over 1000 pages and is packed with 2000 recipes and lots of invaluable advice on ingredients, cooking techniques and plenty of other information that is both important and very helpful. When you flick through the book the first obvious downfall is that there are absolutely no photographs. It’s probably just as well since it is already a monster book and photographs would just add to it but if you are someone that has to have photographs you will be disappointed. Ordinarily I am that someone but for some reason it didn’t really bother me with this book once I had gone through it…. Maybe because it seems more like a culinary encyclopaedia ….regardless, with this book I was ok without the pictures.

The book has 14 chapters devoted to recipes including Soup and Stews, Pasta and Noodles, Beans and Tofu and Meat as well as additional chapters on how to prepare your kitchen for speed, how to shop for speed and lots of others fast strategies.

So what about the recipes?! Well the downside to reviewing a book with 2000 recipes is that it is virtually impossible to narrow down that many recipes and pick only a handful to test, especially because there were so many I wanted to try. In the end however I had to pick what really appealed and I finally chose 5 recipes which admittedly doesn’t do the book much justice when there are so many other hundreds and hundreds of recipes I want to make! Still time restraints and a limit to how long this review could be was of major importance so 5 recipes it was!

Tested Recipes:

Cabbage Soup with Smoked Sausage
Potato & Spinach Saag
Noodles, Shrimp and Sweet Potatoes in Curry Broth
Smoky Tofu & Black Bean Chilli
Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

Recipe number 1 to be put to the test was quite an unusual choice for me as Cabbage Soup with Smoked Sausage isn’t generally something I would gravitate towards, however by chance we had some Kielbasa sausage needing used so it made sense at the time! The recipe was as expected very straightforward and super easy to make and was made within the time icon shown (in this case 16-30 minutes – it took me 30 but with the cooking times you couldn’t really make it any faster). The end result was surprisingly delicious and we all really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t necessarily make it again just because of our individual tastes but nevertheless it was tasty. A good start to the testing process with a strong like!

Next up was Potato and Spinach Saag which was also listed with the same time icon as above and again took me 30 minutes to make. The longest process was chopping up all of the spinach but everything else was really simple and straightforward. I’ve never made Saag before so wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but it was delicious. Not perhaps the healthiest version as it has a lot of cream in it and so I may be tempted to change that a little in future. In all honesty it kind of reminded me of an Indian inspired Creamed Spinach with potatoes through it! Still there were no complaints and despite how much spinach was in it Ben even loved it. I will definitely make this again in future but I think I would perhaps serve it as a side dish to a curry feast rather than a main course. Still it was a success so another point to the book.

The third recipe to be tested was Noodles, Shrimp and Sweet Potatoes in Curry Broth. More curry yes but being a lover of all things curry and all noodles I just couldn’t resist. I’m not going to lie as I was cooking this I was more than a little hesitant….the broth seemed far too watery with not much flavour but I persevered and followed the recipe and the final result was fantastic. I did vary the amount of fish sauce suggested because I have been down that road before and I know each variety can vary enormously and it’s better to add it bit by bit (the recipe called for 3 tbsp, 1 turned out to be perfect for us). Anyway the final meal was wonderful and we all loved it. It really was a one pot wonder and I will definitely make it again. As per the 2 other recipes this took me 30 minutes from start to finish so another success.

Hot on the heels of recipe number 3 was the Smoky Tofu and Black Bean Chilli. Again I had some major hesitations as I was cooking this and to be honest it definitely does need longer than the suggested 30-45 minutes (which Bittman suggests under the ‘If you have more time’ section). After the full 45 minutes the chilli was still quite watery and bland so I cooked it for another 30 minutes then had to leave it to sit for a couple of hours before I reheated it and served it. By the time we ate it with all of the accompaniments suggested it was absolutely delicious and Scott and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It fails for the time limits but definitely passes the taste test.

The final recipe to be put to the test was the Coconut Oatmeal Cookies which again were super simple to make (especially if you use a free standing mixer as I did!). The recipe made 36 cookies for me (says 36-48) and although the overall process took longer than the specified time, the first batch was definitely made within 30 minutes. The end result was a lovely soft almost spongy cookie which was so delicious and loved by us all. I will definitely make these again.

As well as the above tested recipes I also made Pasta e Fagioli which was a wonderful soup packed with great flavour and hearty Italian goodness, and I also have the Pasta with Spicy Eggplant and Tomato Sauce on the meal plan for this week.

I have also bookmarked a lot of recipes so here’s a snippet of more that I want to try:

Bookmarked Recipes:

Crab and Celery Root Remoulade
Fresh Tuna, Avocado and Green Bean Salad
Asparagus and Kale Caesar Salad*
Greek Salad with Orzo and Shrimp
Broccoli Tabbouleh with Charred Tomato and Lemon*
Sriracha Shrimp Salad Roll
Seared Tuna Sandwich with Wilted Bok Choy and Soy Mayo
Blackened Chicken Sandwich with Pickled Red Onions*
Chickpea and Couscous Stew with Moroccan Spices
Homemade Chicken Ramen
Spicy Peanut Soup with Chicken and Collards*
Sausage, Cannellini and Kale Soup*
Thai Coconut Soup with Chicken, Bean Sprouts and Snow Peas*
Hot and Sour Soup with Bok Choy and Pork*
Spaghetti with Garlicky Fresh Tomato Sauce
Spaghetti with Nearly Instant Bolognese*
Cold Peanut Noodles with Whatever You Have*
Caramel Stir-Fried Beef and Green Beans
Stir-Fried Beef and Broccoli with Scallions and Ginger
Beef and Mushroom Kebabs with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Pork and Onion Carnitas
Orange-Ricotta Pancakes
Panfried Olives
Skewerless Chicken Satay

…..plus many, many more!

The recipes are very simple and straightforward and generally don’t contain lots of ingredients. Although the volume of the book might be intimidating I would seriously recommend this to both people looking for speed and those just starting to cook because it has very clear, concise step-by-step instructions. The recipes do not contain long lists of ingredients so again in some ways it’s quite basic cooking which would appeal to the beginner home cook or someone that isn’t very confident in their current cooking skills. That being said although the recipes might be quite basic with manageable amounts of ingredients, the final dishes were packed with flavour and really delicious.

The biggest downside to the book for most people would be the lack of photographs but if you can get over that then I think you would really like the book. It delivers on its promise of Fast Food as the recipes I made took the time specified (other than the Tofu and Black Bean Chilli) which is major brownie points.

Specialty Ingredients:
No. For all of the recipes that I tried everything was easy to buy from local supermarkets and shops.

Learn anything new:

I personally didn’t but I think a lot of people would. As well as the chapters on recipes there are lots of pages advising how to organise your kitchen to be setup for speed, prep shortcuts for fruit and vegetables and various other fast setup tips.

When it comes to cookbooks that claim to be full of delicious recipes that you can get on the table in record speed I am always a little nervous but this book delivered. Unlike previous fast food books I have reviewed (Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals and Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals) that have amazing recipes but can leave you exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed and a kitchen looking like a tornado hit it, this book had the tasty recipes but none of the negative accompanying attributes. Maybe if you were to include more optional sides it might complicate things but for the main recipes they really are straightforward and easy to make. The book has literally a recipe for everything which is great but there are definitely some recipes that I would skip such as BBQ Baby Back Ribs and BBQ Chopped Pork and Slaw Sandwich because really they do deserve the slow treatment but each to their own and if you want these recipes cooked quickly then they are here for you!

Although the recipes I tested haven’t even made a dent on this book I loved what I tried and will continue to try more recipes and so How to Cook Everything Fast by MarkBittman absolutely gets the Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops Stamp of Approval.

The book is available to buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and other good book retailers but for one lucky reader I have a signed copy to giveaway!

Win a signed copy of How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman.
*Open to Canadian Residents Only*

If you are in the need for speed, live in Canada and fancy your own copy of this fantastic book, simply leave a comment below telling me what you like to cook at home when you need something fast and you will be entered with a chance to win!

For additional entries follow me on Twitter and retweet “Win a copy of How to Cook Everything Fast by @bittman via @VanillaCloudsLD. Enter here.” (Or something similar in your own words).

Or like Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops on Facebook and leave a comment under the blog post/ giveaway alert sharing your favourite meal to cook at home when you need something fast.

As noted above, this giveaway is only open to Canadian residents. All entries will be added together and one lucky winner will be randomly chosen on January 31st 2015. 

**This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the lucky winner Laurie Christine Burns who won the Signed Copy of How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman.**

*All opinions expressed for the purpose of this book are my own and have not been influenced by anyone else.


  1. I tend to reach for a stirfry, fast and healthy!

  2. I love making a quick soup by throwing in veggies I have in the fridge / freezer plus a can of chicken stock. Then I add in some quinoa to give my tummy something more filling.

    Tweeted: https://twitter.com/magscheung/status/557882101463547906
    Followed your twitter under @magscheung

  3. Like Maggie C, I love to make a quick soup. I nuke broccoli in the microwave, then whizz it in the blender with basil, chicken stock, some garlic and a little salt. Delicious, nutritious and fast!

  4. I followed you on Twitter and retweeted your tweet. I'm @trysmallthings. :)

  5. I commented on your Facebook post just now. :) https://www.facebook.com/VanillaCloudsandLemonDrops/posts/962365333781381?comment_id=964220783595836&offset=0&total_comments=1

  6. With a big busy family, any fast delicious meal is a winner in this house!

  7. I make Skillet Lasagna when I'm rushed. With three young children, every meal I make is rushed. But, I love to cook.

  8. My go to is quesadillas....not very inspiring...could use some new ideas ;)

  9. I make a stir fry with whatever protein I have leftovers for and which ever veggies I have in my fridge.

  10. I like to make some sort of pasta dish

  11. I followed and tweeted Thanks!


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