Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Cheese souffle & maple cookies

That picture is such a cop-out, but my single photograph of last night's tawny souffle was problematic (too much hand in the shot) and when I tried to crop out the ugly, squished fingers, I completely ruined the composition:

See what I mean? 

This food styling business, an ongoing ordeal.

Now, to the cookbook at hand and the meal it yielded.

Mark Bittman doesn't invent recipes, he collects and adapts the recipes of others. Far from a failing, this is is the power of his work. He takes all the recipes that we know and love from celebrity chefs and our mothers' kitchens and tradition and cookbooks and then makes them a little more straightforward, excising the frills and fussy extra steps.

His cheese souffle from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is basically Julia Child's, though his makes a larger quantity and is considerably more concise. And like Julia's cheese souffle -- and every other souffle I've ever baked -- this one was easy, frugal, handsome, and tasty. As far as I can tell, it was a perfect souffle.

The trouble is that my children do not eat even perfect souffle. My husband is not crazy for perfect souffle. And even I would rather eat a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. The recipe is great; the problem is souffle. Or us.

Desserts have never been Bittman's forte, and its the weakest section of his otherwise outstanding How to Cook Everything. I was initially dismayed by the thin selection of sweets in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but on closer examination -- exciting! Many of these recipes incorporate unusual flours and alternative sugars, which I find fascinating. For dessert, Isabel and I made Bittman's maple snaps which were sweetened with syrup and contained both wheat and rice flours. These were neither crisp nor "snappy" as Bittman had promised, but cakey and incredibly delicious.

Plain-looking, though. Would a little geranium flower garnish have helped the shot? Yes, I can now see that it would have.


  1. Is there a dish that more sharply loses its attractiveness from one stage to the next than souffle?
    When it's ready to be served and at its peak height, it has a lovely form, pretty color, nice texture.
    But the second you dish it out it's just glop.
    Do I hear any other contenders for this dishonor?

  2. I have to agree with you, Anonymous.

  3. Why this sudden self consciousness over photos? A big part of tipsy's entertainment value to me is the haphazard humor of the graphics. And the food looks real. If we wanted Williams and sonoma styling we'd go there. And aren't they bankrupt anyway?

  4. Interesting what you say about Bittman taking others' recipes and simplifying or perfecting them. I say interesting because I have searched in vain for a bibliography in his last several cookbooks. I've never understood how a cookbook could NOT have a bibliography, since hardly any recipe is wholly new and everyone is always borrowing ideas from other cooks and other cookbooks. I find this to be somewhat intellectually dishonest, or maybe just niggardly, on Bittman's part. It offends the librarian in me. I expect better of Bittman, whom I otherwise revere.

  5. I'm curious about the agave--what other alternative sweeteners does it mention?

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