Tag Archives: mark bittman

Loaf Lost

If we were a restaurant, we’d have been shut down by the health department today.


Yes, it’s a meatloaf. Don’t laugh.

That’s the final version. There was an earlier incarnation, which tasted mystifyingly raw inside, even though it had cooked for an hour and a half. I ate a small slice, and got so freaked out I fed the rest to the dog. It was creamy, like polenta. I don’t know much, but I know meatloaf isn’t supposed to have the “mouth feel” of creme brulee.

So I put the remaining half back in the oven. Because Mike would need dinner, too, when he got home. And I was not feeding him turkey pap.

An hour later I remembered to get it out.

“What did you do to it?” Mike said, when he saw it.

I shook my head. “I don’t know, exactly.”

“Oh, well. I’m sure it’ll taste great,” he said, in that game way people do when they know they are about to step off of a culinary cliff.

Later, after he’d eaten all of it–good man!–we talked about what had gone wrong.

“It just wouldn’t cook,” I insisted. “It was in there forever. It tasted like oatmeal. And then it got burnt.”

“Was the oven temperature right?” Mike asked.


He shook his head. “Then I don’t know what to tell you.” There was a pause. “Did you follow the recipe?”

“Yes,” I snapped, rolling my eyes exasperatedly. Then I thought about it. I’d used a bit more ketchup than was called for. And a bit less meat.

I mentioned this.

“How much more ketchup?”

I counted in my head. “Maybe four times?”

His eyes widened.

“It was a mistake!” I stammered. “I read the recipe wrong. And then I forgot–and I had to–anyway. Maybe five times. Do you think that could’ve been the problem?”

“It’s a lot of extra liquid.”

I cocked my head. “Ketchup is a liquid?”

He ignored this. “Of course it tasted creamy. It was soaked.”

Whatever. What’s done is done. But I’m renewing my vow–first made after the Mark Bittman chicken debacle two years ago–to never again cook a recipe that calls for a meat thermometer. It’s not worth the pain, the humiliation, or the attendant mild nausea.

As for our home-restaurant? The one Myra-Jean is now calling “Food?” We will simply go vegetarian. Or vegan. Or better yet, raw. I suspect I have a knack for that.

Reservations, anyone?

Twice Bittman

Mark Bittman, I have this to say to you: when a famous food writer publishes a book called “How To Cook Everything” there will be people, such as myself — naive people, perhaps — who will assume that such a title implies cooking “everything” well. After all, if I wanted to know how to cook “everything” in a way so frustratingly wrongheaded, unnecessarily difficult, and ultimately disastrous that my own mother would laugh herself into convulsions at the results, why, I could just ask myself. But I don’t want that. Neither does anyone I live with. Not even my dog. Who happily eats wood chips.

You were supposed to help me. You have not. You have betrayed me, Mark Bittman. And not just once.

First there was your roast chicken recipe. I tried it about a year ago. It took four hours to cook, broke my meat thermometer, and resulted in a half-incinerated-half-raw carcass that brought me — and probably my husband — to tears. I didn’t cook a bird again for six months. I would’ve gone vegan, but I’m already too sallow.

Last month, I gave you another chance. I made your beef chili recipe. We all know how that turned out. Thanks for the visuals. They’ll haunt me ’til my dying day.

Finally, last night’s debacle. The white bean soup with greens. Ask me why I was making soup on one of the hottest days of the year. I don’t know. I’ve always said I was contrary. Anyway. You promised it would be done in ninety minutes. I started it at 3:30, thinking it’d be a cinch for dinner. Fast forward to 8:45. The beans finally became soft enough to not crack a tooth on. I mean, come on. Hunger does make the best sauce, but is vastly underestimating the cooking time for every one of your recipes really the secret to your success? I cry foul! Or fowl. Or both.

Cooking time aside, the soup came out, once again, looking repugnant. Identical to the chili, really. Let me tell you something: beige, flaccid, and slightly scummy are not words you want applied to your meals. Or certainly not all of them, anyway.

At least this time I left my mom out of it.

Next time, though, Mark? It’s going to be you.


“Mom, I need your help.” I crushed the phone to my ear as I stirred the contents of the pot on my stovetop.

“What is it?”

“I made chili. For dinner. For Mike.”

Mom is well aware of the rarity of such an event. “Good for you!” she said encouragingly. “He’ll be very pleased.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I replied weakly. “It’s just — ”


“Can I send you a picture so you can tell me what’s wrong with it?”

“What’s — ? Oh.” There was a pause. “OK. I’m at my computer.”

We made small talk as I snapped a picture with my ipod Touch and e-mailed it to her. “Did you get it?” I asked nervously.

“No. Wait. Yes. It just came in. Let me –” Another pause. Then Mom started laughing. Shrieking, really. “Oh my God. What did you do to it?”

“I don’t know. I followed the recipe. Fucking Mark Bittman. I hate him.” I stopped, defeated.

“Why is it that color?”

“I have no idea,” I said peevishly. “And I don’t understand why the beef is all wormy either. It’s like yarn. Why is that?”

Mom finished chuckling and cleared her throat. “I really couldn’t tell you. I’ve never seen that before. Did you brown it?”

“Of course. I mean, I cooked it. It turned brown. Ish.”

“You have to brown it.”

“What does that mean? And how does that explain the squiggles?”

“It doesn’t,” she said sympathetically. “Ask Mike. Maybe he’ll know. In the meantime, try to get the color better. It’s quite…tan.”

“What should it be?”

“Sort of, well, orange.”

“OK, so what do I do? Food coloring? Should I add red food coloring?”

At this Myra-Jean, who had been playing in the next room, came running in. “Food coloring!” she yelled. “I want to do it!!!” She began to drag her “helping” stool — otherwise known as the Mommy-killer — over to the stove. “Let me! Let me!” She reached zealously for my spoon.

“No!” I snapped, moving her arm away. “This is not the time.”

The kitchen filled with toddler wails.

“Don’t do any food colors!!” Mom yelled urgently, over the growing din. “Try canned tomatoes. Really, Jessica!”

“Fine. I’ll try them. It’s not going to fix the worms, though.”

“No. It won’t. Just…well, break them up as much as you can.”

“Break them — like with a potato masher?”

“You can’t be serious. Listen,” Mom said firmly. “Just add some tomatoes and cook it for awhile. It’ll be fine.”

“OK,” I said, somewhat dejectedly. “Thanks, Ma.”

“Of course. And Jessica. One more thing. Whatever you do. Do not put this picture on your blog.”