Best new cookbook for holiday giving, plus a to-die-for tea cake and Ramen pop-up by Back Porch
Based upon his popular New York Times series, the concept of Mark Bittman’s new Kitchen Matrix cookbook is great. The clever and generously illustrated text gives us 700 simple recipes and techniques to create, mix and match, and combine a galaxy of customized recipes. Here’s the strategy: a central ingredient forms the nexus of a bevy of variations, e.g. Burgers +9 ways, or Spinach +12 ways. I love the pages devoted to Gazpacho +12 ways. Bittman provides a brief introduction to the classic dish—the chilled soup based on avocados, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and broth. Then Bittman provides variations—inviting color photographs pepper the entire text—each with its own short and seductive set of guidelines. For “gazpacho” we get a classic version, a Thai melon version, a kale and olive version, a tomatillo, avocado and orange version, a grilled one—you see how this works. Bittman’s easy-to-use and easy-to-like new cookbook covers all the tricky territory from appetizers and picnics, to soups, salads, pastas, seafood, meats, condiments, and desserts. There’s one important section on the “stress-free dinner party” that begins with a dozen lively cocktails, continues into dips, a dozen chicken wing specialties, finger foods and ends with desserts such as ginger-poached pears and coconut sorbet. I wanted to make everything in this mouthwatering unpretentious cookbook. At roughly $20 this is the cookbook for the home chef on your gift list. Love it, love it, love it. At Bookshop Santa Cruz.
Tea Cake of the Week
That would be the fresh-from-the-oven lemon basil cake from Lulu Carpenter’s (Town Clock). I happened to be at the old-school coffeehouse last week ordering a double macchiato when there in front of me appeared a thick slab of fragrant lemon basil cake. I am a fool for tea cakes of just about any flavor, size or shape. A few minutes later I was deep into the subtext of this wonderful, moist creation whose basil inflection added a novel and delightful counterpoint to the mighty lemon flavor. This is a two-session tea cake. You feast on half of it in a single seating. You wrap up the remaining half in a napkin, and retrieve it at around 3 in the afternoon. You then finish it off, ideally with a cup of green tea. It will revive you for the rest of the day. $3.75.
Pop-Up of the Week
Who among us hasn’t feasted on ramen? Often the spartan, out-of-a-package kind. But this week, you can savor a much more authentic and aromatic version at the Back Porch Ramen Pop Up Part 2, from 5:30-8:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 18, in Soquel at the corner of Soquel and Daubenbiss. The second installment of the popular November Ramen Pop Up invites you to wrap your mouth around such tasty exotica as ramen noodle soup with egg, pork belly and mushrooms, and Miso Scallop Chazuke with mushrooms and green onions (both $10). There will be seaweed salad ($5), chicken skewers ($6), azuki bean rice ball ($4) and tofu skewer with miso and sesame ($3). You supply the appetite, beer, wine, and what have you. OMG! I just found out there will also be a complimentary Fernet tasting! I am a major, serious, unrepentant Fernet head, and if you’ve never sampled any version of the primal Italian bitters drink, then you best make plans for this pop-up experience. No reservations—dishes will be available until they’re gone. Check backporchsc.com for any other intel you require. And don’t forget to thank your savvy hosts, Austin and Alicia Kaye for their swift woks and good ideas.
PERSONALIZED CHEF Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix takes a new approach to the common cookbook. PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER