Inspiration in the Summer Kitchen

Just a few weeks left to pull my life together before school starts.  As much as I love to cook, putter and even clean in the kitchen, planning meals in a busy schedule can get quickly overwhelming.  Mark Bittman to the rescue!

Last summer I discovered 101 Simple Salads, loved it, and promptly forgot about it.  Yesterday I re-discovered it and got a little smarter about processing all that genius -- I imported it into Word so I could search for the ingredients I already had, and found I could make the very last entry:
101. Cook a pot of short-grain rice. While it’s still hot, toss with raw grated zucchini, fermented black beans, sriracha, sesame oil, sake and a touch of rice vinegar. Add bits of leftover roast chicken or pork if you have it, and pass soy sauce at the table.

They all read that way -- a handful of ingredients, simple preparation, and surprising flavor combinations.  I used a cup of uncooked brown rice to two cups water, a mammoth zucchini, three tablespoons of natural miso and one of everything else.  I was prepared to adjust, but it seemed pretty near perfect to me.  Good for dinner during a fast, and good for August when the CSA haul is squash-heavy.  Even good, still pleasantly crunchy-chewy, for lunch the next day.

If I had more spare time, I'd probably spend most of it marveling at the genius of Mark Bittman.  He's an old-style cook, the kind who just thinks and breathes food, never measures anything and can make dinner delicious and beautiful even without bacon.  Here are some more keepers, all composed of quick recipes, breezy asides, and the intoxicating whiff of possibility:

101 Picnic Dishes
54. Make a cheese ball: Mash together equal parts good grated Cheddar, crumbled blue and cream cheese, maybe thinned with a little sour cream. Shape into a ball and roll in fresh chopped herbs and/or hazelnuts. Take Triscuits. You think people won’t eat this?

101 Meals on the Grill
37. Moist grilled chicken breast? Yes: Pound chicken breast thin, top with chopped tomato, basil and Parmesan; roll and skewer and grill over not-high heat until just done.

101 Summer Meals
93. Cut up Italian sausage into chunks and brown in a little olive oil until just about done. Dump in a lot of seedless grapes and, if you like, a little slivered garlic and chopped rosemary. Cook, stirring, until the grapes are hot. Serve with bread.

101 Side Dishes (for Thanksgiving)
15. Thai Squash Soup: Simmer cubed winter squash, minced garlic, chili and ginger in coconut milk, plus stock or water to cover, until soft. Purée if you like. Just before serving, add chopped cilantro, lime juice and zest, and toasted chopped peanuts.

101 Appetizers (for Christmas)
74. Boil frozen or fresh edamame in pods for 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse salt. For this they charge you eight bucks.