Via Eater, here is a list of the 10 best selling cookbooks in the U.S. in 2014.
1. Make It Ahead by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter)
2. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays by Ree Drummond (William Morrow)
3. Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook (Rodale)
4. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier by Ree Drummond (William Morrow)
5. The Skinnytaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka (Clarkson Potter)
6. Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle by Diane Sanfilippo (Victory Belt)
7. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond (William Morrow)
8. Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great by Danielle Walker (Victory Belt)
9. The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen (Cook’s Illustrated)
10. Miss Kay’s Duck Commander Kitchen by Kay Robertson (Howard Books)
1 is about saving time. 2 and 7 are easy, traditional, comfort food recipes. 5,6,8 and 9 are diet cookbooks. 3 is vegan food with a few expletives thrown in. 10 is more comfort food with Southern-fried personality and lots of canned ingredients in the recipes.
Save time, be healthy, remember the 50’s.
In Priscilla Ferguson’s otherwise interesting book about the language of food, entitled Word of Mouth: What We Talk About When We Talk About Food, she gets seriously off track in her discussion of American food and national identity.
In contrast to the French whose sense of national identity is based on the refinement and promulgation of advanced cooking techniques, she argues that American food is about quantity exemplified in those competitive eating contests in which contestants have 15 minutes to wolf down as much of some disgusting substance as possible. Her evidence for this hypothesis is the generally large portion sizes Americans prefer, as well as the Thanksgiving celebration, which appears to be about the bounty of the harvest and the number of dishes we can place on the table at the same time.
She is, of course, correct that Americans have been known to celebrate excess. But the United States has also undergone a food revolution over the last 30 years that is fundamentally reshaping the way we think about food. And that food revolution is not a celebration of excess. Americans are increasingly concerned with nutrition, the freshness of ingredients, sustainability, flavor, and novelty all of which suggest a turn toward quality and away from excess.
It could be argued that this food revolution is influencing only a small minority of our population and that most Americans remain mired in the dross of Super-Size Me and Big Gulps. Indeed, statistics on obesity are still dreadful. But Ferguson’s conception of American food appears in her chapter on food and national identity—the issue is not so much what we are but what we take ourselves to be. To the extent we have a food identity, it is not primarily about the celebration of excessive eating, unless we have given over the formation of our national identity to the advertisers of fast food chains. In other words, the discourse about food in the U.S., which is in part Ferguson’s subject, is not centered on the virtues of gluttony. And I’m not sure it ever has been. We have never celebrated the winners of competitive eating contests like the French have celebrated the winners of Bocuse d’Or, the international culinary competition that the French (or the French-trained) tend to dominate.
National identities are about what we admire and strive toward. A tendency to overeat is one aspect of American life but it is not what we admire, strive for or self-consciously endorse.
What then does define our culinary identity? I would suggest it is mobile eating—our tendency to eat and run, and the efficiencies to be gained through time compression. Our culinary past is notable for its efficient time management—fast food is the obvious example but so are TV dinners and packaged food in general, which exists in part because of the time it saves busy families on the go. Even the emergence of some ethnic foods is best explained by their ability to save time. Sushi need not be cooked and can be prepared ahead of time, and burritos and tacos lend themselves to efficient production and quick consumption.
So is Fast Food Nation our Bible? Are we most proud of that long tradition of Tastee Freeze, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell? Hardly. These establishments serve a purely utilitarian function in our mobile, car-obsessed society but they are not what we most admire about ourselves and they lack the emotional attachments that identities require.
Instead, I would suggest the essence of American food is the diner. Diners serve “way-station” food, designed to give weary travelers a respite from the road, and their menus consist of classic dishes that make the refugee think of home. There is a pathos to diner food—a celebration tinged with sadness at the solitude of travel—that fast-food restaurants lack.
There is a reason why one dominant trend in restaurants in U.S cities is to refurbish the diner as a hip destination where we can reconnect with American food traditions.
In honor of National Grilled Cheese Sandwich month.
Take starch, spread it with butter and fry so the sugars caramelize and the surface becomes crisp, stuff it with salt-laden fat that, when heated, flows like molten lava-goo, add the fact that its cheap and easy, and you’ve got a perfect food.
If any sandwich deserves a dedicated month it’s the grilled cheese.
There is nothing wrong with an ordinary, well-executed grilled cheese. It’s perfect after all. So great that no greater sandwich can be conceived. But, its always fun, although utterly illogical, to try to improve on perfection.
So let me raise an objection. Grilled cheese has fat, sugar, salt, and umami. But where is the sour and bitter? Shouldn’t a perfect food contain all perfections, all tastes? Maybe it’s not so perfect after all.
Here’s to a more perfect grilled cheese: A gorgonzola sandwich on pumpernickel, fried in butter, laced with radicchio for the bitter, spread with a fig paste to bring the sweetness into balance. But what to do about sour? Adding pickles was just distracting. In the name of subtlety, we’ll just brighten the fig paste with some lemon juice to give it some tang.
Is it more perfect than perfect? You be the judge.
Recipe below the fold. Continue reading
Every fast food restaurant advertises their “crunchy fries”, fried chicken must be crispy, an apple only worth eating if its crisp. The difference between a potato chip and a pedestrian potato slice? Crunch.
So I’ve declared this week “crunchy week”, especially after coming across this article by cognitive scientist John Allen who hypothesizes that our love of crunchy and crispy may come from our ancestors’ taste for insects:
“A quick survey of the diets of primates (see Chapter 2) reveals that many of them eat bugs quite enthusiastically. In fact, the original primates living some 50 million years ago may have been predominantly insect-eaters. Given this insectivorous primate heritage and the fact that the practice of eating insects is quite widespread among humans, there is likely no basis for an innate aversion to eating insects—quite the opposite, in fact. Do we as a species eat insects because many of them are crispy? Or do we like crispy foods because crispy insects were a food of choice among our ancestors? The latter would suggest that the appeal of crispy foods is ancient and cognitively deep-seated. Perhaps there is a connection between crickets and extra-crispy fried chicken, beyond the occasional unwanted visitor to the deep fryer.”
So to celebrate crispy week and to honor the brave crickets who sacrificed for our gustatory development, I give you Macaroni and Cheese Balls—macaroni and cheese rolled in breadcrumbs and baked so that every forkful will give you the crunch we all crave.
This recipe calls for using Kraft Mac n’ Cheese from a box. Since that brings back unfortunate memories of $10 per week food budgets in college, not to mention the salty, chalky, fishy flavor of the plastic cheese, you should use your favorite homemade recipe. And add some freshly-grated parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs.