It's All American Food Hardcover – 4 Dec 2003
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"Rosengarten has reconceived the idea of what a cooking show could be... He explores his subjects so thoroughly and thoughtfully that he makes instant experts of his viewers."
About the Author
David Rosengarten is a food writer, cookbook author, cooking teacher, wine writer, travel writer and tv journalist.
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In Part 1, Rosengarten considers different ethnic-American cuisines. For example, he discusses how immigrants adapted the recipes from the old country to use the ingredients and techniques available in America. He focuses on how the American tradition gradually shaped the original recipes. So the Italian pasta sauce recipe isn't a trendy Southern Italian concoction with pine nuts and capers, but "Classic Brooklyn-Italian Meat Sauce." In other words, it's the kind of Italian food that your mother fixed or that you eat at the cheap bistro in the strip mall down the street. In addition to Italian-American food, sections cover Greek, Mexican, Chinese, Cuban, Moroccan, Indian, and numerous other ethnic traditions.
In Part 2, Rosengarten ponders regional American food. Moving westward from New England, he covers numerous American food traditions, including Pennsylvania Dutch, Cajun, Southwest, and Hawaiian. Some of the sections include only a couple of recipes but enough to provide the reader with an idea of the region and its food. In section 3, Rosengarten discusses a variety of classic American dishes that can't be categorized into ethnic or regional foods, such as meatloaf, cole slaw, and macaroni and cheese. All the comfort foods you ate and loved as a child and continue to crave are in this section.
With the proliferation of cookbooks in the last decade, a cookbook has to be truly original to stand out in the crowd. This cookbook is one of those rare finds to be treasured. "It's All American" should be savored like a good novel, not just stuck on a dusty shelf and pulled down to make an occasional recipe. Most highly recommended.
But that sure doesn't mean it's bad.
The disadvantage to Americans' increased food sophistication is that we look down upon the non-authentic versions of ethnic food. Yet, when our immigrant ancestors got here, they discovered that they couldn't get many of the ingredients they needed; they made do, and often those dishes became traditions in their own right. In this book, Rosengarten celebrates the "new American" foods, many of which have evolved from their genesis in some other land. But that's only part of the book.
There's three sections: Ethnic America, Regional America, and Classic America. The first covers what are arguably the best (or at least best-known) of 18 different areas, such as Italian, Russian, Indian. That's about half the book. Regional America tells you how to make the food popular in different areas, such as New England Clam Chowder or Collard Greens with Ham Hocks. The final section has recipes for our general "traditional American" recipes, such as mac-and-cheese or the ultimate BLT.
It's a good premise for a cookbook, sure. But what makes it superb is that these are Rosengarten's recipes. I have several of his cookbooks, and I'm a devoted fan. His explanations actually *explain.* He tells you what you need to know, but never becomes pedantic.
And man, can he cook. These aren't pale, tepid imitations of the bad spaghetti-and-meatballs you got from a steam-table buffet. They're the foods you recall with great fondness from your childhood. I just finished making a quick lunch for four, from his Chinese-American choices: broccoli in oyster sauce, plus kung pao chicken. His Kung Pao uses several kinds of pepper: black pepper, chili paste with garlic, and dried red peppers. (Not to mention hoisin, 8 cloves of garlic, and other tasty stuff.) The layers of heat make a real difference... and this may be one of the best kung pao chicken dishes I've ever eaten.
This is an inexpensive book, and I like it a lot. It has no photos or illustrations, which I realize is a downside to some people. I don't find that to be a problem since these are foods that I'm familiar with, at least in their restaurant incarnations.
I'm sure I'll be turning to this cookbook often. Recommended.