Cough, cough...America's Test Kitchen!

Michael Pollan has another of his lengthy food articles in the New York Times Magazine this week, although this one is not as momentous or well-considered as some of his previous efforts. He suggests the reason for the rising obesity rate is the rise in eating prepared foods instead of cooking at home. (Seems plausible enough, although, yet again, there are hardly enough data to make a knock-down case). He dwells on the fact, however, that on the Food Network the cooking shows are either Rachael-Ray-style discussions of how to put together processed ingredients, or else competitions involving chefs performing feats that are far beyond the level of the home chef. No one, he claims, is today's Julia Child -- teaching America's home chefs how to cook from scratch, and cook well.

But there is such a wonderful show, albeit not on the Food Network. How about America's Test Kitchen, and its associated magazine and website (for which I happily pay the fee) Cook's Illustrated? There's a show which discusses how to make home meals, with widely available ingredients, yet with a foodie-level attention to detail to make your hamburgers and roast potatoes the best damn hamburgers and roast potatoes out there.

As Obama is trying to do, ATK and CI demonstrate the success of pragmatism over ideology. Toss out your preconceived notions of what works in the kitchen, try everything, taste everything, and see what comes out best! No recipes, including those of top chefs, come out as consistently well as CI. (They are occasionally a bit weak on ethnic foods, but overall, great stuff.) It is extremely rare that I have tried a recipe from CI that didn't come out almost exactly as advertised - no cooking time or temperature or ingredient adjustments required. This is because they actually try a bunch of different methods (all easily achievable for the home chef) for making a dish and give each to tasters to judge it. Therefore, one doesn't get caught up in an exciting-sounding method (soak your fish in milk!) without having compared it to several control version to see if the method actually works. Also, their detailed explanations of the several versions tried, and what did and didn't work, have taught me more about cooking than going through any Thomas Keller recipe.

So Michael Pollan and America, look to America's Test Kitchen to make your articles more accurate and save your waistline, respectively!

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