The One-Pan Phenomenon

The counter: 11-11-17

A couple Sundays ago, Steve and I went to Barnes & Noble. We do this every once in a while to check out the progress, or demise, of the book industry. It’s kind of like checking in on American trends.

We spotted two unnerving trends since the last time we were there. One: there are now several aisles devoted to spiritual self help books. They run the gamut from spiritual health in the form of herbs, oils, yoga, etc., to spiritual takes on relationships, addiction, career, etc. And while these kinds of books are nothing new, it felt to us like the labels on top of the shelves had shifted in a way that “legitimized” some of these books more than they should have been. They were organized– and there were so many of them– in a startling way. Meanwhile, philosophy, which is what Steve had been looking for, consisted mostly of the ancient major philosophers, collected works only.

Meanwhile, over in the cookbook aisle, I was making my own observations. Mostly, I was noticing that paleo is way, way in, and that 1-pot cooking rules. A large part of the side wall closest to the in-store Starbuck’s is dedicated to cookbooks. Last January it been full of gorgeous books with artistic photos of interesting cuisines and restaurant-inspired dishes. Yotam Ottolenghi still ruled with his Jerusalem cookbooks.

But this year, there was none of that. None. Of. That. Every single book on the first half of the shelving was some variety of one-pot/sheet-pan/instant-pot cookbook. We want to cook fast. We want to cook with a gadget. We want to cook on sheet pans for some reason. We want to set it and forget it. We are too busy for farm-to-table. We want six ingredients and a pot that can cook 10 different ways.

I can sympathize–I really can. But I felt deflated. And that is even though I had recently bought one of those cookbooks! It has the ultimate name: One Pan & Done: Hassle Free Meals from the Oven to the Table. Yes! No more farm-to-table or forage-to-table. Oven-to-table!! That’s the best! I wanted to immediately buy this book for my sister (not my mother as she is vegan and this book has lots of meat dishes). And I was going to embrace the short-cuts in this book. It does tell you how to make biscuits, but it encourages you to use the refrigerator ones you crack open instead. Yes! I’m in!

I recently embraced a recipe for macaroni cheese that is made from: macaroni, sliced American cheese, evaporated milk, butter. And I was surprised when the New York Times recipe newsletter I get featured a recipe for “Middle-School Tacos.” It calls for hard shells but no McCormick spice packet.

But I am also, as the weather turns, cooking up a storm. In fact, yesterday and today I tackled a project. I made beef broth from marrow bones I got at the meat market and a bunch of vegetables from the garden and farmer’s market. It was something I wanted to do last year, when I read about it in The Cancer Fighting Kitchen. I got 5 quarts after 12 hours of simmering. And this stuff is gold. In addition to the marrow, it calls for sweet potatoes and for konbu, the seaweed used in miso soup. Carrot and potatoes and celery and onion of course, and garlic and peppercorns and allspice. Even a leek, which I had from the garden. I packed the quarts into my freezer, which is so full I had to take out a loaf of zucchini bread to fit everything. Which is no bad consequence.

The counter still has tomatoes and greens on it from the greenhouse. I’m picking the tomatoes now at first blush, and they still ripen inside over the course of a few days. We plan on continuing to warm it at night with the propane heater for one more week. That should ensure some fresh tomatoes on the counter for Thanksgiving, though what I really want are the eggplants. They are growing so slowly, I don’t have much hope for them.

I know this past year has been tough. We are tired. We need more comfort food than we did in the past. But still, there is such good comfort food to be found. I had some lamb in the freezer from the farmer’s market. I split it for two recipes.

The first night, I pulled out all the stops and made the Ottolenghi recipe for “Braised lamb, eggs, tahini, and sumac” (sans sumac) to which I added the baharat spice blend from the back of the book.

The next day, equally good, I opened a can of garbanzos and a can of coconut milk and made stuffed squash from the One Pan and Done cookbook that was an equally big hit. I added rice (and lamb), and it was not exactly one pan. But there’s enough of that one for tonight’s dinner, too.

Eat well. Eat warm. Eat real food. Those are the only rules.

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6 Responses to The One-Pan Phenomenon

  1. Eda says:

    I’ve noticed the slow cooker and sheet-pan trend in a recipe email subscription I have. All looked lovely at first but eventually the recipes all mushed into one big variation on cobb salad and roasted whatever. And I’m certainly craving comfort food. Unfortunately, the variety available here isn’t quite what mama might have provided. Still, we make do. I may take a whack at a variation on your braised lamb. Looks heavenly.

    I do a variation on mac and cheese that’s kind of custardy. Not what ma mused to make, but yummy.

    Our garden is done for the year, so I will enjoy yours from a distance. Live it, love it.

  2. dkzody says:

    Yesterday I read about this amazing cook, perhaps her posts will fill you with hope:

    Her pies are amazing and certainly not fixed quickly.

  3. says:

    Wow. That woman has control of pie dough! I have not mastered the pie crust. But our son-in-law has. I’m hoping when he is here for Thanksgiving he’ll want to make pies!

  4. Ellen says:

    My sense (and I could be very wrong) is that the one-pot recipes aren’t about encouraging people who would normally have done something complex and interesting to be less so. Instead, they are about getting people would would normally have microwaved a Lean Cuisine to spend a few more minutes making something more nutritious and good-tasting. On that assumption, I’m happy to see such books. (Also, I need them. As a single-person household right now, I’m inclined to dip some vegetables in some hummus and call it good.)

  5. says:

    Ellen, I’m noting it as a shift that feels like a major shift in cookbook publishing or on Barnes & Noble walls. These are spaces that shift very quickly, and I’m not saying they won’t shift back again. I was just expecting to see another bright swath of cookbooks that are more reading and coffee table books than these books. I mean, last night I made another one-pan meal (Chilaquiles-Style roasted chicken) so I’m not dissing it and it certainly gets people to cook who might not otherwise– and to expand their repertoire. But it’s a shift… I’m also working out something in my head about the “end” of durable knowledge including BOOKS. Most people get recipes online, and most get them from “allrecipes,” which is a sort of dreadful site. And along with paleo there was a whole shelf of vegan recipes, so you’re “on trend” there!

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