Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The End of Emeril - It all seems inevitable

It seems I'll never stop complaining about the Food Network.

It's been all over the food blog world that Emeril Live is being cancelled. It feels like the end of an era.

Emeril was never my favorite FN chef. I felt the live show was a bit over the top and I found the recipes on it hard to follow (although they often looked delicious). The show crammed too many recipes in too little time. Even when I retrieved them from the website, I found them hard to make.

Something still drew me into the show though. Emeril's personality was a bit over-the-top and annoying, but it always seemed genuine to me. Unlike other FN personalities, Emeril really seemed to be having fun and was passionate about his food. He never came across as phony to me. He was also a much better showman than many of his FN peers. He could have been on TV without cooking if he wanted a career change. He comes alive on camera.

Of course the main reason why I mourn the loss of one of his shows is that another real chef is biting the dust. First Sara Moulton was gone. Then it was Mario Batali. Now it's Emeril - the man responsible for making the Food Network what is today. The Food Network is no longer about skilled people showing their craft. It's about personalities who happen to cook - and much of that cooking is bad, and quite frankly so are many of the personalities.

Whom are we left with? Bobby Flay? I don't hate him the way some people do, but his show is useless to me since I don't grill (apartment dweller). Paula Deen? She used to be fun and her fattening food looked good, but she has become a parody of herself with both her cooking and her schtick. Giada DeLaurentis? I like her recipes better than most of the other chefs, but she's not that great on camera and while her on-camera skills have improved, her recipes have gone downhill. She's more of a pretty face to attract male viewers (and I suspect with a baby coming she'll be shooting fewer shows anyway). Ina Garten? My anti-Hamptons prejudice aside, she's a good cook and presents her recipes well, although she's kind of dull on camera. I doubt she'll last much longer though. She's too old and too heavy. Guy Fieri? I want to like him since he does seem to have some cooking chops, but his recipes are Superbowl party fare raised to a slightly higher level and his personality is grating as all get out. Apparently he also appeals to the young male demographic. Tyler Florence? Good recipes, still looks good, so he stands a chance of staying, but then again you don't see as much of him anymore, so I wonder if he'll still stick around. Rachael Ray? Don't even get me started! She might as well own the network. Then no matter how much people complain, they still retain Sandra Lee!

At least they are keeping the Essence show. I find many of those recipes to be very doable and Emeril actually teaches you things on it because he's not trying to entertain a live audience. There is still a chef or two on the network for now.

Someone needs to start a new Food Network that's actually about food. If you want to make a network that teaches assembly-line recipes for these busy, white, unadventurous Middle-American moms and frat boys who love fattening foods and boobs, then make a network just for that. Let's have a network for those of us who really want to improve our cooking skills.

I wonder what they will do with Emeril's studio kitchen. That thing must have cost millions of dollars to build. What a waste!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fun With Leftovers

I sent four family members home with care packages on Thursday night. By Saturday night Kevin and I had consumed whatever was left of the turkey, stuffing, green beans, and corn pudding.

By Sunday I still had about two pounds of pecan sweet potatoes, a couple of cups of gravy, and a couple of cups of cranberry sauce sitting in my fridge. What was I supposed to do with it all? I wracked my brains to come up with some ways to put this stuff to use. The answers eventually came to me.

I bought two pork tenderloins, seasoned them and browned them. I brushed them liberally with leftover cranberry sauce and finished them in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. I deglazed the pan with wine and more cranberry sauce and poured this over tenderloin slices. This is going to be my lunch for the week with sweet potatoes on the side.

There isn't much I can do with the sweet potatoes other than eat them as is until I'm sick of them. I thought about adding eggs and turning them into pie, but they have salt and cayenne in them. That's not really dessert material. If I don't finish them by the end of the week, I'll just have to chuck them.

After I made the tenderloin I worked on the rest of the leftovers. I had several slices of Italian bread going stale, so I soaked them in milk and gave them a whirl in the food processor. I took some leftover shallots from the freezer and cooked them till soft and added them to the bread mixture. I mixed ground turkey in with that (Yes, more turkey) and added some salt, pepper, and allspice. I rolled it up into meatballs and browned them in butter (because I always brown my meatballs first). When the meatballs were browned I added some sliced mushrooms to the pan. Once they had softened, I deglazed the pan with white wine and added the gloppy leftover gravy. I added more wine and lots of chicken broth until it had degloppified. I added allspice and nutmeg to the mixture and some heavy cream. The meatballs went back in to simmer. When it was all cooked through, they went on top of buttered noodles - et voila, I have bastardized Swedish meatballs yet again!

Well, that was fun! This Thanksgiving thing isn't so hard after all.

Of course I'm a little miffed that I didn't have more leftover turkey. If they had sent me the right size turkey to begin with, I might have made hot open turkey sandwiches with all that bread and gravy.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I Have Survived

I made it through my first Thanksgiving. It seems to have been a success.

The turkey fiasco didn't end with my late delivery. As I mentioned in my last blog, I had to take an hour out of my pre-Thanksgiving prep day to go pick it up. When I got it home, I saw that they had sent me a smaller bird than what I had ordered. I ordered a 16-18 pound bird and I received a 14 pound bird. I prepared my brine (from Diana Morgan's book The Thanksgiving Table) with cider, allspice berries ginger, peppercorns, and of course salt. The problem is my brining bags were meant for bigger turkeys, so I really couldn't submerge my turkey that well. I turned it frequently, but eventually I had to go to bed, so it was just going to have to be 80%submerged overnight.

The fun didn't stop there. The probe thermometer I bought wasn't working. I roasted the turkey according to the directions provided by The Pioneer Woman (thanks to Colleen for the recommendation). As I wrapped the bird in foil I seemed to hear the voice of Sue saying, "You're steaming it." Then I heard the voice of Colleen saying, "Do this and it will come out perfectly." After the three hours I removed the foil and the turkey looked sort of anemic and the drippings were pathetic. I basted that sucker with as much butter as I could and put it back in the oven uncovered with a probe thermometer in the thigh. That's when I discovered the thermometer wasn't working well. After 90 minutes and two bastings, the termperature of the turkey hadn't budged. Kevin started fidding with the thermometer and the batteries and got it working again. The overcook alarm began beeping. Let me point out that I was planning to cook the turkey to 170 degrees and the alarm doesn't go off until you get past 190 degrees. In the mean time, my skin was getting a bit darker than I was comfortable with. At least I was smart enought to cover the breast with foil after the second basting.

Once I had it out of the oven I flipped the turkey over just as Sue told me to do (I would never have gotten through this Thanksgiving without her advice). I splattered turkey juice all over the kitchen, but I think it was a sacrifice for the greater good. I'm sure it helped make up for the other fiascos. Oddly enough my father told me that the turkey "tasted brined." Fortunately, he considered this a good thing. I told him, "Well it was brined." Dad's repayment for my delicious turkey: I think he gave me a cold.

I got a couple of dishes out of the way the day before. The first was my Corn Pudding. This recipe is one I did many times before in the past and knew it to be creamy and delicious, so I had little to worry about. I admit I used frozen corn for it. I know the recipe is meant to showcase fresh corn in the summer. That made me wonder if frozen corn would make it lackluster and wondered if I should add some pancetta or cheese or something. With all of the richness of the rest of the dishes, the relative blandness wasn't a problem. The other dish I made was Pecan Sweet Potatoes. This is a recipe of my own invention inspired by a pumpkin-pecan pie I made years ago. I mashed 8 sweet potatoes (way more than I needed) with about a cup of ground pecans, a half cup of rum, a stick of butter, a few grates of nutmegs, a few pinches of cinnamon and cayenne and a couple of pinches of salt.

I made my Green Bean Casserole while the turkey roasted. I was able to do the components a little at a time. Rather than make onion rings I sliced shallots and fried them in oil until they were brown and crispy. I blanched the green beans ahead of time too. I bought pre-sliced mushrooms. All I had to do was throw it all together at the last minute.

I made up my own Stuffing recipe. I used two small loaves of cornbread and one loaf of heat-and-serve "artisinal" bread. I cut it all up the day before so it would get nice and dried out. I cooked up a pound of turkey sausage (I had to remove Italian sausage from its casings because the store had no bulk turkey sausage). I added a large onion and four celery ribs. When they started to soften I added two Granny Smith apples and about two tablespoons of chopped fresh sage. When it was all soft I mixed it with the bread and moistened it with chicken broth. I popped it in 375 degree oven for 30 minutes covered with foil and then removed the foil and left it in there another 15 minutes.

I wasn't totally happy with the amount of drippings my turkey produced, but there were some and there was enough fat for the roux, so I deglazed the pan with some wine, made a roux with the fat I skimmed off, and hoped for the best. I had about a quart of neck/giblet stock and added some chicken broth as well. I ended up with more gravy than I needed. My family didn't use it all. I guess they're not all as gravy-crazy as I am.

I had the good fortune to already have my Cranberry Sauce ready thanks to Sue and her freezable recipe. Since I miss Mom's version, I added some candied ginger to the recipe. It was really good, but I don't think I needed to double the recipe.

We ended with my Triple Chocolate Pudding Pie and a giant apple crisp that my sister in law brought. I use cinnamon graham crackers with the recipe instead of chocolate. I like the way they taste contrasts with the

Do I think the meal was good? I can't judge it. By the time I sat down to eat I wasn't hungry from all of the picking and licking and tasting. Being surrounded by the food for two days didn't do much for my appetite or my ability to really taste it. Everyone kept saying it was delicious, so I'm trying to believe them.

I have burned myself multiple times. It seems any time I could get burned, I did. I look at my hands and arms and I'm not even sure where half of these burns came from.

Kevin and I disagreed about what we should do with the floor prior to dinner. I said we should roll up the rug and put it away because we don't want to spill food on it. He didn't want people trampling all over the hardwood floors we put in just a year and a half ago. I won out. I'm glad I did. My two-year-old nephew felt it was his duty to decorate the floor. The area surrounding the table where I had the appetizers (nuts, Terra chips, and a shrimp ring and some ciabatta and artisinal cheese my uncle provided) was covered with bits of bread, nuts, and bits of chips. The kids decided they didn't like the chips after they had started eating them, so they just abandoned the chips wherever they felt like it.Charles also took the runner in my entryway and threw it in the master bathroom and pulled the key out of my coffe table trunk and threw it in the bedroom closet (where it landed I still haven't figured out). The most destructive forces on earth: Hurricans, tornados, and Charles.

My timeline was unexpected as well. Getting everything ready by the appointed time of 2PM wasn't necessary. Just about everyone showed up late due to bad traffic. My mother lives close by, so she showed up on time. My mother-in-law showed up on time because Kevin came and picked her up in Queens well ahead of time. Everyone else was held up by either kids or traffic. Once my uncle showed up we all began feasting on the appetizers he brought. We also began drinking the wine in earnest. Getting everyone to the table to start the Poached Pear and Arugula Salad with Toasted Walnuts wasn't easy. To my pleasant surprise, having the food waiting in the warming oven for so long didn't ruin it. I'm not sure it that's because it's the type of food y ou can't ruin that easily or because everyone expects Thanksgiving food to be a little overcooked.

I admit to being frazzled and ungracious when people began arriving. Everyone had questions. "Where do I put my coat?" (Do you not see the coats on the bed?) "Here is the wine I brought." (Do you not see the bottles on the table by the wall? Must you make me unwrap them and put them out?) I tried to shove everyone towards the nuts and chips and got my husband to serve the drinks. People want to linger in the kitchen though. It's human nature.

Cleanup was a huge pain. My dishwasher is quite small and only held about half of the dishes used that day, so I was washing dishes for a good hour when everyone left. I had to really vaccuum hard to get all of that stuff off the floor and then skated around the apartment with a pair of multi-surface floor wipes on my feet. Goddess only knows how much bacteria still lurks on my kitchen counters. I used an entire can of granite wipes during the day, but I really need to give them a good rub down with a rag and some antibacterial granite cleaner. I still haven't moved all of the stuff I shoved in the spare room to make space back into the living room - including the rug.

Still, I do believe it was all a success. I'm even thinking of doing it next year. Now that I've worked out a plan, followed it (mostly anyway, at some point I trashed the book), and made a dinner everyone seemed to like, I actually believe I might do it again next year.

Anyone out there who would like some pecan sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce? I have a ton.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Countdown to Doomsday

This is going to be my last post for the next couple of days.

I am awaiting the delivery of my turkey. I'm hoping it arrives. It makes me nervous that it might not. Can you imagine what that would be like?

I have taken everything I might need and everything I might need to do and put it into a book. Yes, I made myself a Thanksgiving Manual. I have a page that lists who is coming and what I'm serving. There is a page with my shopping list. Subsequent pages show the recipes for everything so they're all in one place. The final page is a timeline of everything I think I need to do and approximately when to do them.

I know I probably won't be following that timeline exactly. I'm just way too prepared. It makes it all seem to easy. Things will go wrong. They always do. I always forget something or spill something or run out of something or burn something. It's a given. I'm just hoping that nothing happens that will slow me down or mess me up too much and I can just keep cooking.

Everyone in the family is bringing a bottle of wine. This is one advantage of having Thanksgiving in my home. I can drink as much as I want because I'm not driving. If the meal is bad, I'll just pour another glass.

Everyone have a very very happy Thanksgiving!!!!


I had them ship the turkey to my office since they said it would be delivered the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I wouldn't be home to receive it today, but I was planning to just get it at the office, take it home, and take tomorrow off.

I just got a call from Williams Sonoma telling me they aren't shipping my turkey to me today after all. I have to wait for tomorrow. I'm going to have to make a special trip to the office to come pick up my turkey. They won't change the shipping address. I'm going to have to take an hour out of my preparation day to shlep to Connecticut to get my turkey from my office.

I'm never ordering a turkey from Williams Sonoma again. That much is certain.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Mom's pony, Baby (whom I also like to think of as mine) hasn't been feeling so great lately. She's crankier than usual (if that's possible) and has been moving sort of stiffly. Yesterday the equine massage therapist came to see her.

The massage was going well. The therapist worked on her head and spine and worked her way to the back end. The last thing she had to do was adjust Baby's hips. She grabbed one of Baby's back legs and sort of pushed it upwards.

Mom was holidng the lead rope as the therapist was doing this. The adjustment caused a muscle spasm. Baby's reaction to the pain was swift. She kicked up and turned around and bit Mom's hand. Actually, bite is too mild a word. She clamped down on Mom's hand with enormous force. She immediately let go (especially since once the spasm passed, she felt quite good), but the damage had been done. She drew blood in 6 places. It's impossible to think that non-carniverous teeth could draw so much blood. Mom ended up having to go to the emergency room for a tetnaus shot and stitches.

"So what's your point, Rachel? This is your FOOD blog. Why are you blathering on about your horses here?"

(Other than my fear that Baby is going to develop a taste for human flesh of course, and that takes food to a whole new level.)

Mom's right hand (dominant hand) is splinted and heavily bandaged. Last night it was swelled to the size of a baseball. That hand is useless for the next two weeks.

I had really been counting on Mom to make her wonderful orange-ginger cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.

I have asked Mom to the recipe. Then I added making cranberry sauce to my ever-expanding game plan for Thanksgiving and the preceding days. I really ought to be concerned about Mom's hand (and Baby's expanding appetites), but all I can do is selfishly wonder about making the cranberry sauce.

I could buy it of course, and that's the other part of the equation. I have really come to love the taste of homemade cranberry sauce, particularly my mother's. I don't like the canned stuff very much anymore. I liked it as a kid because it was sweeter than homemade and like most kids, I liked jelly. As an adult, I'm just not into it. I find it too sweet, and very often there is a weird chemical taste to it. The problem is I'm the only one who feels this way. In the past few years my mother has purchased the canned stuff in addition to serving the homemade, because there are people who prefer it. I think if the orange-ginger sauce were gone from the table, I would be the only one who missed it.

Do I give myself a tiny bit more stress just so I can make myself happy, or do I ditch the homemade sauce altogether and get the kind of sauce I can slice?

Anyone out there have a good recommendation for a canned sauce if I go that route?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Yummy Cake!

I'm of two minds with desserts from western Asia and North Africa. On one hand, they use a lot of dates and raisins - neither of which I'm fond of. On the other hand, they use all kinds of great stuffy like delicate pastry and rosewater and honey and nuts. I could eat baklava and its ilk all day if I didn't have a mild allergy to walnuts. Some of the analysts and salespeople in my office make trips to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from time to time and they always bring back pastry for the office. I love the honey-drenched phyllo and the pistachio nuts. Sometimes they bring back almonds that are as big as walnuts. These are Middle Eastern desserts that I consider just dreamy.

Anyway, I'm one of those people who is always bookmarking and saving recipes and acquiring cookbooks with the intent that "someday" I will make this recipe. My entry in the food blog world has made me even crazier because food bloggers have so many unique ideas and heirloom recipes and interesting spins on recipes that are already published.

While browsing Fun and Food, one of my favorite food blogs I found this cake recipe. I had some semolina left over from my ravioli experiment a while back and I was pretty sure I had some rose extract left over from the time I made pistaschio-rose ice cream with lemon cake. I had the same reaction I have to many of the recipes I see on this and other food blogs which is, "I have to make this sometime."

I took a long hard look at the recipe and said, "Screw that. Someday may never come. I'm going to make it *tonight*. I don't care if it's a weeknight and it's laundry night and I have no forthcoming occasions that require a cake. I'm going to make a cake just to have a nice piece of cake."

The cake was quite simple to make, although for me it was not without mishaps. I had purchased my semolina in bulk and wasn't sure exactly how much I had left. It turned out I had slightly less than two cups. I made up the difference with all-purpose flour. I don't think I sacrificed taste and texture too much. Then it came time to make the syrup. I searched high and low and could not find the rose extract. I could have sworn I kept the bottle around just in case I needed it, but I must have decided I hadn't used it in a while and thrown it out. (What was I thinking? The stuff isn't cheap.)

I ended up adding extra lemon to the syrup and even steeped some of the lemon peel in there. The cake was delighfully sweet and sticky and rich, but did lack a depth of flavor. Looking back I realize I should have added some cardamom or a shot of amaretto to the syrup instead of just the lemon.

Nonetheless, it's still a great cake. It's delightfully sweet and sticky. It's very easy to make for a weeknight snack. I'm glad I made myself bake it last night.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


I feel like I should apologize for yesterday. I really don't want this blog to be just a lot of Food Network rants. It just seems that I can't stop thinking of things I want to say about it sometimes. I think by now half the known universe knows how I feel about Rachael Ray, so I really should can it. I can just hear annoyed readers saying, "If you have so many problems with the Food Network, don't watch it." That's 100% true. If it gets me this riled up that I feel the need to complain about it all of the time, I suppose I should stop watching it.

The problem is that I am so food obsessed that I will watch most things food related. I kid you not, I love watching those Magic Bullet infomercials just because I love watching them make the nachos and salsa and quesadillas and muffins and omelets, and everything else they make. There are other cooking shows on TV, but I'm not home much, so it's rare that there is a cooking show on PBS or Fine Living (I'm not even sure my cable company even carries Fine Living) when I'm home to watch it. I can turn on the Food Network and I'm guaranteed to see something about food. Occasionally I can still learn something from it, so I keep watching.

Anyway, hope my latest rant didn't bore/annoy you too much.

I'm relaxing a little more about Thanksgiving, although I feel terrible saying it's mainly because the guest list has shrunk a bit. When I decided to do this last year, I had a guest list of 16 planned: Kevin, me, Mom, Dad, Beth (stepmother), Claire (Beth's mother), Grandma, Great-Great Aunt Jo, Uncle John, his wife Angie, bro Erik, SIL Janeth, niece and nephew Penelope and Charles and baby cousin Casey.

(To be fair, this is really more like 13 when you consider that Penelope and Charles won't eat more than turkey, bread, and dessert and 11-month-old babies can't really eat much Thanksgiving dinner)

In the past year Aunt Jo has passed away and Grandma's health won't allow her to leave the nursing home for extended outings (Dad said even if they let her out, she wouldn't want to stay more than an hour). I was down to 14.

A couple of weeks ago Dad called and said Claire, whose health is not great, really can't go out without her aide, so I'd have to invite the aide if I wanted to invite Claire. No problem. They also mentioned that Beth's brother's stepdaughter (follow that - I guess you could say my step-grandmother's other step-grandaughter) who rents the basement apartment in Claire's home has no one to spend Thanksgiving with. Can she come too? We were back to 16 people. 13 adults and 3 children.

I just found out that Angie unfortunately plans to go visit her family in the Phillippines (well, fortunately for her if not for the family here) for the next few weeks and needs to leave before Thanksgiving, taking my cousin with her. So we're minus two.

Total count: 12 adults and 2 children. Those who can't make it will be missed, but it does relax me a bit. I've made dinner for 12 before.

The one thing I'm still uncertain about is how I'll do my green beans. I liked the homemade green bean casserole that Alton Brown made last night (recipe not available yet), but I don't have the oven space to bake yet another dish. I think I might use the one from Michael Chiarello. I can cook the beans ahead of time and fry up some onions (but I'm not going to deep-fry onion rings). Closer to serving time I can make up the sauce and throw the beans back in.

Exactly two weeks to go. *cue ominous music*

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Is It Elitist to Criticize the Food Network?

The Food Network has come under fire quite a bit in the past couple of years. Many viewers feel betrayed by the changes in programming. The top chefs are disappearing. It's more about personality than food. The focus has gone away from teaching cooking skills and mastering techniques and is now on throwing meals together quickly. Despite the complaints, the Food Network is enjoying its highest ratings ever. Obviously someone is enjoying their current offerings.

Fans of the Food Network are just as critical of the critics. Dislike of the Food Network is rooted in elitism and snobbery and only "foodies" have a problem with the programming. FN critics clearly don't know about how Middle America cooks and don't know how hard it is for busy moms to get food on the table for their families. These wealthy critics don't know how to cook on a budget. Don't those food snobs understand that they want to learn to cook from real people, and not some fancy-schmancy chefs? (Are all professional chefs robots? I never got the whole "real person" thing.)

Does the Food Network truly believe that it's viewers are, or at least shoud be this bland, white-bread, unschooled cook who is threatened by anyone with skill? Do they believe everyone is afraid of any cuisine that isn't based in American or Western European cuisine? Is so, then it's just as insulting to the audience.

Do I know how Middle America cooks? Of course I don't. The US has a pretty big population. I couldn't tell you how my next-door-neighbors cook, let alone folks living 1000 miles away from me. One's job, ethnic background, family history, health, and willingness to cook a meal is going to change from person to person. Why would I assume everyone who doesn't live on the coasts cooks and eats the same way? How do I know there isn't some woman in Iowa or Nebraska out there mourning the loss of Sara Moulton and Wolfgang Puck on the Food Network and my next-door-neighbor isn't a die-hard Sandra Lee fan? Why make assumptions like this?

Who is making these assumptions? In the world of the Food Network, everyone is white, married, has kids, has no free time, and is inimidated by both expertise and cuisines that venture out of the European comfort zone. Why shouldn't I be critical of these insults against Food Network viewers? I don't think it's elitism at all to be critical of the Food Network's blatant stereotyping.

I know I grew up somewhat advantaged food-wise. My mother is something of a health nut and my father is an unapologetic foodie. I have lived most of my life in an area sandwiched between NYC and the bountiful farms upstate. I just don't think that anyone who wasn't raised in such an environment is incapable of learning to appreciate a wider variety of food, or be willing to learn how to cook more than meat and potatoes.

The diversity of America is completely ignored by the Food Network. I don't think it's me who doesn't understand the Food Network audience (or its potential audience). Am I the only person who notices that almost every personalilty on the Food Network is white? Other than Everyday Italian (which is very Americanized Italian), the cuisines presented are generic. Few chefs have a real specialty. Mario Batali's more authentic regional Italian cuisine is now gone. Ming Tsai was gone a long time ago. I guess you could consider Paula Deen and Bobby Flay's shows specialized, but their cuisine consists of standard American favorites. Emeril has a specialty, but he has strayed pretty far away from the Creole roots over the years. The most ethnic show we have is the pathetic Simply Delicioso. That arrived on the scene after Latin chefs were booted from the last two seasons of The Next Food Network Star. Ingrid Hoffman's Latin cuisine is completely watered down. Wouldn't it be nice to see a Carribean chef, or a soul food chef, or an Eastern European chef? Wouldn't anyone like to see Asian cuisine that's authentic and not just Rachael Ray preparing "Chinese Take Out At Home"? I'm not asking this out of snobbery. I'm asking this because not all potential viewers of the Food Network are white people interested in American and Western European food.

"But you don't understand the life of busy moms," protest the Food Network executives and the FN viewers. That's true. I'm not a mother. I am, however a full-time-employed wife. I often don't see the inside of my home for more than a few waking hours each day. I have a lot of hobbies and interests. I have horses that I keep 90 minutes away in NJ. I study dance. I belong to the board of directors for a community theater group and also perform in their productions from time to time. Despite this, I manage to throw together meals two or three times a week. I like to avoid takeout and convenience foods and always make enough for leftovers when I cook a meal.

It's the "busy moms" who are supposed to be the target audience of the likes of Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee. It's not just that these women cook simply, it's that they're non-threatening. They promise a meal with ease and simplicity with simple ingredients. This approach is nothing new really. There are plenty of chefs who present simple, straightforward, and easy-to-follow recipes on the Food Network. Some of the shows that did this are now gone like Sara's Secrets and How to Boil Water. I don't think there is anything terribly complex or difficult about the recipe presenations of Tyler Florence, Ina Garten, or Giada DeLaurentis. The only thing these chefs lack is a gimmick. None of these chefs promise a meal in 30 minutes. I find it poor reasoning because even die-hard Rachael Ray fans say that in real life you can't reproduce her meals in 30 minutes. She has the advantage of someone organizing her studio kitchen before the show and cleaning things during commercial breaks. Most of us don't have that luxury.

I can put together a much better meal in less than an hour and I'm not an expert. I would bet even Rachael Ray has better skills in many areas than I do. The point is that I'd rather look to someone who is truly an expert if I want to expand my skills. That doesn't make me an elitist. I think it just makes me a good cook. I don't judge my instructors on their likeability or how much like me they are. I don't want my instructors to be like me. I want them to be much better.

The next protest is that I don't understand about what it's like to cook on a budget. I'm not a wealthy person and I have the added disadvantaged that my lack of wealth is housed in one of the most expensive regions of the country. I don't have an enormous food budget. In fact, I pay so much attention to my budget and how things cost that I know that many popular chefs on the Food Network are not cooking on a budget. Pre-chopped vegetables and bagged salads cost far more than buying things whole and cutting them up yourself. Sandra Lee's love of Cool Whip is a pricey habit compared to the cost of a pint of heavy cream that you can easily whip in a few minutes (and the real cream tastes better too). Do I need to mention Rachael Ray's love of lamb, veal, and pancetta or her heavy use of manchego and parmiggiano-reggiano cheeses. (There is decent domestic parmesan out there. They don't all come pre-grated with a shaker top.) Not only is she fond of beef tenderloin, but she uses it in recipes where a cheaper cut would wokr much better. Sandra Lee and Robin Miller both require you to go out and buy a Crock Pot, which is really dumb because many foods take far less time and effort if you make them in the oven (like bread pudding). Let's not forget that the obscene amounts of oil, cheese, and bacon in so many of these recipes make for some rather unhealthful meals.

If I really thought the Food Network were making an honest effort to provide nutritious, inexpensive, and easy-to-prepare meals (Wait! Dave Lieberman did that. Now he's gone too.) I would not be writing this. If I hated it only because the chefs were untrained and the food wasn't fancy, then I would indeed be an elitist. What I criticize is that the The Food Network is now all about image, false hope, and mistruths. Think of the image that they are selling to the public. Do you really see yourself in it? I don't see myself in it, but then again, I'm an elitist, right?

Weekday Delights

This week has already started out crappy at work, but food-wise, it has started off beautifully.

Sunday afternoon Mom and I were at the barn and took a break from the horses to pay a visit to Rogowski Farm. Once upon a time they were a very small operation that ran a roadside vegetable stand on the weekends where you bought your produce on the honor system, dropping your money in a box. They have expanded their operation and are now a full-time market selling their own stuff as well as stuff from other local farms.

It's hard to believe you can still get such great stuff locally in November, especially since many of the local farmer's markets have shut down for the winter. Rogowski continues to delight. When we walked in we were invited to taste their spiced cider made with their own brand of spice mix. It tasted like warm apple pie in a glass. Mom snapped up their little seckel pears, while I bought some anjou and bosc pears along with some of the best concord grapes ever. For more savory fare I bought a big bag of fresh mixed greens and some bok choy. They also had a refrigerator filled with local goat cheese and fresh eggs. I couldn't resist buying some of that as well.

Last night for dinner I wanted a nice simple meal, so I went for my Classic Glazed Chicken. I just roast some bone-in chicken breasts glazed with a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, and apricot jam. This time I added a twist. I put a few dashes of sriracha in the mixture (I just can't resist using that stuff). I roasted the breasts for abotu 40 minutes at 350. For a side dish I sliced my bok choy in half and cooked them on the grill pan. When it was soft, I dressed the halves with a mixtures of soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil.

Today's lunch continues the Rogowski Farm theme. I sliced one of the pears and some of the goat cheese and laid them out with some slivered almonds over the greens. The dressing is raspberry balsamic vinegar and olive oil with just a grind of pepper and a pinch of salt. Very yummy.

I just love farm market cooking!

15 days to go!!!!

My family has been very cooperative so far. My mother has agreed to make her yummy cranberry-ginger sauce and bring two chairs and a bottle of wine. My brother and his wife are bringing two desserts, bread, wine and four chairs. My uncle and his wife said they would bring wine and at least one chair. They said they would bring a shrimp ring too, which I appreciate (even though I won't eat it), but is slightly problematic since I'm not sure where I'll put it! Space and configuration will continue to be one of our biggest challenges. I'll figure something out. My family loves the shrimp (I must be adopted).

Kevin and I received $150 worth of Crate and Barrel gift certificates for our anniversary last month, so I'll be investing in some festive new table linens soon. I might pick up some new serving pieces too. One of my main serving bowls is a piece I did at a paint your own pottery store years ago that's beginnign to crack all the way across. It's not bad looking, but it does look like it was painted by an amateur.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Why I'll Never Be A Sommelier

It's not that I don't *want* to learn my wines. It's that I just don't seem to have the knack. I bought the requsite copy of Wine For Dummies a couple of years ago (I like that they have a section on Hudson Valley wines and mentioned the Rivendell Winery - YAY!). I have gone to wine tasting classes (albeit rather short ones). I kinda-sorta know what wines are supposed to work best with what foods. I just don't know if I could tell a merlot from a cabernet or a chardonnay from a sancerre if they were side by side and unlabelled. I don't know that many vineyards either, so I can't tell where a wine came from. I only learn the name of the wine if I really liked it and want to have it again (or if said wine has a really cutesy name like Fat Bastard or something like that). In restaurants I usually just wing it. I order what I think might be good with my meal depending on whether or not I am in the mood for red or white.

What really makes me a wine bumpkin is that I never am able to taste those notes of this that or the other thing that I am told I will taste. They say the wine is supposed to taste like licorice or chocolate or plums or berries or old leather. I freely admit I just don't detect these things. I can certainly taste differences in wine. I know that I could line up a hundred different cabernets and taste a hundred different "flavors" so to speak, but I wouldn't be able to tell which one tastes like strawberries and which one tastes like cinnamon.

Maybe asking this will isolate me from the wine experts for the rest of my life, but as I look at the dizzying array of wine descriptions and the fruits they are said to taste like, I find myself asking, "Why doesn't anyone think the wine tastes like grapes?"