Saturday, May 3, 2008

There is a middle ground folks!

Sorry for making another Food Network rant, but I just had to say this.

While browsing the foodie message boards recently, the subject of the Food Network and its assemblage-style cooking shows came up. One poster said this:

"My non-foodie friends remind me that they LOVE Sandra Lee, Giada, and Rachael because it's the kind of cooking they can actually do. They don't want to cook like me: a 3-day process just to roast a chicken because one has to brine, dry, roast, rest, broil, etc. Sure, the quality of their cooking is not as good as mine, but that's why they go to restaurants. I can see their point."

Would someone explain to me where this all-or-nothing mentality came from?

There is a myth out there that you either need to use expensive, processed, or fake-out shortcuts or else you will spend your day slaving over a hot stove. According to this new school of thought, measuring, chopping, and roasting all take too much time, or a ridiculous amount of skill. You can't make a high-quality meal all by yourself, so don't even try.

There is also a heavy reliance on the Shortcut Gurus. There are plenty of chefs out there who have presented simple and quick recipes that don't require advanced cooking skills. They did it before Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee came along, and they did it better than Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee ever could. They will also continue to do it long after Lee's and Ray's 15 minutes have expired. Sandra Lee does nothing special. You can find her recipes (or similar ones) on the backs of soup cans and Cool Whip packages and in the food advertisements in Ladies Home Journal. What she does is nothing new. Rachael Ray has no technique. She throws things together and in that sense creates a reliance on her recipes because she doesn't teach people how to cook (and if you knew how to cook, you really wouldn't need her shows). Viewers are just buying the persona that the Food Network sells so well.

The anti-baking thing is really going too far as well. It has bled from Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee (who at least is willing to bake things using mixes) and is seeping into other shows. All over the net people are beginning to notice Giada's reliance on boxed mixes lately. I've seen her do homemade cookies and cake in the past. What gives? Now even a simple batch of cookies is beyond the time and skill constraints of Mr. and Mrs. Average America? Despite the fact that I have rehearsal almost every night and dance classes on the few remaining nights with a few hours on the weekend to see my husband and my horses, I managed to bake a chocolate banana bread last night. I had it out of the oven and cooling before my husband came home from work. I made it from scratch. It wasn't difficult. It was delicious. It didn't ruin my evening to make it.

(As an aside, I still laugh at how once again this week they showed the back to back Good Eats episodes where in the first one Alton shows how easy it is to make a simple cake. In the next one he showcases frosting and says that no homemade cake will ever taste as good as one you make from a mix.)

This morning I saw Jamie at Home. I watched him make a venison stroganoff. The recipe looked quite easy. Now I know it is probably out of the reach of the average cook because it contained things like venison and these gigantic mushrooms that looked like they grew on another planet. (I was afraid they would eat Jamie before he ate them.) but I could easily see swapping out some beef chuck for the venison and some grocery store mushrooms for the alien monsters and still have a decent, homemade dish. Nothing looked complex. It didn't look like it took too long either. Jamie also used a very reasonable amount of meat. The venison cut looked pretty small. Compare that to Rachael Ray and her belief that one should serve two pounds of steak to four people. She claims if you eat well, you can eat more. Considering that every season of "30 Minute Meals" seems to showcase Rachael's butt getting noticeably bigger, I think I have to question how well she's eating and what she's eating more of.

I have to laugh because right after Jamie came Sandra. She made these mushroom and pepper crostini with seasoned ricotta cheese. She felt the need to use bottled italian dressing and Italian herb mix in the same dish (can we say "seasoning overkill"?). Then she took a bag of crostini to spread it on. She commented that she couldn't see why anyone would want to make their own. You have to cut and toast bread and it might take TWENTY MINUTES. How difficult! How time-consuming. Why would people want to do it? Hmmm...maybe because pre-packaged foods are high in salt and sugar? Maybe because they are more likely to have artificial ingredients? Maybe because homemade crostini taste better?

(Another aside, I wanted to throttle Sandra when she said, "Crostinis". THE WORD CROSTINI IS ALREADY PLURAL. YOU DON'T NEED TO ADD AN S. Anyone else who ever says something like "raviolis" or "spaghettis" or "strombolis" or "cannolis" should also give herself or himself a virtual throttling from me.)

I also feel I should point out that just because something takes long to cook doesn't mean you lose an evening to the kitchen. It takes and hour to roast a chicken, but you don't have to sit there for an hour and watch a chicken roast. You can watch TV, play with your kids, clean the bathroom, surf the net, and do anything else your heart desires while the chicken just sits in the oven and does its thing. Ditto for baking, or coq au vin, or a quality, slow-cooked chili.

I have to stop watching the Food Network. It's just making me too crazy.


StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Amen! You tell 'em sister! ;) The few shows where they actually do COOK on TFN are consistently "dumbing down" their recipes. Do they think we're all morons?

Emiline said...

I agree with everything you said.
I used to watch Food Network all of the time, but I hardly watch it all. I like the afternoon "in the kitchen" shows, but that's it. You are so right! Cooking from scratch doesn't take THAT much time. And it will taste so much better.

Why would you buy already made up crostini? Wouldn't they be stale? It takes about a minute to slice a baguette, and 20 seconds to broil them.

jj said...

I hear what you're saying totally and its so true that there is nothing equal to good, old-fashioned home made cooking. But people I converse with seem to always be looking for quick and easy solutions for meals and treats because of time constraints. Seems few have the time or inclination to really dig in and do some serious cooking. It's a shame, but says a lot about our society these days.

We Are Never Full said...

This is so right on. I've been writing about my hatred for the food network for almost a year now. it's so sad about what it's become and what they have done to the idiots that are paid by them. i also hate how they treat their viewers. and they are (kind of like you said) making us feel more and more dumb nowadays.

I think the perfect thing you said was in regards to jamie oliver's venison stew:
but I could easily see swapping out some beef chuck for the venison and some grocery store mushrooms for the alien monsters and still have a decent, homemade dish.

see, you're THINKING beyond what these people are telling you. you're getting creative. the network leads me to believe that most people need to be spoon fed information in order for them to maybe do it. i'm also a big believer that most fans of the food network don't really cook at all. if they did, they would be turning off the channel as i do now and switch to watching the amazing REAL talent on PBS.

it's just so sad that in a time and age where we need to start relying on making food from local ingredients and trying to make things from scratch, the fool network is forcing us to think everything needs to be 'semi homemade' for it to taste good.

mario batali said it best after the food network refused to renew his awesome show "Molto Mario" and he refused to come back to tFN:

“They don’t need me. They have decided they are mass market and they are going after the Wal-Mart crowd, [this was…] a smart business decision. So they don’t need someone who uses polysyllabic words from other languages.” -Mario Batali

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

WANF - I'm less bugged about the crap FN is trying to sell us (it's about the bottom line after all). I'm more bugged about the fact that people are buying it! People really believe that Rachael Ray (and her ilk) is the only person out there who can show you how to cook simply and that she's the only one who ever has and the only one who ever will. I've heard people say, "She has brought people back ot the kitchen" as if everyone who didn't cook either professionally or as a hobby subsisted entirely on takeout until Rachael Ray came along. People won't even listen to the good cooks out there who say, "We can show you how to make a simple, high quality meal in a deent amount of time." People are so enamored of these FN personlaties that they refuse to believe they can do better.

michelle @ TNS said...

preach on, sister, preach on. there is nothing i can add to this.

i used to be hooked on the food network. although i still love ina, the only thing i watch at this point is the occasional iron chef, because at least there's a spark of creativity (and even then, half the iron chefs do re-treads every week).

Sue said...

I like to be extreme in most things, but, of course, it's true that it doesn't have to be feast or famine every time you cook.

I completely agree that it's hilarious that they have Aunt Sandy on right after Jamie. WHO came up with that juxtaposition? Everything that's great about Jamie shows what's wrong with Sandy.

And any reason you can come up with to throttle her is fine with me.

Rebecca @ said...

My step-mom coined the world's best nickname for Sandra Lee: "The Dipsomaniac Floozie". She's always making cocktails and her cleavage is on full display along with her gag-inducing tablescapes. If half a cooking show is devoted to how the table looks you know there's a problem.

Rebecca @ said...

Oh! And my husband has seizures when he hears Rachel Ray's voice.

...On the plus side, if I want something I just put 30 Minute Meals on the t.v., make sure hubby's listening, and generously "offer" to shut if off if I can, say, have a footrub...