Saturday, September 6, 2008

Checking out the Latest Food Network Offering

This morning I had a little free time on my hand, so I decided to check out The Cooking Loft with Alex Guarnaschelli. It seems that the Food Network has been trying out several dull and interchangeable female chefs/bimbos. Some stay and some go (did Mary Nolan last?) It will be interesting to see how this one does.

The show begins with Alex introducing herself. She's an executive restaurant chef who also runs a small cooking class. She tells us that today she is making her childhood favorite, fried chicken, and a flattened chicken breast with marmalade sauce. Then the class introduced. We learn the names of all of the participants and why they are there.

Alex is fairly no-nonsense. She's not unattractive, but she's pretty frumpy by FN standards. She ties back her hair and dresses in dark, pratical clothing. For the most part I like her. She doesn't try too hard like Rachael Ray, and unlike Mario Batali, she plays to the camera rather than to the people in the studio with her. She doesn't have too much attitude, although she does try to be cutesy at times with how she expresses herself. I checked out her bio and it's pretty impressive in terms of her education, pedigree (daughter of a cookbook author) and experience. She is also a cooking instructor at the ICE (where I hope to go one day), so unlike most of the folks at FN, she knows how to teach people how to cook.

She begins by cutting up a whole chicken. She considers this of utmost importance. Meh. I don't care if my pre-cut chicken parts don't all come from the same chicken and I'm willing to save a little time and not risk ruining hacking a chicken to a pulp. This is probably what I would do if I used this show as my guide to cutting up a whole chicken because she demonstrates how to do this rather quickly. She simply doesn't have enough time to really do a proper demo ala Alton Brown.

She says she feels pressured to be able to make chicken as well as her mother does. The theme of making chicken the way she remembers from her childhood is milked just a little too much.

After cutting up the chicken, she puts away the cutting board and very quickly washes her hands. Too quickly for my taste.

She uses sour cream to marinate the chicken. I found that intriguing. I usually use buttermilk. She fielded questions from her students pleasantly about other marinades. She mixes the sour cream with milk, promising us that it will look appetizing eventually, and then adds lots of mustard for flavor. I like to add hot sauce to my fried chicken marinade, so again, I found this an interesting departure. She puts the chicken in the fridge for a "sour cream spa nap". Then she gets her oil ready. She uses *gasp* shortening. She says it's because it tastes better, has a high smoke point, and is surprisingly light. She also says it's what her mother used.

Time for a commercial. I just learned Guy Fieri has a new show. It's a live show. Please, FN. Enough with the live shows. You got rid of Emeril, who is a much better chef than Guy. Now you're giving us Emeril Live with a chef who can't think beyond steak, nachos, tater tots, and Jap-Mex.

After the break, Alex brings out paper bags to coat the chicken in. She goes on and on about how this is how Mom coated the chicken and how paper bags remind her of her childhood and how the smell of paper bags makes her think of fried chicken. All of the students get their own paper bags to coat the chicken in. Coating is standard flour, salt, pepper, and paprika.

She tests the oil by sprinkling flour into it and makes cutesy comments about it. She then makes the more practical suggestion of 375 degrees. She never says how much oil is actually in the pan, or maybe she did when she first put it in and I was distracted by the mother stories.

Once the chicken is all in the pan she takes the bags from everyone and tells them to just flip their cutting boards over. What if there are traces of chicken on the boards? That was a little skeevy.

She has them chop oranges for the marmalade sauce for the other chicken dish. In a pan she heats honey with the seeds scraped from a vanilla bean. Then adds the sliced oranges and lets them cook down.

She turns the fried chicken over. I'm wondering how long it took.

We go to a commercial. I have this sudden realization. WHERE IS JAMIE OLIVER? This show is replacing Jamie!!!! What's worse is we have a new season of Sandra right after this show. They get rid of Jamie and give us more Sandra? I hate you Food Network!

Alex comes back from the break. She removes the fried chicken from the oil and let's it rest and sprinkles it with salt. She shows us her "finger wiggle" that she uses to spread salt evenly. She waxes poetic about the smell of paper bags again.

The marmalade is cooking and it's "hissing because it wants attention". She's not afraid to get cutesy again. She squeezes a lemon into the sauce, cut side up. My stomach starts to heave because it reminds me of Rachael Ray.

She gets out her new chicken breasts. These are bone-in with wing tips still attached and she makes more cutesy comments about them being handles or some such thing. She salts them and shows the finger wiggle thing again.

She browns the chicken in canola oil (yuck). I freaked out when she suddenly put a piece of foil on them. STEAMED??? No, pressed. She puts a cast iron pan on top of the foil.

She has everyone cut up some romaine lettuce and they eat the fried chicken before going to a commercial.

After the break she removes the frying pan from the chicken breasts. The look anemic, but she turns them over and they're beautifully browned on the other side.

She has the class slice some garlic and compliments them on their new knife skills. They wilt the romaine lettuce in some butter. She says that by doing this they remove the water and concentrate the flavor more. She tells them to sprinkle salt over the lettuce gently, "Like you're a romaine ballerina." They squeeze lemon over the greens and she compliments them on their lemon squeezing techniques.

Chicken breasts are served over the lettuce with the marmalade on top. The sauce seemed like it would be a little sweet for my taste (I would add a savory herb to it or maybe a little wine), but the class raved over it.

Not a bad show. The cook seemed to know what she was doing and cooked meals that didn't look difficult (one was more time consuming than the other) and were still homemade. The Food Network needs more shows like this. I like the idea of an experienced chef showing people that you don't have to cook like Rachael Ray to produce an easy meal. Anyone could make the chicken breast and orange dish and it didn't contain any crazy shortcuts or excess of ingredients.

I wonder how long this show will last.

I'd like it a lot more if Jamie were still on.


StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Rats! I wanted to watch this, but I slept through it. Thanks for the recap.

I like Alex. She's been a judge and contestant on Iron Chef America, and she seems really knowledgeable.

I'd like to see more shows on TFN that actually focus on cooking. I'm so sick of all the gimmicks!

Maria said...

thanks for the recap! The fn is getting ok my nerves lately. I would rather watch jamie too!

noble pig said...

I haven't watched these shows lately, sounds semi-entertaining, I might have to check it out.

Darius T. Williams said...

I saw the promo for this - but I haven't had the time. You like Jamie Oliver...I mean, he's okay...where's Tyler Florence, he's annoying, but addictive. I'm with you - what's with allll these new shows on the FN. What we need to do is bring Sarah Moulton back - lol. Oh yea, I'm thinking the same thing about Guy Fieri. I mean, I think I like him - but live, who knows. He's working his win from the next food network start though - lol. Ohh, FN - I love the FN.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Susan - I never did see any of her ICA shows. I'm very intrigued.

Maria and Cathy - The show isn't perfect, but it's worth a look. It's better than most FN offerings. I'm curious to see what other recipes she'll come up with and if I would use them.

Darius - I like Jamie because his food is simple and straightforward and he also presents doable recipes and reminds us that you don't need gimmicks or a hundred store-bought ingredients to make a simple meal. It irked me that he has a garden and I don't, but I thought most of his recipes could be adjusted for store-bought or more commonly found ingredients.

I love Tyler too. He's not a great on-camera personality (unless he's on camera with someone else) but he has great recipes. He is one of my go-to FN cooks when I need a classic recipe for something. I also think his show is very well produced. They seem to know he's a little weak on camera, and really work the food angle well with the camera work.

Dee said...

I wish we had Rachael Ray on telly just so I could see if what everyone says is true *sigh* But Jamie Oliver I do get. And I do love.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Dee - Consider yourself lucky you don't have Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee. Sure she's great for some snarking, but she's ruined food as we know it under the guise of being the girl next door.

Clumbsy Cookie said...

Wow, what a great report on the show. I felt tlike I've watched it! Thanks!