Category Archives: cooking shows

The Great British Bake Off

I thought I would take a momentary break from all KonMari stuff.

On a friend’s recommendation, I gave The Great British Bake Off a try and I loved it.

Amateur British bakers compete in a series of skill-based challenges for a trophy and apparently the honor and glory of winning. That’s it.

There’s very little in the way of staging/shaping a story that you’d see on a similar American show. If they are doing it, it’s being done in an incredibly subtle fashion. Nobody is sabotaging anyone. The presenters seem to be very kind people who want the best for the contestants. And the judges are pretty fair and so far, compassionate.

It’s civilized. The food is mouth-watering. The contestants are interesting and clearly talented. And it’s watchable.

When some TV exec decides to make an American version (and they will–it’s inevitable), you can bet all of that will fly out the window.

Awesomeness in a cast iron skillet

Not too long ago, I was pondering gift ideas. I make a very nice little recipe of Ina Garten’s, but it calls for cashews, which aren’t exactly cheap.

Then I found Alton Brown’s recipe for Spiced Pecans. You basically take a pound of pecan halves and toast them in a cast iron skillet for a few minutes. You then add butter, then a spice mixture, then brown sugar and some water. Presto, you have made crack. Okay, not crack, but really really really yummy nuts.

After the first batch, I went a lot easier on the cayenne and cumin. Then I put the cooled pecans into 4oz Ball canning jars. So far they’ve been a hit.


Top Chef Masters

Bravo has given their Top Chef franchise a bit of a spin with Top Chef Masters. Instead of a bunch of newbie chefs, culinary school students, and whatnot, the contestants are world reknowned chefs who don’t need to prove anything. They’re not competing for money for themselves; they’re competing for a charity of their choice. There’s no living together. No having their every move filmed.

It’s a better show for all of that.

Couple of things have been markedly interesting. First of all, a lot of the contestants have acted as judges on the show. All of them have commented on how much harder it is to compete in this format than they thought. There have been chefs who haven’t managed to plate in the allotted time. Chefs who have had their dishes turn out badly. Chefs who have experienced the fun of malfunctioning product placed appliances.

The judging seems less erratic also. Although the Food and Wine judge shows up now and then, it’s mostly been really good food critics who know their stuff.

All of this has provided for a really stellar program. The manufactured drama is so not missed–at least not by me. There’s a genuine pleasure to be had watching experts working at their craft.

Plus watching Hubert Keller cooking in a dorm room in and of itself was worth my time.

What price convenience?

I recently found out that I’d be hosting Thanksgiving. My initial reaction was panic. I work a full-time job. I’ve never cooked a turkey. Thanksgiving is a big meal. My first instinct was to see about ordering parts of the meal from Wegmans. Turns out that’s what a lot of people are doing these days. Heck, apparently a lot of people order the whole meal.

The thing is…I can cook. If I say so myself, I’m a good cook. I’ve hosted dinner parties without resorting to buying the meal elsewhere. I have flambéd things (intentionally). Making stuffing does not require a degree from Culinary School. Cranberry sauce–this is why I cringe when Sandra Lee and her ilk imply that you use the canned stuff because making your own is on the same level as making pasta. It’s not. Jeez Louise, you take a cup of sugar and a cup of water. You stir till it’s dissolved. You boil the mixture. You add the cranberries and ten minutes later you have sauce. It is not rocket science.

And the turkey? My mom’s talking me through it. I can read a recipe. I can totally do this. Yeah, I’ve ordered the pie and the rolls, but the rest of my meal is being made from scratch.

Convenience is fine, but holidays aren’t supposed to be about convenience. They’re supposed to be about family–however you define family–coming together and enjoying good food and company. To my mind there should be effort behind holiday meals. Not so much effort that it drives you mad, but more effort than picking up the phone and ordering the entire meal. I’ve got my mom helping me and my best friend is also going to be pitching in. When I was little, we all did that. Even if it meant you just sat down and peeled potatoes or ran and got the good dishes. The meal meant more because it was a communal effort, because you knew that effort had been put into it. We can order takeout any day of the year. What sets Thanksgiving apart from your typical Thursday is that it’s different. It’s a feast day.

That charming article I linked up top has the grocery store rep. saying “Customers have become so busy. They don’t have the day before Thanksgiving to prepare a meal.” Yeah, they’re so busy that they take off Friday so they can get up at 4AM to hit the mall. That is what has become important. Something’s gotten very skewed in the process.

Off my soapbox now…

The joys of an old-fashioned butchershop

So it’s been ages since I posted. I’m going to blame it on the teaching season for academic librarians, being out of town, and freakish snowstorms.

Although I’ve not been watching nearly as much of the Food Network as before, I do still tune in occasionally. I decided to make a Giada DeLaurentiis recipe–simple version of Italian Wedding Soup. It looked good; the ingredients were accessible. All that was slightly out there for me was ground pork, but I thought that would be easy enough to obtain.

Off I headed to my grocery store of choice. Not only did that they not have ground pork, they also lacked a butcher. The clerk looked said it might be in later on that week, he said vaguely. When I asked if they could grind some for me, he looked at me as if I had suggested he dance naked through the supermarket. I threw up my hands and got the heck out of the store.

On impulse I drove a couple of blocks to a butcher shop my mom still goes to. They didn’t have ground pork either, but they immediately offered to grind some fresh for me. I even got to pick out the piece I wanted them to use. Then the butcher ground it in front of me. While I was there, I bought a bunch of other things–all about comparable in price to Wegmans and all higher in quality. They asked each time how I wanted things wrapped. It was great. I will be patronizing them in the future.

The soup was awesome too.

It’s All About the Food

This weekend my local PBS affiliate was airing reruns of The French Chef with the late Julia Child. The shows I saw were in black and white. They had low production values. She didn’t talk down to her audience. Some of the recipes had she not swapped them out would have taken hours. It didn’t come out perfect every time. But man, the show was all about the food.

In the past couple of years, the Food Network which had already ticked me off for cancelling programs with people who knew what they were doing, has gone rapidly downhill. They’re self-admittedly about personality now. They don’t want trained chefs or cooks. They want to aim for the 15-30 male demographic. The good news is that Giada is probably safe. Even though she can cook, they’ll keep her around for the sake of her plunging cleavage.

I flip betwen PBS and the Food Network on Saturdays. Aside from a few people like Giada and Sara Moulton (and who was cancelled) who know what they’re doing, the FN has their new stars, the over-exposed Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee (or SLoP as she is often referred to) and their newest find, Robin Miller. The last was busy making pasta ahead of time (stored in a ziploc baggie) which is a crime and stuffed porkchops. She stuffed them, barely seared them, and then put them (warm) into another ziploc baggie and into the fridge. Trichinosis anyone?

PBS in contrast has a number of shows like Lidia’s Family Table and Daisy Cooks!. I know that if I try to make these recipes, they will work and they will be good. Moreover, I know they won’t involve a la Sandra Lee packets of taco seasoning and cool whip. The sets aren’t great; the programs aren’t slick, but it’s all about the food.

So I think I need to start upping the ratio of time I spend watching PBS. I will still tune into FN for the snark factor, but I love to cook. I don’t feel a need to make all my meals at the speed of light and I love really good food. PBS seems like the place to be.

Taking the time

There’s a new cooking show on the Food Network. I wish I could say it was hosted by somebody who loved food and cooking,and who knew what she was doing, but sadly this is not the case for Robin Miller of Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller. The premise of the show is theoretically that by taking a couple of hours on the weekend, all her meals can be prepped in 15 minutes or less on weeknights, which is time management and not necessarily saving any time.

As someone who works a 9 to 5 week, I completely understand the appeal of being able to put dinner on the table quickly. But if you’re going to do that, then you still usually want the meal to be good. I’d be willing to bet that all of us would really like the meal to be sanitary too.

I don’t care how pressed for time you are, if you’re eating leeks nobody wants a mouthful of grit in their mouth. They have to be properly cleaned. Vegetables that have dirt visibly clinging to them need to be scrubbed.
It’s also good to understand just what cross-contamination is and how to handle chicken properly unless of course you want to spend hours in the ER.

Some things are worth taking the time to do.