Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Food Network Musings

Let me say straight up - I believe the Food Network has done more to educate Americans about food (and using quality ingredients like "real" parmesan) more than anything else in our country’s history. I certainly realize Julia Child had a big impact but I believe this played to a much more targeted demographic compared to the mass-marketed Rachel Ray, if you know what I mean. Not that I’m a huge fan of Rachel (I’m sorry, but I’m just not!). I am thrilled; however, that Rachel has people cooking or even thinking about cooking. I am definitely all for that. I truly believe if families ate dinner together more often and if people had other people over to break bread in their homes more often in general, the world would be a much better place. I do what I can in that regard!

I caught Emeril Lagasse on the Food Network at the beginning of 1997. I had taken a number of cooking classes by then and watching the program was like going to a cooking class without having to pay – I was hooked. At the end of the program, the screen said I could receive the recipe by mailing in a self-addressed, stamped envelope or I could go to I heard that the Houston Public Library had computers hooked up to the Internet (whatever that was) so I went and printed out the recipe a couple of days later. I knew at that very moment the Internet would change the way people lived their lives and soon after that event I began working for the Houston Chronicle’s website division. Soon I was online every day at the office (and dialing in from home) so I would watch the Food Network and print recipes and add them to my recipe binders (now I keep them in my "recipe box" on I couldn’t get over how informative it was, and that was long before any of the current shows (except for Emeril). David Rosengarten had a show called “Taste” that I still miss today. David has wonderful cookbooks and a really great newsletter for foodies called “The Rosengarten Report (

Over the years, the network has added lots of shows I don’t care for, but I have come to love several – these are the ones I Tivo and look forward to watching as a guilty pleasure. Tyler Florence has several shows and they’re all terrific. Tyler has a true passion for food – he gets really excited during every step of preparing“the ultimate fried chicken” or whatever dish he’s focused on with “Tyler’s Ultimate”. He talks about food "changing your life" - something I've been known to say - so I'd say we have a bond because I absolutely do believe the best (fried chicken, for example) in the world truly can change one's life! On this show, Tyler takes it to the next level and really explores the best recipe for whatever he’s making and the recipes work. He also has “How to Boil Water” and “Food 911” on the network. Anybody who knows me would also insist that I add the fact that I believe Tyler is completely hot. Well, okay – he is but he’s also a really great chef with a relaxed delivery and boyish charm about him so it’s all the better for watching and learning. He makes you believe that you can make the ultimate fried chicken or chocolate cake, too - and I like to be motivated like that! His cookbooks are beautiful with great recipes as well.

Tyler’s counterpart in the “hot chef” category would have to be Giada De Laurentis and her show “Everyday Italian”. (My boyfriend Mike can’t give me too much grief over my adoration for Tyler when he practically salivates while watching Giada and her ever-present cleavage as she cooks). What I like about her is a philosophy of quality ingredients with vivid flavors, simply prepared. Giada is really into vibrant color and presentation and her Italian recipes are not what you would think of as typical Italian. She’s not the least bit snobby and you could tell she would love to have you over and share the goodies with you, too. I have Giada’s first cookbook, “Everyday Italian” and look forward to getting her most recent publication, “Giada’s Family Dinners”.

Ina Garten – “The Barefoot Contessa” has the most dependably fantastic recipes on the network. Her recipes are the only ones I wouldn’t be afraid to use for a party without even trying them beforehand – they’re that good. Ina does updated versions of comfort foods we love (mac and cheese, roasted chicken) along with wonderful European-inspired fare. She is all about finding the freshest/best local ingredients and the whole “entertaining in Nantucket” vibe makes me long for opportunities to entertain outdoors in Houston (a rare opportunity). It is always a beautiful picnic at Ina’s as she snips her own flowers from the garden and includes lovely presentation and table-setting tips with every show (simple, elegant, and practical - not fussy). Her cookbooks are fantastic essentials for cooks at any level. Her cheesecake recipe is by far the best cheesecake ever (plain or with any fruit!). You can access it via Oprah’s website:

I cannot get through any kind of summary about the Food Network without expressing my utter dislike for “Semi-Homemade” with Sandra Lee. This has to be the cheesiest thing on television (her kitchen changes colors with every show – to match her outfit!) and her whole shtick about 70% storebought/30% homemade (or something like that) really just means semi-awful. The recipes don’t even sound good. I struggle with my feelings on this because I want people in the kitchen but c’mon … one can cream of celery soup with 1 can of chunk chicken and a pinch of cheese whiz just can’t be good. Plus its processed stuff full of sodium/not real (whole) food ... I don’t care what you mix in with it. I just can’t take it. And don’t get me started on the awful “decorations” she refers to as her “tablescape”! I’m not saying you have to hire a floral designer to have people over for dinner - just put out a bowl of lemons along wtih a couple of tealight candles and call it a day for Pete's sake. There’s really no need for you to get out the hot glue gun to create crafty items out of popsicle sticks in order to entertain in a simple (and dare I say tasteful) way. If you haven’t seen this show, you have to. If you like this show, you probably won’t understand anything about me or my blog!

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