Pollan Rips the Food Network a New One

Have I mentioned how much disdain and utter hatred I harbor for the Food Network? I’ve repeatedly mentioned how they’re not about cooking anymore (I believe they once were, years ago when the network first started broadcasting, with folks like Batali, Kerr, Tsai etc.), but simply about personalities. You don’t watch the Food Network to learn how to cook, you watch it to be entertained while you figure out which take-out place to order dinner from, as long as you’re not motion sick from the epileptic camera work.

The Food Network dumbs down cooking. Just look at Sandra Lee and Rachel Ray. Sandra Lee shouldn’t take much explaining…I once saw her make

I know it's bad but please just eat it

I know it's bad but please just eat it

“fajitas” in a crock pot, with a package of fajita seasoning. “If you had to buy all of these spices and herbs separately, think of how much that would cost!” Because apparently home cooks have no other need for cumin, salt or chili powder.

And Rachel Ray. The giggly idiot I can’t stop watching because who doesn’t love seeing a giant firestorm of a trainwreck? All she does is dumb things down. She uses penne rigate, but she dismisses the real name in favor of “that just means tubes with lines”. Lines? Since when did someone draw on the pasta? Is your desperate housewife audience so dumb that they can’t learn “penne rigate” and know the purpose of ridges in pasta? She’s got nine recipes on Food Network’s website that use hot dogs. I counted once. If she were an alcoholic, she and Sandra Lee would get along great.

I am the fairy princess of boob jobs and tablescapes

I am the fairy princess of boob jobs and tablescapes

Apparently, though not surprisingly, Michael Pollan, the ultrapopular author who has become the superhero of foodies everywhere lately, shares some of my disdain for the Food Network. In his recent New York Times piece, he examines the dismal state of home cooking in the U.S., largely due to the bad influence the Food Network has become. Here’s a few of my favorite quotes:

“Erica Gruen, the cable executive often credited with putting the Food Network on the map in the late ’90s, recognized early on that, as she told a journalist, “people don’t watch television to learn things.” So she shifted the network’s target audience from people who love to cook to people who love to eat, a considerably larger universe…”

Oh, that’s nice, now I know whom to blame. I’m sure Ms. Gruen is a very rich woman, but I wonder if she herself cooks at all, or if she knows exactly how her decision has contributed to this country’s sad state of cooking affairs. I’d bet not. And even if she did, I’d bet she wouldn’t give a damn anyway. Either way, I bet PBS stations across the country can thank her for the continued popularity of cooking shows for people who actually want to learn cooking!

“I spent an enlightening if somewhat depressing hour on the phone with a veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer, who explained that ‘people call things ‘cooking’ today that would roll their grandmother in her grave — heating up a can of soup or microwaving a frozen pizza.’”

Yeah, I’d have to agree with that. Just today I saw a blog post in which someone offered recipes they served at a party, so that guests could make and enjoy the same things. The “recipes”? Pulled pork: Pork shoulder, jar of BBQ sauce. BBQ turkey: Ground turkey, jar of BBQ sauce. Shrimp dip: cream cheese, can of shrimp soup. Is this really what people think is cooking, let

That's money!

That's money!

alone GOOD cooking???? Thank you, Sandra Lee!

“Buying, not making, is what cooking shows are mostly now about — that and, increasingly, cooking shows themselves: the whole self-perpetuating spectacle of competition, success and celebrity that, with “The Next Food Network Star,” appears to have entered its baroque phase. The Food Network has figured out that we care much less about what’s cooking than who’s cooking.”

Gee, that sounds vaguely familiar. Oh yeah, that’s because I’ve been saying that for years! Maybe now that Pollan is saying it, some of the Rachel Rayers and Guy Fierians will realize that there’s a whole lot more to food and cooking than their catchphrase-ridden talking heads let on. I’m hoping, but I won’t keep my fingers crossed.

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Vanilla Macerated Strawberries

strawberries

This recipe, if you can even call something this simple a recipe, is all about a technique that also happens to be one of my favorite words: macerate. Isn’t that a lovely word? It evokes what happens when you macerate fruit; it gets all juicy and a little squishy and all the goodness runs out to make it’s own syrupy sauce. Yum.

Again, this is another thing that doesn’t really have a recipe, but I’ll do my best. Serve it over vanilla ice cream as we do most of the time, or in strawberry shortcake, or in a yogurt parfait, or on oatmeal, or on pancakes or waffles…You get the idea. It’s good on everything.

Vanilla Macerated Strawberries

strawberries, sliced
white sugar, to taste, but at least a couple tablespoons
half a vanilla bean

1. Slice the half vanilla bean in two lengthwise, then scrape the seeds into a bowl with the strawberries and sugar. Mix thoroughly, then let sit on the counter or in the fridge for 30 minutes. Mix again, then serve. The sugar will bring out all the juices from the fruit and create a syrup. You don’t have to eat this right away, but the fruit breaks down the longer it sits, so I usually use it within a day, otherwise the strawberries start losing their color and get mushy.

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Blueberry Crisp

crisp

Blueberries were on sale at Sendik’s, 4 pints for $5. Not too shabby. I bought them before I knew what I was going to do with them…An impulse buy I guess. In the end I decided to make crisp, as oppossed to cobbler, buckle, crumble, grunt or whatever other regional variation of fruit+carbs. I almost always have everything already on hand for crisp, I love oats, and it’s super easy. Crisp is a great way to use up those impulse berries you buy this summer.

This is a general recipe as I never really measure crisp ingredients. For the fruit, if you like it thicker, add more cornstarch. If your berries are sour and not ripe, add a bit more sugar. For the topping, you’re looking to add enough butter that it turns into wet, coarse sand. If you squeeze it together in your hand, it will hold it’s shape, then crumble into large chunks.

Blueberry Crisp

4 pints blueberries, washed and picked over
1/2 to 3/4 c sugar, to taste
3-4 T cornstarch
1 T lemon juice
2/3 c flour
2/3 c brown sugar
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 c rolled oats
1 stick butter, chilled and diced

1. Preheat oven to 350. Combine fruit, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice in a bowl. Pour into a 9×13 pan.

2. Combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, oats and salt in a bowl. Add chilled butter chunks and work with fingers, fork or pastry cutter until butter is evenly distributed and mixture holds its shape when squeezed. Squeeze mixture, then crumble coarse chunks over the fruit. Bake until browned and bubbly, 30-40 mintues.

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Texas Caviar

caviar

Hi Blog, how’s it going? Long time no see!

Sorry for the lack of updates, everyone. Life’s been busy. And unfortunately, life comes before blog.

But fortunately, I have a couple recipes stocked up, so even though I haven’t been cooking much, I have something to post about! Three cheers for planning ahead for just these moments.

I’m not really sure why Texas caviar is called Texas caviar…You’d think Texans would love regular caviar. They like expensive things, right? Maybe the tiny little fish eggs go against their “Everything’s bigger in Texas” motto. So they decided to substitute with slightly bigger beans and veggies? Yeah, I don’t know either.

No matter why it’s named what it’s named, it’s delicious. I think of it more as a salsa or chip dip than a salad, even though it’s got a bit of a salad dressing going on. I think traditionally, black eyed peas are used, but I’m a fan of black beans, so I used them instead. Plus I upped the salsa quotient by adding lime juice, cilantro and serranos. If you’ve got access to good ripe summer tomatoes, use those. I didn’t get a chance to go to the farmer’s market before making this, and the grocery store had anemic tomatoes, so I ended up using a can of small diced tomatoes. It was all right, but I’d prefer fresh next time.

Texas Caviar

2 cans black beans or black eyed peas, drained and rinsed
Fresh corn from 1-2 ears
3 roma tomatoes or 1 large heirloom or 1 can small diced tomatoes
2-3 minced serranos
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1/2 small onion, diced
4 green onions, chopped
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
3 T red wine vinegar
juice of 1-2 limes
6 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 t ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix all the ingredients and let it hang out in the fridge for a couple hours before serving. Or, you know, don’t. I didn’t. It’s good no matter what.

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Firecracker Chicken

firecrackerchicken

Happy 4th everyone! Another holiday…and another excuse to try some new recipes that also happen to be pretty unhealthy! But I figure if I do things like fried food only on holidays, that’s not so bad. Right? Right?!…

Anyhow, this is a recipe from a Cook’s Illustrated Best of 2008 book I got last year. For some reason it’s not on their web site, so I’ll post an abbreviated version of their usually OCD instructions. Nick and I were originally a little dubious because we’re not big fans of mustard sauce and it seemed a little thousand island dressingy, but it turned out better than we both expected. Nick was hankering for fried chicken and we both love spicy, so there you go. We both also prefer boneless fried chicken to meat on the bone — it just grosses us out picking meat off the bone sometimes. I changed the recipe slightly based on what I had on hand, and it still worked perfectly. None of the coating came away from the chicken as I was frying it, which has been the bane of my existence when it comes to fried chicken in the past.

Firecracker Chicken

Sauce/marinade
1/4 c sliced pickled banana peppers, finely chopped
1/4 c pickling liquid from the banana peppers
1/4 c fresh lime juice
1/4 c yellow mustard
1/4 c veggie oil
1 t mustard powder
1 T sriracha
1 T ketchup
2 T brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 habanero, minced
4 green onions, sliced

Chicken
~3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 c AP flour
1/2 c cornstarch
1 T salt
1 t baking powder
4 egg whites
canola or veggie oil for frying

1. Combine all ingredients for the sauce/marinade in a bowl and set aside.

2. Pound the chicken until 1/2-inch thick, then cut into strips. Place in a large ziploc bag, add 1/4 c of the sauce and squeeze the bag to coat the chicken. Marinade in the fridge for 1/2 to 2 hours.

3. When chicken has marinaded, combine flour through baking powder in a large bowl. Add 6 tablespoons sauce mixture and combine with your hands until it resembles wet, coarse sand. These clumps will stick to the chicken and make little crunchy parts when you fry it.

4. In another bowl whisk the egg whites until foamy. To coat the chicken, pat each piece dry on a paper towel. Dip in egg whites, let excess drip off. Lay in the coating mixture, cover the piece with coating, then press it into the chicken. Shake off excess coating, then place on a rack or tinfoil. Coat all chicken and let sit for 15 minutes (or refrigerate for up to 4 hours).

5. Heat oil in a large high-sided skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering (I use an old cast iron skillet with high, straight sides that I love). Fry the strips in batches until browned on both sides, 2-4 minutes per side. Serve with sauce for dipping.

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Black Bottom Cupcakes

blackbottomcupcake

This recipe brings together two great things: cupcakes and cheesecake. And it’s got lots of other things going for it, too. The cheesecakey part adds enough moisture and creaminess that you don’t need frosting, eliminating the extra frosting steps. Plus I didn’t even use the Kitchen Aid for this one, just a quick blend with my hand mixer for the cream cheese and a good old fashioned wooden spoon for the batter. Couldn’t be easier. Found the recipe on allrecipes.com.

Black Bottom Cupcakes

1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/3 c sugar
1/8 t salt
1 c miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c sugar
1/4 c cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c water
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 T cider vinegar
1 t vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with paper cups or lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, egg, 1/3 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt until light and fluffy. Stir in the chocolate chips and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, 1 cup sugar, cocoa, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Make a well in the center and add the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Stir together until well blended. Fill muffin tins 1/3 full with the batter and top with a dollop of the cream cheese mixture.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

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Chicken Tikka Masala

masala

I consider this recipe one of my little victories because Nick actually likes it. I always figured he’d like Indian food (one of my absolute favorite cuisines) because he loves bold, highly spiced and seasoned foods. But the firs time I took him to an Indian restaurant, he didn’t enjoy it at all, really. Then again, my saag wasn’t very good there either, so I hoped it was because it just wasn’t a very good restaurant. I made this one night, and now Nick actually requests it. Success!!

This isn’t exactly very authentic, but since when is a dish often called “butter chicken” considered authentic anyway? I used a Cooks Illustrated recipe as a starting point, but then I mostly wing the spices from there. I don’t use any pre-blended spices (garam masala or the like), even though that might be a bit easier if I found a blend I enjoyed. I find it’s just as easy to pour the ground spices in a bowl first, keeping the genera ratios of spices the same for each batch. Sometimes I might add more cinnamon if I feel like it, sometimes more cumin, etc. I’d say that I easily doubled the amount of spices called for in the original CI recipe, though.

Also not traditional, I add a bunch of frozen peas right at the end of cooking. I usually don’t make a side dish with this (besides some naan from Trader Joe’s), so I’d feel guilty if I didn’t some kind of veggie in there somewhere. Feel free to add some potatoes to this dish to stretch the chicken and make it a little more economical as well. I’ll do my best on the spice quantities, but since I don’t measure them, they’re just guestimations. Go by your taste and add more as you go along.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken/marinade:
2 lbs chicken breasts of combo breasts and thighs
1 c plain yogurt
2 T fresh grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t cumin
1 t coriander
1/2 t cayenne

Masala:
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes (I love Dei Fratelli)
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
2 t fresh grated ginger
3-5 serrano chiles, chopped
~2 T coriander
~1 T cumin
~2 t cardamom
~1 t cinnamon or one cinnamon stick
~1/2 t black pepper
~1 t cayenne
~ 1/2 t tumeric
1 c heavy cream
12 oz frozen peas
cilantro, chopped, to taste

1. Cube chicken into large chunks and combine with other ingredients in a plastic bag. Marinate 1-2 hours.

2. Heat butter or olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, chiles, garlic and ginger and saute until soft. Add dry spices and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute.

3. Add chicken to pan directly from marinade, letting excess drip off. Cook 7-9 minutes over medium, until browned in some spots, but without letting the spices burn. The yogurt will sort of caramelize and give a nice fond with the spices. The chicken will not be fully cooked.

4. Add tomatoes, stir well and simmer for 20 minutes over medium-low. Taste, season with salt and adjust other seasonings as you like.

5. Stir in cream, peas and cilantro. Bring back up to heat before serving over basmati rice and naan.

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Bucatini all’Amatriciana

bucatini1

This is a case of do as I say, not as I do. (Though, if you do as I do, it’ll still turn out extremely tasty.) Traditionally, this is made with guanciale or pancetta, but I used leftover bacon from carbonara a couple weeks ago (which, coincidentally, should also include guanciale or pancetta over bacon). If you can’t find, or don’t want to bother using either of those, just use bacon. Traditionally, this recipe calls for romano cheese, but I use parmesan because I always have it on hand. It’s still good, just not authentic.

I love this pasta because it’s one of those Italian dishes that’s so simplistic. A few ingredients, a quick pan sauce, and dinner’s ready. The quality of those ingredients really matters though, so don’t skimp and use Kraft cheese or crappy canned tomatoes.

Unfortunately, while I love this for it’s simplicity, Nick finds it boring and lacking in the meat department. But don’t listen to him, this is perfect for summertime when it’s hot out and you want something fresh tasting that won’t heat up the kitchen for hours on end. You can easily keep all of the necessary ingredients on hand for a quick, cheap meal.

Bucatini — a fat strand of spaghetti that’s hollow like a straw — isn’t necessary, but we both enjoyed it. Takes you by surprise when your first instinct is to slurp like spaghetti, but it doesn’t work because of the hole!

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

1 lb bucatini or spaghetti
1/2 lb guanciale, pancetta or bacon, in 1/2 inch chunks or strips
1 large white onion, slicedbuc
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t red pepper flakes
28-32 oz can whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
Pecorino romano or parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. While the pasta water is coming to a boil, saute onions in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until slightly soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and guanciale, pancetta or bacon and continue to cook over medium heat until meat is rendered and becoming slightly crisp on the edges, 6-8 minutes more.

3. Add canned tomatoes and juice, breaking tomatoes up with your hands. Simmer until pasta is done, at least 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Combine sauce and hot drained pasta. Serve topped with romano or parmesan cheese.

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