Tag: Food Media

A Tasty Takeover Recap:STL Beer, Blogging & Chef Talk

St. Louis is an incredible food city. Seriously, it is. There’s always a unique pop-up,  food event, or restaurant opening. Jake and I try to visit a new restaurant each week and feel like we’re just starting to scratch the surface of the dining scene.

A few weeks ago, the ALIVE Influencer Network hosted a “Tasty Takeover” of a weekly event called Venture Cafe that connects local entrepreneurs. This event was open to everyone to attend at no cost. The theme focused on innovation in food and beverages. Local chefs, beer brewers, and food media folks spoke on panels and shared samples. As a newish STL resident, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn and connect with others also interested in food.

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10 Favorite Quotes From Jim Gaffigan’s

Food: A Love Story

My neighbors probably thought I was nuts. I laughed out loud during the entire time I read Jim Gaffigan’s book Food: A Love Story. Gaffigan and I are basically food soul mates. Well, except for his opinion on pie. He prefers cake over pie, commenting that pies are just things that people throw in clowns’ faces.

Here are ten of my favorite thoughts on food from Gaffigan’s book:

1. Eating kale: 

IMG_8550

p. 104

2. Taco salad:

From What I can tell, the recipe for a taco salad is pretty simple: Dump eight tacos into an edible bowl (98).

3. Whole Foods, or as Gaffigan calls it, “Whole Paycheck.” 

They should just have a garbage can at the entrance of Whole Foods with a picture of a wallet positioned over it. “How many items do I get? Two? I’ll get the grapes for five hundred, and, Alex, I’ll have the loaf of bread made of wood for ten. . . ” (105)

4. The ever-ending stream of “new” Hot Pocket flavors:

A couple of years ago when I saw a commercial for the Chicken Pot Pie Hot Pocket, I just assumed they were messing with us. . . I figured it was just a matter of time before I’d hear someone ask, “Have you tried the Hot Pocket Hot Pocket? It’s a Hot Pocket filled with Hot Pocket. It tastes just like a hot pocket. I’m going to go stick my head in a microwave” (196).

5. The Reuben sandwich: 

Reuban

p. 150

6. The packaging of fast food burgers:

“Can you have the chef wrap the burger in paper so it feels like I’m opening a present?” (234).

7. Dining in food courts:

If you are over the age of eighteen, it is impossible to eat alone in a food court and not look like a serial killer (266).

8. Muffins for breakfast:

You know the difference between a muffin and a cupcake? Nuffin. A muffin is just a bald cupcake, and we all know it. p. 280

9. Fruitcake:

Whenever I’ve made the mistake of tasting fruitcake I always think, Did I just bite into a Skittle? Or was it a thimble? (285).

10. Ordering ribs:

Ribs are what protect the pigs’ or cow’s lungs and are really great with barbecue sauce. . . It’s amazing how casually we order ribs (116).

If you’ve read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you a cake or pie person? 

Food Snob

As a new college graduate, I was a food snob.

I hated the idea of eating at a chain restaurant. My coworker felt the same way and we made such a terrible stink about our friend suggesting we eat at Olive Garden to celebrate a staff member’s birthday that we made her feel bad. She walked away from the conversation with a crumpled expression on her face saying, “Well, I like Olive Garden.” I’ve never forgotten the sinking feeling in my stomach from hurting my friend.

It’s not our food preferences that made us a food snob, it’s how we make others feel about theirs.

Marilyn Hagerty changed my life. I had lived in Fargo-Moorhead for about a year when her Olive Garden review first surfaced. Frankly, I thought she was nuts. Now that I’ve lived in the rural Midwest for going on four years, I kind of get it. Almost any new food business that moves into town is a hopeful sign of economic growth. It’s a new option and worth investigating. There’s also the fact that Hagerty is a talented, seasoned journalist who can like and write about whatever she wants.

Bismarck Crawl

Photo courtesy of the North Dakota Department of Commerce. Taken at the North Dakota Writers & Bloggers Workshop, June 2013 at Fireflour Pizza, Bismarck, ND.

That food snob inside me surfaced recently. Last November my in-laws announced they were leading us on a Joe’s restaurant crawl to celebrate my father-in-law’s birthday and I may have balked. Ok, so I totally balked. We were supposed to visit three Twin Cities restaurants in one day that included the name, “Joe” in their title, ending at Joe’s Crab Shack.

If it was my birthday, I probably wouldn’t choose Joe’s Crab Shack, but you know what? It wasn’t my birthday. I embraced my bib, sipped a colorful cocktail from a mason jar, and dug into a crab pot. It’s true that I enjoyed the food that I ate. Most importantly, my family was there and so I had a great time.

Just remember, it’s not my birthday and it’s probably not yours. I can play favorites, but never want to become so sophisticated that I can’t enjoy an evening out with loved ones at an Applebee’s.

I like purchasing organic butter from grass-fed cows and eggs from cage-free chickens. One of my vices is mango-habanero hot wings from Buffalo Wild Wings and I will never go to your Wildtree party, but if I have four dollars in my pocket, I’ll buy a box of your Thin Mints. So, does this mean that you must, too? Hell no. As food writer Jordana Rothman commented about the food culture of hate during the past year, “Let’s just all like what we like and hate what we hate in 2015.” 

Speak with your purchases and voice and pen for what you like and want to see. We can play favorites, but should aspire to do so with kindness.

I’m Smitten With Smitten With Squash: Layered Greek Tzatziki Dip

I’m smitten with Smitten With Squash, Amanda Paa’s new cookbook. She’s a Twin Cities resident who also blogs beautiful recipes at Heartbeet Kitchen.

Just as the book’s description says, Smitten With Squash is truly a celebration of this diverse and under-appreciated vegetable.

It seems that Midwesterners get inundated with zucchini and yellow squash in the summer and winter squash ranging from acorn to delicata in the fall right up ’till the winter. I almost can’t get enough squash and appreciate how this cookbook offers over seventy ways to prepare squash for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even dessert. It’s probably the best available cure for those suffering from squash fatigue.

Squash

For those who are allergic to gluten, each recipe can be prepared gluten-free if desired. Amanda shares her favorite gluten-free flour substitute so everyone can make her baked goods like Sweet Delicata Pie With Pecan Praline (p. 125) and Chocolate Coconut Zucchini Bread (p. 62). My good friend introduced me to chocolate zucchini cake and I’m excited to try Amanda’s version.

Amanda has graciously given me permission to share one of her cookbook’s recipes here on Jeni Eats. It was hard to choose my first recipe, but I decided to prepare her Layered Greek Tzatziki Dip (p. 18) with a beautiful North Iowan zucchini I bought at my local Mason City farmers market.

This dip is so refreshing because it’s perfectly fresh with seasonal vegetables, herby with dill, basil, and parsley, and it strikes an addicting balance with lemon-flecked greek yogurt and garlicky marinated vegetables.

Jake and I are storing the yogurt and vegetable mixtures in separate containers and layering them upon serving, since it’s just for the two of us. Amanda notes that one can use a combination of any herbs and prepare the dip a day ahead.

Layered Greek Tzatziki Dip
From Smitten With Squash by Amanda Kay Paa. Serves 8-10 as an appetizer. 

DSC_0129

Marinated Vegetables
1 cup finely chopped zucchini
1 cup finely chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped canned artichokes
1 1/2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup pitted chopped kalamata olives
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Dip
Zest & juice of 1 lemon
16 ounces light sour cream
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Toasted pita wedges or tortilla chips for serving (I made a batch of Smitten Kitchen’s pita bread and toasted my own wedges in a 400℉ oven with olive oil, salt and pepper until golden brown).

Instructions
Mix together all of the marinated vegetable ingredients and allow them to sit for at least one hour. The flavors will develop the longer they mingle.

When you are ready to assemble the dip, drain off any extra liquid from the vegetables. Set aside 1/4 cup of the vegetables. If you are preparing the dip for a party, layer the yogurt and vegetables in a clear, round serving bowl, starting with the vegetables. Finish by topping the last yogurt layer with the reserved 1/4 cup vegetables in a circular mound.

You can also mix the vegetable and yogurt mixtures together, or layer them as individual portions if you are not serving a group.

Six Suggestions For Improving The Food Network’s Programming

The topic of food television is near and dear to my heart, because, frankly, I love it!

The discussion board What would you do to fix the Food Network? keeps getting bumped and people are suggesting ways the network can improve its programming. Supposedly, the Food Network’s ratings have steadily declined since they fired Paula Deen. I feel invested in the Food Network because I’ve probably watched it since its inception in 1993. Here are six changes I would make to improve its programming:

  • Less competition shows, please!

One of the posters on the Chowhound board claims the Food Network offers so many competition shows because they gather the highest ratings.

As a grade schooler in the 90’s, I remember staying up late and watching the original, subtitled Iron Chef, the only cooking competition show I knew of. Now there’s Chopped, Chopped All Stars, and Chopped Canada. Jake and I love Chopped the most, but seriously, we only need one. Sorry Chopped Canada.

The Food Network has also frantically birthed Food Network Star, Guy’s Grocery Games, Food Truck Wars, Food Court Wars (OMG so much war!), Worst Cook in America and Rachel vs. Guy, to name a few.

A recent article on Deadline lists the 35 new shows the Food Network and Cooking Channel plan to add to their lineups. As you can see, a whopping 10/18 of Food Network’s new daytime and primetime shows are cooking competitions and two are undercover shows similar to Bar Rescue.

I haven’t even mentioned the baking-specific competition shows which brings me to my next point. . .

  • Curb the baking competition shows.

I’ll admit, I am a little biased because I lean savory over sweet. However, I do love baking and I do so very frequently. I just don’t find it that interesting to watch people bake for extended periods of time.

Cupcake Wars & Last Cake Standing are two of my least favorite shows. I generally don’t like cupcakes and find Last Cake Standing confusing. Do those cakes even taste good? So much rice crispy sculpting and shiny, weeping fondant. I’d rather eat a hideous-looking but delicious-tasting cake, than a structurally-sound cake with fondant-covered rice crispy sculpting that shoots fireworks.

And what’s up with the judges making the pastry chefs carry their giant wobbling cake sculptures across the room to the podium? That’s just mean.

  • Choose hosts with a good balances between personality & cooking talent.

It seems like Food Network values noisy personalities over cooking savvy, which I don’t’ understand because it’s possible to embody both.

How many Guy Fieris do we need?

Before you think I’m anti-Guy, allow me to share that I have seen every single episode of Drive-ins, Divers & Dives at least twice. I love the concept of the show, and, although his over-the-top presentation can grate on my nerves, he’s mostly ok in this context (although I feel bad for the featured restaurant chefs when he visibly acts nauseated when they prepare traditional dishes with ingredients like offal).

Now, there’s a second Guy. Jeff Mauro won season seven of Food Network Star and his delivery is like a caricature of Fieri with cartoonish reactions and his rhyming, slammer jammer phrases.

There is a subsection of America that is demanding more Guy and more Jeff and now they’re hosting everything from competition shows to The Kitchen talk show. They even have their own specials where they go on vacations with their families and eat stuff.

I want to see people cooking and talking to me like they would in real life. It is possible to find hosts that strike balances between cooking and putting on a show. My favorites include Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson of the Two Fat Ladies series. Their witty banter always kept me on my toes and they also seemed to be so authentically at ease with themselves in all of their quirks. Personalities aside, I can’t watch an episode without wanting to eat everything they prepare.

The same goes for Food Network’s Sunny Anderson, Amy Thielen, Aarti Sequaria and Chin-He Huang of Cooking Channel’s Easy Chinese. Say what you will about Ree Drummond. After watching The Pioneer Woman, not only do I want to eat everything she makes but I feel like I’m actually a part of her family. That’s got to count for a lot, right? I also think Alex Guarnaschelli is wickedly talented and appreciate how she doesn’t seem to put on airs.

I fell in love with Jose Andres after renting his PBS Spanish cooking series Made in Spain from Netflix and, honestly, Anne Burrell and Gordan Ramsey are subdued and endearing when producers let them cook in the kitchen by themselves instead of nudging them to scream at reality show participants for ratings.

  • Continually aim to add more diversity to the hosting talent.

The Food Network likes to feature restaurants of all culture and ethnicities on shows like Restaurant Impossible, Drive-Ins, Diners & Dives, and The Best Thing I Ever Ate/Made. They also like to show their current lineup of hosts cooking a wide variety of foods. So why not increase the diversity of hosts?

For example, I’d like to see them hire more Asian hosts. I’ve seen Guy Fieri feature many Thai restaurants on Drive-ins, Divers & Dives and I’ve watched Giada De Laurentiis, Ree Drummond, Tyler Florence, Rachel Ray, Trisha Yearwood and even flippin’ Sandra Lee make Thai food. So why not hire a Thai host?

The Food Network seems to understand that America loves to watch hosts feature Asian restaurants and prepare Asian food, but it just doesn’t seem to want to hire Asian hosts to prepare Asian food. The same could apply to many other cultures.

  • Rerun the old classics.

The Food Network uses much of its air space to show rerun marathons of Chopped & Diners, Restaurant Impossible, and Drive-ins & Dives. Why not add more variety by airing some of the old classics? I hope I’m not the only one that would tune in to watch Julia Child, Two Fat Ladies, Molto Mario, Door Knock Dinners and Sara Mouton!

  • And then I just don’t get the point of these shows:

10 Dollar Dinners
There’s no way I could make any of these dinners for $10 even if I shopped at Dollar General, Aldi’s, or Walmart. Take a sampling of ingredients from the recent episode Appetizing Savings: Butter, blue cheese, milk, cream cheese, yellow bell pepper, olive oil, white wine vinegar, yogurt, fresh basil, a whole pound of ground turkey, raspberry jam, panko, one egg. . .

Where on earth are you shopping Melissa?

Who’s doing this math?

Hungry Girl
Lisa Lillian cooks like my parents tried to eat healthy in the 90’s.

Real cream and real butter are the devil, but let’s stuff our faces with artificially sweetened desserts and fat-free products.

Her recipes will probably include any given combination of sugar-free hot chocolate mix, garlic powder, FiberOne cereal, Laughing Cow cheese wedges and shirataki noodles, either cooked in the microwave or sautéed in a pan with exactly one spritz of cooking spray.

They’re “guilt-free” of course, because we should all feel really guilty about eating foods like entire eggs (instead of fat-free liquid egg substitute), olive oil, honey and whole milk mozzarella.

I record her shows for the same reason as I do Sandra Lee. Morbid fascination and curiosity. Who knows what strange and fantastical foods they’ll come up with next?

In closing, I’d want the Food Network to embrace the philosophy that variety is the spice of life. I’m not saying they should get rid of Guy Fieri, never feature cupcakes or ditch ALL of the cooking competitions. Just, try to mix it up and add more diversity in programming and hosts. 

How do you think the Food Network could improve its programming or are you happy with it the way it is? Some friends recently shared their thoughts and ideas on my Facebook page

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