Tag: food television

We Accidentally Dined At A Restaurant Impossible Alumna

Confession: I’m fascinated with restaurant makeover shows.

I’ve watched every single episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in both the British and American series. The British version is way better. Chef Ramsay is still fierce, but softer spoken. He acts more like a mentor. I think the American producers tell him to go bananas on the American series. In contrast to Robert Irvine’s Restaurant Impossible, Ramsay works with the restaurant longer, focuses more on food and service than interior design, and doesn’t rush to complete a giant overhaul on a fixed budget.

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Creamy Chopped Eggplant Dip

I have a long-held fascination with eggplant.

It all started with food television. Growing up, I watched in awe as chefs prepared this strange, spongy vegetable. Sometimes they roasted it and sometimes they fried it. Either way, I just knew that someday I would love eggplant and I was right.

Eggplant just wasn’t a vegetable that appeared on my family’s table. . . or any other family that we visited’s tables. I didn’t see it at church picnics or soccer team potlucks. Maybe eggplant has become more popular in the kitchens of the Twin Cities’ southern ‘burbs. It’s so good and so versatile.

Earlier this year, I watched the episode of Trisha Yearwood’s (my childhood hero) cooking show on Food Network in which Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner were special guests. Nadia prepared this simple eggplant dip called Salata de Vinete that caught my eye. I whipped together this dip based upon what I remembered seeing her prepare during this episode.

Jake and I liked the dip so much that it’s already gone. After we enjoyed it for dinner, I polished off the leftovers for breakfast and am contemplating preparing a second batch.

Creamy Chopped Eggplant Dip
Adapted from Nadia Comaneci’s recipe for Salata de Vinete. Use as many eggplants as you like. I’d recommend small-medium sized eggplants so they’ll roast faster and have smaller seeds, but use what you have. 

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Ingredients:
Eggplant
Olive oil
Salt
Onion, finely diced (as much as you like)
Garlic, powdered or freshly grated
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Mayonnaise (can substitute greek yogurt or sour cream).
Lemon juice, to taste
Dill, dried or fresh
Smoked paprika or my favorite – half sharp Hungarian paprika, a dash or two

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400℉.
  2. Wash eggplants. Prick several times with a fork or knife so they don’t explode while baking. Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
  3. Roast eggplants until they are soft inside and blistered outside. Flip a few times during cooking. This will take about 40-minutes for small eggplants and longer if they are larger.
  4. When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and remove the stem. Let any liquid drain away from the eggplant.
  5. Chop into small pieces. If you want a smoother texture, chop finer.
  6. Combine chopped eggplant with red onion and a couple dollops of mayonnaise. Start with a little bit of each and add as needed.
  7. Season with garlic powder or grated garlic, paprika, salt, pepper, dill and lemon juice, to taste.
  8. Serve with toasted pita bread.

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

My Childhood Heroes Sang & Cooked: My Top Four

I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood heroes and role models.

I recently started a part-time job assisting a nonprofit that matches youth with mentors with their communications and programming. Therefore, the topic of role models and childhood heroes is often swirling around in the forefront of my mind.

This past weekend, the Academy Awards aired on the same night that my cousin took me to the Luke Bryan concert at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. These events made me reminisce about the celebrities that I looked up to during my childhood. 

My childhood role models revolved around food and music, two of my earliest obsessions (besides writing, of course). Here’s my first four:

  • Trisha Yearwood

Trisha Yearwood was my first favorite musician and thereby, my first role model.

I became best friends with a couple gals in elementary school who introduced me to the world of country music during those early years when song lyrics start to mean something. They were obsessed and so I was, too.

The very first concert I ever attended was Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood at the Target Center in Minneapolis. We dressed up as cowgirls and I found my old ticket stub.

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As you can see, I noted that it was, “The best!” Can you believe this lower level ticket only cost $21.50? I suppose it was 1998.

I had ALL of her albums and knew all of the lyrics. I think I still do. The first song I ever fell in love with was, “On a Bus to St. Cloud,” of which the first line even says, “On a bus to St. Cloud, Minnesota. . . ” This song permanently etched the city of St. Cloud into my memory and built it up as mysterious place I had to visit someday.

Living in Fargo gave me the perfect opportunity to visit St. Cloud. On a solo road trip between Minneapolis and Fargo in 2012, I stopped in St. Cloud and visited the White Horse Bar & Restaurant for a spicy Thai burger, of all things. It felt cathartic.

I was disappointed to find I just missed Trisha Yearwood perform at Mystic Lake Casino on the 1st. If I actually got to meet her, I might squee or cry or both.

Anyway, you might have seen Trisha Yearwood’s cooking show on The Food Network. It’s kind of kooky and she treads on Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade territory with many of her recipes, but it’s Trisha Yearwood. She sings and she cooks – in the same show! I wish there were more musical cooking shows. Can this please be a thing? Let’s make Jeff Mauro work for his money. . . actually, maybe not.

  • Barbra Streisand

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I come from a musical family. I started piano lessons in first grade, sang in church choir and received a scholarship to play the french horn in college. My early claim to fame is having been cast as the Von Trap family’s adopted Korean daughter Brigitta as a freshman in our high school production of The Sound of Music. I hope Babs would have been proud.

My mom’s parents instilled their love of music in my mom and they played the piano and sang whenever an opportunity arose. We often played the pianos in our grandparents’ nursing homes so residents could stop by and sing along. Although my grandma had severe dementia, she never forgot the lyrics to every verse of her favorite hymns.

We also grew up watching musicals. I borrowed from my mom’s extensive cassette tape collection of which she must have owned every single Barbra Streisand album. They became my favorites and I sang along with them as I listened to them on my boom boxes and Walkman.

  • Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple’s album Tidal released in 1996 was the perfect cure for my hurting, awkward, angry adolescent heart.

  • Anthony Bourdain

I’ve been a fan of Anthony Bourdain since he wrote the book Kitchen Confidential (2000) that launched him into the spotlight. The Food Network used to air his travel show A Cook’s Tour long before he appeared on the Travel Channel.

A Cook’s Tour was gritty for its time. Like No Reservations, Bizarre Foods, and the stunning beautiful Parts Unknown, his most recent series, he visited both developed and developing countries and explored their food and culture. He also swore, drank and smoked on camera which freaked my parents out and made me appreciate him all the more.

Although I’ve read travel memoirs and travel guides since I was old enough to ride my bike to the library, I credit Bourdain for really awakening and feeding my wanderlust. I wanted to explore the world as Bourdain did in A Cook’s Tour, by appreciating local culture, history and customs and not being too standoffish to actually engage in them with those he met along the way.

I am thankful to my childhood heroes for awakening my passions for food and music and providing inspiration during those difficult times when the little me had a hard time envisioning that things would get better. Of course, I had many others role models, but this is the celebrity edition.

Who’s on your list?

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