It's 3:20 on a Friday afternoon, and I'm starving.
I've got Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts at my desk. The break room is just a fast dash through the art department, and though it's hardly haute cuisine, the stuff in the vending machine isn't all bad.
I'm not lost for calories. I just need...Food. Network.
My new office is cable-deprived right now. Whether I'll get rewired soon is a matter of much speculation. But in the meantime, it's 3:27, and just three minutes from now, Everyday Italian will be on, and Giada De Laurentiis will be making...something. Something I won't get to see, or hear, or contemplate on the drive home as a potential dinner for the weekend.
Something tastier than I'm probably going to cook when I get home.
Now that's not for lack of trying, and not for lack of soaking up critical culinary intel from every source I can. I have subscriptions to "Food & Wine" and "Saveur." I read and post on eGullet. I even write for a food-centered magazine...
...even if I just write their movie reviews. (Hey, it gets me invited to the staff parties...with, y'know, the FOOD.)
While I'm not a skinny slip of a lad anymore, I'm not a buffet poster boy, either. Stand me next to Mario Batali and you'll know which one of us spends his late nights/early mornings tearing up the best eateries in Manhattan in a Falstaffian display of conspicuous consumption. I'll take my two or three meals a day, with maybe a cook's snack before dinner, and dessert if I'm peckish. That's the exception, not the rule.
To make up for this paucity of epicurean indulgence, I've become a Food Network junkie. Hour upon hour, the most fantastic dishes are prepared right in front of me, piqueing my curiosity, arousing my senses and sending low rumbles through my belly. If I can't cook it or eat it, then by God, I'll at least observe it and appreciate it. I'll never be Rembrandt, but I'll admire his work any chance I get. Same goes here.
It all started two years ago, the week before Thanksgiving. Stuck in a beachfront condo by decidedly un-Floridian weather, I turned on the TV. After a couple of laps with the remote, I landed on Food Network...and didn't change the channel the rest of the week. By the time vacation was over, I'd learned how to eat my way through Savannah for $30/day, how to prepare three days' worth of meals for my family in less than 30 minutes, the history of jellied cranberry sauce, and how to brine a whole turkey on my back steps. I was hooked.
I didn't and still don't have cable at home, so I had to settle for getting my FN jones on at work, which was for the better anyway. I don't have time to watch TV at home; at work, I've got hours of leisure time, particularly on Sunday nights. That's how I've come to appreciate the three finest shows Food Network has to offer:
Good Eats. No other program demystifies food like Good Eats. No other host is as snarky as Alton Brown. Each episode, Alton breaks down an intimidating recipe (fruitcake!) or ingredient (crustaceans!) with equal parts science and sarcasm. Alton is like the cool science teacher you had in high school — the one who let you blow up water-filled bathtubs with a gram of cesium. Is it practical? Not really. Is it fun? Absolutely. By the end of the episode, whether you've realized it or not, you've actually learned something about your food, whether it's how to carve up a beef tenderloin or how to make beets into something approaching palatable. Maybe it's something you'll apply in your own kitchen, maybe not. But now you know, and (say it with me) knowing is half the battle.
Iron Chef America. Speaking of battles... If Good Eats is all about educating the viewer and explaining difficult concepts, Iron Chef America is its antithesis. Each episode pits one of the best kitchen jockeys in the nation against a celebrity in-house "Iron Chef" in a manic competition to see who can prepare the best tasting, most original and most appealing five dishes incorporating the same mystery ingredient (like andouille sausage or mushrooms), all in the space of one hour (which is itself edited down to 40 minutes or so). Host Alton Brown (hey, that guy again!) and "floor reporter" Kevin Brauch maintain a colorful (and trivia-laden) play-by-play throughout, but usually the chefs are working so fast, there's little time to focus on specifics. Best to just revel in the wild abandon of no-holds-barred cooking. And to cheer when Iron Chef Bobby Flay gets his ass handed to him, a la Battle Goat Cheese.
Everyday Italian. Ah, but let's get back to this woebegone Friday afternoon, and my Giada deprivation. Not only is Giada De Laurentiis the hands-down hottest woman ever to host a cooking show, she's also the least pretentious. Yeah, I know there are plenty of other hosts on Food Network who joke and juggle and otherwise self-deprecate, but it's all part of their schtick. Everyday Italian skips the studio audience and videotape; each episode is filmed. Giada is personable without being cloying, her dishes are simple but elegant, and always, always, always make me hungrier than when I tuned in. Because of her, I keep thick hunks of prosciutto and Parmesano Reggio in my freezer; they're slowly getting hacked down to a nub as I use them little bits at a time. Giada, bella, te amo!
Now singling out these three is, like picking my three favorite foods, a matter of taste. You may find Alton Brown disarmingly smarmy, Iron Chef may strike you as a prodigious waste of food when little scapers are starving in Boise, and you may have a bad clam flashback if Giada D. starts prepping cioppino. Then again, your idea of haute cuisine may be an in-flight meal on USAir. You can and will find a show to suit you, whether you tend toward butter (Paula Deen) or EVOO (Rachael Ray), keeping it laidback with Michael Chiarello or screaming at the TV — ANOTHER NOTCH! — with Emeril Lagasse.
But when you've finally found your Food Network favorite, do me a favor...
...videotape it for me, wouldja?
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
5.22.06 @ 12:34a
Ah, my favorite cable station (closely followed by Home and Garden TV).
I love Alton Brown's show--must be the science geek in me. I am at this minute salivating over the possibility of making lime tortilla chips thanks to his show on Friday afternoon.
"Iron Chef America" just doesn't capture the flavor of the original Japanese import, which is a riot. But I love Bobby Flay's "Boy Meets Grill".
Like you, I prefer Giada to Mario. I have a hard time trusting my palate to someone in bermuda shorts and orange rubber clogs. I tried her parmesan-crusted pork chops recently and was hooked immediately. Hardly more complicated than Shake'n'Bake and much tastier. Today she made a Caprese salad on crostini that is now sitting in my printer waiting for my next trip to the grocery store.
5.22.06 @ 2:16a
My wife would love this article. I swear The Food Network is all she watches. I'll have to forward this to her.
5.22.06 @ 7:18a
Instead of listening to CNN and CSPAN all day I reckon I should tune in to the FN. I'm on such a stringent mostly raw vegetable anti-cancer diet it will prolly only make me salivate for stuff I can't have, but when has that ever stopped me from doing something? I got to Brad Pitt films, don't I?
5.22.06 @ 8:19a
My husband constantly teases me about watching so much of the Food Network, and then not making the dishes. What he doesn't realize is that the Chicken Vesuvio we had the other night is Giada's recipe. I enjoy her show as well as Paula Dean (I am married to a Southerner after all), with some sprinklings of Emeril and Barefoot Contessa.
I think of Food Network as a virtual cookbook. Looking at the pictures has always been the best part of cookbooks for me, so watching a recipe unfold is the fun part.
5.22.06 @ 9:04a
Not only is Giada De Laurentiis the hands-down hottest woman ever to host a cooking show
I have three words for you: big giant head.
However, I cannot think of a better-looking cooking show host right now, so I may have to concede the point.
Battle Goat Cheese was superawesome for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Flay's sound spanking.
5.22.06 @ 9:40a
"However, I cannot think of a better-looking cooking show host right now"
Rachael Ray. I will not argue about this.
5.22.06 @ 10:30a
WRT Rachael Ray: Her mouth is too big. And too open. And she's been putting on weight. And she looks like she's padding her bra with kleenex. She was cute, but she's worn on me.
I want to make the almond crumb encrusted goat cheese/manchego things that the guy who beat Flay made.
5.22.06 @ 11:05a
I don't know what a manchego is, but that sounds tasty.
5.22.06 @ 11:37a
manchego = yet more goat cheese, though a firmer one. It's almost like Spanish parmesan.
5.22.06 @ 12:10p
I've seen nut-crusted goat cheese rounds like that before but they're usually just chevre -- the addition of the manchego would really take it over the top, I think.
I am also a Food Network addict. Alton is my long-term favorite but I have some other new likes: Paula Deen just for the "add a stick of butter" entertainment factor, and I've actually seen several recent recipes that I want to try from Michael Chiarello. He did a roast chicken cookoff with another chef this weekend that sounded utterly awesome. Not that I would personally put 7 cups of salt in the brine for a three-pound chicken, but otherwise, the recipe sounded good.
5.22.06 @ 1:43p
SEVEN cups of salt? How long did he brine the chicken? Incidentally, the amount of salt the chicken retains is largely determined by cell activity, but still, I would hope he was doing a very short span, otherwise that's going to be a very salty bird.
I think we only use 1 cup in a 4-6 hour brine for a 3-lb pork roast for Dad's rotisserie, and it also contains sugar. The fun part was trying to explain why we couldn't just substitute Splenda and have it work like it should (Dad's on a low-sugar diet).
5.22.06 @ 2:46p
Over the top it may be, Jael, but is there really such a thing as too much goat cheese?
What I'd really like to see on Food Network: Cat Cora vs. Rachael Ray on Iron Chef America. Let's see how the mistress of 30 minute meals does with a whole hour vs. Irina Derevko-as-chef.
5.22.06 @ 3:07p
Matt always picks on me because if I spend longer than 30 minutes in front of anything on the Food Network, I come away wanting one of the recipes right now.
Comedian: "The Food Network is like porn when you're hungry."
Love love love Alton. (and Russ, I did "tape" you stuff, but you obviously needed more Giada!)
She smiles using all teeth, top and bottom. Like a cartoon shark. Ever notice that? But yeah, her recipes are fantastic.
Al, Rachael Ray is annoying as a raspberry seed in a molar, and if I could, I'd watch her with the sound off, but the 30-minute recipes are often just the ticket to a quick dinner. However, I've found many of the recipes don't quite work as easy as she says they will - like pan-fried shrimp wrapped in bacon. Shrimp cooks too quickly, bacon not enough. Best to broil.
I heard that she's leaving anyway, now that her Martha-esque empire is starting to take off.
I don't like Mario or Emeril, but enjoy Paula for the giggles. Whenever I need something that will not only weigh more than my head in sour cream and butter but add that weight directly to my thighs without ingesting, I make a recipe of Paula's.
I also like recipes from Ted, the Queer Eye Food Guy. Not too long ago, I whipped up some of his baked eggs (insert gag reflex for Jael) that had Canadian bacon, mushrooms, tarragon and a dollop of goat cheese, and they were marvy. Ya just need to cook the little buggers through.
5.22.06 @ 3:20p
is there really such a thing as too much goat cheese?
No. No there is not.
Lisa, he recommended four to eight hours in the brine, closer to four for a small chicken. And it was kosher salt, which I assume doesn't penetrate as fast/ as far as table salt, but still. The last chicken I brined, I used a third of a cup of table salt and brined it for 12 hours, then air-dried the skin for eight. It was pretty close to perfect, if I do say so myself.