Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sandra Lee: Trick or Treat?

Let's talk about Sandra Lee. She hosts Semi-Homemade Cooking, but it's really more like half-assed cooking. She looks like she may have once been a mean sorority sister (the University of Wisconsin is her alma mater). Her soon-to-be-ex-husband has more money than God.

I should hate her, right? Nope, I love Sandra Lee. Sandra is like your aunt who's been married 4 times and doesn't have any kids. She works in a salon and drives a convertible. She drinks a little too much and most of the family is embarrassed by her, but you always try to sit next to her at Christmas because she's the most interesting one at the table. Who cares if she dresses a little inappropriately and she hit on your seventh grade teacher? She's the one who taught you how to put on makeup and she's the one who told you all the family secrets when you turned 18. When a boy breaks your heart, you're not going to call Mom, you're going to call Aunt Sandra, who will sit on the other end of the line drinking a bottle of wine and agree that he's a bastard for treating you like that and she never liked him anyway.

If you're a guy, you'd just be stoked to have a hot aunt.

Sandra Lee may be the Black Sheep of the Food Network family, but it wouldn't be the same without her. Who else would suggest buying pre-sliced vegetables for your pizza? Pre-sliced vegetables? That's just the beginning! According to Sandra, you can also use canned spaghetti sauce on your pizza. You hear that? That's Giadadada de Laurentiiiiiiiis wailing in horror! You can also use pre-crumbled cookies to top your cupcakes! They really sell pre-sliced veggies and pre-crumbled cookies? Americans really are lazy!

Sandra was anything but lazy when it came the costumes on her Halloween Special. She was a princess, a French maid, a can-can dancer, and a dairy maid. Four costume changes in 30 minutes? Beat that, Rachael Ray! Her boobs were popping out of the princess outfit, and I swear the cameramen were trying to obscure her breasts, Austin Powers-style, with the centerpieces on the table. The last thing the Food Network needs is a Sandra Lee wardrobe malfunction*.

I hear that Sandra Lee is getting divorced. Now, I don't want to start any rumors or anything, but did anyone else notice the vibe that she had with Tyler Florence? Was I the one only who feel the electricty pulsating between the bolts on Frankenstein's forehead and her cleavage? I'm officially on the lookout for any Sandra-Tyler gossip, because they were way too chummy on the show to escape that kind of speculation. Sandra is almost single and word has it that Tyler is a bachelor, so it wouldn't surprise me if they cooked up another joint venture. I really hope the Ghoul Aid they made together was just the beginning.

Happy Halloween, Sandra Lee. I'll definitely be sitting next to you at Christmas this year.

*Although it would please the many visitors who arrive to my site by searching for "sandra lee naked" and its variants.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Restaurant Makeover: Extreme Filth Edition

I love makeover shows. Whether they're making over people, houses or restaurants, I live for before and after photos. I finally caught Restaurant Makeover last night and based on this one episode, it's television gold. The episode summary is as follows:
Sandy, the owner of The Grapefruit Moon, is a single mother of three who has been struggling to keep things afloat. She s managed to keep her diner running for six years despite the neglect of much-needed repairs and renovations. Now her restaurant is falling apart. Restaurant Makeover's chef and designer have taken up the challenge to clean and rebuild the restaurant.
This really does not do justice to the filth, drama and assholery that I saw last night.

The gist is this: the owner of Grapefruit Moon contacted Food Network to be on Restaurant Makeover. She contributed $15,000 to the makeover and Food Network matched it. A designer came in and redid the entire restaurant and a cook came in to revamp the menu. The restaurant was extremely dirty and the entire place was in disrepair. Now, when I say extremely dirty, I mean dozens of roaches scrurrying on the wall*. When I say disrepair, I mean holes in the floor and the ceiling and duct tape holding the counter together.

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The owner and the "chef" (I use that term loosely; cracked out line cook is probably more accurate) threw major attitude throughout the entire show and were unhappy with the results. The designer and the cook were pissed and repeatedly used the phrase "wasting my time".

The show ended with a postscript stating that the owner of the restaurant sold the new chairs, painted the walls black and complained to the media:
"So I get a call from a producer asking if I planned on doing any renovations," says Sandy Moon, busy sliding breakfast quesadillas onto plates on a hectic Sunday afternoon at Grapefruit Moon, the cozy restaurant at Bathurst and Follis she's owned for more than six years. "I had considered it before but couldn't afford it." Moon relays her story with surprising calm for someone who agreed to let her restaurant be made over for reality TV, especially for someone who isn't thrilled with the results, which include some irreversible changes to the restaurant's former charm. But the floor was falling apart, and the restaurant was in "disrepair," and Moon thought it would be nice to have a new kitchen."
I can kind of understand why she wouldn't be happy with the results. Beforehand the place looked more like a quirky working class neighborhood diner, and afterwards it looked much more yuppiefied and trendy. The color scheme was bright white and yellow, and I can't help but wonder if that was a deliberate "screw you" from the designer, who was appalled by the dirtiness of the restaurant. Indeed, one of the first things that the owner said upon seeing the renovation was "Oh, it's going to get so dirty!" and of course, she later painted the walls black. I can excuse crappy ambience or things being a little old or run-down, but the only proper thing to do when your dirtiness is exposed on national television is to hang your head in shame.

If she was unhappy with the design, she had every right to change it back, but kvetching to the local media about how Food Network screwed you out of some plants (see the article linked above) is not going to help your cause. Or is it? The episode postscript said that the restaurant has a packed house every night.

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Ms. Moon, kvetching all the way to the bank

A quick Google search returns a couple of restaurant reviews and other people freaking out about last night's episode.

*If anyone has a roach screenshot from this episode, please send it over. That was seriously nasty.

Monday, October 24, 2005

From the Kitchen to Hollywood

Paula Deen just made her acting debut in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown. Food Network reminded us of this every 10 minutes by airing commercials for a special called Paula Deen Goes to Hollywood. I get plenty Paula from Paula's Home Cooking, so I skipped the special.

Emeril Lagasse has probably appeared in the most non-Food Network shows, including his short-lived 2001 sitcom "Emeril". Again, I remember heavy promotion for this show and, again, I didn't watch it. Emeril also appeared in Elmo's Magic Cookbook.

Weird: Did you know that Bobby Flay appears in a 2005 film called Social Grace? The IMDB doesn't show much about this movie, but Flay appears as himself and it costars Lewis Black and Margaret Cho.

Weirder: Mario Batali has a cryptic credit for the 1993 Matthew Broderick film The Night We Never Met. I've never heard of this movie. Mario is listed as "cook: Sam's cooking". Does that mean he prepared all the food for "Sam"?

Weirdest: Looks like Alton Brown got started as a steadycam operator on Spike Lee's 1988 feature School Daze.

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Also weird: the three main Food Network hotties (Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee and Giadadada de Laurentiiiiiiis) have nothing in the pipeline, according to IMDB. How long until Rachael Ray reprises a Sally Field role?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Food Network recipes I have tried

I sometimes see dishes that look so good I jump online and get the recipes. Now, if the Food Network only had a vegetarian cooking show....

  • Pasta Primavera from Giadadada de Laurentiiiiiis - Hey, I don't like her. But I never said I wouldn't use her recipes. I added fresh roasted pine nuts and it turned out great.
  • Garlic Bread from Michael Chiarello - This is a massive hit at my house. It honestly never occurred to me that I could make garlic bread that is just as good as the kind at the bakery. I used to use some kind of scary garlic spread that contained a ton of preservatives and gave me migraines. Never again.
  • Sauteed fresh corn from this episode of Barefoot Contessa- Another easy one that never occurred to me. Why spend 20 minutes flossing after you eat corn on the cob, when you can just shave off the corn into a skillet and saute it with butter, salt and pepper?
  • Seven Onion Soup from Emeril - We go through a couple onions a week at our house, so this was another big hit. I substituted vegetable stock for chicken stock and skipped the bacon to make it vegetarian.
  • Smashed Potatoes and Cream Cheese from Rachael Ray - This is the only recipe I've gotten from the Food Network that wasn't good. Like most of Rachael Ray's dishes it could have been invented by stoners with a limited list of ingredients. Actually, looking at the recipe now it sounds pretty nasty, but I was PMSing at the time and was craving some fat and carbs. The cream cheese and potato combo kind of tasted like spoiled milk. For the record, I put Miracle Whip in my mashed potatoes and they have gotten rave reviews from all corners of the world.
  • Easter Bunny Cake from Sandra Lee - Ha! Just kidding. But my boyfriend and I made fun of this cake for days after seeing it on tv. It was out of control. It looked like this except it was bigger and more ornate and came with a cocktail on the side.

Dave Lieberman makes me nervous

I want to like Dave Lieberman, I really do. The concept of gourmet cooking on a budget is cool, and I like some of the food he makes. But he seems kind of twitchy to me, and watching him makes me nervous. For one thing, he seems kind of spastic in the kitchen. I just watched him take some dough out of a bag and he seemed to just drop the bag on the floor. He's not real accurate when he pours and his workspace is always a mess. Hey, I cook the same way, but I don't like watching tv cooks who have to push aside piles of crap to find a bare spot on the counter.

He also talks weird. It's as if he's throwing random periods into his sentences:

You can use any honey. That you like. Then I'm just gonna drizzle it in a little. Thread. And make kind of like a netting. Over the cantaloupe. Oh, yeah. That looks great. So now that that's done. I can go ahead and get started. On the perfect complement for my stew. Some quick beer. Bread biscuits.

You know who else talks like that? Christopher Walken.

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Here's an example of the way Dave Lieberman sounds. Jesus, at least he doesn't talk in that monotone on tv.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Food Network in the news: It all comes back to Rachael Ray

The Onion A.V. Club names Sara Moulton the most Underrated Food Network Chef. They're impressed with her personality and credentials (she attended the Culinary Institute of America and was Julia Child's protege), but I just don't see her appeal. I think she's stuffy and subtlely bitchy to the guests on her show. The piece also mentions that Rachael Ray was a Burger King spokesperson, which I missed completely. I would give anything to see one of her Burger King commercials, if only to make fun of it relentlessly. The only thing better would be to see her and the Burger King King mix it up! Maybe she could wake up in her house and find the King standing there with a BK Criossanwich. "How cool is that?!" Blech.

Rachael Ray is also featured in The New York Times today, complete with unflattering photos and chipper, down home reponses to her critics:

A favorite slam is that her meals take more than 30 minutes, which, especially for people with little kitchen acumen, they often do. They say she is untrained and relies on too many shortcuts, like shredded cheese and frozen French fries.

To which Ms. Ray says, they're right.

"I have no formal anything," she said. "I'm completely unqualified for any job I've ever had."

Rachael Ray haters are having a field day with this article, revelling in the fact that she was a cheerleader (come on, does that really surprise anyone?) and making snarky comments about her recent wedding (with more unflattering photos)

The most interesting Food Network piece today is at Harper's magazine (via Susie Bright). I'm a fan of the clever site Food Porn that relishes (no pun intended) in the similarities between food photography and porn photography. Harper's speaks with a porn photographer who has run porn and Food Network footage side-by-side to examine the similarities. Strategic lighting? Check. Weird angles? Check. No plot, so you can drop in and out at any time? Check.

Naturally, it all comes back to Rachael Ray:

Bob Tuschman, the Food Network’s senior vice president for programming and production, sat in his office, contemplating a dry-erase-board calendar on which he had filled in the shooting schedule for every hour of every day for the upcoming year. Even as they aligned the ground chuck downstairs, Sara Moulton and Jeff Kay and everyone else knew that Tuschman was monitoring ratings, watching videos of new talent, and obsessing over the recondite desires of that choice prime-time demographic, the eighteen-to thirty-five-year-old male can’t-cook-won’t-cook crowd – the men who like to watch. As people cook less and less, they ogle cooking shows more and more.


Of course, the girl next door [Rachael Ray] is not the only female porn archetype. For every Mary Ann there’s a Ginger, and the Food Network’s resident glamazon would be Giada De Laurentiis. Giada, Bob Tuschman explained, “has a huge following. She has filled out her skin and really fills out the TV screen.” Sara Moulton put it more reductively: “She’s eye candy.”

Giadadada de Laurentiiiiiiiis as glamazon? As the Food Network's femme fatale to Rachael Ray's femme fragile? No way. If there is a glamazon man-eater on the Food Network, it is the incomparable Sandra Lee. Sandra Lee is barely a cook, as is acknowledged by the title of her show, Semi-Homemade Cooking. Sandra Lee and Giadadada are both in danger of dropping a boob in the mixing bowl but only Sandra Lee has the audacity to make a cocktail with every meal. I saw her make a ridiculous bunny-shaped cake for her niece's birthday party, only to follow it up with a high octane cocktail for the mothers. Now that she's in the midst of a divorce, I fully expect Sandra Lee to be one of those single women who, when she gets home from work, pours herself a glass of wine and leans on the kitchen counter drinking it. For the entire night. That might sound depressing to some of you, but while Giadadada is out eating babies and shopping for v-necks, Sandra Lee is concentrating on more important things, like where to get her next buzz and, possibly, her next husband. Is there anything more anti-Rachael Ray than that?

Look how angelic and pure she looks here. Support Sandra Lee!

Sandra Lee is not to be confused with Sandra Lee Jose, female bodybuilder.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Giadadada de Laurentiiiiiiiiiiis drives me crazy. Her food looks alright, but does she own anything other than v-neck shirts?

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Look at how big her head is!

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Her smile is so weird. It's huge and fake looking and a perfect rectangle. I think she has 92 teeth.

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Holy crap, TVGasm is doing Giada Watch 2005, complete with hilarious stills and daily assessments of Giadadada's resemblance to Natalie Portman.

I guess you can get away with looking a little crazy when your father is film producer Dino de Laurentiiiiiiis, who has produced 155 films, according to IMDB .

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Delicacy: Napa Style

All hail Michael Chiarello!

He is the epitome of the television cook: relaxed, concise, down to earth, and funny. Women want to be with him; men want to be him. Mr. Chiarello is even thoughtful enough to mention his guests on his website! Oh, and the food he cooks looks DAMN GOOD.

Look at how relaxed he is!

Who else you trust more to show you how to entertain guests? NO ONE!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

All Mixed Up

I have mixed feelings about Rachael Ray. I can take her in small doses, but after about 30 minutes she starts to really annoy me. Could that be the reasoning behind 30 Minute Meals? Anyway, I have some things I'd like to say to her. I know the whole open letter thing is tired but then again, so am I.

Dear Rachael Ray,

I will smile and nod and defend you through your first 7 EVOOs, but after that I will join all my girlfriends in mocking you while simultaneously resenting your energy and success. Though you always tuck in your shirt like a late 80's preppy and I'm constantly waiting for the inevitable tucked-in sweater, I wish I had a smile as cute as yours. I start watching the show thankful that you seem so down to earth, but by the end of the show I'm convinced that you're just as phony as those kids I knew in high school that seemed to have perfect charmed lives only to end up drinking nail polish remover and dating 97 lb. heroin addicts. You find the neatest little cafes on $40 a Day, but I can't help but wish that once in a while you'd get a bad meal and stiff the waiter and have them come running after you on the street barking about how they work for a living and then you'd end up on the Shitty Tipper Database and I could read all about it and laugh.

You've moved out of the Food Network ghetto into an FHM spread and your own freakin' magazine. The FHM thing was just weird and it looks like they busted out the photoshop just a little bit (c'mon girl, you can tell me) but I have to give you props for launching your own magazine, joining the ranks of Oprah and Martha. I guess I see you a little bit as an Eve character, all charm and naievete until one day Emeril gets some Essence in his eyes and has to take some down time and all of a sudden you're like, "Oh no, I can cook Italian/Cajun and I'm even good friends with the Emeril Live Band," and next thing you know poor Emeril is at home crying red tears and you're permanently telling us to "Kick it up ANOTHER notch" while cocking your cute little head to the side

Perky is all well and good, but all things in moderation, my dear Rachael.


PS - Call me if you ever want to dish about that ho Sandra Lee.

I spy with my little eye: DSL!


I like:

Alton Brown
Michael Chiarello
Paula Deen
Mario Batali
Sandra Lee
Ina Garten
Rachael Ray

Cooking/baking contests
The Next Food Network Star

I don't like:

Dave Lieberman
Giadadadada de Laurentiiiiiiis
Bobby Flay
Sara Moulton
Tyler Florence
Rachael Ray

Iron Chef/Iron Chef America

Mark Dacascos is hot:


I spy with my little eye a coconut, a lei, a machete, some marijuana, and a yucca plant.

I've always loved cooking shows.

When I was a kid in the mid-80's, the whole family would gather 'round to watch Yan Can Cook on PBS. The food he cooked looked pretty sketchy to an 8 year old kid who was raised on beef, elk and ketchup, but Yan had a hell of a personality. But back in the 80's, especially when they didn't have cable in your area and your parents were too frugal and principled to buy a satellite dish, Yan was pretty much the only game in town1.

In 5th grade we had an assignment where each student had to do some kind of demonstration in front of the class. One kid made a bird feeder, another showed how to balance a checkbook(!) and everyone else cooked stuff. I had some serious competition, but I knew I could bust out my cooking show wisdom on the class. I showed the class how to make spritzbakken cookies and I used the cooking show "trick" of having the dough and finished cookies pre-made. It was a rousing success, I got an A and no one got sick from eating the cookie dough that sat in my backpack for 7 hours.

Cooking shows were few and far between as a grew up, but I finally got cable for the first time in '99 and Food Network for the first time in '03. It was a revelation to watch all the different personalities, all the yummy food and decadent contests. I found myself watching more and more Food Network over the last few years, and now I'm at the point where the Food Network comprises at least 50% of all tv watching in my household. I don't love everything on the Food Network, and there are some glaring omissions (not a single vegetarian cooking show?!) but they run a pretty tight ship.

Now, on with the show.

1 PBS did show Julia Child regularly, but I must confess that her appearance kind of freaked me out as a child. Additionally, I think I was already tiring of my beef and elk diet and her meat-heavy French dishes were overloading my system. I became vegetarian when I hit college, but I don't blame Julia Child.

I still enjoy ketchup